Premier Class…

1 04 2010

Whilst sitting here fuming that the plumber which visited this morning to simply tighten a pipe has somehow managed to remove any hot water from anywhere other than the kitchen, I thought I would do what I promised a few days ago and write a blog on the Premier League and my expectations for the last few matches.

Lets start at the top. Chelsea will win it, Man Utd will come second and Arsenal third. I don’t like the idea of Chelsea winning it particularly, but they simply seem to have the legs whereas Man Utd and Arsenal seem reliant upon inspiration from individuals. The injuries to Rooney and Fabregas severely hamper their respective teams and their title challenges. Arsenal have no-one to suitably replace Fabregas, and the nearest pretender, Ramsey, is crocked for the long term too. For United, the loss of Rooney is a big blow, and whilst Berbatov has shown recently that he is good enough to replace Rooney, there are, for me, question marks as to whether he can provide as much inspiration and clinical finishing that Rooney does. Man Utd do not need a player to drift in and out of matches like Berbatov does, instead they need players to grab the game by the scruff of its neck and win them. Berbatov only does this in part.

For me Chelsea are looking like they are getting stronger, and with no European competition to worry them, the league becomes the priority. Add to this the bonus that their key men (of which, unlike their rivals there is more than one) are not getting injured in Europe but instead are getting stronger and better, and the only conclusion is that they will regain the title.

In the race for fourth, I still think Liverpool will just about get there. The two-man team that is currently the Anfield side is showing signs of significant improvement, and looking at their remaining fixtures, it is, realistically, only the penultimate game of the season which they should lose. All the rest are matches they need to, and should, win if they want that fourth spot. Compare this with Man City who still have to play Man Utd, Arsenal, Villa and Spurs. Or Spurs themselves who have Arsenal, Chelsea and Man Utd, as well as City. Villa, for me are slipping away, and are out of contention altogether for a fourth placed spot. I just think that the Liverpool bandwagon is finally gathering some momentum this season, and given the return to form of Gerrard, and the return to fitness of Torres, I wouldn’t bet against them coming fourth and winning the Europa League.

And so to the bottom, where it increasingly seems like two from three will accompany Portsmouth into the Championship. Strangely it is not Hull or Burnley for who I fear, but the increasingly agitated West Ham. In-fighting and, today, ¬†out-fighting, are blighting the club in its attempts to stay in the league. The sounds coming out of the board-room, and from the manager make it seem like the club is struggling behind the scenes, and the remaining fixtures seem to suggest that it could be hard for Zola’s men to pick up many (if any) more points. Wigan and Sunderland are their best hopes, although a Fulham team distracted by the Europa League may also play into their hands. However, if they need points on the last day of the season, then a trip to Man City (who may still be fighting for fourth) is the last thing Zola would want.

As for Burnley, the match against Hull in a couple of weeks is vital for their chances, but three games against top-six opposition may render that result meaningless. Add to that an away trip to St Andrews, and you fear for their chances of picking up anything more than five points. Which may be enough, but it seems unlikely. This would leave them on 29 points.

On paper, Hull have a slightly easier run in, but have no ‘dead certs’. Most of their matches are against teams in the top half of the table, and whilst they may fancy themselves to pick up some points, I cannot see it being more than three or four. If this is the case, Hull would finish with 31 points.

This would mean West Ham would need roughly five more points to stay up, but looking at their fixtures, I’m not confident. It may even come down to goal-difference which decides who stays up. Either way though, West Ham look like they are in trouble.

Of the teams above them, I’m delighted to think that my team, Wolves, as well as Bolton and Wigan are all but safe from relegation. The recent spell of four games unbeaten has done wonders for the Wolves team, and whilst realistically we cannot expect that to continue against Arsenal on Saturday, it has launched us clear of the drop zone, with a bit of a cushion. If we add that together with the healthy goal difference advantage we have over Wigan, then things are looking up.

So, whilst I think the “big-four” monopoly over the Premier League will continue for now, it will not be without one hell of a fight. And the outlook for Portsmouth is bleak, certain relegation, financial collapse, and players looking disillusioned with the club mean that the tunnel for them seems very dark and very long. For Burnley or Hull relegation would not be the end of things, I think that their respective promotions came perhaps too early for the club, and the financial windfall provided should see them build and develop as football clubs as well as teams. Relegation could be a problem for West Ham, without the Premier League’s cash, and with a rush of key players likely to leave, as well as the manager, the tunnel is likewise pretty dark for them too. However I think it’s significantly shorter for them, and some sound investment over the next few years and I think they would be back stronger if they got relegated.

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Apologies…

27 05 2009

Just a quick note to apologise for the lack of blogging activity recently. Apparently being under-employed is surprisingly busy. In between working, volunteering, and studying, I will try to find time to write something more substantial soon. I am hoping this will be tonight, but there is the small matter of the Champions League final that may get in the way. Anyway, here’s a couple of videos relating to the Champions League, about the two best finals:





Mind Games…

11 01 2009

I am one for history repeating itself, and, over the past couple of days, I think it has happened again. When Rafa Benitez pulled out a list of various misdemeanours committed by Sir Alex Ferguson over the course of this season, it was apparent though that this was so very much the same, yet so very different.

Everyone remembers Kevin Keegan’s famous outburst as his Newcastle team faltered as the season drew to a close, allowing Manchester United to win the league. Many were praising Alex Ferguson and his team of kids. Ferguson had won, both on the pitch and off it. Fergie, one of the best managers of the modern era, plays the mind games so well, and he broke Keegan so completely that the latter fell apart so publically, letting Fergie take the glory. Keegan had no answers to Fergie’s questions.

As Ferguson has gone on and had so much more success, no-one, and nothing has fazed him. Yes, he has complained (in pretty much every press conference), yes he has moaned (about all manner of things, including fixtures, referees, the FA, other managers, and players), but he has never been beaten when it come to the mind games.

As Liverpool have moved to the top of the Premier League this season, so Ferguson has played his cards, and so he has got under Benitez’s skin, to the point the Liverpool boss cracked on Friday. The trouble is, everything Benitez said was true. His points were considered, they were thorough, and they were all correct. Benitez, in his mind, was merely airing an opinion and substantiating it in a very precise manner. Many pundits have agreed with his views, as have the fans. But that really isn’t the point any more. For everyone now, it is about how Ferguson has got to Benitez, forcing a response.

Such an attack has been read as Benitez failing to cope with the pressure of being top of the league. It has been read that Benitez has been affected by Ferguson’s various indirect snipings. I don’t agree though, to me it seems that, for someone who has won two league titles in Spain with Valencia, pressure isn’t an issue. I’m not sure Ferguson has won any mind games, yet. All Benitez was doing was highlighting the inconsistancies that occur when the FA deal with Ferguson as opposed to other managers. The outburst may have had the affect of increasing the pressure on his players, but such pressure exists anyway. Maybe it could have been saved for a later date, say, when Liverpool had won the title. The point though, had to be made, and hopefully the FA will sit up and take notice of Benitez’s comments, and take a good look at itself, as it is so badly run that it is painful to most football fans.

In the long term, I think Liverpool will lose the race for the title, and Manchester United will win it again. Whether this does, or does not happen will be irrespective of Benitez’s comments on Friday.

On another note, it is nice to be able to say I was right with regard to Manchester City and their fortunes this season. As they flounder around near the foot of the table, Mark Hughes has a real job on to save the richest club in the world from problems.