This Week in: English Football – End of the World Edition

The Mayan version of iCalendar sets our expiry date as tomorrow.  Eek.
The Mayan version of iCalendar sets our expiry date as tomorrow. Eek.

The most widely anticipated date since January 1st 2000 – when Y2K was expected to make airplanes fall out of the sky and nuclear weapons be launched, though that might have happened had it not been for the excellent work of Peter Gibbons and the Bill Lumbergh’s team at Initech – occurs on Friday, as December 21st 2012 is said to mark the end of the Mayan long-count calendar, with people suggesting this means that the apocalypse is coming and, with it, the end of humanity. For a civilisation that disappeared suddenly and without warning, the Mayans receive a lot of credibility for their predictions* and so, if the end is nigh, the big question is – how would each Premiership club’s supporters feel about their team and the onset of Armageddon? Here’s a look at each in turn, in the order of current league standings:

*Which are not actually predictions, rather the modern world’s projections of what a date on a stone actually meant, but let’s go with it anyway.

1. Manchester United – Finishing on top of the pile would be an appropriate end for Manchester United, given the sustained success they have enjoyed over the last 20 years; but fans and – most of all – Sir Alex Ferguson would be devastated at missing out on the opportunity of taking the title back away from Manchester City. Supporters would also be disappointed to not get to see a reunion with Cristiano Ronaldo, as United were drawn against Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League.

Result in potentially their last ever fixture: 3-1 win over Sunderland at Old Trafford – goals from Robin Van Persie, Tom Cleverly and Wayne Rooney ensured United maintained their six point advantage at the top of the Premiership, heading into the festive period.

If the Mayans were wrong: The Red Devils travel to South Wales to face Swansea on Sunday lunch time.

Either they are doing to Poznan or heading for the exits to beat the traffic
Either they are doing to Poznan or heading for the exits to beat the traffic

2. Manchester City – For so long “typical City” had been short hand to describe the continuous failings of the blue half of Manchester, whose supporters had to endure an extended trophy drought and demotion to the third tier of English football, while United were winning it everything in sight. However, May’s Premiership title changed all of that and City have now usurped their neighbours to be champions. Fans might feel that they have nothing left to gain – although given the manner in which the Etihad empties out long before the final whistle if things are not going their way, many Citizens would miss the Mayan Apocalypse and just hear about it on the radio as they head home.

Result in potentially their last ever fixture: Relatively routine 3-1 victory away at Newcastle, with goals from Sergio Aguero, Javi Garcia and YaYa Toure – even better, the fans kept their coins in their pockets this week and, for once, City did not just throw money at a situation.

If the Mayans were wrong: Mancini’s men host bottom-of-the-table Reading on Saturday.

3. Chelsea – The atmosphere at Stamford Bridge in the last month has suggested that Chelsea fans want to see the immediate end of the Rafa Benitez regime by any means possible, which may well extend to fire raining down from the sky to end civilization as we know it. They would also go out as European Champions, though not Club World Cup Champions, as they lost the final of that competition, 1-0 to Corinthians in Tokyo last Sunday.

Result in potentially their last ever fixture: Chelsea returned from their long trip to Japan to face Leeds in the League Cup and the Blues came from behind to beat their old rivals, 5-1 and secured a place in the semi-finals, in their attempt to retain the trophy.

If the Mayans were wrong: Chelsea will return to Premier League action with a home match against Aston Villa on Sunday.

4. Tottenham – Something always stops Spurs from achieving what appears to be in their grasp and, although it is normally self-inflicted capitulation, occasionally external forces – such as some dodgy lasagna – can also intervene. Nevertheless, Tottenham have been far from impressive this season and despite currently lying in the top four, their form does not suggest that there would need to be an apocalypse to prevent them from staying there and qualifying for the Champions League. Should the world continue, Spurs will face Lyon in the last 32 of the Europa League, with a potential rematch against Internazionale on the horizon should both clubs make it through to the next round.

Result in potentially their last ever fixture: A first 1-0 win of the year at White Hart Lane against Swansea, with the goal coming from Jan Vertonghen.

If the Mayans were wrong: Spurs will host Stoke on Saturday, with the chance to temporarily overtake Chelsea in third place. Such opportunities usually result in a 1-0 home loss for Tottenham and with former Lilywhite Peter Crouch starting for the visitors, it is highly likely he will be the man to get the goal.

Wenger's coat provides his last line of defence against the apocalypse
Wenger’s coat provides his last line of defence against the apocalypse

5. Arsenal – Some Gooners have been talking doom and gloom for weeks, with suggestions of a crisis at the club and questions about whether or not Arsene Wenger should remain in charge. However, many teams would dream of being in the “bad” position in which Arsenal find themselves – while they were knocked out of the League Cup by Bradford, they have progressed to the last 16 of the Champions League – where they will face Bayern München – and are just two points behind their North London rivals in the race for fourth place.

Result in potentially their last ever fixture: Another high-scoring game at the Madjeski Stadium, Arsenal followed up their 7-5 win in the League cup with a 5-2 victory on Monday night, featuring a hat-trick from summer signing, Santi Cazorla. When Reading clawed their way back from 4-0 to 4-2 down with two quick second-half goals, it looked as though Arsene Wenger’s men might fold, but an 80th minute strike from Theo Walcott secured Arsenal’s second league win in succession.

If the Mayans were wrong: Arsenal will travel to Wigan for the lunchtime kick-off on Saturday, then get to enjoy a week’s rest as their Boxing Day fixture against West Ham has been postponed due to a potential strike by London Underground workers.

6. Everton – Currently just two points behind Chelsea in third, Everton have their best opportunity to qualify for the Champions League since they finished fourth in 2004/5, only to be knocked out in the qualifying round the following August by Villarreal. While the Toffees are unbeaten at home, their supporters might look at this as an ideal point for things to end, as their stay player this season – midfielder Marouane Fellaini – may have played his last game for the club. The Belgian has been suspended by the FA for three games for headbutting Ryan Shawcross in their match against Stoke last weekend, a ban that means he is unavailable until January, when the transfer window opens and both Manchester City and Chelsea are expected to try to sign him.

Result in potentially their last ever fixture: A draw away at Stoke, extending their unbeaten run to five games, but four of those, including at the Britannia Stadium last Saturday, have finished 1-1.

If the Mayans were wrong: Everton travel to West Ham on Saturday seeking a first away win in the Premiership since September’s 3-0 victory at Swansea.

7. West Brom – Albion’s fans might be wishing the Mayans hard predicted the end of the world a few weeks earlier because, following their 4-2 win away at Sunderland on November 24th, West Brom sat all the way up in third – or top of the non-Manchester league. Since then, they have managed just a single point from their four Premiership fixtures and, although they have far-exceeded my pre-season forecast of bottom, they have probably already had peaked this campaign.

Result in potentially their last ever fixture: A boring 0-0 draw with West Ham last Sunday, a game that was so bad that anybody watching would not have found an apocalypse entirely unwelcome mid-way through the second-half.

If the Mayans were wrong: West Brom will host Norwich on Saturday, a fixture they lost 2-1 last season.

8. Norwich – By contrast to West Brom, Norwich are on their best ever run in the Premier League, as they have now gone 10 games without defeat, a stretch that has included 1-0 victories over Arsenal and Manchester United. Manager Chris Hughton has got the best out of the players he has available to him, but the potential absence of Grant Holt due to injury over the Christmas period could see Norwich slip down the table. However, fans will be optimistic that the Canaries will be able to avoid the relegation battle once again and secure a third successive season in the top flight, something they have not achieved since the first three years of the Premiership era.

Result in potentially their last ever fixture: A 2-1 home victory against Wigan, with Irish midfielder Wes Hoolahan running the show, scoring one and setting up Anthony “Karl” Pilkington for the other.

If the Mayans were wrong: Norwich travel to the Hawthorns with the chance to overtake West Brom in the table should they take all three points.

9. Stoke – Tony Pulis’s side have been Jekyll and Hyde thus far in the Premiership – unbeaten at home, but just a solitary victory away from the Britannia, their 1-0 win at West Brom earlier this month. Stoke also have the best defensive record in the top flight, having conceded just 13 goals in their 17 matches thus far, yet on the flip side they have also only found the net 15 times themselves. While supporters will defend the manner in which they have achieved five straight years in the top flight, should the end times be upon us some of them might be secretly relieved not to have to watch any more of Pulis’s physical and negative tactics.

Result in potentially their last ever fixture: A 1-1 draw with Everton, the 9th time already this season a Stoke game has finished all-square.

If the Mayans were wrong: Stoke travel to White Hart Lane to play Tottenham, with Matthew Etherington, Peter Crouch and Wilson Palacios all potentially facing their former club.

10. Swansea – It was feared that the departure of manager Brendan Rodgers to Liverpool in the summer would see a downturn in the club’s fortunes, but his replacement, Michael Laudrup, has his side playing a very similar passing style and they have established themselves in mid-table. Supporters may welcome the end of the world as it would prevent their rivals Cardiff – currently top of the Championship – as ending their record of being the only Welsh club to play in the Premiership.

Result in potentially their last ever fixture: A 1-0 defeat away to Spurs, a match in which they were outplayed, but not outclassed, by Andre Villas-Boas’s men.

If the Mayans were wrong: Swansea will host leaders Manchester United on Sunday lunch-time, a fixture they lost 1-0 last season.

11. West Ham – When Sam Allardyce was appointed as their manager, some West Ham fans felt it went against their tradition of playing attractive football, but the former Bolton boss has guided them back to the Premiership and has made them hard to beat, a trait that should see them stay well clear of the relegation zone. If the Irons could pick a time for humanity to end, it would be after they had finally defeated Chelsea, which they did earlier this month, their first success over their rivals since 2003.

Result in potentially their last ever fixture: That 0-0 draw with West Brom (see above) which was far too dull for me to make any further comment on.

If the Mayans were wrong: A tricky home encounter with Everton awaits West Ham on Saturday, their sixth match against sides in the top seven of the league in their last nine fixtures.

If Kenny Dalglish was still waiting in the wings, Brendan Rodgers might not be getting so much support from the Liverpool fans
If Kenny Dalglish was still waiting in the wings, Brendan Rodgers might not be getting so much support from the Liverpool fans

12. Liverpool – The Anfield faithful have shown more patience to Brendan Rodgers in the start of his managerial stint at Liverpool than they ever did to Roy Hodgson during his time in charge. Last week’s 3-1 loss at home against lowly Aston Villa leaves the Reds in 12th place, the same number points (7) away from the Champions League places as they are above the relegation zone. Supporters would be forgiven for thinking that the end of the world appears closer than the restoration of the club’s glory days, as the number of years since their last title will be extended in May to 23. However, Liverpool would not want the apocalypse to occur before they could overhaul their bitter rivals, Manchester United, for most ever league championships – but in order to do that, they may require another Mayan calendar of 5,125 years.

Result in potentially their last ever fixture: That 3-1 home defeat against Aston Villa, hardly the way a club with so much history would wish to see their existence end.

If the Mayans were wrong: Liverpool will host Fulham on Saturday and, in February, will face Zenit St. Petersburg in the Europa League following today’s draw.

13. Fulham – Martin Jol’s team have scored as many goals as Chelsea in the Premiership this season – 28 – but the 29 they have conceded represents the most of any club not current in the bottom four of the table. Inconsistency has been the big problem for the Cottagers, though they have enough talent in their squad to avoid being dragged into the relegation battle below them. This season also marks their 12th in a row in the top flight, after an absence of 33 years, so supporters could at least point to a strong last decade for their team, should everything come to an end.

Result in potentially their last ever fixture: Fulham became the first club to lose to QPR this season, as Martin Jol saw his team defeated 2-1 by another side managed by a former Tottenham boss.

If the Mayans were wrong: Fulham travel to Anfield for Saturday’s late kickoff, a ground on which they took all three points last season.

14. Aston Villa – Since the departure of Martin O’Neill – who left the club in 2010, after guiding them to three consecutive sixth place finishes – Villa supporters have seen their team plummet to the lower echelons of the Premiership, culminating in last year’s tumultuous campaign in which they only just avoided relegation, with fans having been against former Birmingham boss Alex McLeish, from the moment he was appointed as manager. While the Villa faithful are rarely perceived as being optimistic at the best of times, they may wish for Armageddon to be delayed after they extended their unbeaten run to six matches in all competitions with last week’s success against Liverpool; plus in January they will like they chances of progressing to the League Cup final, as the draw for the semis has pitted them against League Two’s Bradford City.

Result in potentially their last ever fixture: As well as beating Liverpool on their own turf, last Saturday’s win also saw Aston Villa field the youngest average starting eleven in the Premiership this season, suggesting things may well look good for the future.

If the Mayans were wrong: Villa have an away game against Chelsea, a fixture in which they recorded a 3-1 victory last season and earned a draw a year before that. On the flip side, in 2009/10 they were thrashed 7-1 at Stamford Bridge.

15. Newcastle – The Toon Army might be rueful that the Mayan calendar did not end a whole year earlier, as this time last season they were sitting in seventh place following a strong start to a campaign in which they would ultimately end up in sixth and qualify for the Europa League. While they have progressed in that competition – and will face Ukrainian side, FC Metalist in the next round – their league form has been woeful, as they have won just four times in their seventeen fixtures and sit just two points above the relegation zone.

Result in potentially their last ever fixture: A completely expected 3-1 home loss to Manchester City.

If the Mayans were wrong: It will be crucial for Alan Pardew to get his side back to winning ways, as they face lowly QPR at St. James’s Park, before two fixtures being away at Manchester United and Arsenal.

16. Sunderland – While Martin O’Neill turned Sunderland’s fortunes around in December of 2011 when he replaced Steve Bruce and steered them away from danger, he has been unable to reproduce that form this campaign. With just one win in their last six matches – and only three in the league all season – the Black Cats look like they need to bring in new signings in January to achieve a similar second-half boost up the table. Sunderland supporters could look at this as a good time to check out – although they would prefer to be above their rivals, Newcastle – as three of their next four fixtures see them play Manchester City, Tottenham and Liverpool.

Result in potentially their last ever fixture: A 3-1 defeat at Old Trafford, in which O’Neill’s side rarely looked likely to cause Manchester United problems.

If the Mayans were wrong: Prior to those games against City, Spurs and Liverpool, Sunderland have an away game against Southampton, a match they will need to take all three points from if they are to avoid being dragged into the relegation zone as their opponents get harder over the festive period.

17. Southampton – With just one win in their opening eleven matches, Southampton looked doomed to a quick return to the Championship, which would mark a fifth change of division for the Saints in six seasons. However, they have won three and drawn one of their last five, moving them out of the bottom three and fans will be eager to see them continue their first Premiership campaign since their relegation in 2004/5, which ended a 27 year stay in the top flight.

Result in potentially their last ever fixture: A 1-0 home win over fellow newly promoted club Reading, who had pipped them to the Championship title last season.

If the Mayans were wrong: Sunderland visit St. Mary’s on Saturday, giving the Saints an opportunity to move up at least once place in the table, as a victory would mean they leap-frog the Black Cats into 16th place.

18. Wigan – Roberto Martinez managed to orchestrate a great escape with Wigan last season and also avoided relegation on the final day of 2010/11, a trait that, while it reflects an ability of the manager to lead his team to good results in the face of adversity, shows the poor position the club had been in for most of those campaigns. Once again this year the Latics find themselves in trouble and althoug supporters may have high expectations for the coming months, the apocalypse would also leave Wigan as the only side never to have been relegated from the top flight (of those who have ever played in it).

Result in potentially their last ever fixture: A 2-1 away loss to Norwich, which extended Wigan’s poor run to one win in their last eight Premiership encounters.

If the Mayans were wrong: Roberto Martinez will send his troops out for a home match against Arsenal, a fixture they won 2-1 last year to kick-start their successful survival bid.

Redknapp tried to sign Mayan Apocalypse while he was at Spurs
Redknapp tried to sign Mayan Apocalypse while he was at Spurs

19. Queens Park Rangers – Had they been given the option in mid-November between a Mayan apocalypse or watching the remainder of the season, QPR fans may well have chosen the former, as their side languished at the bottom of the table, having failed to record a single win. However, since Harry Redknapp took over from Mark Hughes, he has led the London club on an unbeaten run of four matches and, while they still have just a single victory to their name and are five points from safety, recent performances and results have given Rangers supporters reason to be optimistic and they will want to see if Harry “Houdini” Redknapp can perform the same escape trick he did with Portsmouth in 2005/6.

Result in potentially their last ever fixture: The 2-1 success over neighbours Fulham, marking the first time they took all three points this season, with both goals coming from Adel Taarabt, a player who Redknapp sold during his spell at Tottenham.

If the Mayans were wrong: QPR will head to Newcastle on Saturday in search of their first away triumph of the season.

20. Reading – If any club might be hoping that the Mayans had their calculations correct, it would be Reading. They have won just once all year and have lost their last six in a row, leaving them rooted to the bottom of the table and heading for a swift return to the Championship. Conceding an average of more than 2 goals a game – including 9 in their last two home matches (albeit against Arsenal and Manchester United) – has been the root of the problem for Brian McDermott’s side and their inept defending makes it hard to see where they will pick up enough points to even be in contention to stay up, let alone actually achieving that aim.

Result in potentially their last ever fixture: Monday’s 5-2 thrashing by Arsenal, in which they showed some fight to score twice after being 4-0 down, but it was too little, too late.

If the Mayans were wrong: It does not get any easier for Reading, as they head to the Etihad on Saturday to face the reigning champions, Manchester City.

Predictions

Although my success this season has been roughly equivalent to the forecasts of apocalypse of the Mayans (it is already December 21st 2012 in parts of the world and there are not yet any reports of fire and brimstone raining down from the sky…) I will stubbornly continue to make my weekly picks.

Last week, 6-3; Season 77-90

Wigan vs Arsenal – Away win

Manchester City vs Reading – Home win

Newcastle vs QPR – Home win

Southampton vs Sunderland – Draw

Tottenham vs Stoke – Away win (0-1, Crouch)

West Brom vs Norwich – Draw

West Ham vs Everton – Draw

Liverpool vs Fulham – Home win

Swansea vs Manchester United – Away win

Chelsea vs Aston Villa – Home win

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