Two Months To Go: Who’s Actually Happy?

For many Premier League clubs this has been a season full of miserable moments. In this era of moaning on the radio and venting on Twitter, I’m willing to bet many sets of fans will be happy to see the back of the 2017 season.

With less than ten games to go in the Premier League season, how many fans are actually happy? The shining example of happy fans – despite recently losing their undefeated home record – comes from the Stamford Bridge faithful. Chelsea collapsed inexplicably to tenth last year but have surged back to the top of the Premier League to the tune of a seven point advantage. They’ve got a manager every bit as passionate at Jurgen Klopp, more tactically shrewd than Pep Guardiola and a far better man manager than the present day Jose Mourinho. However, beneath The Blues, who’s actually had a season to be happy about?

Tottenham are on course to smash their previous points tally and should reach the elusive 80 point milestone. Despite this, fans will likely be left feeling sorry for themselves again. They’ll finish above Arsenal, but could very easily end up trophy-less and with another bout of ‘we won’t be this good next season’. After snatching third in a two horse race last year they won’t be over the moon with a distant second to Chelsea despite playing some of the best football in the league.

Whatever way you wrap it up, Manchester City fans won’t hold this season in high regard. The more sympathetic folk will focus on glimpses on Guardiola’s vision but the Spaniard’s debut season has been full of embarrassing moments. As for Liverpool – how can a team play so well against so many top teams and be so far from the top of the league? Deadly in big games, Klopp has done little to fix Liverpool’s familiar flaws against beatable opponents.

Moving down the league we reach Arsenal. Their fans are fighting eachother. Enough said.

Manchester United have had to put the Mourinho revolution on hold. The Slightly Deranged One’s tried and tested tactics haven’t been a roaring success at United. He may still drag them to fourth but it hasn’t been an easy ride.

Everton are next and the common consensus is that they’ve had a good season under a savvy new manager in Ronald Koeman. But have they really? They’ll finish higher than last year but defeats to Bournemouth, Burnley and Watford plus two Merseyside derbies and a hammering by Chelsea have confirmed their status as ‘just’ a top eight side. They’re hardly banging on the door of the top four. They’ve merely returned to where they were four years ago.

Next come West Brom who, on paper, have had a fine season. Credit to Tony Pulis for delivering everything West Brom could possibly have hoped for, but are the fans happy? You get plenty of Baggies on Talksport speaking of their uninspiring performances and lack of risk-taking football. Pulis has worked hard to get into a position of safety and security, can we see them try something else now?

Southampton have wilted badly since the League Cup final. A good season for James Ward-Prowse and the signing of Manolo Gabbiadini are scarce few high points; the transition from Ronald Koeman to Claude Puel a very obvious low. Recent form has seen a very ordinary Watford side climb to a flattering high. Staying up is an achievement of sorts but I doubt their fans will be particular enamoured with Walter Mazzarri.

With five straight wins and a Champions League quarter-final, Leicester fans will be almost as happy right now as they were last May. Let’s not be blinded though, losing Claudio Ranieri and plummeting to the relegation zone has made this a remarkably sticky campaign.

Stoke City have had somewhat of a classic Premier League campaign. An abysmal start, strong winter form and a recent dwindle see them sit twelfth in the table. Mark Hughes has become a highly divisive character and Stoke have had very little to cheer about. Below them sit Bournemouth and we may finally have found our second set of happy supporters. Bournemouth will now stay up and their Premier League dream will extend to a third season. Shipping 54 goals in the first 28 games was a cause for concern but I doubt they’ll be too many unhappy faces at the Vitality.

What do Burnley do on away days? I will never understand the home/away differential but Sean Dyche’s side have gone winless on the road despite winning ten of sixteen home games. However, with Burnley we might have found our third set of happy supporters! Assuming they stay up, it will be the first time Burnley have avoided the drop in their Premier League history.

West Ham are struggling and Slaven Bilic’s job is hanging by a thread. One of the best teams in the league last year, The Irons have endured a dismal campaign. They aren’t yet safe and neither are Crystal Palace. The Eagles will be ecstatic with their recent form and the long-awaited ‘Allardyce effect’ has finally kicked in. Nevertheless, I’m going to be cruel and say their fans won’t be happy with the 2017 season. Form under Pardew was horribly stuttered and they’ve left it far too late to do anything memorable.

Hull City fans have a handful of reasons to be happy. Marco Silva has turned the club’s form around and – to be fair to Mike Phelan – the club have punched above their dismal expectations all season. Are the fans happy? I’ll put them down as a weak yes due to recent form and renewed hope.

Hull are in a lively scrap with fellow struggles Swansea City. Even the most negative of Swansea fans wouldn’t have expected the side to be this perilously close to the drop with seven games to go. Bad decisions and Bob Bradley have made this is a season to forget.

Not only are Middlesbrough doomed for relegation but they’ve scored just 22 goals all campaign. Four wins and many miserable outings have confirmed their fans’ despair.

Sunderland? Give me a break.

Final Score: Unhappy Fans 16 – 4 Happy Fans

Mike Franchetti

A Conversation That Never Took Place: Pep Guardiola

*DISCLAIMER – This is not a real story.* 

I like to imagine that at some point shortly after his appointment at Manchester City Pep Guardiola was shown a map of the UK and some of the lesser-known Premier League homes were pointed out…

A clued-up Manchester City assistant decides to start by introducing Staffordshire and Stoke City; a location Guardiola would be paying a visit to at the end of August.

‘Forget what you have heard about Stoke, Pep. They are a different club these days. We will have too much class for them’.

The entirely fictitious conversation moves south to Wales and Swansea City.

‘Swansea poses little threat to us, Pep. We shall easily defeat them and their manager will be sacked. We will force them into hiring a peculiar American replacement.’

Guardiola is pleased with what he is hearing. ‘Where next?’ he smiles.

‘To North London’ his assistant explains. ‘But not to Arsenal. It is Tottenham we should fear this season. It is here we will lose our 100% record, Pep. They will not fear the way we play’.

‘We’ll see’ Guardiola grunts.

Moving a short distance down the map the pair reach Selhurst Park.

‘Our squad will be low on confidence here, Pep. It may be a good idea to recall Yaya’

Guardiola laughs. ‘We won’t be needing him this year. Where else are we visiting?’

‘Burnley’ the would-be assistant reveals. ‘Not too far from our home ground’.

‘Who?’ spurts the new City manager. ‘I haven’t heard of any of these players. We will win easily, for sure. And if they put up a fight we can always blame the ref. Tell me, when do we visit the Premier League Champions?’

The assistant steadies himself. ‘Leicester will pose a counter-attacking threat, Pep…’

‘Nonsense! We will restore order to this division. I may not even start two recognised centre-halves. John can do a perfectly good job by himself. Besides, we have Claudio in goal should they manage a shot on target’

The assistant struggles to stop himself from laughing.

‘Sorry Pep, maybe you’re right. We will also visit Anfield before New Year. I expect Jurgen will have improved his side this year…’

‘No, no. Don’t be silly – have you seen their defence? We shall out-score them. We have Sergio. They have Dejan Lovren. What about their neighbours?’

The assistant takes a deep breath.

‘It’s at Everton where every fault you’ve ignored, dismissed or forgotten about over the first five months of the season will come together in one 90-minute period. We’ll have all of the ball and do nothing with it. We won’t deal with their direct approach and our defenders will be pressured into serious mistakes. Our team will lack focus and we won’t be able to ignore our unbalanced squad any longer. A debuting teenager will come on as a substitute and nutmeg Claudio Bravo. It will be one of the worst results in your managerial career’

Guardiola had left the room.

‘What do you think of this roll neck?’

Five-a-side TOTW: December 6th 2016

Picking an eleven is hard; picking just five is even harder.

No matter what Alan Shearer thinks, Alexis Sanchez is World Class. Nevertheless, it takes more than a quickfire hatrick against a despairing West Ham to earn a spot in our five-a-side team. The Chilean misses out on a second straight appearance in TOTW in favour of a deadly Chelsea duo. The Blues came from a goal down to seize all three points in the weekend’s big game at the Etihad.

Goalkeeper – Jordon Pickford

It’s Pickford o’clock!  We pick this kid every week because he’s the only goalie who’s obviously adding points to his team’s haul.  Another poor show by Leicester saw Sunderland move into a 2-0 lead but the Champions rallied and Pickford was again asked to help out.  He got down well to stop a Robert Huth header in the 79th minute but it was a reflex save to deny Wes Morgan in stoppage time (with the score at 2-1) which confirmed another appearance in our five-a-side team. I just hope he reads this one day because a fifth appearance in twelve weeks is really something to be proud of (narrowly better than a first England cap).

The Playmaker – Chris Brunt

We’ve opted for a five-a-side team without an Anchorman this week, allowing us to squeeze in the underrated Chris Brunt. West Brom earned another three points and briefly slid into the top six on Saturday night. The Northern Irishman delivered a fine performance helping the Baggies race to a 2-0 lead. He delivered a dangerous ball into the middle – something he’s been doing for years – to tee up Johnny Evans’ header before dispatching a great strike of his own in 34th minute. His traditional wide-play may not be best suited to the restrictions of five-a-side but I’m sure he’d adapt just fine. It was a good weekend for Tony Pulis – who recently lost a multimillion pound law suit for pulling the wool over the eyes of Steve Parish.

The Energiser – Ryan Fraser

Who? Liverpool fans (*cough* me) saw absolutely no danger when the unassuming Ryan Fraser took to the pitch with Bournemouth two down and half an hour to play. A minute later he had beaten James Milner to a through ball, tangled legs and won a penalty. Callum Wilson netted and momentum swung in an instant. Carefree Liverpool refused to sit back and crumbled as they have done several times before (Palace in 2013, Southampton and Norwich last season). Fraser’s cameo was far from over. Receiving the ball just inside the box, the Scot curled a crisp strike into the bottom corner. He still wasn’t finished and minutes later teed up Steve Cook for Bournemouth’s third. He buzzed around with a real energy and was an obvious choice for TOTW. He was the catalyst for change and by stoppage time Bournemouth’s winner was almost inevitable.

The Talisman – Eden Hazard

He’s back! It’s taken Eden Hazard far longer than anybody expected to affirm his position amongst the world’s elite. When Chelsea won the league he was exceptional but last season (save for one match vs. Tottenham) he was borderline abysmal. He looks happy again and I’d go as far as to say he’s playing the best football of his career. No longer restricted to a wide position, Hazard has carved a free role and has been a real menace in recent weeks. His goal vs. Manchester City was essentially a one-on-one, but the speed at which he took the ball and buried it in the bottom corner made it one of my favourites of the weekend. He’d simply light up a five-a-side pitch and the Belgian is a luxury in this, or any, team.

The Match Winner – Diego Costa

The way in which I avoid praising Diego Costa is nothing short of an art form. No matter how well he plays, I’ll find something to moan about or somebody else to talk about. Costa’s about as far from a footballing angel as they come but we can’t hold grudges forever and he’s not put a foot wrong this season. He’s been the standout striker in the Premier League – more consistent than Sergio Aguero – and must be considered one of the best focal points in world football. Amongst the top teams, Chelsea are the least concerned with playing overwhelming possession football. They aren’t afraid to absorb pressure and Costa is often left with a just a handful of chances per game. It’s lucky, then, that his finishing is clinical. He perfectly controlled Cesc Fabregas’ long pass before shaping round a hapless Nicolas Otamendi and firing home. After Aguero went knee-high on David Luiz you’ll be forgiven for wondering who’s the nicer of the two strikers.

Mike Franchetti