Tough stretch more about mental edge
This is the time of year where champions grind out results. The holiday period is more about psychology than technique, and I can tell you that when I went through this time in the calendar, we were always told to put the last result to bed, focus on getting the points, and catching your breath at the other end. It’s a great time for the fans, but it’s hard time for the players, and we’ve seen this week is proof of that.
We need to start with Arsenal, who got two impressive results — not performances, mind you, but results — and now we’ve got a good race on again. Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United all got what they had to as well this past week, and this signals that there will be some twists to come down the road, but it’s now a fight among these four.
Arsenal did what they had to do against West Ham and my Newcastle, and we must point to Theo Walcott as the spark plug. He looks very confident and relaxed and that came right at the right time for the Gunners. I’m disappointed of course for my team — I thought Newcastle very well and deserved a share of the points — but credit Arsenal for showing some toughness and grinding it out.
The Red Devils now will be playing catch-up. Like City, United took care of business and did what they needed to do to get the points. It’s not fancy, but again, at this time of the year, you don’t have to be. You just get the points and get out, and considering they went to Norwich City with that squad and pulled it out, David Moyes will be pretty pleased. They’re very outside, but they will shock some teams and you have to watch out for them.
Similarly, City didn’t skip a beat. Without Sergio Aguero, the Sky Blues just kept on going, and you see how much it helps to have a man like Edin Dzeko on your bench. They have a lot of quality, and if they can just keep playing like they do at home in every game, Manuel Pellegrini’s men will win the title. Just like United, it’s not flamboyant, but it’s grinding out that result even when you don’t play well.
Chelsea just look like the Chelsea of old. Jose Mourinho has them playing a very organized, very conservative game that will not win fans over but it is really suited to this time of year. It’s winning football and helps explain how much the physical aspect of the game influences results. Mourinho’s team is very good at keeping opponents off balance, and they are the other team you have to keep an eye to win the crown.
In addition, Tottenham deserves a similar nod this weekend. Sure, the Spurs are not title contenders but you have to be pleased for both Les Ferdinand, who I played with, and Tim Sherwood, who I’ve known since he was a young lad. That was a good show for them against Stoke City on Sunday and while they’re not in the running, they may have stabilized things a bit over at White Hart Lane and can now start to build. That was a very difficult situation, and right now, it looks like they’ve come through it, so credit where it is due.
Liverpool came off the worst but this was expected. They are one or two players short and while they looked positive in defeat, expect Brendan Rodgers now to go to the owners and say, “look, this is where we’re short.” They were a year away when the season started and they have done very well, but this week just reinforced the need to add those key players in the off-season.
The team that looks in trouble of course is Fulham. And I’ve been where they are right now as well. When you get a result like the one against Hull, the old heads have to be coming together and saying, right, we’re putting that to bed and focusing on the next game. That’s a damaging result, there’s no question, but it’s your calmness and your experience that will see you through it. That’s why it’s important that Clint Dempsey is coming back in there. He is experienced, he’s well-liked and well-respected, and he can help them steady things. He knows what he’s walking into and he will have a real positive impact.
We’ve got a huge card coming up New Year’s Day, with a big test for Manchester United at home against Tottenham. Both teams need the points, and both clubs will be feeling as if they can take them. We’ve looked forward to this date on the calendar when I was a player because if you’re in the top half by this point, you’ve got a good shot at claiming a European place. On the flip side, if you’re in the bottom half, you feel that you’ve turned the page on last year and can turn it around.
And of course after that, the FA Cup comes to FOX. We’ve got a massive game between Arsenal and Tottenham on the network Jan. 4 (live, FOX, 12:30 p.m. ET), and that should be a real cracker. Don’t miss that one and do check your TV guides for the listing in your area.
As always, please do take a moment to follow me on Twitter at @WarrenBarton2; I love chatting with all of you. You can also always ask a question to any of us at @FOXSoccer or @FOXSoccerDaily. I want to wish everyone a very happy and healthy New Year and thank you as always for reading.