It is some considerable time since I last foisted a dose of my football-related nonsense your way. But fear not. Real life can only intervene for so long before the compulsion to snark about our Premier League clubs becomes overwhelming.
So, what’s happened since we last spoke? Well, Jude Bellingham became the best English player to ever lace a pair of boots. Since the last one. Man landed on the moon apparently. And, spanning an even greater period of time, Messi won the Ballon D’oh! again. You see, you hadn’t even realised you’d missed me.
Anyway, staring at a half-completed draft of a season preview from July isn’t helping anybody, so let’s crack on with the state of play for our Northern Premier League clubs, which spans the full spectrum of quality from top of the table delicacies to under the table scraps. Running in order of current league position, where did we tend to start this piffle? Ah, yes…
CRISIS. City recently lost TWO GAMES IN A ROW. The squad was briefly INJURY HIT. It certainly feels like a weighty situation when displayed in Daily Express Nonsense Font. That is until we peek at the table and realise our favourite boredom generators are lurking in second place just behind Spurs; a tarantula in the shadows patiently eyeing its prey. Pep’s plucky underdogs have returned to form, strangling the opposition with incessant possession and winning games without even blinking. They made the recent Manchester derby look like a home game against Bournemouth. Yep, City are back to being Zola Budd and the shoes are off.
So City are doing City things, with Bernardo Silva pulling the strings in midfield and John Stones the latest beneficiary of the centre-half-as-hybrid-midfielder trend. In the derby, they pulled United’s creaking backline all over Old Trafford, bending the poor saps to their will. Meanwhile, Rodri’s recent three-match suspension proves the old adage that absence makes the heart grow fonder, with some sterling performances on his return. Against United he was plugging a leak one minute and lacerating the defence further up the pitch the next.
Still, things are relatively tight at the top. Can you imagine the Best League In The World ™ producing a three or four-way scrap for the title? No, me neither. Odds are that City’s superior squad will pull ahead over Christmas and stay there.
Ever heard the one about LiVARpool? If so, shame on you, stop reading posts from 13-year-olds on whatever Elon Musk wants to call Twitter this week. With eye-rolling monotony, every red worth their salt will tell you they should be top of the table if it weren’t for those pesky kids crouching over monitors at Stockley Park. Just don’t factor the Merseyside derby into the equation of course, where the officials didn’t even try to hide how terrified they were of ballsing up another call against Klopp’s badly done by band of brothers.
Of course, teams have been suffering shonky offside decisions since 1872, but at Liverpool This Means More. And whereas back in the day we would have spun our rattles and shouted “never mind referee, better luck next time”, we now have X to mark the spot, and help work everybody into a lather. The pollution of our waterways? A return to the sort of poverty not seen since the Victorian era? Nah, we all wake up on a Monday morning absolutely seething about VAR.
All snark aside, Liverpool’s early season form has been much better than expected with Dominik Szoboszlai in particular looking like the sort of player that Mason Mount can only aspire to. I fancy Liverpool will be sitting pretty in the top four this season, confounding the likes of Paul Merson which, let’s face it, is not hard Jeff. They don’t half have a wobble in them at times though, and there’s a feeling in my polluted waters that this iteration of Liverpool is just a step or two behind the City machine.
Newcastle are easing themselves back into the sharp end of things, which sounds as painful as some of their early lost points. It was a see-saw start to the season which included everything from a battering of PSG to losing against ten-man Liverpool in injury time. But Steady Eddie’s Paupers are on the rise again. Several teams have received a mauling at their hands and even poor old Sandro Tonali waving a tearful adieu until next season hasn’t stopped them in their tracks, although points have continued to be dropped unexpectedly at times.
Nevertheless, Newcastle continue to confound my ability to make catty remarks about the club’s finances. When Sean Longstaff is at the heart of much that is good about this team’s attacking verve, and is joined on the scoresheet by the likes of Jacob Murphy and Callum Wilson, you can only respect Howe’s teambuilding ethos. Newcastle are unbeaten in six league games at the time of writing, and are copying the City template of making your goal difference look lovely and shiny by repeatedly punching inferior opponents in the face. Or letting opposition managers named Roy rub their own face off in frustration.
I wouldn’t bet against Newcastle being around the top four come Christmas, and I’m sure there’s somebody in the squad with a bit of spare time who knows the odds on that.
When redemption arcs and turning corners become the norm, there’s something intrinsically wrong with the way an organisation is being run. At Manchester United, you have to question whether this season’s decisions come from a misguided moral compass or emanate from the general whiff of desperation.
Based on the recent Manchester derby, the answer is the latter, although the press release from United following a certain recent saga would suggest a strong showing for the former.
Still, who wouldn’t like to see the redemption of a former captain who was guilty of nothing more than *checks tabloid notes* holiday hijinks? Scandals aside, it really is quite staggering to see a centre-half paring of Maguire and noughties tribute act Johnny Evans at centre-back for United. Still, lumbering comedy act Harry Maguire and goalkeeping punchline Onana have had their moments in recent weeks, particularly the keeper whose save in the derby forced Gary Neville to emit one of his hideous sex noises on live TV. Even Scott McTominay has got in on the act.
Of course, redemption arcs are all very well but they provide little relief for Bond baddie, Ten Hag, plotting his next meme in his volcano hideout deep under Carrington. Realistically, they are a long way from bothering the top of the table.
Just what is going on? Johnny Evans at centre-half for United, and Ashley Young at fullback for Everton. If a single player can sum up a club, Young is it. Good enough to still be in the Prem, but not by much. In the intervening months since we last caught up, Everton remains a side destined to circle the drain slowly, desperately watching the dregs of yesterday’s leftovers bung up a plughole to oblivion.
This has led to some Evertonians questioning their existence in this perpetual top-flight twilight of doom. Might it be better to finally stop their futile resistance to gravity and just reset in the jolly bonhomie of the Championship? While potential new owners 777 try and work out how to pass a fit and proper test, delusion borne of desperation has seen some fans laud their potential new owners as saviours. Meanwhile, there are chinks in the clouds with a laudable win over West Ham and a Merseyside derby performance which suggests Everton has the fight to stay up.
Maybe of more concern is the FFP disciplinary hearing now underway, following allegations of alleged financial breaches. Talk of a points deduction is enough to send shivers down every supporter’s spine. But if the worst doesn’t happen, I’m backing Everton to avoid the drop, especially given some of the poor souls hanging on by their fingertips below.
Which brings me to Burnley. The first top flight club to lose their first five home games apparently, which seems an improbable statistic. Aside from becoming a regular pub quiz question, Vincent Kompany has predictably failed to carry over his team’s Championship form. A relative novice of a manager, he may need to realign his football philosophy with their more lowly standing in the Prem and be quick about it. Solidity has left the building, and Turf Moor holds no fear when Burnley’s defence is waving opposition forwards through while watching Neil Maupay lumber about trying to score a goal. Any goal.
A nadir was reached just before Halloween, with a quite terrifying loss to Bournemouth which included a gut punch of a winner from 40 yards out. If Everton are under a cloud, Kompany’s constant expression is one of a man who hasn’t felt the warm rays of sunshine in many a year. Still, if you will spend your days in Burnley…
They’re going down, aren’t they? They’ve shown a modicum of steel in several games this season (do you see what I did there?) until it all falls apart as stamina fails and the opposition quality finally lands a telling blow, generally accompanied by a defensive error which leaves you groaning with the inevitability of it all.
The team actually felt on an upward trajectory prior to an 8-0 shellacking against Newcastle in September which was akin to watching somebody have their head rammed into a brick wall repeatedly. Since then, crippling injuries to an underfunded squad has seen a succession of soul-sucking losses, with any wisps of confidence floating into the ether, leaving only the chuckles of delight from away fans echoing around an increasingly chilly Bramall Lane.
All information correct at time of publication