Friday, 30 December 2016

A Few Good Men

2016 was a summarily disappointing year for multiple reasons- it was riddled with minor inconveniences like Trump winning the US Presidency and unequivocal, world-changing catastrophes like Portugal winning Euro 2016. It’s safe to say things can only go up from here. Unless you’re a Swansea City supporter. Or David Moyes. It’s been a rather pleasant year, by his standards.    

There is, however, light at the end of this miserable tunnel. Certain key Premier League performers have stood out in recent weeks and leave this writer optimistic about what lies ahead. Let’s spend a few minutes looking at these standout blokes, and what makes them tick (or, what makes them kick- eh? Eh?).

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has recently shown nothing short of a dramatic resurgence in form. After going six consecutive league games without a goal, Zlatan’s now scored eleven in his last ten appearances in all competitions and is, in his own exalted words, “like a fine wine getting better with age”.

Michael Owen recently commented that Zlatan wasn’t good enough for United, to which Jose Mourinho retorted by reminding Michael Owen that he is Michael Owen. Owen, known for his quick wit, turned to the power of mathematics and argued that on a goal per pound basis he was worth much more than Zlatan. By extension of this sound logic, United’s most valuable striker was Alan Smith. Remember Alan Smith? Pretty sure even the ground staff made more than he did.

Interesting side-note on Alan Smith- he commented in an interview last year that he couldn’t believe Manchester United wanted him. Someone should have shown him Owen’s math formula.

Zlatan’s fees, however, seem justified in light of recent results. Two assists and a nicely taken strike on Boxing Day, a double the previous weekend at West Brom, a goal and a well-‘handled’ assist at Palace have left United’s number 9 a jaw-dropping second in the goal scoring charts, level with Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez and one behind Jungle Book’s Diego Costa.

Zlatan’s form has coincided nicely with the return of Paul Pogba from his Invisible (French third division) stint. Pogba has racked up multiple assists in recent weeks and his partnership with Zlatan has been deadly. United fans are feeling optimistic that the club will achieve its now well-established yearly objectives of finishing in the top four and somehow retaining David De Gea.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp loves a challenge, and this year he’s taken that one step further by attempting to challenge for the title without any goalkeeper whatsoever. But, I’ll leave it to the Neville brothers to analyze how he’s doing there.

One thing’s absolutely certain- in Adam Lallana, he has one of the finest, most in-form midfielders in the league. In fact, Lallana’s playing so well that many Englishmen can’t believe he’s English. With seven league goals, he’s Liverpool’s third highest scorer this season. He’s also leading the assists chart for Liverpool with six. If he keeps going at this rate, he’ll be at Barcelona next season.

Speaking of ‘at Barcelona next season’, Philippe Coutinho could return from injury as early as the weekend and Loris Karius might also return to do his best impression of a goalkeeper. It’s safe to say Liverpool will remain an entertaining watch in 2017.

Another player in excellent form is Tottenham’s Chistian Eriksen. Often accused of being too intricate and not taking enough shots himself, Eriksen has the second highest number of shots on goal in the league this season. He’s also hit the woodwork four times, so all that shooting practice is clearly necessary. With five assists, he continues to be a vital creative force for Spurs as they march towards their own well-established yearly objective of finishing above Arsenal.

Leading defensive lights this season are Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk and Chelsea’s Thibault Courtois. Van Dijk is composed, solid and very comfortable on the ball. He’s like a good John Stones. His performances have helped Southampton achieve an impressive seven clean sheets this season.

Thibault Courtois received a lot of criticism for his performances (or lack thereof) at Chelsea last season, but he’s certainly proving his worth this time around. A world class save to deny Sunderland’s main man Patrick van Aanholt stands out in an impressive string of performances, with Chelsea having conceded just two goals in their current twelve match winning streak.

And it’s that winning streak that could make Chelsea the team to watch in 2017. They’re two short of the league record set by Arsenal, and would need to make history to lose the title (no side has ever lost the Premier League title with 40+ points at Christmas).

So there’s a lot to look forward to in 2017, as the Premier League continues to delight. Will Chelsea keep winning? Who will finish in the top four? By how many points will Sam Allardyce escape relegation? How much will Philippe Coutinho get paid at Barcelona? It’s already looking like a tantalizing New Year. See you all on the other side!

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