After the unpredictability of the FA Cup, league action resumed again and the race for promotion and efforts to stave off relegation have heated up considerably. The English football pyramid has begun to take shape and just when we thought we could predict who would be a winner and loser this week, the beautiful game strikes again.
26th January 2016: “I have a feeling this [Sunderland] may become a familiar sight amongst these lists for weeks to come”. A comment I made after Sunderland’s 1-3 home defeat to Stoke. I can happily say that I have been proven right, but in the total opposite way that comment was intended. To their credit, Sunderland deserve to be the first winner on this list. A match against ex-manager Sam Allardyce at Selhurst Park looked a daunting task but an exceptional performance saw the Black Cats ruin Big Sam’s first match against his old team. The ever-reliable Jermaine Defoe bagged a brace whilst great strikes from Lamine Koné and Didier N’Dong rounded off a great winning performance.
2) SHEFFIELD UNITED
We head to League 1 where Sheffield United returned to the summit of League 1 after a comprehensive 4-0 victory against AFC Wimbledon on Saturday. Debutant James Hanson got on the scoresheet as United capitalised on a rare slip-up by Scunthorpe to go two points clear at the top of the league. As the promotion race heats up, this victory for Sheffield United is a real statement of intent as they attempt to regain their place in the Championship.
3) HUDDERSFIELD TOWN
This time last week, Huddersfield faced two very tricky matches with the task of playing high-flying Brighton and local rivals Leeds United looking ominous. However, five goals and six points later, Huddersfield have cemented themselves in fourth place, a great position for them to kick on and start a late-season bid to reach the automatic promotion places; something barely dreamed about by fans at the beginning of the season.
1) SAIDO BERAHINO
Much has been made of Saido Berahino over the past few years, especially around transfer time and when he finally departed the Hawthorns, after tweeting he would never play under Jeremy Peace again, much was made of what his return to the Hawthorns would bring. A chorus of boos, only a substitute appearance, coming on as a replacement for Peter Crouch in the 58th minute and zero points followed Berahino back to the Potteries. It may be a successful move for Berahino but it is undeniable that this was not a good start for him at his new club.
It’s that time of year again folks. Yes, it is the predictable annual slump in form from Arsenal which sees them drop out of the title picture. This defeat to Chelsea leaves the Gunners 12 points behind Chelsea and Arsene Wenger has faced huge criticism from some Arsenal fans. The defeat means Arsenal are now looking back over their shoulder at Manchester United and Liverpool rather than forward at teams such as Tottenham, Manchester City and Chelsea with the manner of the 3-1 humiliation on Saturday being a hard defeat for most fans to swallow.
3) CLAUDIO RANIERI
Now this is an interesting one. Whilst I am of the opinion that Ranieri should be given as much time as he wants as manager of Leicester City, they won the title and all that, he has faced huge pressure from the media and some sections of fans. Yes, Leicester have had a poor league season and yes Manchester United outclassed them on Sunday, but is there much shame in that? United lined up with Ibrahimovic, Pogba et al and have been unbeaten in the Premier League since the 23rd October. It’s a real shame, however, that Ranieri has to be included in this list but after the post-match reaction regarding this defeat, it was impossible not to include him. It shows how negative some football fans’ attitudes towards a few defeats can be that Claudio is facing such pressure, but what can be done? That’s football I’m afraid.