The Premier League Title Race Is Back On!
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What a weekend: stuttering favorites, resurgent challengers, big performances from two of the league’s big men and Arsenal doing what Arsenal do time and time and time and time again. It’s the Game Day 15 Premier League Review.
Is Jose’s Juggernaut Tiring?
And so, on the 6th December 2014, it came to pass that the Premier League once more had a title race worthy of the name.
Chelsea were out-Chelsea’d at St James’ Park, a stadium in which Mourinho has now failed to win in five attempts. Newcastle were fully deserving of their 2-1 victory, compact and resolute in defense, counter-attacking with pace and meaning before ably holding out with 10-men for the final 20 minutes.
It’s hardly crisis time at Stamford Bridge, but as The18 highlighted two weeks ago, Chelsea are in the midst of a punishing six-week fixture list. They’ve just had three games in eight days, used only 13 different starters (with the two changes enforced through suspensions) and dropped five points from a possible nine. They were noticeably sluggish against Newcastle, allowing the men in black-and-white to regain their defensive shape time and again.
All of which, ahead of the crucial Christmas period, begs the question: does Mourinho not trust his squad, and are Chelsea tiring as a result?
The Big Mo
Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City have won their last four Premier League games, scoring 10 goals and conceding just 2, slashing Chelsea’s lead at the top of the table from 8 points to 3 in the process. Just as Chelsea stutter, City appear to be hitting their stride.
But...Sergio Aguero limped off with knee ligament damage after just two minutes of their 1-0 victory at home to Everton. Aguero is City’s (indeed, the Premier League’s) top scorer, with 14 league goals and 19 in all competitions. He was directly responsible for 50% of the goals scored by the blue half of Manchester in those last four league victories, hitting the back of the net twice and assisting three more.
City and Pellegrini are awaiting the results of a scan before putting a time-frame on Aguero’s likely absence. It will be a big blow to their now-established momentum if the Argentine is ruled out for weeks and not days.
Worse than Groundhog Day
Consider the following two facts:
- Stoke City has the tallest squad in the Premier League
- Arsene Wener’s Arsenal have only beaten Stoke City once in their last 9 visits to the Britannica Stadium
Shocking, it isn’t. Stoke were 3-0 up inside the first 45 minutes courtesy of three crosses into the Arsenal penalty box that went uncleared. 19-year old Callum Chambers’ inexperience at this level was brutally exposed by 6' 7” Peter Crouch, who was intrinsically involved in two of Stoke’s three goals, as well as Chambers’ second-half sending off.
We’re tempted to compare Wenger to Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, but Murray actually used his perpetual 24 hours to learn some new skills and become a better person; Wenger just keeps repeating the same mistakes again and again ad nauseum.
It was crystal clear to any and every Gunner this summer that the Frenchman’s decision to enter the 2014-15 season with just three recognized centre-backs – one of whom, Chambers, has less than 12 months of Premier League experience under his belt – was a dangerous game, and so it’s proving. As Mark Hughes said in his post-match interview: “We felt that if we put the ball into good areas we'd have a chance against the back four we were facing."
As many, including The18, legitimately asked when the ponytailed wonder neared a return to full fitness last month: how would Andy Carroll fit into Sam Allardyce’s new-look, attack-minded and free-scoring West Ham United? The answer, on the evidence of this weekend at least, is “very comfortably.”
Carroll scored two and set up another, all with his head, as The Hammers beat Swansea 3-1 and temporarily claimed 3rd place in the league. Perhaps most pleasing for Big Sam was West Ham’s winner: Carroll flicking on Adrian’s long clearance straight into the path of the racing Diafra Sakho. He may be a throwback, but, like mullets and moustaches, some things just never go out of fashion.
Remember: Andy Carroll was signed by Liverpool for £35m back in 2011, only to be sold two years later for a £20m loss. In one game, he has scored as many goals in the 2014/15 season as all Liverpool’s strikers combined.
It’s a meaningless statistic, but worth repeating nevertheless.
The Reverse Keane Effect
Since Roy Keane departed Aston Villa last month, citing the need to focus on his Republic of Ireland role (no more fixtures until the end of March, incidentally), The Villains are unbeaten in three Premier League games, picking up seven points from a possible nine.
Back in 2008, after Keane resigned as Sunderland manager, The Black Cats went on to win three and draw one of their next five games, including a 1-0 victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford.