03 January 2022

Rivals' Roundup #19(?): Fixtures Flying Fast and Furious

Between our last roundup and today, something like 93 matches were played and a similar number were postponed in what was, of course, a completely consistent and transparent process that in no way favored any club over any other, which is nothing less than we've come to expect from the FA. One upshot is that one club—Burnley—has played only 17 matches, while two clubs—Man City and Chelsea—have played 21. Surely, this explains each club's position on the table. It stands to reason, after all, that playing more matches earns a club more points. Much as I would love a deeper analysis into each club's over the busy holiday season, we all know that's not why any of us are here today. Instead, let's get to why we're really here: juvenile sarcasm, Simpsons references, and highly biased assessment of clubs.

  1. Man City (21 played: 17W, 2D, 2L, 53 pts).
    Stuart Atwell set out do to his level best to disprove long-standing allegations of bias in Arsenal's favor, all the better to level the playing field between a squad that played two days prior and cost more than a manned mission to Mars and a squad that played six days prior and hasn't beaten that other squad in their last ten league outings. To that end, Atwell, ever-mindful of restoring his previously pristine record for objectivity and competence, saw fit to ignore Ederson bringing Ødegaard down in the box and any number of professional fouls and clumsy challenges from Rodri while also deciding that pulling someone's jersey backwards clearly causes them to fall forward, awarding the overwhelmed visitors a pen, then booking Gabriel twice inside of two minutes. His sympathy and compassion for Man City, who were being absolutely embarrassed by just about every measure imaginable, has him shortlisted for sainthood. I'm sure we'll all inspired by his shining example.

  2. Chelsea (21 played: 12W, 7D, 2L, 43 pts).
    Sadio Mané tried to set a record for getting sent off in the first 15 seconds of a match, apparently forgetting that no one sends Mané off. Thomas Tuchel seemed bound and determined to see just how many draws they can claim and how many goals they can score without two of their most expensive players and still be seen as contenders to win the Prem. Neither Timo Werner nor Romelu Lukaku playerd, and Chelsea soon found themselves scoreless and trailing 0-2 at home. It looked as if Liverpool would blow out another would-be rival (hey, at least it happened to us at Anfield...), but then Chelsea managed to flip the script. In an outcome that helps only Man City, Chelsea found two goals inside of three minutes to level the score. It's a result that does neither side any favors and leaves Tuchel wondering whether his decision to leave roughly £200m worth of attackers out of his XI paid off or not. It's a dilly of a pickle, that's for sure. 

  3. Liverpool (20 played: 12W, 6D, 2L, 42 pts).
    It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times. For 42 minutes, Liverpool looked like they would do to Chelsea what they've been doing to rivals for much of the season only to forget that playing defense is kind of important, at least from time to time. Liverpool have a habit of going wobbly at the worst of times; instead of going into halftime firmly in control of a match, they did their best Spurs impersonation and conceded twice. Maybe it was Jurgen's covid test. After all, no squad can be expected to perform to its best without its manager on the touchline. That would be ludicrous. From here, even with a game in hand, they would have to be perfect and hope for Man City to implode if they expect to wrest the title from Man City. Losing Alisson, Firmino, and Matip to covid was surely a setback, but so too will be losing Mané, Salah, and Keita to AFCON. Gosh, if only they had money to invest in the squad...

  4. Arsenal (20 played: 11W, 2D, 7L, 35 pts).
    There's always a lot of talk about that proverbial "12th man", that intangible but still palpable energy and support that arises ineffably from the ground beneath the players' feet, and on this day, the Arsenal XI summoned and fed off of that energy, battering the Most Expensive Squad Ever AssembledTM six ways from Sunday. Oh, wait. By "12th man," I was referring to referee Stuart Atwell, who (as previously described) did his level-best to level to the ground any suspicion of any pro-Arsenal bias. He went to lengths too sordid to retell here, but he also awarded a corner when a two-footed reckless challenge might have otherwise broken an ankle and booked a player who shrugged in disbelief when a teammate was bundled to the ground. At the same time, there's something in the fact that a side reduced to ten men against twelve for more than a half-hour fought on until the sixth minute of stoppage time before succumbing. Future opponents should take that into account. This is not the Arsenal of old. We don't fold. We fight.

  5. West Ham  (20 played: 10W, 4D, 6L, 34 pts).
    Apparently, rumours of West Ham's demise have been greatly exaggerated. Two consecutive wins have them back in the mix, and they've matched last season's achievement of ten wins from their first twenty matches, which was good enough to help them finish sixth. Questions will persist about the depth of the squad, especially in defense but also in regards to Michael Antonio and Declan Rice, equally talismanic to West Ham's success. Apparently, David Moyes has now equaled Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger by winning his tenth match on New Year's Day, which clearly establishes him as the best Scotsman to have managed in the Premier League. There can be doubt about that. With his bona fides so well established, it's only a matter of time before Moyes overtakes both Ferguson and Wenger for career wins (scoff but not too loudly—he's currently third, 238 behind Wenger and 290 behind Ferguson).
     
  6. Tottenham (18 played: 10W, 3D, 5L, 33 pts).
    I know it's fun to make fun of Tottenham (easy, too), but woe betide those who underestimate a club that have two games in hand over those above them in the quest for a fourth place finish (or third, depending on how dsyfunctional things get over at Stamford Bridge). Okay, enough parentheticals. For their most-recent result, they clearly decided to toy with relegation-battlers Watford at Vicarage Road for the better part of 95 minutes before finally, with clear eyes, a plan, and intent, deciding to find a stoppage-time winner. At this rate, Antonio Conte will have to look at buying a new trophy cabinet, seeing as how he is the first manager in Tottenham's entire existence to have avoided defeat in his first seven matches (how's that for a Spursian achievement?). That's worth a trophy, innit? More seriously, the Conte revival should not be underestimated too much. If Conte can convince Levy to spend in January, they may very well begin to resemble something reminiscent of possible contenders.

  7. Man U (18 played: 9W, 4D, 5L, 31 pts).
    Apparently, Man U enjoyed its best 45 minutes of the season in the first half, when they scored three first-half goals for the first time in more than a year, a clear indication that the Rangnick Revolution has truly begun. Oh, wait. It was against Burnley. At Old Trafford. Oh, and Burnley were without eight players. Hell, Aaron Lennon started. I may have been a bit hasty sharpening the pitchfork and warming the tar and plucking the feathers and storming the gates. That's the kind of stat one would expect a squad that includes Ronaldo, Cavani, Rashford, Sancho, Greenwood, Martial, and Fernandes to produce week in and week out. Still, like Tottenham, they're on a fine run, undefeated in their last eight. Unlike Tottenham, they probably have money to burn in the January market. If they can bolster their squad (sorry, just choked back a bit of bile), they could very well buy their way back to relevance, something that such a proud club has never considered doing before this point.
There we are for the week. I suppose we can't entirely write off Brighton or Wolves, but I'm tired of writing. It wasn't the best of weekends, what with Arsenal losing and both Tottenham and Man U winning, but each matchday is not an apples-to-apples comparison. We were playing the defending champions and lost. Those other two were playing relegation fodder and won. The two of them have been in fabulous form but haven't found a way to apply pressure to us. Between their games in hand and the grit, determination, and—yes—dominance we displayed for most of our clash with City, I'm choosing us. We're battering those whom we should beat, and we more than held our own against the best in the Prem. I have a good feeling about this. In previous seasons, our boys would have folded faster than Superman on laundry day. Instead, they rose to the challenged and shrugged off each and every setback. Hell, there's even (perhaps wishful) talk of us reeling in one or both of Chelsea and Liverpool. Stranger things have happened.