Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Premier League Power Rankings: October 22nd

What's happened lately Premier League land? Lots and lots of really good goals have been scored, flares all of a sudden have become very popular at English football grounds, an 18 year old Belgian/Albania/Kosovan/non-Englishman has become the most important player at Man United, Arsenal are basically Barcelona and every singe official is of course out to get Jose as usual. The poor guy.

Fun times. Now Power Rankings.

20th Crystal Palace

Not a lot of good things to say right now. They are destined to go down and probably the best they can hope for is to beat Derby's all time low score of eleven points in 2007/08 and go down with some dignity. They will need a drastic improvement to accomplish even that. 1-4 at home to fellow strugglers doesn't bode well. And it looks like Ian Holloway will be gone sooner rather than later.

19th Sunderland

Pretty dismal stuff from Sunderland on Saturday. The progress they appeared to have made under Kevin Ball has seemingly been undone as new manager Gus Poyet looks to build his survival project from scratch. Sunderland had looked decent in their recent home defeats to Liverpool and Man United, boosted by the return of talisman Steven Fletcher and the undeniable 'new manager effect' that clubs often benefit from, I really thought they could a get a result at Swansea but they looked worse than ever and collapsed in the second half to a 4-0 loss. They're in real trouble.

18th Cardiff

More interesting things  are happening off the pitch in South Wales at the moment. Conflict between manager and owner, with his position being undermined is never a good thing for morale at a football club and Vincent Tan would do well to keep his nose out of the managers business if he wants his club to remain a Premier League one beyond this season. Rumours he has been offering 'suggestions' to Mackay regarding his team selection are very worrying for Cardiff fans. Jose Mourinho once said that if he ran the board, the club would be bankrupt and if Roman Abramovich took training they'd be relegated. Stick to what you know.

Mackay is under pressure now
On the pitch, they looked for a while like they might get a result at Stamford Bridge on Saturday before Chelsea put some extra gloss on the scoreline late on. Not a whole lot to worry about, they were 2nd best as expected but will have to do better in the more winnable games. Away to struggling Norwich next is a start.

17th: Norwich

Some positive signs to take despite the fact they got beaten 4-1 in a game that will be remembered by football of breathtaking quality from their opponents. The scoreline, like that in the Chelsea-Cardiff game, was a little bit harsh on the losing side. They gave Arsenal a good game at times. The strong and powerful midfield trio of Tettey, Howson and Fer looks good but is being let down by a weak frontline. Neither Gary Hooper or Ricky VW are setting the world alight right now. Fortunately for Norwich they won't be playing against teams as jam packed with flair as Arsenal every week. Not time to press the panic buttons just yet.

16th: West Ham

Big Sam Allardyce shocked us all with his 'revolutionary' tactic of playing no-striker against Spurs last week and then gave himself credit in his post match interview as if he was the first manager ever to do this. It was the first piece of tactical versatility he has ever shown in his career and actually had very little effect as West Ham benefited from two lucky goals and some slack Spurs defending to claim a famous win over their wasteful London rivals.

Sam tried this creative idea again at home to Man City on Saturday but, as is the case with many genius tactical ideas, the opponents found a way to play against them. In the case of City it was just to be much, much better than what is a poor West Ham side at the moment.

15th: Fulham

Two wins in a row and suddenly it does not look so bad for Fulham. Not only did they do a good job in getting an away win at Palace, they went out and hammered the bottom side in a performance that will only serve to boost morale amongst the players. That goal by Kasami was a bit decent too. Incredible technique and to do that at such speed was so very impressive. It was followed up with another impressive strike from Steve Sidwell. Pressure on Jol should be eased for now but they haven't got the nicest run of fixtures coming up so the recent improvement will need to continue if they are to avoid sliding back down into danger.

14th: Stoke

I saw Stoke play some nice counter-attack football against West Brom on Saturday. It was refreshing. They're passing the ball a lot too. Hughes is making them a lot more likeable than Pulis had them. Very very lucky to escape with a point from the weekend. However these points will all add up and Stoke will be sticking around for some time yet.

13th: Aston Villa

Pretty poor and unimaginative against Spurs, I expected them to at least make them work for a victory. That said it was a lot better than the way they basically bent over for Gareth Bale FC last year and lost 4-0 in the middle of a horror run of form. Best thing that happened them this week was Benteke's return from injury. The sooner he rediscovers his form of last year the sooner Villa will be able to push into the top half of the league table. Good side with lots of potential but need to start living up to it soon.

12th: Newcastle

Eleven on eleven they had the measure of Liverpool and could well have gone on to win the game but the unrelaible Yanga-Mbiwa went and dragged down Luis Suarez in front of goal, earning himself a red card and Liverpool a game-changing equaliser. From there on they did absolutely brilliantly to re-take the lead and eventually resist a lot of late pressure to cling on for a valuable point. Pardew deserves credit for his tactics aimed at exploiting the Liverpool back three. He used Ben Arfa in the middle with Remy and Gouffran on the flanks. Remy in particular got in behind Glen Johnson quite often and could have punished Liverpool. Yohan Cabaye was excellent. Cheick Tiote was just as effective alongside him.

The brilliant Yohan Cabaye, back in love with the Toon army.
Read more of me drooling over Cabaye in the match report. Newcastle looked good on Saturday. They've been a little inconsistent this season and are huge underachievers in my opinion. Like Cardiff, they atmosphere at the club isn't great at the moment owing to the fans discontent with the owner and this could really stifle progress in the immediate future.

11th: Hull

Poor Danny Graham can't get a break. He's now dangerously close to going a whole calendar year without a goal and his cause won't have been helped by what looked like  a painful injury at Goodison Park on Saturday. Not only that but his replacement, Yannick Sagbo, scored within 15 minutes of coming off the bench. Hull are easily the best of the three promoted sides this season. They have a real Premier League quality spine to the side and are destined for the promised land of all newcomers to this league: mid-table mediocrity.

10th: Manchester United

The term 'on another day' is used a lot when teams suffer a disappointing result and it seems to be more popular at Old Trafford than anywhere else this season. On another day United would have killed West Brom off in the first half and won that game. On another day United would have got the equaliser against Liverpool. On another day United would have put away one of the many golden chances they created against Southampton or at least held out for another two minutes. Okay they created a decent amount of chances but they allowed Southampton to create more, failed to kill off the game and paid the price.

The first good thing the Moyes-Woodward axis has done.

You can't pick one single thing Moyes did wrong on Saturday, his team selection was faultless, sticking with the prodigious Adnan Januzaj in the side, whom the club have done well to tie down to a new contract. However Moyes has essentially turned a side that won the league at a canter last season to one that looks like it will struggle to finish in the top 4 this year and things like that do not reflect well on him. Rafa Benitez took over Jose's treble winning Inter side in 2010 and was sacked five months later with the side struggling in 7th place. Moyes will be given more time than this but his reputation may take a serious battering. The managers chair at the most-supported club in the world will be hotter than any other.

9th: West Brom

Following on from some good results against much more well-funded sides than their own, Steve Clarke's men will be disappointed, and a little aggreived not to have taken all three points from the Brittania on Saturday. The Baggies were denied a very clear penalty in the first half when Charlie Adam tripped Youssouf Mulumbu in the area. To be fair to Howard Webb, once he saw the incident again he came out and apologised for his mistake. Look at that, 3 seconds of video footage was able to show a referee what the correct decision should be. Imagine a world where it was possible to perhaps utilise this lavish technology to make the game better!

Back to West Brom, they played slightly better than the home side overall and probably deserved a win. Things look much better for them now than they did a month ago. Credit to Steve Clarke.

8th: Swansea

I think they're the biggest movers in these rankings this week. Destroyed Sunderland in the second half on Sunday without really being at their fluid best and finally got their first Premier League penalty since the days of Brendan Rodgers. A very surprising statistic given that they are quite an attack minded team. It was Wilfred Bony who scored from the spot on Saturday, his first league goal since the opening day. He's a good player and hopefully has found his scoring boots now. Swansea look to be taking the Europa League pretty seriously this year. A double header with Kuban Krasnodar is next on the agenda for them on that front, surrounded by some very winnable games in the league along with the Premier League's first ever Welsh derby.

7th: Southampton

Never mind the state of affairs at United right now, it's a mark of how far Southampton have come that they came to Old Trafford on Saturday, faced a United side that weren't that bad, played their own game, had more possession, more passes and more shots than their hosts and came away with a deserved draw. It wasn't an inspiring underdog performance, Southampton came for a win but had to settle for a point.

Came, Saw, (sort of) Conquered: Lovren's grin says it all.
Pochettino is awesome. His side play some really lovely football and have a solid defensive spine with Lovren, Fonte Wanyama and Schneiderlin in front of Boruc in goal who've all been outstanding. Add to that Adam Lallana who can't be overlooked for England for much longer, ditto for Jay Rodriguez, and Dani Osvaldo who's showing signs of coming good at last and I'm really excited to see what this team can accomplish this season

6th: Spurs

Part of being a title-contending team is clocking up these routine away victories throughout the season. Spurs weren't at their best against Villa, I don't think they've been at their best all season in fact, but still came away with three points from what looked a potentially tricky away game, particularly following the international break. On the subject of the international break Andros Townsend is hardly going to escape a mention here. He showed now signs of the dreaded international hangover that seemed to have struck Danny Sturridge this weekend and opened his Tottenham account for the season on Sunday.

All is right on planet Andros right now
Townsend was given the opportunity by AVB at the start of the season and my hasn't he taken it, confining record signing Erik Lamela to the warmth of the bench so far, he'll be a candidate for Young Player of the Year come the end of the season and will have a World Cup with England to look forward to. He's still only 22. Plus he can sing.

5th: Everton

Like Spurs, more of a routine win this week than an eye-catching blood and thunder performance, Everton saw off Hull at Goodison aided by a brilliant goal from the returning Steven Pienaar with his first touch of the ball. Gareth Barry was the centre of attention on Saturday following two rather nasty challenges he was lucky to escape dismissal for. On the subject of Barry, it's worth pointing out how instrumental he's been at Everton. He's had an effect of similar level to that he was able to produce at Aston Villa, more noticeable than when he's in a team loaded with superstars like he was at Man City.

James McCarthy was the star of the show this week however. He ran the show from midfield with an excellent performance. Its important to have midfield players who compliment each other well and him and Barry do just that. Ross Barkley, playing slightly further forward had a bit of a quiet afternoon. As did Romelu Lukaku, showing the first signs that he may actually be human.

4th: Liverpool

After Southampton and obviously Arsenal, Liverpool are worth a mention when it comes to the Premier League's 'most improved team' category. Infinitely better than the mess Rodgers inherited from Dalglish at the start of last season, he's put his own mark on the team and they are much better off for it.

 I think their lofty league position, two points off the top, does flatter them slightly. The only other team from last season's top 8 they've faced is Man United at home and they didn't get much of a challenge from them. Over the next two months they will face the other six and a lot more will be known about how good this side actually is. With Suarez leading the line, Daniel Sturridge who will score for fun even when  he's playing poorly and Coutinho returning, I reckon they'll be just fine.

Gerrard reached a century of Premier League goals
Steven Gerrard also deserves some appreciation for notching up 100 Premier League goals, becoming only the fifth midfielder to do so (Giggs, Scholes, Lampard, Le Tissier). It capped off what has been an amazing week for the England captain. A true legend.

Rodgers, for the first time on Saturday against Newcastle used two 'proper' full backs in his 3-5-2 formation. Glen Johnson and Aly Cissokho rather than Jordan Henderson who moved to centre midfield. Newcastle, Loic Remy in particular, did get some joy in behind the wing backs and I suspect a better team (or one with eleven men) will be able to exploit this system to greater effect.

3rd: Chelsea

Eight games into the season and finally one of Chelsea's strikers managed a goal, a nice little finish from Samuel Eto'o helping them to a 4-1 home victory over Cardiff on Saturday. Eden Hazard chipped in with two also and Oscar scored a screamer to contribute to a scoreline that flattered them slightly. The first goal shouldn't have stood but the Cardiff keeper should probably have been sent off a few moments before so no real issues of injustice there.  Jose threw a strop when the referee warned Ivanovic over the time-wasting and not any of the Cardiff players - he had a point, but now he'll also have a ban for the huge game with Man City next week. Chelsea are not at their best yet but still winning games and will be very much in the title hunt.

Eto'o broke his Chelsea duck at the weekend
Eden Hazard scored twice on Saturday but isn't really becoming the player that I thought he was when they fought off the Manchester clubs for his signature. He hasn't exactly set the world alight yet but is still only 22 so not exactly in his prime. Perhaps he's been overshadowed slightly by the brilliance of Mata and Oscar and not enjoying the role of the man like he did at Lille two seasons ago. He's a very talented player though and should reach his potential.

2nd: Manchester City

Approaching something like their best following a very stop/start beginning to the campaign. City took West Ham apart with relative ease, went asleep slightly and let the Hammers back into the game but killed off the game towards the end securing what was surprisingly a first away league win of the season.

CIty are hitting their stride in the league 
The versatility of the squad was particularly evident on Saturday. In their previous two victories against United and Everton, along with the defeat to Villa, the majority of their attacks came down the flanks. On Saturday it seemed everything went through the middle. This wasn't really a surprise. Kolarov, Zabaleta and Navas were missing with Richards, Clichy and Nasri all starting. Most of the attacks when through the trio of Yaya Toure, Silva and Aguero with just as much success. They really can get you from anywhere.

For the record, the gap between them and the leaders, in terms of this list, is smaller than it has been at any point since the Wenger Boys took top spot all those weeks ago.

1st: Arsenal

Some fan took the liberty of uploading the videos of the Arsenal goals from Saturday to PornHub. Witty, although they weren't totally out of place. Wilshire's goal in particular was essentially footballing porn. Ozil got two (one a rare header) and Ramsey got his ninth of the season. Two less than the rest of his entire Arsenal career combined. A man in form. Form that earned him comparison to the great Zinedine Zidane from some observers over the weekend.

Ozil and Ramsey are dominating the Premier League
Flair is the buzzword here and this squad is absolutely loaded with it, especially now that Santi Cazorla has returned to a side already boasting Ozil, Ramsey, Wilshire and Arteta. It will be impossible for Wenger to fit them all in every week so he will have to manage his resources wisely. Shouldn't be a problem for a manager like him. Amazing to think there were very loud calls for his head only a few months ago. The turnaround at this club has been monumental.

It's not all roses for the Gunners however, there are a few kinks in the armour to address. Arsenal did not look the same side when Mathieu Flamini came off in the first half on Sunday. Norwich came into the game a lot more and overpowered Arsenal in midfield. For all the flair of the home side they lacked a bit of steel. Their defensive record is also not as good as it should be. At the moment it doesn't matter because they're scoring freely and so can out-score pretty much anyone, but that may not always be the case.

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