18 April 2022

Rivals' Roundup #33: Hot potato, hot potato...

Well, I'll say this. It's a damned good thing that Brighton host Man U and West Ham between now and the end of the season, given how they've anointed themselves kingmakers or at least European comptetion, um, qualifier-cancellors... Truth be told, I don't know the UCL/UEL equivalent of "kingmaker". Suffice it to say that Brighton went from villain to ally within the span of just one week, all while we ourselves contented ourselves with playing Yakety Sax while roller-skating across a marble floor strewn with, well, marbles. The long and short of is that it seems like no squad really wants a fourth-place finish, and who could blame them? On current form, no squad would advance past the group stage of whichever competition it qualifies for next season. Let's grit our teeth, then, and get through this. It'll be fun, like a root canal or a colonoscopy.

3. Chelsea (30 played, 18W 8D 4L: 62 pts.).
Don't care. Next.

4. Tottenham (32 played, 18W 3D 11L: 57 pts.).
Just when it seemed that Antonio Conte had worked his magic, just when it seemed that he had finally cast his spell over this squad, conjuring form and courage and conviction out of a collection of misfits, along came Brighton to not only avenge their loss to Tottenham a few weeks ago but to also remind us of how fortunate Tottenham have been of late to have faced the likes of Aston Villa, Newcastle, and, erm, Brighton. Truth be told, they've padded their goal difference at a crucial time, but a slip-up like this loss to Brighton should remind us all that, lads, it's Tottenham. It's not as if they hadn't been warned. We were generous enough to serve the warning papers just last weekend. It's almost as if Conte's Kids were so busy putting together scrapbooks and DVDs that they forgot that they still have to show up and play. Unlike Brighton's previous outing, they outplayed their hosts and thoroughly deserved the win. It's as if Spurs, in addition to being, well, Spurs, are afraid of finishing fourth.

5. Man U (32 played, 15W 9D 8L: 54 pts.).
Man U announced their top-four aspirations loud and clear by thoroughly and decisively thrashing [checks notes]... Norwich? Well, they at least surged to an early lead only to relent a bit only to let their opponents score a few pointless consolation goals...right? No? Well, failing that, they at least executed a Rangnickian (Rangnickesque?) game plan to perfection, harrying and pressing an inferior opponent into groveling submission. That's it. That's the ticket. Wait—you're telling me that they had to rely on Ronaldo to settle once and for all, unequivocally throughout the space-time continuum, that he is indeed the solution rather than the cause of many of Man U's problems. So thorough was the squad-wide contribution to the evisceration of a spirited and determined rival that pundits and ITKs have pencilled Man U in as the odds-on favourites to not only qualify for next season's Champions League but also to win it, with Ronaldo notching 26 hat tricks along the way. Which, of course, will prove that Rangnick knows what he's doing. Or ten Hag. Or Pochettino. Or whoever it is who agrees to be Ronaldo's handler next season.

6. Arsenal (31 played, 17W 3D 11L: 54 pts.).
Sigh. Crabs in a bucket. That's what this is. These other clubs, those who have nothing really to play for, being safe from relegation and also distant from European spots, are spitefully and cruely denying us. What other explanation is there for our third loss in a row? It can't be down to the injuries to Tierney, Partey, and Lacazette. It can't be a reflection of just how paper-thin this squad is. It simply has to reveal that Arteta is and always has been a fraud. What other explanation can there be? It makes as much sense as claiming that Arteta was and always would be a world-class manager barely a month ago when we are all licking our lips at the prospect of not just finishing fourth but of overtaking Chelsea to claim a third-place finish, which would be our best since that 2015-16 campaign (which we'll revisit later...). Let's face facts, though—to finish fourth or even fifth would probably flatter us and exceed expectations. That it's also feeling like a bitter pill reflects the fact that we had fourth in our grasp, only to let it slip and now have to look up at Tottenham. We do have some serious doubts, maybe even fears, given our upcoming fixtures, but there's still time to meet if not exceed the modest expectations of the preseason. Please. I pray.

I'm not ready to re-admit West Ham. They're the only club to have played the full 33, and it looks like they're putting all of their eggs in the Europa League basket. They also have a brutal run-in now, having drawn Frankfurt along with some tough domestic fixtures. We can derive some cold comfort from the idea that we're dropping them from the roundup, but that does nothing to alleviate our concerns about the month come. We had to know we would be dropping points; we just didn't figure this would happen against the mediocre mid-table types. Still, it ain't over 'til those four colourful Australians of various sexual orientations sing. They're warming up, though...