Good grief. There have been better days for Chelsea FC. Today was certainly not one of them.
West Ham United looked better than they have in weeks. I have to think this was an early Christmas gift from Frank Lampard to Manuel Pellegrini. Not to discount West Ham on any level, but boy oh boy, Chelsea was a mess. Just look at the game stats.
Chelsea ran with the majority of possession, strangely had 666 passes (oooohhhh yeah in a crazy Devil voice) and somehow committed no fouls. (WHAT?!?!?) The Blues had Mount, Pulisic and 2018 World Cup winning Giroud on the attack. That’s how you get 19 shots and 6 of those on target, though West Ham were simply more accurate and precise with their shooting today.
A few items to note:
Why on earth was James playing forward Pedro in so many situations? He was useless in setting up opportunities for the attackers. And, in doing so, was often late to get to the backfield to defend (which is what he was there to do). It left a huge exposure for Chelsea and honestly, I’m surprised it was 0-3 by the half.
Chelsea spent way too many passes moving the ball backward into their own defensive territory. At the half, more than half of possession play was within the mid-field. Chelsea simply wasn’t moving it forward, which was astounding when you consider the line-up of attackers at the front, but then again, the mid-field was simply a mess and for some unknown reason, James (THE DEFENDER) spent to much time trying to set up shots, which he simply couldn’t do.
Where there weren’t large holes in the defensive line, the defenders were slow to get to the challenge and Zouma seemed at times like he was afraid of taking a hit from the ball.
But, obviously, defense doesn’t win the match (even when James thinks it might). Quality striking felt like it was coming from too far away. It was like watching a dad throw softballs to a kid, just hoping that something would connect. It clearly never did.
Today was pretty clearly a hiccup for Chelsea, who has been playing well for some time. Last weekend’s loss to ManCity was expected and the draw against Valencia (in the Champions League) wasn’t totally out of nowhere. But the lads need to get it together and Frank’s got to make some better learning moments out of a day like today.
And, the commentary is not to discredit West Ham United. They played strongly today. They appeared to easily strip away the ball from the finest of Chelsea players. Even though they appeared to tire late in the match, they still clearly did what they needed to do. Hopefully, this is a bit of a turnaround for Pellegrini’s boys.
And the award for taking the fun out of the beautiful game goes to…Premier League refs’ inability to use VAR correctly.
Here’s the thing, proper football/soccer is a sport about feel and drama. The use, or misuse, of VAR simply sucks the life out of the sport. Measuring millimeters through the sideline cameras and 3D rotations to see where the attacker’s toes were cut the game down to battles of nuance.
For a game that allows 3 minutes of extra time to, on occasion, run into 4-minute territory, VAR is a slap of the hand with a wooden ruler. The more football associations leverage the technology over the feel of on-field refs, the more they drain the life out of the game.
In association football, diving is an attempt by a player to gain an unfair advantage by falling to the ground and possibly feigning an injury, to give the impression that a foul has been committed. Dives are often used to exaggerate the amount of contact present in a challenge. Deciding on whether a player has dived is often very subjective, and one of the most controversial aspects of football discussion. Players do this so they can receive free kicks or penalty kicks, which can provide scoring opportunities, or so the opposing player receives a yellow or red card, giving their own team an advantage. Diving is also known as simulation (the term used by FIFA), Schwalbe (German for swallow), and, in the U.S., flopping.
I despise diving in the beautiful game. It’s too dramatic and too easy to do. As much as I believe VAR has generally been inappropriately implemented in the Premier League, there is another type of diving that I dislike even more.
Have you noticed how quickly a team can turn around as soon as a new manager is brought in? Not to pick on Tottenham (ok, yes, we’re picking on Tottenham), the club’s free fall into the abyss has somehow be righted since Mourinho came onboard. And to be honest, there’s no way that Jose could have implemented a fully new set of attacking parameters to right the course this quickly, especially when he admitted they weren’t changing the way the Spurs play right away.
This, my friends, is the more erosive form of diving. The team turns on a manager, for whatever reason, begins sacrificing their performance and their own club, only to churn a manager and side-step any responsibility for their own performance. Sometimes, this can backfire or suggest there are deeper problems for a club than a player dive could impact, as can be seen with Manchester United over the past three years.
But one only needs to look at Tottenham’s performance over the past season.
Dial back to mid-July; Tottenham beat Juventus (2-3 at Juventus)
They’re then defeated by Manchester United at home on July 25th (remember, this is present-day, sliding ManUnited)
Tottenham beats Real Madrid and Bayern, but loses to Inter Milan
Then, the Premier League season begins
Tottenham beat Aston Villa
Tottenham draw against Man City
Tottenham LOSE to Newcastle
Tottenham draw against Arsenal
Tottenham beat Crystal Palace
Tottenham draw against Olympiacos (UEFA Champions League)
Tottenham LOSE to Leicester City
Tottenham draw with Colchester (a League Two team during the Football League Cup)
Tottenham beat Southampton
Tottenham LOSE to Bayern (UEFA Champions League – Lose is a kind word. Bayern racks up 7 goals against Tottenham)
Tottenham LOSE to Brighton
Tottenham draw against Watford
Tottenham beat Crvena Zvezda (UEFA Champions League)
Tottenham LOSE against Liverpool
Tottenham draw against Everton
Tottenham again beat Crvena Zvezda (UEFA Champions League)
Tottenham draw against Sheffield United
Then Pochettino is sacked and Mourinho steps in.
Tottenham beats West Ham
Tottenham beats Olympiacos
The last two games represent the longest winning streak for Tottenham since the Premier League season began. In the last two matches, Tottenham seemed to have returned to their quality form.
I mean, maybe a coincidence, but at the same time, did the players cut their arms to save the whole body? I can’t imagine that this was anything more than an internal coup against the former manager. But, even though Mourinho has a history of getting teams to perform, he’s also the strong and hard-to-take medicine that could have been avoided.
Here’s a thing that bugs the socks off of me. When Nike took over jerseys for Chelsea, they must have put a clause in the contract that said something to the effect of: “Anything cool you’re selling now, you can’t sell any longer and all merch must have some level of co-branding from Nike. By the way, we, Nike, have no business making soccer merch.”
I say this because over the past few seasons, the storefront and the merch have gone the way of snooze-ville. So, in the spirit of acknowledging the clubs that are doing it right, let’s focus first on West Ham United. The Hammers are simply brilliant at this thing and clearly understand what their supporters want.
Want a t-shirt? Their shop has 49 of them, with sizes up to 4XL. What? You hear that Nike, 4XL and that is a regular 4XL, not some weird “slim fit” version.
There are also 36, incredibly diverse and unique supporters scarves available. You can even buy West Ham United-branded Toblerone. TOBLERONE. They have a confections section to their store.
Meanwhile, I’m trying to figure out why Nike believes my best option for a hoodie should have a giant SWOOSH on it with CHELSEA FC in small print below.
I know what you’re thinking, “Dude, you’re putting out your recap clearly on a Sunday night and scheduling it for post on Monday.”
“And you’re not even waiting for Newcastle United and Aston Villa to finish their Week 13 match.”
Nope, but here’s a spicy Aston Villa meme to make it all feel better.
All better? With Manchester City’s defeat over Chelsea, both teams basically flip-flopped in the table. Still, Chelsea has 7-points against the 5th team, Wolverhampton. Leicester City has been on fire, but one could argue their recent five matches have been a drop in the bucket for this attacking and aggressive club. Still they sit 8 points behind the leaders, Liverpool, who had me a little worried for a moment against Crystal Palace. Would have thought that match would have carried another goal or two for Liverpool.
Here’s what I find most interesting right now, the 5th through 11th place are separated by three points. Those seven teams can have a lot of leaps and jumps within that tier. And, you’re 12th through 16th ranks are separated by two points. That’s wild. And, a good reminder that at this point in the season, it really is any club’s season. (Though Liverpool are still far enough ahead that they will likely be the 2020 champs.)
Looking ahead to next week, Manchester City, Liverpool and Leicester City should all pull in three points easily. I’m going to be tugging out my hair when West Ham visit Chelsea. My heart says Chelsea, but my mind says draw. I’m also anticipating that Mourinho takes victory for another week with the Spurs against Bournemouth, but we’ll see. Sundays’ show down with Sheffield United at the Wolves should be a real alley fight, too.
Earlier in the week, I said, “Sheffield United and ManUnited will be a brawl, but considering the troubles with ManUnited, I’m going with Sheffield in the win (it won’t be a blow-out, though).”
In some ways, I was right, though it ended up in a draw, 3-3, with furious action hitting in the last 25 minutes.
A draw. Here’s my biggest take-away, ManUnited is not playing the right players at the right time. They have the quality to be a Top 5 team, but I can’t see the management putting the right players on at the right times. Sheffield United got away with more shots on target and watching the match, you’d swear for the most part, Sheffield had the dominant possession. Sheffield’s passing fell apart in the last 25 minutes, more so than the previous 70. At the same time, it seemed as though Sheffield was making more complicated and longer passes. (Likely how the pass count and the pass accuracy was so much higher for ManUnited.
But here’s the thing, ManUnited’s quality happened for a short burst of about 7 minutes when they scored their three goals. This was also aligned with Mason Greenwood coming onto the pitch. If I remember correctly, Rashford’s goal was more or less a lucky drive in. Right place, right time. (Though, I suppose that’s how all proper football is.)
Sheffield United earns its rightful spot, nearing the top of the table. Today’s draw puts them in 6th place, behind The Wolves. It also marks two wins and three draws in the past five matches, which included a win over Arsenal, a draw against West Ham, a win over Burnley, a draw with Tottenham and a draw with Manchester United. Honestly, Sheffield United is coming in hot from the Championship League and making a stand as a team that deserves to be mid-table, if not better.
This also suggests that Manchester United likely has the necessary ingredients to get back to the Top 6 or better, but they simply aren’t pulling it together in a coherent way. Up until the 70 minute, you’d swear ManUnited were just trying to throw their manager under the bus. Sloppy passes, short passes, often an inability to move the ball down the field fully, etc. etc. etc. We’ll have to see what the next two weeks bring for The Devils.
A brand new manager, an away match to prove themselves and regain the trust of the fans. Today was a big day for the Spurs. After Week 12, they had found themselves slumping in the table rankings with less and less hope. Then, the owner sacked their previous manager and brought in Jose Mourinho, a somewhat divisive manager that can either turn a club around or make things much worse. (And this isn’t to say that Mourinho is a bad manager, but things do get awfully dramatic when he’s steering the ship.)
So, today’s Week 13 match placed the Spurs against West Ham United (#COYI). The Hammers have been hanging around the bottom of the table (currently in the 16th spot). This would normally be a blow-out match for Tottenham.
Ok, the obvious first. Tottenham won. They had essentially two days to pull it together with their new manager. But, also remember, this is a champion-level team. It’s shocking how close the stats look. Moreover, the Spurs appear to have had a great first 50 minutes and then gave the Hammers the opportunity to bring it back together. The amount of possession that the Hammers carried was simply amazing when you consider the last 20 minutes of the match. West Ham’s passing accuracy was incredible consider the Spurs should be a “defender” style team. On target shots to shots overall would be 40% for the Spurs and 36% for West Ham United.
Bottom line: Both of these teams have been playing below their caliber. Hopefully, both can turn it around in the coming weeks. I’d like to see the Hammers get back up to mid-table, but at least the Spurs pulled this one off. Jose was in rare form as an apparently supportive manager on the sidelines, not doing the usual sulking he’s known for. At the very least, the rest of the season will be interesting to watch.
Yeah, we’re nearly halfway through the season, but maybe you’re brand new to the most beautiful game in the world, or like many fans of the biggest clubs in England, you’re ready to drop kick your old reliable because of their recent descents into darkness. Have no fear, this incredibly biased perspective will help you figure out which team is worth your time.
Do You Like Winners? Since 2010, six clubs (The Big 6) have historically been at the top of the table, including Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham. As you’ll see below, the recent descent into darkness has had Arsenal, Manchester United and (recently) Tottenham in a tailspin and Manchester City has been enduring more hiccups than usual during the past two months of matches.
Arsenal: Arsenal is a North London club, and has carried the longest winning streak of any club in the Premier League. Their home stadium is Emirates Stadium. They have fans across the world, due largely to their mainstay as one of the Premier League’s top teams. Their current manager is Unai Emery, who’s been on since Spring 2018, after long-time manager Arsene Wenger stepped aside. The 2019/2020 season has been rocky for the Gooners, but they’ll likely maintain a stay in the league even if their performance totally falls apart, since a bad season is still a good season for many other clubs.
Aston Villa: AVFC is a club from Birmingham. The club bounces between the Championship League and the Premier League, as it is what is known as an in-betweener. It’s not a solid enough team to maintain it’s position in the Premier League for more than a few seasons at a time and will typically return to the Premier League after gaining their footing in the Championship League (1 tier below the Premiership for you new football fans out there). West Bromwich Albion has been its biggest rival throughout the years and the club boasts at least four main hooligan firms. Oh, you hooligans. Being an Aston Villa fan means you’re comfortable with turning your attention from the big stage to following the team to the Championship League and watching some of your favorite players jump ships.
AFC Bournemouth: Bournemouth also are a relatively new entrant to the Premier League. They see Southampton as their biggest rivals and can be a surprise to upper-tier and mid-tier clubs in the Premier League who expect them to be complete pushovers. They’re nicknamed The Cherries, due in part to their red and black kits. They’re another deep cut for Premier League clubs. Following Bournemouth is a good way to show that you’re not another fly-by-night fan who’s jumping on the Big 6’s fan bus.
Brighton and Hove Albion: Hailing from Brighton, this club has hung around the relegation cut-off for a while now. If you go back nearly 20 years, they were nearly out of the whole stratification of English clubs, but have since come back up through the ranks to the Premiership. Their big rival is Crystal Palace, but BHA is the perfect club for someone who loves the fear and anxiety of waiting for their club to potentially fall off the trapeze, as compared to a real run for the title.
Burnley: Burnley is an interesting club. Here is another club that has dropped all the way down the English ranks to the fourth tier, but climbed its way back up to the Premiership since it bottomed out in 1987. This is important to note, because it has a very strong following among the clubs of England’s Northwest, with attendance north of 20k within a town of 73k. Not a bad supporter ratio at all. If you like cheering on the underdog, Burnley is not a bad place to be.
Chelsea: Ok, full disclosure, Chelsea is my favorite team, so this summary will be extremely biased. What can I say, beyond “Blues ’til I die.” Chelsea is another extremely successful London club from London’s west end, with rivalries with Arsenal and Tottenham. They’re owned by Russian billionaire, Roman Abramovich, which means they’ve had a healthy appetite for bringing in top-class players and having one of the finest stadiums in the league (Go Stamford Bridge). Recently, they were valued as the sixth most valuable team in the world and eighth highest earning club. Their current manager, Frank Lampard, is a club hero having played as the club’s highest goal scorer. As a side note, Chelsea maintains both stellar women’s and men’s teams, though to see the women’s matches, you’ll need to pick up the FAPlayer app, which is free. What can I say, they tend to win alot, have explosive and fast speed of play and their kits are typically stellar. You can’t miss by being a Chelsea FC supporter. You’ll be joined by a solid fan base across the world.
Crystal Palace: Crystal Palace is a South London team, where there are shared rivalries with Millwall and Charlton Athletic. They also have a fierce rivalry with BHA. Since 2014, they’ve held their spot in the Premier League, but admittedly they tend to be a mid-table team, finishing south of the 10th rank over the past few years. Their kits are decent enough, they tend to pull out surprise wins and they seem relatively stable as a team. Crystal Palace is a team that you won’t expect to win the league, but you’ll see a lot of fine match-ups. If you’re looking for a non-Big 6 team to support, you could do a lot worse than Crystal Palace.
Everton: Everton FC is another top-tier club (they’ve been in the top league since the mid-50s), sharing a Liverpool home with Liverpool FC, across the way in Goodison Park. Nicknamed The Toffees, EFC is one of the most solid teams to support in the Premier League. And, with a long-history of quality football, you’re nearly assured that each season will find Everton’s matches televised across the world. It’s also a relatively drama-free club, so if you prefer your sport over the salacious gossip in the papers, this is a good team to follow.
Leicester City: If you’ve heard anything about The Foxes and aren’t a die-hard supporter, it’s likely that you heard about Leicester City’s incredible 2015/2016 run to take the Premier League title, after returning to the top-tier just a season before. Leicester became known for their counterattacking style of play, “incredible pace in the areas it is most essential” and defensive solidarity. Forward Jamie Vardy was instrumental in many of the wins in the 2015/2016 season and beyond. At the moment, Leicester City is in second place in the tables, following behind Liverpool and separated from Chelsea by +11 points in goal differential. So far this season, they’ve only lost to Liverpool and, somehow, Manchester United. Another solid team for supporters to get behind.
Liverpool: Liverpool are honestly the darlings of the Premier League. It’s hard to hate against them, unless you’re an Everton fan. Lead by manager Jurgen Klopp (Captain Hugs for his notorious celebratory player hugs), the club has been on a hot streak. And though they haven’t won the Premiership since the 1989/1990 season, they’ve brought home their fair share of silverware from European contests since. Liverpool currently has one of the most cohesive teams in the league, with players who actually seem like a coherent family. They’ve got killer merch, a great slogan (You’ll Never Walk Alone) and pull out some of the most powerful wins of any current Premier League club. Plus, they’re from Liverpool. It’s what would have been if The Beatles had been a football team rather than a smashingly good pop quartet. They’re also playing at a pace and quality that they may have the title wrapped up well before the season ends.
Manchester City: I compare ManCity to the Boston Red Sox. They’re a powerhouse, but for some reason, this season, they’ve just lost a little steam. Still an incredible team and a much better choice to follow than ManUnited (read more about this dumpster fire of a team below). Under the management of Pep Guardiola they won the Premier League in 2018 becoming the only Premier League team to attain 100 points in a single season. Again, jumping on the ManCity bandwagon is like jumping on the Red Sox wagon; you’ll see a ton of great matches, but everyone will think you’re just picking a winner (which you sort of are).
Manchester United: I’m just going to put this out there. ManUnited has been a terrible pile of trash for several years. This season is the first time we’re actually seeing them falling down toward relegation territory, which would serve them right since they are loosing some matches against teams that should win on paper. Yeah, they’re still part of the Big 6, but you wouldn’t recognize them from the team from a decade ago. It’s as it a few seasons ago, the whole team woke up and had simply forgotten how to play the game. They’ve had issues with players, managers and even a solid chunk of their supporters seem to be dwindling in faith. They also seem to have recently developed an uncanny knack at spending outrageous amounts of money on players that simply don’t fit the team. I could go on, but it would be a waste of both of our time. Jumping on this ship should be an indicator that there is something wildly wrong with your understanding of sport. Still, go Devils?
Newcastle United: Newcastle is a classic yo-yo team. On average, they’ve hovered around the bottom third of the Premier League table, with a few exceptions when the wagon wheels just fell of and they dropped to the Championship season for a moment and then returned to start that plummeting effect all over. Obviously, they’ve have cool sponsorships and coordinated kits. For all of that, they have an incredibly strong following, with average attendance in the 50k range for the past 8 years. Sting, from The Police, is a huge fan.
Norwich City: Nicknamed The Canaries, Norwich City rejoins the Premier League this season since dropping down to the Championship in 2016. Some may suggest the club’s best days are well behind it, with stronger contention for the League between 1987 and 1993, yet they’ve never won the top-tier’s trophy. It feels mean to kick a smaller team, but Norwich City is interesting to watch, even in their green kit on green pitches.
Sheffield United: Sheffield United is the second best team to hail from the Sheffield, England area (Sheffield Wednesday being my favorite team currently in the Championship league). All joking aside, SheffUnited have spent the bulk of the last three decades in the Championship league. So, their current run isn’t so surprising as they seem to have a lot to prove.
Southampton: The Saints have never won the Premier League title either, but they’ve been a solidly mid-level team in the league since their return to the top-tier in 2012/2013. The few years after their return signaled a climb to the middle of the pack, but has since dropped off. Consider this team as a deep cut for new fans, but don’t expect a ton of wins.
Tottenham Hotspur: The Spurs seemingly have been in a spiral this season, potentially stemming from some dismal competitions in the last season. Recently, they kicked their 5-year manager, Mauricio Pochettino, to the curb and brought in Jose Mourinho after the season had been falling apart, with a Match Week 12 ranking of 14th. (Woof.) The internet generally lost their mind with the incoming Mourinho who has a totally different style of play from the traditional Spurs’ aggressive play. The team has been technically proficient and has been in the top of the league since the early 60’s. My prediction is that they’ll continue to unravel, but hey, they do have the pedigree.
Watford: Elton John is a supporter, which might be the most interesting aspect of the team. They’ve been in the Premier League for several seasons since dropping down to the Championship for a while. Honestly, they’re simply a snooze and a bit irritating when they somehow pull off a win or a draw against one of your favorite clubs. If you’re a fan of pure vanilla VSCO-style stuff, yeah, give ’em a go.
West Ham United: WHU are known affectionately as The Hammers and use the slogan COYI (or Come On You Irons). West Ham would be a great team to follow and have generally held a mid-table spot in the Premiership, except for four various drops to the Championship. WHU has die-hard supporters and the most killer merch to prove it. If you’re a fan of Iron Maiden, you’ll recognize the crest on Steve Harris’ signature Fender Precision bass. They’ve never won the Premier League, but they have the greatest heart and passion of any club in the division, maybe second only to Liverpool.
Wolverhampton Wanderers: Meh. The Wolves are basically a tease, spending the better part of the past 30 years in the Championship league. They just returned to the Premiership in the 2018/2019 season. They’re currently eighth overall, but that’s not saying much. They draw more than they win. They’ve also been unable to put more than 2 points a match on the board. I’d rather support a team that can find the goal on a regular basis.
In the ever-developing death spiral of Tottenham, apparently the club bosses decided the lads needed a few doses of the worst tasting medicine. Pochettino is out. For some unbelievable reason, Jose Mourinho is in as the club’s new manager.
As much of a controversial move this is, what does Tottenham have to lose? Check out the board after Match Week 12.
Not ideal for Tottenham at all. (Side note, Chelsea looks great in the 3rd spot.) Three draws and two losses in the last five matches. Whew. That just spelled “Adios” for Pochee. Plus, for as strong of a club as Tottenham have been in the past few years, they could never win.
And although I’m not a Spurs supporter (Forever Blues. Blues Forever.), I know this song and dance from Jose’s time with Chelsea and then the unbelievable unraveling of ManUnited. And, I’m not the only one who’s calling this a mistake. Twitter (the world’s greatest destination for armchair quarterbacking) is literally losing its mind today.
But, you’ve got to give it to Mourinho. At the core, Jose is an incredible manager; likely one of the greatest, if:
He has a team willing to play his ways.
There are no outspoken players on the team that would go against Jose.
The team is literally a great team and can be motivated to win.
He’ll have money to spend (which Tottenham’s owners haven’t recently been willing to pass out the cash).
As an assistant coach in the mid-90’s, Porto and Barcelona were in impeccable style. His time leading Porto, Inter and two-runs with Chelsea, showed what he’s capable of. Then, you’ve got issues with his integration with Real Madrid and ManUnited that sour the track record.
But, the club has deeper issues with players, personnel and a composition that likely won’t fit with Jose’s managerial style.
Read more here:
Gulp! (Note: This is the Sun’s site, so readers be warned of some scandalous side bar ads.)