Champions League

CKSA

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Just watched the CSKA match.

The CKSA crowd was really loud. I was imagining 30,000 very drunk Russians working themselves into a near-anarchic lather. I can see why it might be unnerving to play there. Well, not so much play, as leave safely after the game. Check your tea for Polonium.
I watched the game looking for to see if we have a striker problem and I agree that we may have a blind spot there. Janssen worked hard, but he frequently backs into one of the CBs and tries to box them out in an attempt to hold and dish,or turn and strike. So far he’s better at the hold up but other than that one dish off to Son against Middlesbrough he hasn’t created much. And he hasn’t been good enough at turning opportunities into shots on target. Time will tell if he figures out our system, or the BPL, or just finds a hot streak. Perhaps he’ll just be the guy who gets minutes when we need a front line defender to spell Kane when we’re holding onto a 2 goal lead in the 75th minute.
I was looking at our pass trackers over the past few games and there’s a pattern.
4-0 win over Stoke:
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1-0 win over Sunderland:
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2-1 win over Middlesbrough:
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1-0 win over CSKA:
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In all four of those matches we’re controlling the whole field except hit a wall about 22 yards from goal. It makes sense in that’s where the center backs stand, but it also aligns with our playing style of lateral/outside-in runs. With all of our attacking midfielders pushing so far up the field, we need vertical runs from deeper to break the defensive line.  The other options are passes from the wing backs into the near post or over the top passes. All three of those are in our repertoire. We haven’t had an awesome shred-them-to-ribbons game yet where those dinky Alli-Lamela-Erikson 1-2 passes turn into open shots, but it happened a bunch when we peaked Feb-March last year so we have it in us.
For comparison, here are the pass trackers for Man City’s 2-1 win over Swansea and 4-0 win over Bournemouth:
Inline image 5
Inline image 6
They’ve scored 80% more goals than us with about the same number of passes and shots. I think they’re getting a little closer to goal than we are with their passes. I checked their shot locations and they look pretty similar to ours. Perhaps they’re 2-4 yards closer and that makes a big conversion rate difference. I’m not sure. On the other hand, it’s only been 6 games. If you strip out the 3 PKs they’ve scored (compared to our 0) they’re getting a free 0.5 goals per game awarded to them that we’re not. Or, maybe they’re just better at finishing? You’d hope so given the value of their players is double ours.
Back to the game. I thought we were pretty blah in the first half. In particular, Alli was mediocre. His passes were sloppy, his shots were wasteful, he couldn’t dribble and his timing was weird. Hitting the crossbar early made him look more productive than he was. And his first half giveaway after he dribbled back deep into our half should have put us behind 1-0. Lamela and Son weren’t very impactful either. CSKA was also very well organized in defense and played their offsides trap really well. They nailed Janssen and Son several times and Son’s goal could have been called either way (although I think he was onsides and it was legit). Traore up top was a handful. It’s not often Vertonghen and Alderweirald are at a loss for size, strength, and speed. And he worked hard. There’s your striker target man, E.
In the second half we picked it up. Son was much better, and Davies, Vertonghen, and Alderweirald were excellent, but my man of the match was Erikson. He was the conductor, moving the pieces, linking passes, and opening up opportunities. He was too eager to shoot from distance early in the game, but after the first half hour he was really good. His 50 yard knee high laser to a streaking Alli at the far post was brilliant and would have been a tournament highlight had Alli turned it goalward. Janssen didn’t quite make it happen, but I like that he beat the keeper with a flick during one of his offsides calls. They were both going for it and Janssen won even if it doesn’t make it onto the scoresheet. NKoudou looked dangerous as a sub. I’m liking this guy and he’s very different from the other guys he’d be replacing. Poche likes having utilitarian cogs to swap out across his positions but having another speed merchant/dribbler is pretty exciting (besides Son). We definitely lacked that last season. Now we need to see NKoudou shoot.
Player Ratings (-5 to +5)
Janssen (+0) Decent hold up play, hustle as usual, couldn’t find enough good shots or passes from that lead role.
Son (+2) Better second half than first. Can’t fault the lone goal scorer though.
Lamela (+1) Better second half than first. Thought he was going to get booked for petulance in the first half. Good to see that he still owns the gloves. And the guyliner.
Erikson (+3) My man of the match
Alli (-1) Wasteful. Bad giveaways. Goes to ground looking for a foul too easily. Everyone and their mother is looking for his soft penalty dives.
Wanyama (+1) A few poor giveaways but owned the central defensive midfield. Was always available for an outlet/restart pass
Davies (+3) Good bounce back game following that shitshow against ‘brough. Was quick going forward, made smart passes, didn’t leave a gaping hole in defense, and stuck some good tackles
Vertonghen (+2) Was getting pushed around by Traore but never let it turn into a card-worthy foul. Did his job.
Alderweirald. (+3) I always rate him higher than Vertonghen because I suspect Vertonghen is a dick. Also, Toby offers a lot more going forward. Sometime soon I’m going to write about his awesome long ball game. He’s like a sniper for over the top passes. And he gets his head on the ball a lot on corner kicks.
Trippier (+1) Got down the field well to create width in the attacking third. Tracked back well most of the time, but got beat around the corner at least twice.
Lloris (0) I want to rate him higher because I like him but he didn’t look very good claiming crosses. Toby and Jan made his job a lot easier today.
NKoudou (+3) That was fun.  Hope to see more of that soon.
Winks (+1) Not a lot of time on the ball, but looked good when he was in the play.
Here’s the Korean commentary during the Son goal. Tight pass by Toby to get it started. Nice assist for Lamela.

Spurs Week 6 Action

Second in the table!

Welcome back everyone! Just to reiterate, the Spurs are a really fun club to follow. Aesthetically pleasing hi-tempo style; young, likable and slightly villainous players; smart and passionate coach; and a shrewd team president who is half way through implementing a 10 year plan to make them one of the big money clubs in England. They’re quite a bit below Arsenal and Liverpool in spending but way above the next tier of teams like Everton, Leicester, and West Ham who have no real shot at securing consistent European qualification. And Spurs are in the Champions League!

On to the game review. 2-1 away win to Middlesbrough. Our third win in a row and an easy result. The English media is trying to spin a narrative that the Spurs were given a run for their money late in the game, but this game was over after 20 minutes. What they should have been talking about was that Middlesbrough’s uniforms are from the early 2000s–baggy, long shorts, 1990s shoulder stripes, Italian-esque body stripes, and just shitty looking. I don’t know if this was some sort of secret throwback alternative kit or if the team is just afraid that their disgustingly fat fans might buy a form-fitting kit and try to wear it in public but it might have made anyone cry if he watched the game.
Anyway, we opened up with a half-strength lineup and played a variation on our typical 4-2-3-1 with Alli and Wanyama at the CM pivot instead of Dembele and Dier; Son, Erikson, and Sissoko playing left to right in AM; Janssen in the striker slot; and Davies at left back. It looked something like this:
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Possibly due to stylistic differences, we played quite differently than normal. Sissoko stayed way out wide forcing Walker to pinch in from right back. Wanyama sat very deep while Alli and Erikson rotated playing the pivot. Janssen made almost no Harry Kane-type steep runs and operated almost exclusively like a center in basketball acting as a distributor from the high post. It was a forward-pushing, but very flat formation that almost looked like a 4-1-1-4 with Walker and the pivot keeping control of the midfield. I’ve diagrammed it thusly:
Inline image 10
As you can guess by my doodles, I did not rate Sissoko or Davies highly this game. That’s because they were garbage. Here’s a map of Sissoko’s contributions. Blue are good, red are bad, a prize to the person who can figure out which goal he was trying to score on:
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Sissoko went out injured in the 70th minute–a knock to the head–and was replaced by Lamela. Here’s what Lamela contributed in 1/5th the time from the same position. Almost every single ball is in the attacking direction.
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I don’t know what Sissoko is trying to do on the pitch but he’s nowhere near the same page as the rest of the team. His positioning was detrimental to Walker, Alli and Erikson, and when he would get the ball it was rarely given back in a more advanced position. Sometimes he takes on defenders but they always drive him to the corner flag where the best case scenario is never more than hopeful cross getting deflected out for a corner kick. Maybe it’s because he’s only been with the club for 4 weeks, but he does not fit what we’re doing.
Davies, on the other hand, has no excuses. He’s been on the team for years so he knows the tactics but his passing was terrible, the timing on his forward runs were confusing and left gaping holes in the D, and he was consistently beat by his man to crosses at the far post. Middlesbrough had exactly 4 crosses from their left to right and all four found Davies’ man or went over Davies’ head to the man he should have been marking. Danny Rose is weak against aerial crosses but he makes up for it by staying goal-side and not letting his man find space behind him. Here are all 6 of Middlesbrough’s shots. The two gray ones were blocked in plays that I can’t remember. The other four are headed balls following crosses by the man running at the far post. That’s it. That’s the entirety of Middlesbrough’s attack. Davies misplaying all 4 of his opportunities to defend crosses:
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So here’s what was good. Our offensive rotation was fluid and potent. Our attackers were coordinated and creative and looked to set each other up. We consistently created scoring chances and harried the ‘brough defense into turning the ball back over in their own half. We had long stretches of possession that strangled the life out of them while not slowing the game down. When the ball does get sent out, Alderweirald is our Belgian falcon swooping around the field picking off passes and through balls with the foresight of a clairvoyant.
Games like today prove that we can roll out a diminished line up against the lesser teams and not really miss out on much. Our fatal flaw last season was that any lineup that didn’t include our top 11 was significantly worse. Late season fatigue ended our chances to really push for the title. Last week against shitty Sunderland with a top line up this was our expected goals (xG) map:
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And this week we took our foot off the pedal at halftime and still put up 1.7xG:
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Son will get the plaudits for this game and that’s reasonable. He came into the match having put 2 screamers past Stoke and looking to take advantage of another starting spot. In August, he requested a transfer back to the Bundesliga following his underwhelming first year in the BPL. Pochettino talked him out of it and looks like the genius that he is. Here are the match highlights, including Son’s two goals:
The first goal is remarkable for two reasons. First, Janssen’s hold up play is par excellence. He could have held onto that for 30 more seconds if he wanted. Second, note that Son is coming from the right and Sissoko is manning the far post on the left. Erikson provides the starter pass to Janssen. All 3 AMs are out of “position” which shows the flexibility and fluidity in Poche’s system. Pep Guardiola of Man City literally drew a chalk mark on the pitch for Raheem Sterling to stand on like a fucking robot. Poche just gets guys who can play, outlines a strategy, and unleashes them.
The second goal is laudable for the hustle that Son shows winning the ball back. Not exactly quality D by ‘brough but the shot was inch perfect. Valdez the GK didn’t even try to save it.
In the ‘brough chances on goal, look for Ben Davies (33) not defending anyone or getting goal-side of his man. Terrible.
With our comfortable 23rd minute 2-0 lead the ref put the whistle in his pocket and we played a gentleman’s game. Not a lot of fouls and Dele Alli actually checked on an injured Smoggie instead of just giving them the hairy eyeball. Not shown on that xG map is the two very reasonable penalty calls that were waved off for no discernible reason in the first half. Alli got inside his man twice and was tripped from behind on the first one (no ball contact at all) and the defender knocked the ball out of the air with his arm on the second one. In the second half, Son was denied a penalty after getting tripped in the box (no ball contact on that one either) so at least the ref was consistent.
‘Brough seemed happy with the 2-0 loss too. The only players in red who took exception were the GK Valdez who nearly attacked his own defender for not tracking back and had to be restrained by another defender, and the left winger who pushed the ball into dangerous areas only to find that there were zero teammates following or making runs.
As the second half opened up, we relaxed. Erikson and Alli were completely in control of the midfield in what was probably the most complete game by the two of them all season. They should have had an assist-goal combo after Erikson stole the ball from a dawdling ‘brough defender and slipped it to Alli who lifted it over the keeper and bar from 8 yards out. It was a silly miss but didn’t feel like anything at the time given our total control of the game.
Around the 65th minute ‘brough made a double switch and one of the new guys made a mazey run up the middle of the pitch. It was an exciting play that didn’t really turn into anything but the announcers got excited and decided that Middlesbrough was back in the game and that was going to be the narrative. They scored off a silly Wanyama foul free kicktwo minutes later when our man Davies whiffed on the header and Wanyama’s man climbed over his back to finish it. Poor defending by both men, but very much against the run of play.
This wasn’t Spurs best game of the season but the guys who played well, Janssen, Alli, Erikson, Son, Walker, Alderweirald, and Vertonghen were very good and might have won the game by more if the other guys weren’t on the pitch. Bill Simmons jokes about the Milton Berle game (pulling out just enough to win) and this was very much an example of that. It was easy even if the score line doesn’t reflect it.
Player ratings (-5 to +5)
Janssen (2) – strong in his hold up play, got the assist on Son’s first, and could have gotten more assists with better finishing.
Son (3) – aggressive, 2 smartly taken goals, hustled all game
Alli (3) – would have scored higher had he converted the easy chance that he put over the bar
Erikson (3) – Man of the match. Controlled the middle of the pitch
Sissoko (-2) – I’m sure he’ll score a goal or three this season but given the way he’s playing it’ll be a fluke play not by intention
Wanyama (-1) – Knows how to do the dirty work in the CM spot to slow down an attack but switches off too easily and was beat for Middlesbrough’s goal
Davies (-4) – Awful. Was lucky that we weren’t facing an actual offense that could have really exploited him
Vertonghen (1) – Tough to rate. I think most of his action was trying to cover for Davies.
Alderweirald (3) – Never a wrong step. Is a great source of pin-point forward crosses when our O is having trouble stretching their D.
Walker (3) – Adapted well to Sissoko being shitty and taking advantage of the space available to him
Lloris (-1) – Not a very good game for our keeper. Not responsible for the goal, but was poor in distribution in his few chances. No real saves to speak of.
Lamela (2) – creative and aggressive in his 15 minutes of sub time.
Winks (0) – I want to rate him higher. Only had a few minutes of sub time but looked smooth and comfortable in the midfield. Hope we see more of him in blow out games or against weaker competition.
N’Koudou (0) – pacy and youthful. Only had a few minutes of sub time but was really aggressive in his defensive press and pushed hard to create a shot in his only opportunity. Good effort at the least.
Our next match is Tuesday against CSKA Moscow in our second Champions League match. We travel there. English soccer teams traveling to Moscow–a 3.5 hour flight–complain like people in the LA’s South Bay going East of the 405. It’s not that big a deal and at least the team is doing it in September and not December. I’ll do some research on CKSA tomorrow. The game is being shown on Fox Sports 2 at 11:30am PST Tuesday.

Spurs Week 6 Action

Middlesborough

This week we’re playing away at Middlesborough. As you may remember from my Arbitrary Power Rankings (APR)–trademark pending–they were holding down the coveted 11th place. Minimal fanfare! Exceeding baseline expectations! What’s not to love about the….Smoggies? I shit you not, that’s what their fans are called. Brexiters really pine for the long lost days of Industrial Powerhouse England. I’m not sure why. By all accounts it was a sooty, toxic, abysmal place to live. They romanticize chimney sweeps for fuck’s sake.
Back to soccer. The Smoggies are one of the promoted teams and started their season well with a draw against Stoke, a win over Sunderland, and a draw with West Brom before losing to Crystal Palace and Everton. On second look, those first three performances mean nothing and Middlesborough is a poor team that will struggle to avoid relegation. They are bereft of quality players and their coach said in an interview today that Tottenham will win the game regardless of whether Kane is injured or not. After they got smoked by Everton last week, the manager said “I can be happy with the attitude of the team because other teams would have lost five, six or 7-1. We were battling to the end.” That’s a serious glass-half-full spin!
Middlesborough has nice red uniforms and Brad Guzan is their backup keeper. That’s about all the nice things I can say about them. Last year they had a really stingy defense but they’ve given up 7 goals in 5 games against not great competition. This is Tottenham’s game to lose. Or draw. But most likely win and win comfortably.
Spurs, as most weeks, will probably come out with a 4-2-3-1. Most likely Janssen starts up top. Son has been great in his last two matches so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him swap out for either Lamela or Erikson. I would expect Dier and Dembele in the pivot, and I think Rose is still injured so Davies will start at left back. This being an easier match, and with our pending trip to CKSA Moscow on Tuesday, seeing a few of the back ups wouldn’t be a terrible thing.
For the first few weeks of the season I’ve been harping on how much Mousa Dembele means to the team. Offensively, as you’ve all seen, we’re blessed with creative playmakers and a flexible idea of positioning for our attacking band. Kane is part-time holder and changes it up by making steep runs off of inside passes. He’s tall-ish, fast enough, and kinda strong. He is, however, both skillful and opportunistic. He combines well with the outside-in movement of Lamela and Erikson, and the creativity of Alli. Because all of our attackers tend to cluster in the middle of the field, we rely on Walker and Rose to get down the flanks and provide width.
On defense, we are anchored by the consistent, well-positioned, strong trio of Vertonghen, Alderweirald, and Dier to close down the middle. Rose and Walker rely on their speed to recover from deep forays into the attacking half of the pitch. Our attackers play a quick pressing system that requires all of them to switch onto the nearest free players to slow down any counter-attacks until we recover our defensive shape.
All of this is acceptably good with Dier and a replacement-level CM holding down the middle of the middle. Dembele, however is a game-changing beast. Man U bought Paul Pogba, a fellow CM pivot, for $133M this off season because he can attack with the ball at his feet, use his strength to hold off defenders, change directions to open up new lines of attack, close down quickly on defense, and is generally unstoppable. Now watch this Dembele video:
That’s 5 minutes of him crushing ankles on tackles, and breaking ankles on turns. His first touch is impeccable and leads second touch passes. When he dribbles, he’s upright and balanced. He’s freakishly strong but has a delicate and deft passing touch. His strides are long and fluid but he’s never out of control and the ball never strays too far. Defenders are always close to the ball but never able to steal possession. Second defenders are forced to crash with help. Where the rest of our players instinctively try to pass advance the ball, Dembele dribbles into space and at defenders. This forces them to engage and suddenly the defensive shape is broken and Alli or Lamela or Erikson is standing 16 yards out with a 3 yard cushion and a twinkle in their eye. I’m wet just thinking about it. I love watching Dembele. He elevates the team by magnifying the things we do well and adding that dribbling control that not even Lamela possesses. And he’s mean. I’m sure he’s nice off the field, but on the field he and Lamela and Alli (and Janssen) love to tackle late and start shit with their counterparts. They niggle and nag and harass and draw fouls while putting up their hands as if to say “I didn’t know I was stepping on his calf”. They give our team a villainous attitude. Arsenal and Liverpool and Man City can move the ball with delicate grace but they’re pussies. We are bullies. We punish with volume and force and sinister intentions. We have half a team of Diego Costas–the most hated footballer in England on the biggest bully team–and here we are bullying them at the end of last season when the league title was out of our grasp. Look for Dembele poking Costa in the eye. Fuck ’em. I love this team.

BPL Power Rankings

This season’s first edition!

To borrow a bit from the Men in Blazers, we’re now 5/38ths of the way through the season and that’s an unreduceable fraction. While it’s to draw many conclusions, we can check our expectations and the foolish narratives against what’s actually happening. In a few more weeks the European matches, FA Cup matches and League Cup matches will really start piling up and teams will have played different numbers of games. It’s also approximately 13% of the way through the season and that’s deserving of a power ranking.

I’m going to do this in two ways. First, a snapshot ranking that reflects where that team is right now. Second, a future ranking band that shows the range of positions where that team might finish the season.
  1. Man City – King of the hill. Pep’s strategy isn’t fully formed but he’s still playing 5 attackers at a time, among them Ginger King Kevin DeBryune. The only knock against them is that they are susceptible to counter attacks and never quite seem to put the game completely away. If I had to guess, they’ll figure it out and be quite untouchable this season.
  2. Liverpool – They play like Klopp’s personality–electric and frenetic. All three of their big signings this off season are really productive and they have the depth to change their strategy to match the game. Unfortunately for their opponents, they’re so strong in their preferred style that they won’t need to change much. Loss against Burnley was a statistical fluke, but they have conceded more than 1.5 goals a game.
  3. Spurs – Homer Pick! Actually, I have reason to put them here. 3 easy match ups, but 2 difficult ones. Draws in the difficult ones–and didn’t look great, but weren’t playing at full strength (Dembele, Lloris). A clicking Spurs side is a five-headed snake with a tail that stings. At our current level we still have the stingiest D in the league.
  4. Everton – Undefeated and second in points. They drew at home against Spurs but otherwise have faced only bottom half teams. That said, they have mostly destroyed their opposition. They lack depth but their best 7 guys are solid and in their primes.
  5. Arsenal – They would be higher on this list if they were managed by anyone other than Wenger. The man was a genius 20 years ago but you have to wonder if he’s out-thinking himself with some of his decisions. His starting lineups are confusing–sometimes missing strikers, sometimes missing central midfielders. They can be oh so good and shockingly bad in the space of 10 minutes. They’ve played the toughest schedule so far and are sitting in 4th (loss at home to Liverpool, draw away with Leicester, win away at Watford, win at home to Southampton, win away at Hull). Hard to predict how this team fares by coaching and by injuries.
  6. Chelsea – Hazard is back, Conte is scary, and Costa is an evil monster with 5 goals already this season. But their entire D is a significant step down from their attacking players and they don’t have much depth. Either new blood will come in and replace them or Chelsea’s ceiling is limited. Lackluster in their loss to Liverpool and flat in their draw against Swansea.
  7. Man United – Back to back league losses. Mourinho already blaming his players. Rashford, De Gea, and Pogba not good enough to hold up Rooney and Mata. Ibrahimovic is still dangerous but he spends a lot of time walking during the game. I think the biggest sign of Man U’s weakness is that their go-to substitution is Fellaini and the strategy change of targeting him in the box and hoping he can knock down a header for someone to toe-poke in. That’s not much of a strategy. It’s hardly better than hitting it at Peter Crouch and hoping for the same. The difference is that Fellaini plays in the center of the pitch and its a total liability on defense. At least Crouch hides as a forward. Another Mourinho meltdown would be fun to see.
  8. Watford – Outside of the top spots, Watford is the best of the rest. I don’t see them sitting this high for long, but they got a nice win against Man U, got beat by Arsenal and Chelsea, drew with Southampton, and came from 0-2 down to smoke West Ham. They’re scoring and conceding with regularity so it will be interesting to see what changes.
  9. Leicester – Losing Kante to Chelsea has somehow made both teams worse. The stoutness of Leicester’s D is gone–they’re league average in goals conceded. Their offense is still 2-speed: either Marhez creates something, or Vardy wins a footrace and knocks in a long ball. Their upcoming matches are Chelsea, Man U, and Southampton so we’ll know a lot more about this team by the first weekend of October.
  10. Southampton – 14th in the table but they’re a lot better than their results show. They lost their coach and a bunch of their best players and have reloaded and changed their style. Will be a top half club but not threaten the European spots. On to the rest of the teams that don’t really matter…
  11. Middlesborough – One of the promoted clubs, and started the season playing well. Draw with Stoke, win over Sunderland, and a draw with West Brom don’t look nearly as impressive now.
  12.  Hull – Shock opening weekend win over Leicester, a follow up win against Swansea, then a narrow loss to Man U. Those are great results for the team that was universally picked to be the worst in the BPL and possibly the worst of all time. At 5 points from 5 games, they may have gotten 25% of all the points they’re going to collect for the rest of the season, but for now they’re riding higher than the tire fires below them.
  13. West Brom – Some early season management chaos as their foreign owner was seriously ill and trying to sell the club to some Chinese guy. Sale finally went through and they celebrated by thrashing West Ham 4-2. They have a couple of former Spurs players including their leading scorer Nacer Chadli and former Spurs player of the year defender Michael Dawson.
  14. Crystal Palace – They looked awesome today while spanking Stoke. Andros “Nutmeg” Townsend was a monster. Two wins on the trot hides how bad they were the first 3 games of the season. In a season with more parity they might be in relegation trouble. With the obvious division between the haves and have-nots they’ll hover safely mid table.
  15. Swansea – Shit they’ve been bad. An unlucky draw against Chelsea was against their run of play. They have some talented players and a smooth offensive style but have been terrible in execution. I expect them to move up the table but discontent seems to fomenting.
  16. Bournemouth – Scoring 0.5 goals per game and giving up 2 is not a recipe for winning. That exaggerates the impact of their blowout loss to Man City this weekend. If not for that, they’d only be conceding 1 goal a game. So, now they’re boring and bad instead of just being bad.
  17. Burnley – Filthy cunts. 3 goals for, 8 goals against. That includes a shocking 2-0 win against Liverpool when ‘pool had 80% possession for the game. That’s the record for a team that lost. Without that win Burnley has 1 goal for and 8 goals against. Look away.
  18. West Ham – They’re getting downgraded to West Spam. They’ve lost their last 3 by a combined score of 11-5. They crashed out of Europa and things aren’t looking any better in the league. They can’t even claim to have played a tough schedule as their last two losses have been 4-2 against West Brom and Watford each. I’m not even sure how they’re going to play their way out of it as this is their full strength squad.
  19. Stoke – They’re about thiiiiiiiiiiiiiis close to getting Mark Hughes fired. Opening weekend draw and since then they’ve been smoked. 14 goals conceded is the worst in the league and 3 goals scored is tied for worst. That’s scoring less than a goal a game and conceding nearly 3. For a squad with this much talent, that’s clearly a motivation/tactical issue.
  20. Sunderland – They parked the bus against Spurs and only lost 1-0 because their GK stood on his head all game. They lack quality and depth and are racking up injuries and cards. They’re going to have to be the king of 0-0 draws if they want to have any chance of surviving.