Ladies, Gentlemen, boys and girls,
It’s going down to the wire, the last throw of the dice, finger-nail biting stuff. No, more than that, toe-nail biting stuff. 630pm Sunday 28 May. It’s a two-horse race, Aleksa (2,504) and Michael (2,494). Tudor is third (2,452) but needs a huge, huge weekend to close the gap.
A heady week of double-header fixtures saw Tudor top dog on 93 points, with James S (86) and Paul P (81). Tudor’s success came from Man City players (22 points), Brighton (20) and Man Utd (20). Others look to have messed up, their players already on the beach, building sandcastles, lying around on beach towels, sipping margaritas and generally gadding about in the foamy surf. Manager of the Month for May running sees James S (234), Tudor (224) and Princess Katie (211) in the pack.
Aleksa puts his success down to having a string of goal magnets across the season, bagging him valuable points across the front three. Sorry to be a pedant but wouldn’t a goal magnet get stuck to the goal, rather as a fridge magnet sticks to a fridge? That would make them pretty useless as strikers, and offside nearly all of the time. Unless he was stuck to his own goal, when back defending corners, and that would be even worse. I think I worry about words too much.
The pandemonium of the EFL playoffs was on full show this week after Peterborough spanked four goals without reply past Sheffield Wednesday in the first leg of the League One playoff semi-final. In a comeback that is unlikely to be surpassed until Laurence Fox is cast as the new James Bond, Wednesday stunned, winning the second leg 5-1 and going through to the Wembley final on penalties.
As they wrapped up the title with three games to spare, it seemed vaguely fitting that Man City enjoyed their coronation as Champions with victory over Chelsea. For months Chelsea have been considerably less than the sum of their many very expensive parts, and assuming Guardiola isn’t tempted to walk off into the sunset like Kwai Chang Caine at the end of an episode of Kung Fu if his side wins the Big Cup in a couple of weeks’ time, there is every reason to believe that with a bit of tinkering he will further fine-tune his already relentless winning machine.
While City’s players, staff and supporters celebrated their fifth title in six years, they will have been acutely aware that this was merely the first and arguably most routine instalment of a bigger trilogy. While the FA Cup is the side show for the Big Cup, winning it against your bitter rivals to wrap up the second instalment of a prospective treble makes it important, not least when those bitter rivals are the only club in English history to have won that particular treble before.
Nice to see the Striking Viking and teammates clad in monogrammed satin light blue pyjama rocked up at trendy Manchester nightspot MNKY HSE this week to enjoy some Latin American cuisine in a bold sharing menu whilst guzzling down the Abu Dhabi Kool-Aid. After City clinched the title on Sunday, Pep gave his players the night off to indulge in those champagne supernovas and all the alcohol in Manchester before Wednesday night’s match at Brighton and showcase their club PJs. But let’s be honest, City are the best team in England by a country mile, as they should be with the cash spent, but Pep still had to make it happen – compare to Chelsea and Man Utd leadership over recent seasons. As for Pep himself on Sunday? At 10.30pm, I was in bed with my wife, I was exhausted. I watched Match of the Day and then I slept like a baby.
Jeff Stelling hangs up his boots on Sunday, and expect lots of AS IT STANDS league tables too on Super Sunday, tearful fans in ill-considered fancy dress and three proud provincial clubs commentated on with the gravitas of a state funeral, but don’t worry, where a point snatched in deep snow at Stoke definitely means more I can tell you. Enjoy the Championship Everton and Leeds. To stay up, Leicester must beat West Ham, the Foxes must hope Everton fail to beat Bournemouth, for whom Gary O’Neil will be grimly determined. He’s played a binder, his team are entitled to have been hitting the East Beach Harry Ramsden’s lunchtime special (with bucket of Bud) hard. If Everton, kicking off two points above Smith’s mob but with an inferior goal difference, slip up, then they or Leicester may end up relying on Spurs – by that I mean Harry Kane – to save them by stopping Dirty Leeds in their tracks. My predictions:
Leicester 2 West Ham 0
Everton 0 Bournemouth 1
Leeds 1 Harry Kane 1
In the wake of West Ham’s semi-final win over Alkamar last week, the unlikely man of the hour was Chris ‘Knollsy’ Knoll. Captured on camera dropping bodies like John Wick, Knollsy repelled hordes of the Dutch Ultras who were intent on trying to storm a stairwell to attack visiting fans including family of West Ham’s players and staff. Keanu Reeves’ brooding assassin isn’t the only fictional character with whom Knollsy has drawn comparisons. His efforts have since been likened to those Lieutenants John Chard and Gonville Bromhead fending off thousands of Zulu warriors at Rorke’s Drift. It was the 58-year-old father of four who was front, centre and making the headlines as he singlehandedly kept an army of hooligans at bay with a relentless series of haymakers landed for club, king and country.
Dubbed the Angel of Alkmaar in the aftermath of bravura heroics that left him exhausted but mercifully unharmed, apart from a ripped T-shirt and souvenir shiner, this one-man portcullis has since become quite the celebrity. Affectionately serenaded by fellow fans at West Ham’s win over Leeds on Sunday, Knollsy has since been immortalised in the form of an action figure(see photo above) which is currently up for sale on eBay, a one-off going for £510. If West Ham’s defence is as obdurate against Fiorentina, the club’s first cup final victory in 43 years is almost certainly assured.
The Premier League is the most volatile for managers among Europe’s top divisions with 55% of coaches who started the season gone, but Italy and Germany are more patient. According to data published by the CIES Football Observatory on Wednesday, 57% of clubs worldwide have changed coaches during the season, based on a study analysing 850 teams across 60 top divisions around the globe. Eleven Premier League clubs have switched coaches since the start of the 2022-23 campaign. Across Europe’s top five leagues, Serie A boasts the lowest casualty rate among managers who started the season, with only 35% (7) of clubs parting ways with their initial coach. By comparison, 44% of Bundesliga clubs (8) have altered their manager, while half of LaLiga and Ligue 1 sides (10) have placed new bosses in charge. Bosnia and Herzegovina’s first division underwent the highest number of changes this season, with 92% of clubs (11 of 12) opting to switch up their coach.
One manager who won’t be around next season is Frank Lampard, appointed as Chelsea interim manager for the remainder of the season following Graham Potter’s dismissal in early April. He seemed bullish about his chances of making a success of the job. I am confident in myself he rabble roused. I have a good understanding of the squad. I’ll do my utmost in this period coming up to give the fans what they want with my own hard work.
So perhaps he should have been clearer as to what he thought the fans wanted and there would have been quite a palaver had he announced I intend to mastermind defeat in our next six games, go on a two-match unbeaten run and then lose another two before losing our last home game of the season. It was still quite big talk from a man who was sacked after overseeing just four wins in 23 games this season while in charge of Everton.
The good news for Chelsea fans is that once Sunday’s home defeat at the hands of Newcastle is over, completing their zombiesque shuffle to lower mid-table, their shambles of a season will end with it, and having not quite done enough to secure himself the gig on a full-time basis, Lampard will be sent on his way and replaced with somebody – almost certainly Pochettino – who knows what they are doing and might be able to prune and nurture the club’s bloated squad of first-team underachievers into something resembling a vaguely competent football team. One that isn’t so diabolically bad that the club is forced to cancel its own end-of-season awards out of sheer embarrassment.
So once more with feeling, transfer deadline is 3pm Sunday, and it’s nearly all over bar the shouting.