Something happens during the two weeks of an international break. It is almost like a cleanse for me, as I rarely even follow what is going on with the European Championship qualifiers and never considering watching any of the matches. However, as the fortnight comes to an end, I realize how much I love football. I love watching it. I love playing it. I love reading about it, writing about it and listening to podcasts about it. Okay maybe the podcasts take second place on a Thursday when the new episode of Serial comes out – I’m hoping by the end of the season not necessarily for resolution, but that the girl at the beginning learns how to say “Mail Chimp” – but I have listened to virtually every Guardian Football Weekly over the last seven years. The point is, I love football. That’s not really a revelation – this site is called Political Footballs after all – but the fact is, every time I watch Tottenham play, an outside observer would say that I actually do not enjoy the experience. And by outside observer, I mean my wife. And by do not enjoy, I mean I hate it with every fibre of my being. But the thing is, much as Spurs have been so pathetic this season and caused me to write this rant just twelve days ago, I have missed watching them since then and I am excited for Sunday’s game against Hull. Which I am sure we will play badly in and will be beaten when Tom Huddlestone outplays his replacements in the Tottenham midfield and probably scores a cracking goal from the edge of the box. And I might think to myself “I really don’t enjoy this” again. But then on Thanksgiving Day, between the turkey, parade, Lions and Cowboys games and pumpkin pie, I’ll find myself watching Spurs take on Partizan Belgrade in the Europa League.
It is a good job that I do have such an affinity for the game, because in recent days it has not just been Tottenham’s struggles that have been putting supporters loyalty to the test. Wigan Athletic, now in the Championship after an eight year spell in the top flight, decided to appoint Malky Mackay as their new manager, a man who has been revealed to be a misogynistic racist through the publishing of messages he exchanged with his former assistant, Ian Moody, during their time at Cardiff City. Following on from that, the Wigan chairman, Dave Whelan, showed that it was not necessarily an accident that Mackay had been promoted, as he also made some racist comments, then doubled down on them when challenged. The details of both cases have been presented extensively on every football news site out there, but this is all I want to say about it. Fuck Wigan. Fuck them and their racist attitude. I think everyone can agree with that sentiment, probably many of their own fans as well. I hope they get relegated.
Back in the Premier League, the results from the last round of fixtures that took place so long ago, it was before humankind had landed a probe on a comet, the title race was effectively wrapped up for Chelsea, as they beat Liverpool 2-1 at Anfield, while Manchester City were lucky to escape with a 2-2 draw at Queens Park Rangers. I’m actually understating that, since they got away with a miss hit goal kick by Joe Hart that went straight to Charlie Austin and the QPR striker tucked the chance away, but the goal was ruled out because the ball had not left the penalty area. That is fine to call it back when it is a defender who is taking possession and the ball does not come out of the box, but why should the opponents be penalized if it comes to them? By the letter of the law, it was the correct decision, but City should still consider themselves very fortunate not to have been beaten in West London.
Chelsea’s closest challengers remain Southampton, who are only four behind the Blues as they overcame Leicester 2-0 at St. Mary’s. While they are still unlikely to be able to maintain a title bid over the course of the season (sorry Saints fans) their performance this year, on the back of losing several of their best players plus their manager from last campaign, has been nothing less than spectacular. Elsewhere two weeks ago, Newcastle continued their winning run with a 2-0 victory over West Brom; Arsenal let another lead slip and were beaten 2-1 in South Wales by Swansea; Burnley got their first win of the season, edging Hull 1-0 at home; Manchester United got three points with the same scoreline in their match against Crystal Palace; a penalty from Leighton Baines earned Everton a 1-1 draw away at Sunderland; while West Ham and Aston Villa ended their contest goalless, with Brad Guzan making some stunning saves in the final minutes to keep the Hammers out. (I’m not deliberately ignoring Tottenham’s defeat to Stoke here, but I did cover that with the link to the rant post earlier.)
This weekend, the biggest fixture is the clash between Arsenal and Manchester United at the Emirates – at least it would be if this were the late 1990s, or if either side was anywhere near the title race. If you want me to frame it honestly: 6th faces 7th as Arsenal hope to take advantage of a lackluster United side, who cannot defend and are struggling with injuries. Should the Gunners win, they will doubtlessly usurp Swansea and West Ham in the table and their inevitable march to a top four finish will have begun, despite a relatively poor start to this campaign. The reason Arsenal are likely to overtake the Swans and Hammers is because they have away trips to Manchester City and Everton respectively. A week after facing Chelsea at Anfield, a crucial loss in the their title challenge last season, Liverpool now return to Selhurst Park, the ground where they gave up a 3-0 lead in the final minutes last May, all but ending their hopes of topping the table for the first time since 1990. Elsewhere, there is the aforementioned game between Hull and Spurs; Newcastle will be looking for their sixth win in all competitions when they face QPR at St. James’s Park; Chelsea host West Brom; Sunderland travel to Leicester; Stoke entertain Burnley; and Southampton will have to wait till Monday night to extend their good form with a trip to Villa Park.
Last time, 5-5; Season, 49-61
Home teams listed first
Chelsea vs West Brom – Home win
Everton vs West Ham – Draw
Leicester vs Sunderland – Home win
Manchester City vs Swansea – Home win
Newcastle vs QPR – Home win
Stoke vs Burnley – Draw
Arsenal vs Manchester United – Home win
Crystal Palace vs Liverpool – Draw
Hull vs Tottenham – Away win (must be the two-week break getting to me)
Aston Villa vs Southampton – Away win