Saturday, January 8, 2011

Making the Grade

An Unauthorized Look at Chelsea's Report Card for the Holiday Season
photo by amboo who?via PhotoRee

Way back on Boxing Day – it seems a long time ago now, doesn’t it? -- we ran a segment asking questions of the teams at the top of the EPL heading into the holiday season.  With the football orgy now over and done, let’s take a look at how each team did over the busy period in which the race for the title has begun to clarify a bit.  Below are the questions we posed at the time, along with the results for the period.  As it’s back-to-school time for most students, we’ve also decided to include a grade for each team’s holiday performance:
Can Arsenal Challenge for the Crown?  The Gunners bested cross-town rivals Chelsea, and won a remarkably easy victory at St. Andrews over a typically tough-at-home Birmingham side.  Although Arsenal sputtered to a dour nil-nil draw at the Emirates with City, it was the Gunners perplexing draw at Wigan – and the weakened side that Wenger picked for the game – that should be the real focus.
Pre-Holiday Minimum Point Haul Necessary: 9; Points Achieved: 8.
Grade: B.
Can Chelsea Steady Their Wobble? The post-holiday Blues are in free fall, with only a fortunate, referee-aided victory over Bolton, and a shocking draw against Villa (a side that all other rivals beat over the holidays) to show for their troubles.  The loss to Arsenal can perhaps be explained, but what is one to make of their most recent loss at Molineux?  Chelsea look uninspired and clueless right now.
Pre-Holiday Minimal Points Needed to Assuage the Doubters: 9; Points Achieved: 4
Grade: F.

Are Sunderland Ready to Challenge for a Place in Europe?  After being manhandled at Old Trafford, Sunderland turned in a poor offensive performance at home against Blackpool.  The good news from the Black Cats’ perspective was that they turned it around in a 3-nil spanking of Blackburn, and did just enough to get by a Villa side that had to be inspired after their performance at Stamford Bridge.   
Points Needed to Stay in Contention for Europe: 6; Points Achieved: 6.
Grade: B+
Can Manchester United Seize Control of the Title Race?: United turned in a convincing win over Sunderland, and two slightly less convincing wins over West Brom and Stoke City.  A win is still a win, though, any way you count it.  Were it not for referee Lee Mason missing a trio of fouls at the end of the game with Birmingham, United would have gained maximum points over the holidays.  Mission largely accomplished.
Points Necessary to Take Control: 12; Points Achieved: 10.
Grade: A-

Who's Headed to the Champions League Next Season?  Spurs narrowly eked by Villa and Fulham, and more comfortably dispatched Newcastle, before suffering a troubling 2-1 loss to Everton in their final game of the four.  Not bad, but ultimately it has to be a bit disappointing to Spurs’ fans, with the opportunity to pick up points on Chelsea, Arsenal and City, their chief rivals for a Champions League spot.  

City breezed past Newcastle and Villa, before narrowly edging Blackpool and gaining a gutless point at the Emirates.  Their form eroded as the holiday period went on, but it’s hard to argue with the results, only with their negative form in gaining them.

Points Needed for Spurs: 10; Points Achieved – Spurs: 9.

Points Needed for City: 9; Points Achieved – City: 10.

Grade – Spurs: B.

Grade – City: A- (the minus is for style points).

This is farlieonfootie for January 9.

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