Heroes and Zeros

Mercy, Arsene? No. Not bloody likely.

We’re heading towards the end of another Premier League season, and saner minds may say this is not the best time to start a new column. But hey, consider this as me getting ready for the new season and easing you folks into it. The basic premise remains the same, as in we offer snarky words of praise to the players, managers and teams who did well in this round, and an unapologetic, no-holds-barred teardown of those who did not. Simple, right? Let’s dig in.

Heroes

Roy Hodgson’s Eagles: If you had told me Crystal Palace would not only escape relegation but also be on the verge of breaking into the top 10 when Roy Hodgson was appointed, I would have reported you to the nearest mental institution. But before that, I would have shown you the Euro 2016 game between England and Iceland on loop, hoping you’d snap out of whatever it was you were experiencing. As things stand, Palace are 11th in the table and they just put five goals past a shell-shocked Leicester City. If anyone ever mentions Iceland again, Hodgson should show them the highlights from this game and tell them to, politely, go forth and multiply.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek: The Chelsea loanee scored one and put in a performance that reminded everyone how good he could turn out to be when Chelsea eventually sell him for a profit to a mid-table Premier League club. Oh, and he’s going to Russia, that’s a certainty.

Wilfried Zaha: He could have been playing for England, but they’d rather have Andros Townsend.

Southampton: Is this the beginning of the end of their nightmare? A win takes them within a point of safety, with the team above them swan-diving into trouble.

Dusan Tadic: He may have saved Mark Hughes’ ‘Never Relegated’ record with his two goals. We might never be able to forgive him for that.

Everton: Any win in a season such as theirs feels a lot like a hateful, impromptu makeout session in a loveless marriage. It might just tide them over until the divorce papers come in.

Cenk Tosun: Imagine what he could do if Everton got rid of that ball and chain in the dugout.

West Brom: They couldn’t. Not from this position. Not now. Could they? Could this be another great escape?

Darren Moore: The anti-Alan has done a mighty fine job of picking up the pieces after hurricane Pardew had passed through The Hawthorns, wrecking everything in its path.

Manchester United: Sealed their qualification for next season’s Champions League where they’ll bore the bejesus out of everyone including their own support, before getting dumped by a tier two European side in the last 16.

Paul Pogba and Ainsley Maitland-Niles: A mismatch in midfield, at first glance. But the Arsenal youngster went toe-to-toe with his more prodigious opponent, eventually managing to gain the upper hand towards the end of the game. A warm embrace and a few words of encouragement from Pogba after the game showed that the Frenchman appreciated the contest. Or he was just telling the English youngster the name of his barber and the hairstyles he should try to rile Garth Crooks every week.

Chelsea: Three points gained in a soul-sucking borefest are still three points gained on a stuttering Spurs side. The race for the top four is not over yet.

Manchester City: Crossed the hundred goal mark in the league after West Ham put up as much resistance as a wet paper napkin against an incoming tide.

Stoke City: No one gave them a chance, but they went ahead and silenced the Kop, kept Salah at bay and came away with a valuable point. Stopping Liverpool from cementing their position in the top four was just a bonus. There’s still some scope for late season hilarity at Anfield.

Kurt Zouma: He is the defender Chelsea deserve, but not the one they need right now. So they’ll loan him. Because he can take it. Because he’s not a £50 million Luiz. He’s a silent guardian. A watchful protector. A Chelsea loanee.

Zeros

Swansea: As mentioned earlier in this piece, the Swans are plummeting towards the relegation zone and Carlos Carvalhal’s home-made cookies will be scant consolation if they don’t start getting some points on the board. You don’t want to see grown men eating cookies and crying into their milk on the final day of the season.

West Ham United: The Hammers have conceded the most goals in the Premier League this season. That’s not surprising at all. What’s surprising is, they might still survive.

Adrian: Watching him against Manchester City was a stark reminder of why West Ham went for Joe Hart. But then watching Joe Hart against most sides is a reminder of why Manchester City and Torino wanted rid of him, so there’s that.

Leicester City: The Foxes look to have already packed it in and the players spent most of their time on the pitch discussing seating arrangements on the private plane to Ibiza in the summer.

Claude Puel: Poor Claude. Just three more games to go until Leicester Puel the plug on Puel’s failed bid to get Leicester into Europe. Yeah, someone’s still living in 2016 and it’s not the Frenchman in the dugout.

Huddersfield: David Wagner’s men may not see another point on the board again this season. Their last three games are against Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal. It was nice knowing you, Huddersfield.

Liverpool: Two points lost in their quest for Champions League qualification. Might as well win the whole thing now, just to be on the safe side.

Islam Slimani: An expensive mistake proving costlier with every game he plays. Or misses, rather. He could miss three more games if the FA pull out their collective fingers and ban him for an off-the-ball incident with Craig Dawson.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan: He was supposed to be in the Heroes section but he ruined it by choosing not to celebrate after scoring against his former team. Mate, if someone had treated me like sh*t and I got a chance to rub their noses in, I would have grabbed it with both hands. I’d have worn an undershirt with the words ”HOW DO YOU LIKE ME NOW?” written on it in preparation for my moment. As soon as the ball went in, I’d race towards the dugout, reveal it in front of a fuming Mourinho and watch as he turned beetroot red. Stop. Ruining. Football.

Arsene Wenger: His team selection made it look like he’d decided to send lambs to slaughter, but for a long time, the lambs held their own against a strong United side. That they were undone yet again by a cross into their box tells us that the more things change, the more they stay the same.