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.
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.
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.
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