The Premiership Winners and Losers: The Story So Far

Alright. Today, you won’t be graced with the enlightening presence of Ahmed who, it seems, was allegedly found partying at a night club till the wee hours and is hence hungover and unable to carry out his duties for the weekend. While speculation is rife questioning his commitment to the cause, an inside source rubbishes such speculation, suggesting that Ahmed has been confused with a certain toothy Brazilian who turns out for Barcelona. While it is not known who said toothy Brazilian is, we could wait for the official word in a couple of days time.

Till then, though, allow me to fill in with some punditry of my own.

Now that the international break is before us, it gets especially frustrating for those of us who have as much interest in international breaks as Paris Hilton would have on global warming. So it might be a good time to sit back and reflect on, what has been, a rather interesting Premiership season, so far.

One way of looking at things would be to do it on a team by team basis, but I don’t think I am that qualified to comment on each and every team. So what I would do is break things up into Winners and Losers and list certain teams/players/managers in them who, in my opinion, fall in that category.

Ready? Here goes:

The Winners

Undoubtedly, the winners of the season, so far. Both, on paper and on performances. They have continued to go their usual one-touch pretty footballsy ways, but it is their ability to eke out wins when things aren’t going their way that has caught everyone’s eye. I, for one, had reserved my judgement for quite sometime this season until I saw their win against Sunderland. They showed enough character to win the game after the Mackems had done good coming back from a two goal deficit. As a Manchester United fan, it makes me feel happy for old times sake; the fierce rivalry we’ve had with the Arse, that had been temporarily derailed by the Mourinho-led Chelsea, is going to be back this season. It makes for an appetising set of fixtures against them.

That said, I never thought of ruling them out of the race at the start of the season despite what the media had to say. After all, United were in a similar state, at the beginning of last season, after the loss of Ruud and little business in the transfer market. It’s interesting, now, how everyone is going head over heels over the Gooners after their upturn in fortunes.

Man City
Again, it pains me to write how Man City, under Sven Goran Eriksson – of all the people, is having a brilliant season. Third in the table, they are playing some great football. And, if anyone had doubts the Newcastle game is ample reminder of the presence of undoubted talent in their ranks. Of course, primarily, credit should go to Elano and Micah Richards.

Elano has been the heartbeat of their attacking forays and his contribution has rendered their lack of a decent striker irrelevant. Other than that, their defence has also been vital. Ask anyone in the red half of Manchester and they would say how important Micah Richards has been.

Sterner tests lay ahead, though. They have seemed lightweight in the middle, and were savaged by United’s midfield, despite the Reds ending up on the losing side. A European berth looks highly likely although, a Champions’ League position depends on how well one of the Big Four plays in the rest of the season.

Aston Villa
Astutely led by Martin O’Neill, Villa have shaken off a certain dourness that characterized their game for much of last season; they used to be hard to beat but struggled to convert draws to wins. This season, they have been blessed with a very good midfield — Reo Coker seems to have recaptured his form of two seasons ago and Barry has always been dependable — and an explosive forward line. Agbonlahor, Young and Carew have that creativity in them to make things happen. They have already scalped Chelsea and so nearly routed Spurs 4-1 before a remarkable comeback pegged them back.

Their next game against United would be a test for either team, and that says enough about how good they have been.

Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic
This would have to come up somewhere. While I’ve tried to write most of this article after having removed my ‘red’-tinted glasses, my eyes do hurt at times. So allow me this much licence.

When the real stars of the season from Old Trafford come from the defence, it goes to say how strange a season the Reds have had. The team has had an underwhelming start despite being two points off the pace and playing some dour stuff for most part. Blame it on new players integrating, suspensions or injuries, the only reason United were managing to stay unbeaten for so long despite having scored a goal per game, for most part, was due to a water-tight defence. They get my thumbs up. Of course, the team seems to have gotten its swagger back after the Wigan game. Let’s see if the international break disturbs this rhythm.

The Losers

Derby County
Maybe promotion came a little too early for them. But like everyone says, they are the worst team anyone has seen, in a long time, to grace the Premiership. They are even more dire than Mick McCarthy’s Sunderland. They also seem well on course to break records in the goals against column.

This was easy, really. Actually, I don’t think Jol is doing a bad job. There is just too much stuff going on in the boardroom that he isn’t afforded the peace of mind to get on with his job. Of course, he ought to have realised well before that the Tottenham midfield was lacking a decent erm… midfielder. They haven’t really managed to replace Carrick, and their defence is really bad at the moment. Nothing else to say, really. But I have to ask, once more, 16 million for Darren Bent? What was Levy smoking?

They can still do well this season. They have enough quality in their ranks. But a fifth place finish might seem a tad optimistic, what with a lot of other middling clubs having significantly improved.

The craziest move of the year had to be the ‘sacking’ of Jose Mourinho. While Roman’s desire of wanting to watch Chelsea play beautiful football might sound noble, his hands-on approach on footballing matters in the club has made even the hardcore Manchester United supporter feel sudden respect for the Glazers. In fact, scratch Chelsea… the real loser is Roman Abramovich. His sacking of Mourinho has effectively ruled Chelsea out of the title race for this season.

Rafa Benitez
Before ‘pool fans begin hurling vitriol at me kindly care to listen. Rafa might be an astute tactician who, according to some people, likes to play the ‘shit on a stick’ brand of football — whatever that means. He made some great buys this season, make no mistake. But he has managed to keep his best players out of the more crucial moments thus not letting his team settle into some sort of rhythm. Rotating players is one thing, but making wholesale changes to teams is an entirely different matter. So, like it or not, Rafa is rotating Liverpool out of contention.

Honestly, most of us United fans are quite happy with the job Rafa is doing. If he were to be fired tomorrow and Mourinho recruited in his place, that would get United fans worried. I apologise for the bias over here, but it is extremely hard to write something objective concerning Liverpool. To be fair, though, they haven’t done much wrong this season. They still have an excellent squad capable of challenging for the title. There, I have said it. But so has every Liverpool fan, for a long time now.

Sammy Lee
They say you wouldn’t know the value of certain people until they are gone. The same can be said of Sam Allardyce. He was the glue that kept things together at Bolton, despite all the harsh things that Phil Gartside had to say about him. Whatever criticisms one may have levelled at the club, be it their ‘boring’ brand of football, or their rather small stature, Big Sam ran an army of eleven players that would follow his instructions to the T and with that sort of an organised setup, they were mixing it with the relative bigger guns and playing in Europe. Now, sitting near the bottom of the table, their fall has been quite spectacular, although not totally unexpected.

And as if all this weren’t enough, Sammy Lee got into some spat with senior players, and has even managed to keep Kevin Nolan out of their squad. Troubling times ahead.

Honourable mention
Among Winners: Arteta, Lescott (both of Everton), Blackburn, Portsmouth (who have continued to look impressive) and Sam Allardyce, who has made Newcastle look decent this season.
Among Losers: Fulham, Middlesborough (who should actually be par for the course rather than disappointments) and Sunderland (who have yet to live up to their pre-season hype).

Phew, there. That settles it for now. All dirt that needs throwing on yours truly can be done at the dirt throwing section comment section. If you are not satisfied hurling your abuses here, you could do it on a more regular basis on Red Rants, the place where I rant more often these days.

Keep it nice though.

England 3-0 Estonia, 13 Oct 2007, Euro 2008 Qualifier, Live Blog
Crunch time for Aragonés as Torres pulls out of Spain's Euro 2008 qualifiers


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