Just when you thought Roy Hodgson’s Liverpool nightmare couldn’t get any worse…
Wednesday’s defeat at home to lowly Wolves may not be all that surprising given events at Anfield this season, but it certainly increased the temperature on the managerial hotseat for Hodgson.
From the cheers at the Paul Konchesky substitution to the ironic ‘Hodgson for England’ chants, it was not a day to remember for Roy - made even worse by his criticism of the Kop after the game.
It’s fairly obvious that the Anfield faithful haven’t taken to the former Fulham boss, whose side now sit 12th in the Premier League, three points behind Blackpool having played a game more. Who would have thought that at the start of the season? But perhaps more worryingly, they’re now just three points above the relegation zone.
One team Hodgson, who is now favourite with bookmakers to be the next Premier League manager to leave his post, will not want to face is Bolton. The Trotters are sixth in the table and have impressed with their free flowing, attractive football under Owen Coyle.
Pressure is mounting on Hodgson, so be prepared for a tense performance, calls for King Kenny to take the reins and a manager going out of his mind on the touchline... again.
2. The soundbite lender v the obscene spender
Blackpool host Manchester City this weekend with manager Ian Holloway looking to secure a third successive Premier League win. But Ollie’s beach boys will have to upset the odds - and logic - to do so.
Holloway has delighted all in football with his bizarre quotes and take on events in the game this season. From the cinnamon in Stoke’s tactics to Birmingham’s team of roof inspectors, the Seasiders boss has been full of praise - in his own way - for opposition sides.
But he this week branded Manchester City as “obscene” spenders and said that he would not like to be in Roberto Mancini’s position.
While Blackpool sit comfortably in the top half of the table having spent just £3 million in the summer, City are fighting for a top four place and splashed out £125m on new players.
And as Holloway admits some of his star players may leave in January, their opponents are expected to wrap up a £34m deal for Wolfsburg striker Edin Dzeko - 68 times the amount Blackpool paid for their record signing Charlie Adam.
3. We’ve got to that stage of the season… a ‘six-pointer’
West Ham began the season full of optimism after nice guy - but ultimately out of his depth in the Premier League - Gianfranco Zola left his post in the summer. However, things haven’t exactly gone smoothly for replacement Avram Grant.
The Israeli scrapped for points last season with Portsmouth after being hard done by at Chelsea, where he was a John Terry penalty away from winning the Champions League in his first - and only - attempt with the club.
Now at West Ham, Grant has picked up from where he left off - in the relegation zone. The Hammers boss has incredibly been in the bottom three for the whole of 2010 and had it not been for his side’s recent resurgence, which has seen them pick up five points from their last three games, he may well have already been out of a job.
But Grant’s side still lie bottom of the table, and that’s thanks to their opponents this Saturday producing one of the shocks of the season in midweek.
Wolves leapfrogged West Ham with a famous 1-0 win over Liverpool at Anfield and are now one point ahead of their fellow strugglers. And with both sides in the drop zone but capable of climbing out of it this weekend, the dreaded term ‘six-pointer’ is back even though we’re only halfway through the season.
4. Something has to give when underachievers meet
Chelsea and Aston Villa were both expected to be matching their achievements of last season, if not emulating them this term. But neither Carlo Ancelotti or Gerard Houllier could foresee what was to come after their sides’ respective starts to the season.
Ancelotti and Chelsea began the campaign in record-breaking style, netting 12 goals in their first two Premier League matches without reply. They then went on to win their first five league games before falling to a 1-0 defeat away to Manchester City.
Aston Villa, on the other hand, had a mixed start after the departure of Martin O’Neill just days prior to their opening game. Kevin MacDonald took temporary charge, leading the club to eighth before Gerard Houllier was appointed manager. But as well as falling out with a number of big name players, results have also gone heavily against the Frenchman.
Ancelotti has called on his side to wake up, while Houllier has called on his defence to shape up. Chelsea’s title challenge is in tatters and they currently sit fourth in the table, four points off first place having played a game more. At the other end of the table, Villa, after finishing sixth last season, sit in 15th place and have been sucked into a relegation battle.
5. Top five to start taking shape
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said before the festive fixtures that he would be pleased if his side were still top after their match with Stoke on January 4 - and they are at the moment, although the draw in midweek with Birmingham is sure to have frustrated the Scot.
Meanwhile, Harry Redknapp has maintained that Tottenham are in with a chance of winning the title despite currently being fifth in the table.
The top five is yet to take shape in the league, but surely a Chelsea loss and Manchester United win, or a Tottenham loss and Arsenal win this weekend would go some way to setting the course for the rest of the season?
None of the new ‘big five’ are out of the title race just yet, although a Chelsea-style run could easily see one or more of them drop out in the near future.