Tag Archives: Rivals Roundup

Rivals' Roundup: and then there were two…

We’ve winnowed the wheat from the chaff, it seems will soon let the chips fall where they lay. If you’ve come here for consistency, away with thee. I shall mix my metaphors as I see fit. With just less than one-third of the season ahead and two-thirds behind us, it’s almost time to say once and for all that this is now a two-horse race. It’s the bout to knock the other guy out. Let’s See Who’s Bad at the Etihad. And so on. What I’m getting at is that there is now an eleven-point gap between second and third place, and while similar gaps have been traversed, it’s looking less and less likely to happen here. Let’s be honest: there are only two clubs that have shown enough consistency and ruthlessness to be in the conversation. Still, I’ve committed to a template, so I must soldier on.

1. Arsenal (21W 3D 3L: 66 pts.)
Since losing at home to Man City just under a month ago, we’ve now rattled off five league wins on the bounce, none of them more convincing than Sunday’s evisceration of Fulham, who were supposed to be made of sterner stuff than this but who conceded three assists to Leandro Trossard (which, I’m told, translate to three goals conceded along the way). When I can get away with saying that a 0-3 halftime scoreline flatters our hosts, you know things were going our way. It could very well have been five or even six. It’s been a while since we’ve simply outclassed an opponent. Even if Fulham looked to be out to sea for most of this one, they’re a decent side with a chance at a European spot next season. To have carved them open six ways from Sunday sends a strong signal to the one side that can still overtake us. With Gabriel Jesus working his way back to match fitness after missing 12 matches, we’re gathering strength at just the right time.

2. Man City (19W 4D 4L: 61 pts.)
You would think that a squad that boasts of having the likes of Haaland, Foden, Mahrez, de Bruyne, Silva, Gundogan, and Grealish would simply obliterate squads with their fearsome firepower. You would be wrong. Instead, the Greatest Squad Completely Ethical Money Can Buy had to resort to Gundogan more-or-less convincingly bamboozling referee Robert Jones into awarding City a penalty. Whilte technically the correct call, it’s the kind of thing that makes me renew my objection to these pointless pens informally now and by affidavit later, time permitting. There really should be some kind of sliding scale for these situations, taking into account a squad’s salary compared to its opponent. In this case, Haaland should have had to take the pen from outside the 18 on a pop-up goal. My affidavit must be tied up in bureaucratic red-tape though. Man City march mirthlessly onward if not upward.

3. Man U (15W 5D 6L: 50 pts.)
Something shocking and even scandalous has happened at Old Trafford, and I’m sure that heads will roll on Monday. Not only did David Coote book Lisandro Martinez, he had the audacity to issue a straight red to Casemiro—just the second of the Brazilian’s otherwise paladin-like, pure as the driven snow career. Are you not outraged yet at this worst miscarriage of justice? Well, hold onto your hats, ladies and gentleman, for the catalogue of horrors is not complete until I add to it the horrifying—I’m almost afraid to give voice to it, it’s so awful—failure of Coote to award Rashford a pen after he was cruelly and savagely brought down in the box while the ball was entirely under his control as he was through on goal. There was so much contact that I”m surprised bones didn’t break. I’m sure that the good people will rise up against this injustice. One does not drop points at home to Southampton, after all.

4. Tottenham (15W 3D 9L: 48 pts.)
Well, well, well. Look who’s come crawling back to something remotely resembling relevance. Looks like 4th place is back on the menu, boys—and that’s a trophy worth winning given that Spurs crashed out of the FA Cup against a side known as [checks notes] Sheffield…United? Did I say that right? They also face the tricky task of trying to get past AC Milan after a scoreless first-leg draw at home were also bounced out of the Champions League 1-0 on aggregate. Domestically, Kane bravely took the pen that could have allowed Richarlison to break his duck because, after all, one’s pursuit of individual records is clearly more important than helping a teammate kick-start his campaign. Spurs bravely fought past a Forest side that’s won just once away from home all season, finding a zen-like balance between results that inspire Conte and Kane to leave in the summer and results that tempt them to stay.

5. Newcastle (11W 11D 4L: 44 pts.)
Okay. I admit that I owe Toon an apology. I had pencilled Liverpool in for fifth as I drafted this, thinking “who loses to Bournemouth? Nobody, that’s who” only for them to go ahead and do exactly that. Then, the Magpies shocked the world by scoring not one but two goals to defeat Wolves, the first time in nine matches and just the ninth time all season that they’ve score more than a single goal in a match. The win puts a dent in their daring attempt at finishing in the top four with more draws than wins. There are worse ways to make history, but I for the life of me can’t think of what they are. To be less wry, their defensive prowess is enough to keep them relevant; if they can manage to start scoring more than 1.48 goals for match, they might just be able to overtake Tottenham. They do have two matches in hand, after all. I’m not saying I want that to happen. I’m torn between wanting to see Tottenham implode and Newcastle not succeed

6. Liverpool (12W 6D 8L: 42 pts.)
Having won the first leg 9-0, Liverpool needed only to avoid an historic 10-0 collapse to advance to the round of 16, and—oh. I’m told that this doesn’t apply and

That’s where we’re going to have to call it. I can’t type all day, and I’m sure you’re reaching the limits of your willingness to read more folderol. Besides, if I go ahead and include Liverpool, I have to consider adding Brighton, just three points behind with two games in hand. I’m going to have to put my foot down. If something dramatic happens and one of these sides outside the top five find a way to start taking four or five points from each match, that might change the conversation. It’s us and Man City chasing the title with a pack of scavengers fighting for the scraps. I can live with that.

Rivals' Roundup: Nothing to see here…

I’ll be honest. I didn’t watch much footy this weekend. Just needed a break. I’m sure we’ve all been there. It’s been a long season, after all. Did I miss anything? I’m sure we waltzed past Bournemouth without much fanfare and nothing else of any special significance happened. Okay, folks, show’s over, nothing to see here, the show’s—OH MY GOD! A HORRIBLE PLANE CRASH! Hey, everybody, get a load of this flaming wreckage. Come on, crowd around! Crowd around, don’t be shy, crowd around.

1. Arsenal (20W 3D 3L—63 pts.)
Wow. Just…wow. As I explored in this post-match reaction, we witnessed something epic and memorable and maybe even historic. Down 0-2 to one of the worst sides in the Prem, we showed the kind of determination, inspiration, and effort we’ve rarely seen in recent memory. For years, going behind two goals or even one was enough to pick up prayer-books and drive home coffin-nails. Instead, a pair of inspired substitutions made vital contributions as Nelson assisted White and then scored one of the most dramatic stoppage-time winners we’ve ever seen, if not because of the opponent but because of the one step closer it took us to winning the Prem. To have suffered a draw or, gods forbid, a loss at home to Bournemouth would have surely seen City snatch the title away. Instead, we’re still alive and five points clear with a spring in our collective step. It may have been “just” Bournemouth, but the message we sent to everyone else shall send shudders down various spines.

2. Man City (18W 4D 4L—58 pts.)
Toon, you useless, useless dolts. All you had to do was to stick to your “we won’t score but neither will you” plan for ninety soddin’ minutes. Couldn’t do it, could you, and now, instead of helping us by holding City to a draw, you shipped not one but two goals. Well, I guess I can’t complain. We can’t and shouldn’t go expecting favours, not from the likes of you lot at least. Okay. Enough of them. As for the side we’re actually here to talk about, City continue to show what they’re capable of for good and for bad. They dominated possession and carved their opponents open through a couple moments of magic but also showed what some are still calling uncharacteristic sloppiness. In the period leading up to scoring their second, they looked very vulnerable, and an opponent with better finishing would have, well, finished the chances Newcastle created. City have a somewhat tetchy second leg against RB Leipzig after having drawn 1-1 away in the first. Let’s hope this become’s Pep priority…

3. Man U (15W 4D 6L—49 pts.)
You know you’re in trouble when Darwin Núñez scores on you, and not because it means you’ve conceded twice. It means you’ve conceded twice to Darwin Núñez. Worse, you’ve yet to account for Mo Salah or Cody Gakpo. Conceding seven goals? Man U didn’t even look a ghost of their previous selves. They hardly looked capable of beating my Sunday league team. Ten Hag’s men just fell to absolute pieces here and were lucky that Bruno Fernandes, who was not at all petulant and never lashed out at anyone, didn’t get sent off. Paragon of dignity in defeat, he was. Same with Luke Shaw, who handled his humiliations with all of the stoic grace of a three year old who’s had his favorite snatched by his big brother. Truly, it was a historic spanking that seems to slam shut any chance Man U have of overhauling Man City, not to mention us. At least they won the League Cup, so they’ll always have that.

4. Tottenham (14W 3D 9L—45pts.)
How are this silly lot still in the top four? It says a lot about how uneven others have been that the losers of nine matches still cling to a Champions League spot. Since ekeing out a 1-0 win over Man City, Spurs have ridden a soft-ish string of fixtures but crashed back down to Earth at Molineux (I’m sure Wolves acknowledged the result with a a pursed lip and subtle nod, nothing more). It all seems to be falling apart over there, with increasing rumours around Conte’s return to Italy come summer and the possibility that Kane will again try to force his way out of the club after yet another trophyless season. With Haaland around, he can’t even lay claim to a Golden Boot. Would he stay in the Prem in order to break Shearer’s record? Let’s hope he prefers the loyalty and devotion of finishing his career at Tottenham.

5. Liverpool (12W 6D 7L—42 pts.)
Liverpool, it seems, are back, at least close enough to it that I have to type about them. It’s not just that they embarrassed Man U on Sunday. They’ve been on a roll of late, and that demolition off the Red Devils could indicate that they’ve shaken off the season-long torpor they’re in. The right results could see them overtake Tottenham to claim fourth place, something that was almost as unthinkable as Kane hoisting silverware just a few weeks ago. They are alone among the top four in having nothing else to play for except a Prem position, and that as well as the frightful storm they unleashed on Man U could be just the kind of result to light a fire under a squad that has, to be honest, underwhelmed all season long. The adjustments of Gakpo and Núñez got a massive boost along the way, and although the gap to the top still seems too large from them to cross, we do have to play them in just under a month. Meh.

I’m of two minds at this point. On one hand, Newcastle are just one point behind Liverpool with a gamein hand. On the other, I’m tired and achy. I think I’ll split the difference and just say that Newcastle’s form is so poor over the last six weeks that only five clubs have fared worse. Turns out that averaging 1.45 goals per game may not be enough to keep you in the top four. They’re still stubborn enough at the back to hold onto the last Europa League spot. The other aspirants—Fulham, Brighton, Brentford, and Chelsea—are just too far behind with too few matches to waste any more keystrokes on.

That’s that for this week, then. I hope you’ve enjoyed this latest installment…and I hope there’s much more enjoyment in weeks to come.

Rivals' Roundup: We're through the looking-glass, people…

Another week, another win for the Arsenal. And for Man City. Man U, not so much. Well, they did win, but it was in the EFL Cup, which no one of any repute really takes seriously until after they’ve won it. Newcastle apparently felt bad enough about Liverpool’s quagmire of a season that they generously shipped not one but two goals but still look tenacious enough to cling to a top-four spot, despite Tottenham’s Conte-less rise. The less said about that the better for the digestive tracts of all concerned. Well, enough throat-clearing. Let’s get right to it.

1. Arsenal (18W 3D 3L: 57 pts.)
Our Gunners had to overcome a spirited Leicester side captained by Craig Pawson  and VAR, who decided that holding hands with the keeper in the box is worth denying a goal whilst dragging a player down in the box isn’t worth a pen. It’s no mean feat to overcome a squad fighting to stave off relegation, and that feat gets even…meaner? Larger? I’m not sure how to extend that idiom. Let’s move on. It’s a second consecutive away win, and it gives us 31 points from 13 away matches, eclipsing the 28 points we took from all of last season’s 19 away matches. We’ve emerged from our worst wobble of the season largely unscathed, still two points clear with a game in hand until Wednesday when we host Everton, whose new manager bounce lasted all of about ninety minutes. Maybe they’ll sack Dyche and bring in Pulis or Pardew to replicate the effect. It would be hard to decide which of the three brings more bile to the back of the throat.

2. Man City (17W 4D 4L: 55 pts.)
City have apparently decided that they win the Prem based on goal difference alone, putting four past toothless Bournemouth in what City defender Rico Lewis said, apparently with a straight face, “sends a message” to Arsenal. Um, Rico, I think I speak for all of us when I say that we still sense that yours is the better squad, and we know that you’ve beaten us twice in the last few weeks. We don’t need any messages, thank you very much. I have to admit to having shaken a few birdcages with this post lampooning the idea that Arsenal have simply copied what City have been doing. There might be some insecurity around the idea that Arteta’s getting more out of his thin squad than what Guardiola’s getting out of his deep, expensive, not-at-all-illegally paid-for squad. Is it possible that Pep’s obsession with winning the Champions League turn his gaze away from the Prem? Yes, but it’s not something we can count on.

3. Man U (15W 4D 5L: 49 pts.)
The Red Devils took a break from Prem play this weekend to win The Most Important Piece of Domestic Silverware in All of England. Maybe, just maybe, this will force the British media to finally, at long last, notice the job that Ten Hag is doing and start writing about the tentative progress his side have made. I mean, really. How overdue are the accolades? Where are the articles that overflow with superlatives? I really find it more than a bit scandalous that more isn’t being said about how superior Man U have been to any other club in history. The Home Office should announce an inquest. Okay, more seriously, Man U have looked much improved since the World Cup, something I’d warned about in previous posts. Rashford in particular seems to found his groove, and the squad do look capable of making this a three-horse race. Like us, they have a game in hand over City, and they could use that to narrow the gap to their noisome neighbors to just three points. Winning the EFL Cup might even give them a boost.

4. Tottenham (14W 3D 8L: 45 pts.)
Oh, now we’re into the dregs. Tottenham have climbed four points clear of Newcastle by somehow managing to score more goals than Chelsea, who really should consider bringing in some attacking players who can score goals. That’s just my two cents. Speaking of goals, Harry Kane managed to score goal #201, closing the gap to Alan Shearer to just 59, suggesting that he could surpass the legend by the end of the 2024-25 season. Of course, Shearer managed to win the Prem, highlighting the very unique and very Spursy skill set that Kane has of collecting individual honours while avoiding silverware like it was the plague. Spurs are very much still alive in the FA Cup with a trip to Sheffield United this weekend and have a bit of work to do in the Champions League after losing the first leg1-0 at the San Siro. I don’t think that even the most-optimistic Spurs fan sees them winning either of those, and the gap between them and Arsenal is simply too big to cross. Still, they’re in the top four, so I had to write about them. Done. I need a shower and a drink.

Below the dregs, it looks like the bloom is off the rose over at Newcastle. Turns out that scoring goals is an important part of the equation, and when you lose to Liverpool these days, well, you really do need to give yourself a good, hard look in the mirror and admit that you have problems. They have only played 23 matches, though, and could overtake Spurs by winning those two, but where will the goals come from? Hard to say. Elsewhere, Fulham, Brighton, and Brentford have stumbled a bit, and Chelsea closer to being rock-bottom than they are to being in the top four. We’re basically at the two-thirds mark of the season, and things are starting to crystallize. At a risk of sounding overly optimistic, I think we have a fair chance at finishing above most if not all of our rivals. 

Rivals' Roundup: A funny thing happened on our way to relegation…

This was the wobble that we had all been waiting for. This was the week to end all weeks. A draw to Brentford sandwiched either side by losses to Everton (!) and Man City should have spelled our doom. The shoe had finally dropped, Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. It’s all been a mirage anyway, and the sky is falling. The room is closing in. Arsenal will be fighting for a league title, all right, but it’ll be a year from now, and it’ll be for the Championship…wait a minute. It appears that no one got the memo, at least none who matter. Against all odds and any media narrative as well, Arsenal find themselves top of the league. With a game in hand. Let’s not get too cocksure, though. Anything can happen. Let’s round ’em up.

1. Arsenal (17W 3D 3L: 54 pts.)
It’s been quite the week at the ol’ Arsenal. A loss to Sean Dyche’s Everton, a draw to Thomas Frank’s Brentford, another loss to Pep’s entirely honestly paid-for Man Ciry, and we’re running out of nails to drive into this season’s coffin. Funny thing, that. Just as we were going into the stoppage time that Emi Martinez had created, we found not one but two stunning goals. One would have had Martinez shaking his head, if not in disbelief but perhaps in concussion. The other would have had Emery sorting similar emotions as the Argentinian keeper one-upped his asininity (it is so a word) by charging up to join the scrum only to see Vieira feed Martinellii for a fourth. Long story short, we’ve endured the worst wobble of the season, and we’re still two points clear. That’s not quite enough to prove that we’re free and clear, but it’s a far cry better than we were just a few days ago.
2. Man City (16W 4D 4L: 52 pts.)
Title-winners don’t drop points to newly-promoted sides! I feel like I’m supposed to randomly capitalise various letters here and there in order to establish that I’m speaking sarcastically, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. It’s not a matter of principle. It’s just that my fingers are too brittle to manage the pressing of the shift key while also pressing other keys. Spare a moment for your correspondent. While you’re at it, please also spare a moment for poor Pep, who has apparently exhausted his “us against the world” campaign after just two matches. While it might take a while for the Prem to prove that it has any actual teeth, Pep’s minions managed to spend a grand total of perhaps 72 hours atop the table before slipping to second. That’s a record that even Liz Truss can envy. 
3. Man U (15W 4D 5L: 45 pts.)
Ten Hag’s men have responded bravely to being bettered by Arteta’s, beating Leeds, Palace, and Leicester, once again showing that clubs that spend whatever they want can batter clubs that can’t quite do the same. Along the way, Marcus Rashford continues a purple patch that suggests but may not quite prove that the striker’s development has been somewhat hampered by having played under something like 19 different managers while also having had to defer to an ageing and increasingly ineffectual Ronaldo. We’ll find out in just a few days’ time whether this rag-tag crew will progress to the next round of Europa League action; a 2-2 draw at the Camp Nou has them pencilled in to advance. Can Ten Hag continue this inexorable crawl towards the top? Can pundits restrain themselves from gushing endlessly about Man U’s rise? Let’s hope and pray that the answer to both of those rhetoricals is a resounding no.
4. Tottenham (13W 3D 8L: 42 pts.)
Just when I thought I couldn’t stomach another week of writing about Newcastle, along comes Topspur to prove me wrong. It’s not even as if they’ve been all that special; they’ve won three and lost two since we re-established which color North London is. Since our last roundup, they managed to prove that it’s possible to defeat Man City against their better interests, to lose to the likes of Leicester, and to somehow, someway, defeat West Ham. Far be it from me to suggest that they’re inconsistent, but…I don’t know how to finish that sentence. Painted myself into a corner there. At any rate, it’s possible that there are some stirrings of something resembling a revival over there, one at least enough to suggest that a Champions League spot is available. Can these noisome neighbors cause a bigger racker? We’ll have to keep a closer eye on ther comings and goings…
5. Newcastle (10W 11D 2L: 41 pts.)
Well, well, well. Someone has finally found a chink in Toon’s armour. Apparently, all it takes to defeat Eddie Howe’s side is to be Liverpool. Well, that and scoring more than one goal. Newcastle suffered their second defeat of the campaign even before Nick Pope decided to offer his best impression of Bernd Leno facing Wolves. Already trailing by two, Pope generously offered to let former Liverpool keeper Loris Karius a chance at some silverware by coming some 45 yards off his line to handle the ball and giving Anthony Taylor no other option but to create a bit of irony in the Carabao Cup by showing Pope a straight red. Denying Pope a chance at winning the Carabao Cup is possibly the worst human rights abuse since…well, I can’t really come up with a suitable analogy. Rest assured that Amnesty International and the EU will be all over this, post-haste.
From there, we keep an eye on Fulham, Brighton, Liverpool, and Brentford, who, to be honest are more likely to earn a spot in the Europa Conference League than anything else. Nipping at their heels (if I’m being generous) are Chelsea, who have spent more than just about any other club whose aspirations are to finish in the top half of the table (a goal we helped them toward by beating Villa). Well, that’s it for another week. Tune in next week for another installment of the Rivals’ Roundup!

Rivals' Roundup We're well past squeaky bum time…

Where does the time go? It seems like it wasn’t so long ago that we were envisioning a possible 12-point gap separating us from Man City. We never quite reached that pinnacle, and now we’re staying into an abyss: just three points separate us from our harriers going into a climactic clash on Wednesday. It’s not just Man City, either. Those other Mancunians briefly overtook their neighbors, further tightening things up among the top three. Thankfully for my carpal tunnel, a gap has widened just a touch, sparing me the need to expand this week’s roundup beyond the top four. Now that the throat-clearing is done, let’s down to business.

1. Arsenal (16W 3D 2L: 51 pts.)
Oh, hang it all. Why are we even trying? Who are we fooling? Only ourselves, it seems. Everyone else knew we’d bottle it, and some of them (such as Lee “I forgot to do the one thing my job requires” Mason). Seeing that we hadn’t been hard done by for at seven or eight days, Mason decided to angle for a promotion by completely ignoring the fact that Pinnock may have been and Nørgaard certainly was in an offside position for Brentford’s equaliser. Howard Webb is said to be so furious about this and other “human errors” that he’s summoned all PL officials in on Tuesday for a review. Something tells me that chewing out some retired referees isn’t going to dramatically improve their ability to use technology, but I’m feeling a bit put out by the fact that almost every point we’ve dropped thus far has been the result of inept refereeing and/or VAR. Still, scoring just one goal is going to expose us to their ineptitude, and we have more ability to control that than we do the Lee Masons and Mike Deans of the world…

2. Man City (15W 3D 4L: 48 pts.)
Pep Guardiola has seized on the stunning, um “news” that Man City may be guilty of some kind of financial peccadillos to try to rally both his jaded squad and his sated fans. Outraged that somone somewhere might actually investigate the spending that he’s always relied on to get to and stay at (well, at least near) the top, he might have been satisfied to see his players overrun Aston Villa on their way to a 3–0 halftime lead…but from there, their sense of urgency more than petered out. Villa found what felt at first like a consolation goal but kept pressing and almost exploited City’s sloppiness, with Coutinho forced a difficult save from Ederson and Duran hitting the woodwork late on. Will this have given them the catharsis they need, or will they crave more? We’ve been eyeing each other up all season. It’s about time we go toe-to-toe.

3. Man U (14W 4D 5L: 46 pts.)
I was about to concede that Man U have started to feel like an irresistible force, such has been their improvement since they shed roll after roll of sweaty disgusting flab from their payroll just before the World Cup, but a funny thing happened on the way to double-check the table: they’ve been in exactly the same form Arsenal have been in over the last six weeks. I just wonder how well that’s showing up in the media. I’m sure they’re handling it with characteristic objectivity. Having completed a very rare two legs against Leeds (I thought that was a UCL/UEL thing?) with a comfortable win at Elland Road, Man U did briefly occupy second. It must be said that they’ve played one more than City and two more than Arsenal, but we have to admit that this three-horse race has tightened. With one eye on their Europa Leage play-off against Barcelona and another on their Carabao Cup final against Newcastle, can they keep their eye on the Prem? (that has half-clever, that).

4. Newcastle (10W 10D 1L: 41pts.)
We may be starting to see a few cracks appear in that previously productive plan at almost never losing but only rarely winning. Draws are nice, especially if you can claim one at your opponent’s ground and they’re above you. Far better than losing, at least. However, when your plan consists of drawing with anyone regardless of where you play and they sit in the table, a certain disadvantage arises, especially when those above you manage to win more than once a month. After a strong run before the World Cup that included eight wins from nine matches, Toon have won just once from their last six while taking five draws. That air of impregnable invincibility seems to have waned ever so slightly after they’d conceded in consecutive matches for the first time since October (when their combined scoreline was 9-2 anyway). Still, one can never write off a side that need only increase its scoring ever so slightly to start turning those draws into wins. 

Ah, the ol’ carpal tunnel’s kickin’ in. That’s a shame. I can’t quite shake the feeling that it might be psychosomatic or at least seasonal allergies. Whatever it is, I can’t quite stomach the idea of looking any lower at the table. 

More seriously, Tottenham have played 23 matches and trail Newcastle by two points. They didn’t really do any serious business in January other than a couple of loans. Conte’s list of reasons for leaving sooner rather than later seem to grow by the week, and Levy might be regretting holding on to Kane rather than selling him to fund a massive rebuild last summer. I honestly don’t see anyone in that squad I’d have at Arsenal, not even Kane (although it would be sumptuous to see him win his first trophy with us). From there, there’s enough separation to suggest that Brighton, Fulham, Chelsea, and Liverpool will be fighting for a Europa League spot without troubling those fighting for a Champions League spot.

Right. Let’s leave at that for now. Much to do in the next few days and precious little time.