Week 10 gave us a treat in a top-table clash between Manchester United and Tottenham. Coming into the game, United held second place ahead of Spurs purely on goal difference, but Anthony Martial’s goal allowed United to build a 3-point lead over the Londoners. City meanwhile continued their unbeaten start to the league campaign with a 2-3 victory at West Brom, which leaves them with 28 points from a possible 15. Elsewhere in the table Leicester, with new manager Claude Puel at the helm, pulled away from the relegation zone with a 2-0 victory over managerless Everton.
On the hot seat
West Ham’s owners may have stated last week that they would give manager Slaven Bilic more time to turn the team’s fortunes around, but that time must surely be running out. After coming from 2-0 down to beat Spurs 2-3 midweek in the Carabao Cup, then going into half time at Crystal Palace 2-0 up, it looked like they may have finally turned the corner. However they fell apart in the second half and did not manage the game well enough, allowing Wilfried Zaha to score a crucial equaliser in the 97th minute. Joe Hart – who had earlier made a number of fine saves to keep the Hammers ahead – branded his team’s finish ‘unprofessional’ and he is spot on. Michail Antonio should have kept the ball in the corner but instead crossed it into an empty box, then the players who were forward put no pressure on Palace as they moved it through the first 2 thirds of the pitch, before pedestrian defending gave Zaha the angle to slot past the keeper. They also gave away their 4th penalty of the campaign (a league high) to help palace start their second half fightback.
While the last-ditch gain of a point does not greatly improve Palace’s position in the league table, these are a costly 2 points lost for West ham, who could have moved into mid-table but instead find themselves continuing to flirt with the relegation zone. I also feel sorry for Joe Hart, who was visibly upset with the final goal in his post-match interview. With Forster, Pickford, Butland and Heaton (when fit) all playing regularly in the top flight, he suddenly has competition for his England place, yet his defence seem unable to do their job at the moment which has led to him not keeping a clean sheet all month.
Bilic has done so well with the team over the years, but this current squad just isn’t performing for him despite the obvious quality. Leicester and Everton are finding themselves on similar points and have already moved on from their managers as they look to move up the table. With both these teams included in their November fixture list alongside Liverpool (Home) and Watford (Away), West Ham need to change something soon or they could find themselves playing in the Championship next season.
What was different about that?
It may not have affected the result at Anfield, but one incident caught my attention during Liverpool’s 3-0 victory over Huddersfield. Liverpool won a penalty in the first half following a shirt pull by Tommy Smith on Roberto Firmino in the box at a set piece. In a perfect snapshot of Liverpool’s performance in the first half, Mohamed Salah’s penalty was a poor one and saved by the Huddersfield keeper.
What caught my attention is that referee Kevin Friend actually gave a penalty for this. It is 100% a penalty, but we see incidents like this at almost every set piece where the ball is coming into the box. In fact, I’ve seen many worse shirt-pulls or cases where the player’s body is pulled back that have gone unpunished! The officials need to get together and decide whether they let this contact go at set pieces or if they take a zero tolerance approach and give the foul anytime there is contact of this sort. If they choose this, it may lead to penalties galore to start with, but would quickly eradicate the problem.
The right role models?
Premiership footballers are meant to be role models, but if I was a parent I would be shocked at the behaviour of some stars this weekend.
Troy ‘the Equaliser’ Deeney may be fine going up against a team lacking cojones like Arsenal, but against a more physical defender like Ryan Shawcross his impact was limited. Eventually he boiled over and an innocuous incident between him and Joe Allen ended with his hands around the Welshman’s neck and face. There is no place for that in football and how he only got a yellow card is beyond me! I will be very surprised if he doesn’t receive a ban once the footage is reviewed by the FA.
The one good thing about this incident (if you can call it that) is that kids watching should already know that this is wrong. However I worry that Dele Alli’s antics might not be so obviously wrong to children watching. During Spurs’ 1-0 loss to Manchester United this weekend he earned a free kick by simulating contact with Phil Jones, who replays showed had withdrew his feet and avoided making contact. Back in their win over Huddersfield at the end of September, he was cautioned for diving in the box. He is a young lad full of talent and really does not need to rely on cheating, otherwise it could harm his career. More importantly, it needs to be very clear to children watching their ‘idols’ that simulation is cheating and has no place in the sport.
Week 11 predictions:
Stoke City v Leicester City – Draw
Huddersfield Town v West Bromwich Albion – Draw
Newcastle United v AFC Bournemouth – Draw
Southampton v Burnley – Draw
Swansea City v Brighton & Hove Albion – Swansea win
West Ham United v Liverpool – Liverpool win
Tottenham Hotspur v Crystal Palace – Spurs win
Manchester City v Arsenal – City win
Chelsea v Manchester United – Draw
Everton v Watford – Draw