Back of the Net With Ray North: The Half Time Traipse

by Ray_North on December 26, 2014

Back_of_the_NetIt’s boxing day, I write this with a plate of cold turkey in one hand and bowl of humble pie in the other – because I have to admit that, even by my own fairly poor standards, as we reach the half-way point of the 2014/15 football season, my predictions have been woeful.

Looking back at my post of August 2014, I appear to have predicted that the title would be a fight between Arsenal and Liverpool, with Chelsea and Man City running them close. I declared that Southampton would struggle, but stay up, West Ham would sit obscurely in mid-table, Man United would improve marginally, Everton and Spurs would thrive and Swansea, West Brom and Burnley would end up packing their bags and heading for the Championship.

Ok, it’s only half way through the season, but, already, it will take some kind of tsunami like event to propel Liverpool and Arsenal into a genuine title fight, whilst, Southampton and West Ham have done extremely well, Swansea have been far from relegation fodder and Man United, have, well, improved a bit.

So far, the premiership season has been interesting mainly for the inconsistent form of the ‘usual champions league pretenders’ – Arsenal, Liverpool and Man United have all been beaten by ‘inferior’ teams, whilst City have blown hot and cold as well, the exception has been Chelsea who look like a finely tuned Jose Marinho machine.

Let’s start with Liverpool – if last season was like watching a swashbuckling blockbuster this season has been like watching a particularly ropey ITV sit-com. With Suarez gone and Sturridge injured for all but two games, Liverpool have suddenly gone from playing a lovely bland of exciting fluid football to a rather slow, predictable mess. Despite signing Lovren, Manquillo and Moreno, their defence is even worse, whilst the travails Balotelli, Lambert and Borini up front have only reminded Kopites just how good Suarez was. I feel Liverpool will improve, and I still have a great deal of confidence in Brendan Rodgers, but, this season may end up without European Football.

Arsenal could also end up without Champions League football if things carry on as they are at the moment – the frustrating thing for the Gunners, is that on paper, they have a superb squad and prior to kick off the addition of Alexis Sanchez seemed to offer the final golden piece of the jigsaw – but no, their defence is still dodgy, their midfield is still unable to dominate in the way in which Arsenal teams of Viera and Petit once did and the strikers are nowhere near formidable enough to mount a consistent title challenge. I have gone from tipping Arsenal for the title to tipping Arsene for the sack.

Man United added a whole host of ‘galacticos’ in the Summer with Rojo, Falcao, Blind, Herrera, Shaw and Di Maria and a new manager in the vey entertaining Van Gaal, to the glee of those of us not particularly positively predisposed towards the Red Devils they started terribly, but now, with Fellaini and Mata rather than any of the new boys, grinding into form, they are showing signs of improvement – I predicted 6th before the kick off, now I’m revising that to 4th or even 3rd.

Man City are still challenging and if they can keep Kompany and Aguerro fit, they might well pull off another late challenge and overhaul Chelsea, though I doubt it. Nothing to write about really, about Citteh – I predicted 3rd, they’ll probably come 2nd.

I put Chelsea as 4th – and my thinking was that Jose Mourhinho would struggle second time around at a football club, which is a theory that does have historical support, but, I’ve been completely wrong. Mourinho bought in Costa, Matic and Fabregas before the season curtain-up and all three have proved to be extremely good signings, Matic in particular has been outstanding. Chelsea look as though they are strolling it at the moment, and that’s because they are.

Of the others, Southampton have been excellent – most of us thought that the Saints would struggle without the Lallana, Shaw, Lambert, Chamers etc, but Ronnie Koeman has proved himself to be an extremely good manager who has purchased some little belters, but perhaps more importantly has managed to craft a very good team spirit. I doubt that they’ll last the pace and are already looking more vulnerable than they did in November, but, I’d love to see them finish in the top 6.

West Ham have also exceeded expectations – with Big Sam changing his playing style from a direct boom bus type of play to a slightly more subtle style, the Hammers have done well – Sam has a habit of getting the best out of players and this season he has transformed Downing, re-invigorated Song and managed to get Andy Carrol on the pitch which is no mean feat – I would love to see West Ham in the Champions League, but, a top 8 finish will be a good season for them.

Everton and Spurs will want more than a top 8 finish – as both started the season with a fair bit of optimism – thus far, both have been far too inconsistent and, at times rather feeble to mount a strong challenge, but, both seem a couple of players away from being pretty good. I predicted 5th for Everton and 7th for Tottenham, I think that I might have been a bit kind to the Toffees.

Of the others Swansea look strong again – chaining their manager in the middle of last season worried me, but Gary Monk seems like a really decent bloke and like Martinez, Rodgers and Laudrup before him, he has got them playing some attractive attacking stuff – things may change if they are forced to sell Bony, we’ll see.

From the promoted teams, QPR are doing ok, Burnley have been spirited and Leicester have disappointed. I predicted that Burnley would go down and, they’re away form and lack of goals means that I’ll stick by that; I predicted top-half for QPR, which was probably a little optimistic, and I suggested that Leicester would survive the drop, which I’m no longer quite so sure of.

Anyway – my half season awards:

Pleasant Surprise – Southampton
Tale of Woe – Liverpool
Player of the Season – Matic/Courtois
Flop of the flops – Mario Balotelli

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