Liverpool came into Week 24 of the Premier League looking to continue their hot run after becoming the first team to beat Manchester City in the league this season. They came away with nothing following a 1-0 loss at bottom of the table Swansea, despite some close chances in the dying minutes. This is the real attraction of the Premier League: on their day anyone can beat anyone, which is a lot less likely in most of the top European leagues.
Elsewhere, Stoke saw an immediate improvement under new manager Paul Lambert. Their 2-0 victory over Huddersfield lifted them out of the relegation zone and put more pressure onto Southampton manager Manuel Pellegrino, who could only hold Spurs to a 1-1 draw this weekend. Meanwhile Watford’s 1 point from the last 4 league games marked the end of the Marco Silva’s tenure as he was sacked following their 2-0 loss at Leicester.
I hate to start this week on a low note, but what a horrible injury for James McCarthy to suffer! The Republic of Ireland international suffered a horror fracture of the tibia and fibula as he attempted to tackle West Brom striker Salomon Rondon, ending his season. This was a horrible injury and it is no surprise that the replays were halted right before the injury itself so as not to distress viewers. The quick reactions of Jordan Pickford, Jay Rodriguez and Rondon to call a halt to the game and get medical assistance to McCarthy was proof enough of the severity of the injury. I also couldn’t help but feel sorry for Rondon, who had done nothing wrong but was visibly affected by his part in the injury and I couldn’t help but be impressed that he was able to put that to the back of his mind and continue playing for the remainder of the game. This was a complete accident and nobody could be blamed for it. As horrible as it is, injuries can and will happen in sport.
It is unfortunate that this has happened now to McCarthy. He has only played in 6 games this season (4 in the league) having only just recovered from another injury. He is a very good player and when on form an important part of the Everton squad, but such long-term injuries could make it difficult for him to get back into the squad next season. Hopefully the recovery goes well and we see him back in the league on a more regular basis next season.
Every cloud has a Silva lining
When I have been looking at managers at risk over the last few weeks, someone who I did not consider was Marco Silva (now formerly) of Watford. Watford may not have been on the best run, but they were still in the top half of their table, which is a great achievement considering the quality of the league. However what I didn’t account for was the willingness of the Pozzo family to change their manager when they feel they can do better. From the fact that Javi Gracia has already been named as Silva’s replacement, it would seem that this has been in their mind for a while.
Watford started the season so well, but in recent months they have gone off the boil and struggled for results. They currently lie 10th in the league, but the league is ridiculously tight this season and they are only 4 points outside of the relegation zone – 20th placed Swansea are only 6 points behind them now following their win last night! When the difference between mid-table and the drop is so small, every result matters and that would have put Silva at risk with the owners, however their statement was very telling.
In the statement announcing Silva’s removal, Watford cited Everton’s approach for him following their decision to replace Ronald Koeman, saying that since that saga there had been “a significant deterioration in both focus and results to the point where the long-term future of Watford has been jeopardised.” Strong words, but they do have a point. Watford were flying high before Everton’s approach, yet since then they have struggled for results and began to drop down the table. Silva never publicly distanced himself from the Everton role and you can’t help but wonder if his heart has been in the job since then. It could just be unfortunate timing with the run of bad form, but it certainly looks as if the Everton approach has affected the squad.
The good news for Silva is that he is still considered a good quality manager, I will be shocked if Pellegrino makes it to the end of February and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Silva as one of the names towards the top of Southampton’s list.
Probably the biggest story of the round was the announcement that Manchester United agreed a swap deal with Alexis Sanchez moving to Old Trafford and Henrikh Mkhitaryan going the other way. I think this a great deal for both parties involved.
Arsenal and Sanchez have been going through the motions for a while now and it was only the inability to sign a replacement that stopped Sanchez moving to Manchester City in the summer. Sanchez was ready to leave and has not performed at his best this season, but a move to United will likely (hopefully) see him back to his best. He is a versatile player, able to lay up front, on either side or just behind the striker, which allows Mourinho plenty of tactical flexibility when picking his squad. It also means that all the attacking players will have to up their game to compete against him rather than just the players in a single position. Since 2014/15, Sanchez’s 85 Premier League goals scored or assisted is behind only Harry Kane (108), Serio Aguero (104) and new teammate Romelu Lukaku (86) so he will surely improve the United attack.
Mkhitaryan has not had the best of times at Old Trafford. He had some great moments but also a number of dreadful moments that lost him Mourinho’s trust. It was clear that he was surplus to requirements with United, yet I can see him playing well at Arsenal as I think they will fit his style of play. Hopefully such a talented player will be able to turn his career around and show the Premier League just how good he can be.
This deal works well for both clubs as United offload a player that they do not need while getting in a quality player at no cost. Arsenal would have lost Sanchez for free in the summer, so they have managed to effectively get a player that should fit their system that they likely wouldn’t have been able to get otherwise.
From one completed transfer to transfers that I wonder if they will happen or are even being looked into. Fraser Forster has lost his place in the Southampton starting line-up to Alex McCarthy, while Joe Hart’s loan spell at West Ham has turned into a nightmare as he has fallen behind Adrian in the pecking order. With the World Cup this summer, both of these keepers need to be playing regular football in order to earn their place in the England squad, so I would not be surprised if they are looking for other clubs – though Forster could be banking on a return to the starting XI if/when Pellegrino is replaced. Liverpool are looking to become more competitive and the signing of a new keeper would probably help this.
But would they want to make a transfer now? While Hart and Forster have impressed in the League, neither was having the best of seasons, so would they be much of an upgrade on Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius? Nick Pope’s form for Burnley in place of the injured Tom Heaton has been immense, I struggle to imagine one of these players warming the Burnley bench next season. Heaton is probably the one closer to international recognition, so a move to a club competing at the top of the league and in Europe would certainly help his international aspirations.
Round 25 predictions:
Swansea City v Arsenal – Arsenal win
West Ham United v Crystal Palace – Draw
Huddersfield Town v Liverpool – Liverpool win
Chelsea v AFC Bournemouth – Chelsea win
Everton v Leicester City – Draw
Newcastle United v Burnley – Burnley win
Southampton v Brighton & Hove Albion – Draw
Manchester City v West Bromwich Albion – City win
Stoke City v Watford – Draw
Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester United – Draw