The holiday season was extremely busy with Premier League fixtures and we were lucky enough to see four sets of matches in less than two weeks. Instead of reviewing the weekend, I’ll try to look at some important trends we saw through the holiday season and give my two cents on what that means going forward.
1. Tottenham might not be out of a Champions League spot contention, but Manchester United probably are
Tottenham and Manchester United were having similar struggles up to this point in the season, but Wednesday’s match between the two showed the difference. Lets look at Tottenham first. Spurs fired André Villas-Boas and put Tim Sherwood in his place. I was not a big fan of the hire and I’m still not completely sold on Sherwood but we have definitely seen improvements in Tottenham’s play. Christian Eriksen recently said Sherwood gives them “more freedom” and makes it sound like Villas-Boas tried to do too much. Freedom can sometimes be a good thing and the win over Manchester was certainly a step in the right direction. It will be very tough to beat out one of the current top four teams for a spot in the Champions League, but Tottenham can certainly challenge for it or at the least earn a top six finish, which should be acceptable considering a mid-season change of manager and the lack of Gareth Bale.
Manchester United’s struggles are being attributed to David Moyes and I think with good reason (partially). The club is still struggling against good opposition (their four game winning streak was against teams in 10th, 11th, 15th, and 19th place) and they are making mistakes they shouldn’t be. Jonny Evans attributed the fact that they were “too open” at home for the two Tottenham goals on Wednesday and that’s something that should be fixed by Moyes. Do I think Moyes should go? No. Moyes came from a smaller club where strategy is a bit different and is still adjusting to being in charge of such a big club, but Manchester fans will just have to accept they probably aren’t getting a top four spot this year. There is also a lot of blame to be put on their sub-par roster. They’ve missed their arguably best player, Robin van Persie, and his return could spark something, but I think sixth or seventh place will be in the books for United unless they sign some major talent in January.
2. Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester City have one big thing in common – depth
These three teams had a very good stretch over the holidays despite missing some important players. Arsenal missed Mesut Ozil, Olivier Giroud, and Aaron Ramsey for some games, City missed Sergio Aguero, and Chelsea missed David Luiz, Frank Lampard, and Branislav Ivanovic. Neither of them missed a beat as they separated themselves from the pack and there is now a four point gap between third place Chelsea and fourth place Liverpool. The difference came from roster depth, as Liverpool missed Daniel Sturridge and Steven Gerrard while the other clubs didn’t flinch. The depth will continue to play a huge role in the title race and it seems Arsenal are trying to add another striker to make sure they have enough fire power to stay ahead of Chelsea and City.
3. Southampton’s squad just isn’t deep enough
The Saints started the season red hot and were in the top four several weeks into the season. In this article, I said one of the main reasons for their success was their consistency and lack of injuries. As injuries started piling up, the Saints started losing. They’ve only earned five points in their last nine games, but have missed Artur Boruc, Dejan Lovren, Victor Wanyama, Jose Fonte, Nathaniel Clyne, Dani Osvaldo among others for at least one of those nine games. The only scenarios I see where Southampton get a top six finish is if:
They get and keep all their starters healthy soon (extremely unlikely) or
They purchase some more talent in January
4. Depth is not only important in the Premier League
Depth seemed to be so important during the tight schedule in the Premier League but it was also important for our fantasy squads. With the heavy rotation and heavy injury rate, having deep fantasy teams proved to be important. I took two different zero pointers because I didn’t have enough valuable players on my bench. The Premier League schedule gets easier, but there will be European and FA Cup matches that will also cause some unexpected rests. Many people have been taking advantage of the huge budget to get the best 11 players possible, but during tight windows, make sure to have at least one or two viable bench options on your squad.