Premier League review and team of the week, 12
16:15, 20 Nov 2012
If you were to do weekly projections of where Premier League teams might finish the season based, it would be interesting to see how radically they’d oscillate.
Take the title. Four weeks ago, Chelsea were unbeaten and seemed certain of a strong challenge. Two weeks ago, it looked like Manchester United were gathering unstoppable momentum. Then, this week, the champions suddenly seem to have recovered their old verve and, with Alex Ferguson’s side slipping, look a little likelier to hold their nerve. The chase for the Champions League places is even more idiosyncratic.
Just a few matches ago, it seemed Everton were in a very strong position while Arsenal continued to waver. Now, after a weekend’s results, it all looks so much more fragile and precarious. Who, this week at least, would bet against Arsene Wenger ultimately delivering Champions League football again.
It does put into perspective how much stock we place into individual results and how little allowance is often made for apparently more minor adjustments that can go a long way to explaining performances: at the weekend, for example, the loss of Wayne Rooney and Shinji Kagawa in United’s midfield - and therefore any drive; for City beforehand, the potential hangover of that dramatic title win. For Arsenal, meanwhile, see below.
For the moment, all we should keep in mind is that these little adjustments will add up to something far bigger by the end.
Very often, it can be frustrating how single, supposedly controversial incidents completely dominate post-match discussions. Occasionally, though, it cannot be denied that such individual moments have a disproportionately large effect on the collective. There were two clear examples this weekend. Not only might the red cards for Emmanuel Adebayor and Brede Hangeland have turned their games, they might well have totally transformed the seasons of Arsenal and Sunderland.
For Arsene Wenger’s side, for example, all the pressure and anxiety suddenly seemed to melt away. They played with a freedom that has not been evident for the past two months. John Giles might well have called it a ‘sunshine’ performance - because everything was going well, all of the players were looking for the ball and wanting to do something with it in a manner they hadn’t been before. The flipside of that, though, is that the increased confidence from the win may see them doing so more often from now on.
Likewise, Sunderland instantly played with an enthusiasm and force that had been completely absent in a limp opening two months of the season. Whereas it had previously looked like the pressure might be growing on Martin O’Neill and that a freeplaying side like Fulham might even show them this is the face of the future, as opposed to the post, Sunderland seized that moment. This was personified by Stephane Sessegnon. Whereas previously he was misplacing almost every pass, the superb strike indicated how he came to then hit every spot. Again, despite some lingering concerns about the overall structure of Sunderland’s side, the subsequent performance and result may well restore their mentality to the extent they more easily overcome such issues.
The effect of psychological momentum is also arguably evident in other sides. Is part of the reason that QPR have offered their worst performances in the easiest games - like at home to Southampton and Reading - because they are so anxious about getting that first win? Did Everton fall at Reading themselves because they’ve only won one game in seven? Did West Brom beat Chelsea because they had the momentum built from a series of easier wins?
Team of the week
1. Adam Federici (Reading)
2. Nathaniel Clyne (Southampton)
3. Jose Enrique (Liverpool)
4. Sean Morison (Reading)
5. Liam Ridgewell (West Brom)
6. Claudio Yacob (West Brom)
7. Theo Walcott (Arsenal)
8. Santiago Cazorla (Arsenal)
9. Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)
10. Luis Suarez (Liverpool)
11. Anthony Pilkington (Norwich City)