Greetings team, and welcome back after a rather extended Christmas break. Please excuse us, but due to holidays, cuckolding and excessive narcotic consumption (not simultaneously) the 2009 wheels have taken slightly longer than expected to start turning again. Anyway, what we’re going to do is give a pretty brief rundown of every team’s festive trials and tribulations, as well as offering our own insightful bit of mid-season commentary.
Starting with the league leaders then, and Liverpool continued their fantastic season with two very clinical wins, against admittedly faltering opposition, first seeing off Bolton in front of the Kop on Boxing Day and then humiliating a hopeless Newcastle side 5 – 1 two days later. Could this finally be their year? I’d love it to be, just from a neutral perspective, but I can’t help but feel they’ll throw it away in the last couple of months, especially if FA Cup and Champions League fixtures start mounting up.
Chelsea have remained in touch despite a couple of pretty tepid performances of late, turning over West Brom on Boxing Day but then throwing away the lead late on against local rivals Fulham to draw 2 – 2. With Drogba back to full fitness Chelsea will be looking to restart their season now, but with Manchester United up next, they need big performances from their big players over the next month or so to keep the pressure on.
Sitting ominously in third despite two unconvincing 1 – 0 wins against Stoke and Middlesbrough over Christmas, Manchester United have been bizarrely starved of goals for much of the season so far. Their main stars are shined sporadically, but without Ronaldo’s regular match-winning showings of the last two seasons, they definitely lack a certain cutting edge at the moment. One thing I’ve learned over the year though is that you never write off Alex Ferguson’s men, you don’t win 10 out of the last 16 league titles by being spineless.
Aston Villa continue to go from strength to strength these days, with performances full of flair when appropriate and hard graft when necessary propelling them into a Champions League spot. A last-gasp equaliser against Arsenal rounded off probably the most exciting game of the last fortnight, while a controversial game at Hull finished 1 – 0 in their favour, despite the Tigers initially being awarded a last minute penalty for an Ashley Young handball.
Currently Arsenal are three points outside Champions League qualification and this has to be a growing concern amongst their faithful, having already said goodbye to any title aspirations a long time ago. Stories of unrest and a potential summer exodus don’t help matters, and with neither beautiful football nor impressive results regularly appearing, this is about as bleak as it’s been for the Gunners for some time.
Slowly but surely, and without any recognised strikers, Everton have risen up the table dramatically over the last couple of months and now sit in sixth after two good wins over Christmas. With Cahill and Arteta both fit and in decent form, the Toffees look a decent prospect, but need to sign a forward desperately in the January transfer window to keep up their winning momentum.
Wigan sit impressively in seventh at the moment on 28 points, but what makes this season so fascinating in that they have just ten points more than West Brom who are currently bottom. Like we’re used to seeing in the Championship, a run of two or three straight wins can move anyone significantly up the table, while even a short bad spell of results and you’re right back down in the relegation zone. Just ask newly-promoted Stoke City, who praises we were singing not too long ago for almost breaking into the top half of the table going into the festive period, despite everyone writing them off in August. Three straight league losses though and the hard-working Potters have plummeted from 11th to 18th, and with a very tough January ahead of them, it’s going to difficult to stay their heads above water before it’s too late.
Currently moving in the opposite direction are the Baggies however, with two back to back wins keeping them in touch with the pack and on level points with second-bottom Blackburn, now operating under the guidance of Sam Allerdyce. From there on up, Stoke, Middlesbrough and Tottenham all sit on 20 points, with Boro especially currently enjoying a very poor run of form, losing four out of the last five games. Portsmouth are another team who appear to heading in the wrong direction at the moment, and if Jermain Defoe is the only man to jump ship this January then they will count themselves very lucky indeed. They’ve lost the last four league games on the spin, and this weekend face a Manchester City side who are changeable to say the least. Having produced one of the displays of the season on Boxing Day against Hull, and a great last minute escape to rescue a point in the 94th minute at Blackburn two days later, Mark Hughes’ side should clearly be flying higher in the league than 13th.
They share 22 points with bitter rivals Newcastle and Sunderland, both of whom are also capable of both the sublime and the ridiculous. Two straight losses have put Joe Kinnear’s men back amongst the relegation dogfight, and a tough game this weekend to West Ham could see them further sucked in, especially with the Hammers riding high off the back of two hard-fought wins against Portsmouth and Stoke over Christmas. Who haven’t we mentioned then? Bolton seem to be chugging along as they always do, avoiding too much drama at either end of the table, while Fulham are currently unbeaten in ten league games quite amazingly, and seem to have enough to avoid the bottom-half quagmire that engulfed their season last year. Finally then the success story of the season so far: Hull. Sure things are going so well at the moment having lost three games in a row, conceding quite a few goals in the process, but ultimately their first two months secured almost enough points to already guarantee safety. Don’t get me wrong, they will definitely still finish in the bottom six, but I can’t see them getting relegated…
Banner of the Week – This Manchester United fan
Dressing Down of the Week – Phil Brown (vs Manchester City, Boxing Day)
Tabloid Event of the Week – Steven Gerard talks with his hands
Talking Point of the Week – Ricardo Fuller slaps Andy Griffin (December 28th)