Round 22 is in the books (and the leftovers from Round 20) and the battles for position continue throughout the league. Manchester United’s win at Everton put them back into second ahead of Chelsea, who drew 2-2 at the Emirates. Liverpool currently hold a 3 point lead over Spurs for the final Champions League spot after their Ragnar Klavan’s late winner against Burnley, who are going through a hard spell of games and now sit 5 points behind 6th placed Arsenal. Towards the bottom of the table, West Ham’s win over West Brom lifts them out of the relegation zone to 16th, while Stoke, West Brom and Swansea currently occupy the bottom 3 with Southampton just ahead of stoke courtesy of goal difference.
On the hot seat
Mark Hughes took a gamble by fielding a heavily weakened side against Chelsea in Round 21 with a view to starting his top players against Newcastle, a game that looked much more winnable. However his Stoke team were routed 5-0 at Stamford Bridge and lost to the Magpies 1-0. His team selections made this a must-win game and as defiant as he was in interviews afterwards, I can’t help but think that his time with the Potters is coming to an end. He may not have had the best of luck with injuries at the back this season, but Stoke’s 47 goals conceded is the most in the league despite having a prospective England international goalkeeper in Jack Butland. With the sale of Marko Arnautovic, they are struggling to put the ball in the net at the other end, leaving them in the bottom 3 by way of goal difference.
The team directly above them, Southampton, are likely also considering a change of leadership at the moment. For so many seasons, the Saints have continued to impress in the league despite selling the vast majority of their players to
Liverpool other clubs and also losing a couple of successful managers to bigger and better things. Claude Puel was unpopular last year and got the sack after just one season despite an 8th place finish, yet his replacement Mauricio Pellegrino has not lived up to his predecessors and their loss at home to Crystal Palace leaves them flirting with the relegation zone. There was always going to come a time when Southampton’s heavy turnover would catch up with them, but under Pellegrino they look a shadow of their former selves. It wouldn’t surprise me if the board are considering alternatives.
The long-awaited debut
Leicester fans finally got to see Adrien Silva on the field after months of training with the club due to him having not been available for selection until January. The Portugal midfielder was signed from Sporting CP on transfer deadline day in August, however the documentation did not reach FIFA until 14 seconds after the deadline, so he remained ineligible to play until he could be registered once the next transfer window opened.
I’ve heard many people comment on the ridiculousness of Leicester being penalised for the sake of 14 seconds, but deadlines are in place for a reason. If you let it go this time, then you open up a can of worms where you can ask how long after the deadline is still acceptable: 30 seconds? A minute? The deadline should have been known by everybody in the business, so the club should not have been leaving things to the last minute. Get your business done early in the window and there is no need to panic or risk missing a deadline.
If anything, the delay has probably helped him, as it meant he was not involved in the poor start to the season and was also able to spend months acclimatising to the team tactics and building chemistry with his teammates, rather than being thrown straight in at the deep end as most deadline day transfers would be.
That said though, whoever decided to give Silva the number 14 shirt at Leicester deserves a bonus!
Over recent weeks I’ve noticed a few selection decisions that could be pointing to the intention of some teams in the transfer market this month.
Luke Shaw has not had the best of relationships with Mourinho this season, but in recent weeks has been getting more game time, helped by injury to Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young’s suspension. These appearances are great news for United as I always felt that before his injuries he was destined to become the first choice left back for the national team. These appearances give him a chance to prove he still deserves a spot at United and could help him revitalise his career at Old Trafford, while if he is considered surplus to requirements it is a chance to put him in the shop window and try to recoup more of the £31m the paid Southampton to sign him in 2014.
Yaya Touré has also come off the bench for Manchester City a couple of times recently. I’d completely forgotten the Ivorian was still even at the club and he seems very much on the periphery of Guardiola’s plans. At 34, he is past his prime but could still have a couple of seasons in him, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see him move on by the end of the month.
If Chelsea don’t look to sign a striker this month then I will be shocked. Michy Batshuayi on paper looks to be second fiddle to Alvaro Morata, but in actuality Antonio Conte has preferred playing Eden Hazard as a false 9 when the Spaniard is unavailable. With Chelsea currently still playing in 4 competitions, they need to have another striker they can rely on and will surely look to bring in some reinforcements. If they do get someone, I would expect Batshuayi to leave Stamford Bridge in search of more regular football.
Outside of Liverpool’s ‘Fab 4’, Dominic Solanke appears to have become Jürgen Klopp’s favoured alternative at the striker position, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see at least one of Daniel Sturridge and Danny Ings leaving Anfield this month. Sturridge is a talented player when on form (though I often feel he is a little too selfish) but he is too much of an injury liability for a club that wants to be winning multiple trophies and I can see Liverpool looking to cash in on him. Ings is the harder one to judge. His last couple of seasons have been blighted by injury, but I am a fan of him and think that at 25 all it may take is a successful loan spell to get him back in Herr Klopp’s plans. If I was Klopp, I would look at loaning him out until the summer in order to get him regular first team football, then make a decision on his future after the season. That said, many teams need a reliable goal scorer this season, so if the offer is good enough I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ings move on a permanent deal sooner rather than later.
Round 23 predictions:
Chelsea v Leicester City – Chelsea win
Crystal Palace v Burnley – Burnley win
Huddersfield Town v West Ham United – Draw
Newcastle United v Swansea City – Newcastle win
Watford v Southampton – Draw
West Bromwich Albion v Brighton & Hove Albion – Draw
Tottenham Hotspur v Everton – Spurs win
AFC Bournemouth v Arsenal – Arsenal win
Liverpool v Manchester City – City win
Manchester United v Stoke City – United win