29 November 2021

Rivals' Roundup, Matchday 13: Waiting for the other shoe to drop?

After another week in which just about every result seemed to go our way, it's starting to feel a little bit eerie. I'm not even going to list off the positive trends for fear of banjanxing the whole kit and caboodle. Instead, let's just savor the delicious taste of (most of) our rivals dropping points for another week. It's almost enough to make one believe that we have a chance at approaching something in the vicinity of relevance at some point in the not-too-far-off future, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. Instead, let's just see what's what among those who stand between us and a fourth-place finish.

  1. Chelsea (9W, 3D, 1L, 30 pts).
    Thomas Tuchel was presented a logical quandary akin to the debate between Corax and Tisias. If Chelsea win, he proves that he has learned valuable lessons from his one-time mentor and Man U manager-in-waiting Ralf Rangnick. If Chelsea lose, he proves that Man U are in dire need of a managerial upgrade. He apparently decided to split the difference as Chelsea barely came away with a draw against a much-improved Man U side managed by Michael "don't say I'm at the wheel" Carrick. Either that or Carrick's tactic of having his men kick the ball really far and hoping to outrun Chelsea's defense, which was so high that it failed a drug test, was a masterclass. It was enough to give the Devils a brief lead as Jorginho did his best imitation of (take your pick) Gerrard slipping to let Demba Ba through to score, Kante falling down to let our own Martinelli through to score, or Alexis knicking it from Cahill to score. In any case, Jorginho equalised from the spot, which gave all neutrals a chance to savor the irony of Man U's Bruno Fernandes complaining about a penalty.

  2. Man City (9W, 2D, 2L, 29 pts).
    Pep Guardiola continues his Quixotic quest to prove just how boringly dominant an expensively assembled side can be, in which the latest chapter is 69% (nice) possession in the snow amounted to a grand total of nine shots on target, two of which found their way past special agent FabiaƄski. City continue to play with the same urgency and intensity of an overweight twenty year old cat playing with a dead mouse, which, considering the depth of their squad, is still more than enough to claim all three points more often than not. Whether or not Guardiola can motivate his squad to play with any kind of drive or determination will go a long way towards determining who wins the Prem. His obsession with finally winning the Champions League for the first time since 2011 (!) may direct his attentions away from the Prem. That, or he's out to prove that simply buying any players you want doesn't guarantee domestic silverware. Either or.

  3. Liverpool (8W, 4D, 1L, 28 pts).
    The mugsmashers decided to prove once and for all that Southampton are just as generous as Arsenal, battering the Saints by the same scoreline by which they battered us just a week ago. Southampton even went so far as to wear a kit resembling our 2015-16 kit (yellow torso with blue sleeves) as if to complete the deal. At any rate, Liverpool have now scored 10 goals while conceding none in three matches and look like they mean business both in the Prem and Champions League. AFCON does loom large, though, with Salah, Mane, and Keita likely to miss at least a few matches in January. That, coupled with Klopp's disdain for the League Cup and FA Cup, could open the door for others to progress--and could hamstring their rampage through the Prem. Truth be told, it's hard to imagine this squad taking its foot off the gas any time soon, and yours truly owes Klopp an apology for assuming that his gegenpress would lead to a raft of injuries. I'll leave off by pointing out that there's a difference between oweing something and actually paying.

  4. West Ham (7W, 2D, 4L, 23 pts).
    Here's where the gap one needs to mind starts to open. Five points separate West Ham from Liverpool after the Hammers went into Anfield, managed to acquit themselves rather well, and come away empty-handed with only an injury-time consolation goal to make the scoreline seem respectable. As alluded to above, West Ham perhaps offered less resistance that ennui or the snow, but they did at least answer critics who suggest that their form is inflated by a generous string of fixtures to start the season. That said, they've now hosted Liverpool and visited Man City and come away with their self-respect intact, more than many other clubs can claim. David Moyes still has to grapple with the fact that his squad is about as thin as single-ply toilet paper, and the December schedule is about as cluttered as it gets. If Moyes can keep this squad in the top four through the New Year, that alone would be enough to earn him a nod for Manager of the Year.

  5. Arsenal (7W, 2D, 4L, 23 pts).
    While it's true that an expected result is not as thrilling as a surprise, it was still gratifying to see us get back to winning ways against Newcastle. Eddie Howe set his men up in an uncharacteristically conservative way, which was enough to get to halftime with a scoreless draw in the offing. One might even suggest that Newcastle could have gone in with a 0-1 lead. They would have been wrong, of course, but they could still suggest it. The story of the match has to have been Nuno Tavares, who more than made up for his disastrous performance against Liverpool by laying waste to Newcastle. It might be nice if he'd rein in the wayward shooting, but there's time for that. His lay-off to Saka for the opening goal was understated and sublime, and his rampaging runs discombobulated Newcastle in the worst of ways. Beyond that, Gabi sparked pertinent talk of just who should be on the left wing by coming on and scoring in just 93 seconds, a question all the more pressing given Aubemayang's struggles, which included fluffing a tap-in from six yards out. Between his form and AFCON, January might just offer an opportunity for someone like Gabi to shine....

  6. Wolves (6W, 2D, 5L, 20 pts).
    Wolves were apparently feeling generous this weekend, opting to not score against Norwich, they of the 27 goals conceded, allowing the Canaries to dream of achieving the dream of reaching double-digits for points claimed. Similar to West Ham, Wolves have a decent XI but a desperatley thin bench, and the coming fixture congestion will go a long way towards revealing just how legitimate their ambitions are. One suspects that they will be torn up like Kleenex at a snot convention. Numerous injuries deprived them of options this weekend; losing someone like Adama Traore even briefly would be perhaps fatal to their campaign. Still, we would be remiss to write them off, having learned painful lessons from other upstarts who have overtaken us in years past. On the other hand, they've not faced anyone in the top six home or away, with their toughest results two 0-1 lossses to Tottenham and Man U early one, which was kind of sort of like losing 0-1 to, say, Everton.
If only to take advantage of weather-related postponements, I'll leave off for now. Tottenham will have to reschedule their trip to Turf Moor, which is far from ideal as it offers Conte no time to drill his squad while depriving him of time to do so later on. We've touched on Man U, who may just pose a bigger threat given the depth of their squad and their owners' pockets. For the moment, let's leave it at this: the top three spots are already nailed on. Fourth place is wide open, given the shortcomings of West Ham and Wolves, our own progress, and the potential growth from Tottenham and Man U. With that, and with a bevvie in hand, I'll leave you to ponder the possibilities....