Monday, November 21, 2011

Watching the Premier League as a neutral, and early observations.

For anyone that doesn't know already (and if you don't, where have you been?), I am a big Manchester United fan. While United is always my main focus, I have watched the league with a little bit more of a neutral standpoint in regards to all non-United games. Also, my fiance is a Liverpool fan so I have watched more of their games this season than I may have in the past. Before this season, anytime that Chelsea, Liverpool, City, Arsenal, or Tottenham played, I wanted them to lose because they are all title rivals (to an extent). While that is still the case in most situations, I try not to make judgements or picks based on my United bias. We are nearly a third of the way through the season and I have made five observations:

1) City are for real - At the moment, City sit at the top of the league by 5 points, with a +31 goal differential. They won at Old Trafford by 6-2 and won at White Hart Lane, 5-1. I do not believe this form will continue throughout the season, but if they can get through the next month without any major scars (see further note), they could be in pole position for the title at the beginning of the new year.  

2) Chelsea need to clear house - So far this season, Chelsea have played three important games: @ United, Home to Arsenal and Home to Liverpool. They lost all three of those games by a combined score of 10-5. They are too slow in the back with Terry, Ivanovic and David Luiz, and too slow in the midfield with Mikel, Lampard and Malouda. Even with an attack of Drogba, Anelka and Torres (none of which are on form), if you concede 10 goals in three games to your rivals, it is going to be hard to get anything out of those games. The following players are 29 or over: Anelka, Drogba, Cole, Lampard, Malouda, Terry, Alex, Bosingwa, Essien, and Ferreira. You cannot have that many core players on the backside of their careers, and expect to compete for silverware.

3) Both Liverpool and Tottenham will make the Champions League - While I did pick Liverpool to finish in the top 4 in my preseason picks, I thought Spurs would finish 5th or 6th (Pre-season Predictions). Liverpool and Spurs are tied on points for fourth with Chelsea and Arsenal (22 points), but Spurs have 2 games in hand. I believe the title will come down to City or United, but the next two spots will be occupied by Liverpool and Spurs. Liverpool have played United at home, Arsenal away, and Chelsea away this season. In those three games, they have got 7 points (in contrast to Chelsea's 0 and Arsenal's 3 against the same schedule). These two teams also don't have the Champions League to detract them from focusing on the Top 4 spots, and as seen in the past with Arsenal and Chelsea, the toll that the Champions League can take on a team at the end of the season is high. 

4) United have steadied the ship since their defeat to City - Following their 6-2 derby day defeat at home to City, many people questioned whether United could regain form and fight for that title. However since that game, United has won 5 in a row, without conceding a goal. As is the case with City, the next month will show if United can close the gap on the top of the table. The Christmas period (5 games in 16 days time) is a tough period for every team, and history tells us that whoever is at the top of the table at the New Year, has a high likelihood of winning the title in May. 

5) Arsenal are on the up, but it won't last...and say goodbye to RvP - Since Arsenal got thrashed by United, they have also set their sails in the right direction. They've managed to climb back into a fourth place tie on points, and found themselves at the top of their Champions League group. Robin van Persie has shown himself to be a lethal striker and has saved the Arsenal on many occasions this season, since taking over the armband. They are beginning to get back a lot of their injured players, but I'd be surprised to see this form continue. As history shows us, Arsenal struggles in the second half of the season, and this year will be no different. I wouldn't be surprised to see RvP come up with another injury, as he always seems to do, and if he is able to last til the end of the year without one, he will want to go to another team. Especially if Arsenal come up without any silverware this year, there is very little chance for Arsenal to keep RvP from going to a team that can win trophies, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him off to Chelsea or Milan. 

I didn't mention Newcastle, and while they have had a great year to this point, this next month will likely be very tough for them, and will struggle to keep form in the elite group of the Premier League. They will likely be fighting for that last Europa League spot. 

As I've mentioned, the next month or so will be very crucial in the title race, as well as the other races that are shaping out in Europe. Here are the schedules for the top 6 (excluding Newcastle): 

Manchester City: 
Nov 22 - @ Napoli (Champions League)
Nov 27 - @ Liverpool 
Nov 29 - @ Arsenal (Carling Cup)
Dec 3 - vs Norwich City
Dec 7 - vs Bayern Munich (Champions League)
Dec 12 - @ Chelsea 
Dec 18 - vs Arsenal
Dec 21 - vs Stoke City
Dec 26 - @ West Bromwich Albion
Jan 1 - @ Sunderland
Jan 3 - vs Liverpool

Manchester United: 
Nov 22 - vs Benefica (Champions League)
Nov 26 - vs Newcastle
Nov 30 - vs Crystal Palace (Carling Cup)
Dec 3 - @ Aston Villa
Dec 7 - @ FC Basel (Champions League)
Dec 10 -  vs Wolverhampton Wanderers
Dec 18 - @ Queens Park Rangers
Dec 21 - @ Fulham
Dec 26 - vs Wigan
Dec 31 - @ Newcastle
Jan 4 - vs Bolton

Nov 23 - @ Bayer Leverkusen (Champions League)
Nov 26 - vs Wolverhampton Wanderers
Nov 29 - vs Liverpool (Carling Cup)
Dec 3 - @ Newcastle
Dec 6 - vs Valencia (Champions League)
Dec 12 - vs Manchester City 
Dec 17 - @ Wigan
Dec 22 - @ Tottenham
Dec 26 - vs Fulham
Dec 31 - vs Aston Villa
Jan 2 - @ Wolverhampton Wanderers

Nov 21 - vs Aston Villa
Nov 26 - @ West Bromwich Albion
Nov 30 - vs PAOK Salonika (Europa League)
Dec 3 - vs Bolton
Dec 11 - @ Stoke City
Dec 15 - @ Shamrock (Europa League)
Dec 18 - vs Sunderland
Dec 22 - vs Chelsea
Dec 27 - @ Norwich City
Dec 31 - @ Swansea City
Jan 3 - vs West Bromwich Albion

Nov 27 - vs Manchester City
Nov 29 - @ Chelsea (Carling Cup)
Dec 5 - @ Fulham
Dec 10 - vs Queens Park Rangers
Dec 18 - @ Aston Villa
Dec 21 - @ Wigan
Dec 26 - vs Blackburn Rovers
Dec 30 - vs Newcastle
Jan 3 - @ Manchester City

Nov 23 - vs Borussia Dortmund (Champions League)
Nov 26 - vs Fulham
Nov 29 - vs Manchester City (Carling Cup)
Dec 3 - @ Wigan
Dec 6 - @ Olympiakos (Champions League)
Dec 10 - vs Everton
Dec 18 - @ Manchester City
Dec 21 - @ Aston Villa
Dec 26 - vs Wolverhampton Wanderers
Dec 31 - vs Queens Park Rangers
Jan 2 - @ Fulham

This is the best time of the year to be a soccer fan. There is so much to watch, so get comfortable on those early mornings, and get ready for some great soccer. 

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