Premier League 2021/22: August

Premier League 2021/22: August

Football may not have quite come home this summer, but the Premier League has returned, along with grounds full of cheering fans!

Kicking off midway through the month, we have had 3 rounds of football before the first international break of he season, and boy did it leave the table in an interesting place. Champions Manchester City opened up their campaign with a loss to a Tottenham side who were not even playing star striker Harry Kane as they tried to avoid loving him to the sky blues, while newly-promoted Brentford defeated Arsenal in Friday night’s opener. And for the two North London rivals things just continued in the same manner, leaving Spurs top of the table with the only 100% winning record, while the Gunners find themselves dead last, one of 3 teams yet to earn a point.


The race is on!

The race for the Golden Boot: Michail Antonio (West Ham) – 4 goals; Mohamed Salah (Liverpool), Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United), Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton) & Mason Greenwood (Manchester United) – 3 goals

The race for Playmaker of the Season: Paul Pogba (Manchester United) – 5 assists; Michail Antonio (West Ham) & Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City) – 3 assists

The race for the Golden Glove: Hugo Loris (Tottenham Hotspur) – 3 clean sheets; Édouard Mendy (Chelsea), Alisson (Liverpool), Ederson (Manchester City) & David Raya (Brentford) – 2 clean sheets


Heading for trouble

Remember how both last season and during the summer professional football continued to show that it doesn’t care about player safety when it comes to concussions? Well it appears that narrative will continue this season.

The game: Chelsea’s 0-2 win at Arsenal. Reece James went up to compete with Nuno Tavares for an aerial ball and the pair made contact, with James flopping to the ground on landing, before lying there unmoving in a star shape. To everyone watching, it looked like James had been knocked out, but after the game was stopped and he received medical attention, the Chelsea fullback was allowed to play on. The incident conveniently didn’t even appear in the Match of the Day highlights.

Now if James was knocked out (more on this shortly), then it is absolutely disgusting that medical professionals allowed him to play on. Contact sports like rugby and American football continue to sponsor research that shows the danger of head injuries, and yet football—a game where you are legally allowed to play the ball with your head—continues to bury its head in the sand, which will likely have fatal (and expensive, to use language the people in charge may actually care about) consequences.

Of course, if you ask anyone at Chelsea, James never lost consciousness, with Thomas Tuchel saying that he stayed down as he was afraid that he had broken a tooth. Now watching the footage of James staying down, that is not how I imagine someone reacting if they think they’ve broken a tooth. Especially given the visible worry of players and officials, it feels like James would have had more of a reaction if this was the issue. It feels like a poor excuse to cover for the fact that they risked their players life. And if it is true, then you have to ask why acting as if you’ve been knocked out is acceptable.

Hopefully this is the last time we see an event like this, but given recent history, I very much doubt it!

Wingman

It’s been a strange old summer for Manchester City. The defending champions successfully brought in Jack Grealish, but with Sergio Agüero no longer at the club and Gabriel Jesus apparently not fully trusted as the lead striker (judging by the amount of times the team played without a recognised number 9 last season), many would argue that their summer spending was somewhat of a failure as they failed to come to terms with Spurs for Harry Kane and similarly failed to bring in a striker, which was even more noticeable given the signings some of their rivals made (more on that later).

So with no new striker signed, it has been interesting to see how City have began the season up front, with Ferran Torres in the middle of a front three, with Grealish on the left and Jesus on the right. And yet it’s working. Jesus has had a brilliant start to the season, causing all manner of problems for defenders on his side and putting in a number of super dangerous crosses, which should have led to more than 3 assists so far, while he has also been able to come in from a wider position to cause trouble in the box, or move more centrally once substitutions are made.

While I still think that City will regret not bringing in a bigger striker before the season is out, it looks like Gabriel Jesus may just have found the opportunity to become a regular in the starting XI.

Building for success

It’s been a mixed summer transfer-wise for the big six. But who has been put in the best position by their summer’s business.

While Jack Grealish is in my personal opinion an upgrade on Raheem Sterling, he is arguably a luxury in a position where City already have plenty of options, especially with Jesus now playing a wide position. Much more important was getting a star striker in. Harry Kane would have been the perfect option, as someone who can play as a classic 9 but also has the skill to play a little deeper, so to miss out on him could be costly. That said, with the depth they have elsewhere in the squad, don’t be shocked to see them still remain favourites for the title.

Moving across the city and Manchester United have had a busy summer! Though Dan James will be a loss, the Red Devils had already secured his replacement in Borussia Dortmund starlet Jadon Sancho, while the arrival of Raphaël Varane should go a long way to solidifying things at the back, something the team has needed for years! But to then end the transfer window by bringing back the prodigal son in Cristiano Ronaldo was a masterstroke. Not only will his return pump up a crowd that is already excited to be back, but his talent belies his age and he will be such a threat leading the line and at set pieces. But what United also benefit from now is leadership. In Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani—who has vacated the 7 shirt to let Ronaldo have it back—United now have 2 world class strikers to teach Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood the finer points of the position whilst also ensuring the supply men are putting the ball in exactly the right position. But more than that, the leadership of those 2 and Varane, combined with a high number of top class players will hopefully bring out the best in Paul Pogba, whose prodigious talent has too often been outweighed by a lack of effort. They may still be a man short in the midfield, but this looks like a team that can compete for the title once again.

United aren’t the only team who look really set to challenge now, though. Chelsea looked a real threat under Thomas Tuchel last season, and the only thing that appeared to be missing was an elite striker, with Timo Werner struggling to get the results his effort deserved and Tammy Abraham never quite convincing. However, a return for Chelsea’s own prodigal son in Romelu Lukaku has given them the missing piece and I think that they will be genuinely pushing for the title this season.

As for Spurs, they’ve had some ins and outs, but arguably their most important piece of business was keeping hold of Harry Kane. They have started the season well with 3 clean sheets helping them earn 3 wins, but having a player of Kane’s quality around for another season is huge. Will it be enough for them to compete with some of the other teams for a top 4 spot? Only time will tell.

Liverpool’s summer has been largely quiet, with their one signing being defender Ibrahima Konaté. It’s a lot of money for a young defender and has the potential to be a bust, but if he can live up to expectations, he and the returning Virgil van Dijk could become one of the strongest—if not the strongest—centreback partnerships in the league. However, with the loss of Georginio Wijnaldum and no new names coming in up front (unless you count some of the younger players beginning to take a slightly larger role), there is a risk that things could get stale further up the field. With Chelsea and United both strengthening, I expect a top 4 finish but I think they will fall short in the title race.

And so we reach Arsenal, and what do I really say here? While they managed to sign Kieran Tierney and Emile Smith-Rowe to new contracts and sign Martin Ødegaard following a successful loan spell last season. However while Ben Smith looks a promising young player, £50 million is far too much for a young defender with just 1 season of top flight football under his belt, especially when previous seasons have continually shown the Gunners to have defensive frailties regardless of who plays in the defence. Elsewhere, signing Aaron Ramsdale for more money than the vastly superior Emiliano Martínez was sold for is just bad business. Arsenal have had a shocking start to the season, which hasn’t been helped by ongoing COVID issues, but even before the first 3 rounds, I would have struggled to envision the Gunners getting anywhere near a Champions League spot. If things don’t turn round soon, Mikel Arteta will be in trouble.


Team of the Month

Tottenham Hotspur

While West Ham were certainly in contention after scoring 10 goals in 3 games to finish the month second in the table, in the end I had to go for Spurs. Not only have they started the season with 3 wins from 3, but they are yet to even concede a goal! Meanwhile, they have barely used Harry Kane so far as it looked like just a matter of time before their star player left, and yet they still managed to pull out the wins, including what must have been an especially sweet victory over defending champions Manchester City in Round 1.

They certainly weren’t perfect and need to start finishing more of their chances, but after a positive start, keeping hold of Harry Kane will be a huge boost, which they can use to push on this month.


Premier League 2020/21: May

Premier League 2020/21: May

And so, we have reached the end of the season. A season like no other, which saw empty grounds around the country for all but a few weeks of the season. A season that saw fans and players united against the greed of the “Big Six” owners. A season that Manchester City go from looking completely out of the title hunt to winning it by a country mile. A season that saw Arsenal’s 25-year streak of European qualification come to an end, despite the creation of a 3ʳᵈ European competition opening up an extra spot. A season that saw the return of Leeds United to the top flight in stunning fashion.

Congratulations to Manchester City for their 5ᵗʰ Premier League title in 10 years. They will be joined in the Champions League next season by Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea, while Leicester must suffer the disappointment of just missing out on the top competition for the second year running and must settle for a place in the Europa League alongside West Ham, while Spurs must settle for a place in the new Europa Conference League.

At the other end of the table, Sheffield United bid farewell to the top flight as they finished bottom of the table, while West Brom and Fulham make an immediate return to the Championship. They will be replaced by Norwich and Watford, who are both making immediate returns after relegation last season, and they will be joined by the winner of Saturday’s playoff final between Brentford (who have the chance of making it into the top flight for the first time since the 1940s) and Swansea.


And your winners!

football manchester city premier league champions

Golden Boot: Harry Kane (Tottenham) – 23 goals

Playmaker of the Season: Harry Kane (Tottenham) – 14 assists

Golden Glove: Ederson (Manchester City) – 19 clean sheets


A perfect end?

We’ve known for a few months now that legendary Manchester City forward Sergio Agüero would be leaving at the end of the season, but who could have predicted how things would pan out in his final Premier League game. The Argentine came off the bench with 25 minutes remaining and took just 6 minutes to find the back of the net after Fernandinho won the ball back deep in the Everton half. But that wasn’t enough to make this special day perfect, and just 5 minutes later, he scored again, securing a 4-0 victory in front of a returning home crowd, but in the process, setting a new record of 184 Premier League goals scored for 1 club, beating Wayne Rooney’s Manchester United tally of 183.

Having scored that famous goal in the final minute of injury time against QPR to win the Premier League over Manchester United in his first season at the Etihad, he was always going to go down in Manchester City history, but over the years he has become such a key part in the rise of Manchester City to a global superpower, while he leaves the Premier League with the best minutes per goal figure (108) of any player with a minimum 50 Premier League goals.

In terms of bowing out of the Premier League, it was a almost perfect ending. But can things still get better? The one thing that has eluded Agüero and City this last 10 years is winning the Champions League. On Saturday, they face Chelsea in the Champions League final. Whether he starts or not, how fitting would it be to see Agüero score the winning goal in the final, securing his and the club’s first Champions League title before riding off into the sunset? As a United fan, any City success hurts, but it would be hard to deny such a legendary player such a perfect ending.

A crucial moment

Agüero isn’t the only person calling time on their Premier League career this month, and the most notable is probably Roy Hodgson, who announced a few weeks back that he would be stepping down as manager of Crystal Palace at the end of the season. The oldest person to have managed in the Premier League, Hodgson did not officially retire, but has said that he is stepping back from football for a time. He has had a long and varied career, having managed 16 different teams in 8 countries, with notable achievements including:

  • Guiding Switzerland (who had not qualified for a major tournament since the 1960s) to the last 16 of the 1994 World Cup and qualification for Euro 1996
  • Guiding Finland to their highest-ever FIFA ranking of 33ʳᵈ place
  • Fulham’s Europa League campaign that began in the third qualifying round and went all the way to the final—their first major European final—where they went to extra time and were minutes away from taking Atlético Madrid to penalties

Of course, as well as the good, there has been the bad, with a move to Liverpool not working out and resulting in him leaving after just 6 months, while his time as England manager is not looked back at fondly—despite a strong start which saw them become defensively solid and rise to 3ʳᵈ in the FIFA World Rankings—as the team struggled to hit the highs that their personnel suggested they should, with dull performances, finishing bottom of their group with 2 losses and a draw at the 2014 World Cup, and dropping to 20ᵗʰ in the FIFA World Rankings.

Looking back, it is clear that Hodgson was at his best with smaller teams, who he could train into solid organised units that were hard to break down defensively, allowing them to pick up points against stronger teams by frustrating them and holding on for draws or catching them on the break or at a set piece for unlikely victories. And this has all been on show when you look at Palace’s place in the league tables. Though their position has fluctuate, they have always been in a secure position with a considerable points advantage over those relegated.

And now, with Hodgson stepping down, Crystal Palace find themselves in a crucial position. First of all, the wrong manager could easily turn things around in a heartbeat. While they have anew young star in Eberechi Eze, its just a matter of time before more attractive clubs come after him and their star of the last 10 years Wilfried Zaha, while the squad is full of players who are getting on in age, and it will be hard to replace their consistency and experience, made even worse by the sheer number of influential players who are out of contract this summer, including Christian Benteke, who has had something of a revival this season. This is a key moment for Crystal Palace, which could define their next couple of seasons. Don’t take your eyes off the situation as it unfolds.

On the move

It’s never an easy situation when you get relegated to the Championship. The Championship is full of teams desperate to jump up to the next level so there’s no easy match, just like in the Premier League. But it can often be harder than that as you lose some of your top players, who impressed enough in losing efforts to stand out and attract the attention of other teams in the Premier League and other top flight leagues. So who could be on the move this summer?

Well first of all, half the Fulham squad this season were loanees, including Alphonse Areola (Paris Saint-Germain), Joachim Andersen (Lyon), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea) and Ademola Lookman (RB Leipzig). While they may not be required by their parent club, it is hard to imagine that they will be loaned out to the Championship, and it is more likely that these players are allowed to sign for (or be loaned to) other Premier League clubs or other top flight leagues. A defender with a year of Premier League experience will be very attractive for mid-to-lower-table clubs looking to shore up their defence, and while Loftus-Cheek and Lookman had ups and downs this campaign, they certainly feel like the kind of players that teams will be looking to bring in to help secure Premier League safety.

As for Sheffield United, I can’t help feel that there were no true standouts in what was truly an awful season, but someone like John Egan could again look attractive for a team who wants to bring in a defender with top flight experience.

Meanwhile at West Brom, vice-captain Kyle Bartley could be another potential pick-up in the same vein as Egan and Andersen, but the true shining star was Matheus Pereira, who had a strong season, scoring 11 goals in 33 league games. As if that scoring record (ore than double that of his closest teammate, and almost a third of the club’s league goals this season) wasn’t enough, he was also top within the team for assists (6), with his dead balls a nightmare to defend. I will be shocked if the Brazilian remains at the club next season as he would be a great addition for any team expected to be fighting in the middle of the table or below, and I can’t help feel that a team like Aston Villa could come calling as Jack Grealish’s injury highlighted their lack of creative options.


Team of the Month

Liverpool

It’s not been a great season for Liverpool, with the loss of Virgil van Dijk just the tip of the iceberg as they suffered an injury crisis especially at the back, going through millions of different centreback combinations. And yet a strong end to the season saw them creep into the top 3, only 5 points behind Manchester United.

The team went perfect in May with a 100% winning record, winning 2-0 against Southampton before a 2-4 victory at Old Trafford, a last-gasp 1-2 victory at West Brom, a 0-3 win at Burnley and a 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace to secure a Champions League spot at the end of the season.

The strikers got scoring again and the defence got settled, and once again Liverpool looked like a top Premier League team. Expect them to be back in the title hunt next season.


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Premier League 2020/21: April

Premier League 2020/21: April

So April was a quiet month for the Premier League, eh?

Ha! If only.

While the league came under attack from the supposed Big 6’s attempts to get more money for their owners – an event which backfired tremendously for everyone involved – the league season continued with some more thrilling matches. Manchester City may have lost to Leeds during the month, but with rivals Manchester United also dropping points to the same opposition at the end of the month, the Sky Blues find the league title within reach, with them likely to claim the title in their next match at time of writing. At the other end of the table, Sheffield United were officially confirmed as the first team to be relegated from the league, on the same day that Norwich were confirmed as the first team to secure promotion to the Premier League.


The race is on!

The race for the Golden Boot: Harry Kane (Tottenham) – 21 goals; Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – 20 goals; Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United) – 16 goals

The race for Playmaker of the Season: Harry Kane (Tottenham) – 13 assists; Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) & Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United) – 11 assists; Jack Grealish (Aston Villa) – 10 assists

The race for the Golden Glove: Ederson (Manchester City) – 17 clean sheets; Édouard Mendy (Chelsea) – 15 clean sheets; Emiliano Martínez (Aston Villa)– 14 clean sheets


A step too far

On 18ᵗʰ April, the Premier League came under attack as the “Big 6” (Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur) announced that they were part of a group of 12 clubs (along with AC Milan, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Juventus and Real Madrid) who had agreed to form a new breakaway midweek league, the European Super League, rather than continue with the planned UEFA competitions that are in place. It was very clear that this was a move to make the rich clubs richer while the poor clubs were left out.

The timing couldn’t have been worse. Not only did it come completely out of the blue, with players and managers as shocked as fans and equally against the decision, but it came on the same day that Arsenal were held to a 1-1 draw by a Fulham side who will potentially be playing in the Championship next season. In fact, if we looked at the matches on that day or 2 days either side, there were 7 matches between a member of the Big 6 and one of the lowly teams not welcome with the big boys, resulting in just 3 wins for the Big 6 and 4 draws. Of course, within days all the teams had pulled out and were forced to make grovelling apologies.

The Premier League is the best league in the world, not because of its officiating (clearly), but because each team has a legitimate chance to beat any of the other 19 on their day, whereas the Bundesliga has been won by Bayern Munich for the last 8 (soon to be 9) seasons and La Liga has had the same top 3 (in varied order) for the last 9 seasons. The fact that managers and players unequivocally came out against the ESL shows just how loved the Premier League is.

The only people who seem to have been on board with the decision were the fat cats owning each club. And this is no surprise. As football has become more and more of a business, we have seen more clubs just become the shadow of their former selves as they just become a way of adding another 0 to the owner’s personal wealth. Hopefully, this show of solidarity from fans and club personnel alike will be a sign to the fat cats that they can’t have their own way, and hopefully lead us to a time when clubs are owned by those who care…

Special appointment

One giant story that went almost under the radar due to the ESL announcement was the removal of José Mourinho from his role as Spurs manager. The sacking came 2 days after Spurs came from behind to draw at Everton, but less than a week before they would face Manchester city in the Carabao Cup final. Former player Ryan Mason – who was forced to retire early due to a serious head injury – was moved from his role with the Academy into the interim head coach role until the end of the season, becoming the youngest manager in Premier League history, at 29 years old.

But beyond that, who will get the job? Mason is a Spurs man through and through, but it doesn’t sound like he is in contention due to this lack of experience, though it would be interesting to see if this would change if he has a super successful end to the season.

Rafa Benitez would be an ideal choice and is currently available, but I can’t see him moving to Spurs given how reluctant Daniel Levy is to get the chequebook out. Rafa was asked to work miracles with no financial support at Newcastle, and I can’t see him wanting to go into a situation where he is expected to compete against United, City, Liverpool and Chelsea on the pitch but not in the transfer market.

The odds on Antonio Conte taking over have dropped significantly over the last week, and he would be an attractive option, with Premier League experience and experience of teams with high expectations. But would Conte consider a move from perennial title chasers Inter Milan to a Spurs team who are probably pushing for top 3 at best an attractive move?

Eddie Howe is a young English manager who won plenty of plaudits during his time at Bournemouth, playing attractive attacking football. However deficiencies in defence eventually cost him and he has been without a club since, which does raise some flags. He remains the favourite to take over at Celtic, and a couple of strong seasons there could put him in good standing next time around, but not right now.

Sticking with young English managers and Scott Parker may be facing relegation with Fulham, but the team s unrecognisable now to the mess they were at the start of the season. He is a smart manager with expectations of his players, but again probably needs some more experience before a move to a big club.

Ralph Hasenhüttl has impressed on the whole at Southampton and it seems a matter of time before he gets a more prestigious appointment, but for a manager with only 2 appointments of note (Southampton and RB Leipzig) who has never managed a winning percentage of 50% or above, a move to a team like Spurs may be to big of a jump.

Brendan Rodgers and Nuno Espírito Santo are probably the most attractive managers in the Premier League right now, but this season has maybe shown a reliance on a couple of star players, with Wolves struggling following he sale of Diogo Jota and injuries to Raúl Jiménez and Pedro Neto, while Leicester have also struggled with key players missing.

Let down

And finally to a subject that seems to come up far too often: player safety surrounding head injuries. This time we journey back to the start of the month, as Leeds hosted Sheffield United. Sheffield right back George Baldock suffered a head injury and even from the television footage, it was clear that he appeared to be suffering concussion symptoms. Yet after the quickest of trials at the side of the pitch, Baldock was allowed to play on, only to go down again moments later and finally be removed from the match.

I may not be a medical expert but it was clear to me that Baldock was in no fit state to continue after the original incident. By being allowed to play on, Baldock was put at serious risk. So much work is being done in sports like rugby and the NFL to combat head injuries and protect players, yet football—a sport in which you can legally use your head to play the ball—once again seems far behind.

These players may be getting paid substantial sums to play in the Premier League, but their safety and wellbeing is being put at risk, and I worry that if something doesn’t change soon, it will take a serious and life-changing incident for the league begin caring about concussions and head injuries.


Team of the Month

Manchester United

This was very much a two horse race this month, with only Manchester United and West Ham managing 3 wins in the league this month. While West Ham’s 3 wins were probably against a stronger set of opponents, United’s win at Spurs highlighted their turnaround from the mauling they received earlier this season, and they also finished the month with a slightly higher number of points due to a draw at Leeds versus a loss at Newcastle, while they also had to do this around their Europa League campaign, which saw both legs of the quarterfinal against Granada and the 6-2 victory in the first leg of the semifinal against Roma.


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Premier League 2020/21: March

Premier League 2020/21: March

With the FA Cup and international football taking up much of March, we only had a few rounds of Premier League action, but that doesn’t mean nothing of note happened. Manchester City’s unbeaten run came to an end at the Etihad with a 0-2 loss to Manchester United, Fulham picked up a crucial victory against Liverpool, Arsenal came back from 3-0 down to draw 3-3 a West Ham and Sheffield United moved on from Chris Wilder with relegation looking likely, only to lose their next match 5-0.

Despite the loss to United, City remain in a commanding position and likely to win the title, with United and Leicester having opened up a small gap between them and 4ᵗʰ-placed Chelsea, with just 5 points separating them and 8ᵗʰ-placed Everton in the fight for European qualification. At the bottom end of the table, Sheffield United and West Brom may as well begin preparing for life in the Championship, while Fulham are keeping themselves in the hunt for safety, currently just 2 points behind Newcastle, who do have a game in hand.


The race is on!

The race for the Golden Boot: Harry Kane (Tottenham) & Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – 17 goals; Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United) – 16 goals

The race for Playmaker of the Season: Harry Kane (Tottenham) – 13 assists; Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) – 11 assists; Bruno Fernandes & Jack Grealish (Aston Villa) – 10 assists

The race for the Golden Glove: Ederson (Manchester City) – 16 clean sheets; Emiliano Martínez (Aston Villa) & Édouard Mendy (Chelsea) – 14 clean sheets


End of an era

The first story I will be looking at is actually something that has happened in recent weeks during the Premier League break, with the announcement that Sergio Agüero will be leaving Manchester City at the end of the season. The Argentine has been one of the best strikers of his generation, but after an injury-hit start to the campaign, he has featured infrequently in the starting XI, as Pep Guardiola has often preferred Gabriel Jesus up front, or a formation with a false 9, taking advantage of their midfield options and the goal-scoring form of İlkay Gündoğan this season.

After being such a key part of the squad for so long, it is a shame to see his City career coming to such an end. Along with Vincent Kompany and David Silva, Agüero ushered in a new era of success for Manchester City, so to see him getting such infrequent minutes is heart-breaking as a fan of football and just shows how cut-throat a business football is now.

Of course, the one thing Agüero hasn’t won at City has been the Champions League, but they are looking strong this season and are still in the hunt. Could Agüero still get the fairy tale ending to his Manchester City career by scoring the winner in the final?

Bale balling

It’s surely taken longer than Spurs would have hoped, but in the last couple of months, Gareth Bale has finally become an integral part of the squad following his loan move from Real Madrid.

After putting together some impressive performances in the cup, Bale has made his way into the starting XI in the league and has become such a key part of the attack, playing a vital part in their sole goal against Fulham and scoring a brace against Crystal Palace.

When on form, Bale is a fantastic player, but injuries and falling down the pecking order at the Bernabéu have left him not always reaching his potential, and for so long it looked like his return to Spurs would be a bust. But recent months will have given the team hope and it will be interesting to see if Spurs try to make the loan permanent. If he can carry on like this until the end of the season, letting him return to Spain would be a big loss for the team.

G-real problems

Aston Villa have struggled as of late, and it’s no surprise that these struggles have coincided with the loss of Jack Grealish to injury. While they have still had some attacking quality, Grealish has the talent to unlock defences and change games in Villa’s favour.

At 25 years old and now in and now pushing for a spot in the England XI, it’s hard to imagine that Grealish will be at the club much longer, as clubs pushing for titles and European qualification on the regular will want a player like this, who will also benefit for regular football in Europe when it comes to winning a place in the national team. I’ll be shocked if Villa don’t receive some hard-to-ignore offers this summer.

As a result, these recent weeks without Grealish could prove beneficial. They have shown that they are still a functional team, and it won’t take much to get them secure in the league and competitive around the middle of the table.


Team of the Month

Leicester City

With just 3 rounds of games, it’s certainly harder to pick out one team, but Leicester got my vote here. They have had a torrid time with injuries, but have pushed through to a draw and 2 wins during March. So many teams would come unstuck with their injury list – just look at Villa without Grealish – so to still be pushing into the top 3 is a great achievement. 


Premier League 2020/21: February

Premier League 2020/21: February

What a crazy season this is turning into! Having started the season so horribly that they looked completely out of the title race, a return to form for City has seen them gone on a run of unbeaten games stretching back a couple of months to finish February overwhelming favourites for the title with a 12 point lead. Of course it hasn’t been just their good form, but also the stuttering form of their rivals, as the goals dried up for Liverpool and their umpteenth centreback combination of the season saw team go on a run of losses, while Manchester United will have wished that they had spread the goals from their 9-0 win over Southampton more evenly through the month and Leicester have had to adapt to a growing injury list that had claimed star attackers Harvey Barnes and James Maddison by the end of the month. Meanwhile at the bottom of the table, Fulham followed up a 0-2 loss to Leicester with an unbeaten run that puled them within 3 points of safety, but Sheffield and West Brom remain in serious danger despite both picking up a win during the month.


The race is on!

The race for the Golden Boot: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – 17 goals; Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United) – 15 goals; Harry Kane (Tottenham) – 14 goals

The race for Playmaker of the Season: Harry Kane (Tottenham) & Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) – 11 assists; Bruno Fernandes & Jack Grealish (Aston Villa) – 10 assists; Son Heung-Min (Tottenham) – 8 assists

The race for the Golden Glove: Ederson (Manchester City) – 15 clean sheets; Emiliano Martínez (Aston Villa) – 13 clean sheets; Édouard Mendy (Chelsea) – 11 clean sheets


Revitalised

Jesse Lingard became something of a joke figure at Manchester United, with his lack of goals and assists in recent seasons making a mockery of his role as an attacking midfielder at one of the biggest clubs in the world. With the way United have increase the quality of their attack in recent years, there has not appeared to be a spot for him, and he was understandably sent out on loan to West Ham at the end of February.

Since then, he has been revitalised in a new environment and will surely be looking to make the move permanent. He has immediately slotted into the West Ham midfield and been not just involved, but a key part of February’s success, scoring a brace on his debut against Aston Villa and another goal in their 2-1 win against Spurs, while he has also been heavily involved in many of West Ham’s best chances and won the penalty against Sheffield United.

We see it all the time that sometimes a player just needs a change of scenery, just look at how Mo Salah was a bust at Chelsea but then a superstar for Roma and Liverpool. Sometimes it is just a chance to reset and take the weight of a poor spell off your shoulders, while sometimes a drop to a smaller club can take pressure off you as there is less pressure away from the trophy hunt and less superstars overshadowing you.

Right now it feels like making the loan move permanent is a great result for everyone. United get a player off their books who was failing to produce up to expectations, West Ham get a player who has improved their attacking options and Lingard gets the chance to rebuild after a difficult couple of years. This deal feels like a matter of “when” rather than “if”.

King Kevin

If you want another example of a player whose career was revitalised by a move, look no further than Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgian midfielder was highly touted when moving to Chelsea but only made 3 appearances for the club, but was revitalised by a move to Wolfsburg and came back to the Premier League just a few years later to star for Manchester City. And during February’s 2-1 win over West Ham, he made it onto the Top 10 list for Premier League assists with a beautiful ball into Rúben Dias.

Obviously, having so many world-class players around you and a squad deeper than any other team in the league certainly helps you climb that high in just 6 seasons, but there is more to it than that. De Bruyne is one of those players that even as an opposing fan, you just can’t help but enjoy watching him play, with his range of passes meaning that he seems to have an answer for every situation.

And at just 29, there is no reason that this can’t continue for another 4 or 5 years – at least! On 77 assists at the time of writing, James Milner’s 8ᵗʰ place (85 assists) looks easily beatable by the end of the season given City’s current form. And by the end of his Premier League career, Cesc Fabregas’s 2ⁿᵈ-place tally of 111 looks a distinct possibility. Can he reach Ryan Giggs’ 162? Only time will tell.

Free kick farce

Another month, another absolute shambles of officiating.

The setting this time was Brighton’s trip to West Brom – a vital match with the Baggies in the relegation zone and Brighton dropping perilously close. West Brom led 1-0 but Brighton had just won a free kick on the edge of their opponent’s box. Brighton’s Lewis Dunk asked referee Lee Mason if he could take a quick free kick rather than wait for the wall to be set back 10 yards, to which Mason assented. Mason blew the whistle to allow play to resume and Dunk – having seen keeper Sam Johnstone still on his near post organising the wall – calmly slotted the ball in at the far post. It was a wonderfully clever goal… or should have been, except that Lee Mason also saw the keeper out of position at the last moment and – in a blind panic – took the law into his own hands, blowing the whistle again to stop play. Of course, by the time anyone accounted for the second whistle, the ball was in the net, so Mason chose to say that Dunk had taken the free kick before he blew to restart play, disallowing the goal and ordering the free kick be retaken. Someone involved with VAR must have jumped in to confirm that Dunk had waited until after the whistle, as Mason suddenly reversed his decision and awarded the gaol, but then VAR was forced to intervene and deny the goal as Mason’s second whistle stopped play before the ball entered the goal. With this whole shambles finally resulting in a retaken free kick, the chance unsurprisingly came to nothing and the Baggies held on for a 1-0 victory.

Now first things first, while Brighton were clearly wronged here, I have limited sympathy for them as both Pascal Groß and Danny Welbeck wasted penalties that should have given them a 1-2 victory despite the free kick shambles. However, this is yet another example of the best football league in the world being let down by inept officiating.

What I don’t understand though is why the game needs to be slowed down by having the free kick taker wait for the referee’s whistle. The other team has committed an act of foul play and yet they are given the chance for their keeper to arrange a wall to defend his near post and position himself to perfectly defend his goal – so what advantage are the team who were fouled getting here? Dunk’s quick free kick was a moment of quick thinking and exploiting an opportunity within the laws of the game, and that should not be discouraged.

As I write this, my mind drifts back to a disallowed goal for Manchester United against Chelsea in 2009, where Wayne Rooney placed the ball for a corner before appearing to leave it for Ryan Giggs, though just knocking it out of the zone. Giggs, knowing the ball was live, did not return the ball to the corner flag but instead immediately crossed it in for Cristiano Ronaldo to head home – only for the goal to not be given as the linesman was not paying attention and adjudged that the corner was never taken. Both of these were wonderful, inventive moments that will teach defences to stay on their toes. The big gripe about bringing in VAR was the way that it would slow down the game, so why are we OK with these quick set pieces being disallowed?

The quality of officiating needs to improve quickly, or else it may be time to start removing underachievers for their roles.


Team of the Month

West Ham

It would have been easy to pick City again this month after they won all of their games, but that would just be boring. Instead, I have gone for West Ham. Despite a lack of big names, they are getting results, with 3 wins, a draw and a loss at the Etihad making up February’s Premier League schedule, with 9 goals scored and 4 conceded (2 of which were to City). Only City and Wolves had a better month, while Leicester matched them for results.

At a point in the season when many teams are going through a slump, West Ham are going under the radar while picking up points consistently, to the point that I was shocked to see they were up to 4ᵗʰ. While they are far from guaranteed European football next season – they are only 6 points ahead of Spurs and Villa in 8ᵗʰ and 9ᵗʰ, both of whom have games in hand – if they can keep up the performances, they are well on track for a best finish since the 2015/16 season.


Premier League 2020/21: January

Premier League 2020/21: January

It was a January with a difference entering 2021 as we had very few big signings during the transfer window, with the ongoing pandemic seeing teams more focused on getting unnecessary costs off their books and loans from other English clubs as opposed to spending big money on new names from the continent.

On the pitch, Liverpool’s 68-game unbeaten run in the Premier League at Anfield came to an end with a 0-1 loss to Burnley, while a draw against Manchester United – who themselves lost to Sheffield United during the month – and a loss at Southampton saw the defending Champions drop behind both Manchester Clubs, as Pep Guardiola’s City’s improved form saw them end the month top of the league.

Wins over United and Newcastle were not enough to lift Sheffield United off the bottom of the table, as Fulham and West Brom also started to pick up more points. However, it’s not looking good for any of these teams as they all finished the month some way from safety and begging for a miracle, as well as the safe return of fans to stadiums.


The race is on!

The race for the Golden Boot: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – 15 goals; Son Heung-Min & Harry Kane (Tottenham) – 12 goals

The race for Playmaker of the Season: Harry Kane (Tottenham) – 11 assists; Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) – 10 assists; Jack Grealish (Aston Villa) – 9 assists

The race for the Golden Glove: Ederson (Manchester City) – 12 clean sheets; Emiliano Martínez (Aston Villa) – 10 clean sheets; Édouard Mendy (Chelsea) – 9 clean sheets


Loss of the legend

On 25ᵗʰ January, Blues legend Frank Lampard was dismissed from his role as manager of Chelsea after a run of 8 league matches with just 2 wins, with his replacement Thomas Tuchel announced the next day. While there is a standard that the big teams expect, it feels like this was just another example of panicking at the first sign of trouble.

Lampard hasn’t been given a fair shot. Last season, he had to contend with a transfer ban and the loss of star player Eden Hazard, but utilised a squad of young English players to finish 4ᵗʰ – probably outperforming their own expectations – but some of their big summer signings have struggled to adapt to the league at a time when things are already weird enough with no fans in the stadium. These are strange times, so to let go of Lampard the first time his team has hit a bad patch seems an overreaction, especially when you look at how other teams have gone through similar bad spells this season and made their way back to the top of the table.

You could definitely argue that Lampard was given a big job too early in his managerial career, but after doing so, he should have been given the time to work with his squad and get through this tough time. Give it a year or two and they’ll be looking for Tuchel’s replacement, while Lampard will probably be getting the respect he deserves at another club.

Keep your distance

One of the crazy things in January was the call that players have to remain socially distanced when celebrating. While it has led to some fun celebrations – James Maddison’s 1 metre distant handshakes has been a personal favourite – this rule seems to have been largely ignored. And to be honest, I can completely understand why.

In a game where it’s apparently legal to crowd the referee to get a decision you want or to wrestle players to the ground in the box as a dead ball is played in, not being able to celebrate with your teammates – who you will be around all match and in training anyway – is just ridiculous

If there is that much of a worry about passing on the virus then the games should not be going ahead. And if it is merely to set an example to the public, then that is pathetic as there is a big difference between 2 elite athletes celebrating within their team and me breaching lockdown by going round to Joe Schmoe’s house for a party.

Too soft

Manchester United’s shock loss at home to Sheffield United highlighted an issue that seriously needs looking at: the way goalkeepers are protected. For Sheffield’s opener, David de Gea was clearly impeded from competing at the corner by getting pushed from behind as he went to jump, yet this was deemed fair contact and the goal was allowed to stand. And yet a little later in the game, Anthony Martial had an equaliser ruled out for Harry Maguire supposedly fouling keeper Aaron Ramsdale, though replays showed that it was clearly the keeper coming forward who initiated the contact.

To me, keepers get far too much protection in this day and age. When you consider that they are the only players allowed to use their hands, so should in theory be able to get to the ball before a striker’s head, it seems laughable that they will usually get a free kick in their favour the moment an opposition player comes within 3 feet of them, and I can’t help feel that this is (at least in part) behind the drop in quality of goalkeeping, as too many of them expect help from the officials, so then struggle if put under pressure legally.

To me, the keepers need to be treated no differently to the other 20 players on the pitch, but then as an aside to this, all the shenanigans that go on in the box at a set piece need to be eradicated.


Team of the Month

Manchester City

This month’s selection was easy as only Manchester City went the month with a 100% winning record. The Citizens went 4 from 4 in the league while also winning all their cup games – including a potential banana skin in Cheltenham Town. Not only that, but despite having played so much of the season without a recognised striker, they managed an aggregate score of 13-1 over those 4 games, as the recovered from an awful first half of the season to reach the top of the table by the end of the month.

Their oft-suspect defence has solidified, with John Stones finally showing the form that earned him a move to the Etihad, while players like Phil Foden and İlkay Gündoğan have stepped up to replace the stars who have moved on or been unavailable.

If City go on to win the league this season, January will be looked back on as a crucial month.


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Premier League 2020/21: December

Premier League 2020/21: December

Happy New Year Premier League fans!

Before I get into this, I have a sincere apology to make, to my good friend Chris and all Spurs fans. It was beginning to look like this would finally be their season, but it would appear that I jinxed them by praising them so much in last month’s article, as they promptly went off the boil and dropped right out of the Champions League qualifying spots.

Tottenham were replaced at the top of the table by Liverpool, who led the league at Christmas as saw in the new year at the top spot, though Manchester United finished the month just3 points behind with a game in hand. Leicester and Everton filled out the top 4, though Villa are just 3 points behind, with a game in hand on Everton and 2 on the Foxes. The rest of the big name teams (other than 13ᵗʰ-placed Arsenal) fill out the rest of the top 8, with Chelsea, Spurs and Manchester City all finishing the month on the same number of points as Villa, though games in hand favour City and Villa.

At the bottom of the table, Chris Wilder’s seat must be feeling pretty toasty, as Sheffield United’s 1-1 draw at Brighton saw them double their points tally for the season, 6 points behind West Brom, who have turned to Sam Allardyce to keep them up. Fulham fill the final spot in the relegation zone, but they are only 2 points behind Brighton with a game in hand, while Burnley will hope that their improved form helps continue to pull them away from danger.


The race is on!

The race for the Golden Boot: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – 13 goals; Son Heung-Min (Tottenham), Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton) & Jamie Vardy (Leicester) – 11 goals

The race for Playmaker of the Season: Harry Kane (Tottenham) – 10 assists; Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) & Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United) – 7 assists

The race for the Golden Glove: Emiliano Martínez (Aston Villa) – 8 clean sheets; Ederson (Manchester City) & Alex McCarthy (Southampton) – 7 clean sheets


Rewarding honesty

Anyone who has been reading my Premier League thoughts for years will know that I hate diving. It’s cheating, pure and simple, a way to deceive the officials into giving a penalty or a free kick.

Now, we’re certainly in a much better place then we were a few season ago, but there are still far too many occasions where you see players either going to ground without being touched or feeling the slightest brush from a defender and Launching themselves through the air as if they were taking flight.

This issue (and the obvious solution) was highlighted to me as I watched 2 matches on 5ᵗʰ December: Chelsea’s 3-1 win over Leeds and Manchester City’s 2-0 win over Fulham. With the score 2-1 at Stamford Bridge, Ian Poveda was caught in the box by Ben Chilwell. Rather than go to ground, he stayed on his feet in an attempt to still make something from the situation, but the chance was now gone. What should have been a clear penalty to Leeds ended up being nothing. Meanwhile at the Etihad, Fulham defender Joachim Andersen caught Raheem Sterling in the box. Though there was less contact than in the Poveda incident, Raheem didn’t hesitate in throwing his legs into the air and doing a dramatic belly flop, and the penalty was awarded for Kevin De Bruyne to double the score and secure the win.

And herein lies the issue and the reason that players will continue to dive: if they are honest and stay on their feet, officials will not react. Officials need to go back to basics and look at what constitutes a foul – it does not need to include the player going to floor. If they start rewarding the honesty of players by awarding a free kick or penalty even when the player keeps their feet, then players will not have to dive in order to win the decision they are due – and anyone who continues to can be rightly vilified!

Classless

On 16ᵗʰ December, West Brom became the first Premier League team this season to part ways with their manager, with he announcement that they had sacked Slaven Bilić. That very same day, Sam Allardyce was announced as the new manager. It’s understandable why West Brom made the change, as they were 19ᵗʰ in the league on just 7 points. The problem is, this came less than 24 hours after the team held Manchester City to a 1-1 draw at the Etihad.

No offence to West Brom, but a draw at the Etihad is likely going to be one of the best results of the season, and the fact that both the sacking and the new appointment were announced the next day says to me that the decision was already made ahead of the match, so to sack a manager right after such a positive result shows a certain lack of class.

Big Sam may be an expert in keeping teams up, but this is a weak team in a strong league, and I can’t see this appointment paying off. Bilić will find another team and it would be a beautiful irony if West Brom drops to the Championship and Bilić manages in the Premier League before the Baggies make it back up.

Boom or bust

Leeds have been a breath of fresh air in the league this season. Under the watch of Marcelo Bielsa, the Whites have brought a flashy attack-minded gameplan that has surely been winning them the support of neutrals in a number of matches.

Of course, it hasn’t been all success for them, as their big wins (like 5-2 against Newcastle and 0-5 at West Brom) are a flip side to equally big losses, like the 6-2 loss at Old Trafford. They find themselves entering the new year with 7 wins, 7 losses and 2 draws, with 30 goals for and 30 goals against.

While this level of success will be enough to keep them up this year, they will need to find some way to adapt their game in the long-term, so that they can continue to be super dangerous in attack, but not at the expense of their defence. After all, a focus on attacking brilliance is fine, until your star striker gets hurt or hits a barren spell – I’ve learned that the hard way on FIFA!

Transfer talk

The new year means that the transfer window is open again, and some teams certainly need to be utilising it, as some teams have a clear need.

While Manchester City may finally be creeping back up the table, they are still feeling the impact of playing much of the season without a recognised striker. With Aguero and Jesus, they don’t need to break the bank on a superstar, but they need to get someone who has a striker’s natural instincts if they want to start winning the close games.

Other teams that are in desperate need of a striker are Wolves – who have really missed Raúl Jiménez since his head injury – and Brighton, who are rotating between Neal Maupay, Aaron Connolly, Florin Andone and Danny Welbeck of all people!

Meanwhile, Edinson Cavani has been a great option for Manchester United while Bruno Fernandes has helped drag the Red Devils into the title hunt, but they will need an elite winger and centreback if they legitimately want to win the league – though their early elimination from the Champions League will make it even harder for them to get that kind of quality, especially with Ed Woodward still in his role!

What other teams do you think have a burning need to fill during this transfer window?


Team of the Month

Everton

The Toffees get my vote for December as, following a drop in form, they returned with an unbeaten month. Things kicked off with a 1-1 draw at Burnley, and then they followed this up with 4 wins: 1-0 against Chelsea, 0-2 at Leicester, 2-1 against Arsenal and 0-1 at Sheffield United. That’s a 7-2 aggregate score in December, including wins against 2 of their rivals for European qualification and another big name team to boot!

They are certainly not the perfect team, with Jordan Pickford skittish between the sticks and summer loan signing Robin Olsen not sufficient competition, but in this season where nobody looks like they will run away with the league, a Champions League spot looks a real possibility, so long as they can stay consistent.


Premier League 2020/21: November

Premier League 2020/21: November

While November may not have been a good month for the England national team – who failed to qualify for the Nations League Finals – it was another great month for the Premier League and especially for Spurs, who went unbeaten to go top of the table on goal difference to Liverpool, who have done well to keep in the fight following a spate of injuries including talismanic defender Virgil van Dijk. Chelsea find themselves in 3ʳᵈ after an unbeaten month, with Leicester rounding out the top 4 after 2 consecutive losses to end the month.

The middle of the table makes for interesting reading, as Everton’s early momentum stalled and saw them drop to 8ᵗʰ ahead of a resurgent Manchester United – who have a game in hand – only by goal difference. The season’s other strong starter Aston Villa rounds out the top half of the table, with last year’s runner up Manchester City finding themselves at 11ᵗʰ, level on points.

At the bottom of the table, Sheffield United are in serious danger of being cut off from all their rivals with a pointless month leaving them with just a point, while wins at the end of the month for Fulham and West Brom have lifted them ahead of Burnley (and in Fulham’s case, out of the relegation zone), but there is still a 3 point gap between Fulham and the next team in the table, leaving them in a precarious situation.


The race is on!

The race for the Golden Boot: Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton) – 10 goals; Son Heung-Min (Tottenham) – 9 goals; Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) & Jamie Vardy (Leicester) – 8 goals

The race for Playmaker of the Season: Harry Kane (Tottenham) – 9 assists; Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) & Jack Grealish (Aston Villa) – 5 assists

The race for the Golden Glove: Édouard Mendy (Chelsea) – 5 clean sheets; Rui Patricio (Wolves), Lukasz Fabianski (West Ham), Hugo Lloris (Tottenham), Illan Meslier (Leeds), Emiliano Martínez (Aston Villa) & Alex McCarthy (Southampton) – 4 clean sheets


What’s in a number?

José Mourinho may be known as a defensive manager, but what he has done to the Tottenham attack this year is incredible! It’s still to early to say that they will win the title, but with the way that they are set up to attack and the skill of players like Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min, they are giving themselves every chance.

And it’s all down to one simple change at the top of the pitch, as Harry Kane still leads the line, but takes up a slightly deeper position, allowing the wingers to run beyond him and effectively become the strikers. The reason that they are able to do that is the spectacular skillset that Kane possesses.

Due to his height, strength and clinical eye for a goal, he’s generally been seen as a classic English centre-forward, a clear 9 in the mould of Alan Shearer. And yet when you watch him play, he is such a talented footballer and an incredible playmaker – hence his 9 assists this year- that he would not look out of place in a deeper role as a classic 10 with a striker playing in front of him.

Like another England star of recent years, Wayne Rooney, Kane is effectively a 9.5, able to lead the line and be the main goal threat, but also lying a little deeper and creating the chances for everyone around him. That is a special talent, and if he is used right, it is so hard for a defence to deal with him as they will struggle to find a player that can follow him around the pitch and match him both on the ground and in the air.

Heads up

From success with Spurs to an absolute embarrassment at their North London rivals Arsenal, I was absolutely appalled by the actions I saw at the weekend when Arsenal faced Wolves.

Just a handful of minutes into the match, David Luiz and Raúl Jiménez clashed heads at a set piece, resulting in a 10 minute stoppage that saw the Mexican stretchered off and taken to hospital with a fractured skull. Luiz however had a cut bandaged up and played on, eventually being removed at half time. Mikel Arteta said that all necessary tests were passed by Luiz, but I struggle to believe that those tests are sufficient if they can be performed on the pitch in less than 10 minutes.

As someone who loves both rugby and the NFL, the impact of head injuries has become clear over the years, and it is shocking that football is so behind in this matter of player safety – though as VAR has shown, this is an archaic game that nobody in power apparently wants to see changed. I understand that there are discussions ongoing around bringing in concussion substitutions similar to rugby, where a player can be temporarily substituted on while a player is taken off for an assessment following a head injury. However, I would argue that this is not enough in football. In both rugby and the NFL, contact with the head is accidental, yet in football, players are deliberately heading the ball, which is increasing the risk of second impact for a player who may have passed a concussion test due to delayed onset of symptoms. To me, anyone who has suffered loss of consciousness on the pitch or a head injury where there is any suspicion that damage is more than a cut, should be removed from the pitch immediately and not allowed back on.

Sadly, I can’t see any change of note happening until something serious happens to a player, and by that point, it’s too late!

Problem penalty

On 7ᵗʰ November, Fulham found themselves 1-0 down away to a dominant West Ham, but were given a lifeline with a 94ᵗʰ minute penalty. Ademola Lookman had the chance to salvage a much-needed point, but the 23-year-old chose to go for the Panenka and butchered it, allowing Lukasz Fabianski the chance to dive to one side and still recover to make the save to secure the 1-0 win.

Maybe I’m being harsh on the kid, but Lookman should be ashamed of his actions, especially as Fulham were always going to be fighting for survival so needing every point they can scrounge. A Panenka looks great when you pull it off, but when you get it wrong, you look like a complete tit, an when it costs you the game, there will be very few people ready to come over and console you. The moment I saw the penalty, my mind took me back to Yann Kermorgant’s disastrous failure of a Panenka in the 2010 Championship Playoff semi-final penalty shoot-out against Cardiff, which Leicester lost – leading to plenty of ridicule for the Frenchman.

There were plenty of other penalties missed in the league this month, but this is the one that will be remembered as all the others saw players picking a spot and trying to finesse it in or just smash the ball as hard as they can, and with cases like this people are much more understanding if they do not end with a goal. By trying to showboat, Lookman made his bed, now he has to lie in it. Hopefully he will learn from this and put the success of his team ahead of showing off next time he takes a penalty.


Team of the Month

Tottenham Hotspur

It felt right to name Spurs the team of the month after going to the top of the table following an unbeaten run. Their defence is solidifying, conceding just 2 goals in 4 matches over this spell, while their attacking play produces 5 goals, including a 2-1 victory at home to Manchester City that highlighted their quality against the big teams.

As well as a win over City, they came away with wins at home to Brighton and away to West Brom – matches they would have expected to win, that could have been potential banana skins – while they finished the month with a 0-0 draw at home to a Chelsea team that is growing into the season with a similarly dangerous attack and improving defence.

With December seeing Spurs face off against Arsenal, Liverpool (away) and Leicester among others, this month will be a key test of their credentials if they want to win the title.


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Premier League 2020/21: October

Premier League 2020/21: October

The Premier League is now well and truly underway, and if the rest of the season carries on like this then it will be one to remember. Defending champions Liverpool got off to the worst possible start to the month with a 7-2 humbling at the hands of newly-promoted Aston Villa and lost star defender Virgil van Dijk to an ACL injury in their next match against Everton, but recovered well to finish the month top of the table.

Leicester suffered disappointing losses to Villa and West Ham, but still found themselves in the top 6 with Wolves, Villa, Everton and Chelsea, with Spurs and City rounding out the top 8. At the bottom of the table, 4 teams remained winless, but 3 draws for West Brom left the Baggies just above the relegation zone, which is currently inhabited by Burnley, Fulham and last year’s surprise package Sheffield United, who each have just 1 point to their name.


The race is on!

The race for the Golden Boot: Son Heung-Min (Tottenham) – 8 goals; Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton) & Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – 7 goals

The race for Playmaker of the Season: Harry Kane (Tottenham) – 8 assists; John McGinn (Aston Villa) – 4 assists; James Rodriguez (Everton) & Aaron Cresswell (West Ham) – 3 assists

The race for the Golden Glove: Rui Patricio (Wolves) – 4 clean sheets; Emiliano Martínez (Aston Villa), Alex McCarthy (Southampton) & Édouard Mendy (Chelsea) – 3 clean sheets 


Safe hands?

Everton have had their best start to a league campaign in some time and with their quality up front and he struggles of some of the big teams, this looks like an opportunity for a first top-6 finish since the 2013/14 season. However if they miss out, I can’t help feel that a lot of it will come down to Jordan Pickford’s performances between the sticks.

While Pickford is certainly capable of pulling off some stunning saves, he is anything but reliable. Though they started the month with a win over Brighton, Pickford gifted the Seagulls a goal by fumbling Leandro Trossard’s shot, allowing Neal Maupay to score, while Tom Davies had to make a crucial block at 3-1 when Pickford slapped a cross straight to Maupay.

2 weeks later in the Merseyside Derby, he was lucky to stay on the pitch after an awful and completely unnecessary challenge on Virgil van Dijk, causing an ACL injury that has ended the Dutchman’s season. It was a disgusting challenge that deserved a red card all day long, but Pickford got away with it as an offside was called in the build-up, so the challenge was never looked at – a ridiculous decision in my eyes. And yet despite this lucky break, he still went on to almost cost his team the game, with a poor effort to stop Jordan Henderson’s late shot, an offside picked up by VAR the only thing saving him.

That’s just 2 matches, but it’s already more than you expect to see off a top keeper in the space of a couple of months, and with a shaky defence you need someone reliable in goal. Frankly, it was no surprise to see him dropped for the first Premier League match of November (though he was back for this weekend’s game against United), but Carlo Ancelotti must surely realise that he made a mistake by not bringing in a legitimate upgrade at the position during the transfer window – something that Chelsea did, to the tune of 3 clean sheets in the league already!

Missing piece

Who would have though that after 2 months of Premier League football, Manchester City would be down in 8ᵗʰ? Pep Guardiola’s men have not started the season well, winning only 3 of their opening 6 games, while November saw them only manage draws against Leeds and West Ham.

It’s crazy to say, but the team is struggling to score goals, with just 4 goals scored in 4 games in November, despite the plethora of attacking options that Pep Guardiola has to choose from. And there is a simple reason for this: while Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus are great strikers, they have not been regularly available in these opening weeks of the season, and City have not had the depth to cover for it, instead playing wide men like Raheem Sterling and Ferran Torres in the central position, to limited effect.

I understand that with the 3-up-front formations that many teams go for these days, less strikers are needed on the roster, but both Aguero and Jesus have spotty injury histories, so it makes sense to have at least one more specialist striker in the squad, as in a league as strong as the Premier League, you will not have the time to think about where you should be or what you should be doing, you just need to act on instinct, and that will not come naturally to a winger.

Carry on

Liverpool’s opening 2 matches of the month could not have gone much worse: an embarrassing 7-2 loss at Villa, then losing Virgil van Dijk for the season against Everton. The Dutchman is arguably one of the best centrebacks in the world and I’m sure many still remember the dismal defensive performances the Reds put in before his arrival – the Villa loss wouldn’t have been anywhere near as much of an aberration back then!

Can Liverpool cope without him? Clearly yes, as they won both of their following league matches to complete the month top of the table, while they still have talented – just not reliable – defenders in their squad. Don’t be surprised to see the Reds looking to bring in a replacement for van Dijk in January – someone who could then realistically go on to become his partner once he is back.

But until then, don’t be surprised to see Liverpool go on the idea that “a strong defence is a swift and decisive offence.” In Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané, they already had one of the most potent attacking units, while the acquisition of Diogo Jota just adds to that either as a 4ᵗʰ weapon on the pitch or to allow some rotation in the front 3 with minimal drop in quality. Oh and then let’s not also forget that they have playmakers like Thiago Alcântara and Xherdan Shaqiri and 2 super dangerous fullbacks in Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson. Expect them to have an answer for any goal they concede.


Team of the Month

Wolverhampton Wanderers

It looked like Villa were going to be the obvious choice here with a huge victory over Liverpool, but their 0-3 loss to Leeds came at just the wrong time and game me the chance to look elsewhere, eventually landing on Wolves.

While they may not have had the same challenges as Villa this month, they successfully navigated matches to 3 wins and a draw, with an aggregate score of 5-1, to leave them 3ʳᵈ in the table. But what made this more impressive is that they have continued this success despite the loss of Diogo Jota to Liverpool. They are far from the strongest of squads in the league, but are so consistent as a team, you never want to rule them out in a match.


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Premier League 2020/21: September

Premier League 2020/21: September

It feels like only yesterday that we finished the 2019/20 season of the Premier League but we’re already back up and running with many teams already 3 matches into the 2020/21 season.

4 teams made it through September unbeaten: defending champions Liverpool, local rivals Everton, Leicester City and Aston Villa (who have only played 2 games), while newly-promoted Fulham find themselves without a point in 3 games, alongside Sheffield United and Burnley (though the Clarets have only played 2 games).

As with last season, I’m back again to give my big thoughts from each month’s action and stories. I will also be unveiling a few new features for this season’s articles. So without further ado, let’s get to the football!


The race is on!

The race for the Golden Boot: Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton) & Jamie Vardy (Leicester City) – 5 goals, Son Heung-Min (Tottenham) – 4 goals

The race for Playmaker of the Season: Harry Kane (Tottenham) – 5 assists, 7 players on 2 assists

The race for the Golden Glove: Emiliano Martínez (Aston Villa) – 2 clean sheets, 11 players on 1 clean sheet


A welcome improvement

After last year’s farce, I was worried about how well VAR would work given the limited time between seasons, but – and I hope I’m not jinxing anything by saying this – things appear to be going much better this season. Personally, I put this down to 2 main factors.

First of all, it seems that when it comes to checking offsides, we’re not getting the ridiculous checks to see if the attacking player is offside by the narrowest of margins. I’m not sure whether this is down to attacking players holding their runs a little more to ensure they are onside, or if there has been some directive that VAR hasn’t got to atomic levels of precision when checking an offside (or maybe a bit of both). Regardless, getting rid of these incidents is saving so much time and making the system look much less pathetic when making its decisions.

Secondly, the VAR is now being used properly by having many of the subjective decisions checked by the referee. Part of the VAR system has always included a pitchside monitor for the referee to use, but it was largely ignored last year as those in the booth made all the decisions. Using the pitchside monitor leads to a much better experience as there is the consistency of the same person making the decisions as during the rest of the game. VAR is not a way to catch the referees out and berate them for getting the initial decision wrong, instead it is there to give them an opportunity to view an incident again to ensure they are making the correct decision.

Having followed a number of sports for years that utilise video replays, I know how effective VAR can be if used right. Hopefully we are now seeing things go in the right direction.

Poorly handled

While VAR seems to be improving, the way that handballs are being dealt with this season is absolutely ridiculous!

The Premier League went against the curve last year with how they refereed potential handballs, but this year they have had to come in line with the other leagues around the world. And it has shown to have an impact, with a massive rise in the number of penalties for handballs in these early rounds.

Now firstly, I want to say that I do agree with bringing the Premier League in line with other leagues. Football is one sport and to me all the leagues should be in line with each other as it creates a consistency to the product.

However, the way that the law is being refereed is an absolute joke! The idea of what constitutes a handball relies on the arm being outside a standardised silhouette of someone standing with their arms by their sides. However, this same silhouette is used for all circumstances, including a player jumping for the ball. Try jumping for the ball while keeping your arms by your sides and you won’t get very high and will look ridiculous, but this means that as soon as a player uses their arms to help propel them into the air, they’re giving away a penalty if the ball hits their arm. But then things get even more ridiculous as Gabriel escaped a handball penalty against West Ham when the ball struck his arm away from the body, only for nothing to be given as the ball struck his upper arm where his sleeve is – which apparently doesn’t constitute a handball!

Something needs to change. Is the answer to say that any contact between the arm and the ball is a handball, similar to how any contact with the foot or the back of the stick is an offence in hockey? Or do we need more situational parameters set as to what constitutes a handball in different circumstances – eg challenging in the air, going to ground to make a challenge, protecting body with arms? That’s for people who get much more than me to decide, but something has to change.

Immediate impact

Is there anyone who would argue right now with the opinion that James Rodríguez has been the signing of the summer?

The Colombian, signed from Real Madrid, has had an immediate impact at Goodison Park, providing the range of passing and movement to find holes between the midfield and defence and create space for Richarlison to run into, while also being a goal threat himself on the edge of the box.

After his World Cup heroics, it looked like he would be fighting with Messi and Ronaldo for the Ballon d’Or for years to come, but he was just anther big name at Real and eventually fell out of favour, leading to a loan spell at Bayern Munich. However coming to Goodison Park and reuniting with a manager that has a good history with him is really bringing out the best in him and I think that we are going to really see that quality for Everton this year.

Perhaps he is the missing piece that can see the Toffees compete for Europe again.

Same old story

While Everton may have brought in just the player they needed in the offseason, Manchester United are looking pathetic in the transfer market once again.

Not only are they struggling to offload the players deemed surplus to requirements, but the only signing they have made is Donny van de Beek, who appears to be giving some depth to midfield rather than fixing some gaps in the starting XI. The Jadon Sancho transfer saga is dragging on and it’s not hard to imagine United missing out on their man, while they are also in desperate need of an upgrade at centreback and on the left side of defence.

The problem is that this isn’t a one-off, but just another example of Ed Woodward’s inability to deal effectively in the transfer market. Manchester United remains one of the biggest names in football, but the lack of success has not been helped at all by an inability to bring in the players required on a consistent basis. When you look at the signings that Chelsea and Arsenal have made for this season and the players Liverpool have brought in to to strengthen their squad – hell, even Spurs have actually had a decent transfer window with Højbjerg, Doherty and Bale arriving – United need to be doing better if they want to consistently finish in the Champions League places and look to compete for the title again.


Team of the Month

Leicester City

I wasn’t intending to just pick the league leaders for the first month, but when I looked deeper into things I had to pick the Foxes.

An away match at newly-promoted West Brom is far from the hardest way to open a season, but it could still very easily be a banana skin, yet Leicester came away with a 3-goal win despite having a goal disallowed. They followed this up with another goal-heavy win over Burnley, and ended the month with an incredible 2-5 victory at the Etihad where they completely outplayed Manchester City.

And all this while having limited options at centreback and having to use a midfielder there at times! You couldn’t ask for a much better start to your campaign!


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