We’re a quarter of the way through the Premier League season, and at this point we start to get a reasonably accurate idea of who’s what and who’s not…well, particularly good.
One of my vices is watching football, sadly, and because I write a lot…well, yeah, you end up with naff articles like this. There is a more important reason for me doing this: I haven’t quite finished an album review which I intended to be my next post on the blog, so this is me essentially waffling away to cover my arse.
I’ll go through all twenty teams, and subdivide the teams into five categories. This will be based on a combination of their performances and results so far, my always shitty and pointless pre-season predictions, their summer transfer business, and a bit of projecting going forward based on the aforementioned criteria. If a team has had a good start, or has underachieved, am I buying it? Under each team’s header I’ll include league position, where I felt they would finish before the season and my revised prediction. Having all the information localised makes it easier to decipher just how clueless I am and how preposterous a concept predictions are.
Today I’m focusing on those likely to be involved in the annual quagmire of insufferable ineptitude.
The Riff Raff – The Relegation Candidates
Current League Position: 20th
Pre-season Prediction: 20th
Revised Prediction: 20th
As I wrote here about the cascade of middle managers in the Premier League, there’s no shame in being one. But clearly Ian Holloway feels he’s not cut out for the despair of presiding over another inevitable relegation campaign. Shame really. Getting Blackpool and Palace promoted to the Premier League, given their meagre resources, was a commendable achievement.
Palace have a great core of supporters, it has to be said. They should be managed by a figure who’ll inspire the fans, who in turn will help inspire the team.
However, it sounds suspiciously like they won’t be getting this calibre of person. As such this is where I cease to be kind to Crystal Palace.
So in the name of petty vindictiveness let’s start with this rancid chicken nugget:
Steve Parish, the Crystal Palace chairman, has confirmed that he will seek talks with Pulis but does not want to rush the appointment and will also interview a long list of what he calls the “usual suspects”.
Fuck sake. First things last, the ‘Usual Suspects’ is a great movie, but it’s not the sound byte you want to be hearing from your club’s main decision maker in relation to the search for the club’s next manager. Those who exist on the managerial merry-go-round do so for a reason: they’re periodically available due to their rank mediocrity, and often dull football. It stands to reason that mediocrity attracts its like. Steve Parish is probably a wealthy man, and he probably considers himself a success, but sadly for Parish imagination costs nothing and it is not a quality that you can earn or buy. Football isn’t really a business, even though businessmen like to believe it is or could be. Some of them crudely assume the processes that made them a success in business will translate to football. The clubs whose chairmen or owners lack the imagination, the capacity and the humility to think differently than what they’re used to, tend to struggle, regardless of resources, and they tend to hire managers who also lack these qualities.
So it’s no surprise that Parish has identified Tony Pulis as his prime candidate. That skip-hat wearing cunt. If they hire Pulis they’ll be replacing Holloway, one of the few genuinely affable and likeable characters in game, with one of dullest and intrinsically morose. It’s bad enough that the ghastly Stoke City side Pulis built is still functioning ‘as is’ under the feckless Mark Hughes. But to have two sides in the Premier league playing this brand, his brand, of (literally) smash mouth Charlie ‘longball’ Hughes football in the year 2013 is pitiful. What a fucking eyesore for the ‘greatest league in the world’.
I will however take solace in the inevitability of Pulis failing, as on paper, Palace, alongside Hull, have the least talented squad in the league. The only times I’ve seen them play this season were away to Liverpool and at home to Fulham and Arsenal. Against Liverpool they should’ve been seven down at half time, and they collapsed pitifully at home to a mediocre Fulham side after going in front. Their best performance was against Arsenal, immediately after Holloway’s departure. But Palace never looked like getting anything from the game. This despite playing against ten men for the final twenty-five minutes, and with Arsenal having suffered an energy sapping defeat to Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League only a few days earlier.
Will things get better? Doubtful. This squad doesn’t appear have the attributes that would be conducive to ‘Pulisball’, aside from Cameron Jerome, who is on loan from Stoke (of course). So at least there’s one person who should be happy with Pulis arriving. What use will the likes of Campana, Jonathan Williams and Barry Bannan, all small, slight and technically proficient, be to Pulis?
And yes, I will keep banging on about this – Tony Pulis is a virus, a destroyer of hope and ambition. When people bemoan England’s failure at international level, that the likes of Pulis are lionised for getting results, and placing functionality (at best) over any semblance of art and ingenuity, is one of the reasons. He’s defended by mediocre pundits, whose opinions are perversely and undeservedly elevated by virtue of being delivered from the pulpit of a garishly lit television studio. They empathise with Pulis’s defeatist ethos, and then perpetuate it by defending it, as that’s all they themselves can understand. This permeates the behaviour of the even more moronic pushy parents who shout at their kids to ‘hav’ it’ from the sideline. Because winning is more important than learning through failure, innit?
I feel bad for the Palace fans, if Pulis takes over they’re going to be mirroring this sort of degradingly moronic behaviour from the stands, because when it comes to the crunch, loyalty, and the success of your team always transcends any desire for the aesthetic. In choosing Tony Pulis Palace will be choosing defeatism, they’ll have chosen against their own fans, against all of us, against football. Palace will be relegated playing one of the most reductive and depressing forms of football known to man.
If they don’t hire Pulis they’ll just be relegated. But at least, at least, in failure they won’t be despised.
Current League Position: 19th
Pre-season Prediction: 15th
Revised Prediction: 18th
Oh my. What a shambles, or is calamity a more appropriate noun?
The good news is that fascist maniac Paolo Di Canio is gone, and it can’t get any worse than being badly managed by a circus, right?
Di Canio is the sort of cartoonish character who attracts the worst kind of voyeuristic navel-gazing, which Sky Sports delights in and believes their audience wants. Perhaps they’re right about that, I suspect they are, but it does Sunderland no good to be the collateral damage in such a ghastly spectacle. At least Sunderland’s board rightly realised that if they intend to get out of trouble, it’s better for your manager to be a stabilising influence rather than a corrosive one.
I don’t know if Gus Poyet’s the man to ‘stabilise’ things, but by making the change now Poyet has three quarters of the season left to rectify things. It also gives him a chance to assess what he has, or more likely needs ahead of the January transfer window, where he’ll need to be busy. Even if Ellis Short’s taste in managers has been rotten, he hasn’t been Steptoe & Son with the cash, so Poyet should be backed. Poyet’s biggest challenge in the interim is changing the culture at Sunderland. Morale is dreadfully low. The players (well some of them) have been exposed for not trying hard enough. Even after Poyet’s arrival they mailed it in against Swansea. There was more effort against Newcastle at the weekend, but that was a local derby. Let’s see if it continues, it had better.
Poyet did well at Brighton, and almost got them promoted last season playing good football. All prejudices aside, Di Canio was looking enact a similar change with Sunderland after Martin O’Neill had left yet another wretchedly uncultured aftermath in his wake. Poyet has inherited some players who should fit well with his preferred style of play.
Looking at things in the abstract, they’ll (probably) need forty points to survive, which means they need another thirty-six points from twenty-nine games. That doesn’t seem too problematic when you take into account that they’ve played Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United (all at home admittedly) already.
Now to the problems; their upcoming league fixtures, on paper at least, don’t hold the promise of many points: Man City (H), Stoke (A), Villa (A), Chelsea (H), Spurs (H) and West Ham (A). Ouch.
They need Stephen Fletcher to stay fit, which is an issue, as he’s clearly their best striker. Jozy Altidore has strength and Fabio Borini has effort, but both lack finesse. What is Conor Wickham good for exactly? Not goals, which Sunderland desperately need. They clearly need more from Adam Johnson. I like Emanuele Giaccherini, a versatile and creative player, who has the skill to both create space and utilise it. I suspect he likes his bank balance even more since he moved to Sunderland from Juventus in the summer. But is this remuneration enough to offset the brutal reality of leaving one of the best clubs in Europe, where he got game time no less, for this? He’s their best player, and Sunderland need him to be engaged. Is he up for the impending dogfight? Are any of them? In Giaccherini’s case there is a World Cup finals squad place with Italy to play for, and he’s probably playing for another move if and when Sunderland get relegated.
Poyet’s limited in ways to improve them defensively. I’m not averse to analytics or stats, even though I’m suspicious of the value they’ve been attributed, by some, when applied to analysing football. Quick tangent – football isn’t baseball, a sport predicated on isolated individual duels. Football is about eleven men and how they co-exist and function, individually and collectively. The attempt to quantify individual value in particular is subject to too many random variations and tactical permutations to ever come to a decisive conclusion using stats alone. I think stats are best used to either validate or question your existing perception of events. In this instance the stats can certainly go swivel, I don’t need to see them to know that O’Shea and Cuellar are the worst centre back pairing in the league. They’re immensely vulnerable on the break, especially when isolated in space, or in wide areas. They’re both awful footballers too. Central defenders usually have the most time in possession of all the outfield players. When you’re a struggling side you’re asking for it if your centre backs are unable to defend in space and are incapable of using the ball constructively. Modibo Diakite will surely get his chance. He better be, at worst, decent.
Things aren’t much better in midfield. Options are aplenty, but Craig Gardner is average and Lee Cattermole is a persistent liability. Poyet must rue Di Canio’s decision to jettison Stephane Sessegnon, even if it was characteristically mad. Their best pairing is probably a combination of Ki Sung-Yueng (on loan from Swansea), David Vaughan or Sebastian Larsson. Larsson is a decent winger, but is barely passable as a central midfielder. Sunderland need better.
You wonder how much the loss of Simon Mignolet to Liverpool, when coupled with Di Canio’s destructive man-management, has affected the psyche of the whole team. Kieren Westwood is a decent keeper, but Mignolet is one of the best in the league. Knowing you have one of the best keepers in your side can only increase confidence in your ability to be secure and keep the opposition scoreless, which is the platform for results and points. Sunderland need to start picking those up sharpish, but looking at their overall predicament you wonder when and how they’re going to do that before it’s too late.
Current League Position: 10th
Pre-season Prediction: 20th
Revised Prediction: 19th
I’m certainly not anti-American, but these insidious attempts to homogenise football clubs through ‘franchising’ wants to fuck off right now. Hull City’s name change is the latest cringe worthy transgression. Let’s hope the ‘Hull City’ fans succeed in getting it changed.
Apart from that I don’t have anything insightful to say here, though that arrogantly insinuates that I usually do. I haven’t seen Hull play this season. The only time I will go out of my way to watch them will be when they face my team, Liverpool, home and away, which hasn’t happened yet. Other than that I have no idea. Their squad appears to be a conglomerate of no-names, castoffs from bigger clubs and people who I’d never heard of before. But they’ve started reasonably well and have the most points of the three promoted clubs thus far.
Don’t let Steve Bruce’s comically disgusting appearance fool you, he’s a canny operator. He has a tendency to keep teams in the Premier League. Either that or he uses his innate capacity for ominous precognition. He always seems to correctly sense that the ship is sinking long before anyone else, and jumps before it goes under. That he’s largely responsible for it going south is completely beside the point. His perceived self sacrifice allows him to insulate himself from blame, and ultimately it will ensure he ensnares another unimaginative chairman into giving him another job on the managerial road to nowhere.
Regardless, I reckon this start of theirs is a bullshit mini-mirage. I’m putting them in the relegation mix until they prove otherwise. I doubt they will.
Current League Position: 18th
Pre-season Prediction: 17th
Revised Prediction: 17th
They say, whoever ‘they’ are, that continuity in football is advantageous. This is a misnomer, having quality and the resources to purchase quality players and pay them, that’s what’s truly advantageous. Norwich are clearly doing everything they can to make the case that continuity is as trite and baseless a cliché as you’ll find. As a footballing meme, I have it right up there alongside some lofty company, other belters include; that you need no nonsense centre backs, you can’t play two left footed centre backs together, all black goalkeepers are rubbish, or anything ever said by Jim Jefferies. The best is Lionel Messi not being able to handle playing Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium on a cold Wednesday night in November, you can’t top that one. Ever.
Back to continuity and Norwich City, Chris Hughton has remained in charge, and has spent a decent amount of cash, yet they’re still awful defensively and a relegation contender, as they were last season. Granted, the awfulness is largely due to personnel not tactics. Hughton can’t be excused however, as he spent all their cash on forwards this summer. The defence is spearheaded by Michael Turner, deemed not good enough by Sunderland. True story. Bassong, their best centre back, and by some distance, is a Newcastle reject and Spurs squad player reject, nuff said.
Their biggest conundrum becomes finding the right balance in midfield to supplement their strength, the attack, and their weakness, their defence. Last season Hughton vacillated between a flat four and the dreaded and distrusted, in English football parlance at least, midfield diamond that the previous manager Paul Lambert preferred. Norwich certainly lack a player with the specific qualities of a number ten to justify playing the AC Milan diamond system. But, as a practical compromise, its use would allow them to use both Hooper and Van Wolfswinkel through the middle while affording the greatest amount of freedom to their most creative midfielder, Robert Snodgrass. You could make the argument Snodgrass is their best player. However, Snodgrass is best utilised on the left of a front three, which means in that system one of the two strikers they bought last summer either sits on the bench or is on wing duty. If results don’t improve relatively soon expect Hughton to go four-four-two at home more often.
Speaking of the new signings getting Ricky Van Wolfswinkel (great fucking name) and Leroy Fer (not bad either) were coups, and maybe, just maybe that, in combination with Sunderland, Palace and Hull being in the same league, will be enough to keep them up. Gary Hooper, predictably, has been rubbish thus far. Yet more fools gold from the SPL.
Bottom line – I’m picking them to survive, by default.
This might be an opportune time to broach the issue of why only three teams are relegated from the Premier League each season, and why we have a twenty team league.
So far, not that you’re counting, I’ve already covered four teams who, in truth, are poor enough that they drag the quality of the league – or product, if you prefer, but only if you’re an absolute cunt – down a notch or two. In truth I’d love to see the back of all the sides in this section of the review. Twenty teams is too many, far too many. It should be shrunk to sixteen, at most. This will never happen, as that’ll mean less games, which means less home gates, less worldwide betting, less television revenue and ergo less money for everyone. On the bright side it allows me to perpetually resent Sky Sports for their shameless gall in attempting to sell me the excitement, and the glamour, of Super Sunday games consisting of Fulham versus Sunderland, and Norwich versus Hull. It’s a pitiful spectacle, and so are Norwich City, though probably not pitiful enough. But they should be.
Current League Position: 17th
Pre-season Prediction: 16th
Revised Prediction: 16th
It’s good to see Mark Hughes back standing on the sidelines of football pitches with his hands in his pockets wearing that permanently half confused half irritated look on his face. This only changes to an incredulous wide eyed and mouthed shock, with his arms aloft, when a refereeing decision goes against his side. Which given he’s now the manager of the dirtiest team in the league will be a more frequent occurrence.
Still, Hughes should be thankful, refereeing ineptitude, and in some instances aptitude, allows him to indulge in his only area of managerial expertise: blaming the refs in the post-match interview. His inability, after almost fifteen years in management, to conceptualise any new tactical paradigm and, in general, showing a complete lack of imagination have nothing to do with it, obviously. It’s hard to imagine a more uninspiring person in a leadership position, in any vocation.
And, honestly, that’s good news for Stoke. As they also have set style of play which suits the limited abilities of most of the players they have. Hughes will be incapable of knowing how to sabotage it, though that doesn’t preclude us from daring to dream that he’ll somehow find a way.
Stoke do have some things of value, they have one of the best goalkeepers in the league in Asmir Begovic, though for how much longer? Steven N’Zonzi, or to give him his full title, Steven N’Kemboanza Mike Christopher N’Zonzi, when he’s not elbowing, kicking and pushing, can actually play a bit. Peter Crouch could never be accused of lacking technique and composure. And to their credit, as a group, they’re one of the hardest working sides in the division.
Looking at their squad page, two of their loan signings intrigued me. Perhaps these are the human interest stories that will soften my dislike for this revolting incarnation of StokeCity? First is Marko Arnautovic, who has a tendency for the occasional Ibrahimovic-esque moment. He’s already played for Inter Milan and Werder Bremen, and he’s still relatively young. Secondly, it came as a complete surprise to me that Stephen Ireland has joined Stoke on loan from Villa. What happened to him? He looked reasonably good at Manchester City, and while he wasn’t going to develop into a top player his career has nose dived into abject irrelevancy since. He’s better than that, than this. It’s a worrying sign that so many managers seem to distrust him. Perhaps distrust is too strong a characterisation, but a lot of managers certainly prefer others to him. I just wonder what good joining Stoke will do? He seems to have been a victim of circumstance (Manchester City being taken over by the Abu Dhabi group) and bad career choices (getting a hair transplant, which failed, then joining Aston Villa). Careers are ruined on much less.
Anyway Stoke are yet another example which strengthens my argument for shrinking the number of teams in the Premier league. Aside from Stoke City fans, does any sane person want to watch them? They’ll survive, but in the most perfunctory and ghastly way possible. That’s the summation of their ambition, every season. All in all, they’re utterly pointless.
Current League Position: 16th
Pre-season Prediction: 18th
Revised Prediction: 15th
The last of the promoted sides, and it’s no surprise that of three they have the best chance of survival given they easily invested the most cash during the summer. Even so, in relation to the preposterous fees that are commonplace in today’s market, they didn’t spend that much.
I’ll give Malkay you in Maryhill MacKay credit here. There’s a recurring theme among Premier League sides, most of them are proportionately weak in two primary midfield functions – ball retention (composure) and winning it back (effort and tactical organisation). Even the top sides in England suffer to varying degrees, though in their case I’m talking comparatively to the other top European clubs and leagues.
Anyway back to MacKay, he rightly eschewed the Colin Wanker doublethink that many of the managers promoted to the Premier League succumb to. The notion that I need strikers, lots of strikers, strikers who can score goals, strikers who are strikers like, and that having a glut of attacking options, more than anything else, leads to survival. Instead McKay recognised the league’s midfield inefficiency and targeted it, spending most of his cash on Gary Medel. Medel, a Chilean international, is a bit of a looney tune, and more of a destroyer of shinguards than an artiste with the ball, but he’s also a strong player who wins back possession and never stops running. The impressive home win over Manchester City saw Medel thrive in his typical casting as rabid underdog. When your best player also happens to be a leader who plays like that, it’s infectious, and Cardiff are certainly a side who work hard and stick together. When you lack the quality you need in many areas to compete at this level, at the very least, you need Medel’s attributes and attitude to stand a chance. Sunderland in their current state are indicative of what you look like without having either enough skill or application.
Their other main summer signings were Stephen Caulker from Spurs and Andreas Cornelius from FC Copenhagen. I personally think Caulker’s overrated, but he’s an upgrade for Cardiff in defence and he’s clearly a Premier League calibre player. Cornelius is a mystery to me. He’s highly rated by the those who fawn over the opinions of the celebrity scouting intelligentsia on Twitter, but as their main summer attacking purchase Cardiff need Cornelius to prove himself. Which brings us to their biggest issue – a consistent source of goals.
They do have options up front, Colin Wanker approves. Craig Bellamy, by default, is their best attacker. He’s still effective due to his pace, albeit he’s now in his thirty-fifth year and he needs to have his minutes managed. Peter Odenwingie is another who’s past his best now. However he’s younger than Bellamy and can be productive out wide. After that it’s Frazier Campbell, the sort that’s probably too good for the Championship but not good enough for the Premiership. That Korean lad is a good dribbler, though not the prolific sort. You suspect that MacKay will hope that Cornelius proves himself. Regardless I think MacKay will bring in another forward in January, perhaps on loan if nobody separates themselves as the clear first choice. It’s a World Cup year and there will be players available who need to play. Cardiff’s owners to their credit, when they haven’t shamelessly pissed about with the club’s colours, have helped prevent this team from hitting any sort of plateau, or regressing, through consistently investing in players.
I’ll be a lot more confident in my prediction of their survival if they improve the squad again in January, and unlike the other two promoted clubs I’m fairly certain they’ll be trying to.
If we go by sample size, in this case one that’s too small, the bottom seven clubs are currently projected to have the lowest amount of points, per those positions, in years. The disparity between the Premier League’s upper class and the middle and lower classes seems to widening. Now what does that remind you of? Tomorrow I’ll review the Premier League’s bloated middle class. They say art imitates life, well Premier League football imitates the mediocrity, greed and cuntishness of it.