12 December 2021

Rivals' Roundup #16: Penalties galore—for those who deserve and need them

This was a weekend of restoring order, of maintaining the Great Chain of Being. Every club knows its place; every club occupies its place; no club dare disturb the universe. So it was merely the hand of Fate that assigned match-deciding penalties in favor of Man City, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Man U. Those who allege incompetence, or worse, bias are probably the same who disbelieve soothsayers, Magic 8 Balls, and dowsing rods. Rather than tempt fate, I solemnly advise, 'tis better to accept the mysterious machinations of the universe as well as one's preordained position in it. To do otherwise would be to suggest that Prem League referees are somehow less than infallible, an allegation so heinous that my I could scarcely bring my fingers to type the phrase. A bracing shot of scotch or three did steady mine fingers. That Arsenal somehow managed to win did similarly soothe jangled nerves. On then to the roundup...

1. Man City (12W, 2D, 2L, 38 pts.).
One thing that can be said about Jon Moss is that he's always in the
right position to make the right call, fit as he is, and so it comes as no surprise that his influence on the outcome of Man City's clash with Wolves was as light as, well, Jon Moss himself. Two yellow cards issued to Wolves Raul Jiménez within forty seconds were but a delicate veneer of fairy dust to Moss, who then saw fit to award City a generous penalty when Bernardo's cross struck Moutinho's ribcage. In Moss's defense, it's been such a long time that he has seen his own ribcage that he can be forgiven for mistaking for an extension of the arm. Raheem Sterling, who never saw a penalty too dodgy to pass up, promptly scored from the spot, "earning" his 100th Prem goal in a style befitting one of the diviest players to ever play in England—not that I begrudge him in the least. I'm actually relieved that those West Midland upstarts didn't upstage those Manchester upstarts.

2. Liverpool (11W, 4D, 1L, 37 pts.).
Liverpool greeted the return of the iconic midfielder Steven Gerrard, freshly appointed as Aston Villa manager (he must not have had anything else going on prior) by letting Gerrard believe his side had a chance of winning at Anfield for the better part of an hour. It was then that Mohamed Salah decided to both one-up Sterling and spoil Gerrard's homecoming in one fell swoop by, it must be admitted, falling down. Okay, to it was a clumsy challenge from Tyone Mings, and it was in the box, and it was clear that Salah had lost control of the ball. What's a Golden Boot contender to do but pad his stats a bit (he does after all have vertical stability challenged Vardy nipping at his heels). Still, Salah placed the penalty so perfectly that not even Emi Martinez himself could stop it. And there's nothing to be said about the rugby scrum that Allison and Matip engaged in to deny Danny Ings in the match's dying moments. Why, I'm surprised anyone would even bring it up. Great Chain of Being. It's totally a thing.

3. Chelsea (11W, 3D, 2L, 36 pts.).
Referee Chris Kavanagh thought himself to be a regular Kris Kringle, awarding no less than three spot-kicks here. In the process, none other than Antonio Rudiger offered himself as a savle to Chelsea's scoring woes by drawing both of Chelsea's pens, tereby making more a of a contribution to Chelsea's attack than any of Werner, Lukaku, or Mount could be bothered to do. In the last moments of the match, Rudiger did his level best to summon the spirit of Drogba, going down under the lightest of touches. Either that, or gravity pulls extra-hard on strikers who are in the box. To be fair, Mateusz Klich was perhaps a bit rash to choose this moment to test his theory that it's wise for a defender to kick out through an opponent in hopes of touching the ball. Although it was more than a bit generous for the hosts to allow their visitors a chance at escaping with a point, I'm sure all will rest assured in knowing that the natural balance of the universe has been preserved. The win keeps Chelsea within two points of the top. something I'm sure will let us all sleep soundly tonight.

4. West Ham (8W, 4D, 4L, 28 pts.).
The unofficial Who Wants to Play CB for West Ham? auditions commenced at Turf Moor as Ben Mee and James Tarkowski each plied their wares for David Moyes, who needs to reinforce a squad already short on options before a season-ending injury to Ogbonna and a long-term one for Zouma. Either that or Sean Dyche was eager to do Arsenal, his favorite club, a solid, by holding West Ham. In a typically tenacious display, Burnley did everything they could to avoid conceding or scoring, and the plan worked to perfection. I learned from this match that Aaron Lennon is still in the Prem. Will wonders never cease? Back to what matters: the result may frustrate Moyes, but the point is good enough to keep them in fourth for another week. They apparently don't qualify to climb any higher in the Great Chain, as evinced by their failure to earn a penalty despite Craig Dawson (who I could have sworn used to be a referee...). If only it had been Pawson. Surely he would have awarded himself the pen. Maybe next week.

5. Man U (8W, 3D, 5L, 27 pts.).
The Ralf Rangnick Revolution continues, with the German's masterful strategy, consisting on this day of "let's hope one of our lads goes down in the box so Ronaldo can convert from the spot", has once and for all established Rangnick as one of this generation's masterminds. Nevermind the morose mutterings of a that Norwegian  over there. He's saying, "he stole my bit" as if this isn't stealing Smelly's bit of looking into an exhaust pipe and getting a faceful of soot. But I digress. Ronaldo was clearly, unequivaocally, and violently tapped quite lightly by Max Aarons to earn the pen. Man U continue to walk a fine tightrope, daring themselves not to score despite having all of the attacking threat of the Death Star (and, it must be added, the defensive prowess to match). Days like this make David de Gea seem like he has as many hands as Vishnu, for they were all very busy against Norwich. In the end, though, Man U must be applauded for so bravely seeing off a side that spent almost as half as much on transfers as Man U did this summer.

6. Arsenal (8W, 2D, 6L, 26 pts.).
Arsenal erased any nagging doubts and answered all critics with a thumping 3-0 win over Southampton, and it would absolutely be a mistake to point out that the Saints have now conceded 12 goals in their last five outings while failing to win any. Instead, let's focus on what really matters: xG. According to someone known as "the xG philosophy", our xG was 1.81. So we exceeded our xG by a factor of 1.66666667, incontrovertible evidence that xG matters more than actual goals scored in measuring how well a squad plays. Have I said "xG" enough times to render it a meaingless sound? On a vaguely more serious note, it was refreshing to come home and snatch a comfy win. We'll have to do something about that away form, though. At home, we're joint-best with Man City with 19 points from eight matches. Away, we've taken a woeful seven points from eight matches. Part of this is the result of having such a young squad—but another factor is the lack of leadership from senior players. It's hard to see who among Aubameyang, Lacazette, Xhaka, or Partey is both good enough as a player and strong enough as a leader to galvanise our younger players (fun fact: "galvanise" comes from the 18th century Italian scientist Luigi Galvani, who discovered that electricity applied to dead frogs' brains caused their legs to kick as if they had come back to life. This was one factor that inspired Mary Shelley to write the novel Frankenstein).

6. Tottenham (8W, 1D, 5L, 25 pts.).
Well, I can't for the life of me think of any other clubs worth reviewing this week. Nope. None. To be honest, though, we'll have to keep an eye on Tottenham. They do have two games in hand and are just a point behind us. When those matches are rescheduled could be an important x-factor: will Tottenham benefit from playing these later, or will they add to fixture congestion? Neither Prem match is a gimme: away to Burnley and again to Brighton, and there's still the mystery of the Europa League Conference. Not the League itself, although it is one, but what UEFA will decide to do. I hope it comes across as 100% sincere when I say that I hope Tottenham can play and win this match because my only earnest joy in this world would come through seeing them finally win silverware. I swear that absolutely none of my hope here relates to increased fixture congestion if they can advance in whatever this League is. Seriously. Scout's honor.

That's a wrap. For now. We'll have to keep an eye on Leicester, who've been dumped from the Europa League and demoted to the Europa Conference League. For now, though, we can rest on our laurels, content in knowing that we're about to go another extended unbeaten run. It's the only logical conclusion to be drawn. Right? Tell me I'm right.