If you’re a gambling person you could bet your life savings that Alan Pardew will be the next Premier League manager sacked, followed shortly by a couple of other struggling colleagues. You could also bet that Leicester City will continue to do their best impersonation of Chelsea a la 2015-2016, and that Chelsea will continue to win because of passion. With the half way point of the season fast approaching, it’s still not safe, however, to proclaim a winner or a loser in this campaign. But 13 matches in, we definitely know just who has come ready to play until May.
1) Leicester City In Limbo
If you’re not a Leicester City supporter, then it’d be hard for you to tell me the last time the Foxes actually won a league match. You would have to go back over a month to when they beat the league’s whipping boys, Crystal Palace. Not much to brag about there, especially since Leicester have not had a solid performance in those last six weeks. Saturday’s draw against Middlesbrough was fortunate, and the questions are still being asked about what has happened to last year’s league champions.
Twice Middlesbrough was up on Leicester, and twice Leicester had to fight back for a draw. They were lucky to get an extra time equalizer when Islam Slimani scored from the penalty spot. Defensively, Leicester are far worse than last season, and as long as Kasper Schmeichel is out, the goals just may be crossing the white line of “X’s” in the loss column.
2) Liverpool Still Jet Lagged
Yes, Liverpool may have won on Saturday against Sunderland, but it wasn’t inspiring and well, it was Sunderland. It took the Reds 75 minutes to take the lead, when Divock Origi knocked one in from a Jordan Henderson pass. The win, however, came with a cost, as Phillipe Coutinho was carted off in the 34th minute.
At no time were Liverpool under any serious threat, with Sunderland managing only one shot on target. Where Liverpool were hurting, however, was in their own inability to create from open play and to take any chances they did create. Their failure to finish consistently may still be attributed to the miles Liverpool’s stars traveled during the hectic international break, but a fortnight was some time ago. Jurgen Klopp has nothing serious to worry about as Liverpool still sit second in the table, but if they wish their title charge to continue they will need to smooth off any rusty nails.
3) A Palace In Ruins
Alan Pardew’s appointment as Crystal Palace manager in 2015 was supposed to be the annointing of a new era for the London club. A returning player who has had a somewhat respectable managing career was thought to be ready to make the club a staple in the Premier League for years to come. That, unfortunately, has not been the case, and if 2016 is anything to go by, then one could say Palace’s revival is more like a crucifixion. The Saturday loss to Swansea was a tale of bad things getting worse.
Alan Pardew’s job is at stake, and the next two matches will define how much he’s allowed the club’s chances of survival to be lost through his team’s poor grip on sanity. It was an unfortunate end to an entertaining match against Swansea, and the heavy hearts of Palace supporters might actually have burst after their club built up a 4-3 lead only to lose 5-4 to two Fernando Llorente goals in the final three minutes of stoppage time. At least Bob Bradley finally won his first match as Swansea manager, but sadly his counterpart’s days at Selhurst Park appear to be numbered. The first item to be fixed must be his leaky defense, and their inability to stop goals going in from set pieces. They could simply just stop giving up fouls in dangerous areas, but the brains have temporarily left a lifeless Crystal Palace squad.
4) 7 Wins Straight, But Not Easy
Chelsea are not just the talk of the town, but of all England and Wales. They have remodeled their image, their style of play, and most importantly their position in the league table. Tottenham looked to be Chelsea’s biggest challenge since their winning streak began, and anything short of a win could have set back all the progress made at Stamford Bridge. Tottenham came to The Bridge not having won there since 1990. On the cards, however, was another story line, the one that dates back to last season when Tottenham dropped a 2-0 lead at The Bridge only for Chelsea to come back and draw, which in turn awarded Leicester City their remarkable title.
For the first 44 minutes the match was all Tottenham, but a spectacular Pedro goal at the end of the first half was enough to give Chelsea confidence coming out of the gates in the second. Mauricio Pochettino found the right prognosis to play against the Antonio Conte formula of tactics, free flowing football and confidence. Tottenham would not allow Chelsea to breath once they touched the ball, but as good a job as Pochettino did, Conte simply did better. Diego Costa didn’t score, but he was the difference, setting up the second Chelsea goal for Victor Moses. Even when its stars don’t shine, Chelsea have enough in the back-up roles to fill in for important scenes. The second half of Saturday’s London Derby epitomized a champion’s attitude, but Liverpool and Manchester City also carry the same traits.
5) The Saint of Survival
Southampton had a bit of a flu, but they have seemed to find a temporary cure. Last week against Liverpool, the Saints heroically kept the Merseysiders goalless for an important draw. With the blue half of Liverpool in town, it was important for Claude Puel’s players to keep their march moving forward. Charlie Austin’s quick goal right after the start was enough to win, but the heroics came from a consistent star in the making.
Virgil van Dijk continued his impressive displays with another fine effort on Saturday. In defense he is as steady as any of Europe’s best, and his composure made a leading difference in helping Southampton secure the three points. With a visit to struggling Crystal Palace coming up, it was necessary for the Saints to win this weekend before heading into a match that promises nothing, but could guarantee everything.
Thanks for reading.
Photo via the Guardian.