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Date published: Thursday 17th November 2022 8:34 – Dave Tickner
The six-week break in Premier League action for a World Cup that requires us all to feel guilty about enjoying does at least give us a nice cut-off point to update the Mood Rankings for all 20 clubs.
A fair bit has changed since the heady summer days of late August, but also much remains the same. West Ham are drab and depressing and Arsenal keep beating everybody.
Let’s see how everybody else is shaping up…
20) West Ham (20)
It was drab in August and it’s drab now. They’ve done well in the Europa Conference but a) it is the Europa Conference and b) it’s come at a terrible cost. Arguably only Spurs and Chelsea look as knackered as West Ham, and they’ve both got more to show for it. Especially Spurs, the most stupidly shit yet somehow functioning team in the league. And that can’t make things any cheerier for the Hammers, can it? Watching Spurs score late winners all the time?
As for the Hammers, they hit the long break having lost their last three league games – two of them at home – to tumble right back into relegation trouble and where the only thing really stopping that being even worse is the fact lots of teams also appear to be heading up similarly shitty creeks with a similar lack of means of escape.
In terms of the mood, though, there’s also the inescapable fact that the Hammers are not just a weary but also a dreary football team. After a couple of really quite excellent seasons this is once again starting to look like the very worst of a David Moyes team: haunted, resigned, and now scoring even fewer goals than winning points. Theirs is a season currently summed up best by the regression visible in their most exciting and fun player from last season, Jarrod Bowen.
19) Chelsea (12)
Genuinely quite impressive, given the assorted crises that have engulfed Spurs, Manchester United and Liverpool at various points, for someone else to manage to be bottom of the Big Seven. So bottom of the Big Seven are Chelsea, in fact, that they’re actually eighth. They haven’t won in five Premier League games, their manager has been there about five minutes and is already under pressure given how quickly they binned off the previous manager who had won them the Champions League a year earlier.
The last set of rankings was done after they’d daftly dropped points against Spurs and prompted this unusually prescient comment from us, the long-established worst predictors of upcoming things in football ever: ‘Lack of a reliable goalscorer raises the prospect of further daft dropping of points.’ Well… yeah. They’ve only scored 17 goals, fewer than anyone else in the top half. It’s fewer than Bournemouth, lads.
18) Wolves (14)
Were pretty high at 14 last time out to be honest given what was at that time a 10-match run without a Premier League win. We kind of thought that Bruno Lage had sorted them out before and would do so again. He didn’t. And then they sort of stumbled about for a while without a manager and carelessly found themselves at the foot of the Premier League table in what looks like being a hugely enjoyable close-fought relegation scrap as long as you’re not actually in it. Wolves, the dafties, are now very in it. At least they’ve got a new manager now. And did manage to score two goals in a game for the first time this season (albeit a game they still lost to Brighton, but never mind all that).
17) Everton (17)
Hmm. Turns out Super Frank Lampard may not have cracked the code by drawing a bunch of games in a row after all. Everton still look, to our admittedly untrained eyes, shit. And the unlikely sight of a Lampard side looking so defensively resolute as September Everton did has now given way to the more familiar sights and sounds of a Lampard side conceding a whole bunch of goals left, right and centre to teams like Bournemouth.
With no offence intended towards the Toffees, we’re happier this way because we like having our preconceived ideas backed up by events in the real world and do not at all like having them challenged.
Luckily for us, but alas and alack for Everton, the brief period where we were forced to consider the unpalatable possibility that Lampard might be quite a good manager after all has now safely passed.
16) Southampton (11)
Eleventh. LOL. They had just taken four points from two games at that time, in our slight defence, but still. LOL.
15) Leicester (19)
It got a lot worse from that August ranking as well before it got better. Would absolutely definitely have been bottom had we bothered to do this at the last international break (which, in our flimsy defence, we thought we had but the internet suggests otherwise) after getting spangled 5-2 and 6-2 at Brighton and Tottenham to boast what was at the time statistically the worst defence in Premier League history.
Stuck with The Brendan, though, and the good times are back. Five wins in eight games since that nadir, and most startlingly only three more goals conceded on top of the 22 shipped in the first seven games. Now looking far more serene in mid-table and able to spend the winter looking up rather than down.
14) Manchester City (10)
It’s sort of… not great, isn’t it? By their lofty etc. etc. etc. Fundamentally, they’ve been just a little bit too silly. Hot take: it’s Erling Haaland’s fault, in a way. Having that absurd Norwegian cheat code up front has made the rest of them just ever so slightly ease off. Don’t worry about going 2-0 down to Palace, Erling’ll sort it. And quite often he does sort it. But there have also now been a few too many games where he hasn’t sorted it. And now they’re five points behind Arsenal. They’re closer to Spurs than the Gunners, and that is no good at all for Manchester City.
13) Bournemouth (16)
Back-to-back thrashings of hapless Everton in Carabao and Premier League have restored the feelgoods around Bournemouth after those deeply galling defeats from two goals up against Spurs and Leeds.
Would certainly have settled for their current position if offered at the start of the season, and absolutely would have taken it after a 9-0 defeat at Anfield was followed by the soon-departed and little-lamented Scott Parker shrugging his shoulders and wondering why anyone expected anything different from this terrible squad comprised of waste product and string. Gary O’Neil expected and delivered different.
12) Liverpool (13)
Got through in the Champions League without too much fuss, after a 4-1 mangling at Napoli anyway, and go into the Christmas break after back-to-back Premier League wins over Spurs and Southampton.
But the big clue about how things are going is that those two wins were only enough to just about drag them into the top six. They’re still four points behind Manchester United and seven behind Spurs for goodness’ sake.
11) Nottingham Forest (4)
The early-season giddiness was as adorable as it was understandable and, while collision with reality was inevitable it’s all still just about okay, isn’t it? When the music stopped they were off the bottom of the table, had already gone past Derby’s infamous 11-point season and had famous wins over Liverpool (Premier League) and Tottenham (Carabao) to enjoy.
It’s unprecedented so we have to guess a bit, but if we work on the reasonable assumption that a team buying 20-odd players in the summer is likely to be better in the second half of the season than the first, with everyone having learned everyone else’s names and positions and such, then 18th spot one point off safety would seem a perfectly reasonable start.
There’s certainly nothing at this stage to suggest they’re about to get horribly cut adrift and the gap to top-half pair Fulham and Brentford who everyone, including us, quite rightly thinks are doing a fine job is only six points.
10) Aston Villa (18)
Have got a really good manager now and promptly won two games in a row for the first time this season. And won away from home for the first time this season. And won after going behind for the first time this season. New-manager bounces can deceive, but Unai Emery looks a good fit for Villa and Villa looks a good fit for him. There is a squad there that can certainly compete around the top of the mid-table gang below the newly-minted Big Seven and there are now six glorious weeks before any reality can impact on that belief.
But we don’t think they need worry. They’re going to be a decent team under Emery.
9) Leeds (3)
We might all have gone a bit too far on the Marsch love early in the season, and Leeds would have dropped way lower than this in the interim before bouncing back but there’s clear buy-in to the American’s methods from the playing squad and not just those he’s brought to the club who already knew and liked him.
Also important is the fact that all those players brought in from the Red Bull Stable look really rather good. That definitely helps. In the summer we didn’t think Marsch would make the Christmas break. In August we thought he was the second coming. We were wrong about both of those things, and the truth – as it so often drearily does – lies somewhere in between. He’s a good football manager doing a good job and Leeds are fine. That Spurs game was an absolute pisser of a thing, though, and a horrible one to have six weeks to mull over. Inevitably, it drops them a place or two in the mood rankings but we can currently quite easily see five or six teams who look worse than Leeds and that’s really all they need.
8) Brentford (9)
Yes. Very good, and get to luxuriate in the astonishing last-gasp victory at Manchester City for six marvellous weeks, which is perhaps the only good thing about having six weeks off in the middle of the season. One very slight downside is an inevitable one for a club like Brentford becoming so good: their manager is now going to be the standout contender from within the league whenever one of the big clubs shits the bed. Graham Potter was the canary down the mine for Brentford fans, and he’s gone now.
Slightly bigger issue – which has cost them a few places here – is that their best player might face a lifetime ban, the daft sod. Sub-optimal.
7) Crystal Palace (2)
Defeat at Forest felt like a careless way for things to end for a Palace side that had until that moment taken pretty much full toll of the gentler fixture list of October and November after being handed a nightmarish start in which they had to face four of last season’s top five, plus Newcastle, in their first seven games.
But generally things are looking good under Patrick Vieira, and there are few more fun teams to watch outside the elite than Palace in full flow. They’ve got more fixture fun coming up soon after the restart, by the way, with a four-game run in January and February against Tottenham, Chelsea, Newcastle and Manchester United.
6) Tottenham (7)
Oh fuck knows. Are they good? Dunno. Are they shit? Possibly. Should Antonio Conte be their manager? Not a clue. How are they fourth? An actual mystery that could be studied round the clock by a team of soccer boffins for years without a convincing answer. But. They are fourth. They keep winning games after falling behind, which indicates a fundamental flaw (they keep going behind) but also a certain spirit and ability (they keep winning).
We always pitched this club-manager combination as a battle to the death between Conteness and Spursiness that could only have one winner, where one force had to overpower and consume the other. But it turns out that both have such potent strength that at the moment it’s turned into something of a score draw. Or at least, it’s a score draw until Rodrigo Bentancur pops up to score a last-minute winner.
They won their Champions League group as well, remember. And did so by constantly coming from behind to get results. Absolute fucking nonsense of a team, absolute fucking nonsense of a club.
5) Brighton (8)
Losing Graham Potter: a pisser. Losing the last game before the break to Aston Villa having gone 1-0 up in the first minute: a pisser. Overall, though: good. Roberto De Zerbi was a good appointment who has kept a lot of the best things about Potter’s side and is if anything going to get them playing even easier-on-the-eye football. They’re obviously not just going to instantly forget all the good things of being a Potter team and De Zerbi shows signs of being plenty clever enough to try and build on what was already very good rather than tearing it down to start again.
4) Fulham (5)
Agonising injury-time defeats to the two Manchester clubs to round off their opening part of the season is a right old kick in the goolies for Fulham, but a glass-half-full bigger-picture view is necessary and, we think, prevalent at Craven Cottage right now. Even the fact they were level at 1-1 against both those clubs so deep in the game is something to hold on to, as is the fact that they gave Arsenal more of a game at the Emirates than anyone else has managed this season, going 1-0 up in the second half before eventually succumbing 2-1.
But even without clinging to vibes and feels, the tangible evidence of results is enough. After their last two frankly piss-poor efforts at Premier League football ended in ignominious relegation, this season finds them nestled in the top half and still within striking range of the top six.
Marco Silva now unequivocally knows Our League after some tough times learning about it after arriving on These Shores, while Aleksandar Mitrovic has also got this Premier League puzzle solved as well. Lovely stuff.
3) Manchester United (15)
Quite telling that Erik Ten Hag has so successfully steadied the listing Manchester United ship that not even the shoutiest and daftest elements of the UK media are attempting to portray Cristiano Ronaldo’s Piers Morgan-assisted public toddler tantrum as any kind of United crisis. There hasn’t been a cracked badge in sight despite three days and counting of relentless coverage of Ronaldo pissing his own bed. It’s a Ronaldo crisis, not a United one. They’ve moved on, he hasn’t. Even his accurate barbs against the owners haven’t really landed because Ronaldo is so nakedly acting in transparently bad faith. If anything, Clive, he’s actually helped Ten Hag out.
On-field results have improved markedly, and they end the first batch of this season’s games firmly in striking range of silly Spurs in the fourth Champions League spot. It’s all looking pretty good, which was far from certain back in August.
2) Newcastle (6)
Here we go. Drew too many games early in the season, but they pointedly weren’t losing them either. Only Arsenal can now match that ‘1’ in the L column as well as the ’11’ in the GA column, and now the draws have all turned to wins to propel Newcastle above every single one of the four most vulnerable members of the old Big Six into third place. The Premier League now has itself a Big Seven, the first genuine shift in that elite pack since Spurs and Man City forced their way in a decade ago.
Newcastle’s absurd and obscene wealth makes even half a season of this from them more compelling as a long-term shift than anything your Leicesters or West Hams could do, and while it has been done with significant investment it’s also been very sensible, hasn’t it? From the choice of Eddie Howe as manager onwards, Newcastle have made shrewd use of admittedly essentially infinite resources. There are two striking things about a back five of Pope, Trippier, Botman, Schar and Burn being basically the best defence in the country. One, wow, they are the best defence in the country, and two, none of the four more recent arrivals are absurd signings for a club like Newcastle are they?
That’s not to say Trippier or Pope or Botman would have joined Old Newcastle, but also they’re not exactly Galactico daftness are they? Just good pros doing a good job. It all adds to the air of sustainability and if it weren’t for the even giddier mob out in front Newcastle’s buoyant mood would make them worthy holders of top spot here.
1) Arsenal (1)
Christmas has come early in more ways than one for the Yuletide table-toppers, who have in truth been the best team in the country in this curious opening batch of 2022/23 by a wide margin.
They’ve won games by swatting teams aside, they’ve won games by battling to victory, they’ve won by outthinking, outsmarting and outplaying their opponents and at almost no point in all of this have they ever threatened to do anything remotely Arsenal.
Whether the new year continues in the same vein very much remains to be seen but right now it also doesn’t matter. Arsenal are currently on course for a 100-point season and will remain on course for a 100-point season until at least Boxing Day. The absolute giddiness of their fans from early in the season has slightly given way now to a slightly more confused “is this real?” sensation, but there can be absolutely no doubt over the current and continuing location of the Premier League’s most chipper football club.