Barclays Premier League: The stories so far..
Twelve rounds on, the script seems different. Barclays Premier League, as I always maintain, is the place to be if you are a fan of surprises. With 26 game weeks still to go, it’s anybody’s guess who will finish on the podium. Drama and intrigue have been aplenty in the three and a half months of league action, and we warm ourselves up for the busy and heavily scheduled festive months as the season closes in on the halfway mark. As we brace ourselves for the imminent winter, we take a look at the stories of the season so far.
1) JOSE NO-RE-UNION
It was supposed to be the same script that remained incomplete when the ‘Special One’ Mourinho left the Stamford Bridge corridors in 2007. Since then Chelsea have experienced unprecedented success, doing the league and FA Cup double and even winning the Champions League Holy Grail. But then again, romanticism rests in the walls of the Bridge, and Jose Mourinho’s return pointed to rosier days for the Blues. And stuttering Chelsea have been far from convincing under the Portuguese coach. Third in the league and four points behind the leaders isn’t bad at all, but when you account for the amount of money spent in the summer restructuring of the club roster, it isn’t good enough. And to add salt to the wounds, Mourinho now has identical records with Roberto di Matteo after twelve matches, who was unceremoniously sacked last season. A Mourinho sacking is totally unfathomable; but the Portuguese magician has so far failed to weave his magic on his much vaunted return to England. Time will tell what fate awaits him, but one thing’s for sure, Jose Mourinho wouldn’t have expected an easy ride either.
2) ENTERTAINERS FALL
Managerial casualties no longer grab the biggest headlines in the global game, they have become commonplace in recent times. Known for being a strong personality who didn’t budge under any kind of pressure, be it the political pressure that tried to engulf him for his fascist views or be it the press who condemned him after his infamous assault on a referee, Paolo di Canio couldn’t keep up in the hustle and bustle of the league. In his first full season as Sunderland manager, he oversaw the Mackems slide to the bottom with no wins from the opening five games. And that was enough for owner Ellis Short to pull the metaphorical trigger, although disharmony within the squad went a long way in deciding where the Italian’s future was. Out went Di Canio, and Sunderland still find themselves rooted to the bottom, although they’ve managed to eke out two priceless wins under new manager Gus Poyet. While Sunderland are odds-on favorite for the drop, another of their relegation rivals Crystal Palace haven’t had an easy step up from the Championship. Level on points with the Wearsiders, 19th place Palace has already seen their manager resign and appoint the old-school Tony Pulis as replacement. Ian Holloway failed to regain the mojo which made his Blackpool side of 2010/11 so pleasing on the eye and the subsequent lack of points ultimately made the eccentric Englishman part ways. It has been a turbulent opening for the eccentric and the idiosyncratic managers, and the league will miss two of the most unconventional managers to grace the stage.
3) CANNON WEILDERS-TABLE TOPPERS
When the big boys of yesteryears drag themselves into the Champions League and then, to make things worse, start off a new season with a home loss against supposedly lowly opposition, a shroud of negativity is bound to engulf the entire atmosphere. But such joy for Arsenal haters was short lived, and Arsene Wenger has found the perfect blend of poise and panache to lead the Gunners to the top of the league. Whether he served up some magic potion to liven up his playing staff or whether Mesut Ozil brought home some German elixir is anybody’s guess, but Arsenal haven’t started a season with this swagger in years. Credit must be given to the vastly improved individuals; from top to bottom it has been a total renaissance. Be it Wojciech Szczeszny, Olivier Giroud, Aaron Ramsey or Bacary Sagna, every one of Arsenal’s squad has stepped up to the plate, even in the injury induced absence of Theo Walcott and Lucas Podolski. Arsenal on current form looks like a team possessed, and it would take more than a few knocks to put them off track.
4) SAINT-LY START
Southampton have been the revelation of the season so far. Mauricio Pochettino’s Saints have enjoyed an extended run of success, and have so far managed invaluable wins at difficult places apart from their St Mary’s joy ride. Wins at Anfield and Hawthorns remain their only away wins, while they could’ve snatched victory at Old Trafford too, being the dominant side for most of the match. 22 points from their opening 12 fixtures provide cause for optimism for a club whose primary aim still, is to avoid relegation. At least on this form, they should easily be able to do that, and to take a leaf out of Swansea’s book, vie for a possible European spot. But things only get trickier when least expected, and back-to-back games against biggies Arsenal and Chelsea will test their credentials to the hilt. If they can follow their loss at Arsenal with a win at Chelsea, their early season bubble couldn’t and shouldn’t be considered a fluke. But then it would be advisable for the Saints faithful to keep expectations in check, for a difficult period awaits the minnows.
5) BEST OF THE REST
Manchester City can’t stop scoring at home at the moment, and can’t win away from home too. A solitary win away has been emphatically overshadowed by the ridiculously high number of goals scored at home. City followed up their 7-0 home win against Norwich by piling misery on fellow big spenders Tottenham last weekend by putting six past them. While onto the red half of the city, we see the Manchester United machine slowly getting into gear. Stutters remain the order of the day, and by the looks of it, they have all but lost that aura of defending champions. It would be a very long shot for anyone predicting United winning the league, but nothing is certain in this world of football. Liverpool’s high hopes after getting that proverbial “Sir Alex monkey off their back” got an early impetus, but things have returned to the usual prosaic theme fans are used to. While Tottenham continue to stumble in their pursuit of Champions League football, it’s their former boss Martin Jol who is in the firing line after a losing spree that doesn’t seem to end. Relieving the Dutchman of his duties at Fulham would provide perhaps the most apt respite for the aging baldhead. And there’s the usual mundane mid-table business featuring teams like Aston Villa, Hull, Swansea, Norwich and West Brom that fails to interest this excitement-starved brain of mine. But as usual, you can only expect the unexpected in the Premier League, and the drama isn’t over by any means. Two-thirds of the season still to go, so this isn’t the time to loosen your seatbelts. Sit tight and enjoy the rest of the season.
Barclays Premier League: The stories so far..
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