Saturday, January 12, 2008

Festive fatigue - Premcorrespondent

It seems fashionable nowadays for England's foreign imports to complain about the amount of football played in our sceptred isle over the Christmas period.

They come here - tempted by riches beyond the dreams of avarice - and then say they are cruelly parted from their families and made to play football.

Well, they should count themselves lucky. In the 11 days between December 22nd and January 2nd no Premier League player played more than four times - that's six hours or 360 minutes. In contrast, I have been forced to spend ten days, 240 hours or 14,400 minutes with the in-laws.

Cliff walks, dinners, breakfasts, lunches, coffees all accompanied by endless present exchanges with second cousin Ennis from Slapton, ex-sister-in-law Enid from Cullopmton, or Uncle Ned from Topsham and their broods - each infant thrusting out its grubby palm out in the expectation of "pwessies".

But there was - as ever - a bright side. Football, lovely, lovely football. 40 games. 122 goals.

Rather than take you thought the whole bally lot (and let's face it, sorting through cousin Ennis' sock draw for receipts to return his own interpretation of what a present should be is more appealing at the moment), I shall provide a team-by-team breakdown for the festive season.


Arsenal: points 10
A good Christmas for the Gunners. Two London derbies dispatched as if they were Derby, Everton swept aside, and the only points dropped against Pompey (the fourth draw in the last five games at Fratton Park for the Mr Wenger - and another joyous trip to the bookies resulting for your faithful correspondent).

But eight goals scored and only two conceded does not tell the full story. Against Everton, Spurs and Pompey the results could easily have gone the other way, and only once did Arsenal score in the first half (in their only comfortable win - against the Hammers).

Worryingly for the rest of the league, Eduardo and Adebayor have found form (with Bendtner chipping in) and a team that can successfully change things around while playing badly is the sort that wins things (see Chelsea in 04 and 05).

Arsenal come out of Christmas top, two points clear. They're going to win it aren't they...


Aston Villa: points 8
When Martin "I resemble a serial killer" O'Neil took over at Aston Villa I thought something might happen. A European Cup winner with Old Big Head as his manager. Making Leicester not only a Premier League fixture, but cup winners and then taking Celtic to multiple titles cups and a European final.

Finally it seemed the country's least ambitious "big" club had found the man to take them to success. And now things are happening in Brum.

Wins against Wigan and Spurs, and creditable draws away to Chelsea (well, 4-4 is more comedy than creditable) and top-4 club Man City, show real potential. Much like many of the young Englishmen in their side.

They're screwed aren't they? (7th in the table).


Birmingham: points 4
Mixed bag covers Birmingham's festive results about as well as a micro-skirt covers a hotel heiress getting out of a limo.

It all began very badly for those on the blue side of Brum, a 3-0 drubbing by fellow relegation candidates Bolton. Things then went from bad to almost exactly as good with a 3-0 drubbing of fellow relegation candidates Middlesbrough.

Having gone 1-0 down to fellow relegation candidates Fulham, they relaxed. In one of the most oft-quoted statistics of the year, Fulham have thrown away more leads than an incompetent dog-walker. At one point they were top of the table if the game lasted 45 mins and in the relegation zone at the end of 90. Needless to say Birmingham recovered from 0-1 down to draw 1-1.

Birmingham - having lost one, won one and drawn one without anyone noticing much - then proceeded to create the talking point of the festive season.

Losing 1-0 to Man U on New Year's Day was unremarkable, but Alex Ferguson getting annoyed about crowd noise in a routine victory has provoked comments every day since. Incidentally, St Andrew's - average decibels 122.7. Old Trafford, average decibels 117.5. Fergie should be quiet; the lack of atmosphere is more likely to unsettle opponents unused to it than his own players.

Birmingham finish two points and two places above the drop zone.


Blackburn: points 7
A good holiday period for a side looking like they are on the up (i.e. soon to hit the glass ceiling). And the way you make it to the top? Firepower. Santa Cruz and McCarthy are good at this and Bentley seems happy to supply ammunition.

A 1-0 win over Sunderland (McCarthy) a 2-1 over Derby (Santa Cruz and Bentley) might not have been too impressive - but were wins. By contrast the 2-2 away to the loud half of Manchester and a slender 0-1 defeat away to Chelsea were impressive performances - but yielded only one point.

Blackburn may be in 9th - but they are just three points of 6th and five behind Liverpool.


Bolton: points 6
Bolton's footballers, like Manchester's boxers, don't travel well.

Two good wins at home against Derby and Birmingham (any win is a good one when you have fewer points than fixtures played) were complimented by losses to Sunderland (plain embarrassing) and Everton (understandable).

Somehow - despite garnering just 20 points from 21 fixtures - Bolton are 14th in the table, three points from relegation, and have just lost their best player.


Chelsea: points 10.
Just when it seems to be a two horse race, Chelsea sneak a win here and a win there and, like Arnie in the Terminator, keep going forward. Despite crazy results like Boxing Day's game against Aston Villa (4-4 goals, 2-1 red cards), the team and its manager still possess all the charisma of a Terminator, which makes them easy to hate with your head (where the money comes from, how it's been spent, the impact on transfer fees etc) but hard to hate with your heart, as there just isn't enough there to get worked up about. I miss Jose.

The three wins came away at Blackburn and Fulham and at home to Newcastle, all by the single goal - Yawn. But in a turbulent season, they are just four points off Manchester United and six off Arsenal.

It's telling too that they have more points away from home than the other three of the Big Four, which shows that they have the stomach for the fight. Expect them to be closer to the top after 38 games than after 21, especially with Anelka filling an African Cup Of Nations shaped hole up front.


Derby: points 1.
Gone, Gone, Gone. But Paul Jewell is already making an impact, securing a point against a jammy Newcastle and succumbing to very late goals at home to Liverpool and away at Bolton.

Jewell's other match saw defeat by the odd goal at home to Blackburn (whose goals were scored by the Premier League's two form players over Christmas, Roque Santa Cruz and David Bentley). Jewell is already planning for the Championship 2009 and I expect him to do very well indeed in the second tier.

Cruel I know, and I wouldn't lose the Boxing Day match for the world, but with players visibly tired after so compressed a fixture list, would the Premier League be diminished by the absence of Derby (and, say, Fulham)? If that's the price for an 18 club League and 4 fewer fixtures with all that implies for the national team coach, the case is beginning to build


Everton: points 6.
Christmas revealed exactly where Everton stand: in the foyer, safe from the cold blast (and chip shop fires) outside, but not yet smartly turned out enough to be offered a seat in the Michelin starred restaurant.

At either end of the Christmas fixtures, Bolton and Middlesborough were despatched by two goals to nil with all the efficiency of an Audi cruising the empty motorways on Christmas Day. In between times, the Blues were more like Virgin Trains: things seemed to be going well vs Big Boys Manchester United and Arsenal, but all of a sudden the Pendolino Express had turned into a relief coach service and you were stuck behind an HGV somewhere near Spaghetti Junction, as United won 2-1 and the new Brazil won 1-4.

For that thank defensive errors by Pienaar vs Manchester United and Jagielka vs Arsenal, but, if truth be told, those clubs have better players and both will beat Everton 8 times out of 10. Everton are sixth which is about right.


Fulham: points 2.
For a man to look sound like Porky Pig may be regarded as a misfortune; to compound it by looking like Porky Pig appears careless. But Roy Hodgson has more than that on his mind as Fulham slip to 19th after a Christmas programme which brought just two points from draws at home to Wigan and away at Birmingham (those match-ups against fellow strugglers "count double" if you win them). Fellow Londoners, Chelsea and Tottenham, made it a miserable Christmas with a 5-1 walloping and a fortunate 1-2 victory, secured by the charming Michael Ballack's penalty after he went down "a little easily".

With two red cards (scary looking Haimar Bouazza and all-round nice guy Moritz Volz) further pressuring his thin squad, Porky has a lot of work to do if Fulham aren't to join Derby in getting detached in the basement.


Liverpool: points 8.
Read the Press recently? Hands up who thought Liverpool had a Ceausescuesque 1989 Christmas? Premcorr did, but there they are 8 points from 4 games and undefeated. But with the dream of a title fading for another season (how hollow are those t-shirts sported by Reds in 1991 with Terry Waite getting off a plane after his release from confinement saying, "What? The Mancs still haven't won the League.") Disquiet grows at Anfield.

The Christmas matches showed exactly why Liverpool are good enough to secure another CL qualifying place, but not good enough for the title, with an easy 4-1 seeing off of top half Pompey, a late goal to secure all three points against doomed Derby and draws against Sven's City and Wigan Athletic FFS. Again goals were a problem, with only Gerrard and Benayoun chipping in to support Torres.

Liverpool finish the period in fifth with a game in hand on fourth place Manchester City. Rafa is a medium term Torres injury away from Liverpool's worst season since the 7th place finish in 1999.


Manchester City: points 6
I always said seedy Sven was a genius - I remember it distinctly. Just like I've been banging on about the genius of Elano for years and saying how underrated he is and that he should be at a top-four side. Just like the rest of the footballing intelligencia.

City come through Christmas undefeated, despite games against three top sides and Newcastle. Draws with Liverpool, Blackburm and Villa were creditable, and showed a reliance that will stand them in good stead later on.

But that also explains why he never cut it as an England manager. Let's face it, three draws out of four games whenever facing a half-decent side was one more than was needed to knock England out of three tournaments. Only Pompey, Liverpool and Fulham have drawn more, If we had penalty shoot outs in the league expect City to be 8th. As it stands they are 4th. Only West Ham and Blackburn have a worse goal difference in the top half.


Manchester United: points 9
Every single year people look at what happened last season and predict that the same thing will happen again. Unless a team is hit by injuries (under performs) or buys in star names (will perform better). So Man U will logically win the league - just like Chelsea did last season and Arsenal went undefeated in 2005.

The problem with predicting success for the successful is that you are right more often than you are wrong, so generally have no idea why you are right and don't understand what's going on when it goes wrong. And yes, I am looking at you Lawro.

9 points is a decent return for Man U - but they were unconvincing against Birmingham, sneaked past Everton, and lost to West Ham. At the same time last year they won the league as an injury-hit Chelsea underperformed. Chelsea and Arsenal out-scored them this year. They are second in the table, they won't finish higher than that.


Middlesbrough: points 3
It is entirely possible Middlesbrough only exist in the minds of other clubs, and this Christmas was not exception.

They were a mere adjunct to the results of others according to most pundits. Everton's 2-0 defeat of them helped the blues edge closer to Europe, Birmingham's 3-0 victory against them moved them out of the relegation zone. West Ham's Ashton and Parker helped state their England credentials while beating them 2-0. And Portsmouth collapsed to a rare home defeat, denting their chances of getting a Uefa spot against them.

I would tell you they finished the festive season 15th - but let's be honest here, no one's reading this, you all skipped ahead to Newcastle.


Newcastle: points 1.
A triple helping of Christmas defeat cost Big Sam his job. Wigan on Boxing Day, Man City on New Years Day, and Chelsea in between all feasted on the black and white carcass. Drawing with Derby didn't help much either.

Plenty of money, international stars on the pitch, a new owner, and nothing changes. So the pragmatic miracle worker at Bolton went the way of the England, Barca, and Ipswich Legend. The same way as the Liverpool and Blackburn legend. And the same way as all others who have taken the job.

So Santa, another new manager? Or how about we check that list and move them to naughty from nice?

Newcastle are in 11th.


Portsmouth: points 4
Soon to be managerless Pompey had a mid-table Christmas.

A win at Reading, a home draw against Arsenal and away defeat to Liverpool. A 1-0 home loss to Boro emphasised the fact that while they can be good on their day, they don't have the consistency to really challenge for much in the league.

8th is about right, but they could freefall with the wrong man in charge. That said, there is not a lot of evidence the man they have in charge is any more than good enough to keep most sides in the top half of the table.


Reading: points 4
Reading are busy playing neat tidy football, comfortably above the relegation zone and nowhere near the European places.

So really, their fans are paying to watch pointless football.

But then if that's the position you are going to find yourself in you want to have fun doing it. 6-4. That'll cover it. A win against Sunderland and a draw away to West Ham and a loss to Pompey were the other results. But let's be honest here, the only one anyone remotely noticed was SIX-FOUR at Spurs.

I sometimes with I was a Reading fan.


Sunderland: points 3
Roy Keane likes to kick things, if he can't get a shot at opponents' legs as a manager it's chairs. The problem is, no matter how afraid of him the player are, most are simply not quite good enough.

Sunderland lost to Blackburn narrowly, Reading narrowly, Man U heavily and beat Bolton comfortably.

Three points from four games is relegation form, and the team finds itself in 18th. But the Maccums may well be saved this season due to the poverty of skill in the bottom half of the table. Sunderland may be in 18th, but there are four teams three points or fewer ahead of them. In fact the whole bottom half of the table is within three games of being in the relegation zone.


Tottenham: points 6
While Ramos was in Spain pundits prized one bet above all else. His games involved more than four goals so often that the occasional loss to the bookie meant nothing.

This Christmas the gift that keeps on giving is at Spurs. Five-one against managerless Fulham was a post-Christmas warm up that helped dull the pain of Robbie Keane's messed penalty in a 2-1 defeat to Arsenal. But there could be no preparation for the big Reading shaped package with the gold ribbon on and a post mark from Bulgaria.

Four goals for both Reading and Berbatov, along with one each from Malbranque and Defoe gave everyone a delight that still had heads spinning when the Lilywhites lost 2-1 to Villa on New Year's Day. Six points from nine is better than the old sock Spurs fans normally get.

Spurs are 12th, one place behind Newcastle.


West Ham: points 7
The Hammers are doing quite nicely for themselves, which is odd, because their players are anything but.

A team with Bellamy, Bowyer and Dyer is not one to be easily loved. Throw in an underwear model (Ljungberg) a Ferdinand brother and an Australian earning £70,000 a week, a foreign millionaire owner funding all the largess and a fan base known for a certain streak of nastiness and it's hard to see why they aren't hated more.

But they're not, and despite a Christmas fixture list containing Arsenal and Man U, they come away with seven points. Well, let's face it, they always beat Man U so that was no surprise. Neither was loss in the Emirates or a win at Boro. The Draw with Reading was more of a surprise.

West Ham are 10th and they should finish in the top half.


Wigan: points 5
Wigan have had a good Christmas under their new manager. But they needed one.

Five points was the second best return in the bottom half of the table, and means they climber out of the relegation zone (albeit on goal difference).

A draw against Liverpool a win against Newcastle and a draw against Fulham are where the points came from. And a 2-1 loss to Villa is hardly a bad result.

It seems making Mario Melchiot captain and Emile Heskey and Kevin Kilbane joint vice captain is what you need to do. Oh, and Titus Bramble scoring against Villa and then again at Anfield helped.

Wigan are 17th on goal difference, on this form they could end up a lot higher.

21 comments:

MotM said...

Fine stuff Premcorr.

Strikes me that if Heskey can get on the pitch, Wigan will stay up, so what price Boro to join Fulham and Wigan? Bolton will score enough from set-pieces at home and Birmingham will get goals from Jerome and Forssell.

guitougoal said...

welcome back premcorr,
Anelka the cat with 9 lives finally getting the last train to london-Chelsea PROBABLY INVINCIBLE next spring;

Ebren said...

Great to have you back PC.

I should take some of the blame for this lateness, the article has been sitting in my inbox for a couple of days, but I didn't have time to sub it an post it until this morning (work's been hectic).

But, still there hours before the next round of fixtures kicked off (6-0, that would never have happened under big Sam), so I clam the 100% record of the league roundup is still intact.

Monumental effort Mr corner, and I particularly love the Boro entry...

tony said...

Yes, welcome back, prem, although it's a good job we Hammers fans aren't as sensitive as some. Nasty fan base? The ones I've known have all been diamond geezers...

andrewm said...

So, Mouth, now that there's no doubt you'll finish above us, who do you think your competition is for fourth place? I would be more worried about Villa than Man City in your position.

The Observer tells me Liverpool are going to sell to DIC after all. I'm inclined to think that anything would be better than the current mood hanging over the club, but I tend to be wrong about these things.

If I can be unkind for a moment, I'm glad to see Jewell doing so badly. He's the English Strachan.

MotM said...

AndrewM - call me pessimistic, but I think if Torres can play 14 of the 16 games left, Liverpool will finish fourth. If he gets injured or rotated, Rafa's poor signing (Kuyt) and poor management (Crouch) will come home to roost. Can't see Voronin and Babel scoring many either.

Villa are the coming team with a lot of pace, solid defence and no expectations. Their manager seems much more relaxed than Liverpool's!

I've always warmed to Jewell - he does whinge, but often with justification. We'll see if he's up to it if he can bring Derby back.

Good to converse again AM!

bigempty said...

Great round-up, nice work. I too still favour Arsenal although it's potentially a 3-horse race again (Anelka could make a big difference).

In the race for 4th, I definitely favour either AV or Everton - both sides will need to bring in a couple of players this month and I'm sure they will.

ManC & Blackburn will push LivinginafantasyworldPool for the UEFA spots. I don't know what to think about DIC or any other takeover but I do know that Steve Heighway brought through the odd decent player and shouldn't have been forced out of Melwood.

offsideintahiti said...

Thanks Premcorr, I've been without the Internet and TV over the new year period so that was just what I needed. Top stuff.

This season looks a lot less predictable than the few previous ones. Any of the top three for the title, and any of the next 5 for the remaining CL spot. Why, it's almost exciting, non?

gg said...

Ta, Premcorr -

a good run-through! Plenty of roughage to move the bowels after all that seasonal fare...

I'm a bit worried about the Red Devils: we haven't yet hit the kind of form we'll need to win the treble.

Andy -

in case of a takeover, will it be reasonable to refer to LFC fans as "DICheads"?

andrewm said...

GG, trust you to lower the tone ...

gg said...

Andy -

always happy to be of service to you!

According to GU (so it must be true),
if Gillet & Hicks are unable to re-negotiate their loans then the Royal Bank of Scotland may become the new owners of LFC. Considering Liverpool's Scottish links, would this not be a pleasing solution?

Margin said...

I enjoyed the 6-4 from my place in the Park Lane. Not sure I'd want to support Reading on the back of that though.

Margin said...

ps

ManU for the title for me.

I still think that when squeeky bum time comes their experienced players and their well established manager will outdo Arsenal and Chelsea respectively.

andrewm said...

GG, at this point I think I would accept any solution that gets H&G out of the club. I would even accept a Steve Gibson/Gareth Southgate dreamteam. I would accept Jewell and Strachan as co-managers.

gg said...

Andy -

even the sheik with the 10-year-old camel jockeys?

guitougoal said...

camels on the parking lot, billy dancers at half time, arabian nights
for the pools fans:not bad at all.

guitougoal said...

Oh lord they opened the taproom again!I can't believe they got their license back....ladies please don't get close to it,the worst is yet to come.

offsideintahiti said...

License? Errr, what license?

bluedaddy said...

Excellent round up PremCorr.

Don't know how this season compares with previous xmas programmes but clearly no team is outstanding favourite. Man U have the deepest squad and have had the least busy physio. I would back them to win it because of their strong defence, but a lot may hinge on their CL progress. Surprised to hear of Fergie talking trebles. Maybe he'd had one or two himself.

The Arse have benefitted from Willie Gallas' experience recently (most obviously againgst Chelsea, natch) and I do feel one or two more like him wouldn't have done too much harm to the confidence levels of Wenger's young pups. (BTW what the fuck is Lehmann playing at? Is he trying to prove his own indecisiveness - not a good idea for a goalie I reckon?)

Chelsea defy explanation. It shouldn't be working, but so far so good. But CL is probably all Roman wants and who is Uncle Av to argue with Big A?

Would be great to see a real race for 1st and another for 4th.

PS Hello Offie. How's the nest coming along?

munni said...

Thanks, Premcorr and hello, all.

So things are shaping up for a three-horse race for 1st, interesting. I'm a bit worried about Arsenal at the moment. I predict we will recover the form we had earlier this season, I'm just worried it might be too late by the time we do.

As a matter of fact I did skip the Boro entry, but I went back and read it later, so that's alright.

offside said...

BD,

nesting is a dirty business, join me in the taproom for a large glass of white spirit!

Tweet it, digg it