England's Favourite Premier League 2/24/10 – The First Cup Beckons

There are currently three major talking points in the Premier League at the moment. One is the Pompey circus that now threatens Administration, something that the Premier League could do without, though the alternatives are, well, slightly less appealing. That has been dragged through enough at this point, so we’ll not carry on until we actually know what happens next week.

Storyline two is the impending Carling Cup final between Manchester United and Aston Villa. Last time we saw the two sides clash the respectable Martin O’Neill was busy giving too much respect to the United 10 man assault, although, in fairness, if you tried to put on-fire Wayne Rooney out, you’d probably burst into flames yourself. Villa garnered something resembling confidence in smacking Burnley about at Villa Park and have to be buoyed by the fact that Ferdinand and Giggs will not be able to participate.

Of course, the way Rooney and Antonio Valencia have been playing, it may not matter a whip-stitch in the end. The one thing that needs to happen for this contest to be a cup final worthy tilt is that Villa must play with some attacking impetus, as caution will only prolong the United winner. United must keep in mind that the midfield must be won, as Everton pointed out to everyone at the weekend, lest they find themselves without the ball and without the opportunity to feed Rooney.

Speaking of Everton, they occupy storyline number three. Beating #1 and #2 in consecutive weeks is by no means a small feat, regardless of how many goals John Terry wants to give away at the moment. Two months ago, Everton were reeling closer to the relegation zone than the midtable. Their wins had come at a premium, as they went nearly two months between W’s (Nov 8 @ West Ham to Dec 28 v Burnley) and drew all other results in December. After the win, Landon Donovan showed up and several players got healthy. Since the beginning of the year, Everton have nabbed 16 points, only losing in the Merseyside War at Anfield and drawing Arsenal at the Emirates. This run includes win over City and the aforementioned Chelsea (#1) and United (#2).

The day before the win against Burnley, they were behind Burnley by a point, sitting 14th in the table, equal with Wolves and Wigan and ahead on goal difference. The win pushed them to 11th, but they were marginally ahead of Stoke and Blackburn, and a point behind Sunderland. Not only were they marginally in mid table, but they were a mere 5 points away from the relegation zone. A loss and a couple of wins from other sides could easily have dropped them down to 14th or 15th.

My, how things have changed since then.

Suddenly, the Toffees find themselves 8 points off 4th. At the time, they were 8 points off 8th and 15 points off of 4th. What’s scary is that, while 7 points back of 6th and 7th, and with Villa having a game in hand, they could be as close as 4 points off Liverpool with a win over Spurs at the weekend.

Then, consider this: Spurs are the second-to-last top 8 team left on the Everton schedule. They still have Birmingham, Fulham and Villa, but, considering the sweltering pace they are on, a minimum of 20 more points is not out of the question. There are 36 points remaining on the schedule, and 24 is easily obtainable on the current form. 24 points would leave them on 62 for the season. While 62 points would only have gotten 4th twice in the last decade, note that one of those times, it would have been a point better than 04-05…the term that Everton stole fourth from Liverpool.

How’s that for some food for thought?

February 20

We’re going to forget that there was a contest on Wednesday, so if you feel so inclined to find out what happened, hide your children and brace yourself for some pain.

As previously noted, Everton downed the mighty Roonchester United, with United seemingly stuck in first gear after the midweek Milan mash-up. Arsenal seized the opportunity to peg them back three points, though if Sunderland had an ounce of luck (seemingly used up since the beachball and earlier Gunners win) they could have made the contest far more interesting. Chelsea put their own Everton loss to rest by picking back up the three points lost against Wolves, no matter how many times John Terry insists on giving teams chances to score. (His rushes of blood seem to be going to the wrong place, me thinks…..) Elsewhere, Stoke pulled what was left of the collective Pompey heart out with a late winner at Fratton Park, whilst West Ham won their second straight, albeit against Hull City. The win prompts them to move all the way to 13th, which should tell you a lot about the bottom third of the table, considering they were 18th two weeks ago.

February 21

In what was supposed to be a hotly contested affair, the pregame realization that both teams would be playing 4-5-1’s made it very clear that losing was not an option, which, in turn, made winning not an option either. This allowed both Villa (5-2 Burnley) and Spurs (Wigan 0-3) to jump right back into their previous positions in the race for fourth. The muddled area around fourth, with four teams a point apart and Everton coming on like a heat seeker, seems destined to go down to the wire. With Arsenal pulling themselves back away from that spot, it will be a five team-one spot race, one that should make things incredibly interesting until the final whistle on May 9th.

Fulham’s win over Birmingham pushed the Blues back to 10th, though, at this point, even if they get 5 more points this term, they have certainly done enough to ensure safety. The same cannot be said of Bolton. Apparently the Owen Coyle touch may drag two teams down this term, as both Wanderers and Burnley are now nicely placed in the relegation zone. The hammering against Blackburn did them little favor in the race to get as far away from Pompey as possible. Of course, considering that 13th to 19th are separated by a monstrous 4 points, none of those side are “safe” by any stretch of the imagination, though, in reality, they only have to spots to avoid as Pompey are entrenched in 20th and could be rooted there forever by next week.

February 23

If you don’t happen to have insurance against Rooney (which is basically a combination of earthquake, fire, flood, nuclear attack, typhoons, rabies and the plague) you probably ought to hope there’s a major contest before that game. Since United were coming off the Everton loss, you just had to know that West Ham were in for it, didn’t you? I mean, it’s not like Rooney has 19 goals in his last 19 contests or anything like that….

The New Week

Today is Replay day in England, with the F.A. Cup quarterfinals to be fully determined, as Stoke and City clash for the fourth time (that groan you hear is the commentating crew realizing that they have this contest), Spurs and Bolton trying not to have a second case of identity swapping, Villa trying not to lose to Crystal Palace, and West Brom and Reading out for show.

The weekend is probably more noted for the dueling relegation “bracketbusters” if you will, featuring Bolton/Wolves and Burnley/Pompey. Chelsea/City will be interesting if Tevez shows back up and John Terry continues to offer more scoring chances like they were coupons at the local market. Stoke and Arsenal might prove an interesting tilt, given that Stoke have not lost in 2010 and Arsenal need to keep the pace after United flubbed their lines while City could cost Chelsea.

Sunday will be dominated by the Wembley outing, but the undercard features a potential blockbuster in Spurs/Everton. Liverpool/Blackburn screams out boring, while Sunderland will try to find some semblance of regularity, but will have to take out Fulham to do it.

International friendlies will interject into the mix during the week, so the League will actually not have a midweek game next week. Hopefully everyone can last that long before going nutty.

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