Three Things to Take From The Weekend’s Football – 11/12 February

I take a look back at the weekend’s action in the English Premier League and discuss three interesting points.

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The fight for safety is just heating up – This season has been very different from others in that two of the three newly promoted teams are nowhere to be seen when you look at the bottom of the table. Before the season started, most people seemed to tip Queens Park Rangers as the team with the greatest chance of staying up, and that is completely understandable. They had the greatest spending power out of the three teams and an experienced manager in Neil Warnock that had been in the Premier League before, the same could not be said of Swansea’s Brendan Rodgers or Norwich’s Paul Lambert. Swansea and Norwich have hit the ground running though this season, as they currently lie in 11th and 8th place respectively, and don’t look in trouble of slipping down the league as the season draws to a close.

                The picture painted at the bottom of the league is a very close one, with only two points separating the bottom five teams. Unlike when their were teams like West Ham last season and Newcastle in 08/09 whose position in the league clearly didn’t reflect the quality of their squads, arguments could convincingly be made for all of the five teams at the bottom to go down. QPR have some talent in their ranks, and are arguably the best of the stragglers, but they are having a difficult time getting the team to gel under their new manager Mark Hughes. QPR’s poor form was on show as they lost to relegation favourites Blackburn 3-2 on Saturday. Blackburn seem to have the ability to play like a completely different team from one week to the next. They do have their constants, over reliant on Yakubu, leaking goals for fun and manager hating fans, but their knack of getting absolutely destroyed one week and then grabbing a convincing win the next is remarkable, as they have done in the past two weeks with a 7-1 loss at Arsenal followed by a 3-2 win against QPR. Before this weekend Wigan were very close to being cut away from the pack at the bottom of the league really, and if they hadn’t have won at Bolton then questions would have been raised about whether safety was out of their reach. The fight for survival is really hotting up now, and it is a fight that is very difficult to call.

Suarez doesn’t help himself – After all the controversy surrounding Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra, Liverpool and Manchester United in recent weeks, Saturday’s game (or what surrounded the game) posed an opportunity for everyone to move on. But it wasn’t ever going to be that simple was it. All eyes were on the pre-match handshake to see whether Evra would shake Suarez’s hand, but nobody expected it to be the Uruguayan that refused the gesture. In the rejection of a simple handshake Suarez set the tone for the match and the reaction to follow it. That being said, not a lot has been made of Evra’s clumsy attempt to leave a mark on Suarez in the first few minutes, which left teammate Rio Ferdinand head over heels.

                The reaction from the Liverpool camp throughout this saga has been less than professional, from the t-shirts to club statements, the club haven’t acted as graciously as their reputation would require, and today was no different. Instead of coming out and maybe not criticising Suarez on his decision, but saying how a handshake would have been desirable, Kenny Dalglish chose to dismiss the comments, and then somehow blame the media for setting Suarez up as the instigator of a fiery atmosphere. If that wasn’t what the Liverpool striker aimed for, then he could have gone about the game in a completely different manner.

Where do Chelsea go from here? – Whilst the season’s far from over yet, Chelsea currently sit in 5th place, and if they were to end the season there, it would be mark their worst season since 01/02.With another loss at Everton on Saturday, Chelsea are well and truly out of this season’s title race, and Andre Villas-Boas hasn’t quite had the impact fans were expecting from the manager whose Porto team went unbeaten in the Primeira Liga last year. Chelsea are normally so assured and consistent in defence, but this season has been very different with them having already conceded 31 goals, only two less than the 33 they let in last season.

                When he arrived at Stamford Bridge AVB inherited an aging squad that was over reliant on players that are now in the twilight of their careers. John Terry, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and Didier Drogba, arguably Chelsea’s most important players over the past five seasons or so, and all are now the wrong side of 30. That’s not to say that they can’t still contribute to the side, but their performances are no longer at the level that Chelsea fans should expect. Villas-Boas does look as though he is heading towards changing that. He is setting his team up as though he has the fast and dynamic personnel to suit his high defensive line and fluid attacking style, and I can only presume that in the upcoming transfer window he will adapt the squad to fit his plans. Chelsea are in the middle of a long awaited rebuilding process, and the worst thing they could do would be to force Villas-Boas out the door before he has a chance to complete the job.

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