Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Rounds 19 & 20

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Rounds 19 & 20

Hey guys, apologies for the delay in getting this one up, the last couple of weeks have been pretty busy so I was left with a lot to catch up on after Christmas. Hopefully I should be back onto a more regular schedule going forward!

 

We’ve reached the halfway point of the season and City’s winning streak continues while the chasing pack dropped points over the the last 2 rounds. The title is all but guaranteed to be returning to the Etihad and it would require a monumental collapse in the second half of the season for the title race to even be considered a contest now! At the start of the season, Burnley fans would have probably been happy with a point from these 2 rounds (Spurs at home, United away) but given their performances this season they may actually be disappointed with a 0-3 loss and 2-2 draw, which shows just how far the club have done. Towards the bottom of the league table, West Brom may be improving their performances under Alan Pardew, but they are still not getting the results they need and must go back to August to find their last win (1-3 at Accrington Stanley), while Swansea were clearly thinking along the same lines as me when they announced the sacking of Paul Clement mere hours after I suggested change may be needed. Just call me Nostradumbass!

 

Shooting into the record books

39 Premier League goals in 2017

56 goals in all competitions in 2017

6 Premier League hat-tricks in 2017 (8 in all competitions)

What a year Harry Kane has had! His opening goal in the 5-2 rout of Southampton on Boxing day saw him break Alan Shearer’s record for Premier League goals in a calendar year, and by the time the full-time whistle was blown, the Tottenham striker had completed PL hat-trick number 6 for the year – the first player to ever achieve this! As if that wasn’t enough, his 56 goals in all competition this year made him the top goal scorer in Europe’s top 5 leagues in 2017, a record that has been held by either Messi or Ronaldo for the past 7 years.

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Round 19’s results – From http://www.premierleague.com

Kane is an incredible talent, his eye for goal could make you think he is a modern day Alan Shearer-esque number 9, but he is so much more than that as he has the movement and the passing ability to play slightly deeper an link up with the midfield and wingers. He has the aerial ability to cause problems at set pieces, the strength to hold the ball up but also the pace and control to terrorise defenders when on the run. If he can continue to play like this in 2018 – and most importantly on the big stages like the Champions League and international tournaments – then I doubt it will be long before his name is being thrown around in the discussions about the best strikers in football.

Is he the man to fire England to World Cup glory next summer? I’m not sure he has quite the supporting cast for that yet, but if England can continue to develop players of his quality, the 2020 Euros and the 2022 World Cup could become a possibility.

For Spurs, the important thing right now is to find a way to keep hold of him. The ‘top’ teams will surely come calling over the next few transfer windows and Spurs need to do everything they can to convince him to stay. I’m sure the fact Spurs have been a huge part of his development from his academy days will give them a bit of an advantage, but they need to start winning trophies or it will be all but impossible to keep him in a Spurs kit long term.

Silly season starts early

The January transfer window doesn’t open until January (from Nostradumbass to Captain Obvious) but we have already had the first deal announced as Liverpool broke the news on Wednesday that they were signing defender Virgil van Dijk from Southampton for £75m.

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Round 20’s results – From http://www.premierleague.com

Seventy-five million pounds… I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

In my opinion, the money bandied around in football these days is ridiculous, but even by modern standards this figure seems obscene! This figure has smashed the record fee for a defender, but I have seen very little to suggest he is worth anything near this amount. At 26, he is probably only just reaching his best years and still has 5+ years at the top of his game as a centre back, but it certainly feels like Liverpool have massively overpaid for an average defender… again. For £75m, I’d expect Liverpool to never concede while he is on the pitch and van Dijk to pop up with at least 1 absolute worldie per month. However I struggle to imagine him making much of a difference in that crazy spell against Arsenal when they conceded 3 goals in less than 5 minutes.

Van Dijk has a heavy price tag to live up to, for his and Liverpool’s sake, I hope he can.

Shut up and play

Pep Guardiola hasn’t been a fan of the way some teams have been setting up against him this season. Following their 4-0 win over Bournemouth, he was moaning about how many teams are putting 10 men behind the ball in defence and trying to stop City playing through them. But what else does he expect?!

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The Premier League table at the half way point – From http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport

City’s defence is doing better than I expected this year, with 12 goals in 20 games actually being the best record in the league despite having a central midfielder at left back. Scoring against the Sky Blues is not as simple as it sounds. Despite so many teams trying to park the bus against them, their 61 league goals is still 15 goals more than the next team in the goal scoring charts (Liverpool). If teams were to try and take the game to City, that would just leave them even more vulnerable at the back against one of the best attacks in football and while the goals conceded figure may be a little bit higher, I imagine the goals scored figure would be considerably higher.

Teams need to do whatever they can (legally) to get a result and if they feel putting 10 men behind the ball in defence is the best way, then I have no issue with this. Pep will be getting a considerable wage (and the rest!) to find a way to win. This isn’t La Liga, where the top teams only have a few challenges each season, anyone can win in the Premier League on their day. Maybe he should stop moaning about the other teams’ legitimate tactics and spend the time thinking of ways to keep the winning run going.

 

Round 21 predictions:

AFC Bournemouth v Everton – Everton win

Chelsea v Stoke City – Chelsea win

Huddersfield Town v Burnley – Burnley win

Liverpool v Leicester City – Liverpool win

Newcastle United v Brighton & Hove Albion – Newcastle win

Watford v Swansea City – Watford win

Manchester United v Southampton – United win

Crystal Palace v Manchester City – City win

West Bromwich Albion v Arsenal – Arsenal win

The Man in the Middle

The Man in the Middle

Congratulations to Wayne Barnes, who will tonight break Chis White’s record for refereeing the most Premiership games. Since turning professional in 2005, he’s reffed 7 Premiership finals and 77 Tests, including matches in 3 World Cups.

I wasn’t always a fan of Barnes, but over the years as I’ve started watching more rugby I’ve become very impressed with him and would argue that he is up there with Nigel Owens as one of the 2 best referees in the world.

He may not get every decision right – though I would argue that he does better than many – but what makes him really stand out to me is how well he communicate, not just during play but also explaining his decisions to players and discussing incidents with the TMO and his assistants. I’m also always impressed when he makes an appearance on Rugby Tonight to discuss a certain area of the law and to review recent incidents as he breaks it down in a clear manner that allows everyone to clearly understand.

In recent matches that I’ve watched hi referee, he is clear and does everything he can to help the players and keep the game flowing as best as possible. Look back to the final Bledisloe Cup game of 2017, when he tried to communicate to Bernard Foley that the ball had been touched in flight so could not be kicked out on the full – I assume Foley’s ears were still ringing following the huge hit from Ofa Tu-ungafasi as he kicked it straight out – or more recently, Rory Kockott’s yellow card against Racing 92, where Barnes blew his whistle seeing the danger of playing on with Kockott lifting a player upside down and promptly gave him a yellow as the situation would not have ended well, then he communicated well with the TMO to ensure there was clear evidence of Juan Imhoff’s headbutt making contact before giving him a red card.

If Barnes carries on I can see him breaking other refereeing records as well and they would be well deserved. In terms of his quality I feel he should ref a World Cup final, unfortunately I will hope never to see this as it means England have not made the final!

Congratulations Wayne and good luck moving forward!

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 18

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 18

The turn in fortunes continued in Round 18 of the Premier League as Everton, Crystal Palace and West Ham all earned 3 points in their respective fixtures to climb up the table. Palace and West Ham now find themselves 2 points above the relegation zone while Everton are up into 9th and are getting closer to where we would have expected them to be before the season started.

Swansea and Newcastle both find themselves in the relegation zone, with Stoke and Bournemouth only a point above the drop, and you wonder how much longer things can continue before a change is made somewhere in the setup.

 

Room for improvement

Played 18, Won 17, Drawn 1, Lost 0, Goals scored 56, Goals Conceded 12… The stats are outstanding and you wonder who (if anyone) will be able to halt City’s charge into the history books, but perhaps the scariest thing is that the Champions-in-waiting could be even better.

With the world’s most expensive left back Benjamin Mendy out long-term following a ruptured ACL, former midfielder Fabian Delph has become the Sky Blues’ first choice in the position. While City have continued to win, Delph’s performances haven’t quite matched the quality of his attacking teammates. In recent weeks, Delph was at fault for Manchester United’s best chances in their Round 16 clash and picked up a yellow card for a desperate challenge on Kieran Trippier, who had gotten away from him inside the final third. While this has not proved costly in either match, the time could still come where a Delph mistake in an unfamiliar position could cost City a result.

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The latest round of Premier League results – From http://www.premierleague.com

Injuries can never be predicted, but the decision to allow both Aleksandar Kolarov and Gaël Clichy to leave in the summer was an odd one considering both are experienced left backs and there was no real backup for Mendy in the squad. It will be interesting to see in January whether Guardiola decides to bring in another left back to bolster the squad or decides to continue with the Delph experiment.

A refereeing lottery

Let me start this section by making it clear that I appreciate the work of match officials and respect that the job they do is not an easy one. This is by no means an attack at them. However, there were a number of incidents at the weekend where I couldn’t help but question the officials’ decisions.

Huddersfield’s opener in the 1-4 victory at Watford should have been disallowed for offside not once, not twice, but 3 times! Yet amazingly the officials never picked up any of the offences. The main job of the linesman is to watch for the offside in these situations, so to miss all 3 is embarrassing! Leicester’s attempted comeback at home to Crystal Palace was dealt a blow when Vicente Iborra’s goal was disallowed for a push on the defender in front of him. While it was arguably the correct decision by the officials, I imagine Leicester players and fans would have been less than amused watching the City v Tottenham match and seeing the referee allow play to continue when Danny Rose did the same to Eliaquim Mangala in the Spurs box. 2 pushes in the back, yet one ends in a foul and the other play gets waved on.

Staying with the City game, there were 6 yellow cards given out in total by referee Craig Pawson, but 3 of these could arguably have been straight reds. Nicolas Otamendi’s boot into the face of Harry Kane may not have been leading with the studs, but it was still a dangerously high boot and warranted a red card. Kane’s lunge on Raheem Sterling with his studs showing looked a worse challenge then that of Troy Deeney on Collin Quaner, yet Kane gets away with a yellow and the Watford captain gets an early bath. Paul Pogba will have likely been unimpressed to see Dele Alli receive just a yellow for his challenge on Kevin de Bruyne, considering the Frenchman saw red the other week for a similar challenge.

I appreciate that referee’s positioning can greatly impact what they see and that different officials may see an incident slightly differently without the benefit of replays. But surely the FA should be doing everything it can to ensure consistency, otherwise the players will not know what they can and can’t do. I love seeing Wayne Barnes’ appearances on Rugby Tonight talking about how the Premiership referees get together to look over incidents from the weekend and feel that the Premier League would benefit from something similar if they don’t already have this. It would also help referees if they had some access to video replay technology if there is uncertainty over the severity of a challenge to ensure the correct decision is made.

After all, nobody wants an official’s mistake to affect the result of a match.

Dive! Dive! Dive!

Have the new FA laws surrounding retroactive bans for diving helped solve the issue? So far, I’ve got to say no. Manuel Lanzini has just become the 2nd Premier League player to be banned for “successful deception of a match official” after earning the penalty that put West Ham ahead at Stoke. The dive was in my opinion much worse than the one that resulted in Oumar Niasse’s ban, as Niasse exaggerated the effect of contact whereas Lanzini was clearly going to ground without any contact being made.

There have been so many dives in the league this season, but the new FA laws are too limited at when they can ban a player, as the dive must result in a benefit to the diving player’s team in order for the FA panel to intervene. So many times this season we’ve seen players get a yellow for a dive or the referee to wave play on. Other than the referee’s decision, what real difference was there between the Lanzini dive and the one by Brighton’s José Izquierdo against Burnley? Yet Lanzini is now banned for 2 games and Izquierdo didn’t even get a yellow.

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The Premier League table after 18 rounds – From http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport

The only way to get diving out of the game is to retroactively punish each offense, regardless of the impact it has on a game. If a player knows that simulation will result in a 2-game (or more for serial offenders) ban regardless of if it results in a goal, then the FA panels may have a few busy months initially but simulation will soon come down to a bare minimum when players see there is zero tolerance.

As it stands, the current laws are a step in the direction, but there is still a long way to go to kick diving out of the game.

Round 19 & 20 predictions:

Due do Christmas plans taking me away from my trusty TV, I’m going to need some time to catch up on the action over the Christmas period so will be combining the next 2 rounds of Premier League action into one article. I’m sure 20 matches will give me plenty to talk about…

Round 19

Arsenal v Liverpool – Draw

Everton v Chelsea – Draw

Brighton & Hove Albion v Watford – Brighton win

Manchester City v AFC Bournemouth – City win

Southampton v Huddersfield Town – Southampton win

Stoke City v West Bromwich Albion – Draw

Swansea City v Crystal Palace – Palace win

West Ham United v Newcastle United – West Ham win

Burnley v Tottenham Hotspur – Draw

Leicester City v Manchester United – United win

Round 20

Tottenham Hotspur v Southampton – Spurs win

AFC Bournemouth v West Ham United – Draw

Chelsea v Brighton & Hove Albion – Chelsea win

Huddersfield Town v Stoke City – Draw

Manchester United v Burnley – United win

Watford v Leicester City – Leicester win

West Bromwich Albion v Everton – Everton win

Liverpool v Swansea City – Liverpool win

Newcastle United v Manchester City – City win

Crystal palace v Arsenal – Arsenal win

Bad Week for Cycling

Chris Froome: 4-time Tour de France winner, 2017 Vuelta a España winner, 2-time Olympic Time Trial bronze medallist, Sports Journalists’ Association Sportsman of the Year 2017… drugs cheat?

This been another bad week for cycling as news has come out that Froome returned an adverse drug test following Stage 18 of this year’s Vuelta, as his urine was found to contain anti-asthma drug salbutamol in concentrations of 2000 nanograms per millilitre – twice the amount the UCI allow without a therapeutic use exemption (TUE).

Cycling has a bad history of doping with big names like Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong having been stripped of Grand Tour victories following doping offences, and the sport has been working hard to improve its image to the general public. Froome’s dominance has caused many people to accuse him of cheating in the past – a view not helped considering the investigations into Team Sky and the ‘mysterious package’ that Bradley Wiggins received during the 2011 Criterium du Dauphine – and though I personally don’t think he has deliberately or knowingly done wrong, it does not look good.

Has the drug helped him? Froome regularly takes salbutamol as he suffers from asthma, like many athletes. Studies have found minimal performance benefits to using salbutamol, other than combatting the effects of asthma, and as it is a drug that clearly shows on tests – and being the race leader, Froome knows that he will be tested – it would seem a poor attempt at illegally doping.

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Will we be seeing Chris Froome (right) at the Giro following the latest news? – Picture from Flickr – @ruby_roubaix

Has he done something wrong? Studies have suggested that dehydration can dramatically affect the concentration of salbutamol in urine, so this could always be having an impact on the result. However from what I have read it is only Stage 18 where the readings have seemed off as opposed to throughout the Vuelta, the studies also don’t usually result in the concentration doubling through dehydration. It is now up to Chris Froome and Team Sky to prove there is a legitimate reason for the adverse reading. That won’t be easy to do!

If Froome is found guilty, chances are he will be stripped of his Vuelta victory and he will also face a ban. Regardless of the result, this is yet more ammunition for those who want to look down on cycling in general and Chris Froome specifically. The timing could not have been much worse as it has recently been announced that Froome will be racing at the 2018 Giro d’Italia with a view to becoming only the third rider to hold all 3 Grand Tour titles at the same time, while he is also nominated for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award on Sunday. In my opinion, his efforts this year should have been enough for him to win the award but he was already likely to miss out due to the negative perception of cycling and his perceived lack of Britishness. This revelation will likely stop him even making the top 3!

I for one will continue to hope that a legitimate reason for this result can be found as I do not believe Froome to be a doper. I sincerely hope that I’m not proved wrong.

Cam the Man?

Cam the Man?

Could Cam Newton be one of the most polarising players in football? Undoubtedly a great talent, the number 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft has been picked to 3 Pro Bowls and was the NFL MVP in 2015 after leading the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl. His physicality and his rushing ability have helped revolutionise the Quarterback position and he is clearly one of the most influential players on the Carolina roster. But is he the right man at the helm of the team?

Talent-wise, the answer is clearly ‘Yes!’ In a league where some franchises are struggling to find a franchise quarterback, he is clearly above average to put it lightly. But there have been a number of off-field incidents that would make me hesitant to pick him.

Following the Panther’s 27-24 win over the Detroit Lions, Newton got himself in hot water when he laughed at a female reporter, Jourdan Rodrigue, talking about Devin Funchess embracing the physicality of his routes, stating “It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes like – it’s funny.” After the media furore he apologised, saying that it was intended to be a compliment.

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Cam Newton’s quality outweighs the distraction… for now – Image from Flickr – Nate Lepak

In one of his latest interviews after their 31-24 win over the Minnesota Vikings, Newton talked about a cross-body throw that resulted in a Funchess touchdown, saying “I did everything I was told not to do. Sometimes you just gotta overcome coaching.” Cross-body throws are incredibly risky and will more often than not lead to an incomplete, if not an interception. Newton has got lucky in this case but has instead suggested that he knows better than the coaches who are paid to improve him.

He has also previously refused to speak to the press after a game because they didn’t want to speak to him before.

While his athleticism and ability are unquestionable, his attitude often comes across as childish and it seems that everything must be about him. When things are going well, they are fantastic, but when things are going bad, they are going terrible and you will struggle to get anything from him. The same could even be said of his play at times, as shown by the Panther’s great run to the Super Bowl only to be beaten by a past-it Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos When I see him looking like a peacock at post-game press conferences, I can’t help but wonder if he spent more time training or picking his outfit during the week. An NFL team contains a 50-man roster and plenty of coaches and assistants to make sure everything runs smoothly, yet I can’t help but feel that for Cam, the Panthers are him.

I am obviously a little biased as a Titans fan, but if I was asked to pick a franchise QB who had been in the league no longer than Cam (thus ruling out the obvious Brady, Rodgers, Roethlisberger, Brees and Rivers) I would be much more likely to pick a QB like Marcus Mariota, who is undoubtedly talented himself but also comes across as much more humble and more of a team player.

Do I expect the Panthers to move on from him? No, but if he continues to act like this, they may decide to look for a cheaper option who may be more of a team player and with a lower salary…

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 17

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 17

Revenge was served by Leicester City boss Claude Puel midweek as the Foxes left Southampton – who sacked him in the summer – with all 3 points following a 1-4 victory. The swap of managers earlier in the season has propelled the team back up the table and they are now only 5 points outside the top 4. Clubs who have replaced their managers during the season fared relatively well in Round 17, with Everton’s victory at Newcastle solidifying their spot in the top half of the table, Crystal Palace coming back from 0-1 down to beat 10-man Watford 2-1, West Brom keeping a clean sheet in a goalless draw at Anfield and West Ham following up the weekend’s victory over Chelsea with a draw at home to Arsenal.

At the top of the table, Manchester United and Chelsea recovered from their losses at the weekend to win at home to Bournemouth and away to Huddersfield respectively, while Manchester City made history with their 15th consecutive Premier League victory.

 

Guardiola’s team

“Putting my neck on the line here: Manchester City will not win the league this year.” – Football Ramble – Premier League 2017/18 Round 5

12 rounds on, how wrong is my prediction looking? When I wrote that I was talking about how their defence would cost them the title this year, but while their are certainly still question marks over their defenders, they appear to be improving as a unit and are being helped a lot by the massive upgrade between the sticks – Ederson has been fantastic for them and will surely be adding to his sole Brazil cap in the next few years – as well as receiving help from the pressuring tactics of the players further forward. Even if they do concede, the quality they have further forward makes you think they can always score at least one more.

Watching the City players this year is like watching Barcelona during Guardiola’s tenure, but a lot more exciting. They are no longer spending 20 minutes just passing the ball around at the back, instead they are getting the ball into the final third and then ripping defences apart with a series of one-touch or two-touch passes. They do not have tall, physically imposing players up front, instead relying on smaller, technically gifted players like Aguero, Jesus, Silva and de Bruyne. Fernandinho may not be N’Golo Kanté but he has quietly become a very reliable rock in front of the defence that allows the attacking talent to let loose.

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The scores of all the midweek games in the Premier League – From http://www.premierleague.com

Guardiola has done some fantastic work at City since his arrival, improving players both individually – Sterling and Stones look better by the month – but also as a unit. It is very difficult to imagine this team dropping 11+ point more than their rivals over the rest of the season and while I don’t think they will win the Champions League this season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them be the last English team standing.

A much-needed return

Tottenham’s 2-0 win over Brighton was notable for a couple of things: Serge Aurier’s cross as he was fouled that looped over the keeper into the goal and – more importantly here – Erik Lamela’s first start in 14 months.

The Argentine has recovered from a hip injury just in time for a congested fixture list over the festive period that will require teams to rotate their players effectively. I have mentioned previously that Spurs’ lack of depth has been costly this season, so to get another quality attacking talent back will allow slightly more rotation of Lamela, Kane, Eriksen, Alli, Son and Llorente. Son hes been been pitching in with some goals recently and Eriksen will always be looking to score/assist from a dead ball situation, so if Spurs can start winning games regularly without Harry Kane’s name on the score sheet, it will allow them to give him a rest when needed to keep him in top condition. It wouldn’t surprise me if they try to get another goalscorer in January though to increase the competition for positions.

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Competition is high for the final Champions League position, and also around the relegation zone – From http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport

At the other end of the pitch, with the news that Toby Alderweireld will be out until at least February, it will be interesting to see if Spurs try to bring in another centre back during the January transfer window in order to give them more options at the back. Considering how well he played when given the chance last year, I imagine they’re regretting selling Kevin Wimmer in the summer.

He’s back… for now

One of the biggest positives for Leicester in their improvement since bringing in Claude Puel has been the form of Riyad Mahrez. The Algerian has been back to his best recently – dodgy blonde barnet not withstanding – and has been a big part of the Foxes’ climb up the table. His goal on Wednesday night in the 1-4 defeat of Southampton was impressive, especially when you see that he actually slipped as he received the ball but was able to get back to his feet, get himself in position and fire into the net from outside the box.

The big worry for Puel and Leicester fans now is whether they can keep hold of him. It is no secret that he wanted to leave in the summer and you have to imagine that his recent resurgence will once again make him an attractive prospect for a team searching for an attacking star. If he were to move to another English team, I would imagine Spurs or Arsenal (especially if they lose Alexis Sancez) would be the favourites, but it also wouldn’t surprise me to see him leave the league for a team on the continent.

Round 18 predictions:

Leicester City v Crystal Palace – Leicester win

Arsenal v Newcastle United – Arsenal win

Brighton & Hove Albion v Burnley – Burnley win

Chelsea v Southampton – Chelsea win

Stoke City v West Ham United – West Ham win

Watford v Huddersfield Town – Watford win

Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur – City win

West Bromwich Albion v Manchester United – United win

AFC Bournemouth v Liverpool – Liverpool win

Everton v Swansea City – Everton win

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 16

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 16

We may only be 16 weeks into the season, but could the weekend just gone be remembered as the one where Manchester City won the 2017/18 Premier League? Their win at Old Trafford puts them 11 points ahead of their local rivals, while Chelsea’s shock defeat at West Ham leaves them a further 3 points out and surely ends their title defence. West Ham’s win puts them 18th in the table, behind West Brom on goal difference, while Swansea’s win against the Baggies allows them to leapfrog Crystal Palace who could only draw at home to Bournemouth despite being awarded 2 penalties.

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The latest results – From http://www.premierleague.com

And for the record, the irony of both City’s goals coming from corners after my comments last week is not lost on me.

A tale of 2 strikers

2 strikers will have taken most of the headlines for Palace’s draw against Bournemouth: Jermain Defoe and Christian Benteke.

The 35-year-old not been having the best of seasons back at Bournemouth, coming into this game with just 1 goal in 12 league matches, but his 2 goals on Saturday were vintage Defoe and give credence to the idea that ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’. His movement off a beautifully worked corner was always going to be hard for the Palace defence to pick up even without the help of his teammate pulling his marker back, then he made the first-time shot look easy as he diverted the cross into the goal. If that was a great goal, his second was an early frontrunner for Goal of the Month as he lobbed Julian Speroni from a tight angle to pull Bournemouth level. He may not have the pace he did early in his career, but the technical ability is still there and he has the experience and knowledge to often make up for the lost pace with great positioning. Hopefully these 2 goals will be the confidence boost he needs to start getting back on the scoresheet on a more regular basis.

If Defoe had been having a bad start to the season, then Benteke’s has been even worse, coming into this game, the Belgian was yet to score following 10 appearances and had become second fiddle to Chelsea loanee Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Following this match, he may be lucky to make the next matchday squad! With the score at 2-2 in injury time, Palace won their second penalty of the game, but despite Luka Milivojevic – who had earlier scored from the spot – still being on the pitch, it was Benteke who stepped up to take the penalty. The penalty attempt was absolutely awful and easily saved by Asmir Begovic, leaving Benteke with only 2 successes from 5 penalties in the league since joining Crystal Palace. It seemed a strange decision to switch penalty takers to Benteke at such a crucial point and Roy Hodgson made it clear in interviews after the game that this was a decision made on-field rather than by him. The important thing is that this is a costly miss: the goal would have won Palace the game and left them on 13 points, ahead of West Ham on goal difference. Instead they are back down to the bottom of the table. Over the last 5 games they have earned more points than anyone else in the bottom half of the table, but their start to the season was so bad, they can’t afford to let opportunities like this pass them by if they want to stay in the top flight.

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Could Jordan Pickford be on its way to becoming England’s number 1? – Picture from Flickr – Pete

Keeper crisis?

Despite his indifferent form over recent seasons, Joe Hart has remained Gareth Southgate’s first choice for the England number 1 jersey. He hasn’t had the best of starts to the season at West Ham, but if we’re honest he hasn’t had much help from his defence. Under David Moyes, the Hammers are starting to look better, but last week’s match at Manchester City looks like it may have come at the worst time for him! He was unable to play against his parent club as part of his loan agreement and replacement Adrian put in an impressive performance that earned him another start in this weekend’s victory. If he carries on like this, it will not be easy for Hart to win his starting spot back, so Southgate may have to look elsewhere for his starting goalkeeper. But where?

Jack Butland looks to be perhaps the best shot stopper, however his Stoke side have conceded more goals than any other Premier League club, and he has also shown a weakness in his game when the ball is at his feet, leading to occasional mistakes such as at the weekend against Spurs. Fraser Forster made a couple of good saves against Arsenal but does not look as solid as he did a few years back (though this has probably not been helped by the changing personnel in front of him over the seasons). Tom Heaton is currently injured and the form of Nick Pope does not guarantee that he will find it easy to get back into the starting lineup, while Pope himself has limited top flight experience so a starting spot for the Three Lions may be a bit premature. Jordan Pickford has received some criticism this season but Everton are a team on the up and having Sam Allardyce in charge is already helping to shore things up at the back. Of the keepers mentioned, only Pope is currently starting for a team placed higher in the league, and Pickford has more top flight experience, while he could also be considered the next in line as he played in England’s draw with Germany last month.

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City’s lead is already beginning to look unassailable – From http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport

The last few years have been great for England as they have developed a couple of talented keepers to rival Joe Hart, now the next step is to get more of these keepers regularly playing at the top of the Premier League table and in Europe.

 

Round 17 predictions:

Burnley v Stoke City – Burnley win

Crystal Palace v Watford – Draw

Huddersfield Town v Chelsea – Chelsea win

Newcastle United v Everton – Everton win

Southampton v Leicester City – Leicester win

Swansea City v Manchester City – Man City win

Liverpool v West Bromwich Albion – Liverpool win

Manchester United v AFC Bournemouth win – United win

Tottenham Hotspur v Brighton & Hove Albion – Spurs win

West Ham United v Arsenal – Arsenal win