January’s Giraffes and Lemons

With Chelsea seemingly marching on towards the title the main talking points in the Premier League for the following months will no doubt revolve around the battle for survival and the chase for those elusive European places. With Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool all stumbling recently Spurs seem the best placed to secure one of the Champions League places and you never know Jose could just manage to sneak Manchester United into the top four.

Indeed, my Team Giraffe for January goes once again to last month’s winner Manchester United, who are still in the hunt for four trophies, although the Premiership has to be the least realistic as Chelsea seem unstoppable at the top of the table.

At the other end of the table what looked like a four-way fight for the safety of 17th place now looks like a six-way tussle to avoid relegation with both Middlesbrough and Leicester City being dragged into a relegation dog fight. However, I think both of these teams will survive as their respective owners have not pushed the panic buttons by firing their managers and this continuity will keep them safe. The same, I am afraid, cannot be said for Sunderland, who although they have also kept faith with their manager, have had an abysmal January and as such win my Team Lemon of the month.

Here then is my updated prediction for the end of the season (and how it has changed since the start of the season):

  1. Chelsea (2nd)
  2. Tottenham Hotspur (6th)
  3. Arsenal (4th)
  4. Manchester City (1st)
  5. Liverpool (5th)
  6. Manchester United (3rd)
  7. Everton (7th)
  8. Stoke City (8th)
  9. Southampton (10th)
  10. West Ham United (9th)
  11. West Bromwich Albion (13th)
  12. Watford (14th)
  13. Burnley (17th)
  14. Bournemouth (16th)
  15. Leicester City (12th)
  16. Middlesbrough (11th)
  17. Swansea (15th)
  18. Hull City (20th)
  19. Crystal Palace (18th)
  20. Sunderland (19th)

In a month where transfers dominate the footballing news I was tempted to go for “Grab the Cash” Sam as my Individual Lemon of the Month but Palace’s first win under the Greedy One’s reign on the last day of the month just saved him. Instead my Individual Lemon of the Month goes to Claudio Bravo, more for an accumulation of goalkeeping errors since he arrived at the start of the season than the numerous statistics which have been bandied about this month, which only confirm what I have been saying since Pep shipped Joe Hart off to Italy.

In handing out my Individual Giraffe of the Month I wanted to showcase the magic of the FA Cup, which only really exists during the first month of the year when the third and fourth rounds give the minnows a chance to shock the big boys, just think of Wolves managing to knock out both Liverpool and Stoke! One of the biggest fairy tales has been Lincoln City’s cup run as they knocked two Championship teams out of the cup and in the case of Brighton, convincingly. Therefore, my Individual Giraffe of the Month goes to Theo Robinson who terrorised the Brighton backline in the second half.

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Why’s He Playing in Goal?

Goalkeeper used to be the position where the kid who couldn’t kick a ball straight used to play but nowadays even goalkeepers like to think they can play a bit, no more so than this goalkeeper, Jackson Mabokgwane, who levelled the game for his team with this acrobatic effort.

If I was Claudio Bravo I’d be hoping Pep doesn’t see this!

Sweeper Keeper

Is Joe Hart a better goalkeeper than Claudio Bravo? Most people I think would probably answer this question yes and I wouldn’t be surprised if Pep was amongst one of those people who voted for the England number one, yet Pep still loaned Hart out to Torino in favour of the Chilean. Why?

Simply, because Hart does not fit into the way Pep wants to see his teams play.

There have always been keepers who have been comfortable with the ball at the feet but in the modern game a keepers’ footballing ability is increasingly a factor when managers look for a goalkeeper. This is because the current trend is for teams to retain possession of the ball for long periods of the game and one way to do this is to bring the keeper into play with the use of the much derided back pass. An interesting bi-product of this possession based approach, allied with the tactic of pressing the opposition as quickly as possible, is that goalkeepers nowadays are increasingly having fewer number of shots to save. Thus placing even more emphasis on their ability to play football, a sort of goalkeeping Catch 22.

And there is a catch.

If Manchester City find themselves in the final of the Champions League this season, maybe against one of Pep’s old teams, whoever their goalkeeper is, they are going to have to deal with a lot more than the half a dozen or so shots they would have to deal with on a typical Saturday afternoon. In this situation who would you prefer between the sticks, Hart or Bravo?

It may be the sweeper keeper, as these ball playing goalies are now being called, are here to stay and I am not saying this is a bad thing but like most of the modern innovations in football the core values have to be retained, the ability to stop a shot and to deal with crosses. I am not saying Bravo is a bad goalkeeper but is he a great one? A keeper you have confidence in to deal with anything comes his way? For me, no.

Nowadays, watching the Boy play football on a Saturday, the emphasis on playing the ball out from the back has necessitated even junior and youth team goalkeepers being able to play the ball with their feet and this can be a good thing. But it can be the case that the better keeper is being demoted to the team below because they are not as comfortable on the ball as their less able contemporary, instead of clubs doing what they should do. If you have a good goalkeeper who is not very good with their feet work on this aspect of their play with them. Just think the guy in the first team may play like Claudio Bravo but the one you overlooked could be the next Joe Hart or David De Gea.

October’s Giraffes and Lemons

Another month gone and, at the top, the Premier League looks like it could go down to the wire as no team seems able to gain an advantage over any of their rivals. However unlike in previous seasons I fear there will be no fairy tale to follow with the top five places filled with teams who you would expect to be challenging for the Champions League places come May.

It is a similar scenario at the bottom of the table with two of three relegation places filled by the teams I predicted to finish bottom and after seeing Stoke beat both Sunderland and Hull City convincingly I can’t see either of these teams playing in the Premiership next year. So bad were Sunderland when we played them at the Bet365 they are my Team Lemon for October an award they easily justified at the weekend after they were hammered by Arsenal.

For the Team Giraffe for October there have been a number of contenders from Chelsea and their impressive run of clean sheets to the attacking delight that has been Liverpool over the opening weeks of the season but instead of the obvious my Team Giraffe for October goes to Watford. Whilst not playing the most attractive football in the division Watford have sneaked up the table to 7th place and even though I don’t think they’ll make the European places come the end of the season I wanted to reward them for the little bit of fantasy they are providing and also for being a place above Manchester United.

Here then is my updated prediction for the end of the season (and how it has changed over the course of the month):

  1. Manchester City (1st)
  2. Chelsea (2nd)
  3. Liverpool (6th)
  4. Arsenal (4th)
  5. Tottenham Hotspur (3rd)
  6. Everton (7th)
  7. Manchester United (5th)
  8. Southampton (8th)
  9. Leicester City (9th)
  10. Watford (10th)
  11. Stoke City (14th)
  12. Crystal Palace (11th)
  13. West Bromwich Albion (12th)
  14. Middlesbrough (15th)
  15. West Ham United (13th)
  16. Bournemouth (16th)
  17. Burnley (18th)
  18. Swansea (17th)
  19. Hull City (19th)
  20. Sunderland (20th)

From an individual perspective I feel I have to reward Manchester City for keeping the title race interesting by awarding my Lemon of the Month to one of their players and as a protest at Pep’s insistent on playing football from the back, no matter the cost! Therefore, my Lemon of the Month goes to the poster boy of this movement, Claudio Bravo, not for anything he did in the Premiership this month but instead for his display against his old team mates at the Nou Camp.

Finally my Giraffe of the Month is a nod to Stoke’s move out of the relegation zone and whilst Joe Allen has been in fine goal scoring form the Giraffe goes to Xherdan Shaqiri, who has been the real difference for Stoke in their recent run of good form.