After three successive wins in the Premier League game number 22 proved to be a copy of game number 18 from just three weeks before. 3-2 home defeats to teams in the lower half of the table (Southampton and then Leeds) may prove to be costly in the final reckoning next May in our quest once again to infiltrate the top four. Of course there is still a long way to go, but the results this week from the teams chasing us has moved them ominously closer to our current points total and they have games in hand. But if a Premier League season was the London Marathon then we have only just crossed Tower Bridge. There is still a long way to go to reach the Mall.
Although we have retained fourth place for now with 37 points from 22 games, the chasing pack have had games postponed and, as a result will be able to play those with refreshed teams, perhaps even bolstered by recruits in the transfer window later in the season. We, on the other hand have fulfilled our fixtures without resorting to asking for games to be called off. I do wonder if some of the teams have pulled a bit of a fast one here? I reckon they’ve got away with it too. But what can you do? We’ve just got to get on with it.
The top of the table now has three distinct sections. Manchester City are already virtually assured of being champions with an almost unassailable 11 point lead over Liverpool, who are jockeying with a Chelsea team that have faltered in recent weeks for second place. Then another gap before us in fourth but Tottenham now only trail us by one point and have three games in hand, Arsenal are a further point away with two games in hand, as are Manchester United with one game in hand. Perhaps even Wolves in eighth place will feel they are in contention as they trail us by six points but have played two games fewer. The games where this cluster of five clubs play each other take on added significance beginning with this Saturday’s game at Old Trafford. We face Wolves at the London Stadium before the end of February too.
Our points per game average still has us on course to reach 64 points by the end of the campaign (just one fewer than last season). The disappointment of home defeats to Brentford, Southampton and Leeds are water under the bridge now, and we need to look ahead, get players back from injury and COVID (especially Zouma and Soucek), Benrahma back from AFCON, and perhaps there is a chance for the players to regroup, take a breath, and perhaps regain a little of form that has been lost through tiredness or whatever? It’s good to see academy players on the bench. Wouldn’t it be good to see them on the pitch when (late) substitutions are made rather than the predictable Yarmolenko or Masuaku who (to me) add very little when they are introduced?
I wonder if there will be any recruitment before the end of the window to add a little freshness to the squad? I won’t hold my breath on that one – we’ll just have to wait and see. There’s an industry that has built up on social media and you can read about so many players that we are apparently interested in. 99 per cent of it is total rubbish. I am just hoping for a last day surprise or two that will add to the mix of very good players that we already have.
After the Manchester United game we don’t face league opposition again until Tuesday 8th February when Watford are the visitors to the London Stadium (It’s Round 4 of the FA Cup next weekend at Kidderminster). It would be great to come away from Old Trafford with a win but avoiding defeat and picking up a point against one of our rivals near the top would be a more than useful result.
As one might expect we are the outsiders with the bookmakers with the home side slightly odds on to win the game. The draw is priced around 14/5, and an away win at around 3/1. I’ll go for a 1-1 draw. What are the chances?