The Premier League may not have much of a title race at the moment (a lot will go right for Liverpool and a lot wrong for City to change that), but the relegation battle will be, to quote Jim Ross: “A Saturday night on a payday weekend in Muskogee.”
The race for 4th place, the last place in the Champions League, is more like football in kindergarten where nobody knows the rules or cares much, kids switch teams impulsively and nothing gets where it should and yet everything happens instantly .
For the past few weeks, no one has wanted to grab 4th place by the collar and walk away with it. Everyone has had a chance. At the moment there are five teams with a decent chance of finishing in the spot, and maybe even six if you really want to pose and make an argument for Brighton (eight points behind West Ham in fourth place but with two games in the game). hand).
West Ham currently holds the spot. They are one point ahead of Manchester United in fifth place, but anyone after them has at least one game in their hands and Arsenal have three. They’ve only won one of their last four games, and that was a win against the overturned clown car that is Watford. They meekly surrendered to Manchester United, and yesterday they had to scramble for a last minute equalizer against Leceister to make it 2-2, and that’s after they took the lead and Leceister spent the first 30 minutes pretending they’d rather be elsewhere. were on the field.
West Ham’s problem is perhaps what was first feared, and that is manager David Moyes’ tendency to use only as many players as necessary, rather than stagger the minutes to keep everyone fresh. Their attack has gone in the tank (1.7 xG in their last three games combined). Michail Antonio has not scored for them in six weeks and had to fly to North America and play back for Jamaica. If Jarrod Bowen hadn’t recently gone supernova, they’d be in real trouble. And they’re getting the Europa League going again in the coming weeks, further highlighting their thin squad and Moyes’ meager use of it.
Behind them is United, arguably the most miserable club in all of Europe, if not the world, at the moment. Interim manager Ralf Rangnick throws Ole Gunnar SolskjæR under the bus, and everyone knows that when you start dumping things on the last man, you may already be running out of ideas. But maybe that’s what you do when your players have been whine about you since the moment you got off the plane.
United cannot finish matches. They have taken the lead in their last six and have drawn four. And their performance in the second half falls off a cliff. Here are their first half and second half xG in their last two games:
vs Southampton: 1.89, 0.67 At Burnley: 1.40 , 0.77
The story was no different in the FA Cup against Middlesbrough, where they were dumped on penalties after a 1-1 draw from that competition. Whether it’s a lack of confidence to complete matches, a lack of energy to sustain performance over 90 minutes, the fact that their two first-choice forwards are a combined Jethro Tull-year-old, or it’s all of the above. They’re listless, they’re divided (allegedly over those of the team) treatment about Mason Greenwoodso fuck their whole life), and everyone knows the manager isn’t there for the long haul.
Arsenal are having a bit of trouble with not playing. They’ve only played 22 games, giving them games in hand for everyone. They have played two league games since the calendar changed meaning they are rested but also out of rhythm. They are from both cups so the schedule won’t be too tight.
Before we get to the upstart behind them, there’s the Spurs in the 8th, and they’re very… Spurs. They have lost their last three games in the competition after being defeated by Chelsea in the League Cup semi-finals. Antonio Conte hates about 75 percent of the squad and haven’t been quiet about it, and they can’t defend (conceding nine goals in their last four league games).
All of this has left the door open for Wolves, who happens to be the team that ambled to a 2-0 win over Spurs yesterday. It was remarkably easy. Wolves are definitely the underdog, and all the charm that comes with it, but they can be a rugged watch. They have only scored 21 goals in 23 games but have only conceded 17, the second best in the league. Offensively, that’s about where Wolves should be, as they are 17th in the league by expected goals.
The air is in the defensive numbers. Jose Sa, perhaps the season’s purchase for just $11 million, is thanks for that. Sá has the second best goals scored not only in England but in all of the top five leagues in Europe, stealing more than seven goals from Wolves’ opponents. Can he keep it up?
A good sign for Wolves was that Raul Jimenez scored yesterday, and he is just two years away from a 17-goal campaign. But Jimenez will not get nearly the same number of shots and chances this season as he did then, and Bruno Lage’s system is unlikely to give him more chances. They are near the bottom in both shots and shots on target per game. Unless Jimenéz goes through a streak where with limited looks he just can’t miss, Sá will have to continue to work wonders.
As hard as it may be to believe, the Spurs are still structurally the most likely. They have underperformed (sort of their thing), and of all the contenders they still have the best xG and xGA. After the small matter of a trip to Manchester City next weekend, they have three games in a row against Burnley, Leeds and Everton, all with fears of relegation. They’re actually still a Kane-Son hot streak away.
But Wolves have something they can count on more than their competitors. Yes, they can’t score in a brothel with a 100 roll, but they are hard to create against (4th in shots against per game, 5th in shots on target per game, according to FBref.com). And if all else fails, they still have Sá as the last line. They will see Arsenal and West Ham in two of their next three games.
Of course they are not exciting. But they are new and different. That’s enough for the neutral.