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.
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.
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…
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
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