Premier League Spotlight previews the weekend's top-flight fixtures, highlighting the key points to keep an eye on as the action unfolds. Under the microscope this week: sympathy for AVB's 'project' but not his pay packet, a sexed-up Fulham side, concern already for Terry Connor, Hodgson for England, and Wigan the nadir.
Chelsea: They got their way
The inevitable came to fruition on Sunday as Andre Villas-Boas was removed from his position as manager at Stamford Bridge by fidgety owner Roman Abramovich, just eight months into his Chelsea career. Granted, the results and performances have in spells been disappointing, with only 19 of his 40 matches ending victory, but his remit was hardly to oversee a swashbuckling trophy charge this campaign with a team desperately in need of rejuvenating, in particular as the old heads that remain allegedly stood in the way of progress. Indeed, as detailed in last week's Premier League Spotlight, AVB was swimming against an unrelenting tide, with the old sharks that circled their familiar waters baying for blood that threatened change.
Roberto Di Matteo is Villas-Boas' temporary replacement and, after winning his first game in charge of Chelsea, the Italian's job is safe - for now. Di Matteo worked as the Portuguese's assistant during his reign, and one view is that he will, ergo, have the inside track on which egos need the deepest massaging, ensuring a return to harmony within the camp. Yet sections have suggested Di Matteo may be even less popular among the players than AVB. Should this be the case, then one hardly envies the potentially frosty task ahead between now and the close of the campaign. It is eyebrow-raising, too, that the former Blues midfielder is seen as a more adept man to take the reins than the treble-winning 34-year-old.
Di Matteo's last managerial position was at West Brom, where he was sacked after the club flirted with relegation. A run of 13 defeats in 18 games, leaving the Baggies in 17th place, proved the end for the Italian. Before the Hawthorns, he was at the MK Dons helm. Speaking after Tuesday night's 2-0 FA Cup win over Birmingham City, Di Matteo attempted to reassure of re-unity, saying of his players: "They were all on board." Such is the short-termism in football, a concept that is compounded at Chelsea, that game by game the conjecture will be hungry to expose its gnashing teeth. Stoke City at home is next up, where only a win coupled with the old guard playing and impressing will muzzle this insatiable beast.
Fulham: Reasons to be Jol-ly
Fulham are fast becoming the neutral's team of choice, for the reason that they play titillating football. Indeed, their manager, Martin Jol, has no qualms with deploying a no-holds-barred line-up. With Danny Murphy the side's creative 'holding midfielder', the likes of Clint Dempsey, Damien Duff, Andrew Johnson, Pavel Pogrebnyak and Moussa Dembele are given licence to buzz about, expressing themselves at will. Dembele, as demonstrated by his recently ravishing assist against QPR, is the epitome of this ethos, as he is a man whom plays with a thrust of the hips. Furthermore, with the unsettled Bobby Zamora moved on, new signing Pogrebnyak, a man who was hardly prolific at his parent club Stuttgart, has been given a new lease of life under Jol.
The Cottagers are currently placed eighth in the table, just three points behind Liverpool, having won their last three Premier League matches. The latest of those victories came against Wolves as they put five past their opponents - who, in all honesty, were hideous - as Pogrebnyak gobbled up a perfect hat-trick. Their next fixture sees them travel to Aston Villa, arguably the division's anti-football. This will, therefore, be quite the clash of styles, and the neutral hopes that positivity wins the day.
Wolves: Connor corked?
Like with wine, it is important to let it breathe before judging its quality. The same (in this quite awkward metaphor) can perhaps be said for new managers: it is best not to be hasty before drawing too strong a conclusion of their worth. Yet, in the case of new Wolves caretaker manager Terry Connor, the early signs are not encouraging. Indeed, he might be corked. After demonstrating spirit to battle back from two goals down and earn a point at Newcastle, Wolves were deceived 5-0 by the aforementioned come-hither eyes of Fulham.
It's a turn of phrase that oft sends clichéd shivers down the spine, but Wolves' home meeting with Blackburn may well be an actual 'six-pointer'. The pair are level on points, with Rovers spared a place inside the drop zone courtesy of their superior goal difference. With Manchester United around the corner, it is vital the Wolves camp is familiarised with a feel-good factor come the final whistle against Blackburn. Connor, not the club's first choice to replace Mick McCarthy remember, still has time before judgment is made on his own ability. Time, however, is not on the team's side in their quest for survival.
WBA: Hodgson for England
Hodgson is quietly becoming the outside bet to be the new England manager, amid doubts over favourite Harry Redknapp's tactical nous against the big boys and Tottenham's actual willingness to let him leave. At West Brom, Hodgson has worked at repairing part of the reputation that was damaged during a miserable time at Liverpool. Three successive wins see West Brom comfortably in midtable, while the manner of those scalps have particularly impressed. Nine goals were scored in two matches before a 1-0 triumph defeated Chelsea and ultimately signalled the end for Villas-Boas. Hodgson appears to get the best over so-called 'smaller' teams, so what better next step than England, eh?
Wigan: Dire straits
"It is a reality check," Roberto Martinez said following Wigan's 2-0 loss at home to Swansea that ensures the club remain at the foot of the table, two points from safety. In a season where the Latics have now gone 12 home games without a win, it was troubling to think that this result in particular was seen as a watershed moment. Indeed, Wigan have been the nadir specialists in recent seasons, and with just 23 goals mustered in 27 matches this campaign, the alarm bells should have already been at deafening levels. The chance to respond, after their chairman labelled the display against Swansea as "our worst performance in four or five years", comes against another newly-promoted side in the colour of Norwich City's yellow.
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