The End of Year Reckoning

December 23, 2013

Ball Harambee By Bagga Wilks

This is the season to be jolly and soccer fans will be inundated with games from the E.P.L. At the end of the year the top teams will be thrown in the lion’s den against each other and by the beginning of the year, we should have a clear picture of the leaders for the English Premier League title for 2014.

Manchester City beat Fulham 4-2 and signaled that their away form is improving. Manchester City scores goals in bunches when playing at home but the offensive machine sputters when they play away. This weekend they managed to score four goals against Fulham.

Pelligrini has some tactical decisions to make if Manchester City is going to be successful this season. Fernandinho and Toure are wonderful in midfield but they are usually outnumbered. Against the top tier teams, Pelligrini will have to bolster his mid-field, perhaps playing Milner in mid-field, have Torre play a more advanced role and play with just one striker supported by Nasri and Silva. The other dilemma is how do you leave Navas on the bench when his pace on the right wing is so devastating to the opposing team?

Liverpool is also facing tactical dilemmas. They rolled over Cardiff City in their last outing and made them appear as stiffs. Suarez has been scintillating and Coutinho has worked himself back into form after being out for six weeks with a shoulder injury. Sterling has benefited from Sturridge’s absence from the frontline as he is maturing as a player and learning playing beside Suarez and Coutinho.

Gerrard is nursing an injury but in his absence, Henderson has shown he is a big time player. When Sturridge and Gerrard return, who will sit down? Even before their return Liverpool will play some of the top teams on Boxing Day and the week thereafter. That will constitute a true test as to how far Suarez can take the “Reds” this season.

Tottenham has jettisoned Andre Villas Boas. The Portuguese-born manager failed at Chelsea and now at Tottenham. The newly appointed manager, Tim Sherwood, brought back Adebayor into the starting line-up and the move immediately paid dividends. It seemed absurd that under AVB that a team that was having trouble scoring goals would have sent a tried and established striker in the EPL and in La Liga to Siberia. On his return Adebayor netted two goals and Spurs defeated the slumping Southampton 3-1. Sherwood was able to get the Spurs aggregation to play with intensity and the defense only conceded one goal after conceding so many in previous matches.

Sherwood has tactical issues to sort out. Against Southampton, he started two strikers, Soldado and Adebayor. But he cannot play with just two in mid-fielders and will have to make adjustments to the wing players as one will have to participate in the battle for mid-field hegemony.

The weekend of EPL ball was topped off by the Monday clash at the Emirates as Arsenal played host to Chelsea. Playing under very difficult conditions, Arsenal and Chelsea played to a scoreless draw. Neither side created that many chances. Mourinho was up to his old tricks playing defensive and relying on counter attacks, the typical Mourinho tactic which did not amuse the Arsenal fans.

Liverpool is at the top of the tables and unlike Mourinho playing what Pele calls the beautiful game. In this interlude of matches in bunches, the teams with squad depth will benefit as fatigue will set in. In the New Year, the picture at the top should be less muddled.

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