11 March 2022

Weekend Wind-up #29: We're through the looking-glass here, people.

Here we are with the next of the new-ish feature, previewing our rivals' weekend fixtures. There's really only one cakewalk here along with one potential barn-burner and two very tricky ones. I'll leave it to you to figure out which is which. Given the right run of results, Arsenal could very well strengthen its hold on fourth place; the wrong run could see us slip to us low as sixth. Stranger things could happen, but what I'm really doing is avoiding the kind of excessive optimism that only seems to blow up in my face anyway. Let's hope the lads keep their heads down, noses to the grindstone, step up in order to dig deep, give 100% and go the full nine yards and all the rest.

 Chelsea vs. Norwich and Newcastle and, well, human decency.
In a move that is the clearest proof of innocence since O.J. Simpson struggled to pull on a pair of dried-out leather gloves, Roman Abramovich's yacht was last seen chugging east through the Mediterranean, eager to take advantage of, I don't know, lower gas prices? Better weather? An absence of extradition treaties? Enquiring minds want to know. His sale of Chelsea has been blocked, casting all sorts of uncertainty over ticket sales, contract renewals, and transfer dealings. Karma, showing that it has a warped sense of humour, has allowed Chelsea to vent some pent-up frustrations on woeful Norwich. However, resurgent Newcastle, undefeated in their last nine matches, may be willing to offer something more closely resembling resistance than did the Canaries. It'll be interesting to see how Tuchel and his squad cope with the swirling uncertainty around the club's future, to say the least.

Man U vs. Tottenham
This one has all the makings of an epic, monumental clash between titans of the Prem except for the fact that it features, erm, Man U and Tottenham. The former is a shadow of its former self; the latter, a reflection of its actual self. The fact that two of the world's most-respected managers can't seem to wring any consistency out of their respective squads is a fairly damning indictment of each squad. Man U can at least point to possible progress in the Champions League, although, to be honest, they have about the same chance at winning that as do PSG. Each club has to see this as a crossroads: win, and there is still hope. Lose, and all is lost metaphorically if not mathematically. For our purposes here, the standard "0-0 draw with numerous red cards to both sides" is probably the best result. For the harder of heart, one might add "a few knocks to key players", but I won't go there myself. For the moment, I'm just content to have one fewer paragraph to write due to two rivals facing each other. If only my life was always this simple...

West Ham vs. Aston Villa
West Ham find themselves in a dilly of a pickle after a disappointing but creditable 1-0 loss away to Sevilla in the Europa League. The result dangles a tantalizing chance at advancing, and results elsewhere (Barca drawing at home to Galatasaray?) could seduce Moyes into focusing on winning the club's first European cup since 1965 and the first major silverware since 1980. Then again, it's not as if Moyes has many options when it comes to squad selection. Key players such as Rice, Antonio, Dawson, Soucek, Zouma, and Cresswell played the full 90' and will probably have to do so again against a resurgent Aston Villa, who have scored nine goals in their last three matches, all wins (against mid-table or lower clubs, but still notable). Then. of course, West Ham have that second leg at home to Sevilla, knowing that they'll need to win by two to advance. Tantalus himself wold pity the Hammers. On a last note: it was on Thursday that I realised that Mark Noble is not only still alive but also kicking, figuratively as well as literally. Good for him.

Arsenal vs. Leicester
No Vardy, no party. That pretty well sums it up. Or does it? Vardy had just returned from a hamstring injury that had kept him out since Boxing Day, played 39 minutes in two appearances (including a goal and assist against Burnley, no small feat), but then has gone down with a knee injury that will keep him out a couple of weeks. Similar to West Ham, Leicester also may sense the tantalising prospect of Europa Conference League advancement after besting Rennes 2-0. Rodgers, like Moyes, has a thin squad, reduced even further by injuries. Unlike West Ham, Leicester have no other fronts on which to fight. Largely safe from relegation and far, far from the top six spots, it's possible if not likely that they'll put all their eggs in that ECL basket—not that we should assume that they will, as reassuring as that would be. In a way, I'd almost prefer Vardy be available for this, for fear that his absence could lull us into a false sense of complacency. We've been more-generous to opponents in our last three outings against supposedly inferior opponents. Let's put that bad habit to bed against Leicester, yeah?

Okay. There you have it. I'm leaving Wolves out again. If they beat Everton, they may just earn a invite back to the Rivals' Roundup. Between now and then, let's buckle up and prepare for the matches to come. Leave your thoughts in the comments section below, especially regarding Man U and Tottenham. How do you see that one turning out?