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The fight for 4th place
Author: Chris Walford Published : 18 Feb 2013 09:02:53
In a season where it seems nobody wants to take the initiative and make it theirs, the fight for fourth place is building up to be one of the most eagerly anticipated in premier league history. Points are being consistently dropped and all were relatively quiet in the January transfer window. The last 12 games are set to be decisive and some big names are inevitably going to miss out on Champions League football this season.
Tottenham, the current occupants of that qualification spot, were dithering with three consecutive draws, however two consecutive wins has put them back on track as they sit four points ahead of 5th place Arsenal. Many believed they needed to sign a striker in January, with Adebayor and Jermaine Defoe the only recognised names on the books. Recently their fears were made a reality as Defoe picked up an injury, keeping him out for an estimated three or four weeks. Spurs were lucky however in the fact that Adebayorreturned from the African Cup of Nations just in time as Togo lost to Burkina Faso. Tottenham did make one addition in that of Lewis Holtby. The German international is highly acknowledged and is one of, if not the best signing of the window. The central midfielder will offer flair, pace and skill to an already envied midfield. Tottenham all season have been recognised for their neat passing brand of football, but more often than not, they’ve also been criticised for their stagnating build-up play and constant struggle to create any real threatening opportunities. That along with spewing chances in abundance has cost Spurs on numerous occasions this season and have had to rely heavily on Jermaine Defoe’s clinical instinct too often.Gareth Bale has also displayed some incredible performances of late and is in fine goal-scoring form.Tottenham certainly look solid in defence compared to recent campaigns under Harry Redknapp. The foundations Andre Villas-Boas built when he arrived last summer and the personnel he was able to attract to the club was superb. Goalkeeper Hugo Llorisis proving to be a top bit of business from AVB, as well as the versatile Belgian Jan Vertonghen.Tottenham seem to have all the components needed. A solid back four. A midfield comprising of flare, pace, skill and composure and arguably the most clinical striker in the league in Defoe. But combining these aspects has been a struggle for Londoners this season.
Everton had an uncharacteristically steady first half of the season, however have lost their form of late and are finding it hard to pick up results as they’ve dropped down to 6th place. Inconsistency has unfortunately been the nemesis of the toffee’s this term as 12 draws has cost them precious points.This season has seen long-term manager David Moyes adopt a more attacking style of play, however his defence has felt the full effect of this, keeping only four clean sheets all season. A team who used to build their foundations around defending, hard graft and determination have this season won many football fans over with their style of play combined with that traditional Everton spirit. All season pundits, commentators, fans, the footballing community, have had one concern about Everton’s challenge for Champions League, the depth of their squad. Moyes has known since the beginning of the season his squad is thin on the ground, especially to pose a serious Champions League challenge. Everton did however try to strengthen in the January window, but failed miserably as they left their business to the last remaining days. FC Twente midfielder Leroy Fer was an expected signing for the Merseysiders with a fee agreed at a surprising £8.6m fee. However problems with Fer’s medical revealed an existing knee issue from a recent operation. This caused concern for Everton who tried to re-negotiate the deal, in order for more of the fee to depend more on appearances. The Toffee’s also tried a late attempt to lure Sevilla striker Alvaro Negredo to Goodison Park, however were priced out of the move as they quoted Everton around £17m when the blues were only willing to offer £9m. Everton went from being associated with big European names such as theseto ending January with young England U19 full back John Stones from Barnsley. The contrast is huge and even more so when surrounding competitors bought quality in the likes of Holtby to Spurs, Coutinho and Sturridge to Liverpool and Nacho Monreal to Arsenal, all of whom have made bright starts to their careers in the Premier League. Everton have really been dropping off the pace recently and it’s looking more likely that the FA Cup and Europa league will become their main targets.
Arsenal have made improvements in recent weeks, leapfrogging Everton in the table. The form of their wide men Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski has been instrumental in their change of fortunes as well as central midfieldersSantiCazorla and Jack Wilshere. These four have been pulling the strings for the Gunners and will need to continue to do so if they are to maintain their Champions League push. Arsene Wenger has taken the North-London side to the competition every season for the last 15 years, so for them to miss out this season could be a huge blow as well as see players leave. In the last six months, fans have also been losing patience with long-term manager Wenger. His failure to win a trophy in the last seven seasons has not gone un-noticed and many are now claiming that his time is up at the Emirates. All of these factors mixed together spell why this season is as important as any for Wenger and Arsenal Football Club, especially with rivals Tottenham Hotspur over-taking them. The Gunners have being crying out for a left-back ever since Gael Clichy who left shortly after Ashley Cole also went through the exit door. Wenger had hoped that Andre Santos would resolve this matter but with a combination of poor performances and persistent injuries, Santos has been loaned to Brazilian club Gremio and in came Nacho Monreal from Malaga. The Spanish left-back seems to have fit the mould immediately at Arsenal with some good displays. Overall Arsenal’s consistency has also jeopardised them. Bad habits including not possessing that clinical finish and a lack of determined characters has resulted in them not being able to grind teams out and to drop points where they shouldn’t be.
Liverpool as they do too often, started the season off with high hopes. A new manager at the realm, a new ethos of football and some fresh faces sparked expectation from the Kop. Similarly the Anfield faithful were let down once again as their first half to the season was poor. Temporary hopes of a Champions League spot were soon dismissed after some poor results, notably at home to West Brom where they lost 0-2. This epitomises Liverpool’s nature in recent yearswho consistently drop points to lesser teams especially at home. Controversial striker Luis Suarez has despite his behaviour been undoubtedly brilliant for the reds with 17 goals this campaign. Steven Gerrard’s return to sustainable fitness has also played a huge role for Liverpool this year as his array of passing has enabled Suarez and new addition Daniel Sturridge to capitalise. Sturridge has answered his critics since his move to Merseyside from Stamford Bridge, having scored three times in his four appearances. Fellow new boy PhillipeCoutinho could definitely be one for the future, being an extremely exciting young prospect. With 12 games to go in the Premier League and Liverpool sitting 12 points off that precious 4th place, it looks like Liverpool will be chasing a Europa Cup spot and trying to finish above neighbours Everton. Liverpool’s lack of quality during the season has been clearly evident and resulted in them yet again being left behind from rival clubs. Brendan Rodgers’ role at the club looks to be safe however with himself and the board agreeing his time there would be a long, hard fought transformation for the football club.
This season’s battle for 4th place is shaping up to be a real encounter. With the Premier League never being so un-predictable compared to previous seasons, the ingredients are all in the mix for an exciting finish. Spurs look to be the strongest entering the run-in, finding a run of momentum at the perfect time. But as we’ve witnessed already this season a lot can change in the league as one weekend can see the whole outlook of the league table differ. Arsenal are always the team people say never doubt. They’re capable of just turning on their magic free-flowing football and really punishing teams.Everton have put up resilient competition and will fight until the very end to stay in the mix with fellow scousers Liverpool completely out of the equation. A truly tantalising end to this 2012/13 season is sure to grace us in the scrap for 4th, especially with the title challenge being all but confirmed.