Premier League Preview – Merseyside and North London Derbies

Walcott might not have enough fingers this time to show the score
Walcott might not have enough fingers this time to show the score

This weekend’s Premier League fixture list sees two of the biggest derbies in the country both take place on Saturday, as Liverpool host Everton in the early kick off, then Arsenal take on Tottenham later in the day.  Most seasons, any North London derby is a contest I look forward to, even if I have trepidation about how the match will go, especially when it is being played at the Emirates (as this Saturday’s fixture is).  However, this year I am contemplating whether or not I should even watch the game, given the fact that Spurs will not only lose the match, but could well be taken apart by an historic margin.  The largest ever victory for either side in this matchup is Arsenal’s 6-0 defeat of Tottenham in the 1934/5 season; this year with the combination of Tottenham’s porous back line and the Gunners’ array of attacking talents, they are likely to rack up at least that many.

To clarify, this is not some sort of reverse jinx or the pessimism returning after my brief hazy Tottenham-optimism that reared it’s head in my Premiership season preview, it is rather just a fact, based on how the two teams are currently playing.  Against West Brom last week, Spurs put in one of the worst performances I can ever remember watching – and I’ve seen us lose 4-0 at home to Blackburn.  The passing was awful, going forward we looked clueless and like the players had never even met each other; the 1-0 scoreline to the Baggies was the least they deserved.  When Mauricio Pochettino was appointed as the new Tottenham manager in May, I was really disappointed because I did not think that he was the right man for the job, preferring instead for them to go for Frank de Boer.  Nevertheless, I put aside my thoughts on that and realized that maybe I was not the best judge of who should be in charge, given that I was happy when Andre Villas-Boas was appointed and never thought Martin Jol should have been sacked; while I did not ever like Harry Redknapp, who took the club to their highest finish in the Premier League era.  My issues with Pochettino were his spotty record in the transfer market and the fact that he did not take the FA Cup seriously while at Southampton, but I did like the style of football he had the Saints playing during his tenure at St. Mary’s.  In his first couple in games in charge at White Hart Lane, it appeared as though he had at least got the players to buy into his philosophy – the work rate against both West Ham and QPR was excellent, the pressing high up the field worked and the passing moves looked relatively good.

Since that positive start, the wheels have completely come off and Spurs look as inept as they did under the stewardship of Tim Sherwood – unable to come up with any game plan to combat even the relatively easy task (in Premier League terms) of playing West Brom at home.  The attacking midfield trio of Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela and Nacer Chadli should be given a chance to gel as they are all talented and can make the dynamic work if given a chance, but there need to be more options both behind and ahead of them if they are going to be truly effective.  Emmanuel Adebayor is having one of his fallow spells, where he is not exactly playing badly, but at no point do you ever think he is going to score, while the options to replace him – Harry Kane and Roberto Soldado – are hardly guaranteed net-busters either.  It makes the decision not to strengthen the forward line in the summer an obvious mistake, as teams can focus on the attacking midfielders and know they are not going to be caught out by an in-form striker getting space in behind them.  Added to the goal-shy strike force is a wing-back pairing of Eric Dier (who seems like a perfectly good centre back, but is not good enough defensively on the flank) and Danny Rose, who misplaces so many passes and cannot cross a road, let alone the ball into a dangerous area; and holding midfielders who do nothing going forward, in the form of Nabil Bentaleb, Etienne Capoue or Paulinho.  The central defensive partnership seemingly changes every game, with Pochettino unsure of whether he wants to play Younes Kaboul and Chiriches, or Vertonghen plus Fazio.  With Kaboul having been made the club captain, he is likely to start most league games (Hugo Lloris should have been given the armband as he is our most outstanding player in any position) and while he is good in the air and can have great games, he is far from being a reliable defender.

In all, Spurs are in complete disarray once again and when they come face to face with an Arsenal team who put three past Aston Villa in four minutes last weekend – including a goal and an assist for the rejuvenated Mesut Özil – they are going to be lucky to come away with anything other than a heavy defeat.  If there is anything I can hold onto going into the derby, it is at least that Tottenham made it through in the League Cup this week, despite being outplayed by Championship leaders Nottingham Forest, who took the lead before Ryan Mason scored a wonderful first goal for Spurs and Soldado and Kane fired them through to the next round.  The Gunners chances of winning another trophy this season were reduced by one competition, as they put out a weakened side and were beaten 2-1 at home by Southampton.  By the final whistle on Saturday however, those results will be forgotten about by both sides…and I will be wishing I had decided not to watch the match.

DiMaria was a Champions League Winner in May; World Cup Finalist in July and now a United player losing to Leicester
DiMaria was a Champions League Winner in May; World Cup Finalist in July and now a United player losing to Leicester

Still, it could be worse, eh? I could be a Manchester United fan*.  Just when everything had started to look on the up for the Red Devils – they signed Radamel Falcao and Angel DiMaria; thrashed QPR 4-0 and then took a 2-0 and 3-1 lead away at Leicester City – everything came crashing down upon them.  Much of the post-match punditry focused on the penalty that was awarded to the Foxes at 3-1 down, when Jamie Vardy got away with shoving Rafael out of the way, before tumbling with a slight touch from the defender moments later.  However, that was not really the key moment in Leicester’s success – or at least it would not have mattered if not for an earlier one.  In the 16th minute, DiMaria scored with an exquisite chip over Kasper Schmichel to extend United’s lead to 2-0, after Robin Van Persie had headed in Falcao’s cross to break the deadlock.  However, from the kick off Leicester pressed forward and got an immediate reply through Leonardo Ulloa – marking the third time in three home matches for the Foxes in the Premier League this season that they have scored within 2 minutes of their opponent finding the net and on each occasion, it has been Ulloa who has been on target.  Without cutting the deficit at that point, United may have gained confidence through the rest of the game, instead of imploding – even after taking a 3-1 lead through Ander Herrera – and conceding 4 times in 20 minutes.  It was (unfortunately) reminiscent for me of when Manchester United did a similar thing to Tottenham at White Hart Lane, coming from 3-0 down at half-time to beat us 5-3 in September, 2001. Heading into their weekend fixture against West Ham, the Red Devils are left with just one centre back available to them, as Jonny Evans was injured and Tyler Blackett sent off in the match against Leicester.  Quite frankly, any replacements cannot be as bad as what was on show last weekend, so the Dutchman may consider it fortuitous that he will be forced into some changes at the back.

*It is not worse to be a United supporter really, given that they won 25 trophies under Sir Alex Ferguson and last won the league less than 17 months ago, compared to 53 years for Spurs.

Elsewhere last weekend, Manchester City came from a goal behind with only ten men to earn a draw against Chelsea, with their equalizer coming from Hammers Blues legend, Frank Lampard;  Liverpool will be sick of seeing claret and blue after they followed up their defeat against Villa with a 3-1 loss at West Ham; Southampton moved into second place in the table with a 1-0 win over fellow high-flyers Swansea; Crystal Palace recorded an impressive 3-2 victory away at Everton; and the match between Burnley and Sunderland ended goalless.  The other two games – Newcastle vs Hull and QPR vs Stoke – both ended 2-2, which I noticed has been a common scoreline so far this season.  So far, eight fixtures have already ended with that scoreline in the 50 Premier League contests played this campaign, a rate of once every 6.25 games.   I looked back over the last five years to see if this is just a regular result that I’ve just not noticed before, these were the totals:

2013/14 – 17 2-2s (once every 22.35 games)

2012/13 – 26 (once every 14.61 games)

2011/12 – 13 (once every 29.20 games)

2010/11 – 27 (once every 14.07 games)

2009/10 – 21 – (once every 18.09 games)

So in other words, this season has seen 2-2 scoreline happen at a rate more than twice as fast as any other campaign in the last five years.  This means absolutely nothing of course, but it’s something I am going to keep track of over the coming weeks.  And I’m definitely NOT going to make any jokes along the lines of “The Premier League has had more 2-2s than the New York City Ballet”.  Definitely not going to do that…

The League Cup reached its third round this week (as mentioned before, Spurs went through, Arsenal went out), some other highlights included:

  • Liverpool and Middlesbrough’s match ended 2-2 (hey!) after extra time and then the penalty shoot-out went 15 rounds, with the Reds prevailing 14-13 in the end.  Strangely enough, while I was a season ticket holder at Tottenham I saw us go to penalties twice, both times in the League Cup and in consecutive seasons against Middlesbrough and Liverpool.  We lost both shootouts.
  • Sheffield Wednesday held Manchester City out for the entirety of the first half at the Etihad…then conceded seven after the interval.
  • Crystal Palace scored a late equalizer against Newcastle, but the Magpies progressed winning 3-2 after extra-time
  • With three minutes to play of their tie at the Hawthorns, Hull were leading 2-1.  A minute later, West Brom were 3-2 up and had booked their place in the last 16.

The first match this weekend is the Merseyside derbies, which both sides will be particularly eager to win not just for local bragging rights, but also because Everton have taken just five points from their opening five league matches, while Liverpool have lost back to back league matches.  Alongside that fixture and the aforementioned North London derby; the other games see 1st face 3rd as Chelsea entertain Aston Villa; Hull take on Manchester City; Southampton host QPR and Swansea travel to the North East to play Sunderland.  West Ham head to Old Trafford hoping to take advantage of Manchester United’s defensive woes; Crystal Palace face Leicester; then on Sunday, Burnley head to the Midlands to take on West Brom; and the Monday night encounter is between Stoke and NEwcastle at the Britannia Stadium.

Predictions

Last week, 2-8; Season, 19-31

Home team listed first

Liverpool vs Everton – Home win

Chelsea vs Aston Villa – Home win

Crystal Palace vs Leicester – Draw

Hull vs Manchester City – Away win

Manchester United vs West Ham – Home win

Southampton vs QPR – Home win

Sunderland vs Swansea – Draw

Arsenal vs Tottenham – Home win

West Brom vs Burnley – Draw

Stoke vs Newcastle – Home win

 

 

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