Premier League Review: London Rises Again
It has been, to say the very least, a difficult few days for Chelsea Football Club. The stories that have been swirling around the whole of professional football over the last couple of weeks or so have left a mildly effluent taste in the mouth, and the club’s fulsome apology regarding historical child sex abuse allegations will likely have long lasting ramifications for the game. For Chelsea, it seems likely that this year will end with cognitive dissonance ringing in the ears. To add a further layer of irony to it all, this unpleasantness comes at a time when the current team is sparkling, and on Saturday lunchtime they achieved a new high water mark for the season with a three-one win at Manchester City which crystallised their position at the top of the Premier League table.
Football had escaped 2016’s habit of throwing cherry bombs at all who came across its the path so far this season, but the last couple of weeks have we’ll and truly ended that particular bucking of trends. Before kick-off at all matches this weekend, there was a minute of silence in memory of those who lost their lives from the Brazilian club Chapecoense last week. A timely reminder that all of this really is only a game. Minutes of silence prior to kick-off have become a common currency in football culture these days to a point at which they have perhaps even become a little devalued. Saturday’s, however, were sombre. The looks on the faces of the players a reminder that, in the international world of modern professional football, everybody knows everybody else. Once under way on Saturday lunchtime, though, Chelsea offered reminder after reminder of why they are the Premier League’s team to beat at the moment.
It might, however, have been quite different. Manchester City needed a slice of good luck – a horribly mishit clearance from Gary Cahill – to take the lead right on half-time, but the goal was no less than they deserved for their efforts, and had Kevin De Bruyne’s chance early in the second half not thudded out off the crossbar, the top of the table might have a very different look to it today. Chelsea revived themselves, pulled clear to a three-one lead, and then in the closing seconds the frustrations of the previous hour and three-quarters or so bubbled over with two red cards, one for Sergio Aguero for a horrendous tackle on David Luiz, and then another for Fernandinho, for quite spectacularly losing his temper on the aftermath of Aguero’s rush of blood to the head.
With Chelsea clear at the top of the table, the rest of the weekend was taken up with everybody else’s attempts to cling to their coat tails. The results were, to say the least, mixed. Arsenal purred in their five-one win at West Ham United, as The Olympic Stadium continued to feel almost nothing like home for its new tenants. The visitors were allowed to twist their knife with a late home defensive collapse, but this was another fine performance from Arsenal, who are starting to look as though they may be the only team capable of keeping Chelsea in their sights this season. West Ham United, meanwhile, remain dangling a hair’s breadth from the relegation places. A point will arrive at which their season tips from being a huge disappointment to being a full blown disaster. The team’s reaction to this defeat will probably determine which of these it ends up being.
Yesterday, meanwhile, Liverpool and Manchester United couldn’t manage a win between them. Liverpool, who’d been cruising at two-nil and three-one up at Bournemouth, continue to entertain, but this continues to occasionally feature the sort of entertainment that Jurgen Klopp would rather not be any part of. Bournemouth’s fightback topped off what had been probably the most entertaining Premier League match that we’ve seen so far this season. They rise to the vertiginous heights of tenth place in the table. For Manchester United, meanwhile, the club’s recent spell in Premier League purgatory continued with a one-all draw at Everton, who levelled through Leighton Baines with a couple of minutes to play. The Europa League and League Cup are providing a little respite for Jose Mourinho, but nowhere near enough. Pre-season ambitions of getting back to the normal service of challenging for the title seems as far away as ever.
The only other team to get anywhere near showing a clean pair of heels to the rest of the division was Tottenham Hotspur, whose five-nil win against Swansea City was a welcome return to form after elimination from the Champions League and a defeat at Chelsea last weekend. Delle Alli’s dubious tumble allowed Harry Kane broke Swansea’s resistance with six minutes to play of the half left from the penalty spot. Kane’s talismanic presence in the Spurs team was confirmed with a second goal in the second half, but any delight felt by Spurs supporters at this return to form was tempered somewhat by the knowledge that this came against a deeply, deeply mediocre Swansea team, who look little more capable of avoiding relegation than they did prior to Bob Bradley’s arrival at The Liberty Stadium.
Swansea are now bottom of the table after Sunderland’s third win in their last four matches continued to make a mockery of those who had been calling time on the managerial career of David Moyes just a few weeks ago. They had a little bit of hanging on to do in the closing stages of their win against the increasingly frayed looking champions Leicester City, who remain on course – and those of you are picking up their red pens to write me a furious email on the subject, there’s an element of deliberate hyperbole about this – to complete their unique double of winning the Champions League and getting relegated from the Premier League in the same season. The other two teams that are really in the mire the bottom of the table, Middlesbrough and Hull City, play this evening at The Riverside Stadium, but Crystal Palace finally broke free of their recent apocalyptic run of form with a surprisingly comfortable home win against Southampton, who in turn are already showing tiredness after having played twenty-two games so far this season.
Memories of a difficult start to the season are a rapidly fading memory for Stoke City, for whom a two-nil win against Burnley was a result that lifted Mark Hughes’ – another manager who was apparently approaching the gallows pole earlier this season – team to ninth place in the table. Even this achievement, however, is put into the shade by West Bromwich Albion, whose third win in four matches against Watford lifted the team, albeit briefly, to sixth place in the Premier League table. They fell a place on goals scored after Manchester United got a draw at Everton the following day, and the team of Tony Pulis is never likely to be remembered with the same affection of that of Ron Atkinson three and a half decades ago, but as we approach the Christmas bundle of matches, it’s not a bad position for the Black Country club to be in. And at the end of a couple of weeks that we’d probably all sooner forget, perhaps we have to take our good news stories wherever we can.
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