The race for the title is still alive. Just.
Chelsea’s draw at home to Southampton means that this year’s Premier League title race is still vaguely interesting. Whilst the staff at Chelsea shouldn’t be making room for the trophy just yet, it certainly is on its way in the post. Man City’s surprise defeat to plucky Burnley (more of them later) means that barring a real disaster it’s destined for Stamford Bridge. Perhaps more interestingly could Arsenal pip City to 2nd? With the Gunners just a point behind, playing their best football of the season and with what on paper looks a straightforward run in you have to fancy their chances. Many are even tipping Arsenal to push Chelsea for the title but that certainly looks a mammoth task given A) Their 7 points behind and Chelsea have a game in hand, B) Mourinho you would think is too smart a coach to allow it to happen and C) Mathieu Flamini is back from injury. Ah well, we can dream.
Brilliant, battling Burnley.
I’m sure I am not the only one who has been massively surprised by this gutsy squad of youth and journeymen. Before the season started no one had given them a chance with them widely odds on favourites for the drop. Not only were the differences in infrastructure huge between Burnley and their new rivals in the league but also in their fellow promoted sides Leicester and QPR. They didn’t get off to the best of starts winning their first game in November but gradually they have grown and grown in the league. In Sean Dyche they have a manager who has instilled great confidence and attitude into the team and they have shown they firmly belong in the division. A point off of Chelsea and Man United and 4 off of Man City show they have fared well against the big boys. Now I’m not saying Burnley will definitely stay up, who gets relegated from 5 or so teams is anyone’s guess, but what I would say is relegation or staying up aside they have performed better than many felt was possible and Dyche deserves massive credit.
Ah pressure, there’s nothing like it.
Nigel Pearson’s bizarre behaviour towards a journalist after Leicester’s draw shows that the season of managers feeling the pressure has well and truly begun. Pearson’s outburst was not only unprofessional but won’t win him any friends when it comes to the media, something he needs at this difficult time. To be fair Leicester have been very unfortunate in many games this season and you have to feel that Pearson and Leicester look resigned to relegation.
And finally, Sunderland.
Oh Sunderland, what do you do so badly wrong? Saturday’s crushing defeat to Villa signalled the end of Gus Poyet’s time and leaves Sunderland in the midst of a relegation battle. It feels like every year we are saying the same things about this team, experienced players haven’t performed, lack of goals, draw too many games and crucially they are too good to go down. For the past two seasons the same routine has happened almost to a tee. A manager has come in, provided a short term fix, eradicated the problems of the previous manager, kept them up, lose initial short term effect, make some questionable summer signings, begin to struggle, manager loses his job, repeat the process. It’s clear that a few things need to happen at Sunderland for them to stay up. 1) The experienced, successful players in that team need to stand up and be counted for (That’s you John, Wes and Jermaine). 2) Play with more intent and purpose. Sunderland have had 14 draws this year, scoring the second fewest goals in the division which is downright shocking. 3) There’s quality in that team, getting the most out of it is the issue. The majority of Sunderland’s players are internationalists, Ricky Alvarez was on the bench for last year’s World Cup final for god sake. 4) And finally make the right managerial appointment not just for the next 9 games but for the following seasons. Stability is essential at top flight football and whilst not trying to name names, Sam Allardyce would certainly bring that to the club. Those fans deserve far better, 6th highest average attendance in the league, and chopping and changing your manager this late in the season won’t always be a success. The notion of being “too good to go down” simply isn’t true and I hope for Sunderland’s sake that this isn’t the year that they are caught out for believing so.