Archive for April 13th, 2011

What We Learned From Prem Week 32

Down Among The Dead Men – Eight Becomes Six

If last week was all about the top of the table, what with Man U being handed the title thanks to lacklustre performances by Arsenal, Chelski and the rest of the trailing pack, then this week was all about the relegation dogfight. Here we’re talking scrap-happy football with none of your classy possession play malarkey, here a point is truly precious and something worth fighting over.

With just six more games to play, even a point snatched away from home can be seen as a victory, especially when those around you are losing. Just ask Birmingham, whose post-Carling Cup slump picked up moderately when they secured a draw away to Blackburn. They practically danced the jig of victory as they saw all the bottom four lose.  Or West Brom, whose win over Sunderland saw them catapult up the table. That Uncle Wroy eh? He’s some manager.

Games Ahoy!

Wigan had better start winning soon, otherwise they will see themselves returning to the oblivion of the Championship, a place from which it is unlikely that they will rise again.  Admittedly their loss to Chelski wasn’t unexpected, they did, after all, get thrashed 7 – 0 in each of their last two encounters with the Blues. No, the real surprise was more that Chelski only scored the one goal. The real unsurprise was that, yet again, Torres didn’t score. Chelski still look nailed on for a top four finish, but that is cold comfort for a side who looked like romping away with the title when these sides last met. Wigan, meanwhile, despite having at least two good players, look far too frail to stay up.

Wolves have managed to shoot themselves in the foot again. How they must be ruing the loss of Doyle, who was injured in the International break. Without him they have almost no penetrative power. As a result they were easily swept away by an Everton side, who sliced them up in the first half. As I’ve said before, they seem a far more coherent unit without Tim Cahill (who’s injured).

Equally, West Ham‘s brief renaissance appears to be over, they were neatly duffed up by a Bolton side who are as on-form at home as they are abject away. You have to feel that any side that brings Robbie Keane onto the pitch is already in desperate straits and West Ham are showing that a vaguely effective four man attack is no substitute for an adequate defence. Bolton are the new Charlton, rushing along to get the required 40-odd points, then coasting it for the rest of the season. Admittedly they have an FA Cup semi final to play, but aside from that their season is about done.

Plummeting down the table faster than a meteorite, Blackpool are not so much entering squeaky bum time as bellyflopping into it. True, their loss to Arsenal was as anticipated as Wigan’s to Chelski, but it was the manner of the defeat that was so troubling. Promoted teams that have stayed up have relied on good home form and Blackpool’s is anything but. Holloway has gone from Manager Emeritus to First Year Incompetent over the course of 2011, his once pithy comments now appearing increasingly like the droolings of a madman. Arsenal managed to make a relatively mundane victory into something of a grand achievement.

All of makes Birmingham and Blackburn‘s draw seem like manna from heaven. They played a thoroughly dreary match, yet both get a point and move a little closer to safety.

Stoke have to be toying with us. The team, alongside Birmingham, which most people would love to be relegated seem to have just enough points to stay up. Certainly, their defeat at Tottingham hasn’t really made them any more vulnerable to relegation than they were at the beginning of the day. People misinterpret my antipathy to Stoke. It’s not that they play dour, hoof n hope football, or have a fundamentally defensive mindset, you could argue that the best of Mourinho’s teams do that (not to mention Man City), it’s just that Stoke do it so badly with such half-capable players. You think Huth and Shawcross and you immediately think ‘Championship quality’.

Sunderland are another team whose eyes are bigger than their stomachs. They aspire to vaguely competent pass and move football, which on the few occasions it actually happens can be a great thing to watch (witness their 3 – 0 demolition of Chelski). Since New Year, however, they’ve only taken four points out of 27 and three of those were against Blackpool. The other one was, inevitably, against Arsenal’s latest team of blahdy-blah-ibles, the Crap Incapables. Things weren’t going to change for Sunderland against West Brom, who’ve now scrapped their way to security. You can’t say it enough, this is Uncle Wroy’s forte, pulling hard working, relatively skilled teams out of the mire and into mid-table respectability. Wroy’s success does make you wonder a) what the hell Roberto Di Mateo was doing and b) who, what and how was Wroy so undermined at Liverpool?

Also playing the Charlton card are Alan Pardew’s Newcastle. Admittedly once they’d effectively clawed their way to safety and then sold Carroll, their season was fundamentally over and I guess Pardew’s just been assessing the squad and ensuring they don’t get too humiliated in the meantime. Their loss away to Villa was neither humiliating nor much of a shock. Both teams are safe now and both can spend the rest of the season planning for next season and the preceeding transfer window.

Man U keep plodding drearily onwards. A win against one of their usual bogey teams, Fulham, just reinforced their creds as champions. They will be the least good Prem-winning team since Blackburn back in the day.

Finally, the only possible surprise this week was Loserpool RedSox‘s annihilation of a truly shocking Man City. Sure City lost Tevez after 15 minutes, and sure their heads may be in the upcoming FA Cup semi final with Man U, but they were terrifyingly bad. Loserpool meanwhile, lurch from being truly dangerous, with a front row of Kuyt, Dirty Suarez and Carroll, to being truly incompetent. It’s hard on any day to tell which Loserpool will actually show up on the day. On this form City look like they’re preparing to lose out on fourth yet again.

Rob Green Save Of The Day

We don’t often get the opportunity to go back in time, but this year it’s been special. Aside from building the ‘Little Team That Couldn’t’, Arsene Wenger’s frankly bizarre machinations have included hiring not one, but two virgin central defenders (one of whom looks like becoming vaguely capable, the other of whom is doing a great job of making us yearn for the days of Cygan or Senderos) and trying out not two, not three but four different goalkeepers. That the latest of these is not some cherry faced bumfluff twelve year old prodigy, but ‘haven’t played for two years’, returning 41 year-old Jens Lehmann is less a mystery than a source of ridicule and bemusement. That Lehmann not only played, but started is a symptom of Wenger’s inability to effectively put together, let alone manage a side over the course of a season.

Anyway, with Mad Jens in goal, who else would be even in contention for this week’s Save of the Day? His winning moment, the very Arsenal dash from the box to not so much secure the ball as take down DJ Campbell. Surely a penalty and a red card to go with the one he scored in the first few minutes of the Champions League final all those years ago. It was only the fact that he also lost the ball, which went to Dad Taylor-Fletcher, who then scored, that seemed to absolve Mad Jens of any blame.