The 2014-15 Premier League Half Way Report

Alan-Pardew-smile

First off, Happy New Year to one and all. Invariably it means we’ve reached the halfway point in this season’s Premier League. As per usual the first weekend of the New Year is reserved for the third round of the FA Cup, and this pause in league activity gives me time to assess the table – as I’ll freely admit I can’t be bothered to look every week – after the hectic and completely ridiculous Christmas schedule of games, that still exists solely for the same reasons bankers bonuses do – greed and our reverence to petty concepts such as traditional conventions. On a less nauseatingly pious note, my rather scattergun viewing of football means you get a jaundiced and entirely un-objective view of each team and its chances. Also not helping – the fucking January transfer window. Doing an update like this at the start of it is terrible timing, as there’s likely to be a slew of moves, many unforeseen, particularly towards its end, mainly by clubs getting increasingly desperate for a myriad of reasons. These moves or changes tend to permeate things, well, one thing, my opinion, for better or for worse, after I’ve already given it here. C’est la vie.

And yes, part of that includes managerial changes. At the time of writing speculation about the positions of a number of Premier League managers is ongoing, as once again club chairmen up and down the country have been up to their usual shenanigans. The Einstein definition of insanity applies here – panicky managerial changes are viewed as a panacea akin to an ice cream van running its route in late January ‘because it’s dry’. Many managerial sackings at this time of year are self-serving, delusional, devoid of hope and common sense, and that by doing something, or being seen to be doing something, they can claim that they’ve done all they can. That many of these managerial changes actually help facilitate their club’s decline is irrelevant, the one exception where it worked is fixated upon, as absolution is an enticing prospect in the face of failure.

As per usual I’m not afraid to make a fool of myself, so here’s my take on where they’re gonna end up. I’ve provided predictions from my previous updates which you didn’t and won’t read. After all, it’s just a bit of fun, innit? That’s until I pick your team to finish three spots lower than you predict/hope/expect. Then it becomes a scorn fest, or not, as nobody will read this, so, who cares? I’m going to town on your club, fuck the lot of you.

The Riff Raff (The Relegation Candidates):

BURNLEY

Current league position: 19th

Pre-season prediction: 20th

Quarter-way point prediction: 20th

Revised prediction: 20th

The club’s fans call him the ‘Ginger Mourinho’ but Sean Dyche looks like a mutant ginger baby dressed in a suit a spiteful granny from the 1970’s would pick out to humiliate her grandson. He plays the generic and clichéd gritty, working class, pint of bitter please luv, Labour union card carrying but now largely defunct Northerner trope up well, stomping up and down the touchline frantically with his chest puffed out, pointlessly gesturing and barking inanities you’d find in a self-improvement book that gets advertised on some obscure cable channel at 3am. This act carries a lot of weight in a symposium filled with myopic plebeians. It’s desperate stuff to witness such insecurity, and suffering through a year of being so obviously out of depth will only deepen that crevice on his shoulder, likely put there, if we’re to believe his method acting, due to being released by a semi-pro Rugby League team when he was seventeen or some other trite narrative you can think of that fits. When it comes to football management a rugby playing mutant baby might actually be more tactically astute, as Dyche seems to have only two tactical maxims – lump the ball into the box and pump your elbows, and then pump your elbows again when you don’t have it, which, in Burnley’s case, is often. Clearly this retrograde anachronistic shite works in the Championship, and Burnley will be back there soon enough. They’ll happily take their parachute payment and we might see them again two to four years from now, or we might not. I reckon we won’t be seeing Dyche in the Premier League again. Either way I’m not arsed.

LEICESTER CITY

Current league position: 20th

Pre-season prediction: 19th

Quarter-way point prediction: 17th

Revised prediction: 19th

Currently bottom, but that they have infinitely more talent than Burnley, particularly in attack, and therefore they’re far more interesting to watch. Sadly they’re one of the worst defensive teams I’ve seen at this level. QPR may have conceded more goals, but Leicester just looks far more inept, particularly at the basics, no more so than decision making – a sign of bad coaching if you ask me.

It’s not fair or reasonable I know, but it delights me that Kasper Schmeichel is bollocks, as his father is a total cunttwat of the first water. Whether Leicester has the resources or capability to find somebody better this January, I don’t know. If they can, and they can find defenders, either at the club or from outside it who are better than the rocks Wes Morgan and Paul Konchesky carry in their brains and their defective hand eye co-ordination – that’s on you mum and dad, you fuckers – then I’d feel better about their chances. Actually, I’d like them to stay up. But Pearson has other ideas, he’s remained loyal to the limited trio of cloggers in midfield that got Leicester promoted – Drinkwater, Hammond & James, which reads like a generic name for a legal practice – not surprisingly they aren’t adroit enough to keep the ball at this level. A front four of Mahrez and Schlupp on the flanks, with two or Vardy, Nugent and Ulloa up front, with Cambiasso and a better midfield partner…oh forget it. It’s a pipe dream, they can’t defend.

It’s no consolation, but they’ll finish above Burnley. I’d even stake my life on it if I was completely and utterly fucking stupid.

HULL CITY

Current league position: 15th

Pre-season prediction: 15th

Quarter-way point prediction: 14th

Revised prediction: 18th

Akin to Hobson’s choice I must pick three of these seven cellar dwellers to eat shit, and why not plump for Hull City? Or whatever they’re fucking called now, after all, it’s inevitable they’re going to be relegated eventually, as they’re run by a complete fucking clown. Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia that proves exactly that:

He told David Conn of The Guardian that “in a few years many clubs will follow and change their names to something more interesting and I will have proved I am a leader,” adding that if he were the owner of Manchester City, he would change their name to “Manchester Hunter”.

Oh yeah, and The Thing could be taking his talents to Tyneside (I don’t really mean or believe this, but it rhymes in a swanky way) – just as I predicted, way back here. Even if it isn’t Newcastle, it will be another club, likely soon.

Bruce has even more incentive to bolt as this side, which he constructed, doesn’t score goals, and that usually means relegation or a near miss at best. The current trend suggests defences are getting worse, so having a team, or if you’re a mediocre or bad side, individuals, that can exploit this, is imperative. Hull City have none, they’re a team of graft and virtually no craft. The one who could provide these elements is Hatem Ben Arfa, who, on certain days, doesn’t look like a semi-professional footballer, never mind someone a relegation threatened team should be relying upon for inspiration.

Will Hull keep Bruce and allow him to make a few loan/cheap signings to rectify their anaemic frontline? Or will Bruce leave them for Newcastle, where, by virtue of not being Alan Pardew and I’ll dangerously assume by not being given an eight year contract, he’ll be popular, for a time at least, and before any goodwill subsides he’ll be working with a far better squad. As a Brucie bonus, he’ll get to work Hatem Ben Arfa again in August. Okay, maybe that’s pushing it a bit.

CRYSTAL PALACE

Current league position: 17th

Pre-season prediction: 12th (and yes kids, crack cocaine is bad for you)

Quarter-way point prediction: 19th

Revised prediction: 17th

On this week’s edition of how not to run a football club, Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish elects to make a change of manager by sacking Colin Wanker. This change comes only four months after hiring Warnock, sorry Wanker, because Parish foolishly fell out with Tony ‘Tone’ Pulis, his baseball hat and the tracksuit gimp routine he shamelessly stole from Martin O’Neill (thankfully not on the managerial merry-go-round at this time), for not providing enough funds to strengthen the side to play football that’s just as drab with equally bad players who cost more money. As a result, Parish has had to spend a significant amount of money in terminating the contracts of Pulis and Warnock, and then paying a fee to Newcastle for the right to hire Pardew.

At least they didn’t give Pardew an eight year contract. Though, rest assured, there is time for that.

Even worse, I think they’ll survive. The Premier League everyone, rewarding mediocrity and sheer stupidity since 1992. And yes I’m as fucking fickle as a frivolously fuckety fickle cunt. Just fuck off.

QUEENS PARK RANGERS

Current league position: 16th

Pre-season prediction: 17th

Quarter-way point prediction: 18th

Revised prediction: 16th

I scoffed at the thought of Charlie Austin in the Premier League, and it was based on absolutely nothing other than his name, shit tats and a predominance of lower level strikers failing miserably when stepping up to the top division, but you know what? Some players, despite their deficiencies have a knack for it. That ‘it’ being scoring. Just look at Austin’s Wikipedia page. At every club, at every level he’s been at, he’s averaged roughly one goal every two games.

QPR will need that to continue if they’re to stay up. Look, they’re terrible in defence. Rob Green’s always been dodgy and Rio Ferdinand is completely spent. They have a glut of attacking midfielders who were either decent three years ago, or who never were. Case in point, when 2-1 down away to Arsenal last week, Junior Toilet, sorry Hoilett, was brought on. He was able to create space, beat players, only to produce woeful cross after woeful cross against a scrambling and panicky Arsenal defence. After the last over-hit cross at the end of injury time it cut to the bench for the deeply cynical, narrative driven, gratuitously journalistic money shot, and it didn’t disappoint: ‘Arry’s face was a picture, it’s always looked like runny cheese melting off a piece of toast, but here it had dried and clotted into a revolting purple bulbous mess on his jawline. He’s cutting a frustrated figure and so, yeah, you know what that means, right?

It’s January! And ‘Arry’s in charge! So that means transfers, deadline day transfers. It’s as good as reason as any to pick them to stay up, they’ll be active, the other riff raffers are unlikely to be as active (combined) as QPR will be. Thatcher may be dead, but futile modes of aspiration live on.

Bottom line, they have Austin, Vargas is mercurial, and they have an owner who’s prepared to spend it on ‘Arry’s bungs, which is more than anyone else below them.

WEST BROMWICH ALBION

Current league position: 17th

Pre-season prediction: 16th

Quarter-way point prediction: 13th

Revised prediction: 15th

In ‘Cue’, Scott Walker anthropomorphises a virus, imagining its frustrations as it navigates the physical boundaries that attempt to impede its successful travel from one place to the next, and its mutation and transmission from one species to the next. It does so without remorse or a goal beyond propagating itself, other than causing destruction at any cost.

What does this have to do with Tony Pulis? Well West Brom is the scourge’s latest landing place. During incubation things will seem okay, West Brom will stay up – though I’d suggest they may have survived anyway. Pulis will be lionised as a top manager by the fourth estates biggest eejits, before strain after strain of awful football will finally make the fans and owners feel nauseous. That’s what midtable clubs are to Tony O’Pulis; incubators, hosts, as survival as a Premier League manager is all that matters. How many more clubs will be infected? Sadly, like the existence of viruses, that’s now a rhetorical question. The same question could be analogously applied to the number of Ebola victims. There will be more, so asking how many more will there be is both futile and irrelevant. Tony Pulis is the Ebola of English football.

But much to my chagrin, like most of the dross club in the Premier League they have a good few players who’ll fit seamlessly into Pulisball. Olsen, one of the league’s biggest snides was made for it, as is Anichebie and his fat arse. Peter Crouch has been linked and would make sense, especially in a little and large partnership with Berahinho – who’s come back down to earth after a hot start, clearly he isn’t that good, not yet anyway, and perhaps those links to Spurs, City and Liverpool, plus that completely underserved (they usually are) England call-up went to his head.

Did Alan Irvine deserve to be sacked? That’s a question worth posing, but it’s irrelevant here, as West Brom have had a high managerial turnover since the owl fled the coup to become the bumbling figurehead of the most myopic, self-righteous, hypocritical, contemptuous, corrupt and happily, inept organisations in the world. So it was a case of if, not when, just as it is with Pulis.

They’ll be awful to watch and they’ll stay up, just as they were up until now. Futility, I reckon that’s the word.

SUNDERLAND

Current league position: 14th

Pre-season prediction: 13th

Quarter-way point prediction: 16th

Revised prediction: 14th

Only three wins. Eleven draws. Can’t score goals. It’s the relegation formula, so I couldn’t put them in the next category, even if that description fits them to a tee. They’re better than Burnley and Leicester, so that means they only need to be better than one of the other clubs in the section. Lest we forget, that’s a far better position than they found themselves in last season.

But bringing the agonisingly average Fabio Borini back from Liverpool is unlikely to change things, and quite why signing Jack Rodwell was seen as something worth doing I’m not sure. It’s a shame, as I think Gus Poyet, given better players, would thrive. But he’s at Sunderland, there’s little money, even by midtable Premier League standards, and what little is spent hasn’t been spent well, and he’s partly to blame for that.

There’s a feeling of inevitability about this, either Poyet gets canned, or Sunderland will go down some time soon. It’s one or either, or maybe both, in some order.

Shite, But Staying Up:

ASTON VILLA

Current league position: 12th

Pre-season prediction: 18th

Quarter-way point prediction: 15th

Revised prediction: 13th

Did you know they’ve scored eleven goals!! Eleven! That’s criminal, yet they’re twelfth, which is also criminal and indicative of why this needs to happen. They also have the best defensive record of any bottom half club, and the fifth best defensive record overall, somehow. I don’t think it’ll last, but neither will the paucity in front of goal. It can’t, yes they play woeful football, but they’re on course to score the fewest goals per game (0.55) since that historically bad Derby County side that stunk up the joint in 2008-09, who managed 0.52 goals per game over the whole season.

I’ve realised there’s simply no point getting worked up over it anymore. In a way this is better, instead of being relegated, which would align expectations within realistic parameters and precipitate a proper rebuilding of the club in a more forgiving environment, they torture their annoyingly delusional fans by remaining in this state of purgatory – just, just too good to go down, but far too incompetently run, and as such trapped within the year-to-year survivalist goal, to put a long term plan in place that would ultimately see them challenging at the right end of the table. They make up the numbers but do so in the most uninspiring and uninteresting way imaginable. They say, whoever they are, that you deserve what you get, that’s rubbish of course, but Villa fans deserve this. They deserve Paul Lambert, Ron Vlaar’s wooden legs, Fabian Delph’s head down hubris and Christian Benteke’s wincing disdain at another over-hit and or mis-hit long ball.

EVERTON

Current league position: 13th

Pre-season prediction: 7th

Quarter-way point prediction: 9th

Revised prediction: 12th

After a grim Christmas period, with three losses out of three, and looking at their upcoming fixtures, it’s hard not to see a relegation battle looming. But I’m not going to put them in it, not yet. Let’s see how they get on over the next month. It could easily be the case that by the time I write the next update in March, Martinez is gone and they’re in deep shite, or they’ll have won three of their next five and will be more comfortably placed. I suspect they’ll survive relatively comfortably, ensuring survival with half a dozen games remaining. Their dreadful defence aside, a combination of Barkley, Mirallas and Lukaku should be enough. However, this won’t resolve the long standing issues of Bill Kenwright’s fecklessness, a decrepit, embarrassingly antiquated stadium, a squad that’s aging and whose best assets are likely to leave within the next two years just to ensure the club treads water financially. Investment is badly needed, that it still hasn’t arrived after all the years of reportedly being open to offers makes you wonder if their finances and the top to bottom revamp that club needs is worse than it appears from the outside.

Midtable Mediocrity:

NEWCASTLE UNITED

Current league position: 10th

Pre-season prediction: 10th

Quarter-way point prediction: 11th

Revised prediction: 11th

Before selecting a general, Napoleon would ask, without even a hint of glibness or irony ‘I know he’s a good general, but is he lucky?’

Some folks have an innate ability to drift through life, immune to the consequences of their mistakes and or failings. This is of course a myopic notion, borne of spite, as, from the personal realm, we always see and feel the negative impact that our own adequacies and failings have. Mike Ashley is probably a good businessman, but even so, he’s a lucky bastard too, not only to get out of that contract, but to receive a severance fee. All this really tells us is that football makes stupid men out of smart and capable ones, and that in such an arena, there’s always liable to be someone who is afflicted with polio while you “only” have rickets.

According to this, the top two favourites for the role are Tim Sherwood and Steve McClaren. I’d pay a fiver to see Tim Sherwood manage Newcastle United, just imagine the vines it would give us. Go Mike Ashley, you’re a fucking imbecilic chancer, don’t be a bore by going all conservative, embracing common sense and shit. You invested in Rangers FFS. Stay the comedic course. Make it happen.

STOKE CITY

Current league position: 11th

Pre-season prediction: 9th

Quarter-way point prediction: 12th

Revised prediction: 10th

Same as it ever was. Meh. Though Bojan Krkic is a decent player and makes them a tiny smidge more bearable. I wish I could place a bet on Krkic moving to Spurs, Arsenal or Liverpool next season, underwhelming, then ending up at a mediocre club in La Liga or the Bunderliga, essentially, back where he is right now. That seems to be the pattern of his career, he’s a tease who performs best at midtable clubs going nowhere. Looking at the video below, from when he was a young’un at Barcelona, you wonder how and why this is the case:

Europa League Contenders (Top Four Pretenders):

SWANSEA CITY

Current league position: 9th

Pre-season prediction: 10th

Quarter-way point prediction: 8th

Revised prediction: 9th

Pass, pass, pass, pass, daft cross field pass by Jonjo Shelvey, possession lost, defend for bit, win it back, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, over-hit cross, lose it, defend for a bit. Pass, pass, cross, Bony’s scored. Pass, pass, pass, concede a sloppy goal, pass, pass, pass, pass it back, pass, pass. Lose possession, sit back. Goal kick, pass, pass, pass, pass it wide, pass it back, fifteen more passes, working it to the opposite flank, throw in, pass, pass, pass…

…about right where they should be.

The tone of the above passage might seem mocking, but let it be said, English football and its footballers would benefit immeasurably if more teams played like them.

WEST HAM UNITED

Current league position: 7th

Pre-season prediction: 11th

Quarter-way point prediction: 10th

Revised prediction: 8th

So far I’ve been dead wrong about Andy Carroll’s return upsetting the apple cart. In my defence it’s early days and after all, it’s West Ham United, not Manchester United. Finishing eighth would be a very good season after last season’s dirge. I’d feel a lot better about it if Carroll was replacing either Stewart Downing or Matt Jarvis, and not Enner Valencia. Carroll’s still partnered by Sakho and surrounded by runners from deep. Carroll’s inclusion makes it immensely difficult to play good football, but if he’s properly utilised this can work as well as it did for Allardyce at Bolton – message to Sean Dyche, this is how the meme’s done. Being the aesthete that I am I prefer football played on the floor, usually that’s due to footballers who need it to be so, and when it’s on the green stuff Carroll’s (mostly) hopeless.

West Ham’s improvement is indicative of a middle table club that nails practically every signing they make in one window. They signed two strikers who added mobility, versatility and goals, and a holding midfielder that should be playing for a top four team. The signings of Valencia and Sakho in particular were risks, the kind of risks that Allardyce has never been afraid of making. There are countless middle manager’s out there that wouldn’t have the cojones to do so, instead of opting for a past his best Jermain Defoe because he’s ‘Premiership proven’, or some such nonsense.

The results show in the stats – they’re only nine goals shy of their total from last season, and only eight points shy of their final total last May. That makes Big Sam a happy man, which is never a bad thing:

LIVERPOOL

Current league position: 8th

Pre-season prediction: 3rd

Quarter-way point prediction: 5th

Revised prediction: 7th

As things unravelled about a month ago an interesting point was made about the club’s transfer policy, but personally I think when it comes to Rodgers’ position, that its place in the debate surrounding him is a red herring of sorts. If Rodgers doesn’t have the de facto say on all transfers, then he’s still culpable, albeit by proxy, for having that arrangement foisted upon him. I’m of the belief that a director of football system can work, and work very well, provided the hierarchy is set, and philosophically everyone is on the same page. Is that the case at Liverpool? People seem to suggest it might not be, but I have no clue and I’m not going to pretend that I do.

So all I can do is judge what I see on the pitch. Clearly, the team’s in transition. Transitioning into what, well that’s still unclear. But it’s clear to me that last season was an unexpected, what’s the right word here – ‘event’? Suarez had the best season of his career and one of the best seasons we’ve ever seen from a striker in England (now sadly reduced to water carrying for Barcelona on the wing – what a fucking waste), Sturridge stayed fit for the majority of the season, and for the first time in his life had a coach who emboldened him in a system and style of play with a strike partner that meant he wasn’t encumbered in any way, Gerrard was reinvented into Pirlo-esque distributor, Sterling came on a ton, and Daniel Agger played more games than we expected. Just read that last sentence again, in all of those instances things worked out. That’s rare, now all of those things (bar Sterling), have disappeared and Liverpool fans are left with the reality – there’s still a massive amount of player turnover required if the club’s to have a squad that’s capable of challenging for the league every season.

Here you can make excuses about injuries, transfer policy, or transfers not working out, and all working to stunt progress. But in truth it was always likely to be this way, regardless of what happened last season. Players get injured, other clubs have money and like to sign good players, and most of all not all transfers work out. People bang on about it, but if you look at it with a degree of detachment, Liverpool’s record in the transfer market is no better or worse than most others. Where the club has struggled the most is replacing the key players of the last good side, the 2008-09 squad. The remnants of Rafa’s team, what’s left of it, now clearly need replacing – Gerrard’s leaving, Johnson and Lucas will probably soon follow, as will Skrtel, surely, finally, mercifully. The first three, at their best, were vital players for Liverpool. Worse yet, Reina still hasn’t been replaced and there’s no centre back on the books who can hold a candle to either the composure Agger brought or the doggedness Carragher prided himself on. I still hold the belief that club still hasn’t recovered from selling Alonso, and, let’s be honest, Jordan Henderson isn’t going to cut it, in any role, never mind that one.

So while off the back of last season most were thinking ‘Liverpool are back’ in truth Rodgers and co faced a tough choice this summer, made tougher by Suarez’s departure. A lot of signings were made, more than was ideal. It suggests the club, as a whole, recognised the truth about the squad. Problem is only some of the signings had the medium to long term in mind. As it turns out, it’s been the short term buys, Balotelli, Lambert and Lovren, who have been the worst, while the young’uns have shown the most promise – Moreno, Emre Can, and Markovic clearly has the tools to succeed. Lallana’s finally showing his quality too. What does this tell me? That, if they’re to compete with the likes of Chelsea and the Manchester clubs, a club in Liverpool’s position should commit over the next two or three windows to a policy of buying younger players, talented ones of course, with the aim of actually building a team and a squad to consistently challenge.

Which brings me onto Rodgers, and it’s one of reasons he should be given more time. With the older guard being phased out, he’ll have the opportunity to shape the squad to the requirements of his style of play. There’s ample evidence that he’s not afraid to admit mistakes or change his opinion on a player one way or the other. He’s been able to innovate with what he’s had at his disposal, and improve certain players – some may argue that Raheem Sterling would’ve improved regardless of circumstance, but I reckon that’s cheap. They only uncertainty I have now is whether the poor start to this season has rocked his confidence. There’s some hard decisions, cutthroat ones, to be made, by him, if he’s to survive and to build a team that will thrive. Last season showed me, at least, that he can do the latter if he has enough quality at his disposal. I suspect any side under his stweartship will never be as solid as those under Ged or Rafa, which will never appeal to some, but the side will be more expansive and score more goals, which, as it happens, is in line with the trend, particularly in England. Defences are getting worse, so building a team that can exploit that should be the priority. Why did Liverpool go to the wire with City last season? They matched them goal for goal, even with Mignolet in goal and with Martin Skrtel figuring prominently.

Where Rodgers can be criticised, then, now and probably to come, is for refusing to alter an expansive style, that embraces risk, commits men to attack, leaves space and demands technical precision when we don’t have enough of it, namely to accommodate the deficiencies of the team, or its worst players. My counter to that – imagine if last season he capitulated, dropping Coutinho or Sterling for Allen or Lucas more often, if he had he team play deeper and held men back from attack, just to protect Skrtel and Mignolet a bit more? Would Liverpool have been better off? Would they accrued more points? The argument has more veracity now – Suarez is gone and Sturridge is out, but would deploying pragmatism now get more out of an error prone clogger like Lovren or stop Skrtel’s reign of terror? I say no, the defensive axis of the side is broken, and that’s on Rodgers. Mignolet and Lovren are failed attempts, and he probably knows, at this point, he won’t get many more shots at it.

There’s another reason, one that’s impractically devolved from considering context or results – if the club sacks Rodgers in May (which, if it is to happen, is when it will) that means FSG, since taking over, would’ve sacked three managers in the space of five years and hired the same number. Managerial turnover of that volume isn’t indicative of a club that is well run or has a plan. Plus it just looks fucking bad. Liverpool should be better than one of those fucking clubs, that stumbles and bumbles from one humiliating short term era to the next. At least, by giving managers time, Liverpool can say they haven’t failed because of that.

Just a few thoughts on Steven Gerrard, who this week announced he’s leaving Liverpool for the MLS. For selfish reasons I would prefer it if he just retired, rather than head to a third rate league to demean himself for a bit of extra cash he doesn’t need for a couple of years. It was sad seeing Robbie Fowler, Alex Del Piero and Thierry Henry do it, and it’ll be sad seeing Gerrard doing it too. It’s easy to blame the club for not ‘doing enough’ here to keep him, for whatever sentimentally infused reason you can think of. Clearly this isn’t a case or test of loyalty, or disloyalty. He’ll always be ‘Liverpool’s’ and Liverpool ‘his’, if that makes sense. He’s been loyal to them, and they to him. There can be no debate about it. However, everyone gets old, every player has his time and there are no exceptions. I try to put myself in his shoes, if he feels he’s no longer good enough to help the club, as he once used to, often going above and beyond, would I want to stay? Remember, he’s a fan of the club. It must hurt. If that’s the main motivation behind it, then he should be commended.

Given the bouts of turmoil, board level mismanagement and (often unnecessary) changeover at the club during his career (that in truth has dogged it) I have no hesitation in saying he’s been Liverpool’s best. The club won more trophies than they should’ve during this period and a good chunk of that is thanks to him. He’s been the only constant. He came up through the ranks to be one of the best players in the world. It would be a shame if he won’t be retiring this summer to complete the circle. Replacing him is a monumental task, and I’m not even sure you should try to. At his peak he could play in any position, had all the physical and technical attributes coaches and managers desire and most impressively of all had the innate and transcendent ability not to be cowed by the sense of the moment. If there’s one word I’d use to describe him it would be fearless. He was able to produce his best when Liverpool needed it most, often when it counted the most, to the point that we were aghast on the occasions when he couldn’t. Those who are still alive today say the same things about Duncan Edwards – a once every half century talent. The frequency in which they occur just about does Steven Gerrard justice.

One last thought – I’ve just realised that both Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard are leaving the Premier League this summer for the MLS, and (likely) for different clubs, because even now, they can’t play together, right? :rolleyesemoticon: It’s the end of an era, and it makes me feel old. Hopefully Liverpool send Gerrard off down the solid gold brick road by winning a trophy, though sadly for him that won’t be the league, or even that dreadful fourth place trophy the way things are going.

Fourth Place Contenders:

SOUTHAMPTON

Current league position: 4th

Pre-season prediction: 14th

Quarter-way point prediction: 6th

Revised prediction: 6th

I relent, apologetically. Here on merit.

They might qualify for the Champions League, Pelle keeps scoring, Koeman has them playing good football, attacking football, and if he’s not careful perhaps he’ll end up at Spurs or Liverpool soon. I’ll make a prediction, even if they do finish fourth, Shane Long won’t be there with them. I’ve decided it’s a rule of the universe that Shane Long can’t play in the Champions League. It would melt my brain, and as it’s already fucked, I can’t have it.

So, just to be safe, I’m picking them to finish sixth. Which, considering the shenanigans that went on during last summer, which I still think were incredibly dodgy, would be an excellent achievement.*

*Though it would be funny if they finished above Spurs – for obvious reasons.

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR

Current league position: 5th

Pre-season prediction: 6th

Quarter-way point prediction: 7th

Revised prediction: 5th

Perhaps Maury’s the one in ten, here’s what I wrote last year about Levy and his many many managerial and management structure u-turns, during his dismal reign as club chairman:

Here’s a list of the managers and directors of football who he’s either inherited, hired and fired since becoming chairman, and the durations they were in charge in brackets:

Directors of Football:

Damien Comolli (2005 to 2008)

Franco Baldini (2013 to present)

Head Coaches/Managers:

George Graham (sacked by Levy in 2001)

Glenn Hoddle (2001 to 2003)

Jacques Santini (sniggers) (2004)

Martin Jol (2004 to 2007)

Juande Ramos (2007 to 2008)

Harry Redknapp (2008 to 2012)

Andre Villas Boas (2012 to 2013)

Tim Sherwood (2013 to present)

This list isn’t exhaustive either, it doesn’t include David Pleat’s various caretaker stints, there have been three of those, or Clive Allen’s one time. So that’s eight head coaches/managers and two directors of football hired, £575m spent on players over twelve years, and all Spurs have to show for that is one fourth placed finish and a league cup in nearly thirteen years under Levy’s chairmanship. Still, Daniel Levy’s net spend stats will look great on an Excel spreadsheet: £211m spent net, which works out at roughly £17.5m per season, seeing as you didn’t ask.

That he’s vacillated between the continental European director of football model and the traditional British manager controls all structure, is an indictment on his judgment, and his lack of conviction in sticking with any method. It’s the darts thrown at the dartboard analogy, throw enough and you’ll eventually hit the bullseye, right?

Which brings us to Maury, perhaps Levy’s finally hit the bullseye. Pochettino’s a good coach, he showed that at Southampton, and hopefully for Spurs’ sake and for Pochettino’s that Levy believes that. He certainly has motivation to, after all, it likely cost a good wedge to bring him in from Southampton. But, yet, there’s this reality…

Yeah, aside from Levy being Levy, this team badly underachieved last season, and looking at their squad, I’d say the opposite is now true. I’d argue regression to the mean has played a part, they were always likely to improve regardless of who was in charge. They’ve scored only one goal more than Liverpool, and have conceded the same amount of goals, and this despite how comical Liverpool have been in defence, and just generally.

Will Harry Kane continue to score at this rate, is he this good? Can Spurs continue to pick up wins when their midfielders, other than Eriksen are contributing, so little in attack? I have my doubts and therefore I’m picking them to just miss out on Champions League football, again. Mind you, I hesitated on this point, as any side that puts five goals past a Jose Mourinho deserves the benefit of any doubt. The last team to do that? The great Barcelona side of Pep Guardiola, perhaps Levy will expect something similar every game?

Actually, now that I think about, Pochettino won’t keep his job after all.

ARSENAL

Current league position: 6th

Pre-season prediction: 4th

Quarter-way point prediction: 3rd

Revised prediction: 4th

Let’s do a checklist to see if this is going the way your typical Arsenal season normally does.

Injuries to key players? Check. To a particular area of the side that leaves them dreadfully short of quality? Check. A general lack of squad depth, especially in certain key positions? Check. A lack of investment in players comparatively to their rivals? Check. A faltering title challenge? Check. Qualification for the knockout stages of the Champions League? Check? More Claude vines? Check. More questions about whether Wenger should go? Check. Another fourth placed finish, and a limp exit from Europe? I’d say so, but for the first time in a while the former looks shaky. Perhaps getting all those injuries in the autumn instead of the spring means their return will springboard a second half push, or perhaps they’ll just get more injuries…

…it’s odd that Arsenal fans edge towards a fatalistic outcome when they’ve been the team that’s performed, or should I say finished, most consistently for the last fifteen years. However those of us who are detached from their annual mid-season malaise, like myself, see things differently. Danny Welbeck has looked less like Emile Heskey, which I predicted, and a decent forward. With Walcott and Giroud fit again they have options in attack. Sanchez has been worth every penny, while Cazorla’s filled the creative void left by Ozil and Wilshire.

Even if Ozil, Wilshire and Ramsey were fit, and Koscielny had played more, this team isn’t a title contending team, let alone one that can win it. Case in point, even though Danny Welbeck has done okay, is he really the calibre of player that Arsenal should be signing? The same could be said of Oxlade-Chamberlain, who, the last time I saw him play, was utterly woeful against Liverpool. Why hasn’t a better midfielder than Flamini or Arteta, now both past their primes, been signed? Why is Szczesny still in goal? All that Champions League revenue and you can’t do better than any of these players?

The answer is obvious, this is a club whose fans, manager and board all choose to present themselves as ambitious, but when it comes to the crunch, for entirely different reasons it should be said, all of them are happy to relent, and accept things as they are. The fans rightly fear, within the context of the club’s stingy ownership, the destabilising effect of a change of manager, especially one who has served as long as Wenger, may have. Wenger’s still trapped by his own hubris – that he can do more with less – and the owners are making a fortune with annual Champions League participation on a smaller budget than the next three clubs. They don’t give a shit about winning anything.

They need more than one big signing per summer window to challenge, and they all know it, yet nothing changes.

Top Four Contenders (Championship pretenders):

MANCHESTER UNITED

Current league position: 3rd

Pre-season prediction: 5th

Quarter-way point prediction: 4th

Revised prediction: 3rd

United can afford to speculate to accumulate, I suppose. Talk of the title is fanciful, as they’re closer to the Arsenal/Spurs/Southampton group than the top two, actually I’d say it’s laughable even, given their slew of inept defenders, but I’ve gotta give Van Gaal credit, he’s mitigated this weakness as best he could, and has gotten United back to where they need to be, given what they’ve spent – in with a strong chance of guaranteed Champions League football.

Plenty more investment will be needed to make this side a title contender, Fellaini still appears too regularly in midfield with his cocked arms and stiff hips revealing him as a fraudulent midfield lynchpin, Michael Carrick is 33 and now being used somewhat effectively as a sweeper in the back three as none of United’s defenders can distribute the round thing to the standards Van Gaal’s system requires, while Ander Herrera has yet to make a significant contribution. Thankfully for United one of Alex Ferguson’s few long term oriented signings has worked out, there’s little doubt that David De Gea is best keeper in the league, and should be Spain’s number one, that he’s been United’s best player this season could be construed as a bad sign.

Even though they’ve scored ten fewer goals than Man City and Chelsea, and the same number of goals as Southampton, I’m confident this team will score more goals in the second half of the season. Van Gaal has found a place for Mata, and even better where he and Di Maria can co-exist, and United only need two of Rooney, Van Persie and Falcao to be fit for any given game. There’s scope for improvement, as it’s a collection of talent that’s capable of producing more than the 1.7 Goals per game they’ve managed so far.

The significant investment in attack has already claimed a casualty in Adnan Januzaj, who was easily United’s most interesting player to emerge from last season’s calamity. He’s been marginalised and he may go out on loan with United having no European football and little need to rotate, and if he does, and United keep spending, as reported, will he return? Still, let’s not lament Januzaj plight just yet, he’s not going to end up at a club like Middlesbrough, or even Spurs, he’s too good for that.

Of all the sides below Chelsea and Manchester City they look the best bet for a third placed finish. They have depth and quality in attack and the best goalkeeper in the league. That this will probably be enough doesn’t say much about the overall quality of the league, then again, the recent failings of English clubs in Europe provides more damning evidence of this.

The Title Contenders:

MANCHESTER CITY

Current league position: 2nd

Pre-season prediction: 1st

Quarter-way point prediction: 2nd

Revised prediction: 2nd

I suspect given Chelsea’s start, the recent injuries to Aguero and Dzeko and that they foolishly spent most of their transfer budget on a medicore in Mangala (£40m, or so they claim, it’s probably more – and no I can’t fathom it either) that they’re level on points, goal difference and goals scored with Chelsea, is of quite a relief to them.

Also a relief – that they managed to qualify for the next phase of the Champions League, once again they looked very ordinary against a standard of opposition with the propensity and ability to retain possession under pressure.

With Yaya Toure off to the African Cup of Nations – quite why this has been held every two years for the past two decades, is beyond me, oh wait, it isn’t: money, as per usual – City will need Aguero back sooner rather than later. Stevan Jovetic, who has played very well, has a history of muscle injuries, and Alvaro Negredo made himself persona non grata by being a naughty boy, if you believe the rumours. Personally I tend to believe the more obvious explanations were the main factors in expediting his departure to the now nuevo riche Valencia; City needed to trim the wage bill (to at least pay lip-service they were semi-serious about keeping in line with FFP) and Negredo was terrible during the second half of last season.

This team is at its best when David Silva, Aguero, Nasri and Toure share the pitch, which given Toure’s impending absence and the injuries to Silva, Nasri and Aguero hasn’t happened often enough, and likely won’t. Most Premier League sides simply can’t cope when City furnish Silva with plenty of the ball, and flood players towards him, while Aguero darts around the centre backs looking for space. No other side in the league offers a phase of attacking play as good.

Frank Lampard has been a canny addition, but only because Pellegrini, to his credit, has used him when City have needed it. It’s good news that he’ll be at Eastlands until the summer, wouldn’t it be funny if his goals proved the difference between City and Chelsea? Chelsea must be rueing letting him leave now. As it turns out I think his goals, and the return of Aguero and Dzeko will keep them in the race, but I have more confidence in Chelsea grinding out more wins and accumulating more points between now and May. That Chelsea have amassed a better squad, particularly a better central midfield (it’s not even close) is an indictment on City’s transfer dealings.

CHELSEA

Current league position: 1st

Pre-season prediction: 2nd

Quarter-way point prediction: 1st

Revised prediction: 1st

He shouldn’t be getting more attention, as he already has an abundance of it from the fawning entity of insipid mediocrity that is the UK media, and no I’m talking about who you think I’m talking about, though I could easily be. However, the connection is obvious, to me at least – Chelsea are the Nigel Farage of the Premier League. Take Jose Mourinho, who comes from a family with strong ties to fascism, or the club itself, financially emboldened by a scammer, who found a loophole of deregulation (or in this case simply none existed) that transferred masses of wealth from the poorest to the wealthiest, actually in this instance the plural is incorrect, wealthy, singular, is accurate.

Now that I’ve gotten my usual shot at Chelsea with their fucking shit plastic flag waving, Nazi saluting, fans, out of the way, let’s be real here – the pressure’s on for the Special Needs one. Fail to win the league and surely Roman will do what Roman does best, stare off blankly into the distance for a few moments, whereby in that time he realises his life is a soulless void of cancerous immorality and that despite his wealth his existence is as essentially pointless as us proles. To cope upon re-entry into the Matrix usually something or someone is bought or fucked over as the coping mechanism, but sometimes, man, you just need to be nasty and counter productive at the same time – and so, what better way than to sack another manager? Particularly a belligerent, obtuse, arrogant, eye-gouging, attention seeking one, just for finishing second two years in a row, and in doing so Roman wastes yet more money that he didn’t earn and that he doesn’t need on a football club he bought for the twin purposes of vanity and clever accounting.

With all the problems their main rivals, inflicted and self-inflicted – admittedly, have had, and that Diego Costa has fitted in so seamlessly and scored plenty, they shouldn’t be dead level with Manchester City. Fabregas has been poor recently, lazy almost, ahh can you see the decadence encroaching? Chelsea are leaning too heavily on Eden Hazard, as the likes of Oscar and Willian fail to produce as they should, and it seems that Andre Schurrle and Mohamed Salah are distrusted and therefore are likely history sooner rather than later.

Right, okay, it’s finally time for me to clench my teeth and be generous to them. The five goals conceded away to Spurs was an anomaly. They have the best defence and central midfield shielding it, in the league. There is no question of it. That, Eden Hazard and Diego Costa should be enough, and I suspect they might make a signing or two in January. City also, on paper, have a much tougher run in, facing more top half sides, many of those games coming away from home.

So yes, Chelsea win the league. But I can’t end my commentary on a forgiving note. So yeah, listen here Cesc, you bomber jacket wearing, spitting little cunt, Beats headphones are fucking balls*, up your arse lad.

*Sadly I doubt he uses them, he probably uses Sennheiser RS 220’s to listen to Thirty Seconds To Mars. Empirical evidence that life is depressing, and so is the thought of Chelsea winning the league.

So until next time, which should be in March, adios. I bet you can’t wait, I know I certainly can.

About Wichita Lineman Was A Song I Once Heard

Wichita Lineman Was A Song I Once Heard. 'Mediocre blogger and a piously boring and unfunny writer'. Enthusiastic purveyor of the KLF sheep.
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One Response to The 2014-15 Premier League Half Way Report

  1. Pingback: The 2014/15 Premier League Quarterly Report – The Final Furlong | Wichita Lineman Was A Song I Once Heard

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