Friday, December 23, 2011
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: the end potentially/possibly/maybe in sight for Steve Kean at Blackburn, the Ebenezer Scrooge of football that is Aston Villa, Alan Shearer's record in Robin van Persie's sights, rare praise for Roberto Martinez, and parachute payments for QPR's Neil Warnock.
Blackburn: Out on his ear
"I expect to be here on Boxing Day. I would be completely shocked if they [the owners] decide to replace me, yes," Steve Kean said in the aftermath of Blackburn Rovers' 2-1 defeat to Bolton Wanderers that condemned them to the bottom of the Premier League table. There they will remain for Christmas. But will Kean at Ewood Park?
In spite of the continued verbal reasoning from the Scot, rumour has suggested the owners, Venky's, might finally be about to pull the trigger, having up until now not even considered loading the ammunition. It seems the reality and magnitude of the problem may have finally hit them square in the chest. These are businessmen presumably used to models that predict. Indulging in a bit of maths, at this rate Blackburn will finish the campaign on 22 points, a total that would almost certainly spell relegation, and with it a burden of a club on a literal decline.
Now's the time to do it, one would think. To get it over with. Kean had his chances in two home games against similarly weak opposition, yet both yielded 2-1 losses, despite the home fans agreeing to abstain from their protests - in writing at least. With trips to Anfield and Old Trafford next up before the transfer window opens - just how much money is actually there in the coffers? - Rovers must act, one way or another before the (in theory) more winnable games return and with them opportunities to save their season.
Should Kean's bizarre managerial stint, which has seen 11 wins from 44 outings, come to what from the very start seemed an inevitable end, the coach could almost be missed in part for the giddy words he has provided us with. Unfortunately for Kean, though, while he talks a good game - since his appointment in December 2010 (yes, it's been over 12 months) - it seems he has been unable to convey his messages to the players. They've fallen on deaf ears, while his own are surely bleeding after being the receivers of 'Kean out' chants.
Alex McLeish: 'Tis the season
It has not been fun to be an Aston Villa fan this season. And football is meant to be fun. Bordering on the enjoyable at least. Villa have scored in just one of the club's last six top-flight matches. Leaving aside for a moment the fact that the supporters have only been thrust to their feet in celebration of a goal twice in nine hours of football, it is the filler around those rare moments of joy that has ebbed away the pleasure taken in the game, the lack of thrill.
Visits to Stoke City and Chelsea await before 2012, threatening to chip away at their arguably false position of 12th in the division. Five points separate Villa from the drop zone, which is an okay buffer, but it is hard not to be glass-half-empty. Like Kean, McLeish was not wanted by the Villa faithful, but their vociferous response to his appointment did abate initially. Now, though, as the unsurprising attacking drought manifests itself, McLeish's position is again looking precarious: the Scot has won six of his last 30 Premier League matches.
Van Persie: Countdown
Make that 34 Premier League goals in this calendar year. Two matches, at home against Wolves and QPR, remain in 2012 for Arsenal. And with those games comes the chance for Van Persie to surpass the all-time record of 36 strikes in a 365-day period held by Alan Shearer, who achieved the feat in 1995.
Of course, there is a possibility Van Persie will be rested for one, or both, of those outings, as manager Arsene Wenger considers wrapping the striker in cotton wool over this festive period. Without him, though, Arsenal look a spear minus the head, and, subsequently, the Frenchman risks affecting their run of eight wins from their previous ten league fixtures. The Gunners' late scalp of Villa during midweek reiterated their new knack for winning ugly, an added string to their bow to be flexed ahead of a second half of the season charge for fourth spot, which looks the more likely to hit its target with Van Persie in tow.
Wigan: Fair cop
Credit where credit is due, Roberto. Martinez has indeed been chastised in this column - and rightly so following a run of eight consecutive defeats. His side have, however, lost just one of their last six games, despite having played the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool, while wins over Sunderland and West Brom see Wigan a point from safety. It's been a welcome fillip. But let's temper this love-in. Yes, put the mistletoe away, for both Manchester giants are around the corner. Relief, then, for Martinez that his recent run has eased the tension over the period when chairmen are notoriously trigger-happy, for just a few weeks ago Wigan, and Martinez, looked doomed.
QPR: A safety net of money
Some concern to be had here. Reading of their form is speckled with red spots - six of their previous eight have ended in defeat - these blemishes squeezing Neil Warnock's team deeper. Fellow newly-promoted side Swansea await before Arsenal. But Warnock is not worried. He said after the loss versus Sunderland: "The fans trust me and they know I will sort it out. It won't need much sorting. We will be looking to improve the squad in January. I know what I need and I will go and get them." Like the latter part of the summer transfer window, Warnock will rely on the money of owner Tony Fernandes, and with that further financial outlay the boss must accept that with it comes expectation of at least survival, or otherwise see that "trust" melt away.
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