Monday, 4 November 2013

Premier League Power Rankings: 10 Games Edition

The unpredictability of the Premier League this year is summarised by the graphic below, anyone really can beat anyone.

20: Crystal Palace

There's finally something good to say about Crystal Palace. Last week they put it up to Arsenal for periods, taking advantage of the gaping hole left in midfield by Manuel Flamini's departure. They didn't look like getting anything from the game but had it been any other team than Arsenal it might have been a different story. This weekend against West Brom they didn't disgrace themselves, put in an admirable performance and actually looked like a Premier League side.

But the harsh reality is they lost both games, they've lost their last seven in fact, amassing nine defeats out of ten games so far. They have no manager and are bottom of the table. Whoever they get in faces a dilemma. Either buy in January and try to avoid the drop, or build for next season in the Championship. The second option is more likely. Promotion for them, like Derby in 2007 came at least one season too early and they weren't ready.

19: Norwich

I think it's time for Chris Hughton to go. Last season he took this Norwich team as far as he can take them. Now it's time for someone else to take the reigns and try bring them to the next level. The Norwich board ought to make this decision before it's too late. Two of the worst performances I've seen all season were given by Norwich this week alone. Both in Manchester. In the Cup on Tuesday they managed to make a makeshift United side look like champions again. They followed this up on Sunday by going down 7-0 to City.

A truly rotten afternoon for Norwich 

They came to the Etihad on Saturday to defend. When you come to face a better side and park the bus you need two things.

  1. Some decent counter attacking options.
  2. To actually defend.
Norwich had neither of these on Saturday. Some of their defending was laughable and they didn't really seem to care. I like Chris Hughton but it's time for a change.

18: Sunderland

Benefited from 'The Derby Effect' to somehow conjure a good performance and a win against Newcastle last week to lift them off the bottom and raise morale slightly. Morale that was brought crashing back down to earth on Saturday with a defeat and two red cards away to Hull. Lee Cattermole was the first to go which isn't really surprising in any way. Dossena walked next for a tackle that was just full of malice on David Meyler. Gus Poyet clearly hasn't instilled much discipline into the side in the past few weeks. He himself was also nearly sent off in the first half. A lot of work to do.

Man City at home next. Given the way this season is going they'll probably go and win that one 3-0.

17: Fulham

In Fulham I see a well constructed side that just isn't gelling right now. They went to pieces for a ten minute spell against United and conceded three goals. Against a team like United you're going to have to defend well and in numbers and Fulham just didn't. Not only that but they failed to take advantage of United switching off in the second half. They scored one, from a deflected cross, but it wasn't until the final ten minutes that they put any sort of extended pressure on the visitors goal. The calls for Martin Jol's head at half-time were ominous too, and probably justified.

16: Aston Villa

Things have been very quiet at Villa since the opening few weeks of the season. They are not delivering on the early promise they showed this season, beating Arsenal and running both Liverpool and Chelsea close. Since then they have't quite produced the results against the more beatable teams in the division. Villa now haven't even scored since the 3-2 upset victory over Man City in September, 375 minutes to be exact. This despite having Christian Benteke back and in the starting line-up, alongside Andreas Weimann in a 3-5-2 formation. Difficult to judge Villa right now, they aren't playing any of the big six teams in their next five games so perhaps this period will tell us more about the potential of this side.

15: Stoke

Typical Stoke. Can't get any more direct than scoring with a goalkeepers punt downfield. As if they weren't already dependant enough on Begovic, now they're relying on him for goals too.

One Man Team - Begovic FC

It was refreshing to see Begovic show some humility with his goal. It seemed his over-riding emotion was sympathy for his opposite number rather than elation at what will probably be the only goal of his career. He downplayed it a lot on MOTD 2 on Sunday night and came across as really genuine.

They'll be delighted with the point. A point against Southampton is a good result for Stoke now, but they aren't playing very well and could find themselves in trouble soon.

14: West Ham

I don't think playing Kevin Nolan as a false-nine is a particularly good idea. He's not very good at it. Playing even a half-fit Carlton Cole in that role would probably have been a better option. Something Sam Allardyce took until the 63rd minute to realise.

Still, West Ham were the better side against Villa on Saturday and got a point that I don't think anyone will complain about. Ravel Morrison should have been sent off early on and that would have changed the game. Once Andy Carroll gets fit we will see the full effectiveness of this West Ham side.

13: Cardiff

A deserved win in the Premier League's first Wales derby. Typical case of the underdog just wanting the game more and battling hard for a win that will delight the fans, who've been frustrated with goings on at the club lately.

Craig Bellamy is exactly the type of player you want on your team in a game like this. Unpopular amongst opposition fans but brilliant when you have him. He played well but Gary Medel was the star of the show. He was almost like a 3rd centre half at times with his positioning, barely venturing into Swansea half even, but always looking to play the ball forward and start something for his team. He's a defensive midfielder who offers something to the attack too. A useful player to have.

The pitbull Gary Medel
A derby win is brilliant and something the fans can enjoy for a change. There is still trouble at this club however and I don't think it ends with Malky Mackay in his job. Conflict with the owner rarely does.

12: Hull 

Hull are doing really well and establishing themselves as a solid Premier League side. Recently they faced both Everton and Spurs away and both times left with narrow defeats rather than hidings. The Spurs game in particular they were on the wrong end of a disputable penalty decision.They followed this up  by nearly snatching a win again at White Hart Lane in the cup. There's a good balance to this Hull side, I like the look of them.

And Danny Graham still hasn't scored.

11: Swansea

Dropping out of the top half by virtue of what could be a damaging defeat to Welsh rivals Cardiff. I think this loss will hurt Swansea, they are clearly the more talented side but on the day Cardiff just wanted it more.

I would have liked them to start with Bony. Michu has the lone striker doesn't make sense to me. He is much more of a number ten than a nine. This was evident on Sunday when he kept dropping back into midfield looking for the ball. He should be supplying the link between the midfield and the frontman rather than doing everything himself.

Michu needs some help up front

Nonetheless Swansea are a good side. They'll finish in the top half of this division and look set for a decent run in the Europa League too.

10: West Brom

And sneaking into the top half by claiming a routine win against Palace on Saturday is West Brom. Going down 4-1 to Liverpool last week would have been very disappointing but aside from that, West Brom are unbeaten since the close of the transfer window, taking in ties with Arsenal and Man United in the process. Berahino looks a quality player. Aside from him no other striker has scored for them this season. Anelka and Anichebe not exactly proving worthy investments so far for Steve Clarke. This resulted in Shane Long being given a chance from the off on Saturday, a chance he failed to grasp with both hands. Still, they look solid. Much, much better off then they did three games into the campaign.

9: Newcastle

If they had trouble finding motivation against Sunderland last week, they certainly had no such problems against Chelsea on Saturday, showing great passion throughout the game and earning a 2-0 win which they were full value for courtesy of goals from the French duo Gouffran and Remy.

Two more French goals for Newcastle

They are annoyingly inconsistent. How do you lose to the bottom club one week and beat the club trying to go top the next week. This is Premier League 2013/14, logic is out the window. Newcastle took control of the game early in the second half having been quiet in the first. They got the goal, sat back and defended well. The trio of Williamson, Yanga-Mbiwa and Debuchy were phenomenal. Further up the two wingers, Sissoko and Gouffran gave Chelsea a hard time and Loic Remy was effective up front and rewarded with a goal. Yohan Cababye was the glue that pieced this performance together. Everything goes through him. What a player.

I really hope this story about Joe Kinnear enquiring about Shane Ferguson, his own player, is true.

8: Everton

They've not done a whole lot wrong, but other sides like United and Southampton are moving forward right now whereas Everton are slightly stagnant. It really shows the openness of the league table that they could have gone 2nd with a home win against Spurs on Sunday.

Ross Barkley has probably started to believe his own hype and let his performances slack off recently. He was dropped for the game on Sunday but was impressive when he came on. Martinez is the right manager to help his career, he seems to know what he's doing. I think Everton and Spurs are fairly evenly matched, with the Londoners probably having a slight advantage owing to their extra squad depth.

We've only seen glimpses of Gerard Deulofeu in the league so far and got another look at him on Sunday. The 19 year old on load from Barcelona looks like a gem of a player. Martinez does like to give young players a chance and hopefully this leads to more games for Deulofeu than he would have perhaps gotten under Moyes.

7: Manchester United

Higher on this list than they have been since the opening week, David Moyes' Manchester United are starting to do what the fans have wished for and 'play like Fergie's boys'.. at least they did for about twenty minutes at Craven Cottage on Saturday, deciding to sit out the following seventy.

The attack has started to click. Now for the defence.

United followed up a hammering of a poor Norwich side with an impressive performance in the first half against Fulham on Saturday. Going forward, the things that weren't coming off earlier in the season were working but in defence the vulnerability was still obvious. Fulham shouldn't have been allowed to create some of the chances they did. The fault for this may lie in central midfield. Phil Jones was impressive there against Norwich but disappointing against Fulham. Cleverley played well but had to be replaced at half time. Fellaini was once again less than inspiring. This is a midfield which could get seriously embarrassed by Arsenal at next Sunday.

The Arsenal game will be a real test of Moyes tactical capabilities as a manager which are as of now still unproven. He needs to find a way to shut down the Arsenal attack while at the same time find a way to beat them. United can't go into this game and just 'do their own thing'. If they do that it will get messy.

Adnan Januzaj continues to impress and was stamped on by Sascha Reither near the end. It reminded me of Ronaldo, who spent quite a lot of time being kicked by talentless defenders. It's not nice to see but it's something he's going to have to get used to. I'm sure the abundance of medals he's bound to win in his career will make up for it.

6: Spurs

Its ten games in and Spurs aren't even averaging a goal every game which is worrying. Admittedly, they have the second best defence in the league. The three goals they shipped on that bizarre day against West Ham account for 60% of their concessions this season. Arsenal and Chelsea are the only other teams to score against them. If they keep going this way they won't lose many games, but sure as hell won't be fun to watch.

Given the commitments Spurs have in Europe, 120 minutes on a Wednesday against Hull was hardly desirable. This resulted in AVB having to change his side for Sunday's trip to Everton. No matter what side he sends out, the cutting edge in front of goal seems to be lacking. Six goals from open play in the league this season.

Goals don't seem to be a problem in the Europa League, particularly for Jermaine Defoe who can't seem to get a start in the league as Villas-Boas persists with Soldado. Erik Lamela too is yet to be given any sort of opportunity in the league. Aaron Lennon started on Sunday. Townsend and Walker are both in great form on the right flank and pivotal to Spurs hopes this season. And, probably, English hopes in the World Cup next summer.

5: Southampton

So much love for Southampton. James Ward-Prowse, who didn't get a mention in my piece on them last week was their best player on Saturday and he provided a wonderful cross for Jay Rodriguez to score the equaliser. Southampton were impressive again on Saturday, playing some lovely football in the build up to the goal and creating several more chances throughout a game they were very unlucky not to win.

Coming up they have trips to Chelsea and Arsenal. Don't expect them to change their gameplan in the slightest for these games. Regardless of the opposition, Southampton will play their own game and try to win. It's one of the things that I really admire about them, totally unfazed by the opposition. I don't think they'll return empty handed from both their trips to the capital.

4: Liverpool

It was admirable of Rodgers, playing with three defenders and an extremely high line at the Emirates. It was completely stupid, as it played right into Arsenal's hands, but admirable nonetheless.

The result could have been a lot worse for them given the flow of the game but also cold have been a lot better had one of Suarez efforts sneaked inside the post rather than outside. Liverpool weren't blown away by Arsenal which some may have feared, they held their own and could well have got a result. This following on from a 4-1 win over West Brom last week.

I'm starting to like the 3-5-2 formation, although not particularly the way Liverpool are implementing it. Rodgers reverted to a 4-4-2 for the second half, introducing the returning Coutinho for Cisssokho. I'm interested to see where Coutinho fits into the 3-5-2 formation. Perhaps behind the strikers in what will be a very attack minded set-up.

Suarez suffered more Arsenal induced frustration on Saturday

SAS was not in flying form however this week. Suarez nicked the ball off Sturridge's toe at one stage to shoot and head to take an ear bashing from his partner towards the end when shooting when clean through on goal (like and striker would) rather than setting up his partner for an easy tap in. Trouble in Paradise? Fans should hope not. Liverpool are very dependant on this strike partnership.

3: Manchester City

They dropped Joe Hart. It was about time. His replacement, Costel Pantilimon had pretty much an afternoon off as City coasted to the biggest win of the season so far, 7-0 against Norwich. And Norwich were lucky it was only seven. City's form at the Ethiad is ominously familiar to their title winning year of 2011/12 where they destroyed so many sides at home. Winning 18/19 games, it was the numerous thrashings that gave them such  a healthy goal difference. And how pivotal that proved to be.

Aguero is in the form of his life

City were awesome on Saturday. Arguably the best performance of any side this season. They ripped Norwich to shreds with some lovely football. Seven probably didn't do them justice in the end. Aguero continued his fine form with two, Negredo got one and Edin Dzeko got one. Jovetic remains the only striker without a league goal. Like Lamela at Spurs he's another who's come over from Italy with a big reputation but has been slow settling in.

To win the league they need to start winning away from home and to do this they need to stop making costly errors in defence. Droppping Joe Hart was a start. Next they need Kompany back and an extra defender in January wouldn't hurt as Pellegrini obviously doesn't trust Lescott. Amazing that he cost £24million just a few seasons ago.

2: Chelsea

In all honesty, there's very little to separate the trio of Chelsea, Liverpool and City on this list. All have won and lost a game this week. Chelsea nudge ahead due to the calibre of the opposition they beat in the past week. They secured what could turn out to be a crucial win against City at Stamford Bridge, inspired by a seemingly reformed Fernando Torres, before their second string turned over Arsenal at the Emirates in midweek. The comfortable 2-0 win at the Emirates really highlighted where Chelsea have the edge over Arsenal, strength in depth. Something that may work in their favour in the winter and spring months of the season when the games are piling up.

Torres manages to be impressively inconsistent

On Saturday, not so good. It's hard to believe Mourinho had never won at Newcastle before. It seems like the kind of place his team would go and secure a hard fought 1-0 or 2-0, shutting out their hosts ruthlessly. It was also strange to hear him say none of them should have started. The Chelsea version of Mourinho is not one to criticise his players.

Whatever the average age was, his side still feels quite young. In that the strong winning mentality that Lampard, Drogba and Essien possessed does not seem to be there in the likes of Oscar, Hazard and Mata. None of whom have experience of winning the league in England. Torres was out of sorts again. Chelsea fans would have been hoping his latest resurgence had lasted a while longer.

1: Arsenal

This eight day stretch in which they face Liverpool, Dortmund and United is supposed to provide a true test of Arsenal's credentials. They've passed the first part with flying colours, securing a valuable win over Liverpool at the Emirates on Saturday with Mikel Arteta doing a fine job.

Arteta's work has been key for Arsenal

I though the absence of Flamini would have had more of an effect on this game and perhaps Liverpool should have exploited this a bit more. Arteta sat particularly deep, deeper than usual to account for the Frenchman's absence. This allowed Ramsey to press further up the pitch as he likes to do. Further forward the fluidity between the attacking midfielders was excellent. Giroud however did not look to be quite on the same wavelength as the rest at times. He's had a good start to the season and it may be a little harsh picking on him here, but he's the weak link in that attack definitely.

Germany played against Ireland with Mesut Ozil as a false-nine to great effect. I think Wenger will stick with Giroud has a striker, there's no evidence to suggest he won't. But should injury befall him, Ozil as a false-nine could be a useful alternative to having to play Niklas Bendtner. Nobody wants that. Ever.

People seem to continuously doubt Arsenal's real title credentials. I think they'll be there or thereabouts come the end of the season. A lot depends on injuries. They can't really afford a whole lot more, particularly to Ozil or to any of the back five. The lack of strength in depth was exposed on Tuesday night against Chelsea and, aside from Mertesacker's lack of pace, that's their only real weakness right now.

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