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Matchday Wrap Up

Monday Morning Manager WK23

by Neal Thurman
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

Week 23 was unpredictable in only way…nothing unpredictable happened outside of a mild Swansea upset of Southampton.  The Swans beating the Saints might be semi-surprising given that Gylfi Sigurdsson was out due to suspension but Southampton rarely blow anyone out and in this case they didn’t take their chances while Swansea capitalized on a Jonjo Shelvey rocket from well outside the box.  Given that there weren’t too many surprises over the weekend, I was left with three options for this column:

 

1)     Try to stretch an opening out of comparing the relative merits of convincing victories by top half teams over bottom half teams which didn’t seem like it would be either satisfying to write or very interesting to read

2)     Try to pull greater meaning from the 1-1 draw between Chelsea and Manchester City that lacked important players on both sides of the pitch.  Honestly, I don’t think there was sufficient meaning outside of “Chelsea did what they had to do” to cobble together a significant intro to MMM.

3)     Wait a day and wrap up Transfer Deadline Day and the January 2015 transfer window in general.  Who can resist a good “winners/losers” format?

 

Winners

Chelsea’s Front Office Staff – You can probably argue the relative merits of Andre Schurrle and Juan Cuadrado as players but what you can’t argue is that Chelsea’s transfer team (football clubs/football media really need a better term for this) have created a platform for Jose Mourinho to tweak his squad the way he sees fit without having to worry about Financial Fair Play.  They effectively swapped Schurrle who Mourinho no longer liked for Cuadrado with the only additional cost being a permanent deal for Ryan Bertrand who was never going to play at Chelsea and a loan deal for Mohamed Salah.  Oh, and case you didn’t notice, that last part seems likely to increase Salah’s value in the event Chelsea need to sell him next year. 

 

Calum Chambers – He was in over his head over the first half of the season at both right back and center back.  He may have a big future but the arrival of Gabriel combined with the emergence of Hector Bellerin will allow him to ease his way into the line-up rather than being thrust right back into the fray after a match like Swansea where he was just destroyed by Jefferson Montero.

 

Good Sense at the King Power Stadium – I am of the opinion that clubs at risk of relegation, especially newly promoted ones like Leicester City, should be looking at one of two types of acquisitions.  Short term loan deals for veterans that can be cleared off the books immediately should the club be relegated or purchases of rising young players who don’t feel like the Premier League, and all the perks that come with it, is their birthright.  I don’t know if Robert Huth, Mark Schwarzer (both the first kind) or Andrej Kramaric (the second type) will help them stay up but they could.  Perhaps just as important, Huth and Schwarzer can be shed if the push for safety is unsuccessful and Kramaric is at the right stage of his career where he wouldn’t be out of place leading a push for a second promotion in as many tries from the Championship next season. 

 

Attacking Football – Aston Villa and Paul Lambert have been doing their best to set attacking football back to the Stone Age (I hear it was hard to kick those stones) this season.  The acquisition of Carles Gil and Scott Sinclair for a relative pittance in transfer fees just might see the Villains go from woeful to perfectly adequate on the attacking end once the two have bedded in.  Gil looked like a danger against Arsenal in his first Premier League start on Sunday and Sinclair at least looked fast in a way that Gabby Agbonlahor used to but hasn’t in a season or two.  Maybe it won’t work but at least there’s hope for something other than a nap at Villa Park.

 

Renewed Hope – Generally, transfer windows are all about the renewal of hope for supporter bases who can generally talk themselves in to their club having made just the right move/moves to put them over the top.  In this case, though, I’m talking about renewed hope for a few familiar names who we might see playing actual games again now that they’ve moved on.  Robert Huth (who say him making two appearances on the “winners” side of this column?), Scott Sinclair, Aaron Lennon and Darren Fletcher have made moves that should come with more playing time.  Callum Chambers and Lee Chung-Yong have both returned to the top flight in situations (WBA and Hull City respectively) where they are likely to see significant playing time.

Agents – Because don’t they always win?

 

The Internet – Because rumored deals are just as good as real ones when it comes to page views.

 

Losers

 

Agents – Because they didn’t win quite as much as they do in most transfer windows with only a couple of really big deals coming down.

 

The “Two Most Famous Clubs in England” – Well, at least Daniel Sturridge is “like a new signing” for Liverpool. Manchester United brought in a big name (Victor Valdes) who isn’t likely to play much at all and if he does, he’ll be a downgrade on DDG.  Given that neither of these clubs has lit the world on fire thus far this season, the lack of significant action on the transfer market has to be of at least some concern for supporters.  Does it mean that current decision-makers are out of ideas on how to improve the squad? Does it mean executive management isn’t willing to back the current regimes because they’re not sure they’re viable long term? Could it possibly be that the right talent wasn’t available? Whatever the reason, just about everyone loses (even the agents) when these two clubs sit out a transfer window.

 

Creativity – Sure, there were a few purchases from outside the mainstream of proven commodities with Gabriel and Carles Gil probably being the biggest of those names but mostly, January was a triumph of known Premier League quantities over mining the international markets.  Ronald Koeman was a predictable holdout bringing in Eljero Elia and Filip Djuricic but it’s hard to call that creative since both players were well known to him from his time managing in Holland.  Otherwise it was a steady diet of familiar faces in new places with Jermain Defoe returning, Wilfried Bony moving up to a nicer address, and the cast of characters listed under “Renewed Hope” in the winners section moving to pastures new within English football.  Juan Cuadrado should technically be on the list of “new to the Premier League” but between his World Cup exploits and the seemingly endless discussion of him heading first to Manchester United (over the summer) and then to Chelsea (December/January) it feels like he’s been around forever, doesn’t it?

 

World Cup Winners in EnglandLukas Podolski…gone; Andre Schurrle…gone; Mats Hummels…not arriving; Apparently, being a World Cup Winner doesn’t guarantee happiness or league success in the Premier League.  

 

Swinging for the Fences – Both the race for third/fourth and the relegation battle are incredibly tight.  It is shocking, therefore, that no one involved in those races seems to have pushed their chips to the center of the table during this transfer window and declared themselves “all in”. To get to their intended destination which in all cases comes with a big pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for the successful club(s).  Whether in the form of Champions League revenue or another season of Premier League revenue, it is surprising that no one spent irrationally or excessively.    

 

The Anti-Wenger Corps – Whether it be journalists who created a cottage industry criticizing Arsene Wenger’s failure to buy the right parts or those sections of the fan base who are done with Wenger, new approaches will have to be developed.  Francis Coquelin has emerged as a legitimately solid, if not spectacular, holding midfielder.  Gabriel has come in to provide depth at center back and looks to be at least solid with some upside to go beyond that.  Wenger has also secured yet another “next Vieira” which should keep the haters at bay until we actually see Krystian Bielik on the pitch next season. There are still reasons to question whether Wenger is the man to carry the Arsenal banner into next season but he seems to have done everything he needs to do to balance the squad.  Now we just have to see if he can find a way to beat Manchester United and/or Chelsea on the way to mounting a legitimate title challenge.

Wheeling and Dealing – Tony Fernandes finally realized that the only thing at the end of the Harry Redknapp transfer rainbow was going to be the financial ruin of his club.  With two more requests coming over the wire from his manager for expensive players who probably look a lot better in FIFA2010 than they do in 2015 reality, Fernandes finally came to his senses and just said no.  Oddly, Harry realized that he required “immediate” surgery for a knee replacement mere hours after the transfer window closed and “resigned”.  Could we have seen the last of his wheeling and/or dealing in the Premier League?  People who love the “characters of the game” may bemoan the loss but anyone who likes to see clubs run well will see his departure as the Premier League collectively cutting yet another tie with a by-gone era in the game that shouldn’t be romanticized.

 

Check in with Rotoworld.com for news, analysis and fantasy predictions all season

 

The Title Race 

 

Chelsea – Position: First Place, Points: 53, Form: 8 points from past 5; Upcoming Schedule: Moderate Light (@AVL, EVE, BUR, @LEI, @WHU) Chelsea held serve which is a solid outcome and keeps them very much in the driver’s seat for the title.  That they did it with Diego Costa (suspended) and Cesc Fabregas (injured) both out is what is really impressive here.  Loic Remy made his first real contribution of the season.  Kurt Zouma looked very much the part of a strong contributor on a title-winning/chasing team.  The game wasn’t much to watch to be honest and if it weren’t for what was at stake, you might have turned it off in favor of something else.  Only the title implications kept it tense and interesting.

 

Manchester CityPosition: Second Place, Points: 48, Form: 6 points from past 5; Upcoming Schedule: Light (HUL, @STO, NEW, @LIV, LEI) We’ve all been working under the assumption that Manchester City are a lock for second place should they fail to beat Chelsea to the title.  What is interesting now that Chelsea have kept City at bay is that Manchester United, for all their fumbling this season, are as close to City as City are to Chelsea.  Oh, and Southampton and Arsenal are only a point behind that.  City have six points from their past five fixtures.  The next five fixtures are a relative cakewalk for City outside of a trip to possibly revitalized Liverpool (assuming Sturridge doesn’t get hurt again between now and then).  I’m not saying they WON’T finish second, just that we shouldn’t consider it a given any more than we should consider Manchester United’s Champions League spot a given.  

 

The Race for Europe

 

Arsenal Position: Fifth Place, Points: 42, Form: 12 points from past 5; Upcoming Schedule: Light (@TOT, LEI, @CRY, EVE, @QPR) Not much to dislike about Week 23.  Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott both scored in their first Premier League starts back from injury.  Promoted youngsters Francis Coquelin and Hector Bellerin continued to look very much at home starting for a top side with Bellerin even adding a garbage time goal.  Olivier Giroud showed the entire breadth of his game with a goal, an assist, and great play as the focal point of a five-goal attack.  David Ospina was solid on the rare occasions when he was called on.  Santi Cazorla was masterful with a goal and two assists.  Arsene Wenger seems to have modified his tactics to invite a little pressure while putting his side in the position to unleash a deadly counter-attack.  No one got hurt.  Maybe the only complaint is that Aaron Ramsey isn’t looking like the stud from the first half of last season yet with Spurs looming next weekend.  Still, if that’s your biggest complaint in life, things are probably pretty good.

 

Southampton – Position: Fourth Place, Points: 42, Form: 10 points from past 5; Upcoming Schedule: Difficult (@QPR, WHU, LIV, @WBA, CRY) Dropping points away from home as Southampton have done recently against Arsenal, Aston Villa, and Burnley can be forgiven (OK, maybe not losing to Burley) but if the Saints are to make a real run at a Champions League spot then they have to win their home matches against clubs beneath them in the table.  They were better than Swansea for much of the match but they didn’t convert.  They paid for it when Jonjo Shelvey sent a thunderbolt past Fraser Forster from 25+ yards out.  I’m going to continue to project the Saints for third for now because one match like this is forgivable but they’re on notice that they have to be pretty much perfect against the lower lights for the balance of the season. 

 

Manchester United – Position: Third Place, Points: 43, Form: 8 points from past 5; Upcoming Schedule: Light (@WHU, BUR, @SWN, SUN, @NEW) A rare case of United looking in control for at least most of a match against an inferior opponent.  The first 20 minutes or so looked a little rough but from there it was smooth sailing for the Red Devils.  Daley Blind was the standout which is nice under any circumstances but even more so given that Michael Carrick will be out for the better part of a month.  Robin van Persie and Falcao both scored needed goals to boost their confidence.  Most importantly, perhaps, Swansea gifted Manchester United a helping hand by beating Southampton.  I’m going to wait until United have a performance like this against a team higher than 20th in the table before moving them ahead of Southampton or Arsenal in terms of chances of winning a Champions League spot but it was a small step in the right direction.  

 

Tottenham Hotspur – Position: Sixth Place, Points: 40, Form: 10 points from past 5; Upcoming Schedule: Moderate (ARS, @LIV, WHU, @QPR, SWN) A Tony Pulis side playing at home, no matter how modestly talented, is nothing to be trifled with as Crystal Palace showed over the second half of last season.  That Spurs navigated this particular mine with ease will make everyone feel better.  They are still extremely reliant on Christen Eriksen and Harry Kane to generate all of their offense but it’s been working so probably not something to question right this minute.  The big test of their ability to stay in the race for a Champions League spot comes next weekend as Arsenal arrive at White Hart Lane full of confidence of their own.  Maybe the North London Derby will give us the entertainment that Chelsea vs. City failed to delivery. 

 

LiverpoolPosition: Seventh Place, Points: 38, Form: 13 points from past 5; Upcoming Schedule: Difficult (@EVE, TOT, @SOU, MAC, BUR) The Reds successfully navigated the first of an extremely difficult five match stretch with their 2-0 victory over the Hammers at Anfield.  There is still more work to be done with the Liverpool Derby this coming weekend followed by Spurs, Southampton and Manchester City but Brendan Rodgers will take heart in the return of Daniel Sturridge.  If the return of Sturridge can free up one more attacker – Coutinho, Henderson, Lallana, etc. – from defensive attention then Liverpool might have a chance to return to something approaching their free-wheeling attack of last season. 

 

West Ham United – Position: Eighth Place, Points: 36, Form: 5 points from past 5; Upcoming Schedule: Difficult (MAN, @SOU, @TOT, CRY, CHE) And off the list.  The best they can hope for is to play spoiler for one of the bigger clubs on their schedule over the next month. 

 


 

The Relegation Zone - where we examine events at the other end of the table as established clubs flounder and newly promoted clubs reveal who they are going to be this season. Like the sections above, I’ve reordered with the most likely to be relegated being first and the least likely of the group last.  

 

Burnley – Position: Seventeenth Place, Points: 20, Form: 5 points from past 5; Upcoming Schedule: Difficult (WBA, @MAN, @CHE, SWN, @LIV) For a second consecutive Premier League match there seemed to be points available against a team that they shouldn’t consider unbeatable and the Clarets came away with nothing.  At least Leicester City can claim that they were just outclassed by a Liverpool team that is clearly more talented.  Burnley have been dropping points to teams that can’t make such a claim in Crystal Palace and now Sunderland.  Not good news as they drop to relegation favorites in my unscientific poll.

 

Leicester CityPosition: Twentieth Place, Points: 17, Form: 7 points from past 5; Upcoming Schedule: Difficult (CPL, @ARS, @EVE, CHE, @MAC) They were never really in it at Old Trafford.  This weekend will be huge with Crystal Palace offering perhaps the only chance for points between now and early March.  It’s going to need to be a massive finishing kick once the schedule eases up for the Foxes to survive. 

 

Hull CityPosition: Eighteenth Place, Points: 19, Form: 3 points from past 5; Upcoming Schedule: Moderate (@MAC, AST, QPR, @STK, SUN) Newcastle certainly hadn’t been setting the world on fire so losing comprehensively to the Magpies has to be considered a bad outcome given how badly HCFC need points.  With Harry Redknapp now gone, you have to consider Steve Bruce the runaway favorite to be the next Premier League manager fired.  At least he’s the favorite for something now.

 

QPR – Position: Nineteenth Place, Points: 19, Form: 2 points from past 5; Upcoming Schedule: Difficult (SOU, @SUN, @HUL, TOT, ARS) Reasons for hope? Maybe the new manager will be able to get more out of a squad that isn’t without talent.  No one in the relegation zone other than Sunderland pulled away from the Rs.  At Stoke was always going to be a tough way to get your first away point even with Bojan out injured.  We’ll adjust as appropriate once a new manager is appointed.

 

Aston VillaPosition: Sixteenth Place, Points: 22, Form: 2 points from past 5; Upcoming Schedule: Moderate (CHE, @HUL, STO, @NEW, @QPR) They weren’t going to win at the Emirates but the way they got beaten was certainly discouraging for a team that has at least been defensively sound for the most part this season.  On the plus side, Carles Gil and Scott Sinclair offer some hope of renewed attacking vigor.  They’re going to lose again this coming weekend as Chelsea visit but if Gil and Sinclair can integrate themselves by the time Villa heads to Hull in Week 25 then maybe they can start turning things around. 

 

Sunderland – Position: Fourteenth Place, Points: 23, Form: 4 points from past 5; Upcoming Schedule: Light (@SWN, QPR, WBA, @MAN, @HUL) A win! A goal from Jermain Defoe! A clean sheet!  That all this happened as all the teams around them in the table lost is even better news as the Black Cats are up to 14th with at least a little bit of momentum heading into a very manageable part of their schedule.

 

Crystal Palace – Position: Thirteenth Place, Points: 23, Form: 8 points from past 5; Upcoming Schedule: Moderate (@LEI, NEW, ARS, @WHU, @SOU) The honeymoon had to end sometime for Alan Pardew but at least it came against a team that unquestionably has more talent.  There was certainly some hope as Everton has been squandering that talent for most of the season.  Still, Palace will be feeling pretty good heading to the King Power Stadium next weekend with a chance to consolidate their place just above the relegation zone.

 

West Brom – Position: Fifteenth Place, Points: 22, Form: 5 points from past 5; Upcoming Schedule: Moderate (@BUR, SWN, @SUN, SOU, STK),  They just didn’t have any answer for Harry Kane and Christen Eriksen.  The Baggies should be fine overall with a solid mix of winnable matches coming up and at least a few points separating them from the relegation zone.  

 

EvertonPosition: Twelfth Place, Points: 26, Form: 5 points from past 5; Upcoming Schedule: Moderate (LIV, @CHE, LEI, @ARS, NEW)  Four points in their past two matches after one from the five before that is something positive heading into the Liverpool Derby.  Everton still have to watch out for a relegation struggle though depending on how those below them fare over the next month while the Toffees are playing tough competition in the form of Liverpool, Chelsea, and Arsenal.  It would be a shock if they dropped into a serious fight to avoid the drop but it is still worth monitoring through February.

 


 

Newcomer of the Year - where we track the progress of players new to the Premier League this season

  

  1. Alexis Sanchez – He finally had an enforced match off with a hamstring issue but Arsenal didn’t seem to miss him much against Villa as they cruised to a 5-0 victory.
  2. Cesc Fabregas – Another absentee after sustaining an injury in cup play.  The match with City certainly could have used his creativity.
  3. Diego Costa – Costa’s suspension makes it three for three absentees among our top three newcomers to the Prem.
  4. Charlie Austin – He got an assist on the Rs only goal but it wasn’t enough to sniff any points or save his boss’s job.  
  5. Dusan Tadic/Graziano Pelle/Sadio Mane/Eljero Elia – They just couldn’t get it together as a group to score against Swansea despite this being the first time that they have all been available at the same time.
  6. Gylfi Sigurdsson – This makes it four out of the top six newcomers out for Week 23.
  7. Bojan – Five out of seven (how depressing)
  8. Alex Song – Well, at least he played.  It didn’t help much as Liverpool had the beating of the Hammers.
  9. Fraser Forster – I’m no expert in goalkeeping so I’m not going to say that Forster should have gotten to Shelvey’s shot (it was a nice shot) but it was the second time that Shelvey had beaten the keeper from long distance on the day (the other hit the post and bounced to safety).  Just saying.
  10. Daley Blind – Blind has been very good since coming back from injury and with Diafra Sakho’s status uncertain due to West Ham’s disagreement with Senegal over the forward’s participation/lack thereof in the African Cup of Nations, we’re moving Blind into this spot.

 

Who We’re Watching: Juan Cuadrado, Bafetimbi Gomis (he should be starting for Swansea with Bony at the ACN and then likely headed to Manchester City, Angel Di Maria (maybe he’ll find some form), Enner Valencia (likely to get a run of starts with Sakho off to the ACN), Marcos Rojo/Ander Herrera (back from injury), Eljero Elia (new at Southampton), Phillip Wollscheid (started at CB for Stoke against Arsenal), Lazar Markovic (he should get a run of games with Lallana out)

 

Just Missing Out: Diafra Sakho, Angel di Maria, Enner Valencia, Thibaut Courtois, Jefferson Montero, Toby Alderweireld, Falcao, Andrew Robertson, Leonardo Ulloa, Danny Welbeck, Daley Blind, Ander Herrera, Eric Dier, Kieran Trippier, Joseph Schlupp, Patrick van Aanholt.

 

Dropping Off: Diafra Sakho

 


 

The Phantom Point All-Stars – Where we list those players who failed to tally any “major” statistics (goal, assist, clean sheet) but scored big in the more subtle categories like tackles won, passes intercepted, blocked shots, shots on target, successful crosses or corners won that can make a fantasy week in formats that reward these statistics. Occasionally, we’ll reward a player who gets an assist or a clean sheet if they also had a big “phantom” weekend.  

 

  1. Philip van Aanholt – He started the season in fine Phantom form and has dropped out over the last few months.  He was back with a clean sheet, assist and a bunch of phantom points including four passes intercepted, two corners won, two tackles won, a blocked shot and a successful cross.
  2. Massadio Haidara – Another defender with a clean sheet and an assist along with a bunch of phantom points highlighted by five passes intercepted.
  3. Phil Jagielka – We haven’t had a lot of Everton representation on this list so far this season so we’re looking past the clean sheet to the five interceptions, two blocked shots and three tackles won to include Jags.  Oh, and an Everton win!
  4. Ashley WilliamsThere were a lot of clean sheets in Week 23 so finding a defender without one is tough and Williams joins that group but qualifies for the list by having added four blocked shots and four passes intercepted to his CS.
  5. Fernandiniho – He has been a bit of a disappointment since arriving at Manchester City but his phantom performance wasn’t a disappointment at all in Week 23 with seven tackles won, two shots on target, two corners won, and two passes intercepted.
  6. James Ward-Prowse – There is inevitably at least one Saints player on this list each week and this week the nod goes to JWP who put three shots on target, completed five successful crosses and intercepted a pass in a losing effort.
  7. James Morrison – Perhaps knowing that Darren Fletcher was on the way inspired the Baggies midfielder to a strong phantom day with three successful crosses, three tackles won, a shot on target, two passes intercepted and a corner won.
  8. Ashley Barnes– After a few stunning goals during a strong stretch for the Clarets, Barnes has been quiet for a few weeks but showed signs of life with two shots on target, three fouls won, a blocked shot, corner won, pass intercepted, and tackle won in a losing effort.
  9. Sadio Mane – He returned to the line-up with three shots on target, two corners won and two tackles won despite starting the match on the bench.  That’s a strong 30 minutes of phantom point action.
  10. Jesus Navas – Yet another double digit performance for Navas without the benefit of a goal or an assist.  This time around he put up three successful crosses a shot on target, two corners won, two tackles won and a pass intercepted in the clash at the top of the table.

 


 

The Fake Narrative of the Week - It is impossible to go a week without encountering a narrative somewhere in the football media that appears to be totally made up for the sake of gaining attention.  They usually fall into the categories of made up transfer rumors, hanging on too long to a mental image of who a player was and not who he currently is, or preying on a long-held stereotype based on club, nationality, or position.  When I come across them, I'll let you know and then let you know why I think they're silly.

 

Arsenal loaning out three forwards leaves them shorthanded – This one came from John Cross for ESPNFC.com and the gist of the criticism is that by loaning out Lukas Podolski, Joel Campbell and Yaya Sanogo Arsene Wenger was leaving Arsenal’s attack vulnerable to another injury crisis.  Honestly, ESPNFC didn’t even believe this because it published two other articles praising Arsenal’s new squad balance and diversity of attacking options within days of Mr. Cross’ article.  I’m all for pundits making a living but the Cross article felt like reading someone who doesn’t actually pay any attention to football.  Maybe he watched the World Cup and noticed that Arsenal were loaning out two names he recognized from the summer and figured it must be a mistake.  If Arsenal end up burning through Giroud, Sanchez, Welbeck, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Akpom due to injury or suspension and they can’t make it on the strength of midfield power from the likes of Ozil, Cazorla, Ramsey and the revitalized Rosicky then I’m not sure what anyone thinks Podolski, Campbell or Sanogo are going to do to keep Arsenal in the top four.  Podolski has been a latter day Andre Arshavin in that there’s clearly some talent in there somewhere and some great highlights to refer back to on YouTube but he hasn’t contributed much of anything to Arsenal.  Campbell and Sanogo might have some upside but they aren’t going to be difference-makers.  Sometimes I just need to vent when I see a story that was clearly written without much thought or merely to be provocative with little to no basis.  I hope Mr. Cross enjoyed Arsenal’s “light” attack this past weekend with both Sanchez and Welbeck missing due to injury.

 


 

Sponsor I'd Like To See - As you can see from the lack of sponsorship for this column or this page, there's room for some additional corporate involvement here at the Rotoworld.com Premier League page.  In a blatant attempt to solicit any sponsors who may be reading, I'm going to start suggesting some sponsors who might want to call the nice people at NBC Sports to find out what it would take to become part of the team.

 

The Super Bowl on NBC – OK, the time for this one has come and gone but the team both on the air and online did a great job covering the biggest single event in American sports so I’ll use this opportunity to give some credit where it is due.  It was also nice to see the NBC Sports Premier League studio team broadcasting from the Super Bowl Fan Zone in Arizona.  It didn’t look like they were particularly comfortable at that early hour local time but it was great to see the Premier League being integrated into mainstream American sports coverage as opposed to being segmented into its own little world.  Even better to see some locals/Super Bowl-related tourists representing their favorite Premier League teams in the background behind the set.

 


 

Random Closing Thoughts - Well, this one's pretty obvious and it will be how we close out the column each week at least until a better idea comes along. 

  • My Second Club – Ouch! Tough loss but it’s only one loss.  Now they have to get on a significant winning streak again.
  • This Week’s Good Points: Swansea get the only good three points for this week and we’ll throw West Brom a belated point for their draw with Everton after we went to press after Week 22.  
  • The Good Points Table:  Crystal Palace 17; Leicester City: 16; Burnley 11; Newcastle 10; Stoke City 10; Sunderland 9; Hull City 9; Swansea City 9; Spurs 8; West Ham 6; Arsenal 6; Manchester United 4; Aston Villa 4; West Brom 4; Chelsea 3; Southampton 3; QPR 2, Everton 1.
  • This Week’s Bad Points: Southampton are the only ones on this list for Week 23 – the concern is that the Saints total is growing at an alarming clip after they went nearly the entire first half of the season without dropping any points to teams they should have beaten.
  • The Bad Points Table: Manchester United 19; Liverpool 18; Spurs 16; Manchester City 15; Arsenal 12; Everton 12; Chelsea 10; Newcastle 9; Southampton 8; Swansea City 7; Stoke City 6; Aston Villa 5; Burnley 3; Sunderland 3; Hull City 3; West Ham United 2; QPR 2; and Crystal Palace 2. 
  • Player of the Week – There are a few solid nominees between Mesut Ozil returning with a sick flicked assist and a goal (plus another goal that was wrongly ruled out for offsides), Santi Cazorla (hard to deny anyone with a goal and two assists), Harry Kane who picked up another two goals, and Daley Blind who was the straw that stirred the Manchester United drink.  I’m going to go with Kane since two goals trumps a goal plus assists or just assists.
  • Transfer Happenings – I think we covered this sufficiently in the intro.
  • My Favorite Things – Harry Kane continuing to show that there is still a such thing as a football instincts (as opposed to just exceptional physical skill)…Francis Coquelin showing just how little Arteta/Flamini were contributing…Jonjo from outside the box…Mesut Ozil’s guile…Mark Schwarzer getting regular playing time after a brief retirement on the sidelines at Stamford Bridge…Daniel Sturridge back and doing Daniel Sturridge things…Stephen Ireland’s two assists in his first start for the injured Bojan… Jon Walters making this list for the second time running, this time for a hat trick …Remy Cabella finally looking like the guy who might replace Yohan Cabaye.
  • My Least Favorite Things – Almost everything associated with the bottom half of the table…City’s defense not being able to lock down Chelsea without Cesc and Costa…The entire concept of a week without Costa, Fabregas, Sanchez, Sigurdsson, and Bojan – that’s a lot of talent on the sidelines.
  • What did we find out? We probably identified our Champions with Chelsea knocking back City’s best chance to gain ground.  It isn’t done by any stretch but it was certainly a significant step in that direction.  Otherwise, the only real “lessons” were that Southampton aren’t invulnerable to the occasional slip up and Sunderland are likely going to ride Jermain Defoe to safety from relegation.  
  • What’s Next? The drama of a double derby day with Arsenal kicking off the weekend by traveling across North London to face Spurs with fifth place (and perhaps more) on the line.   Everton host local rivals Liverpool on their side of Stanley Park to close out Saturday’s schedule in another match-up that goes beyond rivalry because there are also serious implications on the race for Champions League places.  Finally, on Sunday we get a dessert of West Ham trying to recapture their first half form against Manchester United who have to continue to prove themselves on the road.

 

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Neal Thurman
Neal Thurman manages the Rotoworld's Premier League coverage and contributes to Never Manage Alone which he co-founded. He is also a diehard Arsenal supporter. You can find him on Twitter @NealJThurman.