As we near the midway point of the 2014/15 Premier League season, let’s take a look at some of the major themes so far.
At time of writing, this is the furthest into a season we’ve got in 18 years without seeing a manager get sacked. It will happen eventually, but to date chairmen have kept their fingers off the trigger. Some are even boasting about it. At West Ham, Gould and Sullivan are publicly proud to have ‘backed’ Sam Allardyce. In reality they gave him the ultimatum of playing better football, but they did refrain from sacking him when the fans were baying for blood. Allardyce has sinced worked minor miracles in the transfer market and has West Ham third in the table, on course for the best season in the club’s Premier League history.
At Newcastle, Mike Ashley is a master of ignoring public opinion and he did so again in the case of his manager, Alan Pardew. Toward the end of last season and at the beginning of this, the Newcastle fans were convinced that Pardew needed sacking (even though when you take a long term view, Mike Ashley is clearly the problem). They sang songs, shouted vitriol, marched around and held up banners. A few weeks later and ‘Pardz’ has them playing well, seventh in the league and fresh off being the first team this season to defeat Chelsea. #PardewIn?
Statistics show that sacking managers can have – in the very short term – a positive impact on results, but that long term it makes very little difference, and is often slightly detrimental. Perhaps the people in power are finally starting to catch on to this, and hopefully the feeling will spread.
Injuries have always been something to factor into the equation when assessing a team’s chances of success, but they seem to be more prominent now than ever. Whether this is a perception or a reality, injuries are a hot topic at the moment as we learned today that Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero will be out for a month.
At one point this season, Van Gaal’s Manchester United had 14 players injured at the same time. Today the Dutchman admitted that Falcao is fit enough to play only 20 minutes of a match, while Rooney has been in and out of the side with injuries. At Arsenal, injury crises are as much a way of life as guns and barbeques are to the southern States…the Gunners have nine players out at the moment. Newcastle have ten.
According to Physio Room there are currently 96 players injured in the Premiership. It is truly a staggering amount, especially when you consider that every facet of these players’ lives are tailored towards optimizing their physical capacity and preventing them from breaking down. Add to this the fact that the game has never before been so unaccepting of physical contact. Most of the injuries occurring are muscle related, rather than resulting from bad challenges.
How can we explain this? Is the pace of the modern English game too much? Is it the case that the more finely tuned an athlete, the easier it is for them to suffer a setback? Are fitness coaching methods out of touch? It is hard to fathom.
It has become somewhat of a cliché that the art of defending is on the decline, but it is hard to argue with it. As much as the Premier League is famed for its excited attacking play, it is now becoming a byword for haphazard defending.
Look at the teams you can point to this season as having regressed defensively:
- Manchester United: slowly improving but still taken apart far too often
- Arsenal: kept 17 clean sheets last season. This season they’d have a hard time stopping Gary Doherty or Stephane Guivarc’h. Have now conceded within 20 seconds at the start of two separate halves of football
- Liverpool: couldn’t defend last season. Bought nearly a whole new defense. Still can’t defend for love nor money
- Tottenham: A shambles at the back and constantly hanging by a Hugo Lloris-shaped thread
- Everton: Last season The Toffees looked solid. Baines, Distin, Jagielka, Coleman was a back four the rest of the league envied. This time around, Monty Python’s footballing philosophers might do a better job.
The lower half of the table have conceded buckets of goals simply by being bad, rather than necessarily having regressed. Sunderland shipped eight to Southampton. QPR couldn’t keep a clean sheet away from home if they put a laundromat in goal. There are only a few teams you can point to who have been well-organized enough to keep the goals conceded count down:
- Southampton: Conceded ten. Very impressive. For European context, Juventus have conceded five. Koeman’s side have a solid back four with enough pace to recover from mistakes, and a hard-working central midfield that offers excellent protection.
- Chelsea: Conceded 13. Is it an indication of the changing nature of the Premiership that in 2004/2005, Chelsea conceded 15 all season? Maybe it was just Makelele. Anyway, as always, Mourinho has his side as defensively sound as a Roman army column. Look out for that one-goal-lead-on-comes-Obi-Mikel combination.
- Manchester City: Conceded 14. Odd, because they’ve looked shaky at the back sometimes, mostly when Kompany isn’t around. While I don’t think Pellegrini is any defensive mastermind, perhaps City have simply taken the initiative. Arsene Wenger has often espoused that “attack is the best form of defense” (this is certainly the case on FM15 – anyone noticed?), and it looks like a philosophy City are subscribing to. When they win, they quite often blow teams away.
Other than Chelsea’s machine-like consistency – loss to Newcastle excepted – the season so far has been an absolute roller-coaster. It will be interesting to see if and how the themes change in the new year. We’ll be keeping a close eye out.