Well we have come to another international break that interrupts our weekly EPL diet, but at least we have the All Whites to look forward to! With just over a quarter of the season already gone (where the hell did that go!?) I thought it would be good to have a look over the season so far. The season has had its fair share of upsets, transfer rumours and stunning goals but a minimal amount of controversy which is a tad disappointing!
Biggest Surprise so far – Southampton
What a start by the Saints! Nobody can honestly say they would have picked Southampton to be in the top 6, let alone 3rd on the table going into the international break. Teams such as Man City and Chelsea have squads worth 5 times as much as the Saints, with better facilities and equipment, but there is no substitute for a bit of desire and heart. Led by the hard working Ricky Lambert, this side have shown a lot of attacking verve while also managing to keep a defensive steel that is the envy of many teams having conceded only 5 goals in the first 11 games! If the likes of Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren can keep up there early season form the Saints could be looking at securing a place in Europe. However with all such ‘small teams’, the depth of the squad will be tested the longer the season goes on. You’d imagine the Saints will get pulled back to the middle of the pack at some point as the big boys start flexing their muscle. But will they? Dreams are free, and potentially the Saints could take us football fans for a fantastic ride this year.
Biggest Let down since the Americas cup - Chelsea
Readers may be confused here, but times aren’t so rosy in London for Mourinho and co. Maybe I’ve set my expectations too high for the Blues? For me have they have been mundane and need a kick up the ass for how they have been playing. Back from Spain to manage his beloved Blues, Mr Mourinho has struggled to find his top line-up and get the consistency out of his players that he desires. With the financial backing of ‘he who must not be named’, Chelsea bought extensively during the summer to bolster its squad. When you are able to put arguably the best player of the 2012-2013 season, Juan Mata, on the bench then you have serious depth. The problem is the consistency of the side. One week they look like EPL champions, the next they look like they’d rather be at the pub watching darts on a Sunday arvo. Don’t get me wrong, I still think Chelsea will be in the top two, if not the eventual champions this year. However for me they haven’t been pushing my buttons and have left me wondering whether this squad have the mental toughness to fight for the trophy. I guess the next 6 months will give us an answer.
The Travel sickness award: Man City
What is going on outside the Etihad!! People say there is an art to winning away from home and with the City boys registering only 4 points from a possible 18 outside the Etihad, this may just be the case! With 5 wins from 5 inside the comforts of home base, these crucial wins are keeping their title hopes alive. However if there is no extremely significant turnaround in away form, this side will fail to live up to the hype that has followed them ever since that famous day on 13 May in 2012. Maybe travel arrangements need to be addressed or these rather highly paid sportsman need to better prepare themselves for these matches because these dropped points could become costly as we get closer to the May finale. You can be sure that Mr Pelligrini will be harping on about their away form for a long while yet as city try to start climbing the ladder in the coming weeks.
Player of the year (thus far)
There are a number of players who could scoop this award but I narrowed it down to two players who have been the most influential. Daniel Sturridge and Aaron Ramsey. Both these talents have had their setbacks over the years with Sturridge having to settle on Chelsea’s bench for a number of seasons and Ramsey having his leg horrifically broken in 2 places against Stoke in 2010. Why now have they both started to shine? In the case of Sturridge he benefitted from starting the season as Liverpool’s main striking weapon as Luis Suarez rode the pine for his hunger antics against Chelsea last season. His performances show he wasn’t shy from stealing the limelight as he started the season on fire and has already registered 8 goals! Sturridge has never been the focal point of a team’s attack, having to settle for a wide role at Chelsea where the likes of Drogba and Torres took centre stage. He has always preferred the central striking role and the form he has shown in leading the line has seen Brendan Rodgers confidence in him rewarded with a stunning start to the season. With Suarez back they have started to build an irresistible partnership (SAS) which could carry this side to Europe. If Sturridge can learn to share the limelight with Suarez then he will continue to fluster opposition defences and become a contender for top goal scorer come end of season honours.
Ramsey has also benefitted from taking a greater role within his side. The Arsenal midfielder has never shone in the Arsenal colours but he has turned that round in first 11 games. I must admit if you asked me 12 months ago which midfielder Mr Wenger should sell, I would have said Ramsey without hesitation, so i’m glad i’m not the manager!! With only Giroud leading the line, one of the midfield quintet had to step up. Ramsey has done just that. From being a diminutive sit back and wait type player, Ramsey has turned into a free running attacking midfielder with an eye for goal as shown by the quality of goals he has already scored this year. It is not just his finishing though. His work rate has been first class, he hasn’t been shying away from his defensive duties and he is also taking on a leadership role within the side. With the likes of Theo Walcott and Lucas Podolski coming back from injury, midfield starting spots will be at a premium but you can bet bottom dollar that Ramsey is as near a certainty as you can get for one of the spots. Questions remains if he can carry this on for the whole season, however for the first quarter alone he has been nothing short of sensational.
Biggest flop so far
This award has had Torres’ name all over it for the last few years, but not this year! There hasn’t been too many players I would say have significantly underperformed since the start of the year, but I believe Marouane Fellaini fits the bill. Bought for 27.5 million pounds over the summer from Everton, Fellaini was meant to bring a bullying strength to the United midfield to complement the more elusive players. However after starting the first 3 games he has found himself down the pecking order behind the likes of Cleverly, Kagawa and Carrick. He has been found wanting when playing against high pressing teams and struggles himself when trying to pressure opposition players due to his lack of speed. Fellaini still has plenty of time to resurrect this form, but the United faithful are starting to lose patience with their star summer signing and he will need to turn things around quickly if he wants a prolonged stay at the theatre of dreams.