Battling Saints, imperious City and united United all feature in the ‘hot’ section, while things look to be going from bad to worse for Cardiff and Fulham.
Eleven goals in two fixtures against a Tottenham side invested in significantly last summer, City are flying. Despite a somewhat unlucky red card for Spurs, City were utterly dominant at White Hart Lane and thoroughly deserved their win.
City’s thrashing of Spurs also served as a warning to their title rivals: their troubles on the road are over. As we’ve covered before, City’s struggles away from the Etihad looked to be the major stumbling block in them regaining the Premier League title, but their demolition of Spurs was their eighth win in ten games on the road.
With their away issues seemingly fixed, and having regained the top spot after Arsenal’s dropped points, the chances of the Premier League title going anywhere else appear very slim indeed. On this performance, City are the champions in waiting.
What a difference a week makes. Six days prior to their win at home to Cardiff, David Moyes’s side had been dumped out of the League Cup after one of the most laughable penalty shootouts most of us had ever seen. Fast forward back to the present time and United have overcome Cardiff to progress to within six points of fourth-placed Liverpool, signed one of the best players in the Premier League and welcomed both Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie back after fairly lengthy injury layoffs.
It would be far too simplistic to say that United’s woes are over – after all, they still sit thirteen points shy of the league leaders and six points off the Champions League places – but at least there is a new sense of optimism at Old Trafford. The signing of Juan Mata is a signal of intent from the champions, and if David Moyes is able to add further to his squad before the window closes at the end of this week, the chances of Red Devils enjoying a strong end to the season will increase exponentially.
The Tony Pulis factor continues to pay dividends for the Eagles, and their win at home to Hull City puts them level of points with Steve Bruce’s side: four points clear of the drop zone.
The work that Pulis has done at Selhurst Park deserves significant praise and perhaps the most astounding thing about this upturn in fortunes is that the Welshman has achieved it without significant investment in what is a fairly ropey squad. In this sort of form, Palace will avoid relegation.
An emphatic win against their high-performing neighbours to suggest that the Reds are in pole position in that battle for fourth spot.
Brendan Rodgers’ side were terrific against Everton and thoroughly deserved their three points. In Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez, Liverpool possess one of the finest strike partnerships in Europe, and if Rodgers can keep them both this summer as well as adding to his squad, a shot at the title next year is looking increasingly realistic.
As West Ham managed to get a point at Stamford Bridge, they should probably occupy this position, but given the manner of the draw – the Hammers enjoying a mere 28% of possession and recording a mere one shot throughout the entire proceedings – I’m loathe to categorise them as ‘hot’ this week.
Instead, that dubious honour goes to Southampton for their hard-fought draw against Arsenal. Saints were rightly trumpeted for their sterling work at the beginning of the season, but having struggled in recent weeks, their ability to go toe-to-toe with the Gunners is definitely worthy of praise.
Two points dropped and the top spot conceded; this has not been a good week for Arsenal. We have waited all season for the traditional Arsenal capitulation, and whilst this does not necessarily signal the beginning of the end of their title race, it should be noted that if Arsenal want to be serious contenders, these are the sorts of games that they need to win.
With 15 games to go, the Gunners will now have to rely on City slipping up, and given the way the Manchester club put Spurs to the sword, this is by no means a guarantee. Unfortunately for Arsene Wenger, his side appears to be experiencing a wobble at precisely the wrong time.
It must be noted that in comparison to his predecessor, there has been vast difference in the reception Spurs manager Tim Sherwood has received following an absolute hammering at the hands of Man City.
Former Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas was pilloried following his side’s 6-0 loss at the Etihad, but following Spurs’ 1-5 thrashing last night, Sherwood seemed to get off pretty much scot-free. Sherwood’s excuse for the result seemed to hinge on how good Man City are, which is a decent, if obvious, observation, but still doesn’t account for the manner of the defeat.
Spurs were overrun from the first whistle and although they were unlucky with the sending off of Danny Rose, they nevertheless constituted a woefully inadequate opposition for a side of City’s calibre. Whilst even the most ardent Spurs fan would admit that City are a better side, there can still be no excuses for a capitulation of this level.
They probably won’t be, but question marks should now be raised over Sherwood’s ability to get the tactics right in the big games. His decision to play 19-year-old Nabil Bentaleb instead of the more defensively minded and robust Etienne Capoue has so far been seen as a positive thing, but how many times does the Spurs midfield need to be overrun before the media begin to realise that the selection of Bentaleb is leaving the Tottenham defence horribly exposed? It is all very well having the ability to banter with journalists, but when it appears that Sherwood has failed to learn his lesson from his side’s defeat at Arsenal in the FA Cup, it must be asked whether he has the tactical acumen required for a job of this stature.
In the wake of the unpalatable Malky Mackay sacking, owner Vincent Tan did something very sensible: he employed a manager that Cardiff fans would find impossible to hate. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is one of football’s good guys, and fans of the Premier League will have been delighted to see the ‘Baby-Faced Assassin’ return for a shot at management. In theory – and from a PR point of view – the appointment was a masterstroke.
However, in reality, it is becoming a more and more credible possibility that, actually, Solskjaer is a downgrade on his predecessor. Having never been in the Premier League before, staying up was always going to be the main goal for Cardiff, and under Mackay, it seemed like they would have a fighting chance. Since Solskjaer’s arrival, they have lost three league games on the bounce and sit rooted to the bottom of the Premier League table. Unless they improve very soon, they look like being the first team to be cut adrift.
If Cardiff are in trouble, Rene Meulensteen’s men are too, and unlike Solskjaer’s side, the West London club almost appear to have given up hope.
The woeful and insipid displays that became the norm under Martin Jol have not been eradicated since Meulensteen took over, and their loss at Swansea was every inch the performance of a team that just doesn’t care anymore. The languid and indolent style preferred by Dimitar Berbatov appears to have spread to the rest of the squad and Fulham fans cannot be enjoying watching their team at the moment.