Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Premier League Power Rankings: September 17th

 First a few general thoughts:

  • So far this season we've already seen United v Chelsea, Liverpool v United and Arsenal v Tottenham. Personally I think the 'random' fixture generator should try and randomly leave these big games until later in the season. I think the United and Chelsea game was made so tedious by the risk involved for both managers so early on. Also I'd rather see Spurs with new signings up against Arsenal equipped with Ozil. I think that would make for much better viewing but Sky seem to be demanding a lot of big games straight away.

  • Champions League is back this week. I think Chelsea are the Premier League's best hope this year. Wouldn't surprise me too much to see Arsenal going out in the group stages. (Dortmund should win the group and Napoli will take some beating for 2nd) and United having some real trouble. I think these things go in cycles. England dominated Europe from 2005 to about 2009. Spain (Barcelona) took over after that and now Germany is on the crest of a wave with champions Bayern and league leaders Dortmund being among the favourites this year. I don't see an English team winning or even coming close this year but their time will come again soon.

  • The hype surrounding 'Bale at Madrid' just won't go away. Can we stop the round the clock coverage of his time in Madrid? Or are we going to get daily updates on Sky Sports News about what Bale had for breakfast? Also Ronaldo signed a new deal. Which really hurt.

Now what's going on in the Premier League:

20. Sunderland

A slight improvement. They had a decent 30 minute spell in the second half against Arsenal after equalising and should have had every right to be annoyed with the referee for disallowing a goal from Altidore late on. They have improved the squad over the summer, you're bound to if you make fifteen signings but a complete overhaul of the squad means they will take time to gel together and reach their potential. Overall I think the Di Canio experiment is doomed to failure. A shame for the fans. With Steven Fletcher back there's always a chance of goals however. Altidore looks like he will be effective too. The job of a manager is to get the best out of his players and I can't think players will find it easy to play for someone like Paolo Di Canio.

19. West Brom

They finally scored which is something, but on another day Fulham would have scored a few more and beaten them quite comfortably. It definitely doesn't look as good for Steve Clarke as it did at this time last season. They play Sunderland at home next week. Must-win for both sides. The loser could be left a bit adrift at the foot of the table.

18. Crystal Palace

Defended so well for 44 minutes of the trip to Old Trafford and then were undone by a soft penalty decision and the inevitable red card. Trailing 0-1 with ten men for half a game at Old Trafford is too much for any newly promoted team. They've done a  lot of business in the transfer window and may spring a few surprises this season. Of course no team under Ian Holloway will ever sit back and defend so they will be good to watch. Hard to imagine them staying up though.

Palace hopes killed off in an instant at Old Trafford

17.  Fulham

Pretty disappointed with Fulham so far. I think they have a lot of potential and are underachieving at the minute. They should have beaten West Brom. It is a very rare thing to see a side have three goals chalked off for offside, I think one of them had a reasonable case for being allowed. Dimitar Berbatov was showing signs of interest which will be key to Fulham's season. Sidwell was impressive too.

16. Cardiff

Coming down from the high of beating Manchester City in the first ever Premier League game in Cardiff, the Welsh side are now beginning to find their feet in the division, the hard fought draw at Hull on Saturday was testimony to that. I think they were good value for a point. Not a very exciting team but effective and should grind out a few good results this year. Medel as the anchor in that midfield will be key.

15. Southampton

Like Fulham, lots of potential but underachieving so far this season. We are yet to see the best of Osvaldo on whom a lot of Saints hopes are pinned this year. Interesting that they play a 4-4-2 formation with Osvaldo and Lambert up top. One of very few teams in the league currently doing this, particularly in the mid-table region, most opt with a 4-5-1 formation. I would have thought this would make them slightly more attack-minded but it doesn't seem to be working as they have just one goal from open play in the league all season. The were a good team to watch last season and once they find their stride they should be again.

14. Aston Villa

I had high hopes for them after they came through a tough start with a lot of credibility but losing to Newcastle looks like the same old story for Villa. They did play well and deserved something from the game, but playing well and still losing is not a good sign. Newcastle are a cut above them right now so its not too bad a result, but when you  look at the fixture list and see the next three home games are Spurs, City and Everton, you don't really see where the points are going to come from and it looks worrying for them right now.

13. Hull

A team like Hull should be winning their home games against sides like Cardiff. They did well in defeaT against City as the underdogs but it remains to be seen whether they can deliver a performance in the games that they should go out and win. Being 'unlucky losers' won't save Steve Bruce from the drop or the chop. The later tends to come first. Also poor Danny Graham. Linked with an England call-up less than two years ago at Swansea, he has now gone over 1,000 minutes of football without scoring, missing another open goal against Cardiff on Saturday. Confidence is a wonderful thing for strikers when they have it but when they lack it, it can be almost unbearable to watch. (See Fernando Torres, 2010 - present day).

Goal-shy Danny Grahm

12. Norwich

Totally and utterly blown away by Spurs on Saturday. They dynamic Leroy Fer in midfield failed to influence this game half as much as his previous one. He will probably be their most influential player this season while Ricky Van Wolfswinkel should grab the headlines with his goals. I would hope that in the future they try and attack teams a bit more. Hughton has always been a more defensive minded coach, mainly due to the fact he's never had an array of talent at his disposal. A bit like David Moyes. Now I think Hughton has some decent players in that squad and Norwich could worry a few teams if they went out and attacked a bit more.

11. West Ham

There is absolutely nothing going on at West Ham right now worth writing about.

10. Swansea

Who didn't enjoy the Jonjo Shelvey show on Monday night? Great entertainment as the Lord Voldemort lookalike scored one, gifted Liverpool two and then created a Swansea equaliser for Michu. While he wasn't doing this he was running around and looking extremely enthusiastic. Swansea looked dangerous in the second half and may feel they should have won the game. I do hope Bony starts scoring pretty soon. He looked good in pre-season and against United on the opening day. It would do to ease the goalscoring burden on Michu, who does look like much more than a one-season-wonder.

Shelvey shows his delight after scoring against his former club

9. Newcastle

Newcastle are doing this business on the pitch, despite more protests about Joe Kinnear prior to the game with Aston Villa. Yohan Cabaye seems to have settled down and accepted that moping around till January isn't going to do 'Operation Get-Me-Out-Of-Newcastle' any good at all so they can look forward to good performances from him hopefully. Hatem Ben Arfa has started the season well. He got his goal on Saturday because he does exactly what a right winger should do when his team is attacking down the left and tuck inside, effectively becoming an extra striker. Pardew was onto something after the game when he said he hadn't had this good a squad to choose from since Demba Ba left. I think the players are essentially the same (Loic Remy the only addition), but he hasn't had as in-form a squad since then and that makes a big difference. Totally unrecognisable from the opening day collapse to City.

Ben Arfa: Newcastle's MVP

8. Stoke

A draw against City is never a bad result. Stoke definitely had chances to win this one. Mostly owing to how disappointing City were above anything else. It wasn't a classic and hopefully games like these will become fewer and fewer as the season goes on. This new player they have Marko Arnautovic looked like their best chance of nicking the win late on. A typically un-Stoke like player in that he's actually quite creative and has a bit of flair. Stephen Ireland got a standing ovation when he came on too. They obviously don't know who he is.

7. Manchester City 

In a bit of a slump, maybe just having trouble adjusting to life under new boss Pellegrini. Defeat in the derby next week would put real pressure on him very early on. These owners are not known for their patience as Mark Hughes may have told him following Saturday's game. Strange decision to rest so many players particularly so early on in the season when progressive fatigue shouldn't really be an issue. Champions League is clearly his priority this season. Taking his eye of the ball domestically though could really hurt the team. They are by no means guaranteed a spot in the top four this season.

6. Everton 

I can say a lot of good stuff about Everton right now. Very good to watch. Very well organised. Ross Barkley plays for them. He looks very promising. Seemed totally unfazed by the Chelsea defence, looking to take players on at every opportunity which is always great to watch. Gareth Barry was another star, the only of the three deadline day captures to feature from the start. McCarthy came on and Lukaku was ineligible against Chelsea. For Barry I think this is his level. He can excel at Everton in ways that he couldn't really at Man City, living in the shadows of bigger stars at the club. They've a very good first eleven, but a few injuries could really hurt them. They've already lost Pienaar, and while Naismith did a great job on Saturday, losing one or two more first team players could cripple them.

A major coup for Everton

I do fear for Nikita Jelavic's place in this team. He has never really recaptured the from he showed when he first joined in 2011/12 and a highly motivated Romelu Lukaku could be displacing him within a few weeks.

5. Manchester United

Nowhere near top gear yet but still managed to comfortably beat Crystal Palace on Saturday giving Moyes his first win at Old Trafford. Got a bit of luck with the penalty call outside the box on the stroke of half-time but based on the overall performance, United were good value for the win. Marouane Fellaini made his debut but was only the second most impressive Belgian substitute for United on the day. It is important that the club have learned from the mistakes made with Paul Pogba, who's been exceptional since he left, and tie Adnan Januzaj down to a long term deal as soon as possible. I saw a lot of him in pre-season and though then it would be nice if he got a few first team games this season or else a loan move to give him game time. He still might get that in January. The fact that he isn't in the Champions League squad hints this.

Interestingly, Januzaj, who shares his birthday with Cristiano Ronaldo, now shares his competitive debut with the great George Best. 50 years on.

United's no.1 Belgian on Saturday
Elsewhere, Rooney showed why many United fans were so keen for him to stay, Ashley Young showed why many are keen for him to leave and Michael Carrick showed once again why he should be starting for England at the moment.

4. Liverpool

The league table doesn't lie after 38 games. It can lie after 4. Liverpool are not the best side in the country now. Not even close. They still haven't played particularly well for a whole game. Got lucky on Monday that Jonjo Shelvey forgot for about half an hour that he left Anfield for South Wales during the summer. Liverpool did play some great football in the first half but like in the previous three games, slacked off towards the end and finished the game clinging on to a result. They are much improved on last season, this is a game they would have lost twelve months ago, but I haven't seen anything from them so far to suggest they will be a force to be reckoned with this season.

Sturridge kept up his incredible start to the season

Moses looked very good on the left side. I can see him being moved to the right to accommodate the returning Suarez fairly soon. Sakho disappointed me quite a lot. Away to Swansea and playing right from the off is not a easy introduction to English football so it shouldn't be too much of a worry for Liverpool fans. I don't think Rodgers should have started him. Doesn't do to upset a defence that hasn't conceded a goal all season.

3. Tottenham

When this team hits top gear they will take some stopping. Fortunatley for the rest of the league its unlikely to happen until the winter. Eriksen took the limelight on Saturday with a fine performance, Sigurdsonn got the goals and Spurs got probably the easiest win of Andre Villas-Boas reign so far. Eriksen may prove to be an absolute bargain at just £12m. I had only seen glimpses of him in the Champions League and Europa league. He seems like the type of player who's been promising for years now. Its a wonder they got him so cheap.

Arguably the weekends most influential debutant.

Tougher tests lie ahead for the new Spurs. Norwich didn't put it up to them at all. The squad is quite big now, big enough you would think to deal with the demands of the pesky Europa League and the trips to Dagestan, Moldova and the Arctic Circle that await them over the coming months.

2. Chelsea

They didn't do a whole lot wrong on Saturday and shouldn't be too worried by defeat to Everton. Eto'o doesn't look like the player he was a few years ago but it does take time to adjust to the pace of the English game, particularly after playing two years in Russia and having not kicking a ball in anger for over three weeks. The biggest problem they have up front is that their best striker was wearing the oppositions colours on Saturday. Lukaku scored seventeen league goals last season despite not being a regular starter at West Brom. Torres has only ever managed fifteen in the league for Chelsea in two and a half seasons. Ba has managed two in his nine months at Stamford Bridge. Every title winning team needs a solid supply of goals and right now its hard to see anyone in the squad getting over fifteen in the league.

Eto'o should have had at least one goal 

Mourinho made some interesting comments after the match (as he usually does) saying that this team will have a different style to the one that won him titles at Chelsea in 2004 and 2005. Interesting that he's saying this now and not in the summer. I think he'd like to have the same style, the one that's served him well in his career up to this point. But he has an embarrassment of attacking talent at his disposal right now and can't really justify employing the gritty, defensive tactics that have served him well in the past. And sometimes I think he just says stuff for the sake of it rather than it having any true meaning.

1. Arsenal

An amazing turnaround. The team looked in total despair after an opening day collapse at home to Aston Villa but since then they've qualified for the Champions League easily, won three league games with equal ease including a North-London derby victory, finally signed a superstar in Mesut Ozil and may be creating another unlikely one in Aaron Ramsey. Ramsey has so long been a victim of ridicule even among Arsenal fans in recent times but his form for the Gunners since the final months of last season is forcing people to recognise him for the talent that he is. Plus he's now finally the best Welsh footballer in North London. That's got to mean something.

What a turnaround for Ramsey

Ozil did exactly what he expected. Get on the ball in the final third and carve out chances for his fellow attackers Giroud, Walcott and Ramsey. Flamini sat and played the holding role particularly well.

There are a few worries for Arsenal. Sagna at centre back was beaten hands down by Jozy Altidore in what should have been either a goal or a red-card for the Arsenal defender. At 2-2 with fifteen minutes to go it's a very different game. It's never good having a makeshift centre back for an extended period of time so Arsene Wenger will be keen to get Vermaelen fully fit soon. Oliver Giroud, probably the most in-form striker in the league right now along with Sturridge picked up a knock. With Podolski out till December, Arsenal may find themselves relying on the unwanted Niklas Bendtner at centre forward in Marseille on Wednesday.

Time will tell if they can last the pace this season but for the moment they do look so very impressive.

The Deep-Lying Playmaker


PS: Some tasty Champions League games this week. Napoli vs Dortmund probably being the most exciting on paper. That's on Wedndesday night. Both Manchester clubs play on Tuesday along with Bayern, Juventus, Real Madrid and PSG.

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