10 November 2015

What's the NLD draw mean for Arsenal's title-tilt (with a bit of gloating over Mourinho...)?

It was very nearly the best of times as Manchester City drew at Villa Park, Man U
struggled to get past West Brom, Chelsea lost away to Stoke, and Liverpool lost at home to Palace...but we had to go and draw with Tottenham. Sigh. We squandered a golden chance at rising to the top of the table, even if only for a few weeks. Did I mention that Chelsea lost? I did? Sorry. This old codger's mind does wander...

Manchester City
● Position: 1st
● Record: 8W, 2D, 2L
● Points: 26 (72.2%)
● Total at this rate: 82.3
● Form: LWWDWD
● Last match: Aston Villa 0-0 Man City
Since demolishing Bournemouth a few weeks ago, City have hit a bit of a rough patch, scoring just two goals in their last three outings, and both of those against Norwich at home. Two scoreless draws away from the Etihad have left them sputtering and pining for the returns of Silva and Ag├╝ero, as Bony and Sterling have not risen to the chance offered them. Even giving credit to Aston Villa for being as tough as they are at home (just seven goals conceded in six matches), one would expect more from this Man City squad. There's a schizoprenic quality to this squad so far, erupting for five or six goals at a time or failing to score entirely. They're amazing at home but only average away. If they can sustain their nearly invincible home form and improve on their mediocre away form, they could start to edge ahead of the pack...
● Next match: vs. Liverpool (21 November).

● Position: 2nd
● Record: 8-2-2
● Points: 26 (72.2%)
● Total points at this rate: 82.3
● Form: WWWWWD
● Last match: Arsenal 1-1 Tottenham
By contrast with Man City, our away-form is nearly invincible aside from the loss to MDFC, and our home form is only average. Can we sustain the former and improve on the latter? The derby ended a three-match winning streak, and even if we suggest that Tottenham are on the rise, we have to admit that we dropped points against an opponent whom we should by rights beat. They came in with more energy and a better game plan, but it suggests something about us that we can spend so much time on the back foot, concede just once from a botched offside trap, and find a way back to claim the draw. If anything, Tottenham will have to look at this as two points dropped. However, if we are serious about keeping up with or even overtaking Man City, we'll have to do better than we did on Sunday. We have come out of a rough string of fixtures and will resume with a gentler one, but we can't go counting any eggs before they've hatched.
● Next match: at West Brom (21 November)

Manchester United
● Position: 4th
● Record: 7-3-2
● Points: 24 (66.67%)
● Total points at this rate: 76
● Form: WLWDDW
● Last match: Man U 2-0 West Brom
They're starting to chant at Van Gaal, something to do with scoring, and it seems as if he heeded them as Man U put two past the Baggies to mark the first time in six matches that Man U have scored more than one goal. Okay, so the second goal came on a spot-kick in stoppage time (awarded by Mike Dean who didn't celebrate his decision to wave play on seconds earlier. Strange. I thought he always celebrated his calls...). Still, there's a sense that this squad is building from the back and will eventually start to open up its attack. After his goal against West Brom, a level of Januzajian hype has started to grow around Jesse Lingard. If he or Martial take some of the weight off of Rooney and Mata, their offense could start to flow much more fluidly. That would make Van Gaal look like a genius and thrust Man U right into the thick of things--not that they're all that far behind in the first place.
● Next match: at Watford (21 November)

I've settled in to a four-club review for now, but I'm left with a dilly of a pickle. Whom do I admit? Leicester, currently in third place but probably flying too close to the sun? Tottenham, who by my own admission could be on the rise? Do I look past West Ham, Everton, and Southampton, among others, to include Klopp's Liverpool? Or do I wallow one more time? That wasn't so hard. Let's wallow, shall we?

● Position: 17th
● Record: 3-2-7
● Points: 11 (30.5%)
● Total points at this rate: 34.8
● Form: DLWLLL
● Last match: Stoke 1-0 Chelsea.
I said last week that one can never count Mourinho out, but it's deliciously irresistible. Sunday's loss at Stoke marks the first time Mourinho has lost seven matches in a season--and he has 26 more to face, assuming he's allowed to last that long. It's also the first time Abramovich's Chelsea have lost three straight Prem matches. While it's unlikely that they'll lost at home to Norwich, stranger things have happened. Mourinho's stadium ban at Stoke deprived us all of a chance to watch him suffer yet another glorious defeat, and conversations will now turn to whether he'll finish the season. Depending on the source, Chelsea could owe him up to £100m if he's sacked. Who would replace him? How would Abramovich feel about seeing Mourinho return to Real or Inter and experience success there? It's a fantabulous soap-opera to watch.
● Next match: vs. Norwich (21 November)

Before we get too carried away about the sorry state of affairs at Stamford Bridge or our own optimism at the Emirates, there's still plenty of football yet to be played. Heck, if Chelsea win every single Prem match from here on out, they'll rise to 89 points on the season, historically good enough to win the title. We or Man City could, by contrast, collapse entirely (but we'd still have more than twice the points Chelsea has at this point). Anything could happen. For now, though, focus on what will definitely happen: a two-week lull as players return to their countries for international duties of varying intensities...