08 May 2022

Rivals' Roundup #36: Zeno's Paradox and the Pursuit of Fourth Place

You know this blog is good because it makes a pop-culture reference and
an allusion to Greek antiquity in one fell swoop.
Hm. Maybe I've hit on a new title for the Harry Potter series. I'll put a pin in that and come back to it later. Pretty good weekend, all things considered, as we inch ever closer to clinching fourth place. We're not quite there yet, no thanks to sodding Liverpool's wastefulness. Still, the list of contenders has shrunk to three...but I'm going to include four because, well, I'm a petty, petty man, and I will never pass up a chance to lord it over the likes of Man U. Having established myself as both a man of letters and a spiteful troll to boot, let's get to it.

3. Chelsea (35 played, 19W 10D 6L: 67 pts.). 
Oh, Chelsea, Chelsea, Chelsea. Could it be that you are toying with us, much as Zeno's tortoise does to Achilles? This is three weeks on the trot that you've dropped points, and, um, I feel almost rude pointing this out, but none of those opponents have quite been on Real Madrid's level. It feels more-rude to point out that Wolves had lost seven of their previous 11 matches before their last-minute smash-and-grab, scoring that equaliser in that minute of stoppage time added to the preceding six minutes of stoppage time. On the plus side (maybe?), Lukaku somehow managed to score not once but twice, suggesting he may be ready to take over goal-scoring duties from the departing Antonio Rudiger. So there's that. On the other hand, though, I thought losing to Everton was a low point, but that was at least an away match. You were at home against Wolves. You may or may want to check the rearview. We're only a point behind with three left to play...

4. Arsenal (35 played, 21W 3D 11L: 66 pts.). 
If we're Achilles to Chelsea's tortoise, then perhaps we're the tortoise to Tottenham's Achilles. Thursday is shaping up to be the most-momentous North London Derby in quite some time. If we win, fourth is ours. If we draw, we control our destines but have two fixtures that are somewhat trickier than Tottenham's. The early signs against Leeds were bright, with Nketiah scoring twice inside of ten minutes and Ayling getting sent off inside a half an hour (both ruining and proving my pre-match prediction in equal turns). In truth, though, we ended up toying with our visitors rather than killing off the match, and they found a goal to make things quite a bit nervier than they should have been. Maybe we're playing possum, letting Tottenham think we're a bit gassed while they get overconfident from their result at Anfield? Stranger things have happened. At a risk of showing my hand, I'd suggest that the pressure on Thursday will all be on Tottenham. No one expected us to be in a fight for fourth, and the hiring of Conte was supposedly going to elevate this bothersome bunch into the stratosphere. And we know how that lot deal with pressure.

5. Tottenham (35 played, 19W 5D 11L: 62 pts.). 
Remember just a few weeks ago when Tottenham were fourth and were writing our obituary? Turns out that the universe has a wicked sense of humour (I'm done milking the Zeno's paradox angle, just so you know). Or maybe it's Brighton with the wicked sense of humour. More on that in a moment. While it must be said that Tottenham should derive a bit of confidence from not getting battered by Liverpool, the point they took doesn't dramatically change the arithmetic. They know that they have to win on Thursday, win their other two matches, and hope that we drop points from one of our own two remaining matches. That's a lot of pin hopes to. As alluded to above, there are few clubs whose name becomes an adjective that means "to consistently and inevitably fail to live up to expectations". Still, it would be a mistake to write them off so easily. On the other hand, the pressure over there must be massive. Fail to secure Champions League football, and they may have to say goodbye to Kane and Conte and face a massive rebuild. Our list of motivational quotes grows long...

6. Man U (37 played, 16W 10D 11L: 58 pts.). 
Ooh, now we're into the dregs. Here's Ralf Rangnick's entry. Brighton absolutely thrashed Man U six ways from Sunday. Not one but two Brighton players scored their first-ever Prem goals, and it was clear that Man U's players were clearly on the beach already, and I'm not referring to the location of Brighton's stadium (it's on the south coast, and I'm pretty sure you can see the beach, so that's why the preceding line was hilarious. You may have to trust me on this. I've never been.). Man U are now guaranteed of their lowest points total in Prem history and face the prospect of their worst top-flight finish since 1989-90, when they finished 13th on 48 points. The best they can do is 61 points and 6th; it's still possible that West Ham, with two games in hand, could finish above them, thereby bouncing them into the Europa Conference League. Should that happen, expect Ten Hag to experience work-permit or visa issues or at least a sudden desire to spend more time with his family, much as Fred Rutten did in declining a role with the club. They'll have to offer massive wages to convince players to join but will still likely miss out on the players Ten Hag would most prefer. Rangnick has called for an "open heart operation". Unconfirmed rumours have it that he held his head in his hands and cried, "it's the beating of that hideous heart."

So. There you have it. Unbiased, objective analysis, stolid and true. If you disagree or demur, please have a go at me in the comments section below. If you approve, by all means, follow, re-share, upvote, and all of that malarkey. 'Til next time, then.