So … 19 games of the 2013-14 EPL season are in the books. If you’re not great at math, it means we’re at the halfway point which is convenient with 2014 only a few days away. After the busy holiday period — which extends until New Year’s Day — it looks as if the very-tight table is a little bit more defined, or at least there’s a slight separation into two mini-tables.
As expected, the title is probably coming down to either Arsenal, Manchester City or Chelsea. Only two points separate the trio at the top with Arsenal leading the way with 42 points.
A step below, expect Everton (37 points), Liverpool (36), Manchester United (34), Tottenham (34) and maybe Newcastle United (33) to fight for the final Champions League spot.
Let’s catch up on a few things from over the weekend, shall we?
Chelsea/Liverpool renew acquaintances:
The Chelsea/Liverpool showdown started off like gangbusters with a flurry of goals in the first half and by the end degenerated into the typical English soccer nonsense: shirt-swapping controversies, penalty no-calls and all other assorted goodness after the Blues held on for a 2-1 win. It also served as a reminder that Jose Mourinho 2.0 at Stamford Bridge hasn’t been all that thrilling. It does, indeed, take a special talent to turn a team with so many wonderfully talented offensive players like Eden Hazard, Oscar and Juan Mata and make them — at times — so grim to watch.
Points are points and Mourinho has twice won the EPL, so he knows that style points don’t end up meaning much by May. In that regard, a garbage goal from Samuel Eto’o which proved to be the game-winner is worth just as much as Hazard’s dazzling curler, which offset Martin Skrtel’s fourth-minute goal for Liverpool. So long as Mourinho continues to have the English press wrapped around his finger, Chelsea’s style probably won’t be much of an issue.
On the other side, you have to feel for Liverpool, which began the holiday period in first place, but is now in fifth. Brendan Rodgers club gave credible efforts on the road at Manchester City and Chelsea, but lost both matches 2-1. The squad’s minimal depth was put to the test vs. Chelsea. If the Reds are serious about contending for the title, a few new players will be needed in January.
What’s the fairest way to assess Luis Suarez? He’s arguably been the most important single player in the Premier League this season. He piled up 10 goals in December and yet went scoreless vs. City and Chelsea? Suarez was active in both games and with Daniel Sturridge injured doesn’t have much help. Plus Suarez should have earned a penalty kick late in the match for being taken down by Eto’o. A goal vs. Chelsea would have been an appropriate cap to a fine 2013 by the Uruguayan, instead he’ll have to get back on the scoresheet quickly to keep Liverpool from stumbling further down the table. Suarez was due to cool off, unfortunately if you’re a Liverpool supporter it came at the wron time.
At least someone was excited by how it all ended Stamford Bridge Sunday…
Fortune Never Favors the Timid Vol. 879:
Let’s get this out of the way: very strong result by Arsenal to beat Newcastle United 1-0 on the road Sunday minus the services of Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Özil. It came on the backs of the comeback victory vs. West Ham on Boxing Day by the Gunners, fuelded by Theo Walcott and Lucas Podolski — each returning from a long spell on the sidelines. It means Arsenal will sit atop the table when the sun comes up Jan. 1. All-in-all, impressive work by Arsene Wenger’s club to grind out six hard-earned points.
At the same time, that was a very disappointing display by Alan Pardew’s Newcastle side. All we’ve talked about this year is how evenly matched this current EPL season has been. Anyone can beat anyone. The top is as tight as its been in years. Still, a club like Newcastle comes out a little timid vs. Arsenal, even though the Magpies only loss at St. James Park this season came at the hands of Manchester City. Newcastle had been playing well and was an outside threat at a Top Four position. Given the way they played vs. Arsenal, the Newcastle are going to be pretenders. They’re a good team, true, with some quality but ultimately they’re end up the chaff this season. If they end up selling Yohan Cabaye to PSG, then write them off entirely.
It always irks me when a team is in good form like Newcastle, yet they come out and give the opponent way too much respect instead of taking the game to them. Pardew’s tone afterward was his club should have gotten more, well, press the issue from the get-go, rather than the final 15 desperate minutes.
Nic Anelka Does Another Dumb Thing:
West Brom strike Nicolas Anelka is in hot water following his controversial “quenelle” goal celebration Saturday vs. West Ham. The gesture has: Nazi, anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist and anti-establishment connotations and is attributed to French comedian Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala. Anelka said it was a tribute to M’Bala M’Bala, his friend.
Admittedly, I am not an expert on contemporary French society, but it wasn’t a smart idea for Anelka to do, regardless of his intention. There are surely better ways to pay homage to a pal than an incendiary gesture that offends a large swath of the population. If he gets a lengthy ban from the English FA, it will be well deserved for an equal combination of insensitivity mixed with stupidity. Frenchman Philippe Auclair breaks it down far better than I can, so read this if this story interests you.
This serves as another reminder, on talent alone Anelka could have been one of the best players of this generation. Instead his attitude has made him one of the least likable players to root for this century.
Making Yourself the Story:
Let’s hope all these headlines and camera time are worth it for Vincent Tan. This is probably the best its going to get for the Cardiff City owner, who appears to be a mustachioed diva, in love with his own press clipping be they positive or (universally) negative more than his club’s standing in the table.
I decided to watch Cardiff/Sunderland at the gym Saturday and every time I looked up, the cameras were flashing toward the Malaysian businessman and his unique jersey tucked into black dress slacks look in the stands. It’s a very funny look, but when the owner becomes the story, that’s usually not a good thing unless he happens to be a billionaire pouring untold millions into the club. Instead Tan, a very rich man, only wants to make modest investments in Cardiff City while still demanding championship-level results.
And now he’s become the story at the club after firing Malkay McKay for allegedly spending too much money in the summer. After blowing a lead to last-place Sunderland and drawing 2-2, Cardiff is two points above the relegation zone. The way things are heading, Tan better lap up the spotlight now because nobody’s going to care what he looks like sitting in the stands if Cardiff is back in the Championship. Actually the only people who’ll care are the Cardiff City fans whom Tan seems to be trying his best to alienate with every passing day.
Celebration of the Week:
Southampton’s Gaston Ramirez scored vs. Everton and gave his jersey away to a young fan at Goodison Park and promptly received a yellow card for his deplorable display.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
Great win by Manchester United to grind out a 1-0 result away to Norwich City absent the services of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie. … Jozy Altidore had a cringe-worthy miss vs. Cardiff City and appears to be regressing as the season continues for Sunderland. … Hull City won again, crushing Fulham 6-0 on Saturday. It meant Tom Huddlestone can finally cut his hair after a goal. Don’t look now but the Tigers — another club where the fans hate the owner — are up to 10th place. … Spurs won a ho-hum 3-0 game vs. Stoke City on Sunday, which clearly means Tim Sherwood is a soccer genius.
Best XI, First Half Edition:
Here are the 11 players that impressed me the most in the first 19 games of the season, not necessarily by position:
Simon Mignolet, Luis Suarez, Aaron Ramsey, Eden Hazard, Adam Lallana, Alvaro Negredo, Yohan Cabaye, Seamus Coleman, Sergio Aguero, Per Mertesacker, Sylvain Distin.