By Martin Hearnden
After a really fun FA Cup weekend it is probably a good time to draw breath and have a quick and nasty look at this season’s Premier League. Twenty-two games gone, 16 to go so we fast approach the sharp end of the season, time to “twitch our ass on the bench”.
Anyone else feel ever so slightly underwhelmed thus far? A bit disappointed maybe, even short changed? Things may improve but I reckon it has been a distinctly average season. Sure there has been the usual quota of spills and thrills, moments of controversy, fine goals, saves and glaring misses but also, an awful lot of dross. There are some ordinary sides in the league and it shows.
Chelsea and Man City have pretty much cleared out at the top and the nouveau filthy rich will decide the title between them. Neither side inspires very much in fact I find Man City one of the strangest sides to grace top level football. Their record should be a great deal better than it is. I do rate Mourinho as a manager and if anyone can singlehandedly drag a side over the finishing line it is him. A grumpy Scottish bloke in the North West used to do the same; for fun.
One reason that it has been an average season is that teams that were supposed to challenge have for one reason or another failed to do so. Man United, Arsenal, Spurs, Liverpool and even Everton have been downright poor at different times. United continue to bemuse their fans as we try to balance LVG’s “philosophy” with a bunch of sort of Galacticos, unfamiliar formations and a very shaky defence. Having a brilliant keeper helps.
Liverpool struggle in the post-Suarez era and the imminent departure of captain fantastic may not help. As they normally are, Spurs are there or thereabouts without really threatening. Whenever I look at the table I always expect to see them higher than they actually are? Their brilliant goal keeper has also kept them in games they should have struggled in.
Arsenal is being Arsenal, periods of football when they look world class and followed by a couple of games when they simply get bullied out of it. Lots of talented little blokes running around in the middle, a questionable back four/keeper and this season’s best new signing in Alexis Sanchez. They will finish in the top 4, because they always do, and maybe enjoy a cup run. Everton are being exposed as a bit ordinary and as Big Sam said in the week, a bit predictable. The very likeable Bobby Martinez may have over-reached himself.
Mid table mediocrity? To be fair the Hammers are 7th but suffering from a bit of a nose bleed that high and have only seven more games at home. Swansea, the Toon and Stoke have been OK but little more. Teams from 12th down, that includes you Everton with 23 points, are still in the relegation frame. Leicester is bottom with 17.
The relegation battle, as it always does, will provide plenty of drama but I refuse to get caught up in the competition to see who the best of the losers is. You could drop 6 teams out of the league and they will not be missed. Palace, WBA and the woeful Villa probably have just enough to stay up. I reckon you perm any 3 from the bottom 5, which is not much of a prediction. QPR are currently on track for a perfect away record, having lost all 10 of their away fixtures thus far.
Surprise of the season has to go to the Saints. How we chortled when their top players and their manager, all left. Cue lots of jokes about Bob from the chippie getting a game. Well, haven’t they done well? Koeman has worked wonders with what is a very decent side. They are physically strong, athletic and play football. Sort of a very good Stoke. Wanyama and Schneiderlin are rock solid in front of sound defence with the giant Forster in goal. Pelle has been banging them in up front. They may struggle to hold on to a top 4 spot, but we all hope they do.
One last positive comment? The keepers have been excellent this year – not you Hart or you Mignolet – but De Gea, Lloris, Courtois, Heaton, Foster, Forster et al have been largely superb. All very fine exponents of an often overlooked and undervalued art.
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