Premiership fans tend to get caught up in the prevailing storylines of the day. But often times, those stories don’t really paint an accurate portrait.
We were joking around the office the other day about Harry Redknapp’s savvy move to wait until after Queens Park Rangers’ match against Manchester United to move down to the touchline. No need to start off your tenure with a guaranteed loss! Harry knew what awaited QPR: Five games heading into Christmas all against teams in the bottom half of the table.
This week, there are more than a few examples of this where the narrative isn’t 100 per cent accurate. But Harry knew to look at the big picture, and so will you after reading the starting 11.
Saturday programming alert: Watch Manchester City v Everton (Sportsnet, 9:30am ET), Liverpool v Southampton (Sportsnet ONE, 9:30am ET), Arsenal v Swansea City (Sportsnet World, 9:30am ET) and Reading v Manchester United (Sportsnet, noon ET).Sunday programming alert: MK Dons v AFC Wimbledon in the FA Cup (Sportsnet World, 7:30am ET) and Norwich City v Sunderland (Sportsnet World, 10am ET)
WEST HAM VS. CHELSEA
1. Is it really that bad?
Chelsea has gone six games without a league win. It seems unheard of that only QPR would have a longer current winless streak in the Premiership. Mix in the turbulence surrounding Rafa Benitez, and it must seem as if the world is collapsing for Blues fans.
But if you compare Chelsea’s 14 games to the same fixtures from a year ago, they’re actually eight points ahead of last season’s pace. This ties into the biggest reason for the club’s (relative) slide: a tough recent schedule.
I’m predicting lots of wins in the near future for Chelsea, and before you come back a few weeks from now thinking about how bright I was to predict such a thing, take a look at their upcoming fixtures through to Boxing Day: At West Ham, at Sunderland, home to Southampton, home to Aston Villa, and at Norwich.
MANCHESTER CITY VS. EVERTON
Is it too early to start wondering whether Manchester City can go a full season without a loss? Consider: their current run now stands at 20 games since not earning at least a point (a 1-0 loss at Arsenal in April). Man City hasn’t lost at home since December 2010, a 2-1 loss to, wouldn’t you know it, Everton.
Anyways, we mentioned on the broadcast a few weeks ago that there are two big hurdles to City going undefeated at home for two calendar years, and they’re coming up in the next two weeks: Saturday against Everton, and next Sunday against Manchester United.
3. What’s missing for Moyes?
Everton provides a similar test case to Chelsea, except in the opposite direction. You look at the overall record and you see just two losses (only Manchester City has fewer this season), so you think it’s been a pretty good season so far for David Moyes and his men.
However, the Toffees are actually one point worse than last season when comparing similar fixtures. And just as Chelsea’s schedule is softening now, Everton’s is about to get pretty nasty. Before the calendar flips to 2013, Everton hosts Spurs and Chelsea, while travelling to Manchester City, Stoke and West Ham.
LIVERPOOL VS. SOUTHAMPTON
4. Rodgers yet to find the right mix
Brendan Rodgers likes to tinker. He is a tireless worker, and someone who won’t just accept conventional theory.
Case in point: Jose Enrique came into this season as an out-of-favour left back. In just a few weeks, Rodgers has played a part in transforming him into an attacking midfielder, one who has a goal, and two assists over the last month.
However, not all tinkering always works like this. To fill the void at left back, Rodgers has tried many options, including midfielder Stewart Downing. Downing filled in at the position mid-week against Spurs, and was burned on Tottenham’s first goal, lacking true defensive instincts when he allowed Aaron Lennon to sneak behind him.
ARSENAL VS SWANSEA
5. Bargain buy
Michu was brought to Swansea this summer for just two million pounds. Now four plus months into the season, only Luis Suarez and Robin van Persie have scored more goals than the Spaniard.
What makes his goal scoring interesting is that he’s scoring very stereotypical “English” goals. Mucking about close to the goal-line, his four headers are the most in the Premiership this season.
6. Keeper clash
When Michel Vorm injured his adductor in Swansea’s 1-0 loss to Manchester City in late October, many so-called prognosticators thought Michael Laudrup’s side would struggle with 34-year old back-up keeper Gerhard Tremmel. Vorm had been, arguably, Swansea’s most valuable player since the start of last season, and a challenging schedule was looming ahead.
As we stand today, that loss to City is the only time Swansea has failed to earn at least a point since the beginning of October. They’ve drawn at home to Chelsea and Liverpool, while defeating Newcastle and West Brom.
Tremmel has conceded just four times in five games, and his 85.0 save percentage is tops in the Premiership, with Arsenal’s Wojciech Szczesny sitting in second at 81.0.
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FULHAM VS. TOTTENHAM
7. Clint’s back at Craven Cottage
Rafa Benitez and Chelsea aren’t playing at home, but if you have an appetite for some healthy booing from a crowd, look no further than Craven Cottage as Clint Dempsey returns to Fulham.
Dempsey has likely amped up the vitriol even more with comments made to ESPN, saying “If you always felt valued and appreciated, I don’t think you’d ever leave. But it came to a point where I didn’t feel valued and appreciated.”
QPR VS. ASTON VILLA
8. What’s in store for Hoilett?
Mark Hughes certainly played a big part in bringing David Hoilett to QPR. The player and coach had a relationship dating back to Blackburn, and Hoilett started in the last five games of Hughes’ tenure with Rangers.
However, since Hughes’ sacking, there are ominous signs that Hoilett might not be in Harry Redknapp’s plans.
He came on as a late sub against Manchester United when the deficit was already at two goals, and he was an unused substitute in a 0-0 draw to Sunderland.
There are also reports that say Redknapp will be looking to add a forward to QPR’s roster in January.
WEST BROM VS. STOKE
9. As simple as home-away?
No team in the Premiership has more home wins than West Brom (six).
No team in the Premiership has fewer away wins than Stoke (it is impossible to have less than zero).
Therefore, West Brom will win on Saturday.
READING VS. MANCHESTER UNITED
10. A little bit of history
Reading’s only win against United in 16 previous meetings came in 1927.
11. A bit of good news
Defender Nemanja Vidic was supposed to be out until Christmas after undergoing knee surgery in September. However, Alex Ferguson says the United skipper could be back mid-week in the Champions League. This of course, has less to do with Cluj and more to do with preparation for next weekend’s clash with Manchester City.
He appeared in five games before the injury this season, and Manchester’s winning percentage in those games was 80 per cent. Last season, United’s winning percentage with Vidic in the lineup was 83 per cent (compared to 71 per cent without him).
There’s no questioning Vidic’s quality when healthy. He was one of just two players not from La Liga to be on the FIFPro World XI for 2011. However, he has undergone two major surgeries in a year. Will he be the same player? And even if he is, will he be ready to face City’s front line in less than a week?