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armchair centre back :: premier league over and under [2016-17 edition]

alexis sanchez, underrated only by arsenal
i did a list like this last year, offering my self-important opinion on who was rated too high and too low by fans of the english premier league. now, as i'm watching things unfold, i keep evaluating players, managers, teams and even fans on the basis of what's being said about them. am i an expert? no. but i'm an observer, so of course that gives me every right to hold forth on all my thoughts with the same confidence as someone who's been paid to play and/ or follow the sport for decades. herein lies the wonder of the game.

of course, before i get into it, i feel like i have to observe a moment of silence for my dear swans. it has not been a good couple of seasons. 2014-15 made it seem like we were ready to rise like a soap bubble to the upper level of the premier league bathtub. ok, swansea were never going to be in the upper echelons, because they just don't have that kind of money; but the past two seasons have been pretty wretched sequels to the thrill ride that was our best season ever, under the guidance of a guy who'd only months earlier been registered as a player. our third manager of the season has us snapping at the heels of hull and safety at the moment, but the "snapping" seems more like "gumming", as the team lacks any offensive teeth. [and offensive teeth aren't usually hard to come by in britain.] truthfully, hull, with their [rather hunky] new manager, have seemed more invested in staying up in the premier league, defying the odds that saw them by far the favourites to be demoted back to the championship.

toby alderweireld, best in defense, among things
and as long as i'm doing moments of silence, i might as well include one for dom and his gunners. now, being an arsenal fan is always a test of loyalty. there is no team in professional sports with a greater knack for putting together a bad run that sabotages their title hopes like arsenal. it's uncanny. but this year, that "bad run" has basically been the whole damn season. it's not that they've lost so many games, but a greater number of their wins have been lucky rather than clearly deserved [particularly early in the season]. and then, there's been the spectacle of the ongoing contract negotiations with their superstar alexis sanchez. somehow, the man who has been responsible for keeping them in the top four since his arrival [because, let's face it, every season he's been there has seen a stretch where he seems to be the only man who gives a shit], has become a potential surplus.

arsenal have grumpily alleged that the issues are about money. to that i say: alexis left barcelona, who have more money at their disposal than a lot of nations, and came to arsenal, despite receiving an offer worth more money from liverpool. the logic behind that move was that he wanted more playing time and that he wanted to live in london. it's never been about money with him, and if it's about money now, it means that he's just grown fed up with everything else about the team. bravo, arsenal. bravo.

ok, that constitutes my rather verbose moments of silence. now on to the real cattiness...

overrated :: paul pogba
i'm not saying that pogba's bad, because he clearly isn't. it's just that he cost a hundred million fucking euros. chances are, he was never going to live up to that price tag, especially not over the course of a single season. in fact, i probably gave him a longer lead than most to show what he could really do. and yes, he's gotten better in his time with united, but he's still not close to justifying the optimism of his price tag. premier league teams should be shaking in their boots at the idea of facing him, but instead, they've rather blithely been working out how to shut him down. yes, the price tag is an investment for the player they think he's going to be over the long term, but his performance this year makes one question exactly how interested he is in staying with the club for the long term. [supposedly, he wants to go to barcelona to play with lionel messi before the maestro retires.]

thanks for not noticing, guys
underrated :: gylfi sigurdsson
i stand by this evaluation: week in, week out, there is no better taker of free kicks and corners than the icelandic international. i was actually a little surprised a couple of weeks ago when i threw that out there on twitter and got nothing but agreement. i have followers who are fans of a lot of different teams, many of them well higher than swansea in the table. the fact that a number of them tipped their hats [meaning, clicked "like tweet"] is just evidence of how good he is. the man has twelve assists, tied for second place in the league, and nine goals. this for a team that ranks fifteenth out of twenty in goals scored. clearly, whatever they're creating comes from him. he's apparently let it be known that he'd like to play for a team that, well, wins shit, and i can't blame him for that. tottenham, the team from which swansea got him to begin with, could certainly use him. so could liverpool, for that matter. but i think he could be snatched up by ronald fucking koeman at everton. [more on him later.]

overrated :: diego costa
yeah, this is the same striker i named last year. i just don't like him. and he's having a dry spell, for which there is no excuse, given the form that the rest of the team has been in. but it's really just that i don't like him. [oh, and he's apparently going to flee chelsea for greener pastures in china. "greener" meaning covered in money. because, for some players, that is all that counts.]

underrated :: jermaine defoe
sunderland look pretty doomed. they've been in the drop zone the entire season, and there seems little chance that they'll make their way out. [that's what people said about leicester a couple of years ago. -ed.] so how the hell is it that they have a player who's scored only three goals fewer than costa? no one on sunderland has more than one assist. think about that: this man has scored fourteen out of the team's twenty-six goals this season, and no player has helped him set that up more than once. his goals frequently end up on "best of the week/ month/ season" reels because he's very often doing everything himself. i was happy to see that he finally got a call up to the england team during the previous international break, after literally years of trying to get their attention. at thirty-four, it's not like he has a great career ahead of him, but i really hope that, when the seemingly inevitable happens and sunderland get demoted, there's a team that recognises his ability to contribute and gives him another season or two in the premier league. [my money would be on sam allardyce and crystal palace to do so.]

my mom still thinks i'm special
overrated :: jose mourinho
it gives me pleasure just to type that. but the fact is that "the special one" has continued his predecessor's run of spending obscene amounts of money to put together a team that currently sits behind everton in the league standings. for what they've spent, they should be so far in first place that they can't even remember who's in second. not so "special". [side note :: yes, i could have said pep guardiola, but he at least has the excuse of never having worked in the premier league before. in most other leagues, once you get past the six or seven highest ranked teams, a great, wealthy team can pretty much coast through the season. the premier league is infamously tough, and the lowliest can humble the mightiest on their day.] 

underrated :: ronald koeman
yes, this bastard tore my heart out by signing swansea captain ashley williams. but, as i lay weeping and thrashing in melodramatic fashion, i couldn't muster up even a little hatred towards the man because, damn, he's a smart one. although it took him a little while to really get out of the starting gate with everton, it now looks like he's working the exact same magic he did with southampton when he went there. he's a sort of a soft-spoken person, so maybe he's easier to overlook, but he's been mentioned as a longshot possibility for the manager's job at the mighty barcelona, so at least someone is noticing. [side note :: this was a tough choice between koeman and tottenham hotspur manager mauricio pochettino. the soul-mate-is-an-arsenal-fan part of me won't quite let me embrace the young argentine quite that closely but i'm consistently shocked at how he seems to get very little credit, considering how much work he's done. because of their rivalry with arsenal, i think people forget that tottenham are not anywhere near as wealthy as the manchesters, chelsea, arsenal or liverpool. that they will, for the second straight year, finish ahead of most of those teams, is evidence that pochettino is more than a sweet little baby face whose cheeks you want to pinch.] 

overrated :: britannia stadium
when people talk about whether or not an "outsider" can make it in the premier league, the measuring stick is always how they'll react to being in stoke on a rainy monday night. a couple of years ago, the
this is actually what lawns look like in burnley
team nicknamed their home "fortress britannia", and were able to eke out victories against some of the premier league's finest. it was an intimidating place to enter with its vindictive weather and murderous fans. but that doesn't seem to be the case anymore. stoke's home record is nothing to brag about, unless you're bragging about what assholes you have in the stands. so, clearly, the idea that there are some places where even footie giants fear to tread is a myth.

underrated :: turf moor
whatever stoke can throw at you in terms of whether, i'm willing to bet that the northwest of england can equal. and if burnley survive in the premier league this time [they will], it's going to be because they have been nearly unassailable at home. this season, they've beaten liverpool, leicester, crystal palace, watford, sunderland, middlesbrough, bournemouth, southampton, everton and, yes, stoke at home, and they even held mighty chelsea to a draw. this place should just have a giant eye of sauron watching over it to complete the sensation for all visitors.

... and, as an added bit of opinion:

overrated :: la liga
the cold hard truth is that the "best league in professional football" is boring. yes, you can see the magic of the barcelona front line, and the goal-scoring prowess of the guy from real madrid who gets all the media attention, but it's the same every goddamned year. sometimes, you'll get a shock run from an atletico madrid or sevilla, but it's the exception, and that still only makes for four teams competing for any real accomplishments. did you catch the draw between osasuna and de la coruña last weekend? no, english-speaker, you didn't, because you didn't give a shit about it and neither did anyone except hometown fans of those two teams. [and honestly, most of them probably just glanced up at the television in the bodega while enjoying some real tapas and a glass of wine.] two to four teams does not a great league make. it often does a highlight reel make, but that's it.

a packed house for lesser la liga teams
underrated :: championship league
twenty-four teams and one of the most gruelling schedules in professional football, at 46 games per season. the grouping can, and often does, include icons of the sport who have fallen on hard times playing alongside minnows whose stadiums are just one step beyond folding chairs. at the end of the season [or before it, if the teams are sufficiently far ahead, like this year], the top two teams ascend to the premier league automatically. the teams finishing third through sixth have two rounds of playoffs to determine who gets the third ticket up to the top level of the english sport. that's right: actual suspense over who wins that place until the very end. as a result, teams don't necessarily have to fight in order to win the league [although it's nice]; coming anywhere in the top quarter of the table could be enough to get you through. in a sport where things can be pretty settled well in advance of the final days, this league gives you the winner-takes-all thrill you so want. and yet, no one outside of england seems terribly interested. how not terribly interested? autocorrect is suggesting that i meant to type "champions league" rather than "championship" at the top of this paragraph. even artificial intelligence is blasé. 

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