Premier League: June 2020

Premier League: June 2020

Premier League football is back. 100 days after the last match prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the league returned to finish it’s season.

And what an end to the season it is already proving to be. Games are being played in empty stadiums, while being broadcast on a range of streaming services and channels including some matches on free-to-air TV. Marcus Rashford’s campaign to force the government into a U-turn on free school meal vouchers saw Manchester City and Liverpool fans praising him and defending him against online trolls like Katie Hopkins. The league as a whole took a stance to support the Black Lives Matter movement with everybody taking a knee for the opening seconds of each match, while matchday kits also had the players’ surnames replaced with “Black Lives Matter” for the early matches after the return. We had our usual dose of thrilling football, beautiful goals and controversies… Oh and Liverpool finally won the Premier League, their first top flight league title in 30 years!


Premier League Round-up


Champions

At one point, it looked like they may be denied or have an asterisk next to their name on a technicality, but thankfully the season was able to return and Liverpool were able to win the title that they had thoroughly earned this season. Their last top flight league title was back in the 1989/90 season, back before the Premier League existed. Since then, they have come close on occasion, most notably when Steven Gerrard’s slip against Chelsea proving costly in the 2013/14 season.

The Reds were fully deserving of the title this season. Yes, they have had limited injuries to their key players and certainly benefited from all of their title rivals having a down year, with City not suitably having suitable options at centreback to cope with the injury of Aymeric Laporte and most of the other “Big 6” going through rebuilds, but the Reds can only play the teams that are put in front of them and did so with aplomb, with just 7 points dropped over their first 31 matches meaning that Manchester City’s 2-1 loss at Chelsea on 25ᵗʰ June secured their 19ᵗʰ league title. They have an incredible front 3 in Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah, who have contributed 40 league goals to date this season, while the rest of the squad has supplied a further 28 goals spread between 13 players, as well as benefiting from 2 own goals. Meanwhile at the other end of the pitch, the acquisitions of Virgil van Dyke and Alisson in recent seasons have solidified a defence that used to be called porous by people who were being polite!

But how will they do defending the title next year? You have to imagine that many of their rivals will be more competitive and, as defending champions, Liverpool will have a target on their backs. But as long as they can continue to score with regularity and stay tight at the back, they will be hard to beat. Young players like Trent Alexander-Arnold will have another season of experience under their belt and probably be an even better player for it, while if you look at the goal tallies for the team, there is room for someone beyond the front 3 to stand out from the crowd with a higher goal tally, much like Steven Gerrard back in the day. Don’t rule out a 20ᵗʰ league title for the Reds next season.

Sad end to special season

While the return to action has been great for Liverpool, another team in the top half of the table has not had it so well. Nobody would have thought at the star of the season that newly-promoted Sheffield United would be pushing for European qualification, but the Blades were having a sensational season, finding themselves in 7ᵗʰ when the league stopped – which in terms of European qualification was actually 6ᵗʰ due to Manchester City’s European ban.

Unfortunately, things haven’t gone so well since the return. In the opening match, they were denied a clear goal by a freak failure of Hawk-Eye’s goal-line tech and a failure of VAR (more on that soon) and had to settle for a 0-0 draw at Aston Villa. In their next match at Newcastle, a questionable yellow card for John Egan proved costly as he later received a second yellow, with the game going from 0-0 to a 3-0 loss following his dismissal. And then finally so far, a trip to face a resurgent Manchester United at Old Trafford.

3 away matches in a role is a far-from-ideal way to start off a run of games, and they certainly had some bad luck with some questionable (or just downright wrong) decisions going against them, but it is clear that the break has robbed them of any momentum that they had. What also really hurts them is that they have nowhere near the same strength in depth of the teams around them, which is going to really hurt them now as the remaining games are jammed into the shortest amount of time possible.

While this season can still be considered a resounding success, I think fans will have a legitimate excuse to wonder what might have been had we not had to cope with a pandemic.

Tech troubles… again

Warning: Rant incoming – including some bad language

VAR is an absolute fucking mess! The technology itself is sound and has been shown to work in other tournaments around the world, but in the Premier League it is an absolute shambles.We didn’t even have a full month of matches and yet the amount of errors were staggering…

In the opening game after the return, Villa keeper Ørjan Nyland clearly carried a Oliver Norwood cross from a free kick over his own line, but in a freak situation, the position of the ball, keeper, post and nearby players meant that Hawk-Eye were in a position where the goal-line technology could 100% confirm the goal. Luckily, TV crews had an angle that clearly showed the ball fully over the line, but for some unbelievable reason, VAR never intervened, costing Sheffield United the win.

Arsenal’s midfield moron Mattéo Guendouzi looked certain to face a ban after grabbing Brighton striker Neal Maupay by the throat following Arsenal’s 2-1 loss at Brighton. It was a clear red card, but he escaped a ban after it was revealed that VAR had reviewed the incident and determined that it was not sufficient to deserve a red card… I give up!

Sticking with red cards not being given, VAR also decided that Jordan Ayew did not deserve a red after his forearm made contact with Josh Brownhill’s face. VAR took about a thousand looks and, despite Ayew clearly taking a look to see Brownhill was and raising his arm into an unnatural position, ruled that Ayew was not deserving of a red card.

I am a big supporter of VAR and technology being brought into football to help the officials get the right decisions, but the Premier League will just become a farce. As one of my close friends said to me when we were discussing VAR earlier, “there’s a lot of things they could improve if the FA just stopped being assholes.” I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Sounds like a waste of money

While we may be watching games being played in empty stadiums, the broadcasters have tried to make the experience seem as close to normal as possible buy including artificial crowd noise. I really hope they didn’t spend too much money on this because it’s completely unnecessary and in my opinion actually harms the spectacle.

Though you are focusing on the football, you can still see that the stands are empty, which means that something just feels off as you’re watching. The other problem is that the broadcasters are limited to certain soundbites, so it will never feel as natural as a real crowd, while there is also the issue of this relying on Joe Bloggs in the studio pressing the right button on his soundboard at the right point. It all just becomes a distraction. And it’s not even necessary!

You’re not trying to create an atmosphere for people living at home, so the crowd noise isn’t needed. Instead, it is a chance for us to take advantage of the situation to hear how a pair of professional football teams sound in a live match. Thanks to the “crowd” noise though, my mute button has been getting a lot of work.

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Premier League: March 2020

Premier League: March 2020

Well… this was an odd month!

It feels like forever since we had any football, but we did in fact manage to get a week’s worth of matches (and those from the latter half of the week before) before all football was shut down due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that has brought not just sport, but everyday life to a standstill. This is a very strange time for us all and the season is currently in a strange form of limbo, but in an attempt to keep things as normal as possible, I am still here with a look at the action and stories to come out this month.


Premier League Round-up


Offside?

Manchester United’s improvement was continuing in March with a 1-1 draw at Everton and a 2-0 victory over Manchester City at Old Trafford. A big moment in the Everton match came when VAR overruled an own goal from Harry Maguire (which would have won Everton the match) due to an offside decision against Gylfi Sigurðsson.

The Icelandic international was on the floor in the 6-yard box after having his shot saved by David de Gea. The ball came to Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who’s shot towards the far post took a heavy deflection off Harry Maguire and into the goal at the near post after Sigurðsson – who was still on the floor with less than 2 United players between him and the goalline – pulled his legs out of the way. Sigurðsson was definitely in an offside position, but was he offside?

Per the FA’s Laws of the Game on their website:

A player in an offside position at the moment the ball is played or touched* by a team-mate is only penalised on becoming involved in active play by:

  • interfering with play by playing or touching a ball passed or touched by a team-mate or
  • interfering with an opponent by:
    • preventing an opponent from playing or being able to play the ball by clearly obstructing the opponent’s line of vision or
    • challenging an opponent for the ball or
    • clearly attempting to play a ball which is close when this action impacts on an opponent or
    • making an obvious action which clearly impacts on the ability of an opponent to play the ball

*The first point of contact of the ‘play’ or ‘touch’ of the ball should be used

or

  • gaining an advantage by playing the ball or interfering with an opponent when it has:
    • rebounded or been deflected off the goalpost, crossbar or an opponent
    • been deliberately saved by any opponent
    • A player in an offside position receiving the ball from an opponent who deliberately plays the ball (except from a deliberate save by any opponent) is not considered to have gained an advantage.

A ‘save’ is when a player stops, or attempts to stop, a ball which is going into or very close to the goal with any part of the body except the hands/arms (unless the goalkeeper within the penalty area).

The clear argument here is that Sigurðsson was in de Gea’s line of vision, which is in itself enough to disallow the goal. I would also make an argument that the offside could be given for another point as well: “clearly attempting to play a ball which is close when this action impacts on an opponent”. In this case, the playing of the ball is the deliberate lifting of the legs just in time for the ball to pass by untouched, in a similar way to a player deliberately stepping over a pass as a dummy to allow a player behind them to get the ball. Were it not for this action, the ball is being blocked by him, and it is only this late evasion that stops this.

If nothing else, I’m sure we can agree that Sigurðsson had more than enough time to get back to his feet and get onside, but chose instead to just stay on the floor, which proved costly.

How do we proceed?

The Premier League is in limbo at the moment as we wait to see how quickly the COVID-19 pandemic clears up. If it happens relatively quickly, then I imagine we will see the league continue as it was and finish slightly further into the summer than usual, which is now possible due to the Euros being pushed back a year. Obviously this would be the ideal situation, but what if the pandemic carries on for another couple of months and completing the season becomes impossible?

Should the season stand with the final standings as they are? Should we go back a couple of weeks to the last point every team had played the same number of matches? Or should the season just be struck off and replayed next season?

There is so much to consider. If the season in stopped early, there is plenty of argument to award Liverpool the title, but as it is not mathematically impossible for them to be caught at this stage, I feel that their title victory would need an asterisk next to it. European places and the bottom 3 also become very contentious decisions as it can be argued that some teams will have had a harder or easier playing schedule, giving advantage to some teams. There is also the issue that right now, not all teams have played the same number of games, but going back to the last time all teams had played the same number of matches could see a team drop down a position that they had fairly climbed above. Any partial season automatically gives an advantage to teams who had a strong first half of the season. Teams like Manchester United and Arsenal started the season poorly but have seen their results improving of late, and could have found themselves rising even higher in the standings.

Though it is harsh on the teams that have been doing well this season like Liverpool and Sheffield United (also teams pushing for promotion from the Championship), I think that the only fair way to deal with this season is to strike it off, with prize money split equally between all the teams, no champion, no promotion/relegation and the same teams competing in European competition next season (with Manchester City’s ban being pushed back a year). It is far from ideal and would really need all UEFA nations to agree to do the same to basically replay the competition next season, but these are unheralded times and I can’t see a fairer way to deal with such an unprecedented situation.

Let’s hope the situation improves quick enough for the seasons to be completed to make all of this a moot point!

Coping with the times

In this very difficult time, clubs have been reacting in very different ways to the COVID-19 pandemic and I just wanted to take a moment to praise a couple of teams who have acted admirably in the circumstances before throwing some shade at others whose actions have been less praiseworthy.

First of all, a massive credit to Brighton, who announced that they will donate 1000 tickets to NHS staff once matches are back on, and Bournemouth, who agreed to match this. NHS Staff are so underappreciated and are putting themselves at risk to look after those who are ill, so I would argue that 1000 tickets from each team should be an absolute minimum! A shout-out too for Burnley, who announced earlier in the month that all the matchday and non-matchday staff (including those in the community) will receive their usual pay while the break goes on.

On the flip-side however, a number of teams including Newcastle and Tottenham are taking advantage of the government’s job retention scheme to pay 80% of staff’s wages to a maximum of £2,500 a month. Meanwhile the players and big-earners remain on full salaries. The average Premier League player has a salary of over £3m per year, so it is disgusting that they are still getting full salaries while the public’s taxes are used to help the rest of the club staff survive. In my opinion, a minimum salary should be set in place, players above which should automatically receive a pay cut with their cut wages going to the rest of the staff being affected. Let’s be honest, those diving primadonnas earn ridiculous money for what they do anyway!

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Premier League: February 2020

Premier League: February 2020

We’re in to March and in a shock moment, the unbeatable Liverpool have fallen to a defeat. The Reds went into the final day of the month looking for a 19ᵗʰ consecutive league win that would be a record across all 4 of England’s professional leagues, but they found themselves losing 3-0 at home to Watford. At the other end of the table, Brighton’s 0-1 loss to Crystal Palace on the same day means that they remain the only team in all of England’s top 4 leagues to have not won a match in any competition.


Premier League Round-up


Liverpool lose

“He’s cut! He’s cut! The Russian’s cut and it’s a bad cut. And now it’s Rocky Balboa coming after Ivan Drago!”

– Rocky IV

It finally happened: after 44 league games unbeaten, Liverpool lost at home (of all places!) to Watford (of all teams!). Liverpool looked poor in this game as Watford put them under pressure, with Ismaila Sarr scoring the first 2 goals and playing a key role in Tory Deeney’s to defeat the Reds – who had just 1 shot on target – by a score of 0-3.

For the last couple of months, I have been suggesting that barring a massive slip-up, Liverpool had the title confirmed, but they have been far from great in recent weeks and have now lost 3 of their last 4 games in all competitions following a Champions League loss to Atlético Madrid and Tuesday’s FA Cup loss to Chelsea. Is this the beginning of the slide?

Not likely, as they are in such a strong position. With 28 league games played, they have the same amount of wins as Arsenal’s “Invincibles” managed in the 2003/04 season and they find themselves on the same amount of points as runners-up Chelsea managed that year, 11 less than Arsenal. Yet they will find themselves leading Manchester City by 19 points, or more if City fail to win their game in hand. Such has been the lack of competition from their league opponents this year.

Will they lose the title from here? Highly unlikely as I still see the teams below dropping point even if Liverpool do have a bit of a bad run, but after their bad luck in recent title run-ins, they need to make sure that they get back to winning ways soon. With March seeing them host Bournemouth this weekend, host Atlético in the second leg of their Champions League Tie, travelling to Goodison Park for a Merseyside Derby and returning home to face Crystal Palace, it is imperative that Liverpool get some good results from these games.

Sky Blue Brexit

Probably the biggest news affecting the Premier League this month was the announcement that Manchester City would be banned from European competition for the next 2 seasons due to “serious breaches” of UEFA’s financial regulations. As well as reigniting the race for the top 4 (or top 5 if City finish in the top 4 as expected), it has left City fans worrying about who will choose to move on, as stars like Sergio Agüero and manager Pep Guardiola may decide that European football is too big of a draw to ignore for the next 2 seasons.

To me, there is another discussion that should be had for the rest of the season: the players used in the remaining games. With the Premier League looking all-but gone this season and top 4 not important now due to their European ban, the focus should be on keeping the stars fit to compete in this season’s Champions League, with a view to winning this season before their ban takes effect.

This would also allow them to look to the future in the league matches. We already know that David Silva is leaving at the end of the season, Leroy Sané has been a transfer target and others may chose to move on. Without European football, City may not be able to pull in the big names, so this is a chance to look at the younger players in the squad like Phil Foden, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Gabriel Jesus to see if they are good enough to become key members of the starting lineup if required, while also trying to find a centreback combination that can be successful if Aymeric Laporte is unavailable.

Breaking new ground

February saw the Premier League’s first official mid-season break, as Round 26 was spread over 2 weekends. While I like the decision to have a mid-season break as it will help keep the players fit during a long season, I do not personally agree on the break being split over 2 weeks.

I completely understand why it has been done that way, to maximise television revenue by giving the broadcasters 2 weeks to broadcast 1 round of games, however it does lead to some level of inequality. A team forced to play on the first week of the break could desperately need that break a week earlier if they are struggling with injuries to put together a viable starting XI, while a team who play on the second week could find themselves struggling in an extra match as they return following a break in football.

There is also the issue of the weather. We know these days that weather will cause havoc at this time of year and having all games on the same weekend in my view makes it fairer as poor conditions in the second week will force teams to reschedule in an already busy schedule, but poor conditions in the first week could allow those teams to just play a week later while still getting a break from football, leading to them having a less congested fixtures list.

For me personally, a mid-season break is the right idea, but all teams should have the same week off in order to keep things fairer across the park.

Aiming high

We all know that a high boot is illegal in football as it endangers other players. But when does it suddenly become legal? Answer: when it’s a striker attempting a bicycle kick in a crowded box. Such was the case in Arsenal’s 3-2 win over Everton, as Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s opener was allowed despite his scissor kick bringing his foot dangerously close to the head of defender David Luiz.

I have some sympathy for defenders and midfielders in cases like this, as these overhead kicks are often more dangerous than high boots that everyone else gets penalised for around the pitch – my mind immediately goes to a red card given to Nani against Real Madrid – despite not even getting close to the head – the most important part of the body!

Why do we allow these overhead kicks in crowded areas? Let’s be honest and admit it is purely for the spectacle of seeing the player execute one of these for a shot at goal – visually they look great, in terms of safety… less so.

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Premier League: January 2020

Premier League: January 2020

February is here and the inevitable Liverpool slip-up to lose the title is looking less and less likely. The Reds won all their Premier League games in January, whereas both of their closest rivals dropped points, with Manchester City being held to a draw at home to Crystal Palace and Leicester losing 2-1 at Burnley.


Premier League Round-up


Legend in sky blue

While City’s draw against Palace made Liverpool’s title victory all the more likely, January 2020 was a big month for Sergio Agüero. The Argentine scored his 12ᵗʰ Premier League hat-trick (a league record) during their 1-6 demolition of Aston Villa, which saw him score his 176ᵗʰ Premier League goal to become the top-scoring non-British player in Premier League history. Then, against Palace, he scored his 250ᵗʰ and 251ˢᵗ goals for the club.

Agüero is a world-class player and a fantastic talent, and he has been a key part of Manchester City’s success over the last decade – it was in fact his goal with his first touch off the bench that saw them win at Sheffield United recently. A few years ago, it looked like his time at the club may be coming towards an end as he initially struggled to adapt to Pep Guardiola’s style of play, but he has got pas those issues and got back to looking like the elite player he had proved himself to be.

Only once in his Manchester City career has he failed to reach 20 goals in all competitions (17 in the 2012/13 season), which considering the issues that he has had at times with injuries shows just how good a player he is. At 31, he probably has a couple of good seasons in him as he relies on movement and positioning rather than outright pace, but City need to start making sure they have a quality replacement ready for when he is no longer available. Will Gabriel Jesus be the man? Time will tell…

Fair reward

Regular readers will know how much I hate simulation and diving. It’s disgusting, cheating and has no place in the game. I am fully on board punishment for players who are caught simulating in matches, but I also think that there needs to be more of a look at promoting good behaviour.

During Manchester United’s 4-0 win over Norwich, Anthony Martial was fouled in the box with the score at 0-0, but though he went to ground, he did not make a big deal about the challenge and instead got back to his feet to try to keep playing, however the chance was gone. And yet despite this, no penalty was awarded. The same weekend saw Theo Walcott fouled by Lewis Dunk during Everton’s 1-0 win over Brighton. Walcott was passing Dunk to go clean through on goal when Dunk pulled him back. Though Walcott tried to keep his feet, he was clearly off balance, which affected his shot, but again no penalty was awarded.

If we want to get rid of simulation, then it is important to not just penalise offenders, but also to reward players who are honest and try to play on when fouled if they are clearly not gaining an advantage. If players know that they won’t get the free kicks and penalties they deserve without throwing themselves to the ground, can we really blame them for going down so easy?

Transfer talk

The January transfer window is not really the place to get fantastic deals done, but even by normal standards, the big teams were largely underwhelming this season.

Steven Bergwijn and the permanent signature of Giovani Lo Celso add some good depth to the squad despite the departure of Christian Eriksen to Inter, but I feel that Spurs needed to find a central striker to lighten the load on Harry Kane, which became even more important with him getting injured.

Chelsea were another team who I felt needed to look at bringing in another striker as they don’t seem to trust Olivier Giroud, yet they celebrated having their transfer ban reduced by signing nobody. They are currently holding onto 4ᵗʰ spot and the potential of Champions League football next season, but this lack of a new striker could be costly.

For Arsenal, the loan signings of Cédric Soares and Pablo Marí could be just what they need to solidify their defence and see them start to climb up the table. I feel however that City made a mistake to not bring in another centreback as they have proved themselves to be weak at the back when Aymeric Laporte is missing.

Manchester United’s signings are interesting. Bruno Fernandes could be a great signing to improve the team’s chance creation and goal scoring (at time of writing after 25 rounds, they have scored just 36 goals). The signing that has the potential to be either brilliant or terrible is that of Odion Ighalo, who has joined on loan from Shanghai Shenhua until the end of the season. Ighalo has Premier League experience, having spent a couple of seasons at Watford that saw them promoted from the Championship, but his prolific start quickly faded and he went from 20 goals in 38 games to 17 in 42 to 2 in 19 before moving to China. His time in China has been prolific, with 36 goals in 55 games for Changchun Yatai and 10 in 19 for Shanghai, but at 30 years old, there will be questions over his ability to transition back from the Chinese league to one of the toughest leagues in the world. He is a United fan though and has taken a pay cut to make this dream move a reality, so it may be that this is able to help propel him on and if he can chip in with a decent number of goals, the experience he will bring to the young forwards around him will be invaluable.

The nation’s hopes in the palm of your hands…

Major tournaments and goalkeeping errors have often gone hand in hand for England over the last couple of decades. So many times we have seen an absolute howler one of the main memories from England’s World Cup or Euros campaign. Things appeared to improve for a time, first with Joe Hart then more recently with Jordan Pickford, but both began to look skittish and if I’m honest, I’ve lost a lot of faith in the Everton keeper.

What also can’t help is that it is rare in recent years that an England keeper has come from a top-table club. My personal feeling is that this harms our keepers, as even the best keeper in the league will struggle to avoid conceding if he doesn’t have the players in front of him. Jack Butland looked to be the next big thing a couple of years ago, but a disastrous campaign for Stoke saw them relegated and though Butland rarely seemed at fault for the goals, it looked like an entire season of picking the ball out of the back of his net took its toll and he has not reached the same level again since.

So with the European Championship coming up this summer, who should England take in their squad? I used the Premier League website to check the stats of the English keepers in the league as of the end of January.

Keepers
I have calculated the Save % by dividing the number of saves by the combined number of saves and goals conceded

Assuming England carry 3 keepers in their squad, Dean Henderson and Aaron Ramsdale would be my top 2 choices – with Henderson taking the number 1 shirt as not only does he have the best save percentage, but he is also playing for the most successful team this season. Henderson and Ramsdale are both inexperienced at internationals level, so I would probably look to take someone more experienced to help them adapt to the new environment, which unfortunately rules out Alex McCarthy. Ben Foster and Tom Heaton would be the next best options, but Foster is retired and Heaton out injured. Pope has been around the squad for a while, but again does not have the experience of playing in a tournament, so Jordan Pickford would take the third spot for me, more by process of elimination than on the strength of his performances.

Who would you select for the Euros?

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Premier League: December 2019

Premier League: December 2019

Happy New Year to all you football fans! With the Christmas and New Year period, December is always a busy time in the Premier League as we had 6 rounds of matches (or 7 in the case of teams who played on Sunday in Round 14). Losses to Manchester City and Liverpool over the space of a week all-but ended Leicester’s title chances and it now looks like Liverpool’s first Premier League title is as good as won, barring a monumental slip up.

December saw 3 managers given their P45s, with Manuel Pellegrini, Marco Silva and Quique Sanchez Florez being replaced by David Moyes, Carlo Ancelotti and Nigel Pearson respectively.


Premier League Round-up


The ugly side of the beautiful game

Football may be the beautiful game, but far too often it is being overshadowed by the acts of the so-called fans watching the game.

When we hear of the racism that is rife in the Italian leagues or incidents like the racism from the Bulgarian crowd directed at England players, we decry it… and yet December’s Manchester City v Manchester United and Tottenham v Chelsea matches made it very clear that it is an issue here as well! In the Manchester derby, the abuse of Fred from Manchester City fans was obvious, with footage clearly showing a fan making monkey chants and gestures, while objects were also thrown at him. Then in London just a few weeks later, Antonio Rüdiger reported hearing racist chants towards him in the crowd, which seemed to stem from an incident with Son Heung-min.

In both cases, the home clubs came out with public statements saying the right thing, but this means nothing if we’re being honest. You just need to watch the footage of the City v Liverpool game and a number of the culprits are there clear as day standing right in front of the stewards… who do nothing.

The thing is though, why should we stop at racism. Why should any player be getting abused by rival fans, regardless of his race/religion. The behaviour of so many fans is disgusting. Banter and some fun chants is one thing, but the vitriolic hatred that we see fans spewing towards players every game really puts me off my enjoyment of the game and makes me never want to go to a live match, whereas at a rugby game I feel safe and feel like I could still have a great time even if i was the only Gloucester fan who turned up to the Rec.

Football needs to take a no-nonsense attitude towards abuse of any kind, or we can say goodbye to the beautiful game.

Some fine tuning needed

Shock! We’re moaning about VAR again. It’s understandable, as it’s impossible to go a weekend without some VAR controversy at the moment. This month, we have had a spate of goals disallowed for the most marginal of offsides, often so narrow that I’m still struggling to tell if the attacker is onside or not when I look at the graphics.

A couple of times this month we heard chants along the lines of “It’s not football anymore” and to be honest, I think you’re a moron if you think that football is better without VAR. We want to make sure that the games are not ruined by the wrong refereeing call, we just need to get to the point that VAR is being used right, as it we see in rugby, cricket, tennis… all these other sports that have had it for years that the Premier League could and should have learned from when they decided to implement it.

The way I see it, there are 2 words that would massively improve the use of VAR: clear and obvious. In rugby, a referee has to make the call of try/no try and it is then the job of the TMO to review and see if there is any clear and obvious reason to overturn the on-field decision. Meanwhile, cricket has Umpire’s Call when checking LBW on reviews – an area where regardless of whether the umpire has called Out or Not Out, the decision will stand as it is too close to accurately call whether the original call is correct or not.

Imagine if football brought this in for offsides. The official awards the goal but checks VAR, which has a graphic with 1 line/vertical plane marking the offside point. If we can clearly see a part of the attacker beyond that mark, then the goal is chalked off. If it is clear that the attacker is behind the mark, or if it is unclear without zooming in until the screen is about 10 pixels, then the on-pitch call stands. Likewise, if the offside is called but the review clearly shows that the player was onside, it is overruled, but if not clear then the call stands. Technology is not good enough for us to pause the image at the exact moment the ball is played away, and it is certainly not good enough for us to get close in on an image without the pixel quality making it unclear. Making a margin for error may lead to some calls that were technically wrong, but it will still bring an end to the bad missed that lead to people complaining about the work of the officials.

With VAR being given an easier job there, though, I would also extend its use elsewhere to correcting any clear and obvious mistakes, such as in Everton’s 1-2 win over Newcastle, where Everton’s opener came from a corner that replays clearly showed should have been a goal kick after Moise Kean headed over. With the number of cameras at these games, there should be enough time for VAR to notice a clear and obvious mistake of this kind before play continues.

Hopefully we see some improvement soon.

Where is everyone?

Earlier this month, I saw a story on BBC Sport that I couldn’t help have a quick chuckle at. Newcastle were offering their season ticket holders a free additional half-season ticket in a bid to help fill St James’ Park.

Now I have respect for Newcastle and its fans, so it has been horrible watching the decline of such a great club with Mike Ashley at the helm. The Newcastle fans would come to support their team regardless of results, but they are sick and tired of Ashley’s reign and the way that he has turned such a proud club into a business. The only way they can get their point across is by not turning up to matches and denying the club ticket revenue.

So, Mike Ashley, kindly get out and let this club get back to where it should be.

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Premier League: November 2019

Premier League: November 2019

The title race took a strong swing in the direction of Liverpool in November, as Liverpool beat defending champions Manchester City 3-1 at Anfield, before a 2-2 draw for City at St James’ Park extended Jürgen Klopp’s side’s lead to 11 points going into December.

Tottenham’s struggles continued for the first half of the month, before Mauricio Pochettino was replaced with José Mourinho, which appears to have changed their fortunes in the following weeks. Pochettino was quickly followed into unemployment by Arsenal manager Unai Emery given his marching orders following a 2-2 draw at home to Southampton, while Quique Sánchez Flores made it to the end of the month but no further after a 2-1 loss at Southampton on the last day of the month marked the end of his time at Watford, his sacking being announced on December 1st.

Watford end the month bottom of the table, with Norwich and Southampton joining them in the relegation zone, though Everton, Brighton and Aston Villa are all within 3 points of the bottom 3, though all with better goal differences.


Premier League Round-up


Crime and punishment

Nobody ever wants to see a player get injured, so my thoughts went out to André Gomes as I watched him suffer a serious ankle injury against Tottenham at the start of the month.

A clumsy challenge from Son Heung-min brought the Portuguese midfielder down, but as he went down his foot got caught beneath him, resulting in a fractured and dislocated ankle. Son was clearly distraught at the injury his tackle had caused, but was then given a red card for the tackle – despite referee Martin Atkinson having appeared ready to produce a yellow card until noticing the injury. It was later confirmed that the severity of Gomes’ injury was taken into account, with the red card being given for endangering a player.

As much as I sympathise with Gomes, a red card for Son was an absolute joke. The challenge was clumsy and deserving of a yellow, but by no means dangerous, and the injury was simply the result of an unfortunate accident. In my opinion, a n injury to a player should not be accounted for when deciding on a punishment in these kinds of situation. A simple nudge in the back that is deserving of no more than a free kick could otherwise become a red card if the fouled player fell awkwardly and hurt themselves, meanwhile a much more cynical and dangerous challenge could only receive a yellow as it didn’t cause injury.

Thankfully, the red card was later overturned by the FA, while Gomes is expected to make a full recovery. Hopefully lessons will have been learned when a similar situation inevitably occurs again in the future.

And your winners… and new Premier League Champions…

It’s not even Christmas yet, but the title race looks all-but over. A 3-1 victory over the defending champions at Anfield was a big result in the title fight, but following Liverpool’s 2-1 win over Brighton and Manchester City’s 2-2 draw at Newcastle, the Reds have now opened up an 11-point lead after just 14 games.

While Liverpool have a history of letting a lead slip (sometimes literally, sorry Steven Gerrard!), I find it hard to imagine that it’s going to happen again this year. Liverpool are yet to lose a Premier League match this season and have only dropped points on one occasion, so even if City were to win every remaining game, it’s questionable if Liverpool would drop enough points to lose the lead.

The thing is, I don’t see City going the rest of the season without dropping more points. Leroy Sané has been a big loss to the attack despite the strength in depth there, while Gabriel Jesus doesn’t appear to adequately replace Sergio Aguero whenever the Argentina is missing. Worse though is at the back, where the failure to replace the outgoing Vincent Kompany has left them short at the back following Aymeric Laporte’s injury. Fernandinho is a quality player, but he isn’t a centreback, which teams are able to take advantage of, while he is then missed in the holding role, putting even more pressure on a questionable defence. Whether they wait for Laporte to return, or look to bring in another centreback in January, it could be that it is already too late.

I’m not a betting man, but if I was, then my money would be going the way of Liverpool.

Getting ridiculous

Southampton’s 2-1 win over Watford at the end of the month is a match that is going to stick in my mind for a while. While it was the match I watched during a long-overdue catch-up with an old friend, what I will remember it for is 2 of the worst decisions that I have seen all season.

I’ve thought for years that goalkeepers get too much protection and that was proved after Ben Foster tried to flick the ball past Danny Ings and, realising that Ings had the turn on him, pulled him down in the box. Instead of a penalty for Southampton, a free kick was given against Ings for leaning into Foster. Anywhere else on the pitch and against any other player, that would never go against Ings, so to see it here is ridiculous – thankfully it didn’t impact the result at the end.

That said, the only reason it didn’t impact the result was for a goal from Ings that should never have stood. As Moussa Djenepo rounded José Holebas, he appeared to stumble and stretch out an arm, with replays clearly showing him flicking the ball goalwards, allowing him to regain control of the ball and cut it back for Ings to score the equaliser. Under the new handball rules, it does not matter if Djenepo deliberately handled or not – any contact with the hand/arm by an attacking player in the build-up to a goal is considered a handball, so this should have been clearly ruled out. Unfortunately, VAR apparently didn’t pick up on this as they did not have all angles available to spot the offence. I don’t understand what the point of VAR is if they don’t have access to all available angles. I remain a firm supporter of VAR, but so far this season it’s been a shambles! With the nature of the business, every decision is important, as shown by Flores’ sacking the day after this loss. A “sorry, we got it wrong” after the fact is not good enough.

I bid you adieu…

November 2019 was a dark month for Premier League managers at top clubs. Mauricio Pochettino was shown the door at Tottenham and José Mourinho brought in to replace him, while Unai Emery was also shown the door at Arsenal, with Freddie Ljungberg taking over as interim head coach. Quique Sánchez Flores managed his last match in his 2nd spell at Watford this month as well, with his sacking being announced on December 1st. Meanwhile in Manchester, Ole Gunnar Solskjær remains on the precipice and I currently feel that it will be very difficult for him to make it to the end of the year still in charge at Old Trafford.

I understand why Pochettino was removed given the results this season, but I think that he has been in a similar situation to Solskjær, in that he has not received the support he needed from his club’s chairman. Emery however was not getting results despite bringing in expensive players like Nicolas Pépé, while the apparent lack of leadership, the incident with Granit Xhaka and the consistent failures to create a solid defence meant that his days were going to be numbered. Flores as well was no shock, given that Watford – a club already known for frequently changing their managers – were rooted to the bottom of the table. A 2-2 draw at Arsenal was a high point, but that was eclipsed by a 8-0 loss to Manchester City. With the way results were going, it was too big of a risk to stick with him if they wanted to avoid relegation.

José felt like a bit of a gamble, but things have started well for him at Spurs. Dele Alli has hit form again and results are going their way, even if 2 Premier League games in a row saw them almost throw away a 3-goal lead. United tonight will be a big test, but I’m sure that he will want to get one over on his former team, and I’m sure his players will be up for it too.

Who will be next: Solskjær, Marco Silva or someone else?


Finally, today is a first for my Premier League recaps as I have some content to include that I can take no credit for. Football has been a big part of me keeping in contact with my friend Chris since we stopped working together. A Spurs fan (he has provided all the pictures this site has used from White Hart Lane and the Tottenham Hotspur Staudium), I was very interested to hear his thoughts on Pochettino’s sacking and it was safe to say he had plenty. I joked to him that if he wanted to write something, I’d publish it for him, and within no time, I had an email waiting for me with what I’m about to show you.

Bear in mind that this was written on the evening after his sacking was announced, so José’s early success may have helped, but I think that we still stand by what he has written as the switch in managers looks to be a band-aid on a deeper wound.

Take it away Chris:

‘The Game is About Profit, Not Glory’ – why Tottenham’s issues lie at the top

In 2001, ENIC decided to purchase a controlling stake in Tottenham Hotspur F.C. from Lord Alan Sugar and Daniel Levy became chairman of the club. In these 18 years Tottenham have had 12 managers, an average net spend of £5.4 million per window and 1 league cup win.

As of writing, a quick search tells us that Tottenham Hotspur is the 9th most valuable football club in the world at an estimated $1.6 billion (Forbes; May ’19). ENIC paid an initial £21.9 million for the controlling stake (Telegraph; Dec ’00).

The Spurs way, ever since the ‘glory days’ headed by club legend Nicholson, has been ‘The Game is About Glory’ – in his great words, ‘It is better to fail aiming high than to succeed aiming low. And we of Spurs have set our sights very high, so high in fact that even failure will have in it an echo of glory’. Should you ask any footballing fan what their definition of success is for their team, or any team, the last word that would come to their lips is ‘profit’.

On 27th May 2014, Tottenham appointed Mauricio Pochettino as Head Coach on an initial 5-year contract which started, what most football fans across the globe believed to be, the new era of Tottenham Hotspur. With the plans in full swing for a new, world class stadium, a strong, young and promising spine throughout the starting XI, the club needed rejuvenation and Pochettino seemed to be the answer.

In 5½ years, Pochettino has taken Tottenham to a new level. Leaving the club with the most wins by a Spurs manager in the post-war era (159), 4 consecutive top-four PL finishes and their first ever Champions League final, have ENIC, Daniel Levy and Tottenham Hotspur F.C. made a grave mistake? Tottenham have gone from being a club known for their inadequacy, ‘lack of guts’ and on the wrong end of the infamous ‘St Totteringham’s Day’ for so long, too long. There is one man responsible for changing that mindset, that gut, that desire and putting Tottenham on the global stage.

Not even 6 months after taking the club to their first ever Champions League final, the board of Spurs have taken the ‘brave’ and ‘difficult’ decision to part ways with their finest manager in many of our fans’ lifetimes. The first period of Pochettino’s tenure where he has faced criticism has been matched with rash, baffling dismissal instead of being matched with the support, investment and trust he has earned.

The performance of the team cannot be ignored in the recent past. The incredible Champions League run has eclipsed the Premier League performance of the club and, as of October 2019, Tottenham hat the joint most Premier League losses of 16, joint only with relegation-candidates Brighton & Hove Albion. This, however, was pre-warned by Pochettino who, within a press conference, was clear that having not signed any players from 31st January 2018 to 2nd July 2019, having significantly under-paid and important players not being offered suitable new contracts would result in ‘a painful re-build’. I have no doubt that this has been an expectation for Pochettino for some time who has had to work with limited investment deserving of his achievements over the course of his employment by Levy.

As of writing the shortest candidate for the job is Jose Mourinho. A natural winner when surrounded by money and a lot of it to pay the best players the best money for the biggest transfer fees. Is he, the fans (and Daniel Levy) naive to think that anyone is able to do a better job for the club than the man just fired? Only time will tell but, unless Levy and ENIC decide the game is about glory, rather than profit, it’s going to be a long road.

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Premier League: October 2019

Premier League: October 2019

The 100% record is over! After 8 rounds of football, Liverpool was the only team to have won all of their games, but a Round 9 trip to Old Trafford brought an end to their streak as they could only manage a 1-1 draw courtesy of a late Adam Lallana equaliser, though they remain the only team without a loss to their name heading into November and a loss for Manchester City at home to Wolves saw their lead grow. Chelsea were the only team to get maximum points in October with wins over Southampton, Newcastle and Burnley. Every team earned at least a point this month, but Southampton will be worried after dropping into the bottom 3 following a huge 0-9 loss to Leicester and with a trip to the Etihad next up in the league.


Premier League Round-up


What a VARce

It took until Round 10 for VAR to overturn a decision relating to whether a penalty should be awarded, but once it started, the floodgates opened. The first decision to be overturned was for Michael Keane catching Aaron Connolly in the box as they both went for an aerial ball forward – initially not given, but a penalty soon awarded by VAR, which was well dispatched by Neal Maupay. With the floodgates opened “dive” from Wilfried Zaha was overturned into a penalty for Crystal Palace, scored by Luka Milivojević to begin their comeback from 2-0 down to 2-2 at the Emirates, while Manchester United were awarded a penalty after VAR adjudged that Ben Godfrey had had illegally pushed Daniel James over.

While it is great to see VAR finally being willing to overturn a referee’s initial decision, this has ended up really muddying the water. While Zaha was clearly fouled, both of the penalties VAR awarded were extremely soft and less clear-cut than Jan Vertonghen’s challenge on Gerard Deulofeu, where VAR upheld the referee’s decision to play on. To muddy the water even more, VAR adjudged that Manchester City had scored against Aston Villa following a review, deciding that David Silva had not made contact with Kevin De Bruyne’s ball in, so Raheem Sterling was not offside, however Silva appeared to be trying to claim the goal with the referee and it was officially given to him by the Dubious Goals Panel (in which case the goal should have been disallowed for offside).

The most disappointing thing about all of this is that every Premier League ground has a screen pitchside for the referees to use alongside VAR if necessary, but is yet to be used in a match. As it stands, the screen is for if what the referee is being told dos not tally with what they are seeing. Surely that is the case with every VAR referral, or otherwise the referee would have made a different decision. Not only that, but aside from offside, most VAR decisions are subjective, so surely it would be beneficial to have the referee come over and look at the picture on the screen and talk it through with the VAR official rather than stand uselessly in the middle of the pitch with a finger in his ear.

The Premier League is possibly the best domestic league in the world, and VAR is definitely a step forward, but the league needs to figure out how to utilise it correctly, otherwise the league will become a laughing stock.

Early goodbyes

The official figures state that 28,726 fans attended Southampton’s Round 10 match against Leicester… There definitely weren’t that many by the end! A man down and with 3 goals conceded after just 30 minutes, the home fans were already beginning to leave in droves.

Now I don’t want to make this sound preachy, and I understand in this case it was a Friday night with horrible weather and the chances of a comeback were slim-to-none at best (they eventually lost 0-9), but I don’t understand why fans would leave so early. Tickets to a match are far from cheap, so to leave early just feels like throwing away money. I also can’t imagine how that must feel as a player to see so many of your fans walking out early – if your head wasn’t already dropping, surely that would finish you off.

When teams are struggling they need their support more than ever, hopefully this run of bad results doesn’t put people off going to cheer on their team.

Gunning for the captain

There is something not right at Arsenal at the moment. Think back through the years at the players who have captained Arsenal, does Granit Xhaka really fit the mould? The Swiss midfielder has never really cemented himself with the fans due to a number of costly fouls and moments where his desire have been questioned, so to make him the captain highlighted the depth of leadership options available at the Emirates.

During Arsenal’s 2-2 draw at home to Crystal Palace, there we ugly scenes as Xhaka (who had again struggled to positively impact the match) was substituted to a chorus of boos from the Arsenal fans. Things only got worse as he reacted to the boos while walking off, goading the fans even more before taking off his shirt and walking straight down the tunnel.

Now I don’t think it’s nice seeing fans boo their own players, but they are invested in their team and have a right to be heard if they feel players aren’t pulling their weight. Xhaka meanwhile is the captain of this team and has to set an example. Like I just mentioned about Southampton, the support of the fans is huge, and they need to have them on their side. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Xhaka taken out of the firing line for a game or two, but then the question of who captains the team starts again. I bet they’re regretting letting Aaron Ramsey leave right now…

Fantastic Foxes

In the 2015/16 season, Leicester City shocked the world by winning the Premier League in only their 2nd season back in the top flight. After 10 rounds, they find themselves in 3rd place, just 2 points behind Manchester City and ahead of Chelsea on goal difference. Just how far can they go this season?

Leicester have been in great form since bringing in Brendan Rodgers, while Jamie Vardy continues to defy my expectation that he will begin to decline now he is beyond 30, with 9 goals in 10 league games this season. They may have lost Harry Maguire over the summer, but put the money to good use by bringing in Ayoze Pérez from Newcastle and Youri Tielemans from Monaco, both of whom have played big roles already this season.

While Leicester have improved, they have also done so at a time when a number of the classic big 6 are struggling. Chelsea and Manchester United are in the middle of a rebuild, Arsenal are struggling for consistency and Tottenham find themselves in the bottom half of the table, already 8 points behind the Foxes.

Can they keep a top 3 spot? Personally, I think that the other clubs mentioned still have the strength in depth that Leicester are missing, but I am confident that they will be able to keep a place in the top 5, and if pushed to make an exact prediction right now, I would guess that they will finish 4th, with Chelsea jumping above them.

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Premier League: September 2019

Premier League: September 2019

3 became 1 in September as Liverpool were the only team to go through to the end of September still unbeaten, while Manchester City and Leicester both fell to defeats at Norwich and Manchester United respectively. That win was United’s only one in the league during the month as a loss at West Ham and dismal 1-1 draw at home to Arsenal left with just 9 points, well off the pace of their rivals. Liverpool are already beginning to look pretty comfortable at the top of the table, and while you imagine City will still be safe in 2ⁿᵈ place, the rest of the top 4 and European qualification spots look very much up for grabs at the moment. Meanwhile at the bottom, Watford have already changed managers, with Quique Sanchez Flores returning in place of Javi Gracia but they still find themselves rooted to the bottom of the table, while Villa and Newcastle closed the month in the bottom 3, 1 point away from safety.


Premier League Round-up


Backup needed

It was a classic tale of David versus Goliath. Defending champions Manchester City came to Carrow Road in Round 5 and it would have been only the most optimistic/deluded Norwich fans that would have thought they could come away with a win. Norwich had Patrick Roberts unavailable as he was on loan from City and an injury list almost long enough to create a starting lineup, to the point that they had 2 keepers on the bench just to fill all the spots – even Tim Krul and Ben Godfrey were playing hurt. The Canaries’ starting XI had been assembled for £6.45m, compared to City’s lineup in excess of £400m. There was only one way this match was going… 2 hours later, City were walking off the pitch with an L beside their name, courtesy of a 3-2 shock victory.

While this was an incredible result, the big feature of this match was the awful play at the back from City. With Aymeric Laporte out injured until 2020, John Stones and Nicolás Otamendi were paired together at the back with disastrous results, as mistake after mistake gifted Norwich chances. Then things got even worse midweek as Stones was ruled out for up to 6 weeks with a muscle injury.

When Vincent Kompany moved on in the summer, I thought it was an odd decision not to bring in a 4ᵗʰ centreback. Stones and Otamendi have often appeared to have costly mistakes in them, but more importantly it was leaving them dangerously short. In their absence, Fernandinho has had to fill in at CB and while Rodri’s introduction has meant he hasn’t been missed so much in the midfield, he is still a midfielder playing out of position, which is going to cause issues.

In my opinion, City need to bring in another centreback in January. I’m not saying they need to break the bank to bring in a superstar, but they need to bring in a specialist at the position so that they have suitable cover when their starters aren’t available. In a title race as close as it looks like this one could be, the decision to not bring in a replacement for Kompany could be the difference.

Play the kid!

Chelsea have had a mixed start to the season, but with the transfer ban, they deserve a lot of praise for their willingness to use young English talent. Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori have been key players in the opening months of the season, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi look certain to have key roles on their returns from injury.

By contrast, Phil Foden has made just 1 appearance off the bench in the first 2 months of the league, for just a handful of minutes. Foden has looked an incredible talent, but he is not getting the minutes he requires to take a step forward and is now being overtaken by other players in terms of promotion to the senior national team.

Now, he is surely learning and benefiting from the tutelage of Pep Guardiola and training with so many superstars, but it’s hard to believe that he will trusted to take over from David Silva with very little topflight experience if there are other big names available at the right price. He needs to get minutes under his belt now to prove that he can cut it at the top level. For me, Foden needs to look at a move away from the Etihad and to another Premiership club in January. He needs to sit down with Guardiola and see where he fits in the team’s plans. If they can guarantee him a significant place in the squad for next season, then he needs to look at a loan move to prove he deserves those minutes; if they can’t make any promises then perhaps it is time to look at a more permanent move, as Jadon Sancho did.

Pick one… Manager chopping block

It took just 4 rounds of Premier League football before we got our first managerial casualty of the season: Javi Gracia was sacked at the start of the international break following 1 draw and 3 losses, being replaced by former manager Quique Sanchez Flores. Inspired by this, my “Pick One” for this month is: who will be the next Premier League managerial casualty?

First up is Frank Lampard. This will be pretty short as I don’t see there being any chance of Lampard being removed from the job midway through the season barring an awful series of results. He has been hampered by the transfer ban and loss of Eden Hazard, but is doing a great job of bringing through young English talent to build the team around for the coming seasons.

Another manager in a rebuilding phase at an elite club is Ole Gunnar Solskjær. The Norwegian is overseeing a horrible period at Old Trafford as the team tries to rebuild, with players like Antonio Valencia, Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez moving on. While there were a few big money signings in Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, the rebuild is going very slowly, with a lack of new faces and a focus on the existing players and youngsters coming through. While United are goig through a bad series of results, they have been missing a number of star players like Paul Pogba, Luke Shaw and Anthon Martial, but it is clear that there are holes in the squad, such as an experienced striker to lead the line and score 20+ goals per season. For me, the issue goes beyond Solskjær to Ed Woodward and he should be the one to go, but the chances of him falling on his sword are minimal. Woodward is currently saying United will be patient, so I think the former United striker is safe for now, but if pressure continues to build on Woodward, I’m sure the situation will change rapidly.

The best placed manager at risk is probably Unai Emery. Arsenal may be in the top 4 but they are already will off the pace of Liverpool and City and even find themselves behind Leicester City. The Spaniard is in his second season and has just broken Arsenal’s transfer record on Nicolas Pépé, who has struggled to match the performances of 18-year-old academy graduate Bukayo Saka. All the while, the defence that has been the clubs obvious issue for years continues to be a liability. With Chelsea, Spurs and United struggling, this was Arsenal’s chance to shine… and they aren’t doing it.

Staying in London, and if Emery is in trouble then Mauricio Pochettino is definitely in danger. Spurs came into the season the team likeliest to challenge Liverpool and City for the title, but find themselves (at time of writing) in 6ᵗʰ, behind Leicester and West Ham. Too many key players seem miles off their best as their contracts come towards an end, while Pochettino has not seemed satisfied with the way things are being ran, stating a few months ago that he is only the coach and has no say in transfers. Results and performances need to improve soon, otherwise if Pochettino isn’t sacked, he may choose to walk.

While all of these managers are in some degree of danger, the man who I feel is currently on the hottest seat is Marco Silva. The former Watford manager as been at Everton since May 2018 and the club has worked hard to put together a quality side, yet they finished behind newly-promoted Wolves and 7 points from 7 matches leaves them just 2 points above the drop zone with a worse goal difference than Aston Villa. For a club of their stature to be in this position is unacceptable and I honestly can’t see him lasting far beyond the international break.

Who do you think is most at risk?

Premier League: August 2019

Premier League: August 2019

Premier League football is back! It feels like only yesterday that I was finishing off last season’s write-ups and I am back again this year to continue the monthly format. August saw us get through the majority of 4 rounds of fixtures but some things never change as Manchester City and Liverpool already occupy the top spots, with Liverpool the only team on maximum points with 4 wins including a 3-1 victory against Arsenal. A 2-2 draw for City at the Etihad sees them 2 points behind but still unbeaten, while Leicester City are the only other team in the league to still be unbeaten. At the other end of the table, Watford’s lone draw sees them bottom, with newly-promoted Aston Villa and Norwich City also occupying the drop zone.

VAR from the finished article

After the amount of time that I have spent in the last 2 seasons complaining about the number of wrong decisions and lack of support for officials, I couldn’t really talk about the first month of the season and not take a moment to give my thoughts on how VAR is getting on.

Though many people seem to be completely against it and now willing to give it a chance, I think that VAR has done a generally good job so far. The vast majority of its decisions have been spot on and I would not say that there have been any monumental errors from VAR.

Many people (fans, players and pundits alike) debated the merits of VAR after Leander Dendoncker’s disallowed goal for Wolves in Round 1 at Leicester and Gabriel Jesus’ disallowed last minute winner against Spurs in Week 2. In both cases, the goals were disallowed as the ball came to the scorer after contact with the hand of a teammate – though in both cases it looked unintentional. VAR came in for a lot of grief for these decisions, but it worked perfectly and any criticism should instead be directed towards the new handball rules, which state that any contact with the hand or arm by an attacking player in the build-up to a goal is an offence. This rule was made very clear to everyone throughout the summer, yet the sight of Wolves and City players arguing with the referee was disgusting and I was furious with the way the media focused on the merits of VAR – big shout-out to Sam Quek who did correctly state in her column that it was the handball rule that was wrong not VAR – when discussing these decisions rather than the unfair handball rules, which will only feed into the public’s dislike of VAR.

Unfortunately there are still situations where the decisions are horribly wrong. The Premier League appears to have decided that any subjective decisions will not be overruled, so any incidents like players being dragged down in the box at set pieces. The introduction of VAR is a step in the right direction, now the league needs to make sure offences are being picked up appropriately.

Early days

August was a very mixed month for Chelsea. With a new manager arriving in the form of Frank Lampard, a transfer ban until next summer and star player Eden Hazard leaving for Real Madrid, this was never going to be easy. Their first 4 league matches have resulted in a big loss to Manchester United, 2 draws and a win over Norwich. Across all competitions, Lampard became the first Chelsea manager to go winless in his first 3 games since Rafa Benitez, and just 2 weeks into the league season, the morons on social media had already started the hashtag #LampardOut.

Personally, I think that while the team has not got off to the best start, there is plenty to be happy about. The transfer ban has led to Lampard giving a chance to a number of young English players and we are already seeing some great performances from Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount among others. The team still has much to learn, but they will learn quickly from playing in these matches and though the first couple of months may be hard, I feel confident that they will come through and be all the better for it.

This is a team that needs time. Providing the improvement is clear as the season goes on, Lampard should be given a free pass this season given he was unable to sign any players, allowing him to focus on building the team this season for a title challenge in 2020/21.

Pick one… Liverpool edition

In Mo Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino, Liverpool have one of the best front lines in European football. But if you had to pick just one of these players to build a team around, who would you go for?

Since the start of the 2017/2018 season, each of the players has almost the same number of appearances. Mané’s played the least games (69) but has an impressive 34 goals – almost 1 goal every 2 matches. Salah has an incredible record of 57 goals in 78 games. Surprisingly considering he is the central striker, Firmino has the worst return of the trio with 29 goals from 75 matches.

On those figures, Salah would be the obvious pick, however I would actually go a different direction if forced to pick just one. His diving issues aside, whenever I watch Salah, I find myself disappointed by how selfish he can get in the final third. Mané is another who I have often looked at and thought to be quite selfish and while I completely agreed that he should have been given the ball when wide open against Burnley, I thought his strop after being substituted was childish. If I was going to pick one of these players to build the team around, it would be Firmino, The Brazilian is a highly skilled front man and a proven goal scorer, but more importantly than that, he always looks like he is putting the team above his own personal success, being fully willing to turn provider if one of his teammates is in a better position to score, probably in part due to his versatility, being able to play a wider or slightly deeper role as well as leading the line.

If I was building a XI, Bobby Firmino would be my man. Who would you pick?

England’s Magic Victories

England’s Magic Victories

For sports fans, Sunday 14th July is a day that will live long in the memory. Lewis Hamilton won a 6th British GP in a race that saw Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen praised for some of the best racing in years. The Scottish Open reached its end. The Tour de France continued towards its first rest day. England’s men’s and women’s rugby 7s team won their respective tournaments to qualify Team GB for the Olympics. New Zealand’s beat England to win the Women’s Rugby Super Series title and remain #1 in the world. Novak Djokovic defeated Roger Federer in the longest Wimbledon men’s final and England won the Cricket World Cup against New Zealand.

That win for Eoin Morgan’s men – by virtue of number of boundaries in the match, after the teams could not be separated over 50 overs and a super over – gave cricket one of its greatest finishes of all time and made England the only nation to have won the Men’s World Cups in cricket, football and rugby. While that stat may not be too surprising given the number of countries that play all 3 of these sports to an elite level, what makes this incredible is that all 3 of these victories have come following some form of extra time.

England’s 1966 FIFA World Cup victory saw them concede a late equaliser from Wolfgang Weber to make the scores 2-2 at the 90-minute mark, but 2 goals from Geoff Hurst in extra time – including one in the final seconds of the game – saw Bobby Moore lift the trophy as the nation celebrated a 4-2 victory.

The RWC2003 final saw defending champions and hosts Australia bring the scores level in the final moments, as Elton Flatly kicked a penalty to level the scores at 14-14. Extra time saw Flatley and Jonny Wilkinson trade a penalty each, before a Wilkinson drop goal won the game with just 26 seconds left on the clock.

Sunday’s final at Lord’s saw England hold New Zealand to a reachable total of 241, before struggling themselves with the bat. Requiring 15 runs from the last over, luck was on England’s side and they tied things up with the final ball, taking things to a super over. England got 15 runs from their over, but things got off to a bad start in New Zealand’s over as Jofra Archer started with a wide and was hit for 6 a few balls later. He tightened things up on the final balls though, leaving New Zealand needing 2 runs from the final ball to win. Martin Guptil got the first run to pull things level, but was unable to get back down the wicket quick enough and was run out, leaving the scores level and seeing England win through the tie-breaker of most boundaries in the match.

With all these matches, they have their moments that will be remembered for how differently they could have gone. Hurst’s first goal in extra time was an early case for goal-line technology, as the ball hit the crossbar, bounced off the ground and was cleared away, only for the assistant referee to decree that the ball had crossed the line. Ben Kay agonisingly dropped Matt Dawson’s popped pass with the try line at his mercy, while Wilkinson’s successful drop goal came with his weaker right foot after having missed 2 drop goal attempts earlier in the match. At Lord’s England’s saviour Ben Stokes was almost caught out in the penultimate over, only for Trent Boult to step backwards onto the boundary to turn the ball into a 6, while the next over saw an even luckier moment as a fielder’s throw deflected off his bat and reached the boundary to total 6 runs off that ball – though in hindsight it should have actually been 5 runs.

It’s safe to say England have had their fair share of luck, with the Rugby World Cup just months away, hopefully they haven’t used it all up at the weekend. Perhaps that will be England’s first victory in regular time. I’m not sure our hearts can take another close finish!