14 March 2022

Rivals' Roundup #29: It was the best of times; it was the blurst of times?

It was the best of times; it was the blurst of times? Stupid monkey. The weekend really only brought us one definitively positive result, our own win over Leicester. Everywhere else, our erstwhile allies let us down. That's what we get for counting on the likes of Newcastle, Aston Villa, Everton, or Tottenham, each of whom pretty much did what one would rationally expect them to do: fail. Victories to Chelsea, West Ham, Wolves, and Man U mean that your world-weary (and, let's face facts, lazy) correspondent has more typing to do than he cares to do. Still, I can hardly let a roomful of monkeys at typewriters put me in my place, so let's see what I can come up with.

3. Chelsea (28 played, 17W 8D 3L: 59 pts.).
Something something something oil money bad. In a battle between two clubs owned by persons whose wealth is, shall we, say, unsavory at the best of times, one might hope that the universe would step in and see both clubs liquidated after suffering the herefore unimaginable and unprecedented double-loss, with both clubs dropping all three points whilst also seeing numerous players incur three match bans for violent conduct, if only because the man who signs their cheques knows about, financed, or was somehow involved in either (a) the dismemberment of a journalist or (b) the poisoning deaths of various critics. There's some semblance of justice to be found in the fact that Mr. Abramovich has been disqualified as owner of Chelsea, putting on hold his attempt to sell the club and at least temporarily suggesting that the Prem cares about appearing to care about issues other than money. 

4. Arsenal (26 played, 16W 3D 7L: 51 pts.).
There's something strangely encouraging about this latest result. Not only did we not have to face Jamie "I score against Arsenal" Vardy, but we benefitted from a goal from, of all people, Thomas "I thought I was going for a conversion [point-after for the Yanks among us]" Partey. For those not yet gob-smacked enough, we scored a second when, in what must surely be one of the signs of the apocalypse, we were awarded a penalty after Anthony Taylor went to VAR and admitted that Söyüncü had deflected yet another Partey header with his hand. Lacazette converted from the spot, complete with a cheeky little pause in the run-up to get Schmeichel all wound up not to mention off his line, and we saw the match out. I'm not the superstitious type, but I'll avoid all the same pointing out our latest run, how many corners we've not conceded from, or what it means to have three games in hand over our closest competitors. 

5. Man U (29 played, 14W 8D 7L: 50 pts.).
The Rangnick Revolution continues, as this week Ralf's plan to "plod along for most of the match and hope that Ronaldo conjures up a few moments of magic" largely succeeded in exploiting Antonio Conte's plan to "plod along and hope Ronaldo doesn't conjure up any moments of magic".  This resulted in Ronaldo's first Prem hat-trick since 2008, proving that the Portuguese can't be all that great. Two hat tricks across 14 years? Pffft. More seriously, the result was good enough to briefly elevate Man U to fourth place, a position they could only hold for half a day or so It doesn't quite eliminate Tottenham from the conversation, but it does amount to an impatient shushing. Were it not for Maguire's own goal (making OG Tottenham's third-most prolific scorer after Kane and Son), Spurs would have been further off the pace. Truth be told, both sides seem like mirror images of each other, inconsistent and overly reliant on one player to score their goals. Having said that, though, they each have softer run-ins than we do. Watching each of them blunder about like half-drunken elephants on roller skates will alternate between the hilarious and the sublime, hopefully the latter.

6. West Ham (29 played, 14W 6D 9L: 48 pts.).
Let's pause on the snark for a moment to celebrate Andriy Yarmolenko's goal to lift West Ham past Aston Villa. It was an emotional moment that elicited tears and cheers, even from Villa's fans, as the Ukrainian forward fell to his knees, overcome at the burden he no doubt carries as the Russian invasion intensifies. It was a potentially massive goal for West Ham, too, lifting them back into the top five, just two points behind Man U having played the same number of matches. On the downside, Yarmolenko had to come on to replace the injured Michail Antonio, possibly stripping Moyes of one of his most-important players going into their second leg against Sevilla down 0-1. Aaron Cresswell also came up lame. The silver lining here is that West Ham not have the strength to overcome Sevilla, allowing them to focus on the Prem, something an already-thin squad could probably benefit from. Given a choice between them and Man U or Tottenham getting a European spot, I think the choice is obvious.

7. Wolves (29 played, 14W 4D 11L: 46 pts.).
Okay, I'll admit it even if it's a little juvenile (and because I kind of covered Tottenham while discussing Man U's result). I'm feeling cheeky enough to write about Wolves and then omit Tottenham from this week's roundup. They're back in for now, but it's probably more from the two sweetest words in the English language than from any real uptick in form I speak of course of de fault. After crushing Watford, Wolves just barely slipped past ten-man Everton, winning 0-1. They'll have to be just a touch better than that in coming weeks if they expect to continue to challenge. Complicating matters, they'll have to host Man City and make trips to Stamford Bridge and Anfield. Even a trip to Turf Moor looks dicey with Burnley fighting to escape relegation. Like West Ham, they've played 29 matches. Also like West Ham, they have a very thin squad. Their path forward is razor-thin, having scored just 29 goals. As much as I'd love to see them overtake Man U, we may to settle for them blocking Tottenham's path to the top four. 

That's all I have to say about that for now. There's going to be a lot of action this week with numerous midweek Prem matches and several European clashes with strong implications for the top-four tilt. Various pundits have dared to anoint Arsenal the favorites to clinch that fourth place spot. It's odd to see pundits praising Arsenal, apparently sincerely, and is perhaps one more sign that karma, the gods, the cosmos, or whatever entity is in charge of these things may be smiling on this club for a change. That's as close as I'm going to get to agreeing. I'm not about to be the to banjax it by saying what I think the table will look like on the final day. Still lots of football to be played, and anything can happen. Right. Let's stop there, then. Do all of the requisite voting, re-posting, commenting, subscribing, and all those other nice things that will fill the emptiness I feel in my soul. 'Til next time...