Skip to content

Premier League Half-Term Report, part 1

January 8, 2010

As the Premier League reaches the halfway point, The Videprinter takes a look at what has been a strange season so far, and looks ahead to what could be the most competitive league in years at both ends of the table.

We begin with the current top 5.

Chelsea

Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea seem to have everything going for them. Top of the league at the turn of the year, a respected Italian manager who has settled in well and whose English is improving all the time, and a powerful team of seasoned professionals capable of steamrolling anyone.

Will Chelsea miss the excellent Didier Drogab in January? - BBC


Significant promise, however, does not always deliver the ultimate prizes, as Chelsea found under Ancelotti’s predecessors Avram Grant and Guus Hiddink. The Blues are three points better off now than at this time last season and possess a two-point lead at the top the Premier League but there’s a nagging feeling that a better team would have put clear daylight between themselves and a badly stuttering Manchester United by now.

Had two of the December draws against Birmingham, Everton and West Ham been converted to victories then they would surely be overwhelming favourites. However, those missed opportunities seem symptomatic of a team who are more than capable of beating anyone on a good day but lack the obduracy and nous to grind out those crucial points when the going gets tough.

The imminent African Cup of Nations and resultant absence of the phenomenal Didier Drogba for the next four Premier League games will be crucial to Chelsea’s title chances. Away for the same tournament, Michael Essien, John Mikel Obi and Salomon Kalou will also be missed – all three have played important roles this season. Those next four fixtures see Chelsea face Hull City, Sunderland, Birmingham and Burnley, none of which look like they will be comfortable. Ancelotti’s relentless pressing game works well against the top teams, as his side’s counter-attacks can hurt opponents who play a high defensive line.

Conversely, against equally physical Premier League opponents who are content to sit back and invite Chelsea to break them down, this strategy can appear one-dimensional and slightly toothless. If Ancelotti can emerge with ten points or more before the return of his African contingent then the title could be his to lose. Serious doubts remain, though, whether his team are equipped to do so.

Current league position: 1st
Videprinter prediction: 2nd

Manchester United

At most clubs, second in the league at the turn of the year with a slew of key players due back from injury any time soon would be cause for celebration. But this is not most clubs. This is Manchester United and, despite their lofty position, this season has been one of relatively poor performances and disjointed football. The early form of Wayne Rooney and the ease with which new signing Antonio Valencia has settled in have been the only real bright spots, but the setbacks have been numerous.

Wayne Rooney will be hoping to inspire United to a fourth straight title - BBC


The incisiveness of Cristiano Ronaldo has been conspicuous by its absence, last season’s players’ player of the year, Nemanja Vidic, has suffered with form and injury, as has Michael Carrick, while last season’s football writers’ player of the year, Ryan Giggs, has been solid at best. Paul Scholes and Gary Neville look well past their sell-by date and Rio Ferdinand and Owen Hargreaves’ recurrent injuries could end their careers. Mercurial striker Dimitar Berbatov has flickered again without catching fire and, most worryingly, the new breed look incapable of making the vacant positions their own.

Having said all that, so many things have gone against United that things can only get better, and the collective and cumulative experience of winning the last three Premier League titles could prove decisive. The saving grace for United has been the heightened competitiveness of the Premier League this season, which means their five defeats thus far may not be as catastrophic as they would have been in previous campaigns. Alex Ferguson’s sides are invariably stronger in the second half of the season and they are within one Chelsea slip-up of the top of the table.

The return of key players and the all-important calm heads at “squeaky bum time” should see United make it four in a row.

Current league position: 2nd
Videprinter prediction: Champions

Arsenal

So far this season, everybody has been talking about the Premier League title-race being a straight fight between Chelsea and United. But sneaking up on the rails all along have been Arsenal, quietly amassing high-scoring wins and playing the best football in the division by some distance. In fact, Arsene Wenger’s youthful, free-flowing side are now just four points off the top with a game in hand and, thanks to the recent patchy form of Chelsea and United, in with a serious shout of ending the season top of the tree.

Perhaps surprisingly, their success so far has been built on the solidity of their defensive play. New signing Thomas Vermaelen has slotted in effortlessly alongside William Gallas and the full backs Bacary Sagna, Gael Clichy and, latterly, Armand Traore are now almost as good at the back as they are going forward. In front of them, Abou Diaby and Alex Song have been immense, providing both a protective shield and a source of rapid attacks. How Arsenal cope without Song, on duty at the African Cup of Nations, will be critical.

Captain Cesc Fabregas’ contribution has been sporadic through injury, but he should be back to full fitness soon and will be highly influential. Creatively, Samir Nasri, Eduardo, Jack Wilshire, Aaron Ramsey, Carlos Vela and Andrei Arshavin all fit the Wenger mould; slight, quick and supremely skilful, all have played well this far. Many thought the injury to Robin Van Persie, arguably Arsenal’s best player in the first few weeks of the season would prove fatal to the team’s chances of challenging but, amazingly, he has not been missed.

Cesc Fabregas continues to show his brilliance - BBC


While Arsenal are playing better football than both Chelsea – their 3-0 home defeat to Carlo Ancelotti’s men notwithstanding – and United, their squad is undoubtedly thinner, and one or two injuries would scupper The Gunners’ season. Arsene Wenger’s first eleven is arguably the best in the league right now, but the lack of strength in depth will prevent them finishing above United and Chelsea in May.

Current league position: 3rd
Videprinter prediction: 3rd

Tottenham

Spurs’ expensively-assembled and hugely talented squad are the ultimate Jekyll and Hyde team. They opened the season with four straight wins but were quickly brought back to reality by thumping defeats to Manchester United and Chelsea, where they barely turned up. When everything clicks Spurs are unstoppable, as evidenced by their 5-0 defeat of Hull and 9-1 hammering of Wigan. But when things go wrong, they go very wrong – their limp home defeats to Stoke and Wolves were as inexplicable as they were unforgivable. So, if 2009 was a perfect balance of thrilling wins and abject defeats, what will 2010 bring for Harry Redknapp and his side?

Reports suggest Harry’s top priority is a new goalkeeper to replace the erratic Heurelho Gomes and the recuperating Carlo Cudicini. Sadly for Harry, it seems that the Tottenham board have told their manager, in this new age of Premiership austerity, to make do with what he’s got.

At the back, Michael Dawson has been superb, while full-back Benoit Assou Ekotto has established himself as both an able defender and a useful attacker. The perpetual injury problems of the talismanic Ledley King, however, are a real cause for concern. In midfield, Wilson Palacios is more than capable of providing the defensive shield alongside the mighty Tom Huddlestone, and Aaron Lennon has been unplayable at times. Tottenham’s attacking players, meanwhile, sum up their season.

Defoe, Keane and Crouch are unstoppable in some games and maddeningly abysmal in others. Redknapp’s continual refusal to play Russian striker Roman Pavlyuchenko, who looked a decent player in Euro 2008, suggests all may not be what it seems. Maybe, like this chump a couple of seasons ago, he hit Harry on the head with a ball in training.

Croatian Niko Kranjcar is finding form for Spurs - BBC


On their day, Spurs can beat anyone and, currently sitting pretty in fourth, are many people’s pick to stay there and claim the coveted Champions’ League qualifying place. However, it’s impossible to predict which Spurs will turn up on any given day, so it is impossible to say with any certainty they’ll hit the kind of sustained form finishing fourth requires. Manchester City under Mancini may well be the more consistent side and will probably just edge Spurs out into fifth.


Current league position: 4th
Videprinter prediction: 5th

Manchester City

Where do you begin with Manchester City’s season so far? After a great start that included a rousing victory over their feeder club Arsenal, Mark Hughes’ side then stumbled to a series of shambolic draws before thrillingly skewering Chelsea in a Manchester downpour. That victory, and the manner in which it was achieved, looked like it could reinvigorate Hughes and his side but it turned out to one of the Welshman’s last acts as City manager.

Will managerial combo Mancini and Kidd be celebrating come May? - BBC


A couple of weeks later, after a grubby draw with Bolton and a drubbing at Spurs, Hughes was traded in for the decidedly suaver Roberto Mancini, winner of three Scudetti with Internaziaionale. So began the latest round of madness at Eastlands, and who knows what’s going to happen this time? On the playing side Robinho looks like he can’t be bothered, the novelty seems to have worn off for Emmanuel Adebayor and Gareth Barry, while Joleon Lescott has been underwhelming to say the least. Amidst all the expensive additions, Craig Bellamy has been City’s best player, along with the ever-dependable Shay Given. The loss of form of Shaun Wright-Phillips and the injuries to fans’ favourite Stephen Ireland, meanwhile, have left big gaps in City’s creativity.

To satisfy his employer’s demands of a top four finish, Mancini must address two major issues: shore up a defensive line that is conceding goals in a dizzying myriad of ways, and recapture the scintillating attacking play of the early weeks of the season. If he can do that, they’re a good shout for fourth. City have only been beaten twice this term so they are not a million miles away, and they definitely have the playing staff to succeed if they perform to their undoubted potential.

Crucially, Liverpool’s incompetence and Tottenham’s propensity to implode could mean that a relatively steady City could snatch that all important Champions League qualifying place.

Current league position: 5th
Videprinter prediction: 4th

What do you think? Have we got the top 5 right? Let us know.

Advertisements
2 Comments leave one →
  1. Sean permalink
    January 8, 2010 3:01 pm

    I think four on the trot for Manchester United will be too much to ask with the injury situation. As stated, it will be competitive and could come down to last match or so, but I fail to see them overtake Chelsea in the second half even with the African Cup. Premier League goes back to London for now.

    Do agree about final Champions League spot, Liverpool seem to be in really bad situation, and Villa and Tottenham have yet to convince me they can make that final push. Manchester City, despite handling Hughes sacking poorly, have so much resources and a solid manager that will grind out results and secure 4th for them.

    Good article by the way.

Trackbacks

  1. Premier League Half-Term Report, part 2 « The Videprinter

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: