Friday, January 7, 2022

Ten Takeaways To Date

the Premier League schedule pauses following the holiday schedule, what are the key takeaways with most teams now having completed half their league schedule?

Unbeatable Manchester City

Manchester City has separated from its closest pursuers with 10 consecutive league victories. Pep Guardiola’s deep and talented roster has proven to be far better positioned to deal with schedule congestion, injuries and COVID than other Premier League clubs. Preseason concerns regarding the absence of a true striker have not been realized in league or European play to date. The defending Premier League champions currently have a 10-point advantage over second place Chelsea in the domestic table. Will this be the year that Pep captures his first Champions League title since his Barcelona days? 

Problems Remain For Manchester United

Manchester United’s problems extended well beyond former manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. New, and yet temporary, manager Ralf Rangnick has his hands full with a collection of difficult to manage individual stars whose performance as a group has not met expectations. The temporary nature of Rangnick’s managerial reign and his lack of personal accomplishment as a coach raises doubt as to how his ideas will be received by the players. The club is currently closer in the table to last place Norwich than first place Manchester City. Good luck Ralf…

Rough Patch For Chelsea

Sunday’s draw with Liverpool marked the fifth time in its last seven matches that Chelsea has failed to win. The dry patch has all but conceded the trophy to Manchester City and put pressure on Manager Thomas Tuchel for the first time in his highly successful Chelesa run. Chelsea’s defense is no longer impregnable and an inability to finish on the part of the club’s attacking players remains problematic. Romelu Lulaku has not been the answer expected and his recent interview comments and benching by Tuchel introduced player drama to what had been a positive Chelsea locker room. 

Arsenal’s Resurgence

After a concerning start to the season which saw the club held scoreless in three opening losses, Arsenal has now charged into the top four of the league. The resurgence has been led by young players such as Emile Smith Rowe, Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard, Goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale, and unheralded defender Takehiro Tomiyasu. Manager Mikel Arteta has delivered both results and promise despite sidelining his captain and most expensive player in Pierre Emerick Aubameyang. A sense of optimism and excitement has returned to the Emirates. 

West Ham Proves Last Season Was No Fluke 

Following last season’s surprising fifth place finish, the Hammers have occupied the top four after 11 of their 20 matches this season and enter the break just a point behind fourth place Arsenal for a Champions League berth. David Moyes’ disciplined crew is not colorful but maximizes its talent and has turned around the difficult environment at London Stadium of just a few years ago. The Hammers show no sign of falling from the rarefied heights they are enjoying and enter the break on a two-win run. Kudos to Moyes on resuscitating a managerial reputation that had been on the wane. 

The Brilliance of Mohamed Salah

The brilliance of Mohamed Salah has him six goals ahead of teammate Diogo Jota in the Premier League goal scoring race. Across Europe, Salah’s goal total is surpassed only by Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski. As a winger, Salah is more reliant than Lewandowski in creating his own opportunities, often in magical style such as his hesitation move to freeze Marcos Alonso which led to Salah’s goal versus Chelsea last weekend. His big game performance further burnishes Salah’s reputation. Hopefully, agreement on a new contract is reached with Liverpool and Salah can continue to thrill Premier League fans for years to come.

Rafa’s Rough Ride 

Everton has dropped eight of its last eleven matches to fall ten places in the table. Manager Rafa Benitez is in his first season at the helm but was an unpopular choice with supporters based on his former employment by Toffees archrival Liverpool. Benitez’s preferred conservative style of play also does not excite supporters. Poor results for the now 15th place club has ratcheted fan criticism of the Spanish manager who won an internal power struggle when Technical Director Marcel Brands left the club in December. Benitez, however, could be next over the side if results do not improve.

Brentford Means To Stay

Promoted side Brentford has won two of its last four matches and has notched six victories on the season. Twelfth place Brentford are ten points better than Watford and 13 points better than Norwich, the other two promoted sides. Manager Thomas Frank has delivered an entertaining style of play while not conceding defensive integrity in the manner of certain other promoted clubs in the past (i.e., Leeds, Norwich) The Bees have rebounded from a concerning four match losing run in October and November and look to have staying power for a second season battling the big boys. 

Antonio Conte Stops The Bleeding

Despite his public professions of Tottenham Hotspur’s deficiencies, new manager Antonio Conte has poked and prodded his new club back into contention for European places in the table. Spurs lost half of their first 10 matches before Conte’s arrival but have not lost in the subsequent 8 matches under Conte to move to sixth in the table, just three points back of fourth place Arsenal. Conte has stopped the bleeding but his pessimism regarding the level of his team was validated in a poor Carabao Cup loss to Chelsea. Conte has stopped the regression but will need backing to  improve his roster to compete with the top clubs. 

Four Clubs in Relegation Battle

Only three points separate four clubs residing at the bottom of the Premier League table. Only three of those clubs will return next year. Watford holds the last safe position in the table but has lost eight of its last nine matches and looks ripe to be overtaken by any of the current three relegation teams (Burnley, Newcastle, Norwich). Norwich looks done. Burnley and Newcastle have each won only one match all season. Newcastle manager Eddie Howe has lost four of eight matches after replacing much maligned manager Steve Bruce who lost six of eleven. The Magpies, backed by their new Saudi Arabian ownership, would seem best poised, however, for impactful January spending to escape the relegation trouble they find themselves in. 


Carabao Cup

Romelu Lukaku was back on the pitch after a one match suspension as Chelsea defeated Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 in the first leg of the clubs’ Carabao Cup semifinal. Fences seem to have been mended between the Belgian and his current club after inflammatory statements regarding a return to his former Italian employer. Lukaku played well on Wednesday, but it was a fifth minute goal by Kai Havertz and an own goal by Spurs which provided the scoring in a match dominated by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Spurs lost for only a second time in 12 matches across all competitions under Manager Antonio Conte. The other semifinal match between Arsenal and Liverpool needed to be postponed due to Covid issues afflicting the Liverpool squad.


FA Cup

The popular David and Goliath competition which is the FA Cup plays its third round this weekend as clubs from disparate levels of English football face off. Some of the mismatches include fifth tier Chesterfield playing at Chelsea and Premier League leader Manchester City visiting League Two Swindon. Two south London clubs battle when the Premier League’s Crystal Palace visits Championship side Millwall. Perhaps the most interesting “all Premier League“ contest has Aston Villa paying a visit to Old Trafford for a match with Manchester United.



Philippe Coutinho is returning to the Premier League on loan with Aston Villa. The Barcelona property has been a failure in La Liga after forcing a transfer to the Spanish club from Liverpool four years ago. Liverpool, amply compensated for his departure, won a Premier League and European title while Coutinho floundered in Spain. The Brazilian international now gets a chance to redeem his reputation playing for former Liverpool teammate Steven Gerrard.

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