RELEGATION, POOR REFEREES, INTERNATIONAL BREAK
I know they say it is tough at the top but, believe me, I reckon it is even tougher down at the bottom. When you’re near the top and you lose and perhaps fail to finish the season in the position everyone hoped for, at least you stay in the same League and live to fight another day. But if you’re struggling near the bottom and you don’t pick up enough points then the price of failure there is relegation.
The fall out is massive, in spite of the generous parachute payments. Crowds, media coverage, advertising and sponsorship income all reduce massively. Perhaps most damaging, popular players often want to leave and, to make it even worse; potential new signings aren’t so keen to join because of the Club’s reduced status.
These reasons, plus the fact that for most players their contacts often include a salary reduction in the event of relegation, mean everyone involved with a club is in a nail biting scrap when the prospect of relegation looms. Everyone loses.
On the other hand being near the bottom does have the advantage in that because most teams around you struggle for points, a couple of wins on the spin and the six points they bring, can bounce you several places up the table. You only have to look at Leicester City to see how just a handful of wins since their change of manager has seen them pull clear of the relegation zone in a matter of a few weeks.
Mind you, speaking of Leicester and the team’s remarkable return to winning ways, I should think their Board are feeling that their seemingly harsh sacking of Claudio Ranieri was justified after all. The fact is, professional football is firstly a business and secondly, some way behind, it is a sport. Every Board can argue, with some logic, that their responsibility is to the Club and its future. Sadly, concern and consideration for popular individuals is perhaps a luxury they simply cannot afford if they are to best serve their club.
As far as the bottom of the Premier League is concerned, the picture still isn’t any clearer following last weekend’s matches, but time is running out rapidly, particularly for Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Hull and perhaps Swansea
Sunderland now has two very tough away matches at Watford and then Leicester and on current form it’s hard to see them getting anything out of either. Losses at those two would mean Watford and Leicester putting some daylight between themselves and the relegation dog fight.
The situation is made more difficult to forecast since the basement teams now run into a series of battles against each other with Middlesbro having away games at relegation rivals Swansea and Hull. So both Sunderland and Middlesbro, the two at the very bottom, have a pair of six pointers coming up, while third from bottom Hull have two home games next. One is a six pointer at home against Middlesbro, and the other against unpredictable West Ham who have looked to be more vulnerable defensively since signing Jose Fonte who has been having an unhappy, error strewn start with his new club.
So, for those three teams at the bottom, win games against their closest rivals could put them well on the road to safety. The trouble is that because of the break for international matches, we’ll have to wait a couple of weeks to see if the situation begins to unravel.
Meanwhile, at the top of the Premier League it looks as though the title is now Chelsea’s to lose, and I can’t see them doing that since they are now ten points ahead of second place Spurs. It would need them to suffer a catatonic loss of form coupled with a pretty amazing run of success by Spurs for them to be overtaken.
However, the chase for top four and Europe looks as though it’ll go down to the wire with Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and possibly Everton all with a chance to squeeze into the reckoning. From Manchester City in third to Everton in 7th there is a spread of just seven points. The dark horse here could be Arsenal, now slipping down to 6th place, level with Everton on 50 points but Arsenal have two games in hand which, if they were to win them would bring them up to 56 points….level with Liverpool in 4th and just one behind third placed Manchester City.
Also Manchester United in 5th with 52 points are in a rich run of winning form and they have played two games less than Liverpool. Both of them have to play Everton at Old Trafford and Anfield in their next couple of games and so they could between them put paid to Everton’s hopes.
Something which has seemed to have had people talking about recently is the inconsistent and sometimes bad, performances by referees. I think one of the reasons for their inconsistency could be a lack of concentration due to tiredness. Some of them are involved with up to three matches a week.
For example last weekend Michael Oliver was at the end of a very busy, tiring week. He had the Chelsea v Manchester United FA Cup match on Monday and was then in Turkey for a UEFA Cup match later in the week so what with the heavy travel load and the tiring effort needed to control two highly charged matches, by the time he got to the end of the week he must have been at the very least, a little jaded, as he faced up to the tremendous demands of controlling the potentially explosive Manchester City/ Liverpool clash. I believe his performance was a little below his normal standard.
Speaking of referees, I felt my old club, Southampton, were a bit hard done by on Sunday against Spurs. The referee, Andre Marriner failed to award Southampton a penalty against Spurs, less than a month after disallowing Manolo Gabbiadini’s perfectly legitimate League Cup Final goal at Wembley. This time Marriner gave a soft penalty for Spurs when Steven Davis made slight contact with Delloi Ali. While most pundits agreed that was just about OK because there had been contact, it was certainly harsh. Then in the second half, an almost identical situation arose when Dusan Tadic was fouled by Ben Davies in the same manner, only for Referee Marriner to wave play on. The only discernable difference in the two incidents was that before he gave the Spurs penalty he was surrounded by half the home team protesting vigorously while for the Tadic incident the Southampton team maintained their discipline and made no great claims.
Writing in London’s Daily Mail newspaper Graham Poll, rated as one of the best referees ever, says:
If Andre Marriner thinks making the most of contact is a penalty, he must consistently apply that. Steven Davis tried to intercept the ball and Dele Alli – who is known for going down easily – went over his outstretched leg. Pundits saw it as a “clever ploy”. I felt it was Alli finding Davis’ leg. Marriner pointed to the spot. It was, at best, a very soft penalty. When Ben Davies then swung but missed, he appeared to catch Dusan Tadic. It wasn’t a penalty but if you set the bar low, you must be consistent. Saints are rightly aggrieved at being denied a spot kick.
All Premier league managers hate the international break, the fear from injury while there stars are away will nag away at them until there return, friendlies and world cup qualifier’s across the continents will be the focus over the coming days, meanwhile there is still some football action in the form of the 1st and 2nd divisions of the English league, I have picked out two fixtures from each league as my best bets for this week.
In div one I like Sheffield united to beat Oldham and Fleetwood town to Beat bury, in div two Portsmouth to beat Newport County and Blackpool to beat Hartlepool.