So this time I set myself a challenge – to try and keep this column under a word count that could be deemed excessive. I aimed for a limit of five thousand words, which is rather a lot. But then I’m a shit writer who often needs to use five words instead of two, so…
…yeah, well, I failed. This sucker comes in at roughly nine thousand words. The only remaining question is who’s the bigger sucker – me for writing it, or anyone who reads it?
Paradoxically, despite writing a lot about it, this Premier League season has been low on drama and even lower on quality, this has been reflected by the number of many drab games, ‘a race to the bottom’ (© Douglas Alexander MP) of the arsehole of futility, featuring almost half the league, a non-existent title race, as many of the top sides have underperformed while the league leaders Chelsea have performed as expected. This last point has been brutally emphasised by the epic failure of all the English clubs who have competed in the Champions League and Europa League this season, with Liverpool managing to be knocked out of both competitions embarrassingly early.
The Premier League may be the richest in the world, and it’s about to get even richer still, but it certainly isn’t the best. But who cares? Money! Stoke City versus Leicester City on Super Sunday! Get yer bets in! Renew your Sky sub you stupid fucking cunts!
As per usual my previous predictions from pre-season, the quarter-way and half-way points are available for you to compare with my updated predictions of where each club will finish, purely for comedic purposes, as always. So here we go, from worst to first:
Current League position: 20th
Pre-season prediction: 19th
Quarter-way point prediction: 17th
Half-way point prediction: 19th
Revised prediction: 20th
Even though they’re seven points from safety with nine games left (they have a game in hand, but it’s against Chelsea), and we’ve seen teams escape from much worse predicaments, there’s a stench of resignation emanating from their players and manager. This despite a solid level of parity among the riff-raffers in the league this season (only six points separates Hull in fifteenth from QPR in nineteenth), which is the euphemistic way of saying there’s been even higher levels of incompetence and shiteness than normal.
Still, someone has to be the worst and this lot are. But they shouldn’t be, as they have enough players with technical ability in attack to be more aesthetically pleasing and adventurous than quite a few other premier league strugglers could be. Mind you, despite his pace and trickery Riyad Mahrez manages to combine the Adel Taarabt aversion to passing and Junior Hoilett’s consistently putrid end product. Esteban Cambiasso, easily their best player, struggles to finish matches, and other than Andrej Kramaric, their strikers belong in the Championship, as do their slew of central midfielders, all them a demoralising affectation of Gareth Barry, sadly the prevailing archetype for English midfielders, replete with the barge like turning circles and pointless under hit side-ways passes.
Overcoming any of this is hard, but it’s made harder when your manager is a sulky thin skinned twat who spends whole games sitting still with his arms crossed. He only breaks this sullen method to match his flattop phenotype by attempting to strangle opposition players while they lay prone on the floor, or worse, shouting out idiotic tactical instructions. How do we know they’re idiotic? Leicester simply cannot defend, or score goals. Only Villa and Sunderland have scored fewer goals, and while Leicester doesn’t have the worst defensive record in the division, the eyes don’t lie, they look inept. Add it all together and you get relegated in demoralising fashion.
Leicester’s board might just look at what’s happened at Aston Villa during the past month and think what if, but it’s too late for that now. They did invest in January, but none of these moves have panned out and had little chance of doing so given the malaise in to which they were parachuted. It’s difficult enough for young player to adapt to English football, never mind leaving them up front with no support, as Andrej Kramric has endured, and predictably he has only one goal 404 minutes. Their only other moves were to bring in Robert Huth and Mark Schwarzer. They’d be decent signings in 2007, but it’s 2015. Schwarzer is an improvement over the clown like Kasper Schmeichel. I know it’s unfair, but I take great delight in the fact that he’s woeful due to the twattish oafishness of his dickhead father.
Put Schwarzer, or any keeper behind a defence populated by Morgan and Konchesky, and a central midfield that, sans Cambiasso, can’t keep possession or offer any protection, all within a tactical framework of amateurishness, and it’s an upgrade akin to putting a ten thousand pound spoiler on a Lada. At a glance the spoiler will distract you from the fact that it’s a Lada, because when you see a spoiler you think ‘tosser’ or ‘flash twat’, or you assume ‘nice, expensive motor’, perhaps all of the above. However, on closer inspection you’ll see it’s a Lada with a spoiler, which is the zenith of ridiculousness and futility. Leicester City aren’t as ridiculous or as futile as this analogy, but the analogy was shit, and so are they.
The Riff Raff (The Relegation Candidates):
Current League position: 18th
Pre-season prediction: 20th
Quarter-way point prediction: 20th
Half-way point prediction: 20th
Revised prediction: 19th
Paul, tell us about your pitch?
Right okay, I want you to imagine a fly on the wall documentary that lionises the facets of working English culture, but, of course, through an aspirational prism. Yes, this has been done before, but most of these documentaries focus on the plight of a minority group, say gay folks, the unemployed, or unemployed gay folks, or pensioners, or something depressing, say single forty something women after failed IVF treatments. It’s true that most people who watch these shows are slightly moronic, and they watch them just to gawk at people even more moronic than they are. There’s a lasting, endemic appeal to this sort of thing – everyone feels better after they’ve bitched about how someone else lives and thinks.
Difference is, I want this one to be multi-layered. I want to convey how a meandering cultural shift can feel seismic when experienced through this specific milieu. We need to empathise with the average northern British working man, or rather one man’s attempts to empathise with them by trying too hard to be one of them. His name is Sean Dyche. The name of the show? ‘In the Dyche’. There’s a narrative thread, a subtext of sorts, that we’re unsure if he’s a true Northerner or not. Is he slumming it out of boredom like Suzie Kendall did in ‘Up The Junction’? This slant makes this doc different, is he helping or undermining the appeal of traditional British football mores? But even if people aren’t interested in that question, they’ll be engaged as it’s mainly about football, and men, when men and football are one, told through the story of one man’s plight, and his failing dream of saving an antiquated culture that’s fast becoming ‘only’ a niche. Hence Dyche, is ‘in the Dyche’, the vanguard, muddy, getting his hands dirty. Even the sceptical will be able to sympathise with him, as that niche has been irreparably bastardised, corrupted, and is still perpetually, insidiously, cynically under attack from the homogenisation brought forth by housewives, corporate seating, statisticians, sabremetricians, dietitians, degenerate Chinese gamblers and foreign footballers who start wearing gloves in mid-September.
It’ll all take place in the one place where men, or this man, can still be themselves, or try to be the man he wants and thinks he should be. We’ll start in a generic pub in England, in the town of Burnley, in the county of Lancashire, on a Sunday afternoon at 2pm, on March 15th 2015:
Sean! The fookin genius in the house. Ginger Mourinho you are lad. You’ll be havin’ a fooking pint on me.
Ooohh, just had a sniff me fingers there. Fooking too right a pint, them foreign bastards, big money bastards at City don’t like it up ‘em, do they? Right lads? Bastards. League champions? Champion shite more like. Fooking right. I fooking showed them what English football should is about. Old fooking school I am. Told the lads before kickoff to get out there and hav’ at it like. Pump yer elbows, close down the space, and if in doubt, fooking smash it like you would the wife’s back doors.
Reckon you’ll keep us up Sean?
Course I fooking will lad, I’m Sean Dyche for fook sake, I got us promoted, right? I work bloody miracles like Cloughie. Just look at me claret suit, it screams sophistication, dunnit? You should picture me wearing it in front of white board in the changin’ room, the lads can’t take their eyes off it, like a mini-Mourinho so I am. I’m into psychology see, read about it, know how to motivate ‘em. If you don’t work ‘ard in training you get more fooking laps, and if that don’t work I’ll remind ‘em that if it weren’t for me they’d be working in Phones 4 fooking U or summat.
Thought they went under?
Exactly me point, and if we don’t continue workin ‘ard we’ll go the same fucking way, down and out. But that aint gonna happen under my watch. Another pint of bitter please luv. See there’s two keys to survival, first, no foreign players, they can’t speak English, so they don’t understand what I’m sayin’ for a fooking start, and second is not havin’ the ball, both are connected, right. Them latin players are trained to keep it, load of shite is that, when you’re trying to survive you need to hav’ less of it, right, just hoof it and keep everybody back. Got me target man in Barnesy up top right, just get him to head everything, see refs in this country like teams who play like us, cause we give away fouls and it allows them to get busy, right? Also got me Danny Ings, lad’s fitter than a fooking butcher’s dog, got some pace and skill, not too much though, we don’t want him gettin’ any ideas about trying stuff. If he gets it he just runs in a straight line. And if he gets tackled he might win a corner, or even a thrown in, even better, fouled, givin us a free kick that allows us to get the big lads forward and get it in the mixer right. Just like Big Ron said, ‘I wanna see little eyebrows’, right, shame you can’t get away with reducers these days. Not like in my day, it’s all them foreign twats in our league now and all them middle class housewives who want to see pristine pitch passing played by men who moisturise and wear hair gel to show off their shaved side partings. It’s a man’s game and I’m Sean Dyche, the manliest of them all. I might be ginger, and I might look like a giant mutant fooking baby if I shaved me goatee off, but I’m a fooking man, right?
Fooking Brilliant that Sean, Let’s hope it works, another pint?
Mmmm, that bitter’s fooking right, almost as good as the shagpile in ‘ere. C’mon you lot, where’s you fookin’ sense of humour? That were funny that were.
Yeah, but, yeah, just checked the table on me phone there and we’re still in bottom three, int we Sean?
Fook off, fook that. Know how they say the league table doesn’t lie? Well it fooking well does right. We’ll finish above shite like QPR, Hull City and Leicester, they’ve got too many foreigners for a start, and if we do go down at least I didn’t ‘av any foreigners in me squad, if we fail, we’ll do so by being British. As Chuck fooking D rightly says ‘Fight the fooking power’. Cor look at the fuckin’ arse on that, another fooking pint please luv, fooking luv meself I do, right lads? Ooohh, sniffed me fingers there.
QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Current League position: 19th
Pre-season prediction: 17th
Quarter-way point prediction: 18th
Half-way point prediction: 16th
Revised prediction: 18th
‘Arry’s gone. But for good?
Other than Leicester City and possibly Newcastle United (in progress…) there isn’t a worse coached or run team in the league. They deserve to go down for negligence alone.
A usual sign of negligence is having the worst defence in the league – 54 goals conceded – and given they face Chelsea, Liverpool and Man City between now and the end of the season, it’s likely to rise, significantly. More importantly this essentially means they only have five matches left where they have a realistic chance of gaining points.
Plus, thanks to ‘Arry, the squad is full of has beens, never weres and sheer ineptitude, then there’s Joey Barton, who is all of the above. QPR’s squad reads like a saved game from the 2008 edition of Football Manager, where all QPR’s rejects and retreads matched their hype from way back when. Remember when people thought Shaun Wright-Phillips was good? Remember Rob Green being in the England squad? Or Sandro Ranieri playing for Brazil? Or when Eduardo Vargas moved to Napoli for £11m?
Not that you give a shit, but ‘Arry was sacked by QPR at roughly the same time in my saved game on Football Manager 2015 as he quit QPR in real life. Even if it isn’t seamless, accurate, or suitably comparable, I love when fiction and reality attempt to align. It inspires an odd validation, owned by nobody and for nobody’s benefit, but such minor trivialities can lighten the mood and can be necessary for getting you through the days.
Speaking of optimism, QPR are only four points from safety, somehow, and ‘Arry’s gone – the side was shite under him and he didn’t look arsed. He sulked like a little bitch when he quit. Not only that but it came a day after the January window closed, which really stuffed QPR up. It’s partly the ownership’s fault for believing in the ‘Arry Houdini tripe, they held on too long, waiting for things to turn, and it denied them any opportunity to get a new manager in, allowing him time to access the squad and make necessary changes during the transfer window. It’s likely that there would have been minimal money to spend, hence ‘Arry departing, but there is the loan market, and good middle managers are always able to nab and get something from a decent player who has become buried at a bigger club (no, Mauro Zarate doesn’t count) – Scott Sinclair being the latest example – wait, does that make Tim Sherwood a decent middle manager?
At best Sinclair’s a decent creator, but decent or inconsistent creativity is better than non-existent kind offered by a washed up Wright-Phillips, or the terrible twosome of Adel Taarabt and Junior Hoilett, who now solely exist to get clubs relegated and managers sacked. Your other options are Matt ‘the homeless man dwelling in a cardboard box version of David Beckham’ Phillips and Niko Krancjar, who can’t run and when he does move it looks as if he could do with the aid of a Zimmer frame, gosh, what a ghastly bunch.
Yet somehow Charlie Austin has fifteen goals in twenty-seven games this season. For a struggling side that’s a phenomenal return. He’s probably been the decisive factor in many fantasy football leagues too. QPR are likely going down, and if they do he won’t be going with them. All of this is scant consolation to him, but consolation nonetheless.
Current League position: 17th
Pre-season prediction: 13th
Quarter-way point prediction: 16th
Half-way point prediction: 14th
Revised prediction: 17th
Gus Poyet is gone, and it’s difficult to have any sympathy for him, what compelled him to stick with the decrepit centre back partnership of Wes Brown and John O’Shea all season? Who said the Chuckle Brothers were thinking of retiring?
I like Gus Poyet, he seems like a decent sort, but he’s probably a little too frank during interviews. Let’s be realistic about this, most people don’t want to hear the truth about the failings of their teams, or see their managers manifesting self-doubt. They want to be sold faith. This gives them capital to elide their desperate existences, or at worst served some platitude that they feel they can regurgitate to convince someone else that they came to believe it of their own volition.
Cynicism aside, Sunderland just didn’t work hard enough, and there was a distinct lack of common sense in certain tactical selections and formations, late last season Conor Wickham scored the goals that saved Sunderland, for most of this he’s been used wide and scored three.
Also, can we all agree that Jack Rodwell is a complete pup? He’s yet another much vaunted Finch Farm graduate that received too much hype from the instant validation dopes. They’re so desperate to see English talent develop that they do more harm than good when they offer hyperbole for fleeting displays of it. They don’t learn, and neither do some of these narcissistic dickheads in charge of the clubs finances. They compound the problem, imbue the narrative and swell egos by lavishing lavish transfer fees and salaries for marginal English talent.
Sunderland’s form is awful, actually it’s the the worst, and the eye test looks even worse. They look inept in all phases, but then so did Aston Villa, and the life raft they can cling to? They still aren’t in the bottom three – yet.
So enter Dick Advocaat. Is this the late 90’s? Why is Ellis ‘Scrooge McDuckcunt’ Short hiring a man who once spent £12m on Tore-Andre Flo while in charge at Rangers, and then left the club with masses of debt, which lead them on the path to going out of business? Okay, that was David Murray’s fault by not being able to say no, but Advocaat asked for it and got it. Now he’s going to Sunderland, who haven’t spent anything (in the relative terms) during Poyet’s reign, and this is supposed to work?
Plus the fella’s been taking cushy international jobs for the last few years and leaving them well before his contract is up – if that isn’t a clear sign of someone who no longer cares then I don’t know what is.
But you know what? Only three teams can be relegated, and at least by making the change now Sunderland are trying something to arrest the decline.
Oh yeah, and on a more serious point, about that Adam Johnson thing, I always felt the age of consent in the UK (sixteen) was too high and arbitrarily rigid as a cutoff point from which to make judgements of criminality and intent. A good majority of people, or just people in general, were sexually active before they turned sixteen, most through choice. Think about it like this – if you take the law literally you can go from an illegal relationship with an older person straight into marriage in the space of twenty-four hours. There’s something biblical about it. In no way am I advocating something extreme, say those creepy child marriages in Yemen, where nine year old girls are married off to thirty something men, just a sensible case by case judgment. As it is if a sixteen year old lad shags his fifteen year old girlfriend and someone grasses them up, he goes on the sex offenders register. That’s mad.
Decadence makes fools of men. Clearly Johnson was thinking with his Johnson. I don’t think he’s a nonce, he probably thought ‘that’s a bit of alright, I’m a wealthy footballer, I can have some of that, no problem’. It’s reminiscent of the arrogance displayed by Ched Evans. That attitude, if anything, is the issue. Not her age. But of course everyone ignored that part.
Current League position: 16th
Pre-season prediction: 18th
Quarter-way point prediction: 15th
Half-way point prediction: 13th
Revised prediction: 16th
Look, when the news broke that Villa were bringing in Tim Sherwood, we all laughed, and why not? The guy’s a clown, and his accent makes him seem like an outlandish Danny Dyer impersonation, or the blaggerish barrow boy version of Eddie Murphy’s turn in Trading Places, accidently given a job he isn’t qualified for as some sociological test masquerading as a petty wager between obscenely rich men. I’m not sure who the wager is between? Perhaps Doug Ellis and Daniel Levy? I’m also not sure who the Dan Ackroyd comparison is in this analogy, perhaps it’s Mauricio Pochettino, who left Southampton for a ‘bigger club’, only for Southampton to then sell a bunch of players and get better under a new manager? Good god, that actually fits.
Back to Timmy. Sometimes organising village life to suit the village idiot can work. If you subscribe to the idea that in certain circumstances the best solution to a problem is the most obvious answer. Are you the owner of a football club, with a squad suffering from low morale, and therefore a lack of self-belief, due to being managed by the dourest, most robotic, charmless and tactically regressive and prosaic manager possible? Employ someone who’s gregarious with an illogically high level of self-confidence, and who kind of wings it tactically. Struggling to score goals? Play two up front instead of one, and use a diamond midfield to allow a third player to support them. Is your side full of players who are slow footed and lack finesse and imagination? Use players who have residual levels of these traits.
See, even a simpleton can figure this stuff out, so what does this make Paul Lambert? Unemployed – and he may be for a while.
Now, despite their recent run, Villa are only three points above the drop zone, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves. But why shouldn’t we get ahead of ourselves? Yes Aston Villa fans are deluded chumps, and are now appropriately managed by one, but who doesn’t want to see more of Tim’s Sherwoodisms? Let’s hope Villa stay up, we need more crazy hyperbole, irrational self-confidence and cringe worthy moments, just look at the Vines this man has given us, now if we could just get him to parrot ‘Arry’s Transfer Deadline Day routine, we’d be golden.
On a completely unrelated point, I hadn’t realised they’d brought Scott Sinclair in. That’s how uninteresting and downright depressing Villa have been this season. That even with a shot at historic ineptitude in front of goal, I couldn’t be bothered to check who they signed in January.
But Timmy’s changed all that. Say what you like about him, and I and many others have, most of it uncomplimentary, but idiocy this epic, and in his case oblivious, is interesting.
Current League position: 15th
Pre-season prediction: 15th
Quarter-way point prediction: 14th
Half-way point prediction: 18th
Revised prediction: 15th
Good god this lot are fucking grim, aren’t they? Now that Timmy’s back in the game at Villa they’re possibly the most uninteresting and uninspiring outfit operating in the Premier League’s recent history. They play terrible football, have a terrible kit, an imbecile owner, the survivalist locust bore as manager, and they aren’t inept enough to be amusing. How inconsiderate of them.
So I might as well stick to my guns here, Brucie will just about keep them up, and then leave with his reputation as middle manager intact. Just what does this achieve? To the connoisseurs of good football he’s like polystyrene – we accept it has a function, but it’s only useful for a specific purpose, say when you’re getting a telly delivered, after you unpack the telly it becomes a complete chore to deal with.
Just think about this – two of the clubs in this section have to survive. Now if you support one of them that’s important, to you, but what about the rest of us? Don’t we suffer even more without the emotional attachment that a vested interest creates? I know this column is boring as I keep harping on about the same stuff, but please, tell me why contracting the Premier League so we have less of these shite teams is a bad idea? You know, it might actually help English clubs in Europe, which is the latest media infatuation. The better the quality of your week to week opponents, the more focused and intense the performances of your best teams need to be.
Shite, But Staying Up:
WEST BROMWICH ALBION
Current League position: 14th
Pre-season prediction: 16th
Quarter-way point prediction: 13th
Half-way point prediction: 15th
Revised prediction: 14th
To liven up our dismal football coverage we thought we’d try a new monthly feature here on BT Sport – ‘Manager Mic’, we put a mic on a manager to hear the tactical instructions they give to their players, and the conversations they have with the fourth official during the ninety minutes. This month’s focus is on new West Bromwich Albion boss Tony Pulis…
DROP BACK. NO, NO, NO. FACK. NARROW. NARROW. PRESS HIM. JUMP FOR IT. ‘EAD IT. PUSH UP. DON’T DWELL ON IT. RUN. THROW IT IN LONG. FACKING CLEAR IT FOR FACK SAKE. THAT’S A FACKING FOUL. REF, FACKING ‘ELL. C’MON. Waves arms sullenly like four year old… IS ‘IS EYES FACKING OPEN? Readjusts skip hat…GET CROSSES IN. DROP DEEP, RUN HARDER. DON’T PISS ABOUT. RIGHT YOU, GET STUCK IN. WATTT? IS HE TAKIN THE PISS? FACKIN’ ‘ELL. Throws tantrum on the sideline…DROP DEEPER. CLEAR IT. MOVE JONAS. PUSH UP. TOO MANY PASSES JAMES. DROP BACK. FACKING GOOD CLAIM THAT BEN. DON’T YOU FACKING DARE GO FORWARD. CLEAR IT. WASTE TIME. ‘AMMER IT’. LAUNCH IT. DROP BACK. DON’T PASS. FACK OFF. Looks at watch…NARROW. STAY THERE. FACK OFF REF…
Well, that was just the highlights of the first ten minutes, if you want to see the whole thing, visit our website…
Current League position: 13th
Pre-season prediction: 7th
Quarter-way point prediction: 9th
Half-way point prediction: 12th
Revised prediction: 13th
It’s been a humiliating season, and last week’s debacle against Dynamo Kiev felt like the latest cruel twist of the knife in the belly.
Looking at the table, they’re still not completely safe, but even with their terrible defending and Martinez’s daft rotating when his squad consists of Arouna Kone and Antolin Alcaraz (who, the last time I checked on Wikipedia, has a day job as a painter), they should survive, but it won’t be pretty, and you have to wonder what the summer holds in store for Everton. Several of their better players want out, or have talked of leaving, many are linking John Stones and Ross Barkley with moves away ‘to bigger clubs’ – ouch. For his own sake Barkley should leave, it’s hard to think of a player in a worse situation than he is – a local lad and Everton supporter burdened with expectations (or delusions) that he’ll never meet, because Everton are simply going nowhere while Bill Kenwright remains in charge. Just read this transcript and look at his answers, it’s awful.
Everton have the fourth highest average squad age in the league, that’s a huge problem, and even for clubs with significant financial clout and larger squads, that usually leads to fatigue, as we’ve seen at Manchester City recently. Reading a few Everton forums, it seems like most ‘tonians want Bobby to go, and if he does, who will they get? Steve Bruce or some other seasoned scrapper? A novice, maybe? Or a lower league punt? Could that be sold to them? Where is that taking them? Bill Kenwright is soft, too soft to be running a football club in a cutthroat league that’s obsessed with money, so he could do anything.
Yes, the new TV deal is coming soon, but that applies to all clubs, and when have Everton, in recent times, shown the nouce to utilise any finances to bolster the club’s infrastructure or make the squad significantly stronger? The last time I checked Finch Farm has no new facilities and Goodison Park is almost certain to be the most archaic and unsafe ground used in the Premier League. So even with the new TV money, any new investment in these areas will be needed just to bridge the gap with the clubs their fans wish to compete with, meanwhile these clubs will be spending any extra money on players, their wages and fucking agent fees.
So yeah, the immediate future doesn’t look great for Everton, but at least they didn’t lose to Liverpool in humiliating fashion this season, so there’s that:
Current League position: 11th
Pre-season prediction: 12th (on second thoughts kids, start cooking and smoking that crack rock)
Quarter-way point prediction: 19th
Half-way point prediction: 17th
Revised prediction: 12th
Look, I always love bringing the scorn on here and dishing it out, but sometimes, well, you’ve gotta give credit where and when it’s due.
Because it was a ballsy move by Alan Pardew to renege on his deal with the devil’s incarnate in Mike Ashley, and their eight year pact of satanic mental torture of a football mad city, to move back south, to his ‘manor’, for a club in relegation trouble with comparatively little cash to spend.
The stats are impressive; they were averaging 0.93 points per game before Pardew arrived, 1.9 since. Under Colin Wanker Palace were barely averaging a goal a game and conceding almost 1.5 per game, since Pardew’s arrival that’s reversed, they’re scoring 1.5 a game and conceding just over one goal per game. How has he done it? Well, to put it crudely, by doing something similar to Timmy Sherwood – using more strikers and players with pace. This has been partly enforced of course, Palace have had injury problems in midfield, but that was no great loss as their midfielders are terrible. Pardew has gotten more out of Wilfried Zaha and Yala Bolasie. We’ve seen more of Dwight Gayle’s propensity for the dark arts, be it diving, feigning injury and sly fouls that bad refs, who are often wrongly accused of allowing rough play, just don’t see. Glenn Murray is back in the fold after being jettisoned by Colin Wanker. There’s also Yaya Sanogo, who is pretty much useless, but who’ll go on to have a long career in the game by virtue of Arsene Wenger having signed him once.
Perhaps we should consider Pardew under new contextual terms, as a more sophisticated seasoned version of Tim Sherwood. Perhaps this is what Timmy will be like fifteen years from now? He’ll be sans Gilet, suited up, a full head of styled white hair, a succession of former clubs, with the odd verbal transgression, the occasional physical altercation, and instances of minor successes and failures (and I don’t only mean with his player’s wives) along the way. Let’s go back to being reasonable and call keeping Palace up one of Pardew’s better moments.
Technically Palace should probably be in the previous section, they are shite, and they are staying up, but I feel confident putting them here now. You know, it’s just occurred to me; maybe I’ve had it wrong? Perhaps it was Alan Pardew who had the deal with the devil all this time? So if that’s the case, Mike Ashley is about to run out of luck…
Current League position: 12th
Pre-season prediction: 10th
Quarter-way point prediction: 11th
Half-way point prediction: 11th
Revised prediction: 11th
…Nope. Because Mike Ashley is the new Doug Ellis, and Newcastle United fans better get ready for an extended stay in purgatory. Their reaction:
Despite the gluttony; the booze, the overeating, the lack of exercise, you just know Ashley will live to be Ellis’s age. And the new Premier League TV deal has given him something to cling on for.
Here’s Mike Ashley downing a pint, with Newcastle 0-2 down, without a care in world:
I keep asking myself – just how the fuck has this dickhead amassed a fortune of 3.2 billion pounds?
By being a predatory cunt, that’s how. His latest venture at Rangers, or whatever you believe they are or should be called, is yet more evidence that Newcastle United are but a vehicle for Ashley to elide an existential midlife crisis by emphasising his unlikely but innate propensity to make yet more money. It’s all he has.
Regardless of whether they’re technically a new version of Rangers, or a completely a different club, they’re in the second division and still fucked financially, so why was Ashley involved there? To clarify, most of the main blame for the Rangers debacle should be aimed at David Murray for overseeing unsustainable levels of spending and Craig Whyte, who bought the club for a fiver, just to borrow against it – he made his millions doing this at smaller companies. The current Rangers directors, two of which are under Ashley’s spell, continuously refused to deal with people like Robert Sarver, who was prepared to put his money into the club. It looks like Ashley’s going to be forced out of Rangers, or at best marginalised, as he was only a minority shareholder. Newcastle United, however, are less fortunate. He’s owns lock, stock, the fucking lot, and he’s slowly bleeding them of ambition and hope, spending the bare minimum he can get away with on players that’ll ensure survival in the league, and with the gargantuan TV deal coming soon, he’ll make even more money by sticking to this formula.
Newcastle United fans are entitled to believe that because Ashley received compensation for a manager on an eight year contract, a manager who they disliked, that he has a deal with the devil. But really he’s just very fortunate, and one man’s good fortune is often someone else’s misfortune, in this case it’s an entire fanbase. Yet according to the Premier League, he’s ‘Fit and Proper’?
WEST HAM UNITED
Current League position: 9th
Pre-season prediction: 11th
Quarter-way point prediction: 10th
Half-way point prediction: 8th
Revised prediction: 10th
Seeing as they’re taking the second half of the season off, so will I, right now…
Current League position: 10th
Pre-season prediction: 9th
Quarter-way point prediction: 12th
Half-way point prediction: 10th
Revised prediction: 9th
…nope, can’t be bothered with these cunts either.
Current League position: 8th
Pre-season prediction: 10th
Quarter-way point prediction: 8th
Half-way point prediction: 9th
Revised prediction: 8th
Seeing as they like to pass, so will I…
Fourth Placed Contenders (But I’m Not Convinced, And Neither Are They):
Current League position: 7th
Pre-season prediction: 6th
Quarter-way point prediction: 7th
Half-way point prediction: 5th
Revised prediction: 7th
It’s all too reminiscent of the 2012/13 season, riding a talismanic performance to top four contention, only then to fall agonisingly short.
Of course Spurs haven’t fallen short, yet – but between their goal difference, only plus five, which at this point of the season tends to suggest a true level of midtable performance, and their poor record against their rivals for the top positions, it seems inevitable that they will. They’ve looked like a side that’s been in over their heads all season.
It’s a question of whether Spurs have done well to be in this position, mainly by beating the riff raff with consistency, or whether the mediocrity of the league’s resident upper middle class has allowed them to linger. Manchester United and Liverpool have underperformed and Arsenal are having, well, a typical Arsenal season. For the record I think Pochettino has done a reasonable job given the bloated squad of mediocrity he inherited. But when have the expectations at Spurs ever been reasonable?
Harry Kane (the league’s top scorer), Christian Eriksen (who scored a number of winning goals earlier in the season) and Hugo Lloris (one of the league’s better keepers) deserve an immense amount of credit for putting Spurs in contention, because the rest of this squad vacillates between poor and mediocre. Misspending much of the Garth Bale windfall hasn’t helped matters, as Paulinho, Roberto Soldado and Erik Lamela have contributed little this season. Of the recent signings only Eriksen has panned out, Chadli has probably exceeded expectations, but he arrived with none, and Etienne Capoue is nowhere to be seen. There’s a developing school of thought that only 40% of transfers truly pan out, but even with the application of realistic standards or metrics, Spurs’ transfer business in recent windows is the equivalent of a thirteen year old shitting the bed.
If they do fall short of Champions League qualification, will Daniel Levy be able to resist the tempting belief that another shot at the managerial roulette wheel this summer can be a quick fire solution? Will he repel the inevitable overtures that will be made from other clubs to acquire Harry Kane, and likely Eriksen and Lloris too? Or will his hubris foment his desire to protect his reputation as a tough negotiator who always gets top whack for his players? He might want to look at how stalling on sales has affected their recruitment policy, or, better yet, he might want to look at himself and the litany of terrible managers and directors of football he’s hired and fired:
Directors of Football:
Damien Comolli (2005 to 2008)
Franco Baldini (2013 to present)
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 2014)
Mauricio Pochettino (2014 to present)
Fourth Place Contenders:
Current League position: 6th
Pre-season prediction: 14th (shrugs shoulders)
Quarter-way point prediction: 6th
Half-way point prediction: 6th
Revised prediction: 6th
Every season throws up an overachiever and Southampton are this season’s. It just shows what being organised, hardworking, with a splash of quality, and being prepared to use a style of football that utilises it, can do for you.
There are only three remaining questions; can they remain in contention until the end? Has Ronald Koeman put himself in contention to take over at Spurs? And which players will they sell to Liverpool this summer?
Leaving aside the pettiness of the latter two questions, to answer the first question, looking at their remaining schedule, they should remain in contention. Their only fixtures against the perennial top six are at home to Spurs and away to Manchester City, the rest either have little to play for (Stoke City), or are bottom half sides, which the Saints have routinely pummelled this season.
At the very least they should finish above Spurs, but having come this far, they should aim high.
Current League position: 5th
Pre-season prediction: 3rd
Quarter-way point prediction: 5th
Half-way point prediction: 7th
Revised prediction: 5th
A work in progress, but now with actual evidence of progression.
While they weren’t as putrid as they were earlier on in the season (14 points from a possible 33 over the first eleven games), they aren’t quite as good as their recent form (best record in the league since Christmas). Before the calamitous defeat at home to Manchester United they were unbeaten in their last twelve league games, and much of that recovery was due to their defensive improvement, only eight goals conceded during that run. They’ve amassed five clean sheets in a row away from home, and they now have the fifth best defensive record in the league. Credit must go to Brendan Rodgers for finding a solution, even if it appears he only intends it to be temporary.
This squad is alarmingly young, and with Gerrard off on an extended summer holiday in the MLS and Kolo Toure and Glen Johnson also set to depart in the summer, it’s likely to get even younger. That does have its benefits, as we saw against Manchester City recently.
The change of formation, to 3-4-3, has mostly worked. It’s helped the summer signings, who are starting to fire, and the maligned players, such as Simon Mignolet, Joe Allen and Lucas Leiva to recover their form. Another exciting prospect in Jordon Ibe has arrived and Daniel Sturridge has returned. Liverpool fans might wonder how the season would’ve panned out had Sturridge been fit for the majority of it and they’d signed strikers that fit their hyperactive pressing scheme. Lambert and Balotelli have contributed little and Fabio Borini is bollocks.
Liverpool’s long term future looks good, the squad is young and full of talent, the academy is producing more of it, profits are up, debts are down, the wage bill is sensible and Brendan Rodgers has rediscovered his confidence. But in the short term Champions League qualification, after such a dismal start to the season, would ensure this progress continues at a pace.
If not, perhaps Liverpool could win the FA cup and give one of the Premier League’s finest ever a fitting send off? And yes, I know, any excuse…
Current League position: 4th
Pre-season prediction: 5th
Quarter-way point prediction: 4th
Half-way point prediction: 3rd
Revised prediction: 4th
Despite what appears to be a testing run in, on paper at least, they’re well placed to qualify for the Champions League, but at what cost?
This looks like a mess of ill-fitting parts, and worse than that, I’m not sure there’s a viable long term plan here, other than ‘we make more money through commercial deals than everyone else, let’s buy some players, throw it all together and get an experienced manager to figure it out’. However, money tends to cover a multitude of sins, to the point where you can afford to sell a striker to your rival for £16m, bring one in on loan for a total cost of £24m, and for him to be poor, and not really suffer as a consequence, in the league at least.
Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao, the summer’s marquee signings, have contributed little. Angel Di Maria’s played like a man who wished he wasn’t there. If United are sensible, and given the way they’ve been run recently, that’s questionable, then he’ll surely be offloaded this summer.
Van Gaal’s copped a lot of flak for his crude utilisation of Fellaini, and if United are to get back to challenging for league titles then they’ll surely have to move away from hoofing it at him, but elsewhere he’s done quite well to maximise the squad. He’s managed to get passable performances out of Ashley Young and Chris Smalling, no small feat and Phil Jones actually looks the part now. Restoring Wayne Rooney to the attack and Juan Mata, Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick to midfield has done the trick.
Top four or not the spending will continue. The rest of the league will hope they continue to squander millions buying mercenary big names to appease the many sponsors of their brand, rather than developing a plan. Either way, given the state of the Premier League, it may not matter.
Top Four Certainties, Title Pretenders:
Current League position: 3rd
Pre-season prediction: 4th
Quarter-way point prediction: 3rd
Half-way point prediction: 4th
Revised prediction: 3rd
A case of what might’ve been, again.
To date Mesut Ozil’s Arsenal career faithfully mirrors the club’s recent fortunes; clearly talented, occasionally brilliant, but gets injured at the most inopportune time and when the chips are down often fails to deliver.
Though in Ozil’s case, he turns it on for Germany, which only increases the tease. Watching Arsenal’s recent performances, in the league at least, engenders a similar feeling. A team with this much talent who plays some of the slickest football around should be better placed than this to contend.
Maybe Wenger will finally buy what he needs this summer? Or will he try to be too clever again? Maybe Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey will stay fit all season? Maybe next season will be the year Oliver Giroud scores 25 league goals? Perhaps Theo Walcott will rediscover himself and Danny Welbeck will fulfil his potential as the rich man’s Emile Heskey?
I can imagine Wenger’s resolute loyalty to his own sanctimonious methods projecting itself, by transmogrifying his view of his own abilities, onto that of his players, again. No doubt he’ll try to find a £30m player for £10m, he’s a creature of habit. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me if he went into next season with Francis Coquelin as his only reliable pivot in midfield, after all, he’s waited this long for him to develop. He’ll probably stick with his collection of bog standard full backs, and shaky keepers, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be given another chance to show that a reactive central midfielder, who plays without any composure whatsoever, is redundant in a side like Arsenal’s.
Note to Arsene, Arsenal are now minted, and you, more than anyone, helped make that happen – you’re making this more difficult than it needs to be. Live a little.
The Title Contenders (But I’m Not Convinced):
Current League position: 2nd
Pre-season prediction: 1st
Quarter-way point prediction: 2nd
Half-way point prediction: 2nd
Revised prediction: 2nd
Watching the recent defeat to Burnley it was staggering how old they looked. David Silva, Yaya Toure and Pablo Zabaleta looked knackered, and none of their strikers, that cost £130m in transfer fees combined (or thereabouts), failed to have or create any significant chances.
Despite having unfathomable resources, Pellegrini has found himself in a position where he doesn’t trust many of his squad players, and nor should he.
Pellegrini was supposed to do what Roberto Mancini couldn’t – succeed in Europe, but with another second round exit in the Champions League that hasn’t materialised, because, quite simply, somehow, there’s isn’t enough quality in this side to succeed in Europe, despite the squad being made up of entirely foreign players.
Which leads me to wonder whether this team needs an overhaul? I say yes, they need to get younger. The recent defeat at Anfield was more troubling, Liverpool had a much younger team, who, on two days rest less, and having played extra time, matched City’s considerable technical abilities, and outworked them, somehow.
They’re still second because there’s plenty of quality, particularly in attack, and with Luis Suarez now at Barcelona a frontline of Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri is unrivalled in English football.
Their biggest mistake? Instead of signing cerebral midfielders who can control games, who could embolden the attack further with more space, they’ve succumbed to counteracting the physicality of the generic Premier League midfielder; functional, hard running and elbows pumping. Skill and composure tends to nullify these attributes, that’s why David Silva is one of the best players in the league and Fernando Reges is not.
Other than that they’ve just squandered money. Just what was the point of signing Wilfried Bony to play ten minutes in every other match? Grossly overpaying for Eliaquim Mangala (the rumoured fee of £32m doesn’t include third party ownership or agent’s commission – yikes) just looks arrogant. To complicate things, due to so many failed foreign signings, in rectifying these mistakes there’ll be the issue of the English quota to consider. Only James Milner and Joe Hart as English association trained players make any sort of contribution to the first team, and Milner’s out of contract in the summer.
How City’s squad has been built, and why it’s been built the way it has, is actually good evidence of the decline of the quality of the Premier League, and how regressive it is philosophically. Sure, against most of the English dross they face Aguero, Toure, Silva, Nasri, Jovetic and Dzeko are enough, but the best sides in Europe have attacks as good if not better than this, and they’re better in other areas. Why? Most sides in England don’t attack Manchester City or Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal or Manchester United, or challenge them by attempting to keeping possession for sustained periods. They sit back and hope the big guns have an off day or they get one on the break through an error or set piece. Defensively they aren’t tested enough, and they aren’t engaged in genuine midfield battles either.
Generally speaking, sides in other leagues are less cowed by the advantages (real or perceived) of their opponents. To some this may be a naïve approach, but trying to play attacking, possession based football, regardless of the opposition, encourages skill and confidence. And in other countries this attitude is culturally endemic and encouraged at youth levels. Being challenged within the parameters of this set style of play is a far more faithful equivalent of the types of matches played in European competitions. We know there’s an extreme dichotomy for City in facing Burnley or Hull’s catenaccio on Saturday, where they can have endless amounts of uncontested possession in their own half, then playing a Barcelona on Wednesday, who’ll try to starve them of the ball. Do Bayern Munich or Real Madrid face such stylistic disparities, forcing them to even consider tailoring their squad building to cope with it? Or do they, and did they sensibly just not bother?
Either way, the answer to this isn’t to sign English players, many of whom are technically defective and can only play the game at one pace. But unless there’s a mass cull of the squad players, City might well be cornered into overpaying for the likes of Jordan Henderson, Gareth Bale and Harry Kane this summer.
You have to wonder why Txiki Begiristain, (I copied and pasted that) brought up in the pious Barcelona culture, hasn’t recognised this disparity. Perhaps he’s just a fucking blagger and Barcelona’s success really was all down to Pep Guardiola, in conjunction with the products of their excellent youth system? After all Txiki, or however you spell his fucking name, signed a lot of shite when he was Director of Football at Barcelona, and so recently have City under his stewardship. When an oligarch loses a pissing contest against another, someone tends to get sacked, or disappeared.
The Odds-on Favourite:
Current League position: 1st
Pre-season prediction: 2nd
Quarter-way point prediction: 1st
Half-way point prediction: 1st
Revised prediction: 1st
Apart from their congregation of celebrity Thatcherites, nobody wants to see them prevail. But they will, in the league at least. City’s recent mediocrity and Arsenal having a typical Arsenal season has all but ensured it.
The manner of their exit in the Champions League to PSG was glorious, pure pornography for all of those who are sick of their perpetual cheating and incessant lack of humility, as outlined eloquently here. Even better, it was PSG who endured much of the misfortune, meaning Chelsea couldn’t play their favourite ‘we was hard dun by and dat’ card, as they so infamously do when they lose. And yes, I need no excuse to post this again, the majesty of schadenfreude:
Their winging post exit and the way they played during both legs against PSG emphasised everything that’s rotten about this club. From the sense of entitlement and myopia encouraged by staggering wealth, to the trenchant cynicism that pervades their utterly uninspiring style of play. When you combine that with arrogance and petulance and then failure, a backlash was inevitable.
Inevitable as it was cynical. It suits the print (and online) media to foment Chelsea’s narrative that they’re besieged on all sides and unfairly treated – rendering sporting success and failure as an irrelevance keeps it quarantined for continuous use, as the sheep love to be sold aspiration, in any form, and the hacks doing the bidding are absolved of imagining an alternative. This is instructive of our defective culture – to be like Chelsea is seen as aspirational; they win stuff, their players are rich, the club’s based in the one of the most affluent parts of London, and their owner has more money than god, or in this case he’s licked Vladimir Putin’s balls until they shine. That most of their players are total twats, their manager’s a sociopath (I’ll get to this cunt later), a good chunk of their fans are racist morons, gloryhunters, or daytrippers and their owner’s a thief, is ignored, but some whinging from them is treated with scorn, as aspiration and self-loathing aren’t compatible. Denouncing it is necessary, as any instance of them meeting each other might ruin the dream.
Usually normal folk are sold aspiration in inanimate segments and increments, be it smartphones, tablets, sports cars, bidet’s made of solid gold, or a house in a better area. Chelsea are a Smeg cooker with a humidity and moisture controlled oven, most people can’t afford it, but for those who can, join in and get one, and for those who can’t, look at it, admire it, covet it. If it breaks down, blame it, if it works, celebrate yourself for being able to afford it.
It’s why Chelsea are universally lauded by mediocre ex-players, most vociferously by the likes of Robbie Savage, who finally get to see a tactical paradigm that places the cancerous disingenuousness of their caricatures and the technical limitations of their games in football’s highest echelon.
Speaking of knobheads – did anyone else see Johnny Vaughan, himself an non-event from shite 90’s light entertainment, mouth to Mourinho ‘I love you’ as Mourinho was walking down the stairs after collecting the League Cup trophy? I’ve looked, and sadly there isn’t a Vine or Youtube video of this going about. It’s an indictment on Johnny Vaughan’s standing as a pseudo celeb that nobody else noticed him, or they did but couldn’t be bothered to upload the clip. It’s depressing that I remember what he used to be.
But nothing’s more depressing than Jose Mourinho. Undoubtedly successful, but also soulless, joyless, and nomadic. He comes from a family of fascists, and while that doesn’t make him one, you can see its place in the genesis of his persecution complex. Fascists believe themselves to be superior, and when they’re proven not to be it shatters the illusion.
As for Chelsea’s impending success in the league, I’m reminded of the humorous but likely apocryphal anecdote from Brian Clough’s short tenure as Leeds United manager, so fabled by “The Damned United” book and its big screen adaptation. Not long after taking charge Clough has a meeting with the players, where he declared that Leeds United’s achievements under former manager Don Revie were essentially ill gotten gains. To paraphrase, “take your medals and throw them in the fucking bin with wife’s pots and pans, they’re worthless, as you won them all by cheating”. I suppose many would see Chelsea’s achievements during the Abramovich era along similar lines, trophies as a result of market doping, with funds procured by exploiting the loopholes and minutiae of capitalist trading and normal Russians lacking any kind of exposure to its inherent heartlessness after the fall of communism.
This perception has remained unchanged regardless of who managed or played for the club, but the resentment is always at its most vulgar and crass under Mourinho, and there’s only one person responsible for it. Nobody would suggest that Chelsea didn’t earn their League and Cup wins through hard work or skill, but they did so without any concept of sportsmanship, and it has engendered little to no respect from their rivals. Perhaps they don’t give a shit, they probably say they don’t, but in their behaviour, in Mourinho’s behaviour, is an itching of an inflamed scab, resentment that he isn’t universally respected for who he is and what he’s become. That being what he is and doing it his way isn’t the height of aspiration. On that count he’s failed, as there are now a number of teams spending similar amounts of money to Chelsea, who win with more flair, more adventure and without resorting to snide antics.
Football would be better off without the likes of Mourinho, Abramovich and Chelsea. But sadly they’re here to stay, they’re commodities, and whether you like or despise them, they sell.
Next season we’ll watch them behave the same way, play the same way, and likely succeed. We’ll bitch about that, renew our Sky subs, we’ll watch crap games and gamble away millions on silly bets, buy shitty products from the advertisers who place their adverts twenty seconds before kick-off, overpay for season tickets, spend a fortune on travel costs, spend too much time reading about it and discussing it on Twitter, or in my case writing a 9000 word column. And we’ll do all of this for a product that gets worse with each passing season.