Neil Warnock was fired this week, the first Premier League casualty of the season, if you ignore Roy Keane’s departure at Villa. His team’s relegation was assured with him as boss. Warnock has one of the curious records. He is able to galvanise losing teams for a period in the Premier League or for long enough in the championship to achieve promotion but he is never able to sustain or build on it. Either his energy is sapped, his creativity runs out or his words fail to motivate better players or should I say, better paid players. He reminds me of an older Mick McCarthy, a manager I can’t help but respect, no matter what Roy Keane thinks.
So it’s halfway through the season and the table has taken a clear shape. The teams you expect to be at the top are there and those at the bottom are fairly predictable. Mid-table looks like mid-table. Bar Southampton and West Ham’s showings, most is as expected.
I’ll start bottom. What can i say? QPR are improving on the back of Charlie Austin’s form. Crystal Palace are paying for losing Tony Pulis while Burnley have impressed under Dyche, a guy I like but they won’t likely survive. Leicester are keen but done. Hull struggled after their Europa expectations were dashed but will be fine. The same could be said for Villa who have plenty of decent players in Vlaar, Guzman, Beneteke, Agbonlahor and Delph. Lambert has been hobbled by his assistant managers from last season and Keane this season. However despite looking like a highly stressed man, I rate him as a manager. I rate Poyet too but Sunderland are pretty poor and will continue to inhabit the lower reaches of the division. Alan Irvine of West Brom will get fired soon too.
Mid-table extends all the way to about 6th by the end of the season. Spurs are improving but may be have more realistic ideas this season. Swansea, Stoke, Newcastle will remain in the mix for 10th place. Everton ave been erratic but have quality throughout. Europa has done them too. Liverpool’s problems are more complex and varied. Firstly they overachieved last season. Their defence was never strong enough and hasn’t improved this season. But the goals have dried up sapping the confidence in the team. Gerrard is ageing. Henderson is a confidence player. Coutinho needs to start more. Balotelli was always a risk. Just look at how many clubs he has had already. Sturridge’s injuries takes deadly finishing out of the team. But mostly the Rodgers and the board bought too many squad players because they misunderstood their strength. They bought to compete in the Premier League and Europe. But they’ve yet to consolidate their top four status and won’t make it this year.
Outside of the top two, Southampton and West Ham could hang on for a Europa spot, crippling them next season. I rate Koeman and a lot of his buys especially Pelle. The other two teams to talk about are Arsenal and Manchester United. In truth, there is little to say about Arsenal that hasn’t been stated before. The same weaknesses exist at centre back and central midfield and Wenger seems incapable of spotting it. What Steve Bould adds to the defence is beyond me. Manchester United have such firepower they will always score. Add some steel in the middle and at the back, and they aren’t far from a class outfit.
At the top, it’s a battle between Chelsea and Manchester City. City have done well considering their injuries to key players in Kompany who for me isn’t as great as rated (similar to Hart) but then its difficult to look secure when you have Demichelas or Mangala alongside you. Aguero is the best centre forward in the world and they have no chance in Europe without him. The league is still Mourinho’s to lose. They have the best squad. They look the most ready. Costa was an excellent buy. Hazard is playing well and Terry is a rock. It’s Chelsea’s to win.
Order: Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Spurs and Southampton
Relegated: Burnley, Crystal Palace, Leicester (in no order)