Chelsea’s grip on the EPL title race is loosening slightly with some results going against them, especially the defeat to Pardew’s Newcastle when Cisse scored two to condemn the Blues to their first defeat of the season. Much was made of Chelsea’s chances of going unbeaten all season, an unrealistic expectation in England in this age. In Round 9 Chelsea also dropped 2 points to Sunderland. The Black Cats are proving to be a tough hurdle for visiting teams under Gus Poyet. The special one must have had a firm word in the dressing room because Chelsea came out firing to beat Spurs by 3 in the next league match and to be honest it could have been many more. That match was followed by the defeat to Newcastle at St James’ Park before beating Hull at home in round 12. Points 7/12
City have stepped up their chase for top spot, aided somewhat by the officials against Everton, with probably the softest penalty no one appealed for. City went to Southampton in round 9 and thumped high-flying Southampton by 3. The following match City hammered Sunderland who had held Chelsea the week before and then came the dodgy decision at the Etihad against Everton.
Toure didn’t disappoint and stuck it away. A major concern for all City fans will be Agüero limping off at the beginning of the fixture and only expected back in early January. The 4th match in the batch was an uninspiring win against a feisty Leicester with City’s players looking tired from their mid-week Champions League win in Rome. A worry will be the injury to Dzeko before the Leicester game. True Champions win even when they don’t deserve to and City will hope this run can carry them to the top.
United, like City, are on a good run with 6 wins on the trot in the EPL. Round 9 United crushed Hull by three at Old Trafford before going on the road and beating a spirited Stoke by the odd goal in three. Southampton continue to slide out of the top 2 by losing every week, this time at OT to two goals from Robin van Persie. Much was made of the battle of the Dutch Managers but United can thank their Spanish keeper for the points. The biggest derby game in England took place in round 12 as Liverpool travelled to Old Trafford only to be sent packing by a three goal winning margin. Injuries continue to plague United with 43 recorded injuries to first team players this season.
What can one say about Liverpool and Rodgers that hasn’t already been said. The club is in crisis without a proven goal scoring striker. Lambert isn’t the player he was when he earned an England call-up. Balotelli is side-lined with a ban for racist comments on social media and Sturridge shouldn’t be coming back from injury in a hurry either unless they want to risk a relapse. In a nutshell, Liverpool rely on Coutinho, Stirling and Gerrard. Everyone else is a burden. Liverpool beat Stoke by an odd goal and then beat Leicester 3-1 the following week. Sunderland held Liverpool to a goalless draw as another “great team” couldn’t score against them and after this they lost to Swiss club Basel in the Champions League and got dumped out of that competition. The 4th match in the period under discussion was the humiliating defeat to rivals Manchester United. Rodgers made some strange tactical decisions including playing a back 3 with a wing back as one of the central defenders, he pushed Stevie G up to support Sterling down the middle. The biggest talking point is perhaps Mignolet losing his place in the team “indefinitely” after Rodgers shipped Reina out and paid huge money for the Belgian shot stopper. Points 7/12
Arsenal’s climb coincides with the return of Giroud. The Frenchman’s inclusion has helped them win against WBA and Southampton by the odd goal before Stoke bullied them 3-2 at the Britannia. Wenger silenced some of the calls for him to be replaced with a 4-1 win against Newcastle who had been on a good run recently. Arsenal are up to 6th and on target for their traditional 4th place. Next up are Liverpool at Anfield, I suspect if Rodgers doesn’t get his defensive shape sorted Sanchez and co could humiliate them on their own patch. Points 9/12
Just as I thought Spurs were developing a bit of a tougher mental approach under Pochettino Chelsea outwit, outlast and outplay them in every aspect and Spurs were lucky only to concede 3. In the following fixture they failed to beat Crystal Palace undoing a lot of the work they had done in their efforts to climb back into contention for European places. In the other 2 matches, they beat Everton and Swansea 2-1. Harry Kane is getting more regular starts as Pochettino gives him more starts. Next up are Burnley who beat Southampton on Saturday. A win is a must for Spurs to keep their ascent going. Points 7/12
Teams of interest:
Newcastle United, West Ham United, Southampton & Swansea
West Ham are the form team of the rest at the moment with wins against Manchester City, Liverpool, Swansea and Newcastle among their scalps so far this season. Diafra Sakho has been in top form and make West Ham quite watchable as he is the type of player who likes to run on to the ball. The Swansea game saw the return of the Giraffe for the Hammers who scored two great goals but means they have to adapt their style to a less attractive long ball style where every ball is hopefully pumped into the opposition box looking for the head of Andy Carroll. This type of football is really only for the die-hard fans of the clubs, I’d rather go blow bubbles. Next up is Leicester whose high tempo pressing game might get them a point or three.
Newcastle had a purple patch with a series of wins including the shock win over Chelsea but losses to West Ham and a drubbing from Arsenal have taken the shine off the Geordies season for the moment. Next up are Sunderland, a tough match even for top 4 teams, a proper test for Pardew’s men.
Southampton are in a crisis. 5 defeats in a row and the previous result was a draw against Aston Villa. Things are looking dire for Koeman after his team had such a strong start to the season. Many were surprised by their start but others pointed out that their squad a little thin in depth after they cashed in on their most prominent talents in the summer. Next week Everton come to St. Mary’s and it will take something special to get any points from that fixture.
Swansea are the other team who started really well. They featured in the top 6 for the first seven weeks but have started to lose momentum. The only top team they have beater this season is Arsenal while dropping points to Palace and Stoke, teams they need to beat to be contenders. Interestingly they have scored in their last 6 fixtures but still lost three and drawn one of them. Swansea travel to Hull next where points are vital and a tough combative match should be expected.
Do you agree with my predictions? Have your own opinions on Brendan Rodgers or West Ham’s giraffe? Leave your thoughts below.