Top Four: Essential Notes on the Current Top Four
An ugly win is better than a pretty loss. As expected Stoke were difficult to break down and Chelsea were struggling to break the Potters down. Di Matteo started Hazard, Oscar and Mata together for the first time with an amassed value of £80 million behind the £50 million Torres. The £130 million offensive force couldn’t break through the Stoke partnership of Shawcross and Huth with the game looking like a well-earned draw for the Potters until Ashley Cole popped up in the box in the 85th minute which allows his team to stay top of the table for one more week.
This game saw the ageing duo of John Terry and Frank Lampard confined to the bench and allowed Ramires to play his preferred position behind the creative talents of Hazard and Mata (my man of the match). The Brazilian has often found himself out wide under Di Matteo but is energy and work ethic proved essential as he ended Stokes counter attacks before they could really begin. Same as last week; Fernando Torres will give his critics more ammunition with another poor performance at the Bridge while looking nervy on the ball and uncomfortable in front of goal.
Along with the obvious three points, the other positive apart from Ramires was the brilliance of Juan Mata. Mata was running the risk of becoming an invisible man with the performances of Eden Hazard stealing all the attention. The Spaniard created the single goal of the game with a cheeky back heel and if it wasn’t for the poor finishing of his teammates the playmaker could have had a few more assists. Performances like this will create some optimism amongst the Blues fans who can only hope Mata and Hazard begin to play off each other. Work on the training ground is needed to create that fluidity but if these two begin to click, several premier league defences will be in trouble.
Chelsea now must look towards Arsenal next week as they travel to North London after their opponents return home with an impressive point against the defending champions. If Arsenal continue their impressive start defensively I see they taking this game, but only by a small margin.
My Prediction: Arsenal 1 – Chelsea 0
Manchester United (This Week #2, Last Week #2)
In a game with extra significance for the home side, Manchester United scraped a fortuitous win at Anfield but not without the usual controversy. Referee Mark Halsey will come away from the match as the real talking point after sending off Liverpool midfielder Jonjo Shelvey late in the first half, along with a questionable penalty decision that allowed United to go up 2-1 and take the points. The game will be talked about continuously for the coming days but nonetheless, has allowed United to take a victory on a day cross town rivals dropped more points.
United capitalised on Liverpool’s inability in the final third alongside the man advantage but the performance has already been publicly criticized by coach Sir Alex Ferguson. Nani, who has become a scapegoat for some United fans was noticeably poor today and showed no real cutting edge going forward while his crossing continues to be erratic. Subbed off at half time will only lower the former Lisbon man’s confidence even more but United need him performing due to the injury to fellow winger Ashley Young. With Giggs at his age playing more centrally, Nani is the only option out wide but more games like at Anfield could see his rumoured move to Zenit come to fruition in the January transfer window. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Danny Welbeck get the opportunity out wide if the poor form continues; Welbeck will see less game time this season up front but has the speed and ability on the ball to be a more than capable wide man. Welbeck would be an asset going forward when coming inside to link up with Van Persie and Kagawa, especially with the amount of play that comes down United’s right flank.
United return to Old Trafford this weekend for a game which will catch the eye against Tottenham. After the poor performance at Anfield I expect a much improved game in front of the home crowd and I see Tottenham’s poor record against the Red Devil’s continuing.
My Prediction: Manchester United 2 – Tottenham 0
Everton (This Week #3, Last Week #7)
When a team can create thirty one shooting opportunities in one game its quite clear your team played well. Everton continued their incredibly impressive start to the season by thumping Swansea 3-0 and jumping into 3rd place. Forcing Swansea keeper Michel Vorm into three saves within the first three minutes set the tone for what turned out to be a dominant day in Wales for the blue side of Liverpool. Marouane Fellaini continued to impress; dominating in the air with Swansea lacking the strength and grit to oppose him. While in the absence of Nikica Jelavic; Victor Anichebe has scored his second in so many games while Kevin Mirallas looked lively and scored his first league goal.
By far, this is the clubs best start to a season and manager David Moyes deserves the plaudits for his teams’ achievements. Moyes, who is now into his 11th year at the club has managed to survive at Everton on next to no budget season after season and this year has put together a stronger team than in past seasons. Offensively in particular Everton have usually been lacking the depth and firepower to compete. But within the last 18 months, Moyes has wisely brought in Nikica Jelavic who has become the target man of the team. What highlights the depth this season however, is with the Croatian out there are has been several others stepping up and scoring the goals. Felliani has found himself in a more offensive role with the departure of Tim Cahill and I don’t see him moving back deeper into midfield if the goal scoring form continues.
I don’t see Everton’s impressive early season form coming to a halt this week. Back in front of the Goodison faithful they are favourites against Southampton in my books. Coming off a commanding win against Aston Villa Southampton look to build on their first win and leave Merseyside victorious but with the likes of Felliani and Pienaar in fine form I see the Saints leaving disappointed.
My Prediction: Everton 3 – Southampton 1
West Brom (This Week #4, Last Week #6)
Easily the surprise package of the league so far. Steve Clarke has had quite the start at the Hawthorns as his side sits in fourth place. Clarke’s loan signing Romelu Lukaku scored mid second half in a tight affair. Reading came close on the odd occasion but West Broms successful start continued, but I can only wonder how long it can last. In the meantime, West Brom fans can enjoy the historic win which has now seen them win three in a row at home for the first time in 58 years.
If West Broms rich vein of form is to last deep into the season they need goals on a regular basis. Seven goals in five games isn’t that bad, but as the games get tougher so will the defences so I would like to see Clarke deploy two up front and make the most of the variety he has up front this year. Peter Odemwingie as seen in the past can win a game on his own, the Nigerian is highly talented and can score some amazing goals but doubts continue to be raised over the striker’s fitness. Going forward, Shane Long has the speed and movement to be a perfect partner for Lukaku. Long, who is the clubs top scorer so far can play off the bigger, more imposing Belgian and if these two click, could prove to be the key to keeping West Brom in the top half of the table come season end.
Up next is the West Midlands derby, as West Brom makes the trip to Villa Park to face a Villa side in dire need of a win. After getting thumped 4-1 by a newly promoted Southampton, I expect Aston Villa to come out firing with a point to prove to their loyal yet disappointed fans. Form is always irrelevant in these heated derbies and this one could go either way.
My Prediction: West Brom 1 – Aston Villa 1