Rivals' Roundup: can we skip ahead to Conte's diatribe?

I’m seein’ double here. Four Contes!

I’ll admit that I had a hard time trudging through most of this, what with half of the top four fogging off to the FA Cup. Thankfully, there was enough to enjoy at our end in most of the results regardless of the competition to keep me interested if not engaged. This will be our last roundup for a few weeks as everyone jets off to international commitments of varying degrees of importance. Between now and the resumption of normal activities in two weeks, we get to enjoy an eight-point cushion over our nearest rivals, long may that last. Enough throat-clearing. Let’s get to it.

1. Arsenal (22W 3D 3L: 69 pts.)
This one almost felt unfair. I stress the “almost”. Aside from one or two early glitches that saw Zaha hit the post and Edouard getting through (but from an offside position), we flowed and danced and sluiced past Palace with more aplomb than we’ve seen in some time. While it’s Saka’s brace and assist that will seize all the headlines, we can’t overlook Ben White, who not only pocketed Zaha for long, long stretches but also sprung (sprang?) Saka innumerable times, sometimes with long balls in behind and between Guehi and Mitchell but also with small short ones of no more than five or six yards. Saka feasted all day on that backline, but it was from White’s service that the feasting was on offer. On a larger level, it started to feel like we were ought to vindicate Vieira, under whom the Eagles at least offered resistance. We’re eight points clear with 10 to play. Still too early to be planning parades…

2. Man City (19W 4D 4L: 61 pts.)
Pep’s minions took a break from Prem action to abuse Burnley in the FA Cup to the tune of a 6-0 scoreline. They may yet reel us in, but their fixtures are starting to pile up. No one looks remotely capable of stopping them in the FA Cup, and they did get a tricky UCL draw (Bayern). They’ll play no fewer than nine matches in April, once every three or four days, and our 26 April visit may feel somewhat less daunting by then. Then again, when you have a squad as deep and as honestly bought and paid for as City’s, fixture congestion is about as real a problem for them as FFP is. They now have a game in hand over us, which temporarily inflates our lead to eight points, but that match against West Ham will have to wait until May, by which point we may very well know who’s won the Prem. We each play four Prem matches between now and 26 April when we visit the Etihad. Tick…tock…tick…tock…

3. Man U (15W 5D 6L: 50 pts.)
Before you scoff, remember that Man U have played just 26 matches and could close the gap to Man City to only five points if they win those. To be real, though, they’re just treading water in the Prem while Spurs are like that drowning child in the swimming pool meme (more on that hot mess in a minute). To be even more real, though, it’s a bit mad to think that they have a chance at winning a treble and will make sure to remind us all of each step they take towards winning the FA Cup and Europa League…which will make it all the more delicious when they fail on one or both fronts. At home against Fulham, they needed Willian, Mitrovic, and Silva to all get sent off before they could turn the tide in their favour. With Rashford’s purple patch having ended, one has to wonder where the goals will come from against full-strength sides.

4. Tottenham (15W 4D 9L: 49 pts.)
Normally, I dread this section. It’s like scrubbing a toilet or flossing one’s teeth after neglecting the task for a few months. You know it’s necessary, but that doesn’t ease the distaste. Thankfully, the news is all of the delicious sort after Antonio Conte offered a mild and even-tempered assessment of the club’s prospects in this season and into the foreseeable future. His mindset was in no way altered by the fact that his squad squandered a 3-1 lead, at home, to cellar-dwelling Southampton. I kid, I kid. The Italian made “scorched earth” look positively genteel, going off on a ten-minute diatribe in which he excoriated the club’s history and culture, sparing no one except the fans themselves. It was truly astonishing, even for a man who’s been trying to get sacked for weeks now. He really only said when almost all of us take to be true, but the truth may get lost in the hurt feelings he’s inspired. It may have been a calculated attempt at lighting a fire under this players, but it felt more like taking a blowtorch and burning the whole place down. I might prefer a slower burn, but to each his own, I guess.

5. Newcastle (12W 11D 3L: 47 pts.)
Newcastle seem to have given up on their quixotic campaign at finishing in the top four with more draws than wins, based on their late-ish winner against Wolves last week and their very late winner against Nottingham Forest, Isak scoring from the spot in stoppage-time to again seize victory from the jaws of, uh…um…drawdom? You know what I mean. Don’t make me work so hard for it. With two matches in hand over Tottenham, they have a better than even chance at climbing the ladder to fourth, all the more so now that the goals are more or less flowing, a relative term for a side that has only scored 39 goals, the lowest among the top-eight sides. If they can continue to score more than once per match, they’ll surely overtake the flaming dumpster fire that currently occupies fourth.

6. Liverpool (12W 6D 8L: 42 pts.)
I honestly don’t know what to make of this squad, and I challenge anyone else to make any sense of them either. Just a few weeks ago, an historic obliteration of Man U seemed to announce the Reds’ resurrection. However, they then followed up on that with a meek 1-0 loss to Bournemouth. It’s only a creditable second-leg 1-0 loss away to Real Madrid and the fact that they have also have two games in hand on Tottenham that I bother to write about them (and, let’s be honest: Real didn’t have to do much after winning the first leg 5-2 at Anfield). At a risk of reverse-jinxing myself here, I know that we have to go to Anfield ourselves soon. If I were to leave them out, I’d expose us all to some serious voudoo mindgames. We’ve seen what they’re capable of when everything clicks as it should; this is still the side that came very, very close to a quadruple just a season ago. Woe betide those who underestimate them.

That’s where we’re leaving off for now. I think it’s safe to say that we don’t have much to fear from Brighton, Brentford, of Fulham even for as good as they’ve done for themselves. I feel like there used to be some other club, some other erstwhile rival that I’ve forgotten about, but I can’t for the life of me recall its name. It feels like it’s on the tip of my tongue. Ah well. If it were relevant, I’m sure I wouldnt’t have such trouble. Until next time, then…

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