The Cham­pi­onship

Cyprus Today - - CLASSIFIED -

FOR­GET your Premier League, for­get La Liga, for­get Serie A, for­get Ligue Un — the best and most com­pet­i­tive league in world footie is our very own Cham­pi­onship. The Cham­pi­onship is a 46-game marathon where usu­ally by Easter there are gen­uinely up to 10 teams in the mix for pro­mo­tion, while the re­main­ing sides are des­per­ately fight­ing rel­e­ga­tion. Ad­di­tion­ally it’s a no­holds-barred scrap where the niceties that are seen in the Premier League are in short sup­ply.

As of this week, if we ig­nore poor old Ip­swich who are set adrift in bot­tom place, you can make the case that eight clubs are in with a gen­uine shout of rel­e­ga­tion. They are Sh­effield Wed­nes­day, Brent­ford, Pre­ston, Hull, Rother­ham, Read­ing, Mill­wall and Bolton, with the gap be­tween Wed­nes­day and Bolton be­ing just five points. At the top Nor­wich and Leeds have 40 and 39 points re­spec­tively and are clear of West Brom and Mid­dles­brough on 35. How­ever ap­ply the same five-point spread as we did for the bot­tom half and we get For­est, Sh­effield United, Derby, Villa and Birm­ing­ham added to the mix. That leaves a mid-ta­ble of Black­burn, QPR, Stoke, Swansea, Bris­tol City and Wi­gan, who again are cov­ered by a five-point spread.

By any def­i­ni­tion this is one com­pet­i­tive league with so many per­mu­ta­tions as to suc­cess, midtable lan­guor and fail­ure that its un­pre­dictabil­ity is with­out par­al­lel. At the start of the sea­son you would have got good odds on Stoke and West Brom for au­to­matic pro­mo­tion, and rea­son­able odds on Mid­dles­brough, Leeds, Sh­effield’s United and Wed­nes­day, Derby and For­est for the play-offs.

You would have got long odds on Nor­wich and yet there they are sit­ting on top, five points clear of third place. Al­most un­no­ticed, Daniel Farke has done a won­der­ful job at Car­row Road and on lim­ited re­sources has as­sem­bled a squad that has looked good value for their lofty league po­si­tion. Hope­fully they can stay there, though bet­ter-re­sourced clubs will still fancy their chances of over­haul­ing them.

Not too sur­pris­ing

Dur­ing last sea­son Arsene Wenger went out and spent £111 mil­lion on two es­tab­lished in­ter­na­tional strik­ers; this sum­mer Wenger’s re­place­ment Unai Emery spent £26 mil­lion on an es­tab­lished in­ter­na­tional mid­fielder.

On Satur­day the three play­ers com­bined for all four Arse­nal goals against Spurs, mak­ing non­sense of the old adage that in footie money doesn’t al­ways buy you suc­cess — it clearly does if spent wisely. Jose Mour­inho, Spurs chair­man Daniel Levy and a few oth­ers in the Premier League should take note.

Old Traf­ford hor­ror show

On the face of it a 2-2 draw be­tween United and Arse­nal is a re­spectable re­sult be­tween two big clubs. Arse­nal en­joyed their 20th game with­out de­feat and Jose Mour­inho earned a tiny bit of respite from a so-far-trou­bled sea­son. In re­al­ity what the pun­ters wit­nessed was a mas­ter class from both sides in com­i­cal de­fend­ing. I’m strug­gling to think of an­other game be­tween two of the big boys where both de­fences were so ut­terly in­ept that the Maginot Line prob­a­bly put up a bet­ter show­ing. I would com­pare it to Sun­day league foot­ball but that would be a mas­sive in­sult to all those past and present who turned out on a Sun­day while nurs­ing a mas­sive hang­over.

Stats of the week

Goals con­ceded by United in the whole of last sea­son (38 games): 28. Goals con­ceded by United so far this sea­son (15 games): 25. Only five teams have con­ceded more this term and they are the cur­rent bot­tom five.

Team of the week

Ser­gio Rico, Ful­ham; Yeri Mena, Ever­ton; Saeed Ko­lasinic, Arse­nal; Pa­trick van Aan­holt, Palace; Solly March, Brighton; Lu­cas Tor­reira, Arse­nal; James Mad­di­son, Le­ices­ter; Aaron Ram­sey, Arse­nal; Her­nan­dez, West Ham; Pierre Em­er­ick­Aubameyang, Arse­nal; An­dros Townsend, Palace. Man­ager: Unai Emery, Arse­nal.

Emery gets man­ager of the week be­cause of his half-time sub­sti­tu­tions against Spurs that to­tally changed the game in Arse­nal’s favour. Would Arsene Wenger have been so proac­tive? Then again would Wenger be pre­pared to jet­ti­son Aaron Ram­sey at the end of this sea­son?

The Welsh­man may be in­con­sis­tent but he was the cat­a­lyst for Arse­nal’s se­cond-half come­back and I would sug­gest that he is bet­ter value for the Goon­ers than £350 grand-a-week Mesut Özil, who clearly isn’t fan­cied by the Arse­nal boss for the big games. Think on that: a Ger­man World Cup win­ner con­sid­ered not good enough or feisty enough for big Premier League games. That doesn’t or shouldn’t com­pute. Clearly some­one at Arse­nal dropped the ball when break­ing the bank on his new con­tract in Fe­bru­ary when no team was in­ter­ested in tak­ing him as he touted him­self around Europe.

This week’s games

Premier League — to­day: 2.30pm Bournemouth v Liver­pool; 5pm Arse­nal v Hud­der­s­field, Burn­ley v Brighton, Cardiff v Southamp­ton, United v Ful­ham, West Ham v Palace; 7.30pm Chelsea v Citeh; 9.45pm Le­ices­ter v Spurs. To­mor­row: 6pm New­cas­tle v Wolves. Mon­day: 10pm Ever­ton v Wat­ford.

Cham­pi­ons League — Tues­day: 10pm Barcelona v Spurs, Liver­pool v Napoli. Wed­nes­day: 10pm Citeh v Hof­fen­heim, Va­len­cia v United. Europa League — Thurs­day: 7.55pm MOL Vidi v Chelsea, Rapid Vi­enna v Rangers; 10pm Arse­nal v FK Qarabag, Celtic v Red Bull Salzburg.

And fi­nally

Last week I asked what was mem­o­rable about Celtic’s Ron­nie Simp­son’s Scot­tish in­ter­na­tional de­but. It was, of course, the game at Wem­b­ley in 1967 that saw Scot­land de­feat Eng­land 3-2. In so do­ing they be­came the first team to beat Eng­land since the 1966 World Cup and af­ter­wards many dis­il­lu­sioned Scots pro­claimed their coun­try as the de facto world cham­pi­ons. One month later the Jocks lost to Rus­sia who, as far as I am aware, did not take on the man­tle of de facto world cham­pi­ons.

This week: on Sun­day Arse­nal’s Pierre Em­er­ick­Aubameyang be­came the first player in 11 years to score from 10 con­sec­u­tive shots on tar­get. Who was the last player to do so?

Id­iot of the week: the Greek Cypriot Spurs fan who threw a ba­nana skin on to the Emi­rates pitch af­ter an Arse­nal goal scored by a — are we al­lowed to say? — non-white player. It may well be the case that his protes­ta­tion that “I am not racist what­so­ever” is true, but if he’s not racist then he’s a re­mark­ably stupid man who had to have been aware of the con­no­ta­tions of his ac­tions. That said, I am a bit per­turbed by the pos­si­ble con­se­quences now that Plod have got in­volved; for me, it should have been left to Tot­ten­ham to sanc­tion him with a sta­dium ban.

Mean­while in mid­week a Brighton fan was ar­rested and faces a crim­i­nal con­vic­tion for throw­ing a pie at Palace’s Wil­fried Zaha, so that tots up to two men fac­ing crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ings af­ter lob­bing a ba­nana skin and pie re­spec­tively, while on Mersey­side there were no ar­rests af­ter coins were thrown on the pitch at An­field as Liver­pool took on Ever­ton. Ask your­self this: would you rather be whacked by a ba­nana skin, a Greggs spe­cial or a heavy metal disc?

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