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.

feat football prem league logo yellow

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?

Premier League: Offseason Needs for 2019/20

Premier League: Offseason Needs for 2019/20

The season is over for all but 4 of this year’s Premier League teams. With just the Champions League and Europa League finals still to play, the thoughts of most teams will have now drifted to next season and another push for Premier League success/survival.

With that in mind, I decided to have a quick look at each of the 17 teams still in the league next season and give my thoughts on the priorities for each team this summer. Obviously, some teams have many more needs than others, so I have decided to limit each team to a maximum of 2 needs for this article.


Brighton & Hove Albion:

Glenn Murray’s 13 league goals were crucial to Brighton avoiding relegation this season, but will be turning 36 early next season, so there is no guarantee how much longer he can keep performing at the top level. New head coach Graham Potter needs to bring in another striker who can contribute 10-15 goals per season to complement Murray over the next season (their next highest league scorer was Shane Duffy with 5 goals) and eventually take over from him in the long term.

Southampton:

Southampton need goals. Their top league scorers this season were Danny Ings and James Ward-Prowse, who each had 7. Between Ings, Charlie Austin and Shane Long, they have a decent enough set of strikers to compete around mid-table, however they need someone to supply the ball to them in the form of a winger. If someone can put the ball into the right area, they have the players to put the ball in the back of the net.

Burnley:

Between Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes, Burnley have a quality pair of strikers, yet they accounted for almost half of the team’s goals this season. In Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson, Robbie Brady and Aaron Lennon gives them a good supply of ball from the outside, but they need to bring in an attacking midfielder that can pop up with a decent return of goals to take some of the pressure off their strikers.

AFC Bournemouth:

First things first, Bournemouth need to find a way to hold onto Callum Wilson. While Josh King also hit double digits, Wilson showed himself to be one of the best strikers outside of a top 6 club with 14 league goals from 23 games. While they could likely get good money for him, a player who is used to the league and this club’s style of play is invaluable.

Newcastle United:

We move away from the pitch with Newcastle and look at the ownership of this club. Mike Ashley is holding back this team with his unwillingness to spend big money and eventually Rafa Benitez – one of the best managers in the league – will get tired of not being given any support in the transfer market. Signing Miguel Almiron was a step in the right direction, but will not be enough in the long term and until Ashley sells to someone willing to financially support their manager, this is a team that will be stuck in the bottom half of the table.

Crystal Palace:

Crystal Palace are relatively tight at the back and play in an organised way that really helps them limit the number of goals conceded, so the help they need comes up front. Michy Batshayi contributed 5 league goals in 11 appearances and Palace need to do everything they can to keep hold of him or find another striker that can play regular football with a goal every couple of matches. There’s no way they can continue to rely on Luka Milivojević being given umpteen penalties a season and their other strikers contributed nothing in the way of goals.

As well as making sure they have a reliable striker next season, Palace need to try to hold on to Wilfried Zaha. The Ivorian international is the clear star of the team and has clearly matured as a player since his failed spell at Manchester United. He is so hard to defend, oppositions need to strategize against him, which gives space to other players and in many cases also results in a number of attacking free kicks courtesy of him being taken out.

Watford:

I’m going to move away from the pitch again for a moment and say that Watford’s priority should be to keep hold of manager Javi Gracia. Since Gino Pozzo acquired the club in June 2012, a whopping 10 managers have been in charge of the club, starting with Sean Dyche who was dismissed almost immediately despite the club’s best finish in 4 years. One and a half years in charge has been a long spell since then, but that is never going to allow a team to truly develop until there is consistency at the top.

West Ham United:

For me, West Ham need to take a look at their defence this summer. Pablo Zabaleta and Angelo Ogbonna are both the wrong side of 30, Aaron Cresswell is 29 and 30-year-old Winston Reid hasn’t played all season following an injury. While some of these players may still have a couple of good seasons in them, they need to start bringing in some talented youngsters either via transfers or the Academy and bed them in while they still have experienced stars there to learn off.

Leicester City:

Leicester’s success this season falls heavily on striker Jamie Vardy, who scored 18 goals in 34 league appearances this season. However, he is 32 and as a player who relies heavily on his pace, it is just a matter of time before time catches up on him. Brendan Rodgers needs to start looking at life after Vardy while also maximising the time they have him by finding a younger striker who can share time with him next season. Kelechi Iheanacho has not lived up to his promise from his time at Manchester City and Shinji Okazaki has been let go. Will Demarai Gray be the answer, or will Rodgers look to bring someone new in?

Everton:

Everton have a strong squad, but they need to find themselves a striker who can get them 15-20 goals a season. Cenk Tosun has only managed 8 goals in 39 league appearances since joining in January 2018, and while Dominic Calvert-Lewin is only young and could be the man to lead the line in the future, his 3 seasons at the club have resulted in just 11 goals from 79 games. With Richarlison and Gylfi Sigurðsson in their ranks, it won’t take much for the Toffees to push themselves back towards the top 6.

Wolverhampton Wanderers:

For Wolves, it is a simple one: get some strength in depth. 10 members of the squad played over 30 times in the league, while a further 4 played over 20 matches. With them now also in the Europa League next season, there is a distinct risk that they will struggle in the early months like Burnley did, unless they can spread the appearances around the squad more.

Manchester United:

Get David de Gea’s contract sorted. He had a poor end to the season, but is a world class goalkeeper and if he wants to stay, then the board should be doing everything in their power to get a new contract signed as soon as possible. This guy will continue to make match-winning saves for the team and make any defence look better than it really is when you look at the number of clean sheets and goals conceded.

After such a poor season for United, this need to be the moment where things start over. Players who are not up to the quality needed, or who don’t want to put in 110% for the club should be offloaded and replaced with talented, driven individuals. Paul Pogba cares about himself rather than the club, but could still warrant a decent price on the market. Martial has not done enough consistently to prove himself worthy of a place. Very few of the defence are good enough to be there, with Victor Lindelöf, Luke Shaw and Diogo Dalot probably the only regulars who should continue to regularly play next season. Alexis Sanchez, Fred and Romelu Lukaku both deserve 1 more season to prove themselves worthy of a place in the United team, unless the right money is offered. 2018/19 is a complete reset year.

Arsenal:

The Gunners’ 73 goals scored put them comfortably 3rd in the season’s rankings, however their 51 goals conceded was more than Manchester City and Liverpool combined and seriously harmed them this year. They kept only 8 clean sheets, which is nowhere near good enough for a team hoping to make the top 4. The fullbacks are great attacking talents, but defensively leave something to be desired, while the centre backs are too slow, don’t position themselves well enough and are prone to errors. If Unai Emery can bring in a couple of talented centre backs, I can imagine a drastic improvement similar to what we saw with Virgil van Dijk and Liverpool this season.

Tottenham Hotspur: So for Spurs, I spoke to an old friend and die-hard fan, Chris (who has also supplied a number of pictures for the sight in the past), as I had a few ideas but wanted to also include his expertise.

First up is a central midfielder. The defence on the whole is OK and there is talent further forward, but the middle of the park was lacking. Injury in November, then his transfer to the Chinese Super League in January left Spurs really missing a midfield presence to balance out the team. Daniel Levy does not like to spend big money, but if they want to take the step forward and follow up a Champions League final with a chance of winning the Premier League, they need to find an elite player at the position.

Next up is finding a second striker to back up Harry Kane. Vincent Jansen played so little I forgot he even played for the club, while Fernando Llorente scored just 1 league goal and at 34 is a player reaching the end. Son Heung-min and Lucas Moura are versatile enough to chip in with enough goals to keep Spurs going in Kane’s absence, but they do not have the aerial presence that he does, which makes it more difficult if he is rested or injured.

Chelsea:

Chelsea’s transfer ban limits what they can do this summer, which makes the first need all the more important: find a way to keep hold of Eden Hazard! The Belgian, who looks set to leave for Real Madrid this summer, scored 16 of Chelsea’s 63 Premier League goals this season (25%) and has been the shining light in a questionable team. Like we have seen this season with some of David de Gea’s struggles highlighting just how poor his defence has been over the years, losing Hazard and hoping that Pedro, Willian, Christian Pulisic et al. can do in his absence could see the Blues struggle next season.

I’ve been critical of Maurizio Sarri this season and in my opinion, Chelsea need to move on from him this summer and find a new manager. Despite having quality strikers this season in Alvaro Morata, Gonzalo Higuain and Olivier Giroud, he never felt that he could rely on any of them and often wasted Hazard as a striker. Getting rid of Sarri and bringing in the right manager could be just what is needed to convince Hazard to stay. With the transfer ban, this would be the perfect opportunity as well to give a new manager a season to bed themselves in with the team, so that next summer they can look to bring in their own players after a year of seeing who fits in their squad.

Liverpool:

Having come so close to the title this season, it will not take much for the Reds to push for the top again next season. Liverpool have a strong XI and even most of their replacements are of high quality, but they are currently finding themselves short at both fullback positions. Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold are one of the best fullback pairings in the league, but should anything happen to them, they are lacking the depth behind them. James Milner is a quality player who will always put in 100% for the club, but he is not someone who you want to see lining up at fullback if you are hoping to win your first Premier League title.

Manchester City:

What do City need to improve on after winning the league title with the best goal difference despite one of their stars Kevin de Bruyne being hampered by injury for much of the season? Not much, but I did still manage to pick out one area to strengthen. Fernandinho’s work in the holding midfield role has been a key part of City’s defensive success, but at 34 years old, he is the oldest outfield player in this season’s squad. City could do with finding his replacement and using the next season to rotate between the pair so that the new player is ready to take over sometime in the next few years.


What would you say the biggest needs are?

May 2019 in the Premier League

May 2019 in the Premier League

It’s hard to believe but the Premier League season is already over for another year. April had just 2 rounds of football left to play but there was still plenty of importance to these matches, as Cardiff’s 2-3 loss to Crystal Palace saw them become the final team to be relegated with 1 game left. At the other end of the table, Chelsea and Tottenham managed to hold onto the top 4 spots to earn Champions League football over Arsenal and Manchester United, while the title chase went down to the final day and saw Manchester City emerge victorious, beating Liverpool to the title by a single point.


A very special season

We have had title races finished later in the season (“Aguerooooooooooooooooooooo!”) but this season’s battle between Manchester City and Liverpool will be one that lives long in the memory. Coming into the day, it was highly likely that both teams would win their respective matches to give City the title, but there was still a chance that a miracle could happen for the Reds. It almost did too, as Sadio Mané put Liverpool ahead in their match against Wolves and Glenn Murray put Brighton ahead. Sergio Agüero equalised almost immediately and Aymeric Laporte put City ahead just 10 minutes later to put them back ahead in the title race and goals from Riyad Mahrez and İlkay Gündoğan confirmed the trophy would be staying at the Etihad for another year.

City and Liverpool were head and shoulders above the rest of the league this season. They were top 2 for goals scored (95 and 89 respectively, next was Arsenal with 73), goals conceded (23 and 22, Chelsea and Spurs were closest with 39) and clean sheets (20 and 21, next was Chelsea with 16), leaving the gap between 2nd and 3rd at 25 points and a goal difference of 43! Of the 10 preceding seasons, Liverpool’s 97 points would have won them the league in all but the 2017/18 season. They lost just 1 league match all season: a 2-1 loss at the Etihad, which involved John Stones clearing the ball off the line just 11mm before a goal would have been awarded. What ultimately cost Liverpool was too many draws in the early months of 2019, as they drew at home to Leicester and away at Manchester United (who struggled with injuries in this game), West Ham and Everton between January and March to throw away what had been a 7 point lead heading into 2019.

Both teams will be aiming to be as good, if not better, next season, while you would hope that the other teams from the top 6 will also improve. We could be in for a treat next season!


Going too far

Jefferson Lerma scored a beauty of a goal on the final day of the season in an eight-goal thriller between Crystal Palace and Bournemouth, but should he have even been on the pitch?

Just before halftime in the penultimate match against Tottenham, Lerma was involved in an awful moment with Son Heung-min. The Korean had won a foul but as h reached out for the ball well after the whistle was blown, Lerma came in to step on his outstretched hand. Son certainly overreacted by shoving Lerma in the face and was deserving of his red card, but Lerma pathetically chose to stay down on the ground curled up in a ball and should have received at least a yellow for his part in the altercation.

Later in the match, he and Dele Alli got into an altercation on halfway, which resulted in the pair receiving yellow cards, which should have seen Lerma dismissed at this point even if he had not been red carded earlier.

Against Palace, he may have scored a stunning goal off the woodwork, but was also involved in a couple of moments that left a bad taste in my mouth. In a moment reminiscent of the week before, Lerma reached out for the ball after being fouled, only for Zaha to kick the ball out of his hands, leading to a shoving match, however Lerma once again avoided any punishment and Zaha was cautioned. Lerma did not appear to let the issue lie, though, as the build-up to Palace’s final goal involved a strong run by Zaha that could have potentially been stopped by a good tackle by Lerma, only for him to instead try to body-check him and fail miserably.

From his altercations to his diving, Lerma was an embarrassment this month. Bournemouth would do well to move on from him quickly as he will likely bring bad press to the club if he continues in this vein.


Thanks everyone for reading this season! I have plans for a couple of Premier League posts over the summer and will back with a similar series of articles next season.

April 2019 in the Premier League

April 2019 in the Premier League

The Premier League took another big step towards the end of its season in April with the confirmation that Fulham would be joining Huddersfield in being relegated to the Championship following their 4-1 loss at Watford.

Spurs played their first league game at their new stadium (the imaginatively-named  Tottenham Hotspur Stadium), a 2-0 win against Crystal Palace, with Son Heung-Min scoring the first league goal at the new stadium. Lucas Moura wrote his name in Spurs history 10 days later by scoring the first league hat-trick at the stadium (against Huddersfield) and Michail Antonio became the first player to score an away goal there in the league with the only goal of a loss to West Ham.


Play on!

After a poor start to the season, Burnley’s escape from relegation continued with a huge 1-3 win at Bournemouth. The third and final Burnley goal was for too easy for the Clarets, as the entire Bournemouth team appeared to stop to appeal for a throw in (replays showed the ball stayed in play), allowing Chris Wood to be the first to a cross in and tee up Ashley Barnes.

I have never understood why players at the top level so frequently stop playing to appeal for a decision. One of the first things I remember being taught when I started playing rugby was to play to the whistle! It can be hard enough for a defence to keep up with an attacking team if they get in behind, giving them an extra advantage by coming to a complete halt while appealing makes it far too easy for an attacker.

With VAR coming in next season, it will be interesting to see if players continue to appeal at the time or if they begin to play on and then appeal if the goal is scored.


Under pressure

April was not a good month for David de Gea, with a number of costly errors both in the league and against Barcelona.

In their 2-1 win over West Ham, Felipe Anderson’s equaliser came about after the Spaniard rolled the ball out but put it between 2 players. Something similar happened a couple of weeks later in the 4-0 loss at Everton as he rolled the ball out to Diogo Dalot at a moment when he was not expecting or looking for the ball, while he also conceded a long-range effort from Gylfi Sigurðsson. Both goals in Machester City’s 0-2 win at Old Trafford were arguably due to de Gea errors too. Arguably the most high profile in the league, though, was a costly fumble of a long-range strike from Antonio Rüdiger, which led to the ball dropping at the feet of Marcos Alonso for an equaliser, the 1-1 final score putting a huge dent in United’s top 4 hopes (by time of writing, a draw with Huddersfield has left it mathematically impossible for United to qualify for the Champions League).

While he has clearly gone through a bad spell at the end of this season, the amount of people jumping to criticise him is crazy when you consider just how many times he has saved United over the years and also how poor the defence has been in front of him, not to mention the rest of his teammates for much of the season! Paul Pogba can choose to put in the effort for maybe half of the season and get away with it, yet due to de Gea’s position in goal, a couple of errors cause an uproar. It’s a lonely position and I feel for him.

I was so happy to see Ole Gunnar Solskjær come out in support of him as he recognises that de Gea is still one of the best shot-stoppers in the world and I’m hoping that the love and support he has received from so many around the team will make him want to stay at the club despite the lack of Champions League football next season.

It would have been interesting to see if Sergio Romero would have been given the start against Huddersfield had a knee injury not ruled him out, but with just 1 game remaining and nothing at stake, it makes sense to me now to keep de Gea in the XI to see out the season.


Just rewards

While the season may not yet be over, the PFA Men’s Player of the Year and PFA Young Men’s Player of the Year have been announced as Virgil van Dijk and Raheem Sterling respectively.

Personally, I find it odd that the award is given before the season itself is over, as the success of the player’s team could have a huge impact on who deserves the award. That said, I am really happy with this year’s winners despite the league results.

I have not been a big fan of Sterling in the past as he would not back up his club performances for England, but now he is putting in the performances for both club and country I am really starting to appreciate just how good a player he has become. In a team of stars, he has been the star for them this season, with 17 goals and 10 assists in 32 games. That said, take Sterling out and I think it has a minimal impact on City’s season as they have such an incredible set of attacking talent.

Van Dijk would have got my vote as if you take him out of the Liverpool back line, I can’t see the Reds doing anywhere near as well this season. Having played in every league match this season, he has lost just 1 match and kept 19 clean sheets. Liverpool have conceded a league-best 22 goals (level with Manchester City, who have played a game less at time of writing) and while Alisson has certainly helped steady things at the back, I feel that the introduction of the Dutchman has been key to their improvement, while also adding 4 goals this season – the most he has scored in a Premier League campaign.


Final prediction

So with Manchester City v Leicester City and just 1 round of games remaining at time of writing, the top 4 is guaranteed barring a Spurs loss, Arsenal win and an overall 8-goal swing in goal difference. So for this piece, I am going to focus on the top 2.

At time of writing, Liverpool have a 2-point lead but City have a game in hand over their title rivals and I will be shocked if they don’t beat Leicester at the Etihad. The final round of matches sees Liverpool at home to Wolves and City travelling to Brighton, and I honestly can’t see either team dropping points there, which means Liverpool finish on an impressive 97 points, but come up just short against City’s 98.


 

March 2019 in the Premier League

March 2019 in the Premier League

March was a month of beginnings and endings in the Premier League. Manchester United officially named Ole Gunnar Solskjær as their permanent manager after his time as caretaker manager got the team back on track. In slightly worse news for United, this month also saw their unbeaten league run under the Baby-faced Assassin come to an end with a 2-0 loss at Arsenal. Arsenal were also involved in Tottenham’s last league match at Wembley before moving into their new stadium at the start of April, holding their North London rivals to a 1-1 draw. Meanwhile, the Brendan Rodgers era got underway at Leicester City with an injury time Andre Gray goal denying the Foxes a point, but 3 wins after that (including a 1-2 win at Burnley despite playing a man down for the majority of the game) got their season back on track. Less celebratory were Huddersfield, whose 2-0 loss at Crystal Palace, combined with victories for Burnley and Southampton, saw the Terriers become only the second team – following Derby County in the 2007/8 season – to be relegated before the end of March.


Going to ground

We all hate diving and want to see it removed from the game. The problem is, too often a dive seems to be required in order to get the decision. Manchester United’s 3-2 win over Southampton saw a moment where Alexis Sanchez looked in with a good chance of scoring, only to be pulled back in the box by Jan Valery. Sanchez stayed on is feet in an attempt to get back on the ball and referee Stuart Attwell waved play on rather than give a penalty.

It was great to see Sanchez trying to play positively here and he should not be penalised for trying to keep his feet when he is clearly being fouled. We want to be eradicating diving from the game, yet players who honestly stay on their feet do not get the decisions they deserve so feel they need to throw themselves to the ground in order to get the referee to act. Credit must be given to Southampton’s Nathan Redmond against Tottenham, who refused to throw himself to the ground after Moussa Sissoko thrust his head into his face. That should have been a clear red card but the Spurs midfielder escaped with a yellow and you can’t help but think that referee Kevin Friend was influenced by Redmond keeping his feet.

Players should not have to go to ground to get a decision. In the same game between United and Southampton, Chris Smalling was lucky to not concede a penalty after pulling Ryan Bertrand back in the box. I can’t help but feel that Bertrand’s theatrical fall cost him here as it looked so over the top for the foul he received, yet that does not hide the fact that he was fouled.

VAR will hopefully help, but there is still a reliance on referees judging on the foul itself not whether a player goes down. Brighton’s 1-2 win at Crystal Palace saw Scott Dann and Shane Duffy tussle in the box and eventually pull each other to ground at a free kick. Craig Pawson should have been calling either a penalty or a free kick depending who made the first offence, but as we see at every corner and free kick, play was waved on and the incident ignored. On top of that, the highlights package of the Cardiff v Chelsea match alone had 3 clear penalties not given for players being pulled over in the box!

We need to get more consistency from the officials if we are to get rid of diving as players need to know that the officials will call fouls on them even if they keep on their feet and try to still get to the ball.

We’ve got a long way to go.


A mixed day

For Jordan Pickford, who came up through the Sunderland Academy and first team before moving to Everton, a match at Newcastle United will be a big deal. I can’t help but agree with Ian Wright’s comments on Match of the Day that the Everton keeper let this affect him in a negative way and that he should have been more focused on the game.

At 0-1, the England number 1 completely misjudged a Matt Ritchie cross and dropped it pretty much right into the path of Salomón Rondón. The only reason Rondón didn’t score? Pickford rugby tackled him well off the ball as he ran past the stranded keeper. Unbelievably, referee Lee Mason gave Pickford the benefit of the doubt that he was going for the ball and gave just a penalty, when Pickford arguably should have been heading for an early shower. This decision had an immediate impact on the game as Pickford saved Ritchie’s penalty and Everton doubled the lead through Richarlison just over a minute later.

If Newcastle fans weren’t already angry enough, Pickford decided to provoke them further as he was left stranded in his box when Rondón got through on goal and chipped him, only for the ball to bounce just wide of the post. Rather than recognise that he had been let off by the miss, Pickford decided to antagonise the home fans with a smirk and sticking his tongue out at them.

Karma had it’s say in this game though as Pickford (who looked shaky throughout) went on to concede 3 goals and lose the game, the second coming after he parried a long-range strike from Miguel Almirón straight into the path of Ayoze Pérez. And in a moment of poetic justice, Everton – who should have played an hour with 10 men – came away with no points as Peréz scored a winner that should have been disallowed for Rondón being offside in the build-up.

Pickford is a quality keeper on his day, but he has to sort out his mentality as he has had some awful flubs this year. He needs to focus on getting the football right as if you act up but don’t perform, you won’t keep your job for much longer.


Mic them up!

Pickford’s attempt at playing rugby against Newcastle wasn’t even the oddest moment of the month as it was beaten out by Raheem Sterling’s opener for Manchester City against Watford. Sergio Aguero chested on a ball forward for Sterling, who was in a clear opposition. Sterling was beaten to the ball by Daryl Janmaat, however the Dutchman’s attempted clearance was blocked by the England winger and deflected into the net. It initially looked like the goal had been (rightfully) disallowed as the linesman called the offside, but after going over to discuss with him, referee Paul Tierney overruled the initial decision and gave the goal.

“It was a game before that moment, and after that decision the game changed” – Javi Gracia

First off, this is an awful decision and I can’t wait for VAR to come in to get rid of shockers like this. I think that football should go even further though and take another leaf out of rugby’s book by allowing us to hear the communications between the officials. I recently saw a video of Australian referee Jared Gillet wearing a microphone for his final A-League match and it was great to be able to hear his communication with the players.

Some people may argue that the language from the players means we shouldn’t hear this, but players should not be surrounding the officials anyway and having the audio available to the public may actually help to improve the way players act towards the officials. If nothing else, we’d understand what the officials’ reasons are for their decisions and it may also benefit VAR, similar to how TMOs in rugby league can be clearly heard talking through every stage of their decision.


Top 6 prediction

  1. Manchester City
  2. Liverpool
  3. Arsenal
  4. Manchester United
  5. Tottenham Hotspur
  6. Chelsea