Archive for May 21st, 2012

Football: Premier League Mid-Table Mediocrity

That Swansea wall, it's not very tall - even when they're jumping

Fulham: What A Difference A Goal (Or 10) Makes

All in for the Prem's mid-table monstrosities

It appears that a goal (or 10) is the difference between a best of the rest team and the mid-table mediocrities. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Fulham’s ninth place puts them at the tail of the best, while Liverpool’s eighth place appears to put them at the top of the mid-table mediocrities. Thinking about early season expectations it’s clear that Liverpool have badly flopped – a Carling Curse Cup win and an FA Cup final place is no compensation for a dire Prem season, while Fulham have exceeded their Prem expectations (if failing badly in the Europa League).

Indeed, the difference between a best of team and a mid-table mediocrity is often that the former end up being disappointed in their failure to get into the Champions League positions, while the latter overachieve by besting the also-rans and failures of the Prem. Fulham are a perfect example of mid-table mediocrity (and here we’re using the term mediocrity in the sense of ‘having only an average degree of quality and skills), a team that lacks any clear ‘stars’ yet has a suitable degree of talent to form a team. Players like Dempsey, Murphy , Pogrebniak and Dembele each have a fine level of skill and would be a valuable asset to the teams below or around them, yet you sense that they may not excel in the teams above them. Similarly it feels as if players like Duff and Senderos have had their days at the top table and found their places a little lower down the league.

Still, another fuck up of a season for Liverpool and one of these teams will be pushing for ‘best of the rest’ status.

West Brom: Uncle Roy Done Acceptably

I recall a few years ago, when ‘Appy ‘Arry went to an obviously relegated Portsmouth and inexplicably steered them to Prem survival, FA Cup glory and almost certain financial oblivion. No one believed he had done it. Yet Roy’s success at in transforming West Brom from yo-yo addicts to Prem mediocrities on a tight budget, without spunking millions on transfers, is equally impressive. And his pulling together a team that is somehow more than the sum of its parts is a quality Engerland will desperately need.

Even more than Fulham, West Brom epitomise the characteristics of the mid-table teams. Largely comprised of the journeymen of the Prem – I can’t think of a West Brom player who teams above them fantasise about buying, or who would genuinely improve a serious international side – West Brom is a triumph of team ethos and tactics over individual achievement.

And if football is about the challenge of competing playing philosophies, then the Fulhams, West Broms, Swanseas and Norwichs represent the triumphs of particular tactics over those of sides for whom ‘passion’ and ‘pride’ are shorthand for not having a clue.

Swansea: It’s Like Watching Pocket Pet Barcelona

Swansea and Norwich, both newcomers to the Prem, represent a welcome step forward for a league that has had something of an air of corruption and decay about it for the last couple of seasons. Unlike previous promoted sides like Wolves or QPR, you sense that both teams, Swansea in particular, have risen based on a clear, coherent footballing philosophy – a way of playing that isn’t simply hoofing the ball to the big man and hoping for a lucky knock down.  Indeed, Brendan Rogers’ side would be ill-advised to use the latter style, not least because their average height is about 3 foot 11.

More than any recently promoted team, Swansea have brought a genuine style to the Prem. Their passing has been fabulous and they have given games to all but the biggest teams. And even when they weren’t winning, they stayed true to Rogers’ philosophy. And unlike Fulham and West Brom, there are players here who could certainly be a useful addition to the bigger boys. Vorm is one of the keepers of the season, good for at least half a dozen extra points, Britton, Dyer and Allen comprised a midfield that most clubs would give their eye teeth for. And in Sigurdsson and Caulker they made some of the best use of the loaning system. It’s an indication of the quality of the side that Chelsea’s supposed ‘young great’ McEachran barely got an appearance, let alone a start. And an indication of the team’s quality that 11th seems a tad disappointing. Let’s hope Rogers, who has turned down an interview at Liverpool, can keep his team together and build on this success.

Norwich: Agriculture Goes Upmarket

At the start of the season Norwich looked certainties for relegation. They had the usual low level team’s problems coming to grips with the pace and dynamism of the Prem. Some of their early matches were littered with genuinely dangerous, late tackles and, in striker Grant Holt, they appeared to have the lardiest frontman in the business. Yet for all this, they persevered. Rather than playing a great passing game, they concentrated on being very hard to beat and pressing hard on the break.

More than practically any other side, Norwich showed the value of obdurate pig-headedness and tactical astuteness. And after a rocky start, they adapted their game to suit the Prem. And Grant Holt was a revelation. Sure he is a lardy as they come, but he has the kind of ballet feet that most strikers would kill for. But it’s an indication of the precarious nature of the mid-table teams that Holt senses that this is his moment to ‘better’ himself (Liverpool would love him) and has submitted a transfer request – never a ringing endorsement of a side. His 17 (yes 17) goals help separate Norwich from the low grade losers and relegation scrappers below them.