19 January 2022

Rivals' Roundup, Matchday 23? A New Hope Awakens or is Dawning or...

Some clubs have played as few as 17 matches. Others, 23. Twixt the two are, well, predictably, clubs that have played—wait for it—18, 19, 20, 21, or 22 matches. And that, dear readers, is why your correspondent gets paid the big bucks. Hard-hitting, no holds barred investigative journalism. I highly doubt that you'll find this kind of fact-finding at El Metro, The Sun, or any number of birdcage-liner sites. At any rate, let's get down to the proverbial brass tacks. There's all sorts of goings-on to sort through.

 1. Man City (22 played, 18 W, 2D, 2L: 56 points)
The Citizens continue their almost-Thanos-like domination of the Prem, dispatching would-be foes and rivals with the samed bored and jaded cartoonish ennui of the Marvel supervillain. On Saturday, Chelsea did their best "early 'Guardians of the Galaxy'" attempt at defeating City but could only come away empty-handed on the short end of a 1-0 loss that perhaps flattered the visitors ever so slightly. Truth be told, it's remarkable to see a squad arguably playing in third gear for most of the match against one of its closest rivals ("closest" being a very generous, here meaning "on the same pitch at the same time") and coming away with one of the more-comfortable 1-0 wins you'll ever see. City were generous enough to let Ederson have a few saves, if only to stave enough existential angst, but the outcome, as always, was never really in doubt.

2. Liverpool (21 played, 13W, 6D, 2L: 45 points)
The Scousers did their best to reprise their role of terrier chasing and barking at passing cars, swatting
Brentford away by a 3-0 scoreline, to keep themselves within shouting distance of shouting distance of Man City. Don't write them off. They're "only" 11 points adrift...and they have (cue dramatic music) a game in hand. If they keep this up, they'll be a scant eight points behind the league leaders. That might well very be good enough to finish roughly eight to ten points behind City in second place. Huzzah! AFCON has, I dare say, exposed Liverpool's dependence on Salah and ManĂ©. They again looked dull, one-dimensional, and predictable. Still, they have enough quality in their sqaud to trounce a newly-promoted side that sits 14th, so they have that going for them.

3. Chelsea (23 played, 12W, 8D, 3L: 44 points)
Chelsea are perhaps the most-enigmatic third-place squad in recent memory. On one hand, they have one of the deepest squads that can be legitimately and honorably assembled by a club willing to let an oil-rich oligarch who is almost certainly chums with one of the 21st century's worst dictators. On the other hand, they're capable of some of the dullest football known to man despite having spent the rough equivalent of the GDP of one-third of the world's countries on attacking talent. In fairness, they have scored the third-most goals in the Prem. In fairness, they can't seem to muster any real attacking threat. Their listless draw to Brighton means that they've taken just 17 points from their last 13 matches—and they were indeed fortunate to escape Amex Stadium with a point on Tuesday. It's not for nothing that Gooners are taking out their abacuses (abaci?) to see what it means to have three games in hand over a club that's nine points ahead.

4. West Ham (22 played,  11W 4D 7L: 37 points)
At a risk of sounding like a Chicken Little, or, failing that, a Scottish manager whose reputation yo-yos back and forth, it seems a little like the sky is falling faster than a dropped yo-yo over in East London. David Moyes lamented his squad's fatigue after having played three matches in five days (clearly, he hasn't figured out the FA's clearly articulated "how to postpone a match under dodgy circumtances" policy" after the Hammers limped to a 2-3 defeat to Leeds. Notably absent from post-match interviews was complaint from Marcelo Bielsa, who was missing enough players to injury, covid, and suspension that he could have fielded a full XI (no joke: Leeds were without eleven players). If there's a blessing to Moyes, it's that he can now focus fully on the Prem, having been knocked out of Europa League, the FA Cup, and League Cup. He has his squad playing well, so let's not underestimate a less-cluttered set of fixtures...

5. Arsenal (20 played, 11W, 2D 7L: 35 points)
Tragically, and with absolutely no precedent established, Arsenal had to postpone their North London Derby. To be clear, there is absolutely no chance of us trolling our erstwhile rivals just because we couldn't field enough players but decided to loan a few out (let's forget for a moment that loan deals aren't arranged at the same rate as summoning an Uber; these loan deals were long in the making). At any rate, asking the FA to investigate and make a decision is somewhat different from, oh, I don't know, unilaterally announcing the postponement of a Europa League Conference League match while one's rivals are already en route. Pardon my French). It's somewhat telling that rivals and pundits were up in arms over our postponement. It's almost as if—and we're through the looking-glass here, people—they're threatened by our progress. Parallel thought for the conspiracy theorists: could it be that Tottenham were desperate to face our short-handed side, as if they fear facing us on equal footing? Inquiring minds want to know!

6. Tottenham (18 played, 10W, 3D, 5L: 33 points)
This has literally never happened in the history of the Premier League, as evinced by Antonio Conte's "surprise" at a club requesting a postponement due to unavailable players (the postponement of the NLD, was the 18th match to be posptoned during this campaign) To be fair, he wasn't at the wheel when Tottenham decided to postpone its match with Rennes...and then ask to have its match with Leicester postponed in order to play against Rennes to keep their slender hopes of winning the Europa Conference League alive. Their braying and squealing over this postponement sounds more than a bit like hollow chest-thumping bravado (not that I would ever insinuate that they're capable of anything untoward. One does have to keep an eye on those games in hand they have over their rivals. I mean, those eggs are as good as catched. Three points as good as claimed already. right? The Conte Conquest cannot be denied. Sorry that I couldn't summon the enthusiasm necessary to end that with an exclamation point.

7. Man U (20 played, 9W. 5D, 6L: 32 points)
The Rangnick Revolution continues un-...um...okay, so I can't think of a word that starts with R that means "haltingly and unconvincingly". After "roaring" to a 0-2 lead over Aston Villa, Man U decided that the best course of action would be to do whatever they could to revive the flagging career of Coutinho, newly loaned in to Villa. In short work, the Brazilian "assisted" Villa's first goal and scored the equaliser in the span of about five minutes. I'm sure that Coutinho's thank-you note to Rangnick's men will be heartfelt, humble, and sincere. The result means that Man U have taken just five points from their last five outings. As a sign that all is well at Old Trafford, Anthony Martial has insisted taht he didn't refuse to play against Villa, Rangnick has stated that he'll play Pogba even if the midfielder forces his way out, and transfer rumours around Rashford and Van de Beek proliferate. Suffice it to say, it's hard to have much faith in all of this, but far be it from me to take pleasure from such a thoroughly respected adversary as them.

Let's leave off for now. I don't want to write off Wolves, but I also don't want to write anymore until my reddit karma for this post converts to cash. I will say that the top three spots are probably penciled in, with Chelsea showing maybe just enough wobble to keep the eraser at the ready. A lot will depend on the next two weeks or so, especially for clubs like Arsenal, Tottenham, and Man U, whose transfer business could go a long way towards both revealing and realizing their ambitions for the upcoming run-in. Of the three, I think I can speak without undue bias that Arsenal are the most-settled and perhaps closest to checking items off their to-do list.