Monday, October 1, 2012

Three things: Where have all the good teams gone?

Are there any great teams in this league?

Table-toppers Chelsea, while capable of sparkling, appear to lack real depth in their midfield. Nonetheless, they remain the team to beat. Manchester City have flattered to deceive so far this season; cross-town nemeses United have struggled mightly, losing at home to Tottenham Hotspur for the first time in Tom Cleverley's lifetime. Arsenal, while appearing more solid than at any time during the past half-dozen years, have only two wins in six.

On results thus far, the league has seven good teams and no great ones. The results may show not so much in English competition – where someone has to win, perhaps even by default – but in Europe.

So far, the most impressive teams in the league have been Everton (see below) and West Bromwich Albion, two clubs who have embraced the possibilities that fiscal conservatism brings.

Six games is a large enough sample size to begin drawing conclusions. The top teams are not performing to their peaks, meaning that a run of good form from a deep team is enough to split the entire competition open.

Everton: no need for Moneyball

David Moyes has long been admired for his ability to conjure great performances from teams which appear as deep as a toddler's wading pool. Over the past half-decade, he's almost exclusively worked on a sell-to-buy program. The team he's assembled over the past year is no different: Mikel Arteta now plays for Arsenal, but begat Nikica Jelavic, while Jack Rodwell's Manchester City jaunt allowed the purchases of Kevin Mirallas and Bryan Oviedo.

Moyes has always been the smartest accumulator of talent in the league and the Toffees now stand at second on the table because of it. Moneyball, thanks to Kenny Dalglish's ill-fated purchases at Liverpool now seems to a verboten concept in the English Premier League: the acquisition of Stewart Downing championed by his oustanding “converted crosses” ratio while at Aston Villa.

Moneyball, the concept, was not about finding statistics which provided the edge but a novel concept of assessing players and their worth in individual situations; finding players that others didn't value. It was about value for money – and Moyes doesn't need it, because his hit rate with acquisitions is so very high. At a reported 19 million pounds, Downing could exemplify little value. Value for money often comes at a lower cost – something Moyes is accustomed to dealing with.

Andre Villas-Boas knows what he's doing

Despite some odd actions, Andre Villas-Boas is a man who knows where his towel is. Despite a vastly different team to the one that Harry Redknapp took into Europe three years straight, there's every possibility that his team is in fact superior to that iteration. Spurs' squad has a leaner, trimmer appearance this season.

Moussa Dembele has justified the interest of Manchesters United and City, Clint Dempsey was perfectly positioned to succeed at a club almost, but not quite, exactly good enough to qualify for the Champions' League and Emmanuel Adebayor is the perfect point man for AVB's offensive schemes. All of this was accomplished while ridding the squad of significant baggage and wages.

Spurs' win at United on Saturday is without question the largest of his English managerial career and shows signs that Spurs can become a viable fifth (or sixth) option in the chase for the Champions League. The squad has depth, balance, youth and experience. They appear to be establishing an identity based upon their smooth midfield. Now all they need is another striker.

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