Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Premier League Power Rankings: October 1st.

This Premier League season is turning out to be one of the most unpredictable I can remember. Shocks occurring every week and for the first time in several years a new face leading the way. Also we've seen some amazing goals, particularly from free-kicks. More of the same please.

Time to catch up with the 20 clubs in England's Premier League:

20: Crystal Palace

Can't seem to catch a break right now. Five defeats out of six and the only win coming against a very disorientated ten man Sunderland side. It doesn't look like there's going to be a repeat of Holloway's Premier League fairytale last time out with Blackpool. Although the Seasiders eventually slipped back down to the Championship at the first time of asking, they entertained us along the way and won many admirers. Palace just aren't good enough to stay up and look like they will go down with a whimper. An poor Olly may not last the season if reports of a rift with the chairman are to be believed.

19: Sunderland 

Moving off bottom spot in this list for two reasons. Firstly, the sacking of Di Canio. A smart move and one that could prove to be the turning point for the Black Cats this season. Secondly, they were pretty impressive against Liverpool on Sunday, creating plenty of chances and were unlucky not to get anything from the game. Kevin Ball took temporary charge for the game and introduced a much more stable 4-5-1 formation to replace Di Canio's horribly unsuccessful 4-2-4. He should get the job permanently in my opinion, seems like a good character. Also bringing in Giaccherini looks like one of the few things Di Canio did right during his ill-fated spell. The boy can play.

Unlikely to be given the job full-time, but Ball can be proud of how he has steadied the ship
Sunderland's immediate future really depends on who they get in as the next full time manager and how soon Steven Fletcher can return to the side. His eleven league goals last season would prove to be what saved them from the drop.

18: Fulham

Martin Jol is going to be under pressure for the next while (if he even lasts beyond next week). Fulham have made an awful start to the season and another late goal conceded saw them suffer a fourth loss in five games. Without a single goal from Berbatov so far this season and just the one from Darren Bent (a consolation against Arsenal) Fulham need their strikers to find form and soon. Bryan Ruiz showed what he's capable of on Saturday against Cardiff scoring a brilliant goal just moments after Jol sent him on as a substitute. His other first-half sub Karagounis was also impressive. Begging the question why were they both left out in the first place? Improvement needed and fast.

17: West Ham

They were very unlucky to lose to Hull at the weekend. The Hammers found themselves on the wrong end of two controversial penalty calls. The first one led to Hull's winner, the second should have given West Ham a way back into the game but luck was not on their side and the referee didn't penalise Jake Livermore for an obvious handball. Contencious decisions aside, West Ham actually managed to create a few chances and won't be too worried by their overall performance. Still missing Joe Cole and particularly Andy Carroll, the direct game they've been trying to play should bear somewhat more fruit when the English striker returns to fitness. Maiga is no target man. He lost out five of the six times West Ham played it long to him on Sunday. Expect Carroll to achieve better stats.

16: Cardiff

Fortunate to beat Fulham on Saturday. They two sides were very evenly matched and whilst Fulham are underachieveing right now, Cardiff are probably just about finding their level. I haven't seen anything from them to expect great things this season. The safety of not going into the final fixtures looking over their shoulders is what they should aim for this season. With investment from the owners, they can establish themselves in this division.

15: Norwich

Chris Hughton is another manager under pressure although it will have been eased slightly with a well-earned win at Stoke. Big things were expected from Norwich this season and so far they have failed to deliver. A win at Stoke on Sunday was a good result for them. They are strong if not exciting in the centre of midfield and find creativity in the form of Pilkington and Snodgrass on the wings. Again Hughton's defensive mindset is bound to incur the wrath of some fans. Everyone wants to see their team play attacking football and Norwich do have the players capable of doing it. They desperately need Ricky VW to find his shooting boots soon. Given the defensive nature of the midfield they cannot be relied on for goals all season. Newly skinhead Kevin Pilkington impressed also.

14: Stoke

Slipping in these rankings and the league table after two consecutive defeats whilst others around them picked up wins. Found themselves with 48.8% of the possession at the Emirates last week. Unheard of in the days of Tony Pulis. I like the new look Stoke a lot more than the old side. Arnautovic will be the key man for them this season and Stephen Ireland may have a  significant role to play. I tipped them to go down at the start of the season but they don't look anything like relegation candidates at the moment. Like Norwich, they also need more goals.

13: Man United

Uncharted territory for the champions. This is what mediocrity feels like. Defeat to West Brom following a derby-day hammering at the Etihad last week has left United with more losses than wins in the league and eight points adrift of Arsenal at the top after just six games.

Moyes made some very strange tactical decisions on Saturday. Substituting Kagawa at half time was bizzare. Resting Vidic, Evra and Fellaini ahead of the trip to Donetsk in mid-week proved particularly costly. Alex Buttner at left back was awful and the majority of West Brom attacks came down his flank. As the opening goal went in he was still in the West Brom half jogging back having broken forward. A Premier League full-back jogging back as the opposition break with the ball? Ridiculous. The defence in general looked very shambolic and unorganised without Vidic, Rio Ferdinand clearly can't deal with players running at him anymore and Evans had a very poor game. The amount of space West Brom seemed to be able to find between the midfield and back four was like nothing I had ever seen for an away side at Old Trafford before.

Rooney scored. Buttner had a nightmare. Who cared more?
United created a good few chances and another day one of them in the first half would have went in and it'd be a comfortable win. But once West Brom got into the game and scored, United seemed to have no answer. The never-say-die, 'they ALWAYS score' attitude which was present for so long was just not there on Saturday. The defeat isn't totally Moyes fault, but you can't imagine United would have lost this game last season.

They haven't scored in the league from open play since the first game and their only win in that time was against a 10-man Crystal Palace side courtesy of a penalty that wasn't.

12: Aston Villa

You are unlikely to see a team get as lucky in the Premier League all season as Aston Villa did on Saturday. Eight attempts, four on target, three of them goals in a 3-2 win over Man City who themselves had twenty efforts on goal with eight finding the target. Leandro Bacuna's curling free kick, yet another one of many so far this season, was the pick of the Villa goals. They deserve a bit of luck for a change!

11: West Brom

If you're looking at turing points, Gareth McAuley's last minute equaliser at Craven Cottage for West Brom two weeks ago fits the bill perfectly. Before that West Brom were goalless this season and struggling at the bottom of the table. Since then they've hammered Sunderland and claimed a memorable and well-deserved victory at Old Trafford last Saturday.

Berahino secures a place in West Brom history

As bad as United were defensively, West Brom were awesome going forward. Amalfitano tore the United defence to shreds for his opener and set up the promising Berahino for West Brom's winner. A famous win for the Baggies and some 'bonus points', i.e three when they would have expected zero which help make up for their slow start to the season. I thought Anelka would be important for them this season but looking at their front-line now I don't think it would have mattered if he'd stayed retired

10: Hull

Flying high in the league table now with another win (albeit a controversial one) against West Ham on Saturday. Hull are good and right now do not look like relegation candidates. Their strongest area is the combination of Spurs alumni Huddlestone and Livermore in midfield. The combination of Curtis Davies and Alan McGregor further back contributes to the strong spine of this team. Strong for a newly promoted side anyway.

A word about Robbie Brady. The Irish international was in the spotlight on Saturday but not entirely for all the right reasons. He bought a penalty, quite cheaply by collapsing to the floor in a heap when Joey O'Brien was standing beside him. He put the penalty in the bottom corner himself and Hull went on to win. There was something about Brady's body language during the incident (pointing to himself when the foul was given, pushing his team-mate away during his celebration so as not to steal his limelight) to suggest he's falling into a trap many young players do and he's starting to believe his own hype. I really hope this moderate success he's enjoying doesn't go to his head.

9: Newcastle

Its not easy to come out for a second half of football, 3-0 down having been blown away in the first half and give a credible performance but Newcastle did on Monday at Goodison Park and put a bit of gloss on a scoreline that threatened to get embarrassing at times. They haven't got the kindest run of games coming up so will have wanted to have amassed more points by now than the seven they have if they want to push for Europa League this season.

They played a strange formation. Without a right winger, Gouffran and Sissoko were given licence to roam across the front while Ben Arfa stuck to the left. Of all the teams to do this against, Everton with Baines at left back, are probably the last one to pick. Strange decision from Pardew. Debuchy got no protection.

8: Swansea

After a slow start things are really looking up for Swansea. Despite narrowly loosing to Arsenal on SNF they have had a good run of results lately including a famous win in Valenica on the club's European debut. They've come through a very tough patch, facing Untied, Spurs, Arsenal and Liverpool in thier opening six games and now have a much more favourable run of fixtures coming up. It should allow them to pick up some points and in a few weeks time their league position should better represent where Laundrup's team is really at. Top 8 material.

7: Southampton

The Saints dominated a very weak Crystal Palace side on Saturday to add to their brilliant win at Anfield the previous week. The side looks settled now with Dani Osvaldo playing just off the main striker Lambert with Victor Wanyama and Morgan Schneiderlin pulling the strings in midfield and Jose Fonte looking very good at the back. Osvaldo looked sharp against Palace and took his goal very well. But as I said, this was a very weak Palace side and he will need to do it more regularly against the better sides in the division. He hasn't so far.

Good stuff is happening for Saints fans

Ricky Lambert joined the ridiculous free-kick party with a 30 yard stunner to clinch the game. He's looking to bounce back in to form ahead of the next England matches where his place in the squad is far from guaranteed despite his recent heroics for the national side.

6: Everton

Romelu Lukaku. I don't know exactly what 'it' is but this guy has it in abundance. In this case 'it' may be the qualities required for the perfect striker.

Lukaku is an outsider bet for top scorer this year.
The giant Belgian striker got his first start for Everton on Monday night and repaid Martinez by helping to rip Newcastle apart in the opening half, contributing two goals along with an assist for the almost-as-exciting Ross Barkley. Lukaku has it all. Stength, pace, technique and a good footballing brain. The scariest thing about him is that he doesn't turn 21 until next May.

Elsewhere Everton look great. A settled back four with two of the best full-backs in the country in Baines and Coleman. In front of them Barry and McCarthy holding in the centre. They played Osman on the left wing against Newcastle, pushing Mirallas back to his preferred right side with Barkley playing in the hole behind Lukakau. Arguably a stronger team than they had at any stage under Moyes. Exciting times for this club. Europe is calling.

Also they are just wonderful to watch. Second probably only to Arsenal in terms of attractive football.

5: Spurs

They should be pleased by the point they got against Chelsea on Saturday. They were second best on the day and are still evolving as a side. In their current state, they are a cut below Chelsea and that was evident at White Hart Lane. It looks like Christian Eriksen will be their most important attacking player this season. Every attack seems to go through him at some point and he managed to create another goal for Gylfi Sigurdsson against Chelsea seemingly out of nothing on Saturday. Moussa Dembele was also impressive but his spot in the starting XI for these type of games is far from assured once Capoue returns. Capoue is a pure defensive midfielder and looked like just what Spurs needed when under pressure from a strong attack like Chelsea's. Either Dembele or Paulinho will have to make way.

4: Chelsea

Even without the Torres red card ten minutes from the end, I don't think Chelse were going to find a winner against Spurs on Saturday. They were the better team on the day but at the time of the sending off it looked for the previous few minutes that both sides were settling for a point.

Juan Mata had a brilliant game when he came on. His introduction at half time saw Mourinho move Oscar to the left wing and Hazard across to the right, incorporating his 'big three' into the same line-up whilst at the same time playing with two quick wingers how he likes. They were unable to unlock a stubborn Spurs defence from open play however and the sense of injustice felt by Chelsea players and fans alike will only serve to spice up  this already tasty rivalry. Read my match report on the game here.

Mata's professionalism is earning his manager's trust

Worth pointing out that after the game Mourinho criticised Vertonghen for his role in the Torres red card (a fair point) but his choice of words was very interesting. "To do this to someone in the same job is disgraceful". Two years this man gouged Tito Vilanova's eye from behind on the sidelines.

3: Liverpool

I had forgotten just how ridiculously good Luis Suarez is at football. Back in Premier League action against Sunderland he looked like he'd not been away and scored twice to clinch a 3-1 victory. His partnership with Sturridge looked immense. The two linked up very well and combined for the 2nd and 3rd goals, both arising due to some uncharacteristic selflessness from the English striker.

Suarez: Back with a bang

I really don't like the 3-5-2 formation they used again on Sunday. It leaves them really exposed down thier right side where Henderson (not a full back) was caught out often with only Kolo Toure shifting over often to bail him out. Sunderland dominated down here and better sides than them will punish Liverpool more. Also Moses is a winger not a central midfielder. I get the feeling he is playing out of position to allow Liverpool to get used to this formation and will vacate this spot once Coutinho returns to action.

That said, they were great to watch on Sunday. Although their jerseys were a little less easy on the eye. I'm not really sure what's going on there. Someone needs to take whatever necessary steps to ensure that these jerseys are not inflicted on the viewing public again.

2: Man City

Ripped United apart with so much ease you could almost have forgiven Ferdinand and Vidic for just sitting back and watching on in awe (as they seemed to do). City picked up where they left off against Villa on Saturday and absolutely dominated the game yet in bizzare circumstances ended up on the losing side. Vincent Kompany hit the nail on the head in his post-match interview saying that "Play that game ten times and we'd win nine. We made three mistakes and they scored three goals". City were so in charge of the game against Villa but their inability to put away any of their chances will be a worry.

Aguero and Co. will benefit from plenty more crosses this season

City like to use their full-backs Kolarov and Zabaleta a lot. Each of the six goals they scored in the league over the last two games came either via them breaking down the flank them or via Yaya Toure at a set piece. City do have a very intimidating aerial threat at times and will score plenty from set pieces this season. With Yaya running games in midfield and Fernandinho playing the holding role slightly behind, City probably have the strongest all-round starting XI in the league.

I think this a much better City team than some of their results suggest and would probably name them as title favourites right now but they need to stop dropping points needlessly.

1: Arsenal

The best side in the land right now and the only one who look capable of winning this championship at this moment in time. Tipped as mere 'Top 4 contenders' at the start of the season, written off totally after the opening day, Arsenal have confounded all their critics (myself included) and have dominated since the second week of the season.

Aaron Ramsey, right now, is the best player in the league. Beside him Flamini has been a revelation and perhaps their most important player this season. He gives them the toughness they were lacking at times last season. Serge Gnabry doesn't look too out of place at this level despite his tender age. Walcott was doing very well on that flank before his injury but now may have some younger competition for the spot. Giroud is leading the line very well and getting involved with link-up play. Wilshire has been impressive out of position on the left. I haven't even mentioned Ozil.

Flamini has been invaluable  to Arsenal this season

Oh and they have also have Arteta, Vermaelen, Cazorla, Walcott, Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Podolski all either sidelined or not fully fit.

Sagna was at fault for Swansea's goal and the rest of the defence seemed to just stand still as Davies ran through to score but overall Mertesacker and Koscielny  both had really good games and dominated at the back. West Brom, Norwich and Crystal Palace are up next for the Gunners in the league. Nothing less than nine points will be required if they are serious about challenging for this title. It will be interesting to see how they maintain this charge while at the same time navigating the group of death in Europe.

Deep-Lying Playmakers

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