Premier League Week 7 – An Analysis
Another week passes in the Premier League and things remain as clear as mud at the top of the table and not an awful lot better down at the bottom. Admittedly Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal could all stake a solid claim that they’ll finish in the top for at the end of the season, but what are West Ham doing in there? And how are Everton, Spurs, Crystal Palace and Leicester only three points off second?
Meanwhile at the bottom of the table there wouldn’t be too much shock if Aston Villa, Sunderland and Newcastle got relegated, but it’s hardly the most predictable trio for the drop when you consider how much money was spent by them this summer. More likely candidates for the return straight to the Championship are Norwich and Watford and they’re sitting in 12th and 13th spots respectively.
All in all the weekend gone by has given us plenty to talk about, so that’s exactly what we intend to do. Get in touch in our comments section, tweet us, send us a carrier pigeon. Whatever your preferred method of communication out of those options is fine by us, as long as it’s not carrier pigeon… Most importantly though, make sure you get in touch.
The League Is Dreadful
Let’s be honest, the idea of the Premier League as the ‘best in the world’ has been something of a joke for a while now, but it’s becoming more and more laughable as each week passes. That English clubs are performing so poorly in Europe that there’s a very real chance that we could lose our fourth Champion’s League spot is merely proof of what everyone is seeing with their own eyes.
The other thing that seems to offer proof of just how poor the league is is the fact that Manchester United are top of the table. This Manchester United team, with a manager whose own fans think he is ‘the jester, not the king’ and who reckons that sticking Marouane Fellaini up front if Wayne Rooney’s injured is a solid tactical answer.
Don’t get us wrong, we’re not suggesting that United don’t deserve to be top, per se. Their performances have been less than convincing but they’ve done what they need to do in order to put themselves at the summit of the table, so who are we to criticise?
Yet the results they’ve been achieving do seem to suggest a dominance that, apart from in the match against Sunderland, simply hasn’t been there. Let’s take the game against Liverpool as an example; United didn’t have a shot on target from open play until the third goal, scored by Anthony Martial, in the 86th minute. Despite having 56% possession against their old enemy they only managed three shots on target – the three shots that led to their goals.
The Liverpool match isn’t a one off, either. Let’s have a look at all of the Red Devil’s fixtures so far this season. When they beat Spurs 1-0 on the opening day they did so with nine shots, only one of which was on target. They allowed the London club to have nine against them and four of those were on target. In game week two United travelled to Villa Park, a place they haven’t lost in since 1903 or something ridiculous. They had 54% possession against Tim Sherwood’s men, once again mustered nine shots on goal and this time doubled their on target count to two.
In game week three things started to become a little trickier for them as Newcastle were the first team to take points off them (the same Newcastle that are seven games without a win and sit in the bottom three of the table). United had 69% of the possession and more than doubled their previous tally of shots on goal to twenty, also increasing the amount on target to eight; they failed to score a goal, however. Week four saw the Red Devils travel to The Liberty Stadium to play Gary Monk’s Swansea City. They once again dominated possession by having the ball for 65% of the time it was in play and they also mustered eleven shots on goal with four of them being on target. They only scored one of them, though, and Swansea netted two from the same amount of attempts on target.
After the international break they old enemy, Liverpool, arrived at Old Trafford hoping to cause problems. As we’ve already said United managed just three shots on target and scored all of them. After Liverpool came a trip to St. Mary’s Stadium to play Southampton. United had 59% of possession and managed to create ten shots on goal, but only three of them were on target. The good news is that all three of those shots went in.
Maybe United will carry on being so deadly in front of goal all season. Perhaps virtually every shot the Red Devils’ strikers hit will end up in the back of the opposition net. If that happens then fair play to United and well done to Louis Van Gaal who will have masterminded a Premier League trophy with the least probable stats of all time. If that happens, though, let’s not pretend that the Premier League is still ‘the best league in the world’.
Manchester City Will Always Be Manchester City
From one half of Manchester to the other, and whilst the Red half knows what it takes to win consistently and repeatedly even when the odds are stacked against them, the Sky Blues will somehow always find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Man United under Alex Ferguson became a winning machine, always going that extra mile to secure the Premier League crown. When Rafa did his ‘rant’ in the 2008 – 2009 campaign it was widely considered to have de-railed Liverpool’s title challenge. The truth is somewhat different, with the Reds actually performing better and scoring more goals after Benitez said what he felt were the ‘facts’ of the Premier League than they did before hand. Liverpool were sensational that season – but United were better.
When Newcastle sat at the summit of the Premier League and Keven Keegan told Sky that he’d ‘love it’ if the Magpies beat the Red Devils many think that the Geordies threw it away. That’s true to an extant, but what is also true is that United hunted them down without compunction, killing the dreams of millions of fans in the North East. In short, United know what it takes to win.
At the same time that that was going on Manchester City had no real idea how to survive in the shadow of their next door neighbours. They hung around in the Premier League until 1996 before dropping down to the second division for a couple of years. Then in 1998 they disappeared into division three and pretty much everyone forgot they existed. In 2000 they returned, triumphantly, to the Premier League before the bubble burst and they sank back into the second division, then they returned to the top league in the country in 2002 and haven’t looked back since.
In fact, they’ve only looked forward since the takeover of the club by two different parties, the first being Thaksin Shinawatra in 2007 and the second, more important owner, being the Abu Dhabi United group who bought the club in 2008. They have absolutely flooded money into City, with their spending reaching the billions of pounds mark in virtually no time at all.
In the 2011 – 2012 season Manchester City finally did what their fans had been dreaming about for decades and won the Premier League crown. Even better for City, it came at the expense of Manchester United who they pipped to the title on the final day of the season when Mario Balotelli laid the ball off for Sergio Aguero and the Argentine smashed it past QPR’s ‘keeper to make history for the club.
Yet the following season they completely ballsed up the defence of their crown, drawing four more games than their city rivals and finishing eleven points worse off than them. They allowed Ferguson to leave United with them as champions, forever cementing himself in the club’s history as the manager who went out at the top of his game.
They returned to form in 2013 -2014, winning their second Premier League title, but even that could be said to have been Liverpool throwing it away rather than City winning it; after all the Reds had the title in their own hands with three games to go but a loss to Chelsea and a draw with Crystal Palace meant they finished two points shy of the eventual champions, City.
2014 – 2015 saw them once again completely and utterly fail to make a decent defence of their crown, with Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea essentially having the title sown up by Christmas and eventually winning it by eight points and with games to spare.
This season City started spectacularly, winning their first five games to give themselves maximum points and a clear lead at the top of the table. Combined with the complete and utter collapse of Chelsea, it looked as if the Sky Blues could become the first team to win the title by the end of September, never mind Christmas.
City will always be City, though, and they promptly lost two games in a row to send United back to the top of the table and allow everyone else in on the act, too. Even Liverpool aren’t too far off the pace and their manager is on the verge of being sacked every single day.
The performance against Spurs at the weekend sums up everything that is wrong with Manchester City and their mentality. Despite being one of the richest clubs in world football they will continue to have the mentality of perennial losers until something is done to instil the mentality of winners into the minds of all of their players. Ferguson used to do it by ensuring that there was always a heartbeat of local kids within the team and by keeping poorer players like Wes Brown in amongst the action so that if injuries ever hit he could turn to his bench knowing even his worst players knew how to win.
City should be winning virtually every competition they enter considering the size and cost of their squad, and they should be doing it every single year. Spurs weren’t great this weekend, surrendering 54% of the possession to the visitors and only managing eight shots on goal – the same number as City. Yet they scored with half of those shots and ran out 4-1 winners over a team that had a defence made up of players that cost over £100 million combined.
City looked dangerous every time they attacked, but instead of being deadly in front of goal they were weak and wet, never putting Hugo Lloris under that much pressure all things considered. If Manuel Pellegrini wants to justify the new contract he was given then he needs to find a way to make Manchester City stop being so Manchester Cityish all of the time. As much as it might pain them to admit it, City need to become fair more like Manchester United.
Everton Will Be Relishing The Prospect Of The Derby
Brendan Rodgers doesn’t seem to know what he wants to say at the moment. Earlier this week he seemed to grasp the mantel thrown down by John Motson and claimed that there is some sort of mysterious cabal outside of Anfield that wants him to fail as manager. Then in the aftermath of Liverpool’s 3-2 win over Aston Villa he claimed that Daniel Sturridge can fire Liverpool to their first Premier League title if he stays fit.
Over Stanley Park at Goodison, meanwhile, Roberto Martinez is just quietly going about his business. He’s instilled a winning mentality into his Everton team and has seen them come from behind two matches in a row to make it through the League Cup and pick up three points in the Premier League.
Whatever Rodgers may think about Liverpool’s title chances, it will be his opposite number that will be rubbing his hands with glee at the forthcoming Merseyside derby. Not only might Everton be able to get one over on their city rivals but they could also smash the final nail into Brendan Rodgers’ managerial coffin – just as they did to Roy Hodgson in 2011.
The Blues have scored 18 goals in all competitions so far this season, with three of those coming against the defending Premier League champions in Chelsea, three being scored against the normally solid Southampton and three being netted versus Tony Pulis’ renowned West Brom defence. Liverpool, meanwhile, have been able to score nine goals, with three of those coming this weekend against a Villa team that are struggling to get any kind of form together.
The Reds have conceded eleven goals in all competitions, exactly the same amount as Everton, but one of those was against a team 65 places below them in the football league and two were scored by an Aston Villa team that has barely been able to tie up its shoelaces.
Most worrying for Brendan Rodgers will be the fact that Romelu Lukaku has hit a rich vein of form, scoring twice against a West Brom team that doesn’t exactly lack height or power in its defensive positions. Liverpool, meanwhile, conceded two goals against Rudy Gestede – a player who is tall, strong and good with his head but is nowhere near the player that Lukaku is. Will the Belgian be able to cause Liverpool’s back line some problems at Goodison Park?
Rodgers may feel there’s an unholy conspiracy swirling around Anfield as ex players now turned pundits want to cause his downfall, but Liverpool fans are pointing to the results over the last eighteen months of football, not the last eighteen hours. Lose against Everton and Rodgers will find the pressure closing in that little bit further. Get humiliated by them, though, and it will be curtains for a manager who has handled himself with dignity and class during his time at Anfield, even if portions of the Liverpool fan base can’t be said to have done the same. Whatever happens, the weekend that has just gone tells us the weekend still to come could be a firecracker on Merseyside.