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Best of the Prem 2014: Arsenal to Crystal Palace

Arsene Wenger could have done with less injuries, more silverware this season.

Arsene Wenger could have done with less injuries, more silverware this season.

Best. Season. Ever. You’ve heard it since Christmas from pundits and fans alike. I have to disagree because of my allegiances (heartbreak for my two clubs, although for different reasons)…. but for the neutral, this was the year that old hegemonies were broken and glimpses of the Premier League’s new reality started to come to light.  Here then is the first installment of my picks for each club’s best player in this remarkable season.

All Hail King Ramsey

All Hail King Ramsey

ARSENAL
Aaron Ramsey (WAL)  – Oh what could have been for the mighty Gunners this season.  After a summer of selling Arsenal’s flotsam and jetsam without a single major signing,  Arsène Wenger waited until the very end of the transfer window to bring in German and Real Madrid superstar Mesut Özil.  The move turned heads amongst the media, the supporters and England’s other clubs.  But it turns out Wenger’s best signing was one he made eight years ago, when he bought 16-year-old Aaron Ramsey from Cardiff City.  Wenger never wanted to make a splashy buy, preferring his policy of youth development.  If Aaron Ramsey didn’t have to deal with the ever-present spectre of injury that has marked his young career, he would vindicated his mentor this season.  The Welshman scored 13 goals and provided seven assists before Christmas.  After he went out, Arsenal slipped from the pile of title challengers, struggling to win the last Champions League spot.  Let’s see if he can help Arsenal gain some consolation next weekend at Wembley.

Benteke may need divine help to recover

Benteke may need divine help to recover

ASTON VILLA
Christian Benteke (BEL) – How bad are Aston Villa? Bad enough that three seasons of relegation escapes (16th, 15th and 15th) astound anyone who has a look at their threadbare squad.   They can’t defend: Villa gave up 12 goals in their last four games, and only the relegated teams had a worse goals-against.  Their offence was even worse… save for their young Belgian striker.  Christian Benteke was the club’s highest scorer, despite missing the last six weeks of the season.   He will likely be out until October with a ruptured Achilles tendon.  Depending on how he recovers, this next season with Aston Villa will likely be his last.

St. Peter: Upon this rock...

St. Peter: Upon this rock…

CARDIFF CITY
Peter Whittingham (ENG) – Over six years, you’ve seen your side climb from the bottom half of the Championship to promotion into the Premier League.  You found yourself at Wembley for two league finals.  You’ve watched a rich foreign owner buy the club and then turn it on its head.   You’ve watched as the man who kept his faith in you by signing you to a new contract, get turfed on the whim of said owner.  You watch as the supporters turn against vilified Bond Villain Owner, as your team sinks back in the relegation mire.  Yet even as you look around and think to yourself, “Bloody Hell”, you do your job as best you can… marshalling a midfield that is, well, middling.

Your name must be Peter Whittingham.

Care to Hazard a guess where he'll be next season?

Care to Hazard a guess where he’ll be next season?

CHELSEA
Eden Hazard (BEL) – When did José Mourinho go from megalomaniac to paranoid curmudgeon?  The Special One turned on Eden Hazard after the winger publicly criticized his manager’s negative-to-the-umpteenth-degree tactics against Liverpool and Atlético Madrid.  This season, Mourinho returned to his self-proclaimed home with the same propensity to pick internal squabbles as he did at Real Madrid.  Mourinho fought with Juan Mata, he chastized his Inter Milan favourite Samuel Eto’o… and even benched long-time loyalist Ashley Cole.  But to criticize a player like Eden Hazard — a winger who runs and swerves like he’s riding a motorcycle on its back wheel through the narrow streets of Brugge — is almost blasphemy.  The Belgian outscored all Chelsea strikers and picked up the slack when Oscar started to slump.   He rightly deserved the PFA Young Player of the Year, and he should be an absolute joy to watch in Brazil next month.

jason-puncheon-crystal-palace-transfer-363302

Puncheon-drunk love for Palace

CRYSTAL PALACE
Jason Puncheon (ENG) – No one had more fun than Crystal Palace fans this season, and Jason Puncheon was part of the reason why.  The Croyden native permanently returned to his boyhood club, after helping them get promoted last year.   He then benefited from Palace’s hiring of Tony Pulis, whose second-half revival of the club from 18th to 11th was simply remarkable.   Even Puncheon admits, after nine different clubs, he played the best football of his career this season.  The Eagles may end up selling him, but would he even want to leave?

Brent P. Lanthier

Up next: Everton to Manchester City

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Best of the Prem 2012: Arsenal to Chelsea

No waffling for this Belgian as his team takes their first title in 44 years.

This season produced some crazy football results, where old dynasties stumbled — in Liverpool’s case, fell hard — while Premier League stalwarts faded from view.

As always, there were some players who simply shone over the entire season.  Some were the brightest jewels in a champion’s crown, while others were gold pieces in a pile of iron slugs.

Here then is the first in my annual series of the Premier League’s best.

RVP to leave ASAP?

ARSENAL
Robin Van Persie (NED) – After his injury-marred 2010/2011 season, the Dutchman stayed healthy for an entire season… and it paid off in spades for the Gunners.  Thirty-seven goals in all competitions, including 30 to win the Premier League Golden Boot.  Only Alan Shearer, Andy Cole and Cristiano Ronaldo have scored more times in a single EPL season; lofty company, indeed.  In fact, it may be too lofty for Arsene Wenger to hold on to him.

Frustration for Warnock at Villa

ASTON VILLA
Stephen Warnock (ENG) – The biggest club in Birmingham endured a dreadful season under a dreadful manager.  But to his credit, the newly-departed Alex McLeish kick-started Warnock’s career again, after former Villa boss Gerard Houllier had consigned the Scouser to the bench.  Warnock featured in 38 out of 42 matches this season, starting all but one of them.  A defending left-back on a drearily defensive side, Warnock is the best of a lifeless bunch that sorely missed Young, Downing, Milner and Walker.

Will the Yak be back?

BLACKBURN ROVERS
Yakubu (NIG) – He’s too fat.  He’s past his prime.  He’s too old to play as a centre forward.  Almost everyone — including me — wrote off the big Nigerian.  Why on earth would Blackburn pick up a 29-year-old player who has just spent half a season in the Championship?!? Turns out Steve Kean actually did something right.  Yakubu scored 18 goals, including a magnificent four-goal slaughter of Swansea City, as well as a brace that helped defeat Manchester United at Old Trafford.   Now that Rovers have done the drop, will the Yak be back in the Prem?

Despite Davies’ best efforts, Bolton still dropped.

BOLTON WANDERERS
Mark Davies (ENG) –  Owen Coyle put his faith in the former Wolverhampton player, after leaving him on the bench for most of Davies’ first two seasons with Bolton.  Davies wasn’t a prolific goal scorer, but he was the anchor of the Bolton midfield, starting plays that would lead to others finding the back of the net. The highlight of his season was a great run against Liverpool, scoring after just three minutes. He should get picked up by a small Premier League club.

One of these players didn’t cost 50 million pounds…

CHELSEA
Juan Mata (ESP)– The gifted winger was brought in to help bring the title back to West London, and win the Champions League honours that has eluded Roman Abramovich after nearly a decade in charge.  Mata has held up his end of the bargain, bombarding opponents’ boxes with cross after cross, and helping his teammates score.  He started more than any other Chelsea outfielder and had an astonishing on-target ratio.   As Chelsea’s old guard fades, look for the Spaniard to help the Blues get back to former glories.

Brent Lanthier

Next: Everton to Manchester United

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EPL Transfer Winners and Losers

Nail-biting time at the transfer deadline

Hello, lovelies. Did you miss us? Sorry, we’ve been busy.  Ian decided that he wanted to get married and then cart the newly-minted Mrs. Harrison all around Turkey.  No Galatasaray or Fenerbahce for him though… unless those are also varieties of kebab.  Meanwhile, I was doing my best to produce quality news programming about the sh!t show in Tottenham.  How many times can one person talk to Bradford University’s Professor of Peace Studies? As many times as you like, it turns out.

With the labour troubles in Spain and Italy, and the always ridiculous August spending sprees, I decided to wait until today to wind the blog back up. So now that the dust is settling, let me tell you who I think did well in this year’s silly season, and who got what the Greeks called gamise‘d. (Look it up).

WINNERS

Liverpool – If you are Scouse — and have been cryogenically frozen since this time last year — you would think that you had died and gone to the Great Big Kop in the Sky, la.  Kenny Dalglish is manager again? Most of the starting line-up is English or South American? Over one hundred million pounds spent on players? No club debt? Craig Bellamy?!?  Over the last six weeks, King Kenny has dumped 17  players who were either mediocre or colossal mistakes.

The £35 million spent on Andy Carroll is starting to look like folly, and Meireles’ sale to Chelsea might bite the Pool in the bum when they visit Stanford Bridge.  But the acquisitions of Suarez, Coates, Adam, Downing and Enrique have all come up roses.  The Reds should qualify for the Champions League, while meeting both UEFA’s Financial Fair Play and the Prem’s homegrown rules.  Throw in a nice knock-out trophy and the season will be an unqualified success.

Manchester City – See above re: getting rid of dead weight.  The purchases of Aguero and Nasri are coups d’etat… no question.  The shock acquisition of Owen Hargreaves might be genius or ignorance, depending on whether City trainers can get the former England international fit again. Now Tevez’ agent says the wantaway Argie may stick around.  If you throw in Aguero, Dzeko and Balotelli, that is a scary forward line… plus Silva and Nasri on the wing.  The accusations of a middling Mancini team are dissipating rapidly.

Manchester United – I like to think of Sir Alex Ferguson as a Scottish Elmer Fudd.  Prone to fits of fwustwation… he has been vewy vewy quiet as he hunts for twophies.  De Gea, Young and Jones were bought early in the summer before the silly season started.  But unlike Bugs Bunny’s bald antagonist, Sir Alex usually gets his hare (insert tired Wayne Rooney joke here).  United had no movement at the deadline because there was no need.  Who cares about the rest of the Prem… Sir Alex is tracking Catalonians.

Crouchie beams after finding Stoke on the map...

Stoke City – Slowly, quietly, Tony Pulis has been building the Potters into legitimate competitors.  They have begun their third season in the top flight with a solid European campaign, after making it to the FA Cup final in May.  Now claims of boring, boring Stoke might be put to rest.  Twenty-two million pounds spent on Peter Crouch, Wilson Palacios and Cameron Jerome may not offer up oodles of goals.  But they are legitimate options and they are playing in front of a defense as good as any in the league.

Tottenham Hotspur – ‘Arry did a lot of wheeling and dealing this August, dumping lads that he wasn’t really playing away.  Only three new players have made their way to the Lane (perhaps because they were afraid of taking the tube into Tottenham).  Falque is untested.  But Scott Parker was magnificent in West Ham’s midfield… and Adebayor must be chomping at the bit to score goals against his former club, Arsenal.  PLUS… ‘Arry somehow managed to keep Luka Modric onside.  Not a wheeler-dealer, my eye.

Wigan Athletic – Not a lot of movement… but the permanent signing of Ali Al-Habsi may be enough to keep the bastards up.  This club is the “Boris the Blade” of the Premier League…

Wolverhampton Wanderers – Last season, Wolves allowed the fourth-most goals in the Prem.  Two of those other three teams were relegated.  But credit Mick McCarthy for buying Roger Johnson.  This season, Wolves have only allowed one goal in three games.  It’s early days yet but Wolves look tons brighter.  For the life of me, I still don’t understand why Johnson can’t get a call-up from Fabio Capello.

LOSERS

Aston Villa – Shay Given was an inevitable choice to replace Brad Friedel, and Villa Park is definitely a step up for Charles N’Zogbia.  But c’mon: Alan Hutton? Jermaine Jenas?  Things may have started well… but Villa fans will find yet more things to grumble about this season.

Yakubu shows how many pies he can eat in one sitting

Blackburn Rovers – Kudos to Steve Kean for kicking The Human Camel to the curb…. and Scott Dann should amply fill the hole left by the departed Phil Jones.  But so much for the supposed flow of superstars into Ewood Park.  Yakubu is a joke acquisition (who looks like he’s had a Venky’s chicken pot pie or two)… and since Jason Roberts has yet to manifest as the Second Coming of Alan Shearer, no one is left to score goals.  Look for the Red Rose of Lancashire to have fully wilted by Christmas.

Chelsea – Overshadowed by City’s bigger kitty, Chelski still seem intent to throw around their rubles.  Meireles is a good signing… and Liverpool will be happy to have made some money on him.  But the purchase of Lukaku and Mata has to mean that Villa Boas isn’t confident in a now-injured Drogba… or the misfiring £50 million mistake known as Fernando Torres.  I may eat my words… but Abramovich’s ego buy will haunt Chelsea for sometime.

Everton – If you don’t have much firepower to begin with, why would you part with any offensive players at all?  To pay the bank, that’s why.  It is a bad sign that the Toffees offloaded Arteta and Beckford.  Everton fans should be very afraid.

Newcastle United – Andy Carroll leaves his hometown club.  Kevin Nolan has a magnificent season and then abandons the team for a Championship outfit.  Then both Joey Barton and Jose Enrique tell the cyberworld how unhappy they are… and leave.  The Geordies should be up in arms… and Mike Ashley should be ashamed of himself.

Norwich City – They were quiet at the deadline, except to send a couple of players to the lower leagues.  That’s because Norwich is a lower league team.  They weren’t exactly losers at the transfer deadline; I just don’t expect Norwich to go anywhere except back to the Championship.

Swansea City – The Tafs should enjoy their Premiership ride while it lasts.

West Bromwich Albion – If you’re bleeding goals, why wouldn’t you try and sign a decent centre back? Oh, right… it’s because you’re West Bromwich Albion.

Too Early to Tell

Arsenal – Where is the real Arsene Wenger and what have you done with him? Nothing like an 8-2 loss to one of your biggest rivals to open up the purse, is it? Arteta, Benayoun, Mertesacker and Santos are not inspired buys… but they are players worthy of one of the world’s biggest clubs.  However, it remains to be seen if Arsenal moves on from Sunday’s humiliation… or if it lets the occasion cloud the rest of the season.

Bolton Wanderers – When I look at Owen Coyle’s side, I tend to make that Marge Simpson noise of disapproval.  The Scotsman has managed to keep Gary Cahill and he has brought in Tyrone Mears (a very decent right back) and some steel in Nigel Reo-Coker.  Klasnic already has three goals but David N’Gog and Gael Kakuta will have to start making an impact right away.  Despite the so-called “free-flowing” football, Bolton have a lot to prove…

Fulham – My dark horse at the beginning of the season, Fulham haven’t exactly flown out of the gates. But they have two excellent keepers, a great back line and a decent midfield.   The double-digits spent on Bryan Ruiz shows they are serious about trying to improve their offensive output.  Otherwise the Cottagers will have to depend on their defence.  That could result in a lot of draws… and look what happened to Birmingham.

Queen’s Park Rangers – Despite their victory against a struggling Everton, QPR have not had a great start.  However, they are owned by one of the world’s richest men and they are starting to spend a little of his money to make an impact.  With buys like Barton, Dyer, Gabbidon, Boothroyd, DJ Campbell, Luke Young, Armand Traore, Anton Ferdinand and Shaun Wright-Phillips, QPR has successfully transformed itself into a Premier League team.  Let’s see if it can stay that way.

Sunderland – I have to admit that I’m personally disappointed with Sunderland’s start to the season.  All summer, I watched Steve Bruce do what I thought were some tidy little pieces of business. He signed Elmohamady to a permanent deal.  He fought off bigger clubs for Conor Wickham.  He bought Gardner, Larsson and Vaughan, who were among the best players from their relegated clubs.  Bruce bought veteran players Brown and O”Shea from his old mentor, SAF… and he snatched young goalkeeper Kieran Westwood from Coventry.  Brucie has to turn it around or the Mackems will quickly call for his head.  Let’s see if the strike force duo of Nicklas Bendtner and Nicklas Bendtner’s Ego can do just that.

Brucie hails a taxi... just in case.

Brent Lanthier

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Second Chances: Birmingham City

Big Eck has a GOB moment: "I've made a huge mistake..."

Oh Birmingham City, we’ve seen this before.  After a 16-season stint in the lower divisions, the Blues were promoted in 2002… and then finished three seasons mid-table, before enduring four more yo-yo years into the Championship and back.  Yet last season was supposed to be different. Under the guidance of Carson Yeung and Alex McLeish, Brum finished a respectable ninth in 2010 with a stingy defence and a young keeper on-loan.  Who cared if they couldn’t score? It was a new era.

Ugh. Fast forward 12 months.  Despite their first trophy in almost 50 years, and an appearance in the FA Cup semi-final, Brum rode a train of mediocrity into relegation.  Before their historic victory over Arsenal in the Carling Cup final, City were 6-12-9.  The 30 points weren’t great… but it left them only a handful of wins away from the magic safety zone of 40.  But after that,  Birmingham only won twice in their last 12 matches… including three straight losses at the end to send them down, allowing Wigan (ugh) and Wolves to remain.

Now McLeish’s defection to hated Aston Villa has fans on both sides of Birmingham screaming Blue murder.   But unlike other serious rivalries, the teams’ exposure to each other has been spotty over the years… while the Second City derby features a couple of key players that have swapped shades of  blue,  with a lot of claret thrown in.

Ridgewell can't believe McLeish left him at City. COME. ON.

One such player is the sensational Liam Ridgewell, who joined Birmingham from Aston Villa in 2007.    The left back scored as many goals as the club’s strikers this season, which is probably a statement on both Ridgewell’s talent and the dire situation in Birmingham’s attack.  Ridgewell signed a new contract last summer… but West Brom have come calling, offering £3 million.   City thinks he’s worth more,  and so does this writer.  The big clubs could do worse than pick up him up.

After 200 matches, Sebastian Larsson is set to leave the Blues, having declined a new contract with the relegated side.  His father says the right winger has signed at Sunderland for Steve Bruce… the man who brought the Swede to St. Andrews in the first place. 

England back-up keeper Ben Foster is no youngster… but has always seemed a star-in-waiting.  Foster performed admirably this season, replacing his contemporary Joe Hart in net with one of the league’s highest save percentages, while facing the second-most shots.  Foster is a Premier League keeper, plain and simple.  I will make a call and say this West Midlander will follow McLeish to Villa.

Roger Johnson and Scott Dann would have received England call-ups, had it not said “Birmingham City” on their badges.  Roger Johnson started almost every match for the Brummies, while Scott Dann had his season cut short by injuries.  Both will likely get a sniff from the big clubs, including Dann, a Scouser whose name is creating rumbles at Anfield.  Meanwhile, Johnson is tough and good in the air.  Both made it onto the score sheet… and neither are afraid of a booking now and then.

Birmingham’s skipper — Stephen Carr — is 34… kind of up there in football years.  But the right back was the lynch pin for the club’s excellent defence: the Irishman started almost as many games as Johnson.  It’s likely he will stay because a) he has extended his contract by a year, and b) his former coach at Spurs and Ireland — Chris Hughton — is the front runner to take McLeish’s place.  Still… Carr’s performance this year merits another kick at the Premiership can.

Do you know which Villa player led the club in fouls and yellow cards? Ashley Young (stop snickering!).  Now that the team’s “hard man” (uncontrollable guffawing) looks bound for Manchester United, and Nigel Reo-Coker (a man who actually would give us nightmares, were we would good enough to play Premier League football) has been released, the club needs some steel in the middle.  Cue Barry Ferguson

Gardner tries the old hand-over-the-badge trick...

Finally, we have Craig Gardner — Birmingham’s answer to Steven Gerrard, circa Istanbul.  Gardner led his team in both goals and infractions this past seaon.  In a Robbie Keane-like obfuscation, Gardner has claimed to be a lifelong Villa or City fan — depending where he’s playing.  Yet he could still return to Villa Park.  After the vitriol that’s greeted Big Eck, the move would likely have Lions fans foaming at the mouth.   However, he has been linked with a move to the Northeast, either Newcastle or Sunderland.

Brent Lanthier

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Second Chances: Blackpool

"Here I am, boys. Come and get me!"

They were supposed to be the laughing stocks of the league.  But Ian Holloway inspired his Blackpool team to great heights for awhile, before they came crashing back to earth at season’s end.  A poor-club’s Harry Redknapp, Holloway had his players taking the game to their opponents.  It worked for awhile… before teams got wise and fed on the squad’s glaring holes in strategy.

Still, it put several players in the shop window… and while the club talks about bouncing right back to the Prem, it might not happen for Blackpool if the big boys come calling.

'Ollie in one of his quieter moments...

Front and centre is Charlie Adam.  Clubs have been trying to pluck the Scotsman out of Bloomfield Road since Christmas… and the player has made no secret of his desire to go.  But Holloway’s stubborness means that Adam is still a Tangerine… for now.  His former Rangers boss, Alex McLeish, would love to make him Aston Villa’s first big signing… and Kenny Dalglish is looking to add to his stable of central midfielders.    Blackpool supposedly values him at £12 million, which would be a nice bit of business, since they bought him from Rangers for £500,000.   Let’s see if he can replicate his success at a big club… if he can get a game.

You would expect a defender on last season’s worst defence to be looked over.  But it could have been much worse for Blackpool if not for Ian Evatt.  The 29-year-old led the league in clearances: 430 times. Unfortunately, he was one clearance short in the final game, when an own-goal against Manchester United effectively relegated Evatt et al.  He has reportedly signed a new contract with the Seasiders that will keep him at the team with Premier League wages, but Blackpool may sell him if the price is right.

DJ. Gigalo. Huh... sucker...

If you believe Ye Olde Interweb, DJ Campbell is headed for every single Premier League club.  Apparently, they are all enamored with Dudley Junior.  He has never spent more than two seasons at a club, working his way up from the Isthmian League into the top flight over the last 11 seasons.  After scoring more than a dozen goals last season, Campbell is harboring dreams of becoming a full English international.  If he’s still in tangerine by August, I’ll eat my Blackberry.

Left midfielder David Vaughan has already turned down a new contract and is looking elsewhere.  He says he wants to stay in the Premier League so his international career doesn’t stall.  Will someone please remind the boy that he’s playing for Wales?  Not exactly giants of football right now.  But Vaughan was voted the club’s player of the year: he’s fast, he’s left-footed and he can hold his ground.  He may still have a few more seasons in him for a lower-table team.

Also rejecting a new contract is Scottish leftback Stephen Crainey.  He’s being linked with both Wigan and Swansea… so he’ll have one more year, tops, in the Premier League.

Next: Biirrrrrrmingham City

Brent Lanthier

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Best of the Premier League: Arsenal to Blackpool

No Big Ears for you, Sir Alex. Just little wee Scottish ones...

Hello.  Remember us?  Your favourite Interweb football journos-slash-pundits-slash-hacks? We know, we know, we haven’t posted in awhile.   But that’s because we’ve been busy doing very important stuff.  Ian’s been planning his wedding… and I’ve been… well, let’s just say it’s reaaaaaallly hard to get up in the morning.  Stuff is hard. 

But since we’ve last written for your reading pleasure, the MLS has started, the European leagues have finished, Barcelona has proven they are actual Valhallian gods… and FIFA has engaged in a circle-like exercise usually reserved for fraternity initiations. 

Nevertheless, we have been paying attention.  Honest.  So now that the dust has settled, and Manchester United fans have realized that their squad won the Premier League by default this season, let’s get to my picks of the Premier League’s best…. which are not up for discussion.

"Lalalala... I can't hear jeuuw... lalalalalala..."

ARSENAL
Robin Van Persie (NED) — Sigh.  This one pains me.  Robin Van Persie bugs me.  He’s a shining example of why the people hate the Dutch… national team.  He is, quite simply, a bit of a whiner and he was injured a lot.  But when he did play, he found the back of the net almost every match.  Twenty-two goals in 27 matches.  Cesc who?

Young hears the big clubs calling for him.

ASTON VILLA
Ashley Young (ENG) — A supremely talented winger who will not be with the squad, come August.  Young was a stalwart of a team that really didn’t survive the abrupt departure of Martin O’Neill.   He lead the team in scoring in all competitions… but his real talent lays in his crosses. Rumours are that he is headed for Old Trafford.  Hopefully, Sir Alex will help him lose his Ronaldo-like habit of falling over in the box at the slightest touch.

Bye-bye Birmingham?

BIRMINGHAM
Liam Ridgewell (ENG) — A centre back by trade, Ridgewell was a shining light at left back on a defensive squad that should have been too good to go down. This writer believes he could compete with Ashley Cole and Leighton Baines for England’s LB spot.  In fact, Capello might do the whole country good by switching Ridgewell to the right, thereby ending the Glen Johnson experiment. Although Ridgewell signed a three-year deal last year, look for the East Ender to quickly return to the Prem.  Fulham, anyone?

Samba: The bright light on an awful team

BLACKBURN ROVERS
Christopher Samba (CON) — While I was tempted to pick Jason Roberts — aka the Second Coming of Alan Shearer (Ed. Note: While I writing that line, I laughed so hard, I had to get a Kleenex) — with his five goals in all competitions, I have to go with a man who was a giant on a team of footballing dwarves.  Samba stood tall in the middle of the defence on a team that missed Big Sam.  Wow… I never thought I’d write that. The blogosphere is rife with rumours that the Congolese national is heading to the Emirates.

BLACKPOOL
Charlie Adam (SCO) — A right pest in the midfield, Adam did himself a thousand favours by leaving Rangers in 2009 for a squad that had recently been promoted, and was languishing at the foot of the Championship table.  Cue Blackpool’s surprise promotion and subsequent taking of several big scalps.  Although Ian Holloway beat off the big boys clamouring for Adam’s services during the season, expect the Scotsman to join one of the Big Six teams before August.  But still the question remains: can he repeat his Tangerine Dream elsewhere?

Oh Charlie. You've turned into a right sexy bastard, haven't ye?

Tomorrow: Bolton Wanderers to Liverpool

Brent Lanthier

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The Best of Times, The Blurst of Times

Do Wolves have any legs left?

Call it the Year of the Keystone Kops… a season where clubs have been stumbling over each other to fail.   So forget about Manchester United’s mediocre march to the title (and don’t tell me they’re up for the double by winning Big Ears.  If Schalke doesn’t surprise them, Real or Barca will certainly dispatch them with maximum efficiency).  Forget about Arsenal finding new and novel ways to self-destruct, sending Arsene Wenger further along the road to Nutterville. Chelsea are old.  Man Citeh’s millions couldn’t buy a team.  ‘Arry’s mighty offence petered out.  Liverpool were already falling down the hill.  And as usual, David Moyes’ Everton started too late to matter.

So with the exception of the FA Cup final — whose implications for Europe require an engineering degree to calculate — I’m watching the relegation battle that potentially involves half the league.

Two points separate seven teams: Newcastle, Aston Villa, West Brom, Fulham, Stoke City, Sunderland and Birmingham.  All sit relatively safe.  Next are Blackburn and Wigan in the two spots above the relegation zone that currently contains Blackpool, West Ham and Wolves.  Newcastle and Villa (at 10th and 11th, respectively) have reached the so-called magic number of 40 points.  For the others, the next 5-6 games are critical.

Wide-eyed Woy widing high at WBA

I’m going to go out on a limb and say West Bromwich Albion are safe.  Saturday’s loss to Chelsea was their first under Roy Hodgson, and no club has scored more since his reign began. 

Hodgson’s legacy of going for the draw seems to be lingering at Fulham under Mark Hughes.  The Cottagers’ next two games are at bottom Wolves before they host Bolton, who are woeful on the road.  They should hit the 40-point mark no problem.

Stoke City and Birmingham are the Premier League’s little European embarrassments.  Birmingham is already in the Europa League, via their Carling Cup win… but whether Stoke qualifies is still up in the air.  If they win the FA Cup final, they are in.  If they lose but Citeh qualifies for the Champions League, they are in.  Otherwise the spot goes to the sixth-placed team… I think… carry the one…

Either way, both have not been playing well as of late, with each team only winning two games in their last eight.   The bad news for Stoke is that they must face three other relegation battlers — Blackpool, Wolves and Wigan — plus Arsenal and the aforementioned Citeh.  Birmingham must also face teams fighting for a spot in Europe.  I think they will both stay up… only because there are teams playing worse.  But if they drop, it means two of England’s three Europa clubs won’t be playing in the top-flight at home.

That leaves six teams fighting it out for three spots above the drop.  Wolverhampton Wanderers are 20th, but they will leapfrog Wigan into 17th if they win that game in hand against Stoke.  Many pundits say Wolves are too good to go down… and they took some serious scalps this season.  But despite their recent form, every single one of their remaining games is against a struggling club.  It could be tough going for Mick McCarthy’s men.

Bruce wonders where it went wrong

At the beginning of the season, I picked Wigan Athletic to drop, partly because they barely missed it last year… but mostly because I was irritated that such a small, unsupported club was taking up a Premier League spot.  They also have to play several games against strugglers… as well as a surging Everton.

West Ham United sit 19th.  I thought with the addition of Demba Ba, they might have a fighting shot at making it out alive.  But they remain ensconced in the drop zone due to their inability to go for the jugular.

It’s the three remaining clubs that have the most to worry about.  Blackburn Rovers, Blackpool and Sunderland have been dropping like stones.  Blackburn have performed poorly since the departure of Big Sam Allardyce.  Blackpool and Sunderland seem to be on opposite sides of a mirror.  The Black Cats haven’t been the same since they lost their best player in Darren Bent; the Tangerines have suffered without cashing in on Charlie Adam.  Out of the three clubs, only Blackpool has won a game since the end of January.

In such a topsy-turvy season, I still think we are in for some surprises on the final day of the season… on both ends of the table.  It’s either the best season in years… or English football is at it’s most mediocre.

By the way, here are my picks for the drop: Wigan, Blackpool, West Ham.

Brent Lanthier

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