Gameweek 22 is upon us. Firstly, congrats to Michael who won manager of the month for January with a surge up the table and consistent scoring with 255 points, Dan (240) and Niall (228) gave him a run for his money.
Michael also sits top of the league as we enter February on 1,335 points, Scott (1,320) and Ron (1,312) are in pursuit and it’s looking like a good run in as we reach Candlemas, the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. Yesterday was mid-winter’s day or Gwyl Fair y Canhwyllau as we say deftly in Wales. Lighter mornings promise the stirrings of spring, Saturday afternoons without floodlights and less rain.
Talking about drier weather, Everton did their own version of Dry January, keeping the Goodison vault shut and spending nothing in the transfer window, whilst relegation rivals Bournemouth, Leicester, Leeds, Forest and Southampton all spent big. After selling Anthony Gordon for £40m and bringing in absolutely nobody, Everton become the first team in history to cover their own parachute payment. They did try to poach the tea lady from Sky Sports but she turned them down.
Everton are in a state of advanced narcolepsy and in the general direction of the nearest cliff. The Scouse somnambulists failed to land anyone during the transfer window, and now head into a relegation dogfight with an attack consisting of one-goal Neal Maupay and the balsa-boned Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
Let’s face it, Richarlison’s goals during last season’s run-in against Chelsea, Man U, Leicester and Crystal Palace were worth 10 points and kept Everton up. If all goes to plan, and when doesn’t it at Everton, Dyche will provide both a quick fix and long-term stability. It’s easy to imagine him quietly overachieving with a team that takes pride in working hard. Style of play may eventually become an issue, but at the moment that’s the least of Everton’s concerns. And Dyche may prove to be a cloth-cutter whose style evolves at a club with greater resources.
This week’s photo is of Brackley fans at Scarborough on Tuesday night. A near 400 mile, eight hour round trip in the National League North. Fair play to the nine heroes that made the trip and to Scarborough who gave them free pies, beers and tea. Proper football.
The financial juggernaut that is the Premier League shows no sign of slowing down, much less contracting like our jiggered, dumb-patriotism-infused economy. Mind you, this state of affairs is mainly down to one man spending money like a drunken pirate on shore leave. More than £261m has already whistled out of Todd Boehly’s wallet at warp speed in the summer and Chelsea spent £289m during the January transfer window, taking their total spend since American businessman Todd Boehly took ownership in May to more than £550m on 17 new players.
Admittedly, £107m of Boehly’s beans will turn the wheels of the Portuguese economy, via the bank account of Argentinian World Cup winner Enzo Fernandez’s former club Benfica, but as Fernández would be spending at least some of his wages in London shops, that’s a cash injection the UK can’t afford to be snobby about right now. Quite frankly we’re grateful for anything.
With more managers in the sack race than school sports day now, what a kaleidoscope of managerial chaos we have. Do clubs not realise mid-table mediocrity maybe the pinnacle they can achieve? A void fills many grounds, an atmosphere icier than a Tory candidate at a climate emergency TV debate (that’s right, I’m doing Political Satire now), resigned to not winning the league, and pundits who’ve never managed a fish and chip shop all have a view on the leadership and management style of the Premier League managers.
Klopp is getting pelters, Pep criticism for the Cancelo brouhaha, and Potter at Chelsea as he can’t remember the names of the 130 players in his first team squad. They all have an approach to picking their teams, so what’s yours? Here’s a quick guide, see if you can spot yourself.
1. The Top Loader Be honest. As we land in August, you’re started with Kane and Salah and worked backwards. Defenders, you reason, need not cost more than £5m apiece. Brighton, Newcastle and Southampton players will do. They won’t add much, but at least you can fit in three Man C players in as a result. Or maybe you’ll go with Arsenal defenders, not likely to score many but will get a few clean sheets. Either way, your team is distinctly top loaded. Caution is for wimps. You lead front-foot forward like a 90s Newcastle team under Keegan. A bench that played a combined total of 14 minutes last season.
2. The Strategist You know great teams are built from the back. You unashamedly employ a 5-4-1 formation with a defence packed with proper players. Defenders with proper haircuts, none of the Grealish nonsense. You also know the value of a reliable goalkeeper. Pope. You refuse to pick any of Man C front line – not with Pep’s infuriating rotation policy scuppering your plans every week. Instead you fill the defence with wing backs to harvest both clean sheets and assist points. The Strategist takes the competition, seriously. A kind of ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ type of guy, looking for trends to stay ahead of the curve.
3. The Maverick Your picks are based purely on personality. You deal in unpredictable, mercurial talents. If they’re not what you’d call a ‘top bloke’, then they don’t belong in your side. You get in the mood by modelling your hair style on Grealish, and also practice the wide-eyed maniacal stare of Klopp in the mirror as you brush your teeth each morning. You refuse, on ethical grounds, to pick players from any London team, you want a Northern Powerhouse, sportsmen. Oh for a Gazza in today’s game. You think Balotelli was the best thing that ever happened to the Premier League.
4. The Trooper You trust your instincts implicitly. You don’t need the Internet to shape your opinions and picks, you watch the games and decide yourself. Your side is the same as last year, despite it being on the decline since November, but you constantly remind yourself that, whilst form is temporary, class is permanent. The boys will fire again soon. Walcott will get a game one day; Wood is still a dead-cert Golden Boot contender. Maguire is one of the self-acclaimed best defenders in the world. As for your mates – let them have their moment. The Salah bubble will burst and Sterling will run out of steam as he dribbles and runs out of grass over the deadball line. Again. How will you use your wildcard? You won’t bother. For you, a wildcard is a cheat card.
5. The Chiller You built a team based on the picks you did on your iPhone watching England lose to Croatia at cricket. You may even have selected ‘auto-pick’ to make some suggestions. Actually, you’ve completely forgotten about it. When someone asks you, you don’t know who your captain is. You’re busy living your life. Your evenings don’t get ruined by a late (and offside) Bournemouth consolation goal robbing you of clean sheet points. And yet, somehow, unbeknownst to the rest of us, you’re top of the league. Others flap and fiddle about, others work an algorithm, you just chill. And smirk. But actually, it’s all a Mike Basset dream.
So onto this weekend, and another whole lot of edge-of-the-seat fun to be had including the Pukki Pies getting turned over by Hollands Pies at Carrow Road in the Championship. Narrow your eyes, squint real hard, suspend disbelief, have some more of your magic whisky, and make those transfers. It’s Chelsea v Fulham tonight so transfer deadline in 630pm Friday.
Enjoy the weekend, and don’t forget to catch the egg ball game with the start of the Six Nations, the Calcutta Cup game England v Scotland is the highlight. I’ll let you into a secret: I actually prefer playing and watching it to football!