Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Premiership Week 7

With seven games played by nearly half of the teams, we see Chelsea alone at the top, two points separating them from Bolton Wanderers, and then a tight quartet of Man U, Pompey, Everton and Villa just one victory away from coming level with the Blues. Since the season's not only a quarter past, why not make some grandiose claims early (you'll find nothing bold here, but let me know why and how I'm wrong; we appreciate your feedback)

Who are the real deals and pretenders so far in the early days of the season?

1. Chelsea, 16 pts, 7 pld: Obviously the weapons are many in Jose Mourinho's squad, and with Shevchenko not really doing it up front, they have Didier Drogba's recent run of form, and a flagship midfield. Even when they're not playing their best, they're still pretty much better than almost everyone else at the moment. Two consecutive championships and a heap of money spent over the offseason pretty much buy them real deal status for at least half of the season, but there hasn't been any reason to think otherwise, with just one loss and one draw so far in all competitions. Besides, everyone's more interested in their clashes with Barca this month. Last five: WWWWD Next five: Reading, Pompey, Blackburn, Sheff Utd, Spurs

2. Bolton Wanderers, 14 pts, 7 pld: I'm far from convinced that Big Sam's side aren't destined for a mid-table finish, perhaps one position better than last year, as they always seem to improve slightly every year. The team has done well to play through the drama surrounding Allardyce and his thick son, after BBC's anticlimactic Panorama expose on Premiership bungs. While it's nice to see Ivan Campo back and playing well, and Bolton have created a nice little run, after beating Liverpool and Portsmouth, but aside from those two matches, they haven't really played anyone, beating a really poor Spurs and newly-promoted Watford, who sit at bottom. Also at the bottom are Charlton, who account for Bolton's only loss this season. They'll hang around for a bit, but unless Le Sulk goes on a tear, they're pretenders, with a tough month for them upcoming. Last five: DLWWW Next five: Newcastle, Blackburn, Charlton, Man Utd, Wigan

3. Manchester United, 13 pts, 6 pld:
Shrek may be off the mark, but isn't Cristiano Ronaldo playing like a gem? The greasy target of British (and some Portuguese) boo-birds has been playing with the same form that saw him give opposing national teams problems in the World Cup. While losing Mikael Silvestre doesn't help Fergie's side, he has Heinze and Vidic to plug in. A loss against Arsenal at Old Trafford seemed to bring pessismists to the fore, and to be honest, they haven't played anyone yet, but they've looked competent most of the time when John O'Shea's not on the pitch. And Louis Saha? It can be argued his scoring is as machine-like as Didier Drogba. A win against Liverpool at Old Trafford would do much to give them momentum. A real deal. Last five: WWWLD Next five: Newcastle, Wigan Liverpool, Bolton, Pompey

3. Portsmouth, 13 pts, 6 pld:
Pompey's start to the season has re-ignited the talk of Harry Redknapp's genius, despite the accusations that surround him from the aformentioned Panorama probe. Nobody is better at dangling carrots in front of the sport's fragile egos than Redknapp, and he can squeeze goals out of Pedro Mendes and octegenarian Kanu for a draw or two here. But Pompey's defense has been the story of the season so far, holding teams scoreless in over seven hours of league play. With Linvoy Primus, Chelsea-castaway Glen Johnson and Sol Campbell, Pompey's made David James look like he used to be a national team keeper (really, when?). I think they've been lucky to meet up with normally strong mid-table teams (Blackburn, Middlesbrough) before they've acheived their normal level of mediocrity, or walloped some teams that just plain suck (Charlton and, yes, Boro). The next five weeks should be telling. Pretenders. Last five: DWWWL Next five: Spurs, West Ham, Chelsea, Newcastle, Reading

3. Everton, 13 pts, 7 pld:
It looks like David Moyes made a nice acquisition with Andy Johnson, and Tim Cahill's always going to be a threat offensively. Everton are a seemingly organized team, and don't seem to be exhibiting the choking mechanism of last year that saw them out of Europe in what seemed like a fortnight (was it, or am I thinking of this year's Hammers?). Beating Liverpool in the Merseyside derby did a lot for the Toffees' confidence, and we could see them stay at the top half until the end of October, when they meet Arsenal, then Villa in two week's time, and ending November with Man Utd at Old Trafford. Almost real deal, pseudo-pretenders. Last five: WWDDD Next five: Middlesbrough, Sheffield Utd, Arsenal, Fulham, Aston Villa

3. Aston Villa, 13 pts, 7 pld: You have to love what Martin O'Neill has done so far with a Villa team that always shocked me by staying up, despite having perhaps the most dense gaffer (Bryan Robson is comparable) in David O'Leary. Nothing really flashy so far, but O'Neill's winning pedigree and Randy Lerner's takeover have seemed to infuse life into the squad and fans (take notice Glazers). You'd be hard-pressed to find another time in recent memory where Villa fans were this excited (except the last time Doug Ellis left, when they won the European Cup in 1981-1982), and I think holding Chelsea to a draw just magnified that. Maybe they haven't played tough competition, but you'd be surprised how far renewed spirit and a belief in winning can take you; the telling factor will be what O'Neill does or is allowed to do in the January transfer window. Early days, I know, but I like their chances of getting into lower Europe (UEFA Cup). A real deal. Last five: WDDWD Next five: Spurs, Fulham, Liverpool, Blackburn, Everton

Knocking on the door:
Arsenal, Reading, Liverpool, Blackburn

No hope:
Manchester City, Fulham, Sheffield United, Tottenham Hotspur


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