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.
“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.
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.
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