25 January 2022

RIvals' Roundup, Matchday #24: Well, at least Spurs lost.

Hey, so first things first: I'm done with the cutesy "what matchday is it" nonsense. It's not going to level out any time soon, and, more to the point, it puts a lot of pressure on yours truly to do the maths, and you just can't count on me for that [obligatory and desultory "ha"]. It's been one of those months, hasn't it? The weekend felt like being given a spoonful of castor oil and being told to lay on the couch, what with our result and various others not really going our way. Still, Spurs lost, so I almost feel like coining a new portmanteau (look it up, unwashed heathens) along the lines of spursenfreude, but that might mean something unsavory in the original German, so I'll demur for the time being. On we go, then. 

  1. Man City (23 played, 18W, 3D, 2L: 57 pts.).
    Guardiola apparently misplaced one of the infinity stones at St. Mary's, one that the Saints themselves seem to briefly capture, scoring just seven minutes in through a beautiful sequence. Alas, Thanos cannot be denied, only delayed, and City found a nifty equaliser. Speaking after the match with characteristic humilty and deference, "I feel confident, as a manager, confident for the future". Understatement, thy name is Guardiola. With a nine-point lead over Liverpool (who do have a game in hand), it might just be time to start penciling in "Man City" as the Prem champions. It might even be worth investigating the cost of erasers, you know, just in case. At the moment, it does feel like we're watching a movie whose ending has been foreshadowed with all of the ham-handed subtlety of a teenage-themed rom-com.

  2. Liverpool (22 played, 14W, 6D, 2L: 48 pts.).
    The mugsmashers found a brave way to win, with Dioga Jota deciding to test the limits of physics, logic, and VAR by changing direction by roughly 80 degrees in order to crash into Palace keeper Guiata, away from the ball he had lost control of, in order to earn a penalty in the 89th minute of a match against an opponent with half his side's points. What's more, one could argue that Firmino was offside for Liverpool's second, but we need a narrative here, and City going twelve points clear depresses website traffic. Far be it from me though to suggest that the referees are in on some kind of conspiracy. Conspiracies depend on competence, after all. Back to the match, when you've lost Gary Lineker, who said it wasn't a pen "in a million years", you've got some soul-searching to do. I think. I can't remember if Lineker is worth listening. Instinct says not. The man played for Everton, so he may be biased. He also played for Tottenham, so he may be impaired.

  3. Chelsea (24 played, 18W, 8D, 3L: 47 pts.).
    A funny thing happens when you play Tottenham three times over a few weeks: you start to look like a competent side with legitimate aspirations. As the only club to have played all 24 matches, Chelsea look full of pomp despite having dropped nine points from their four matches prior to hosting Tottenham after having bounced them out of the League Cup, a tinpot trophy no one cares about, especially around here, for reasons we'll not explore for now. Chelsea continue to explore creative ways to explore not having centre-forwards score, with goals from Thiago and Ziyech earning them the three points. Early reports of Arrizabalaga leading the line after the break have not been confirmed. In a year in which no one other than City and Liverpool look remotely interested not to mention capable of competing, Chelsea's form may just be good enough to see them finish third. Stranger things have happened.

  4. Man U (22 played, 11W, 5D, 6L: 38 pts.).
    The Man U squad did its level best to remind Rangnick that Ronaldo is almost as old as your correspondent, with the winning goal coming through the involvement of not just one but no less than three players whose roles and playing time have suffered in deference to the 36-year old Portugeuse (Portugeusian? It feels like that should be a word). Man U scored in Fergie-time—er, I'm sorry—completely legitimate stoppage time through a move initiated by Greenwood, continued by Cavani, and finished by Rashford. We'll not say anything about Cavani's left arm being offside in the sequence, because we all know that Man U are as pure as the driven snow, VAR is 100% accurate, and the referees are as competent as Boris Johnson answering questions about parties at 10 Downing Street. I'm sure we'll be reassured at the idea of Man U earning its way back into the top four through entirely above-board methods. It's the Man U way, after all. Unless I'm delusional. I'm not delusional, which is entirely reasonable for a not-delusional player to declare.

  5. West Ham (23 played, 11W, 4D, 8L: 37 pts.).
    I'm not going to make a big deal of the fact that David Moyes has not won an away-match at any of the "big six" (that includes Arsenal, so maybe the sarcastic air-quotes are superfluous) in 45 matches. I'm also not drawing attention to that fact by saying that I'm not going to make a big deal of it. Still, contrary to incorrect reports recently published [cough], West Ham continue to compete on several fronts, and this may come as more of a burden than boon considering how threadbare the Hammers' squad is. To paraphrase the Mafia, "nice defensive midfielder you have there. It would be a pity if anything happened to it." Not that I wish any harm on Declan Rice, but West Ham are an injury or transfer move away from complete irrelevance (see Exhibit A: Grealish, Jack re: Aston Villa). Moyes will have to hope that Rice continues to play well enough to keep West Ham in the fight without playing so well that he gets prised away.

  6. Arsenal (21 played, 11W, 3D, 7L: 36 pts.).
    Feh. January can go and a take a long walk off a short pier. Make like a drum and beat it. Act like a tree and leave. Imitate a jar of mayonnaise and the GTFO of my face. After crashing out of the FA Cup and League Cup, we had to endure Burnley's Neanderthal tactics. I'd call it "parking the bus", but they'd have to inhabit the 20th century to know what a bus is, much less how to park it. Maybe it's a form of karma after having beaten Burnley several times thanks to very-late pens and free kicks. Maybe it's our insistence on sending cross after cross after cross into a box full of cave trolls. Maybe it's Nick Pope having his once-a-year worldie against us. Whatever it was, this little break couldn't come at a better time. We look threadbare and gassed after January's fixture congestion and our own injury, covid, and red-card woes. Despite our stumbles, we're still very much in the fix, and the Panglossian (unwashed heathens, I warn you...) spin is that we can focus on the Prem from here on out. What could go wrong?

  7. Tottenham (20 played, 11W, 3D, 6L: 36 pts.).
    Yum. This one had it all. An early Kane goal ruled out for a soft foul. Subsequent Chelsea shoves going uncalled. A goal scored in which Lloris does that thing he does where he hunkers down, freezes like a cockroach when one turns on the kitchen light, and then looks over his shoulder as the ball hits the back of the net. Tottenham's first Prem loss under Conte. Conte fuming about the upgrades he's going to need to compete while complaining about the gap between Spurs and the top four. On one hand, this is the kind of result that can prompt some investment to upgrade the squad. On the other hand, it's Daniel Levy, who has somehow managed to make Arsène look like he spent like a drunken sailor. Immovable object, meet irresistible force. At a risk of trying too hard to make spursenfreude "happen", the next week should be entertaining as we watch Spurs cast about to convince someone, anyone, to join. A rather derisory £15 bid for Adama Traoré has already been swatted away, and there just aren't too many other rumours making the rounds. Tsk.
So there we have it. As with last week, we'll have to keep an eye on Wolves...unless Spurs can get Traoré, and I just don't see that happening. Of course, all sorts of transfers could happen in coming days, making all this time you just spent reading my expert analysis even less relevant than it already was. After City and Liverpool, there's a real dog-fight for the remaining European spots. At a risk of sounding overconfident or biased, it does feel as if Arsenal are the only club that's failing to meet its potential. Most if not all of our rivals are maximising their performances or close to it. Margins are slim. Tensions are high. I'm overserved. Not my fault (except that I'm both bartender and barfly in this kitchen). 'Til next week...