The Premier League Preview 2019/20

And just like that, it’s back.

Normally a new season brings excitement, but not this time. There’s been no hiatus from football to build anticipation. Between highly profitable summer overseas tours for top European clubs in North America and East Asia, international tournaments being held every summer, certain leagues finishing later than others and others starting weeks earlier, the football season now feels perpetual.

Throw in the mundane realities of life (working for a living) which are more important than this blog, and this piece feels even more rushed than usual. Also not helping – the truncated English transfer window closing the night before the first game of the season, meant I was faced with my own needlessly abbreviated window of sorts. Ahh, the joyous prospect of writing a column in the space of twenty-four hours, after a flurry of late deals, any of which could radically alter my opinion of the relevant team’s projected finishing order before the first game of the season on Friday night. Great. Now I understand why writers have a propensity to drink heavily.

(By relevant I mean the top six. I could use the ‘big six’ moniker, but that’s for spastic dickheads (who have failed evolution, or has it failed them and us?) who worship at the altar of Sky Sports’ tabloidization which cynically feeds and breeds fans’ impatience, who likely voted for Brexit because Farage reminded them of Baz’s uncle ‘cos he’s a bit of a character’ (when he should remind them of Jimmy Saville), find Love Island aspirational, and spend too much time on Twitter trying to be recognised with their crappy gif based banz. Oh the stereotypes, there must be more to life.)

Speaking of arrogant self-congratulating twats, my predictions from last season were decent. I got the order of the top three correct. Did I have money on this? Of course not.

Because nobody has the time or attention span to read anything, and I don’t want to become an alcoholic, I’ll keep this brief. The good news is that recent iterations of the Premier League have lacked volatility. Each clubs knows its purpose. Essentially each season comes down to three questions:

Can anyone else challenge the top six?

Unlikely. The top six clubs are either too well run, too wealthy, or both, that it would take an inordinate confluence of factors align to perfectly to break the hegemony (see Leicester City three years ago). Take Manchester United last season, they were a mess for the majority of it and still easily finished sixth. There was never any doubt that they would.

Reality has set in. The lack of transfers and transfer funds spent by the rest, relative to recent years, suggests they know that being the best of the rest is as good as it gets, for now. For the owners, providing they’re competent enough, there’s plenty of coin to be made by being a Premier League also-ran; just keep things ticking over, buy smart, sell high when a bigger club comes calling for one of your better players – see Leicester City selling Harry ‘Slabhead’ Maguire to Manchester United last week for £80m. Leicester bought Maguire for £12m two years ago. The optics of this are grim as is the ineffectiveness of the Premier League’s financial equality.

Who finishes in the top four?

City are a given, while Liverpool have been performing at an elite level for the last eighteen months, their progress now validated with the biggest trophy in club football.

Spurs are a safe pick for third, but I’m not expecting a title challenge. Their twenty defeats from last season and uncertainty over some key players contracts expiring is a concern. They should aim to close the points gap to the top and win a trophy, both are achievable.

What to make of Chelsea? They are again in flux. This hasn’t stopped them from being successful in the past, but they’re facing a specific set of obstacles which scream regression – the main one being Eden Hazard’s departure. Being banned from buying players until next summer means they won’t be able to fix their perpetual issue at the centre forward position. Then there’s Frank Lampard, he has one year of experience in management, so I have no clue about him and neither do you. But I’ll say this, if he can make it at Chelsea in these circumstances, he can make it anywhere. The good news for him and Chelsea is the squad’s still got considerable quality in most positions, they have some promising youngsters (though Pulisic is dangerously overhyped) and Arsenal and Manchester United are nothing special.

United and Arsenal were the busiest of the top six clubs this summer, but they needed to be. I (still) don’t trust Arsenal’s defence and is Solskjaer a competent manager? Incompetence tends to attract the like, and given the way United have been run since Alex Ferguson retired to bothering horses and living room recliners, I’m inclined to believe he may not be. So I’ll go Spurs third, Arsenal fourth. I’m sure I’ll regret this by late August. Thursday night wankerdom awaits for Chelsea and United. Though in this scenario by this time next year Ollie and Frank will have been freed to do it every night.

Can anyone finish above Manchester City?

Liverpool nearly did last season, and are clearly the best bet again. Last’s season’s title race saw both conjure late goals and grind out wins at will. City won an impressive fourteen games in row to finish the season. Liverpool managed eleven.

This question partly depends on whether the also-rans can better challenge the top two sides week to week, not meekly submit, defend deep, and hope for them to have an off day as they often do.

One doubt levied against City’s continued supremacy is motivation. I’ve always found this argument to be spurious. The league helps breed continuity and therefore consistency. Two things which Guardiola treasures, as well as a huge bankroll. By the way, City have spent over £200m on full backs since Guardiola arrived, that’s…rather a lot.

Over the last two seasons City have averaged ninety-nine points, which is also a lot. It would be foolish to say they can’t sustain this when they’ve done it for the last two years, but performing at that level can be draining and everything ends, eventually. Liverpool (and the rest) will hope it is so, but peculiarly Liverpool elected not to strengthen their squad this summer. There may be good reasons for this, however, it’ll be thirty years next May since the club last won the title (yikes). In said circumstances the lack of intent in the transfer market has to be a wee bit aggravating for the faithful.

Predictions mean nothing, but picking City until somebody usurps them (or Guardiola leaves) is rational. I would put money on City if all the bookies didn’t have them odds-on. May they and I be wrong. Let there be chaos.

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Song Of The Day – Another Night (Kenny Dixon Re-Edit) by Larry Heard

From the album ‘Love’s Arrival’ (2001)

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Song Of The Day – Ya by Ras Michael & The Sons Of Negus

From the album ‘Promised Land Sounds – Rockin’ Live Ruff N Tuff’ (1980)

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How HBO’s Chernobyl successfully mixes dramatisation and science.

Representing a non-fiction period piece set in the Soviet Union with English dialogue seems ridiculous. In fact, it is. The question is whether the narrative and performance is capable of sufficiently wrestling your attention away from the elephant’s ginormous arse.

I forgot it within twenty minutes. Starting with the palpable dread as the firemen attempt to put out the fire enveloping the reactor building, and it doesn’t subside. We all know what is likely to happen to them and those who were working in and near the reactor, but at this stage we have no idea how the reactor exploded. Intrigue and suspense resides here, because I, and I suspect quite a few others, have no idea how a nuclear reactor works. The show does an excellent job of explaining, in layman’s terms, the intricate functions of nuclear reactions and reactors. Said exposition works because the Soviet Central Committee who task a blithe Boris Shcherbyna with investigating the immediate aftermath didn’t either.

Shcherbyna’s initial dismissiveness of nuclear scientist Valery Legasov’s warnings is a jarring reminder of the latter Soviet Union’s bureaucratic dysfunction, a myopia sustained by decades of tradition, cronyism and obstinate indoctrination, ‘our power comes from the perception of our power’ Gorbachev correctly opines when the consequences of the disaster become apparent. Stellan Skarsgard conveys Shcherbyna’s epiphanies so well, the implications begin to erode the edges of his faith in the Party apparatus, at various stages he is shown staring into space, forlorn, beaten, as though, for the first time, he can visualise it all falling apart. His shock made me consider the binary nature of contemporary attitudes towards nuclear power, and how they have been framed in the culture. The extremes of Chernobyl and Hiroshima have made the word nuclear a trigger. It’s now synonymous with death, disease and destruction. More than that, the lingering notion that we cannot be trusted to not destroy ourselves.

As someone who is pro-nuclear power, the process where Shcherbyna definitively cuts through the initial obfuscation, and Legasov’s suspicions are validated, that the core is open and what the actual radiation level is, is as shocking as it is captivating. The show tries to remain neutral, but this is an emotive subject and it’s inescapable that Chernobyl the series will only re-inforce people’s existing positions on the issue. Did you know that a gram of Uranium creates eight-thousand times more energy than burning the same volume of coal? Those who oppose it won’t care about that, because we’re shown the horrifying cost if it goes Pete Tong – firemen and plant workers literally decomposing whilst still alive, babies dying within minutes of being born and household pets being abandoned and later executed.

Folk who believe in its merits will place the blame not on the science, but human error, greed and hubris – the promise of promotions, which motivated Dyatlov, Fomin and Bryukhanov, seem utterly comical and trivial when juxtaposed with the heroism of those who risked their lives and health to clean up their idiocy. Technically Chernobyl might have been a failing of officious Soviet statecraft tampering with scientific process, as Legasov ultimately concludes, but it was only part of the cocktail. Unsurprisingly throwing together a mix of personal aspiration, authoritarianism, state secrecy and extending command economy cost-cutting to nuclear reactors is a bad mix fam.

Much has been made of the show’s specific inaccuracies, but who cares? A liberal attitude to dramatization and characterisation aids the drama at specific points. It makes sense to create a fictional composite for Legasov’s support team of scientists, centralising the work of dozens into one character, Ulana Khomyuk, truncates the depiction of chronological events. While it is preposterous that only one person could investigate how the state redacted crucial information about the reactor’s failsafe, who dwelt upon it whilst watching? Stellan Skarsgard and Jared Harris, who play Shcherbyna and Legasov, are fantastic, so why question whether the growing bromance and mutual respect between the two was genuine? It, and Legasov’s awkwardness and sincere naivety ‘about how things work’, are sources of levity in what is an entirely sombre body of work.

The head of the KGB, Chairman Charkov, is a delight. He’s an unassuming wee cutie pensioner, the sort you’d see at your local bowling green, sporting a wobbly gait, glasses as thick as they are wide with suit jacket sleeves that are far too long. However, this belies his immense authority, which sees him speak with a ruthless assurance only a seven foot-three brick shithouse could get away with. Little doubt he’s arrested thousands and will happily have your toenails removed if need be. He delivers the best line in the series when Legasov questions why the KGB are following him and Shcherbyna ‘But you know the old Russian proverb? Trust, but verify. And the Americans think Ronald Reagan thought that up, can you imagine?’

Visually it’s flawless. It’s well worth watching for the recreation of the reactor explosion in the final episode alone. Its representation of mid-eighties Soviet Union has received praise from the realism zealots, but as an eighties kid, all it did was reinforce my perception of it as a drab place sustained on the fear of reprisal and ran by sycophants. The disparity in topography between the affluence of Moscow, a cultural hub with ostentatious centuries old architecture, and Pripyat with its Stalinist topography of totalitarian tower blocks and weathered concrete, exposes the hypocrisy of the ‘classless’ Soviet model. Even better Soviet fashion is shown in full glory; bad perms, crap taches, worse glasses, a dour palette of colours, ghastly designs on carpets and curtains, turtle necks and ill-fitting unflattering clothes (okay, we had all this shit too). Legasov’s suit is ludicrously massive, the commodious trousers are amazing. The constant use of comrade, while authentic and justified, I also found amusing. Only because it’s normally used by your self-styled champagne socialist millennial professional types earning 60k a year, who have no clue of what the struggle entails, and whose contribution to their comrades equates to only pontificating about how disgraceful the Tories and zero-hour contracts are on Twitter. These cunts boil the piss.

For those of us who we were blissfully unaware of the epic scale of ineptitude that caused Chernobyl or what its consequences truly were, now we know. Chernobyl is so effective because it doesn’t patronise us with (too much) sensationalism, it lets us decide for ourselves by engaging us with a hybrid of opulent cinematography, political neutrality, dramatized realism, which allows it to school us with science.

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Song Of The Day – Nomadic Mood by Sainkho Namtchylak & Tinariwen

From the album ‘Like a Bird Or Spirit, Not a Face’ (2016)

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