The Dark Knight, Godfather Part II, Rocky VII: Adrian’s Revenge. After the absolute jebend that has been 2020 so far, the thought of the Premier League’s return only leads me to feeling desperately excited for the second instalment. Despite all of the obvious issues surrounding it, speaking purely as a fan, IT’S BACK!
I would like to channel this excitement and preview the return by looking into some of the forgotten and under the radar stories that the 2019/20 season has churned up so far. Yes, Liverpool have been ridiculously great. Yes, there are proper battles for the top four and relegation to look forward to, and yes, Daniel Farke’s voice is so far removed from his physical appearance that is nothing short of a delightful surprise every time he talks. But, what about these stories that I almost forgot and was so excited to rediscover?
Leicester are really good
I was unsure whether to write this segment about just one or two of their players, or even Rogers. However, Leicester have been that good that I would be remiss in doing so. A look at the table sees Leicester City currently occupying third place. They are five points ahead of Chelsea in fourth. Perhaps even more impressively, just four points separates them and Guardiola’s Manchester City. With or without City’s European ban, Champions League football looks almost certain to return to King Power Stadium next season. Let’s be honest, how many predicted that heading into the season?
The team is full of exciting, young players and everyone’s favourite mad dog off the lead, Jamie Vardy. Çağlar Söyüncü has grown and grown as an excellent ball playing centre back as the season has progressed, attracting interest from Manchester City and Arsenal. A look at his profile on Smarterscout shows why with sensational ball retention and duel ratings show why. You can almost hear Ed Woodward scrambling for another mattress sponsor to raise the funds.
For all of Söyüncü’s success, much is owed to his centre back partner, Jonny Evans. Evans has been present for all but 34 minutes of Premier League action this season. He is a clear leader for the club on the pitch and, whilst looking impressive statistically, is even better to watch. He is everything you would want from a centre back. Calm, assured, combative and an excellent reader of the game. All of those wonderful cliches that, along with this evidence, clearly put him amongst the Premier League’s elite.
Another player that I cannot fail to mention is Wilfred Ndidi. Leicester’s Young Player of the Year for two years running looks set to make it three in a row. I bring this up for two reasons, For one, it emphasises just how much room there is for Ndidi to grow. At 23, Ndidi has upped his passing accuracy to a solid 84% this season. Secondly, consider who else was eligible: Tielemans, Maddison, Barnes, Chilwell and the previously mentioned Söyüncü.
Defensively, Ndidi is about as close to ‘there’ as you can ask for. A look here at his stats among some of the best in the league in his position show just how good he is.
What’s slightly remarkable is just how under the radar Ndidi has gone. Other than rightfully being mentioned when Leicester didn’t win any of the six games he missed through injury in December, you don’t hear a lot about him. Transfer speculation, league-wide awards, even punditry. Perhaps a victim of Kante’s shadow from 2015/16. In many ways he is a perfect metaphor for comparing that Leicester to this one. Not quite as spectacular a phenomenon, but younger, full of potential and a feeling of being more built to last. Put a dilly-ding, dilly donk on that Claudio.
The FA Cup
The FA Cup has been dwindling in glory for years now. It’s no secret. But, absence makes the heart grow fonder and if the Bundesliga viewing figures have taught us anything, fans are thirsty for any football.
The FA Cup was entwined within Project Restart (why is noone talking about the terrible branding of this? Not ‘stay alert’ bad, but very cringeworthy). Provisionally, these are Quarter Finals all set to take place on the 27th and 28th June.
Leicester City v Chelsea
Newcastle United v Manchester City
Sheffield United v Arsenal
Norwich City v Manchester United
Neatly, all Premier League clubs. Tantalisingly, all have a reason to go for the trophy.
Leicester and Sheffield United’s fans will be elated with their seasons already, of that there will be no doubt. But, adding a trophy to an already very successful league campaign and it’s something to really remember for those clubs, for the right reasons anyway.
Chelsea and Manchester United also fit together here. Two clubs at different stages of a rebuild with young managers (with varying levels of competency) that could unquestionably do with a trophy to help build winning habits for their young squads. Solskjaer could potentially use this to win some fans or silence doubters of course too. Emphasis on the some here as it wouldn’t change my opinion much.
Arsenal too have a new and exciting manager who seems to be turning things in the right direction. Following a very average start to the season, the FA Cup would not only be a sure sign that Arsenal are on the up, but also give them a much needed, post-COVID cash injection through European football next season.
Manchester City – Pep likes cups dun’ he? Plus, in a season where City are nearly 30 points behind Liverpool, two trophies would be a much better counter argument than the annual League Cup retention.
Norwich have an extremely fun and promising squad that looks destined for an honourable relegation, with enough chutzpah to bounce right back if they can hold onto their players (something that might actually be easier in a post-COVID summer). A lot of debate went into whether Martinez’s Wigan would’ve preferred survival or cup win in 2013. Ask them now after years in League 1 and the Championship and it might be an easier answer, but the eternal ‘magic of the cup’ glory could be something that, like Norwich, quite literally goes down in history.
Last but not least are the still currently united Newcastle and Steve Bruce. Watching the rest of Bruce’s tenure is going to be like Noah Baumbach’s brutal Marriage Story. The end is inevitable. It is no secret that part of the fans’ ire towards Mike Ashley was the instant submissions in cup tournaments year upon year. Win a trophy and the fan favourite, ‘local lad’ status would surely be the way to convince the new owners that Bruce deserves another year.
Several lifetimes worth of craziness and tragedy has occurred between the last kick of ball and now. No-one is suggesting that football will give any answers. But if all of these wonderful narratives can fly so under the radar in that time, at least we fans can find solace in remembering the reason we love this game: The stories.