I was on vacation last week and catching up on everything has taken longer than I anticipated today. As a result, I'll be going off script, yes, again, to bring you this week's installment of Overreaction Monday. Fortunately, vacation did give me a fair amount of time to watch the Premier League as well as college basketball. Unfortunately for my mood, it also gave me the opportunity to watch my two favorite teams - one in each of the Premier League and March Madness - bow out to strikingly similar competition. In West Brom and Wisconsin respectively Arsenal and Villanova lost to solid clubs known for creating a grinding pace and forcing opponents to overcome physicality with skill. In neither case was it an easy task for any opponent but on Saturday I had to watch both of my teams come up small. Two days removed from the losses and all I can say is "at least I'll have Villanova's title from last season to keep me going."
On to the rest of the weekend in the Premier League with less college basketball-related analogies:
Big Sam Time
Sam Allardyce has clearly had enough time to get his message across at Selhurst Park. Between new personnel and enough training time for the holdovers to readjust from Alan Pardew's regime the impact has been clear. When Crystal Palace are winning a match without a shot on target you know Big Sam is in his element. Hard to see the Eagles getting relegated at this point which is a lot more than they could have said three match weeks, nine points, and three clean sheets ago. If there are any Palace defenders left on the waiver wire in your draft/auction league then it's probably time to get them onto your bench as well.
Confused by Mourinho and United
Manchester United are something of a Rorshach Test right now. What you see in them probably says more about you and what you want to see than it does about them. In beating Middlesbrough, they were clearly the better team. If you want to say that other teams that changed managers recently (e.g., Hull City, Leicester City, Swansea City, Crystal Palace) have had a significant uptick after that change and United managed to overcome that despite being without Zlatan, Rooney, Pogba and Herrera then you can certainly make that argument. If you want to say that the win means nothing because Boro don't have the sort of latent talent that some of those other clubs had when they changed managers then you can certainly make THAT argument. Ultimately, United have been playing better but not particularly well. Trying to decide if that will be enough to pass one or more of Spurs, City or Liverpool for a Champions League spot is more of an act of faith one way or the other than an analytical decision.
Everton Charging Hard
We're definitely at the time of the season, due to EFL and FA Cup-driven schedule disruptions, that it's harder to read the table. Everton and Arsenal are even on points and only one goal of goal differential apart in the standings while Arsenal are two points behind Manchester United and six points behind Liverpool. The differences? The Merseyside duo have played 29 matches thus far while Arsenal and Manchester United are on 27 matches. If the Gunners can't get out of their funk then it won't matter how many extra matches they have left. Regardless, given the poor stretch that the Toffees had in October and November it is worth pointing out how far they've come to challenge on the fringes of the Top Six. Who knows if they can hold on to Romelu Lukaku or Ross Barkley (or even Ronald Koeman) over the summer but with canny acquisitions like Idrissa Gueye and Morgan Schneiderlin you certainly feel good about their ability to do as good a job as possible of using any funds received from sales to restock the cupboards.
Cherries vs Clarets
The narrative would certainly have you believe that Burnley are having a better season than Bournemouth. Funny thing about that after 29 fixtures for both, they're even on points. Eddie Howe's side have certainly failed big when they've failed so their goal differential is pretty rotten by comparison but with both clubs operating on relatively modest budgets let's not let the rumors of Howe being considered for bigger jobs while Sean Dyche's pragmatic ways have earned less of that talk confuse the actual results. Both managers have done an excellent job of turning limited budgets and talents into what will, in all likelihood, be successful survival campaigns. The Cherries looked like they might flirt with disaster after losing Nathan Ake to recall and then suffering an injury crisis at the back but they've bounced back to be a modestly good side. What it does underscore that we should all keep in mind is the perilous nature of having the sort of thin squad dictated by being a small budget side.
Spurs Keep Rolling
A win against Southampton, even at White Hart Lane, without Harry Kane is a strong result for Mauricio Pochettino and his side. I have to imagine that Spurs supporters were rightfully concerned losing a talisman for whom they have no ready replacement and, unlike United without Zlatan, immediately facing a quality opponent. It wasn't necessarily an emphatic victory but for a side that slipped up in similar circumstances down the stretch last season there had to be a collective sigh of relief. The international break comes at the ideal time for Kane who could miss as few as two or as many as six weeks depending on the report you read. If they could get away with only two weeks of international duty missed that would be ideal. Even if he misses time beyond that, the schedule-maker has been kind as Spurs' next four matches are against a quartet of bottom half sides. The visit of Southampton was really the big hurdle to getting through the injury unscathed.
City and Liverpool
I'm not sure it was possible for City and Liverpool to play a match that any more perfectly summed up their respective seasons. Both sides are clearly blessed with great attacking talent, dodgy defenses and the incredible ability to make a mess of things just as soon as we get the idea that the lightbulb might have turned on for them. The attacks spent the day creating fantastic chances for themselves only to be let down by the finishing. The obvious thing to say is that it could have ended 4-4 as easily as it did end 1-1 but I think it would actually have been EASIER for it to end 4-4 than what happened. On just about any other day, these attacking players would have converted more than their share of attempts but it was one of those crazy days for both that led to Bournemouth's crazy comeback win against Liverpool or Monaco's crazy comeback win over City. Both are capable of tantalizing heights but have seemingly inherited the Arsenal "weakness of character" gene even as Arsenal seem to be taking that particular trait to a new level.
Hard to know what's going on here. The news on Saturday was that Alexis' ankle looked pretty bad. The news on Sunday was that he would be ready to go for Chile against Argentina. Hard to wrap your head around everything going on at the Emirates right now so fortunately we get two international matches to figure out what his status is before we have to make any fantasy decisions.
We're on to the international break and two weeks without the Premier League. As we try to figure out what to do with ourselves in that time, we can look forward to returning to an April Fools slate of matches that kicks off with a Merseyside Derby and ends the next day with the Gunners hosting Manchester City. In-between, Spurs have to go to Burnley who will try to keep Fortress Turf Moor against superior opposition again while we also have a South Coast Derby between Southampton and Bournemouth at St. Mary's. It may be a long wait but there's definitely a payoff at the end of those two weeks.