1. Top Four or Top Six?
After watching my Everton side completely outclass Wigan today as well as seeing Aston Villa run Man Utd very close at old Trafford, I felt that the question must be considered – are we now privy to a ‘top six’ rather than a ‘big four’ in the Premier League?
Having seen Everton and Villa staying well in touch with Arsenal in particular this season, and witnessing a number of very close matches between Everton, Villa and the ‘big four’, it certainly seems that the gap in quality between them is closing. Indeed, if Arsenal are still considered to have an outside chance of the title, then one could legitimately say that Villa and Everton aren’t far away either. It is the gap beneath fifth and sixth place though, that really emphasises the gulf developing between the ‘top six’ and the rest.
Wigan are now 10 points behind Everton, and West Ham are still seven points adrift in seventh place. What’s more, both of these two clubs, until relatively recently, would not have considered themselves safe from relegation. Indeed, arguably only the top six Premier League clubs have not felt the real threat of relegation this season. Many will suggest that perhaps Villa and Everton are in a ‘league of their own’ at the moment, ahead of the majority but still behind the ‘big four’.
They may have a point, because Villa and Everton do not have, at the moment, the depth of squad necessary to mount a title challenge, which the ‘big four’ do possess. However, the gap seems to be closing each season, and with the supposed ‘evening up’ of monetary reward between the Champions League and Europa League from next season, we may well soon see the Premier League as ‘six and the rest’.
2. Sometimes I do know what I’m on about…
Steve Bruce’s rather public lamentation regarding Amr Zaki’s frequently unpunctual returns from international duty and his assertion that “in all [his] time in football [he has] never worked with someone as unprofessional” recalled to me an article I wrote on this blog towards the beginning of this season, when public attitude to the Egyptian was rather different.
Sure, my article didn’t suggest that Zaki would be an incredibly unproffesional player for Wigan and a constant disappointment to his manager, but I did say that it was a little early to be hyping him up. He had a good start but I pointed out that that doesn’t make him a great player and suggested that talk of a ‘bidding war’ for his signature at the end of his loan period was a bit premature. Well, it turns out that Wigan will probably not be too keen to keep him on after his loan spell, and these sort of well-publicised indescretions will doubtless put off any other possible suitors. So, with regard to the title of my article back on the 22nd October, no, Zaki is not all he was cracked up to be.
3. Two Down?
After this weekend’s fixtures, I would say that I am now maybe 85% sure that West Bromwich Albion and Middlesbrough will be relegated from the Premier League this season. West Brom handed Stoke their first away win of the season at the Hawthorns, capping a miserable season for them. Middlesbrough, on the other hand, took a 4-1 drubbing at the hands of a Bolton side who are not exactly firing (or weren’t) themselves.
Newcastle also suffered a defeat at Chelsea despite Shearer’s return, and I feel strongly that the third relegation place is now between Newcastle and Sunderland too. The bottom of the table sees WBA on 24, ‘Boro on 27, then Newcastle and Sunderland on 29 and 32. Pompey need something from their game in hand to move them from 34 (level with Hull and Blackburn) and put a fraction of daylight between themselves and the bottom four.
I think ultimately these four clubs will make up the unlucky three because all of the clubs in the scrap at the bottom will continue to pick up the odd points, but they will not win enough to make up the gap that exists between themselves and safety.
4. Squeaky Bum Time
Well the title is still Manchester United’s to throw away after Federico Macheda’s late, late winner against an unlucky Aston Villa at Old Trafford. They went back ahead of Liverpool who themselves only snatched three points at the latest possible moment against Fulham on Saturday, and I think it’s fair to say from these sort of occurences that to win a title you need a good deal of luck.
I can think of numerous occasions this season when United and Liverpool have snatched a win in the dying moments of matches, and while a testament to their determination, one has to say that they have got lucky to an extent. Of course, one may argue that other clubs have snatched just as many late wins, and indeed my club Everton have had a few like that this season, but the difference is that we’ve had it the other way too, with Blackburn and Villa both securing wins, and Arsenal claiming a crucial against us in the dying moments of games.
When I think back through the season though, United and Liverpool never seem to have been on the receiving end of such a result. Yes, this does perhaps reflect the quality of their players to keep going right to the death, but I think it is fair to say that sometimes when it’s going your way, lady luck will smile on you that little bit more frequently.