Sporting Life's first move in the January Transfer Window sees us snap up Sky Sports and talkSPORT presenter Laura Woods. Follow her new fortnightly column as Laura delivers her unique insight and views, beginning with her highlights of the Premier League season so far.
I’m turning the pages of this little notebook I keep for work. I’m looking for scribbles that might jog my memory and serve as material for what forms my first column, not only for Sporting Life, but also, ever.
- Mikel Arteta has the most impressive head of hair I’ve seen for a long while
- Carlo Ancelotti would make the best Bond villain in the Premier League
- I really do miss Neil Warnock
Not helpful. I’m on the train down to Bournemouth and I’m sat next to a group of season ticket holders for Spurs. Every positive sentence is qualified with a more realistic one. And then a few barbs for good measure.
"Eriksen was a disgrace, get him out of our club."
"I’d have him cleaning the U23’s boots!"
"And Woodsy, I hope you’re hearing this..."
I do these journeys two or three times a week, overhearing and sometimes contributing to the general conversation, nestled into cross country carriages or squeezed into an armpit on the underground. Following as the script of the season is written and trying my hardest to record and remember why this one is better than the last.
Because it always feels that way, when you’re living in it.
Two seasons ago Man City won the league with 100 points; last season we had one of the best run-ins ever; how is this season managing to compete with that? We’re now over halfway through and it’s been full of quirks and surprises.
Chelsea became likeable
Words many would never think would cross their lips. Take away Eden Hazard, add a transfer ban and mix it all together with a number of recalled youngsters and a club legend in the infancy of his managerial career, and Chelsea became likeable.
It’s been like a science experiment we can't take our eyes off. Some predicted they’d be relegated. Others knew the talent they had at their disposal and the knowledge Frank’s assistant Jody Morris brought to the table from his time managing them at academy level.
Chelsea became known as ‘The Kids’, those behind the moniker refusing to acknowledge the likes of Willian, N'Golo Kante and Cesar Azpilicueta. And it's ‘The Kids’ that have surpassed expectation. Tammy, Mason, Reece, Fikayo. Names you might not have seen starting for Chelsea in the Premier League or Champions League for a while, if at all, confined instead to the early rounds of the Carabao Cup.
Frank Lampard leaving Frank-Lampard’s Derby, returning to The Bridge to form Frank-Lampard’s Chelsea and receiving ‘everyone’s second team status’ has become the sub plot to this season.
Mind The Gap
The gap in North London has become more of a chasm as Arsenal dropped into the bottom half of the table, spectacularly fell out with Granit Xhaka, bid farewell (I won’t say it) to Unai Emery and adopted the ex-player turned head coach method bringing in Mikel Arteta.
But really the most dramatic bit so far was when Sead Kolasinac stopped a carjacking attempt by a London gang and fended off two knife wielding robbers on a moped with his bare hands, protecting Mesut Ozil and various other expensive items in the process. The CCTV footage was on a loop on every news channel for days.
Kolasinac had the footwork of a boxer and made us all go into a deep line of thought about the kind of battles Sead might have weathered before and where the bodies were buried. Or maybe that was just me?
Spurs’ Special One?
Across town, Jose was taken out of the shop window in the early stages of his budding media career and put straight to work at Tottenham. Which is still, and always will be, weird to write. Meanwhile Poch is out at sea on his jet-ski doing loops in the Med, popping back to land only occasionally to check his voicemail. Nothing, yet...
*Returns glasses to eyes and re-mounts jet ski, side-saddling back into the ocean. Maybe with a cigar clutched between his teeth in one corner of his mouth. Yeah, why not.*
Suddenly, Jose was back with that glint in his eye, meaning press conferences were worth watching again, and he quickly started making up for lost headline space.
"I was rude. But I was rude with an idiot," he declared after Mike Dean booked him for looking at a piece of paper on the Southampton bench and arguing with Saints' goalkeeping coach for time-wasting attempts.
What was the score in that game again? The deflection tactics were back too and we were all lapping them up.
Liverpool forgot how to lose
Liverpool have become a juggernaut. A record for the best start to a campaign ever (across Europe by the way), a year without losing and a first title for 30 years in sight. A manager that will go down as one of the greats and a team full of talent, but seemingly, no egos. And you can’t pick a best player. But you can pick your favourite. And mine rotate.
One week it’s Firmino for making every other player in the league that doesn’t dare a no-look finish seem bang average. Even if one did, we’d all think he’s a t**t. But not Bobby. The showboating can occasionally detract from his real value. He makes them tick.
Then it’s Alisson for getting so bored between the sticks he’s popped for a wander and become an outfield player for a bit, just to mix it up and get involved.
Then it’s either full-back, pick a side.
And then it’s James Milner, whose engine defies science; who would play any position and probably run the line too, if Jurgen asked him.
They’re a unit breaking records for fun and have you arguing whether they’re the best Liverpool side of all time. And we’re all here to witness it.
Wilder punching well above his weight
We could segway to VAR here, but I’d quite like you to read on so instead we’ll pop over to Sheffield and pay homage to Chris Wilder as he pushes for a top-six finish with a team of mostly Sky bet Championship players and an ability to baffle the Premier League on a regular basis.
I sat with my colleague Darren Bent on one of these train journeys up the country from London to Birmingham and watched him squiggle diagrams of formations and directions of travel to illustrate Wilder’s overlapping centre-backs and explain why they are still working so effectively.
I saw Chris at an LMA event recently, celebrating the careers and achievements of Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola. I congratulated him on his own achievements since we last spoke at the start of the season when the big, bad Premier League threatened to chew them up and spit them back out in the Championship. "Piece of piss," he said.
I loved that. Of course, he was joking. But at times this season, he’s made it look that way.
Their fitness levels are off the chart and their record on the road, so far, defies logic. They’ve shown enough times already they’ve got belief and spirit by the bucket load. All contributing factors which make Sheffield United one of my favourites to watch.
I could go on. I’ve missed a lot, but statistically most of you will have stopped reading by now anyway. But it’s got me thinking about what the second half of the season has in store. More twists in the script, more miles up and down the country and most importantly, more top-quality train chat.
"I met Harry Winks' mum the other night," one of the Spurs fans was saying as he got off. I never did hear what she had to say. Shame, really.
- Laura Woods will be writing for Sporting Life every fortnight throughout the season
- Follow Laura on Twitter here