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Open Thread – Premier League Saturday

Written by on December 16, 2011 | 22 Comments »
Posted in Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Chelsea, English Premier League, Everton, Fulham, Newcastle United, Norwich City, Stoke City, Swansea City, West Bromwich Albion, Wigan Athletic, Wolverhampton Wanderers

Blackburn v West Brom

Dropping more leads than a careless detective – West Brom have dropped 11 points from winning positions this season – only Blackburn are worse they have dropped 12.

Everton v Norwich

Over the years Everton have earned a reputation as a tough nut to crack – even for good teams. Not so this season – 15 of their 16 points have come against sides currently in the bottom half of the table.

They have also failed to score in four home matches this PL season and have lost 4 of 7 at home.

Landon Donovan cannot pull on that blue jersey quickly enough Everton have failed to put a shot on target in their last 2 games

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Three Up and Three Back Down Again? Not So Quick

Written by on November 25, 2011 | 6 Comments »
Posted in Norwich City, QPR, Swansea City

It is understandable that teams promoted to the Barclays Premier League are picked by many to return quickly from whence they came. It is rare to find anyone brave enough to forecast survival for all and even forecasting two to endure to a second season can seem optimistic.

However, there is little to support that view when you look at the history of promoted sides in the English top flight particularly since the turn of the century.

Since then we have never had all three promoted teams headed straight back down (the last time that happened was Bolton, Barnsley and Crystal Palace in 1998) and over the last few seasons we have seen multiple sides survive their first year.

Newcastle and West Brom stayed up last season while Blackpool succumbed after a brave showing in the early going.

Burnley was the only reverse bungee team the season before that (Stoke and Hull survived) and twelve months before it was West Brom (Wolves and Birmingham).

In fact “only” 14 of the last 33 clubs have gone straight back down – that is 42%.

So this weekend as the schedule clicks to over a third gone for most teams, it might be a good time to take stock. 

Based on what we have seen so far I think most fans are surprised at how well the promoted sides have done although that is not to say it has been plain sailing for all.

Currently their league positions mirror their promoted season. Last season’s champions QPR are 9th with 15 points, Norwich are 11th on 13 points and Swansea are 13th with 13.

There has only been one head-to-head clash to date with Norwich beating Swansea 3-1 at Carrow Road. The second will involve QPR traveling to East Anglia on Saturday.

There have been a few promoted clubs that have shown brightly for a short intense period only to flame out or just squeak by.

In 2008/09 Hull City generated headlines that asked the question “Are Hull City the best promoted side ever in Premier League history?”

The headlines appeared just as Hull stalled out and only avoided relegation on the last day by the inadequacy of others.

A year later Burnley managed to beat Manchester United and Everton and draw with Arsenal and had us all marvelling at their precociousness. But in mid-season Owen Coyle left and a downward spiral set in.

Last season it was the cavalier football of Blackpool that had us in raptures – until the grind of the Premier League began to have an impact. First half of the season 25 points, second half 14 points – total 39 points but relegation anyway.

So what of the survival prospects of QPR, Norwich and Swansea?

In a very strange way QPRs inconsistency might turn out to be a blessing. We are never quite sure what we are going to get and that could be enough to give them wins and losses where others might find draws.

Norwich has yet to lose to a team currently in the bottom half of the table and if they can stay on the plus side of that statistic then  it could prove to be a massive advantage.

As the side that arrived via the play offs Swansea would have attracted most of the relegation betting interest.

However, the side from Wales has proven to be the most attractive of the three although we should remember that beauty in the Premier League can often be viewed as something akin to blood in the water of a shark tank.

Nonetheless Swansea strike me as better positioned than the likes of Blackpool and Burnley (and Hull) on account of a very well-organized defence.

Mikael Vorm has been sensational in goal while Ashley Williams is on current form one of the top centre backs in the league.

Further forward Britton and Gower are excellent passers and rarely give the ball away while Sinclair and Dyer are as quick as any two wide players in the Premier and offer a counter-attacking option.

But perhaps more importantly there is a sense when watching Swansea that they are playing within their capabilities rather than beyond them as some comet-like promoted sides have done.

If there is a worry for fans of Swansea it is that their away form has been dreadful so far. Two points from six matches is not good enough although this Sunday shot-shy Aston Villa must travel to Wales.

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Arsenal and Manchester United Beat Promoted Sides But Outcome In Doubt Till End

Written by on November 21, 2011 | 7 Comments »
Posted in Arsenal, General, Manchester United, Norwich City, Swansea City

Arsenal came flying out of the blocks against Norwich and could have easily led by two or three goals in the first ten minutes or so.

But as we have seen so often a team making an impressive falls victim to a sucker-punch and this case it was largely self-inflicted.

A speculative long-ball from Norwich left back Marc Tierney turned the Arsenal defence. Steve Morison set off from his position on the left side of attack in what initially looked to be a lost cause.

Instead it illustrated why forwards hunt such balls down.

Faced with a choice of thumping the ball out for a corner or hesitating, Mertesacker opted for the latter. The German tied himself in a knot and could only watch from ground level  as Morison breezed past him. Norwich 1-0.

Morison’s positioning was interesting throughout the game. Paul Lambert chose to start with only one attacker – Morison – but positioned him as a left side striker up against Laurent Koscielny who occupied an unusual position for him at right back.

Morison did switch at times but it was to the right rather than centrally.

By the time half time rolled around Arsenal had equalized.  But perhaps more noteworthy was the heroics of Norwich centre back Russell Martin.

Three times in the first 45 minutes Martin managed to clear an Arsenal goal-bound effort. One, after a Theo Walcott shot, fell into the “you have to see this” category.

It was therefore somewhat ironic that it was an error in judgment from Martin that led to the goal that gave Arsenal a 2-1 lead and eventually all three points.

Martin opted to dribble out from the back and through the centre circle only to be shutdown by Song and Ramsey. Dispossessed, Martin fouled Ramsey but referee Phil Dowd correctly played advantage. Song had a choice between feeding in Gervinho or Van Persie.

He decided on a pass to Van Persie which was probably just as well as there was a hint that Gervinho might have drifted marginally offside.

Van Persie went to score with his “chocolate leg.”

Norwich continued to threaten and on a couple of occasions were awarded free kicks in potentially dangerous positions. But nothing came of it and ultimately it summed up Norwich’s performance.

Well organized, maintained composure but could not turn their play into enough quality scoring chances in the Arsenal penalty area.

Swansea has been widely praised for their commitment to passing and ball retention and it was again a highlight of their match on Saturday as it was for their opponents Manchester United.

Both teams registered pass completion stats of 87% a level only matched by Manchester City in the other Saturday games. (It is worth noting that Stoke and QPR hit 65% and 67% in their match.)

It is ironic that in a match that saw such a high rate of pass completion that the only goal of the game should come from a misplaced pass from Swansea right back Angel Rangel.

Giggs intercepted and proceeded to set up Javier Hernandez and it would stand up as the winning goal.

It was one of the few things of consequence from Giggs in what was one of his poorest showings for some time.

Nani had a poor game as well and United had no success from one of their favourite areas of attack – crosses from wide positions.

Defensively United looked solid with the exception of Patrice Evra. Nathan Dyer (passing stats in final attacking third 14 out 15 and 35 of 36 total were successful) gave the French left-back a roasting and Evra was taken off with 40 minutes remaining.

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