Liverpool And Spurs Top The Winners List...

Astonishingly, there are people who care which team is at the top of this list so yay, it's Liverpool. Well done. Elsewhere, Arsenal and Man United are both losers...

Last Updated: 14/02/14 at 12:44 Post Comment

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Another huge result to narrow the gap to Chelsea to just four points and increase the lead over Manchester United to 11. And yet, owing to their history, it still seems beyond belief that the champions won't cause another twist in the race for fourth place in the final 12 games. How is it possible that they have conceded a 40-point swing to Liverpool from this stage last season?

In part, it is down to Brendan Rodgers adapting his style to introduce a greater sense of urgency. Rather than the often ponderous build-up play of 2012/13, Liverpool now look to break early to make the most of their brilliant strikeforce, with Steven Gerrard always alert to scything passes such as his exquisite through-ball to Daniel Sturridge.

The Reds have dropped from third place on the possession chart to ninth, and yet they have managed 17 more goals thus far - only two fewer than the free-scoring Manchester City side everyone has been raving about. That Liverpool also average 14% fewer shots per match - and the highest number on target per game (a proportional increase of nine per cent) suggests one, or both, of two things: the team are creating better chances by hitting their opponents more regularly on the counter-attack, and/or Rodgers has improved their accuracy.

Having Sturridge for the whole season has certainly helped. The striker isn't yet viewed as favourably as Luis Suarez, but his recent record of nine goals in eight matches - compared to one in six for his teammate - underlines his importance. Sturridge's strike against Fulham was his 30th in 37 games for Liverpool and his 26th in just 32 Premier League fixures. It is phenomenal consistency for a player who only ever showed flashes of his talent at Chelsea. Roman Abramovich must still be scratching his head over how he paid Liverpool £50m for Fernando Torres and allowed them to have Sturridge for just £12m.

There are still concerns for Rodgers in defence, namely Kolo Toure, who has gone from cult status to hot flatus as the season unfolds. The Ivorian's own goal at Craven Cottage was almost his second costly error in three matches and his position should now be under threat. "Kolo is a great guy, it was just unfortunate for him," said Rodgers after the game. It was a defence as weak as the centre-back's attempt to clear Kieran Richardson's cross.

With Daniel Agger sitting on the bench and Mamadou Sakho soon set to return from a hamstring strain, Rodgers has options to replace Toure, if not to mix things up further up the pitch. It will be interesting to see the team he picks for the trip to Arsenal on Sunday. After gaining such a vital win in dramatic fashion, the team spirit will be bubbling, but can the manager afford to keep playing his front six in every game? There is a risk that fatigue could set in before the finish line.

Jose Mourinho may argue that Liverpool have an advantage in the title race owing to their absence from European competition, but he also has a stronger squad to deal with such challenges. In contrast, Rodgers has Iago Aspas.

Just three points behind Liverpool after winning at Newcastle in the league for the first time in ten years. The less said about the goal difference, the better.

But what on earth is going on at Tottenham? It is accepted wisdom that Tim Nice But Dim is destined to fail in his pursuit of fourth place and a permanent permanent contract, but he keeps winning as though it's going out of fashion. The thrashing of Newcastle was Sherwood's seventh victory in ten Premier League matches, while he has lost only once in the top flight following his appointment.

The return of Emmanuel Adebayor (nine goals in 12 games) has been a key factor in Spurs' 'revival' (let's remember it wasn't going that badly before), but surely this arm around the shoulder business only accounts for so much. Is it possible that Sherwood is in fact a football genius, held back by Daniel Levy until he had fully matured (unlike his favourite cheese)?

The results are remarkable. Spurs scored only 15 goals and conceded 21 in Andre Villas-Boas' 16 games in charge this year, but have since notched 21 goals in just ten games under Sherwood. They have won four of five matches against teams in the top half of the table compared to just two wins in nine against top-ten opponents before Villas-Boas' sacking. To get down with the kids, this is off the chain.

So when will the bubble burst? It is unlikely that Norwich or Cardiff should pose much of a threat in the next two fixtures, but a difficult March could decide the Timinator's (c. The Sun) fate. After hosting Cardiff, Spurs face Chelsea (away), Arsenal (home), Southampton (home) and then Liverpool (away) in what could be a premature decider for fourth place.

If they can get through that gauntlet, the good news for Sherwood and Spurs is that their last six games are all against the dross currently occupying the bottom half. The trickiest test is West Ham away, which says a lot about Tottenham's chances of a strong finish.

West Ham
Speaking of the Hammers, they have climbed out of crisis mode with a minimum amount of fuss in recent weeks, picking up three wins in a row and four consecutive clean sheets. All hail the returning James Tomkins.

Despite only standing in 11th, West Ham have now recorded more clean sheets (13) than any other side in the top flight, which is a complete and utter embarrassment for the teams challenging for the title. Imagine a cut-and-shut XI built of Manchester City's attack and a Sam Allardyce defence. Glorious.

Unbeaten in eight matches in all competitions, winning three and drawing three (all 2-2, which is odd) of their last six Premier League fixtures. It's safe to say that Southampton are over the dream-wrecking scandal of Nicola Cortese's departure, as well as the 'loss' of Dani Osvaldo.

Considering the Saints' run-in, they pose a significant threat to Manchester United's hold on seventh place.

West Brom
They depart for Jerez on a high after snatching a point from Chelsea.


Two points dropped, but one gained at a ground where Chelsea have lost in each of the past two seasons. At least Jose Mourinho keeps his job.

What shouldn't be underestimated is the lack of recovery time for the Blues following their win over Newcastle at the weekend. It's frightfully dull when managers complain about the fixture list, but often they have a point - exemplified by a midweek schedule that was light on entertainment.

It is perhaps interesting to note that Chelsea have repeatedly struggled with short breaks between matches this season. With only two free days between games, the Blues dropped points against West Brom and West Ham, lost to Sunderland in the League Cup, lost at Stoke, lost away to Basel and just about escaped with a point at home to West Brom. This is a recurring problem that is enormously difficult to remedy.

If the trend continues, look out for further slip-ups in the derby against Fulham on March 1 and in the return leg against Galatasaray at Stamford Bridge on March 18.

At half-time the knife was sharpened. Arsenal had started dreadfully, lacking the urgency of Mathieu Flamini, Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott that was required to recover from the humbling defeat to Liverpool. It was not a performance of title contenders, merely confirmation that the Gunners will finish as also-rans. It felt as though we had been conned - how could anyone have believed that Arsenal might actually win the league?

The second half was better - signs of effort and a little more invention, at least. But this is still an embarrassing result. "We were nervous," said Arsene Wenger. It is the second time he has made the confession after facing Manchester United this season; a telling indictment of the mental block that stands between Arsenal and glory. Two wins in eight matches against the rest of the top seven just isn't acceptable.

In some ways, there is sympathy for the players. It is counter-productive for Wenger to speak of nerves - perhaps prompting a vicious circle - while a bigger issue is the manager failing to help his team by finding adequate recruits in January. The signing of Kim Kallstrom was a token gesture when Arsenal needed to gamble and show more imagination. Chelsea have overtaken them because they addressed a key issue by signing the excellent Nemanja Matic.

Wednesday highlighted the holes in Arsenal's line-up. Mesut Ozil responded to recent criticism to show energy and purpose in the final third, but time and time again he was stifled by a lack of options ahead of him. It is not Olivier Giroud's strength to run in behind, but neither did he offer anything rooted to the edge of the 18-yard line playing sloppy lay-offs to his supporting cast.

Without Walcott and Ramsey driving forward, the impact of Ozil is negated. David Moyes has been derided for his use of Juan Mata thus far, but Wenger's reluctance to act in January has equally blunted a scalpel into a butter knife. He might demand more goals from Ozil, but that is not the reason for which he was signed. The manager has permitted a situation whereby he requires end product from the playmaker.

While Moyes has been accused of driving a Ferrari like a Fiat, Wenger has simply switched to cruise control and taken his hands off the wheel. It doesn't take a professor to work out that injuries and fatigue would eventually begin to hamper Arsenal's title chances, and yet inaction - that most unforgivable of managerial sins - will define the end of the Gunners' challenge.

Of course, the gap to Chelsea only stands at a single point with fixtures against Sunderland, Stoke and Swansea possibly allowing Arsenal to return to the summit before that terrifying run at the end of March. But, with matches against the top six accounting for a third of their remaining fixtures, they will need to beat the top teams to stand any chance of securing the title. On the evidence of Wednesday, the season thus far, and the last eight years, it will be a step too far.

Olivier Giroud
Five shots all off-target at the Emirates and only one goal in 14 games against Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool. He is not a deciding factor.

Manchester United
At least Arsenal have been in the race and at least they have entertained. That Manchester United now stand 11 points off fourth is nothing more than they deserve in a campaign of mismanagement and dire displays. The club can preach stability all they like, but who wants five more years of this?

The TV cameras showed Moyes urging his team forward in the final stages but, other than Robin van Persie's header that was superbly saved by Wojciech Szczesny, the champions remained oddly familiarly subdued. United only managed three shots after the 15th minute, which is fewer than Fulham achieved in the siege of Old Trafford.

This is the effect of being coached by a manager who was employed for his character rather than his genius. It is not a question of showing bravery to attack, but instead how that aim can be reached. For a team including Van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata to look so devoid of ideas in the final third is quite astonishing. In truth, it appeared that the only instruction was "don't cross it as much".

And yet there was nothing to replace the crossing. Van Persie's gilt-edged early chance was the result of Mikel Arteta's error, although it did reveal an intention to try and press Arsenal high up the pitch. That tactic slowly gave way to a more limited approach, however, as the Gunners remained in the ascendancy in the second half, thwarted by some determined defending and their reliance on Giroud. Had they possessed a striker of Van Persie's quality, this would almost certainly have been a home win.

"All I can do - and I keep saying it - is we will try and win the next game and pick it up," said Moyes at full-time. Perhaps if he hadn't kept saying that and instead have worked on introducing a more convincing style of play, United would not be where they are now - facing a season of embarrassment in the Europa League as Moyes puts on a brave face and insists his project is going to plan. He didn't deserve the job in the first place and he deserves it even less now.

There is a foul smell of mediocrity emanating from a club who were crowned champions only nine months ago. Ed Woodward can rally shareholders by claiming that United will be active in the summer but, without the lure of the Champions League, top targets will go elsewhere. And if money is the deciding factor in transfers? Well, the Glazers have shown they neither have the funds or the desire to compete with the likes of PSG and Monaco, who splurged over £100m on Falcao alone. If five or six players are required, what chance is there that Moyes will find and attract the requisite quality?

But not to worry: "Some of our competitors have not won the league for a long time and they still sell a lot of shirts - one of them is just down the road."

What has happened to this colossus of world football?

Alan Pardew
"I'm not really going to say too much in front of you guys (the media), other than to give a message to our fans to say that that wasn't good enough."

Does Pardew know that he is the problem rather than the players? If Newcastle have become complacent, it is because their manager has failed to act. I was amazed to see him relaxed and smiling in the press room following a 3-0 defeat to Chelsea that followed a 3-0 defeat to Sunderland, and it is no surprise that a seemingly lax attitude has rubbed off on the players.

Pardew must make it clear that the team are playing for their futures as much as he is managing for his.

Only eight games left to save themselves. It is almost impossible to conceive their survival.

Another committed performance, but now four points adrift of safety. The good news is that Kostas Mitroglou scored twice on his debut for the Under-21 team on Wednesday. Fulham need the striker fit and in the first team as quick as possible.

Cardiff and Aston Villa
At least if one of them is relegated, we won't have to go through that again next season.

Matthew Stanger - follow him on Twitter here

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am jealous but i do wonder why he's never done anything for barca and why they seemingly don't give two hoots that he's leaving. they clearly rate suarez more than him, that much is inarguable

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aryl Janmaat, a cheaper alternative to Micah Richards? World Cup semifinalist versus Man City's backup, England's... what, fifth choice right back? That really hammers home the English premium.

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