First Impressions and Second Thoughts - Week 9

It was quite a week topped off by Arsenal beating Man Citeh in the big clash at the top of the table.  Chelsea and ManYoo were a bit on the ugly side in doing the business against decidedly average competition and Spurs dropped back a bit with Everton surging back toward the top half of the table after a terrible start.  As players go, there were some returns and debuts worthy of note with AJ, Balotelli, and Saha all coming on after lengthy injury layoffs.  Get the scoop on the Premier League week that was here:

  • The Champions - It'll end up looking pretty good in the papers but it certainly wasn't as impressive as the final scoreline.  While the leaders did what they had to do their defense wasn't at all impressive letting Wolves attack again and again.  If Wolves had better attackers, this would have been a real match.  That said, the return of Bosingwa and the continued winning with so many first choice players injured is impressive.  You have to figure Lamps and Alex will be back and Chelsea will be even better.
  • The Big Game - I'm not sure Arsenal's win is best for the league as City were Chelsea's closest pursuers but it certainly sets a tone for the Gunners as their injured stars start to return.  To win on the road against the second place team with a decidedly second choice central defensive pairing and Walcott/van Persie still out can't be underestimated.  This has to put Arsenal in place as the best bet to give Chelsea a run for their money (at least for this week).
  • Still Shaky - ManYoo got the job done and given their recent form, that's a great start.  That said, it certainly wasn't the sort of impressive display that you'd expect from them.  Was it any worse than Chelsea's showing? Not really but Chelsea have earned the benefit of the doubt this season while ManYoo haven't.  The only good news is that Rooney returning to form and Evra even remotely resembling the player of years past could still improve the situation.
  • The Newcastle Conundrum - They're just hard to figure but this week they were up.  Barton played well on the right of midfield and was the key to both goals.  Mostly though, they got through because WHU couldn't muster even a single SOT in the second half.  I don't think we know anything more about these guys than we did before the match but they got the three points.
  • The Newly Promoted - We've already covered NUFC but WBA went 4th (temporarily) and the goals keep coming from different places.  The one common theme seems to be Chris Brunt who just keeps making things happen for the Baggies. 
  • Blue Rising - Everton seems recovered from their early doldrums and Birmingham bested Blackpool.  Neither are going to challenge for honors but I think both are probably within a place or two of where they should be come the end of the season.
  • Villa Falling - The installation of Houlier certainly doesn't have Villa turning any corners in fact, they seem to be going in the wrong direction after they couldn't get even a point from lackluster Sunderland after getting a point from Chelsea.  This is a team in dire need of some momentum.
  • Spurs Not Quite There - It is my theory that a consistently excellent team needs at least two match-changing players and at least four much-better-than-average players to contend for honors.  Spurs have two match-winners in Bale and VDV but I can't shake the feeling that they really don't have much in the way of better-than-average complements.  Lennon had some moments last season but has regressed badly. Ditto Palacios. King could be but is injured too often. People talk about Modric like he is but he's never consistently performed. The strikers are too hot and cold to really be considered better than average. Gomes is OK and has excellent matches but the same could be said for 2/3rds of the keepers in the Prem.  So what do you have? A lot of average with two exceptional players - sounds a lot like Liverpool but with better health and confidence this year. 
  • Charlie Adam - He went off with an injury. Let's just say we'll be watching very closely to see what's up.
  • Dembele - Almost entirely ineffective since his return from injury, is he still hurting? Was it just some very temporary form?
  • Barton - With HBA and Guthrie both out of the line-up Barton was back to his early-season ways - hard to say whether this will continue.
  • Sidwell - He's cheap and with Petrov possibly out, he's worth looking at as an enabler.
  • Andrew Johnson/Louis Saha - The former and current Fulham strikers are both back from injury and worth monitoring.  I'm more bullish on Saha than AJ - it's been a long time since AJ has been really useful.
  • Bosingwa - Back and better than I've ever seen him play for Chelsea.  Seems likely that he'll start regularly as well.  Why? As many on our Live Chat pointed out, Ancelotti has a history of liking attacking wide defenders.  I hope you got him before his price went up.
  • Drogba - A rotten return but perhaps understandable after at least a week off with a fever/virus. 
  • Bale - He's just not producing fantasy points like he was early in the season.  The fact that he isn't taking ANY kicks at this point is really having a negative impact.  
  • Nasri & Kalou - Neither are considered to be leading men for their respective teams but both have taken a major step up as the type of much-better-than-average supporting players that I mentioned above that Spurs and ManYoo just don't have at this point.
  • Chicharito - Interesting brace against Stoke this weekend, could he end up being the answer to Nasri and Kalou above? If so, where does he play when Rooney comes back?  Three strikers and Nani? The heir to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for this season? Berbs (who has quieted down significantly) back to the bench after a great start?  Interesting choices for SAF coming up.
  • Barry and Denilson - They both seemed out of their depth in the Citeh/Arsenal clash.  Not being English myself I am probably under-estimating the value of having English players featuring regularly but with all of the talent assembled Barry seems to be clogging up a spot that a more talented player could take.  As for Denilson, it's been a number of years that he's been contributing to the first team and I'm still not sure what his role is.  He had a few decent matches replacing Cesc but with Wilshere and Nasri taking a step forward and Ramsey coming back soon and Rosicky playing better in spots (PKs aside) you have to think Denilson will start being pushed down the pecking order.


  1. A lot of average? Lennon vs. Babel, Modric vs. Lucas, Huddlestone vs Merieles, Palacios/Sandro vs. Paulson, Dawson vs. Carragher...shall I go on? they played Inter a few days before and looked tired...sure I take your point regarding being consistently excellent but I think that is more to do with the striking options than anything else. Defoe's injury is having a big impact on the tactical options of the side. The defence has struggled without Kaboul and Dawson. Gomes is a lot better than average in my opinion, surely superior to Arsenal's options, for example.

  2. Anonymous1:54 PM

    Note that Neal says that they are very much like Liverpool only a bit better. If you want to prove that Spurs are any close to the top teams, you should be comparing them to Arsenal, Chelsea, ManU and ManC, and not to that team on the bottom half of the table...


  3. Anonymous3:21 PM

    agree on Brunt. i remember you guys highlighting him 2 yr's ago when he was last in the prem, so well done on that !. he still gets so little publicity here in the uk, that it's tempting to think, it's just form, rather than class ..but he just keeps on doing it .

    he's 2nd in the official assists table with 6, (behind nani = 7).,,12306,00.html.


  4. any word on how serious Tevez injury is yet? hopefully he can rest up this week. if there is any hint of injury, its pretty obvious that ManCity have a plethora of options to turn to, especially with balotelli returning to fitness. interested to see what you have to say about him coming into week 10

  5. Gotta say I wouldn't judge Arsenal's title challenge or Man City's shaky-ness on a game where 6 minutes in City were down to 10 men. It's the most dramatic shift a game can take, and affects every aspect of the game after. The fact that City looked the more bullish to score in the first half says a lot about both teams.

  6. Harsh assessment on the Spurs squad Neal, are you an Arsenal fan or something?


  7. Brunt - the new Jummy?

  8. Anonymous9:59 AM

    Are you kidding me with your comments re: Spurs? Give me a break. Modric an average player? He would start in MF for any team in the Prem and any team in the world, for that matter, other than perhaps Barca and Real Madrid.

  9. lots of grief for poor neal from the spurs fans. good thing that you didn't post these comments on AM's blog. this is reminiscent of a certain fall out from previous liverpool comments. i think it is a fair assessment for all of the teams. i do think that everyone fails to address how thin chelsea is. if they go deep in the champions league, they will have trouble.

  10. Celery10:52 PM

    ARSENAL: Looking good. With Fabregas, Vermaelen, Kocielny, Bendtner, Aaron Ramsey and suspended Wilshere back soon, it doesn't even matter if RVP stubs his toe again for another 6 months out. Serious title contenders as Cesc searches for the silverware that will be his ticket to Barca. Do I invest in Cesc when I'm quite content with Nasri?

    MAN CITY: I blame Mancini for playing Boyata in the first place, was expecting him to start with hat-trick hero Adebayor and rest Tevez too. On the plus side, good to see Micah Richards playing well. England re-call beckons. City have huge potential. Chink in the armour.... Mancini?

    SPURS: Title contenders? Probably not. Top 5, yeah probably. VDV and Bale are both immense. Think a Sandro Huddlestone partnership in the middle could get them going. They miss Defoe and our 'Arry will probably try and offload Keane somewhere nice (Cardiff?) and bring in some fresh legs in January. I wouldn't put it past him to get someone like Diego Forlan on a six month loan.

    MAN UTD: Corooneyation Street was a right wind up last week. What a soap opera! The boy Wayne bloody well better play out of his blessed little socks when he gets back or else..... Or else.... Chicharito's going to take his place. United have the thinnest squad at the moment. Van Der Sar or Nani gets knobbled, they're done for this season. LOVED seeing Gary Neville say to Sir Alex upon being subbed, "Are you taking the piss or what?" Who needs Corooneyation Street when you've got that kind of real life entertainment?

    MY BELOVED CHELSEA: I congratulate Wolves for giving Peter Cech so much target practice but the result speaks for itself. Bosingwa is back. Yuri showed why Roman paid so much money for him. In the absence of Lampard and Ramires, I'd say Chelsea's depth looks pretty good. Kalou came on and scored a nice goal, young McEachran got more valuable minutes. Shaky defense? No, more like respect due to a good Wolves team who didn't park the bus and on another day might have won.

  11. Anonymous5:41 PM

    seriously greginho from across the 2 blogz u r by far the most annoying poster

  12. Anonymous6:09 PM

    GREGINHO THE ARSENAL FAN IN "AGREEING WITH FELLOW ARSENAL FAN" SHOCKER! this post sucks but basically greginho you think neils assessment is "fair" coz spurs are "average", chelsea "werent that impressive" and man utd "aren't impressive" either, but ARSE are good? The fact neil basically ignores that city were DOWN TO TEN MEN for 85 minutes but still praises ARSE for playing well and puts them as 2nd faves behind chelsea as a result because of one result, after losing easily 2-0 to them, losing to west brom at home, scrapping past birmingham thx to a dive (and despite man city having 4 or 5 excellnt chances between 0-0 and 0-2 ) says it all about the assessment. also why the dig at AM blog? nick may be a blatent spurs fan but he is never bias when he writes stuff. he seams to know the game as he lived and breathed it in england since 4eva - i never get the feeling from this blog that they truely know the real stuff in the same way despite excellnt writign. americans talkin bout footie doesnt work I guess

  13. 2 anonymous posters. did you not read the end of the statement about arsena. "This has to put Arsenal in place as the best bet to give Chelsea a run for their money (at least for this week)."
    at least for this week means that the team is inconsistent. i don't know why everyone is getting all hacked up was joking with neal as much as AM. i am sorry i didn't put a smily face.

  14. Anonymous6:59 AM

    I almost agreed with your previous assessment but surely Van der Vart could start ahead of Malouda and will surely start for Arsenal. Maybe you really know little about football afterall, i remember you telling people Tevez was tired and won't start for City after the Japan friendly which i found ludicrous like i told people on AM's blog.