Hot or Not
Defeat to Stoke marks the beginning of the end for the Gunners, whilst Chelsea are firmly in pole position for their first title since 2010, there’s trouble in South Wales and a retired footballer makes the ‘Not’ column for the first time ever …
Quite simply, it is inconceivable that any other club will win the Premier League title this season. Chelsea’s victory over Fulham took them four points clear of Liverpool and Arsenal and whilst Man City have two games in hands and are only six points behind, it is always vastly preferable to have the points in the bank as opposed to the potential of them.
Last week’s publicising of Mourinho’s private comments concerning the dearth of his striking options was perhaps unfortunate, but as Andre Schurrle’s hat-trick on Saturday indicated, Chelsea don’t need a prolific striker to win the league this season. The contribution of their midfielders has been the key to their success in front of goal, whilst their miserly defence has still only conceded 22 goals.
You either love him or hate him, but Mourinho has so far been thoroughly masterful in his second spell at Stamford Bridge, and it is impossible not to give him some credit for what he’s achieved.
Liverpool’s comfortable win over Southampton allowed them to leapfrog Arsenal and move into second on the league and whilst it still seems premature to view them as title contenders, it has to be said that things are looking very, very good for Brendan Rodgers’ side.
In Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling and Coutinho, Liverpool have a frightening array of attacking options and their high pressing style has wreaked havoc whenever deployed effectively this season. If Rodgers can keep all of these players next season and add some quality in defence (by far the worst aspect of their game this year), they will be serious challengers next term.
Tim Sherwood needed a big reaction to last week’s devastating loss at Norwich and he got it: first in midweek against Dnipro and then again on Sunday at home to Cardiff. However, despite the mood lifting following their (in Sherwood’s words) ‘ugly’ win over the South Wales club, one can’t help but feel that Spurs are fighting a losing battle.
Fourth is the minimum expected by Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy this season, and a cursory glance at the league table suggests that this will be too tall an order for Sherwood’s side. The North London side are – in truth – about six points off the pace and it seems unlikely that they will be able to make up that gap in their next ten games. What is even less likely is that Levy will forgive this likely failure. Martin Jol, Juande Ramos, Harry Redknapp and Andre Villas-Boas could no doubt testify to the ruthless nature of Levy’s dealings with his managers and it seems likely that after being given an 18-month contract shortly after taking over as caretaker coach, Sherwood’s tenure will be over in the summer.
Forgetting the truly inexplicable indiscretions of their manager, Newcastle’s 4-1 win away to Hull City has been one of their best results of a dismal 2014 so far.
This was Newcastle’s first league win over Hull for 24 years and aside from the controversy was their best performance for many games. Fans of the Magpies will only hope that the sideshow will not disrupt their season and they will be able to focus on finishing as strongly as possible.
Their 3-1 win over Sunderland at Wembley gave Man City their first trophy of the Pellegrini reign and the question now is whether or not they will add to this haul. Still currently fighting on three fronts, City have the potential to win an unprecedented quadruple, but face an uphill struggle in their last-16 tie with Barcelona.
Their cup form notwithstanding, the question now is whether City have it in them to push for the Premier League. Laying aside the Champions League for a moment, the league is City’s bread and butter, and even if they can add the FA Cup to this year’s haul, it is likely that the success of Pellegrini’s first season will be judged primarily on how his side fares in the Premier League.
It is impossible to begin with anyone or anything else in the ‘Not’ column. Pardew’s headbutt on Hull’s David Meyler is one of the ugliest things most of us have seen on (the edge of) a football pitch as well as being totally and utterly inexplicable.
Newcastle were cruising at 3-1 before Pardew’s indiscretion and one has to question the mindset of a man who is able to do something so thoughtless when under relatively little pressure.
It hasn’t really been said, but I think it is important to note that the headbutt wasn’t exactly ferocious, but nevertheless, it should and almost certainly will land the manager a hefty fine and ban to go with the £100k fine already handed to him by his employer.
The annual Arsenal collapse is now so ingrained into British culture that it is not in any way surprising anymore, and after losing 1-0 to Stoke City, it is clear that this Arsenal side do not possess what is required to mount a serious challenge for the Premier League title this season.
Whilst they have, of course, had their doubters, there have been a number of hyperbolic statements about the legitimacy of Arsenal’s challenge this year, and as they are every year, these statements have now been proven false.
Whilst no doubt the blame for Arsenal’s collapse is a collective one, I can’t help but feel that Arsene Wenger is largely the man most culpable. The Frenchman’s stubbornness is a characteristic that all football fans are well aware of, but after his purchase of Mesut Ozil in August, it rather seemed that he had changed his tune and was aware that his (relatively) cheaply assembled team was not good enough. However, aside from Ozil, Wenger has failed to deal with the issues in his squad, and even when presented with an opportunity to remedy this in January, he failed to do so. It has been abundantly clear that Arsenal’s Achilles Heel has been up front, and the blame for their failure to purchase a more prolific striker than the hot-and-cold Olivier Giroud, deluded Nicklas Bendtner or youngster Yaya Sanogo has to lie firmly at the feet of the manager.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side are becoming a permanent fixture in this column and, obviously, this isn’t a good sign.
Following their loss to Tottenham, Solskjaer was quick to cite ‘little margins’ as the reason for failing to win any points but it seems clear that their problems are rather more systemic. Since the Norwegian took over he has taken his side two places lower in the table, conceded 17 goals whilst scoring just four and they are now three points adrift having played two games more than Sunderland in 18th and one more than Crystal Palace and West Brom who occupy the two places above the drop zone.
The former ‘Baby Faced Assassin’ is no doubt a lovely guy, but it seems obvious that right now, he isn’t what Cardiff need and it was a silly and PR-driven appointment that will see them return back to the Championship.
If there’s a mess in Cardiff, there appears to be one forming down the road in Swansea too. Whilst they are unlikely to go down this season, Swansea’s dreadful form since winning last year’s League Cup shows no sign of abating and their draw at home to Crystal Palace will have been thoroughly disappointing for the home fans at the Liberty Stadium.
Quite what has been going on behind the scenes at Swansea remains to be seen, but what is abundantly clear is that something isn’t right. The Swans will probably stay up by virtue of the fact that there are too many other poor teams in the division, but they really need to get their house in order if they are to progress any further.
It is not often that we have an ex-professional who is not even involved in the game in this column, but I felt that we must make an exception for Campbell.
It is both predictable and sad that when an ex-footballer brings out a book he feels the need to make brash and controversial comments in the press in order to drum up some support for his autobiography, but sadly it seems that this is exactly what Campbell has done. His assertions that the FA are institutionally racist and that had he been a white player he would have captained England for ten years are very sour indeed, and are somewhat inexplicable given the strong punishments handed out by the FA in recent years to players perceived to have made racist remarks.
It is also somewhat delusional from Campbell given that he was not well liked by vast swathes of fans. An England captain must command the respect of the nation and as Campbell generally did not, it seems altogether unsurprising that he didn’t land the captain’s job on a full-time basis, irrespective of the colour of his skin.