November 25, 2014

A muddied-up midtable

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

Last year in the Premier League was notably for something it was missing for most of the season – a midtable.

For some reason, there was a very clear divide between teams that were contending for spots in Europe and teams that weren’t too far out of the relegation battle. Most of the year, it was a very small group containing Southampton and Newcastle – and for a while, just the former.

This season we have seen a rebirth of that muddy middle of the league.

It may still be relatively early being less than a third into the season, but when looking at the gap between fourth place and 12th is just five points – less than two games difference.

You can chalk this up to several things. There’s clearly more parity in the league this year, with less of a difference between the clubs a level below the championship contenders.

You can also chalk up this bloated midsection to the struggles of a few supposed contenders, like Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool. In fact, United and Liverpool make up the beginning and end of our midtable section sitting at fourth and 12th, respectively.

While we always enjoy a nice title race, isn’t this sort of midtable just as exciting when it takes up several of the European spots?

Any given week you can see teams rise or fall five or six places in the snap of a finger.

It also has allowed those struggling contenders a chance to stay in the hunt despite their many woes.

While we would suspect the cream will eventually rise to the top, we should enjoy this while it lasts. And if it does persist, we could be in for one of the most exciting race for Europe we’ve ever seen.

CHELSEA: CHAMPIONS ELECT

Is it too foolish to call Chelsea the champions in waiting already? It isn’t even December after all.

But after another win, this time beating West Brom 2-0, the Blues now have a six-point lead over second-place Southampton.

Jose Mourinho even got a favour from the Spanish national team, which didn’t select “injured” players Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa, despite their readiness for this match. It appears that the Special One had a favour to spend and used it. Another example of his stellar management.

You’d also be surprised to find that Chelsea scored its only two goals this week before West Brom went down to 10 men. Why they didn’t add on to the scoreline might be a sign of humility.

The Blues won’t even face a real test in England until Christmas time, when a run of Southampton (away), Spurs (away), Newcastle at home, Swansea (away) and Man City at home will either end the title race, or open it up completely.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

It has been a tough season for injuries around the league and it just keeps getting worse. After several stars went down during training and last week’s friendlies, it was also reported that Daniel Sturridge and Radamel Falcao both suffered setbacks from their injuries … After dominating Manchester United and still losing – typical Gunners – Arsenal now sits at 17 points after 12 games. That’s their lowest total in 32 years … While it was nice to see Hull’s Jake Livermore refuse to celebrate against his former club, did he forget that he barely played for Spurs and that’s why he left? … What a beautiful strike by Olivier Giroud in his return from injury. You have to wonder what Arsene Wenger will do when he returns to full health and also has Danny Welbeck playing well … Pretty sweet backheel from Fernandinho to set up Yaya Toure’s winner against Swansea. It would’ve been nicer though if he hadn’t telegraphed it all the way. The only people who didn’t see it come were the Swans defenders … Will Newcastle ever lose again? Well, probably, but this five-game winning streak in all competitions is something else, isn’t it? … Does anybody else find some irony in seeing the lowest scoring team in the league, Aston Villa, actually pot one against the best defensive side in the league, Southampton? And what a mistake by Fraser Forster coming out on that ball.

THE LAST WORD

What are Southampton’s chances to contend?

I saw this interesting chart on the odds on how the Saints will finish this season based on past results in the Premier League and it’s looking pretty good for the southerners.

Of team with 22+ points after 10 games, 27% won the league, 56% finished in the top two, 85% in the top four, 95% in the top six and just two teams (5%) in EPL history were outside the top six.

So, if I were Southampton, I’d start thinking ahead in the January window about at least playing in Europa League next season, perhaps starting to buy depth for the squad.

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