November 2018 in the Premier League

November 2018 in the Premier League

3 more rounds of Premier League football were crossed off the list in November. Manchester City and Liverpool both remain unbeaten in the league this season after City won 3/3 (including a 3-1 humbling of derby rivals United at the Etihad), while Liverpool drew at Arsenal but got back to winning ways against Fulham and Watford.

Meanwhile it was announced this month that VAR will come to the Premier League next season so in celebration, I will avoid moaning about the slew of poor decisions this month and instead leave that to Charlie Austin… Park Life!


A star in sky blue

Sergio Agüero netted his 150th Premier League goal in their 5-1 thrashing of Southampton to cement himself as one of the greatest strikers to have played in the league. The Argentine was always going to be remembered by scoring 23 goals in 34 matches in his debut season (including that goal in the eleventh hour to win the league), but his exploits over the years since have left it in no doubt and his 151st goal in the match against United has moved him to 8th in the Premier League goals chart, ahead of Michael Owen. What makes it even more impressive is that his goal:game ratio is so much higher than the players around him, with a ratio of 0.69 (151:219) comparable to only Thierry Henry (0.68) and Harry Kane in the top 20!

Granted, he has benefited from being in a great team, but he has also missed substantial time with a number of injuries over the years, while he has often had competition from a number of strikers and yet kept his place as the top dog through 3 managers and one caretaker manager. At 30, he still has a couple of good years in him and does not appear to be showing any signs of slowing down, while the quality around him to supply him with the ball is improving. Alan Shearer’s record of 260 goals is likely beyond him, but I would not bet against him beating Wayne Rooney’s 208 goals before the end of his career.


A mixed start

It’s safe to say that Tottenham’s young centre-back Juan Foyth has had a mixed start to his Premier League career. Signed in the summer of 2017, the 20-year-old made his league debut at the start of the month at Wolves, where he almost cost Spurs the win by giving away 2 penalties, which were both converted to turn a comfortable 0-3 into a close 2-3 that should have actually been 3-3 had the officials not wrongly disallowed a goal at 0-2 for what they adjudged to be an offside by Matt Doherty.

Credit to Mauricio Pochettino, though, as he kept Foyth in the starting XI the next week away to Crystal Palace. He had a shaky start again, conceding a cheap corner after playing an errant pass in the vague direction of Hugo Lloris, but he popped up in the right place at the right time to score the only goal of the game after Harry Kane’s shot was blocked.

After the game, Pochettino described him as a “potential top player” and it is really great to see him doing this as the manager’s faith will help Foyth’s morale and motivation so much. He does need to be careful though as he was lucky not to concede a 3rd penalty in 3 matches when he came through the back of Eden Hazard in the box with Spurs ahead 1-0, only for the referee to wave play on.

Spurs have had a number of talented centre-backs play for them in recent seasons. With the right management, has Pochettino found another gem?


First one down

Slaviša Jokanović became the first managerial casualty of the year following the 2-0 loss at Liverpool with former Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri coming in as his replacement. It’s never nice to see a manager given the boot, but in this case it’s hard to argue that there was any option. After 12 matches, they found themselves with just 5 points from a win and 2 draws. They were scoring goals, but not consistently enough, while they were shipping far too many goals and could not settle on a consistent set of personnel at the back. The Premier League is a huge step up from the Championship and while they signed a number of players with experience in the league (including the loan signing of World Cup winner André Schürrle) the quality of performances has not been good enough. Fulham need to strengthen their squad if they want to stay up, but if things are going poor then it is understandable to want to change manager ahead of the January transfer window so that he has time to settle in and decide what personnel he needs. The change has certainly appeared to have a positive impact on the team as they won their first game under Ranieri 3-2 at home to Southampton and have also drawn against Leicester, almost doubling their points in the 3 games he has been in charge for, which has left them just a point (and 5 goals) away from safety.

Jokanović is clearly a good manager. Unfortunately for him, this was just one step too far this time around.


Top 6 prediction

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

 

October 2018 in the Premier League

October 2018 in the Premier League

Just the 3 rounds of football in October as the international break took place after the first week of matches. Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea continue their unbeaten starts to the season with 2 wins and a draw each. City’s results were probably the most impressive of the 3 as they drew with Liverpool (who remain level on points) and won against Burnley and at Spurs. Arsenal matches the results of the teams ahead of them, as did Manchester United – who were denied a win at Stamford Bridge courtesy of a late Ross Barkley goal – and Bournemouth, who continue to surpass expectations and hold onto a spot in the top 6. The only team to win all their games in October was Brighton, who managed 3 consecutive 1-0 victories, while Fulham were the only team not to pick up a single point this month.


The best of football

Football fans don’t always get painted in the best light – often for good reason – but there were some instances this month that really caught my eye and thought were worthy of praise.

The biggest of these has come in circumstances that we wish had not happened, but centres around the reaction to the helicopter crash following Leicester’s 1-1 draw with West Ham that saw 5 people including Leicester owner and chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. Football fans have not always been the best at showing respect for other clubs’ previous tragedies, but the way that the entire football community has responded to the incident is highly commendable.

On a lighter note, the other moments of class have been related to former players returning to their old home ground with new teams. I remember the shock when Juan Mata was sold to United. Mata was a fan-favourite at Stamford Bridge and has understandably become one at Old Trafford too, so it was wonderful to see both home and away fans give him a standing ovation as he left the pitch during United’s 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge. Similarly, it was great to see Manchester City fans give keeper Joe Hart such a warm welcome on his return to the Etihad with Burnley. He was such a big piece of the club through their early years of success and it never felt right with me the way he was so easily discarded by Pep Guardiola, so it was great to see the fans give him the respect he deserved. It’s just a shame that he was left picking the ball out the back of his net 5 times, especially given a couple of huge decisions from the officials really went in City’s favour during the game.


Kick it out

From some of the best of football to some of the worst.

We quickly find ourselves back at Stamford Bridge and in the final moments of the match as Ross Barkley salvaged a point for Chelsea. While I can understand that emotions would run high at a moment like that, there was no excuse for Chelsea coach Marco Ianni to come running out of the dugout and celebrate not just in front of the United bench, but also to direct his celebration towards them. There is no need whatsoever, it is taunting plain and simple and I have to comment José and the United bench for not reacting the first time. But because they didn’t react, Ianni decided to do it again, sparking ugly scenes at the tunnel. It’s great to see that Sarri apologised and that the FA reacted to the incidents, but a £6,000 fine is pathetically small. This is the Premier League, one of the biggest – if not the biggest – and most popular leagues in the world. Children will be watching Ianni’s actions and thinking that’s acceptable. It isn’t! It was a disgusting and blatant act of disrespect towards Mourinho and the United team and the punishment should have been much more severe.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t it this month as the diving epidemic continued in October. Now first things first, credit to the referees who are coming down hard on the players, with Laurent Depoitre, Aboubakar Kamara and Willian all booked this month for blatant dives, while Alvaro Morata was also cautioned for going down easily during a face-off with a couple of Burnley defenders. Diving is disgusting and needs eliminating from the game. The only problem is that as the referee has picked up on these instances of simulation and given the punishment they can (a yellow card is the maximum punishment on the pitch), the FA cannot give any further punishment. This needs to change if the FA are serious about stamping out diving. If a player knows that they will face a 3-match ban for diving regardless of whether or not they deceive the officials (or better yet get a longer ban if their deception is successful) then after a while players will not want to take the risk as they will know they are putting themselves at risk.


He needs to go!

At almost £90m Paul Pogba was always going to be considered an expensive signing, but I would also call him a costly one. The player has often felt like a distraction in the changing room this season, and if it comes to a matter of someone having to leave Old Trafford and the board picking between Pogba or Mourinho, then I am firmly behind keeping Mourinho.

Pogba has been frustrating on the pitch this season. He has some wonderful moments where he plays beautiful passes, but then he also has plenty of other moments where at best he is anonymous and at worse a liability. He lost his man Antonio Rüdiger far too easy at a corner to allow the German to open the scoring and his showboating lost the ball against Everton, leading to the foul by Chris Smalling that earned a penalty.

And then there’s the penalties. The most pathetic thing I have ever seen on a football pitch. forgoing a run-up for over 20 tiny steps, leaving no power in the shot and making him look stupid if he doesn’t score (he was lucky against Everton that Pickford’s save sent the ball back to him to score on the rebound). With the players in the United squad, there must be someone who can take a proper penalty and if United can get some decent players in January then I will have no problem with them selling Pogba for what will likely be a loss financially.


Attitudes need to change

It was good to see that Glenn Murray made such a quick recovery following Brighton’s win at Newcastle. Murray and Magpies defender Federico Fernández clashed heads competing for an aerial ball and as Murray landed, his body folded and his arms did not protect his fall, leading to his head hitting the floor with sickening force.

Full credit to the players and officials for stopping the game immediately and the medics for their quick actions to stop things from getting worse, but watching Match of the Day, I was shocked to hear commentator Guy Mowbray describe the incident as “something and nothing” as the replays showed Murray’s head hitting the ground. Concussion is a serious worry and this is unfortunately not the first time that the actions of people involved in the Premier League have made it look as if they are not so focused on it. I really hope they prove me wrong.


Top 6 prediction

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

 

September 2018 in the Premier League

September 2018 in the Premier League

September saw things get interesting in the Premier League for the big teams. Manchester City went unbeaten, scoring 12 goals and conceding just 1 to keep themselves top of the league. Liverpool and Chelsea continue to suggest they will be City’s closest rivals this season, drawing 1-1 against each other while Liverpool won all their other games and Chelsea drew with West Ham (who appear to have turned the corner) but won the others. Arsenal are also on a great run, winning all their league games with an aggregate score of 9-3. Tottenham did not start the month well with losses to Watford and Liverpool but have got back on track since then, but they will still consider themselves better off then Manchester United, who have had to deal with a rift between José Mourinho and big-money signing Paul Pogba while drawing at home to Wolves and losing 3-1 at West Ham.


Help them!

People who regularly read my round-by-round series on the league last year will already know my views that the officials need help in the form of VAR or something similar. Having watched September’s matches, I picked up on a number of incidents that would surely have had different results had VAR been in the league:

  • Burnley 0-2 Manchester United: following a face-off with Phil Bardsley, Marcus Rashford is rightfully sent off for a headbutt. Bardsley received a yellow but replays showed Bardsley doing the same back to Rashford, so he should have also received a red.
  • Cardiff City 0-5 Manchester City: Joe Rawls received a yellow card for a tackle on Ilkay Gundogan. Replays showed that Rawls’ foot was high so he should have received a red card.
  • Fulham 1-1 Watford: Timothy Fosu-Mensah gets away with a yellow card for a challenge on Troy Deeney. Like Rawls, replays showed that the foot was high with studs showing, so he should have been sent for an early shower.
  • Arsenal 2-0 Everton: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored Arsenal’s second goal after Aaron Ramsey failed to control Mesut Özil’s cross. Replays clearly show Aubameyang was in an offside position when Ramsey touched the ball.
  • West Ham 3-1 Manchester United: Felipe Anderson slots home Pablo Zabaleta’s cross to put West Ham 1-0 up. Replays showed that Zabaleta was in an offside position when the ball was played to him.

2 wrongly allowed goals and 3 red cards not given in just 1 month of football! And those are just the incidents I noted down! In one of the best leagues in the world, that is unacceptable, but I find it hard to lay the blame firmly on the officials as there is only so much 3 people can pick up. Football needs to move out of the dark ages and start using more technology to help the referees make the right decisions.


Changing of the guard?

Petr Čech did not start the season well for Arsenal. It has been a long time since I considered him one of the best keepers in the league and in the early weeks he looked to be struggling with the style of play, often making mistakes with the ball at his feet. He played better in Week 6 however, keeping his first clean sheet of the season. Things went wrong a week later though as he went off injured in the first half against Watford, with summer signing Bernd Leno coming on in his place.

Though his sample size with Arsenal is still small, Leno looked impressive on his league debut and at age 26, I think it is time for him to take over the reins between the sticks. With Čech out for about a month, this is certainly a great chance for the German to take over.


Smart selections?

I was very surprised with Marco Silva’s team selection for Everton’s Week 5 loss against West Ham. Midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin was selected in the starting XI despite his father passing away during the week. The Frenchman had an indifferent game and was taken off just before halftime.

The job of a manager is (unsurprisingly) to manage his players to ensure the team gets the best result. While I respect Schneiderlin for being willing to play so soon after a personal tragedy, I feel that Silva should have given him the match off and picked someone whose thoughts throughout the week and the match would have been on the game. I will not go as far as to say this decision cost Everton the game, but it was just immediately making the game harder for them.


Top 6 prediction

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

 

August 2018 in the Premier League

August 2018 in the Premier League

Hi guys and welcome to my new series taking a look at each month in the Premier League season. Last season, I found that writing about each week’s matches helped get me back into the league after a couple of years of only taking a passing interest, but I did find that sometimes I was left with not much to write after just one round of matches. For that reason, I will this year be doing a monthly look back at the league – so you only have to read me championing VAR once a month! Usually this will be in the first week of the next month, but occasionally it may be a bit later if I get a little behind.

The Premier League made a welcome return in August and football fans rejoiced around the country. Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and (surprisingly) Watford have set the early pace by winning all 3 league matches in the month, while draws for Manchester City and Bournemouth in Week 3 left them leading the rest of the table. It’s not been a great start for Manchester United or Arsenal however, United winning 2-1 at home to Leicester on the opening night before a loss at Brighton and a 0-3 humbling to Spurs, while Arsenal lost to City and Chelsea before finally picking up a victory over West Ham, who are the only team without a point from the first 3 rounds.


Transfer failed

This summer saw a move of the transfer deadline from the end of the month to 5pm on 9th August to make sure that all transfers were completed ahead of the season’s matches beginning. While a nice idea, the fact that the deadline day remained later around Europe led to somewhat of a damp squib, with very few teams making big-name transfers late in the window. What probably didn’t help either is the shortening of the summer due to the World Cup.

While I like the idea of the window closing before the football starts as it stops players holding out in hope of a move – as we have seen from players like Riyad Mahrez in the past – I do not feel that it worked well as teams were afraid to let someone go and then lose someone else after their window closed to a team on the continent. United and Spurs’ transfer activity was underwhelming to say the least, I imagine there would have been more action if they’d had the extra couple of weeks.

I would love to see this trialled again in the future, but the window cannot be for just the English teams; it needs to be across the continent so that all teams are in the same position. If that can’t be done, then let’s just keep the usual date at the end of the month!


Seeing red

What has been wrong with some players in recent weeks? Maybe it was just because we’ve had some time away from football, but it feels as if the red cards were being brandished much more often than usual in the opening 3 rounds. And not just reds for second bookable offences – though there were some of those too – but stupid red cards! Let’s just take a look back at some examples:

  • Week 1 – At 0-1 up, Everton are reduced to 10 men at Wolves after Phil Jagielka tries to compensate for a poor first touch by diving in when the last man, his foot going over the ball and taking the man on the leg. This is one of the softer reds I will mention but such an experienced defender should know better than to dive in as the last man and especially to keep his feet down
  • Week 2 – Jamie Vardy sees red against Wolves after lunging in hard with a high boot in an attempt to win the ball back. While the high boot can bean understandable mistake, he came in with such force it felt like the red mist descended for a moment
  • Week 3 – Richarlison and Adam Smith square up in the box during Bournemouth and Everton’s 2-2 draw. With their heads almost touching, Richarlison brings his forward and makes contact with Smith. While it may not be a “headbutt” in the same vein as Zidane on Materazzi, it is well known that what Richarlison did is a straight red card
  • Week 3 – With the score at 1-1 between Southampton and Leicester, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, already on a yellow card, receives a second yellow for diving in an attempt to win a penalty
  • Week 3 – Huddersfield’s Jonathan Hogg reacts badly to Harry Arter appealing for a hold at a set piece and pushes him over, making contact with Arter’s head

There were also 2 notable incidents that did not lead to red cards but definitely should have. Only minutes into Watford’s 2-1 win over Crystal Palace, Etienne Capoue receives just a yellow card after raking Wilfried Zaha’s achilles with a high foot. He went on to set up Watford’s opener. Somehow, Newcastle’s Kenedy escaped punishment during Newcastle’s draw with Cardiff after kicking out at Victor Camarasa right under the referee’s nose. Karma was a bitch for him though as he failed to complete a pass in the first half and had his injury time penalty (which would have won the game) saved by Neil Etheridge.

With all of these incidents, I can’t help but wonder what is going through the players’ mind in the moment! Football is such a big money business now, I can’t believe players make such a costly mistake so often. If clubs don’t already have a psychologist on staff, then I think they should all hire one and make sessions with them compulsory for player. Not only will it help them deal with rushes of blood to the head on the pitch, it can also potentially help them deal with life in the public eye – especially helpful for young players.


Theatre of nightmares?

What an awful start to the season for United! They may have started the season with a 2-1 victory over Leicester but after that suffered 2 embarrassing defeats, 3-2 at Brighton and 0-3 against Spurs, with 4 of their goals having come from the penalty spot.
Luke Shaw’s resurgence having been given a shot by José Mourinho at the start of the season – he has earned a call-up to the England squad – has been one of the only bright spots s far this season, but there has been little else to be cheerful about.

David de Gea is going through a rough patch and it is showing just how much he has saved the team in recent years as the centre of the defence has been awful. Bailly, Lindelöf, Smalling and Jones have shown nothing to suggest they are good enough to compete at the top of the league and with their struggles so far this season it’s been ridiculous that they were not willing to pay the money to get in a star like Toby Alderweireld. Meanwhile the man United shelled out money for, Fred, has struggled to make an impact so far – though it does appear to take South American players a bit of time to adapt to the league.

The pressure is seriously on José and it appeared to be showing with his rant after the Spurs loss. It does appear that he has some degree of sympathy from the fans as he did not appear to get the signings he wanted from Ed Woodward this summer. United are a big club but right now I cannot imagine them finishing in the top 4. If results and performances don’t improve soon, it’s hard to imagine a change coming at the top.


Top 6 prediction

So as I am no longer doing weekly write-ups it would be too difficult to try predicting all the matches for the next month, so instead I will make my predictions for how the top 6 will look at the end of the season. It will be interesting to see how much this changes as the months go on.

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

 

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 The Final Rounds

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 The Final Rounds

Hey guys, sorry for the delay in getting back to this series. It took me a little longer than I expected to catch up on life after my trip away so by the time I had caught up the final round of games was upon us.

So the Premier League is now over for another season. Manchester City are the Champions of England and have broken most records on the way to their title. Meanwhile West Brom’s valiant efforts under caretaker manager Darren Moore were not enough to overcome the odds and they were relegated along with Stoke and Swansea (even more galling as Cardiff have been promoted). Chelsea’s loss at Newcastle on the final day means that they will be playing in the Europa League next season along with Arsenal and Burnley, while Manchester United, Spurs (who waved goodbye to Wembley with a goal-fest against Leicester) and Liverpool will be joining City in the Champions League next season.

 


Record Breakers

What season City had. They ended up proving my prediction that their defence would lose them the league completely wrong, not only winning by 19 points, but also facing the fewest shots over a season since Opta records began (236). Their possession (71.9%), total passes (28,242) and pass accuracy (89%) were all records since Opta records began, as was their 15.9% shot conversion rate, which helped them towards a league-record 106 goals in a season. Their 32 wins and 4 draws saw them become the first team in the history of the league to reach 100 points, 10 more than the famed Arsenal “Invincibles” of 2003/4! This is a fantastic achievement and while I would expect their rivals to improve and get closer to them next season, it is hard to imagine this team not defending their title in 2018/19.

Along with all these records they broke, they also held the top 4 spots on the list of assists this season, with Kevin De Bruyne’s last minute assist for Gabriel Jesus earning him the top spot with 16, one ahead of Leroy Sané and 5 ahead of Raheem Sterling and David Silva.

In fact, pretty much the only record City didn’t break this season was that of most goals for a player in a 38-game season. That went to Golden Boot winner Mohamed Salah, whose opener against Brighton put him on 32 goals for the season, not only 2 goals ahead of Harry Kane’s impressive haul of 30 goals, but also enough to break Shearer, Ronaldo and Suarez’s record of 31 goals. Unlike City’s dominance, I doubt that Salah will be able to live up to these heights next year (though I would not be surprised with him making it into the 20s), but the guy has been on fire this season and rightfully earned his spot in the record books. It will be interesting to see if Liverpool can hold off attention from the more attractive clubs like Man City, Barcelona and Real Madrid, especially if he fires the Reds to Champions League glory.


Down but not out

With the season coming to an end, teams will now begin to turn their eyes to the future and start considering who they will sign for the coming season. While Stoke, Swansea and West Brom go down to the Championship, there are some players who I am sure will be leaving, either for another Premiership team or a different league. Stoke especially have a number of Premiership quality players who I will likely be finding a new club in the coming months:

Having spent time at Bayern Munich and Inter in the past, there is no way Xherdan Shaqiri will follow Stoke to the Championship. The Swiss international was one of Stoke’s stars in an awful season and topped the stats for goals (8) and assists (7) in the league this season. Only Joe Allen and Jack Butland played more minutes for Stoke than him in the league in 2017/18. With Marko Arnautovic leaving for West Ham and Jesé not working out as hoped, Shaqiri was not left with much help up front but still looked impressive during a doomed campaign. He may decide to move back to the continent, but if he does choose to remain in the Premier League, I could see him working well as a rotational player in the Spurs attack. They need more depth and more players who can chip in with goals and Shaqiri can certainly provide that, whilst also allowing the men up front to stay fresh throughout the season.

As mentioned above, Joe Allen’s 3,142 minutes in the league for Stoke was bested only by Jack Butland this season. He was also second to Shaqiri for assists (5) while also scoring 2 league goals. Though the numbers may not be anything special, he is a much more talented player than these stats suggest. The “Welsh Xavi” played 189 more passes than anyone else in a Stoke shirt and his 1,977 touches was almost 200 more than the next on the list for Stoke. He may not be the flair player that top teams will be looking for, but with 7 years of Premier League experience under his belt – including 4 at Liverpool – he will be an attractive prospect to a team towards the middle of the table hoping to push for Europe. With it announced that Scott Arfield will be leaving Burnley for Rangers, I think that Burnley are a potential landing spot for Allen, as they will want to get some players in to help them live up to this season’s exploits and also hold their own in the Europa League.

Jack Butland played more minutes than any Stoke player in the league this season and finished the season with the most saves of any keeper (144) despite Stoke having the joint worst number of goals conceded. A potential member of Gareth Southgate’s World Cup squad, there is no way that he will be playing Championship football next season. He will want to maximise his chance of playing for England by signing for the best team he can, and as such I can see Liverpool as an attractive option, or Arsenal if they decide to move on from Petr Cech. Both squads have had somewhat questionable defences over recent years but will still look more secure than what he has had in front of him at Stoke, while both teams will appreciate a young, talented shot stopper who is English-qualified but due to relegation can probably come at a discounted price.

With so many influential players likely to leave Stoke, it will be a difficult job for whoever is in charge next season to bring them straight back into the top flight.


Back fighting?

What a great end to the season for Newcastle! At one point earlier in the season they looked at real risk of relegation, but pulled themselves up the table in 2018 and despite a string of losses towards the end of the season finished on a high with a dominant 3-0 victory over Chelsea to finish 10th. The Premier League needs a Newcastle side that is competing in the top half of the table, but that has been a rarity in recent seasons. But what do they need to do to give themselves the best chance of this?

  • Keep hold of Rafa – Rafael Benitez is a former Champions League winner and has arguably worked wonders with the side he has this season. A manager of his quality should not have been relegated to the Championship but such was his willingness to take on the role at Newcastle in 2016 despite their precarious position, and his willingness to see the Magpies back into the Premier League at the first opportunity, he has the good graces of the fans. The worry now will be losing him. He has been frequently frustrated by the lack of support financially in the transfer market and many will be worried that he may look for greener pastures, especially with an attractive position available at Arsenal and possibly a spot at Chelsea too. With Rafa at the helm, I feel that this Newcastle side can do better than expected, but I do worry for them should he leave.
  • Make the loans permanent – Newcastle’s results improved in 2018 following the arrivals of Kenedy and Martin Dubravka on loan. These 2 players made such a huge impression on matches the improvement in performance was clear to see. If Newcastle want to compete in the right parts of the league, they need to be getting players like this on the books as permanent deals rather than as short-term loans, otherwise the squad will struggle to get the consistency over the seasons.
  • Get a reliable striker – Especially in the first half of the season, Newcastle struggled with goals. Though they improved as they went through 2018, only Burnley (36) scored less goals out of the top 14 than Newcastle’s 39. Ayoze Perez was their top scorer with a “whopping” 8 goals, whereas fellow strikers Dwight Gayle and Joselu only managed 6 and 4 goals respectively. When your centre back is 4th on the list of goals scored with 3, you know there’s a problem! Newcastle desperately need a player who can score 12-15 goals per season if they want to regularly challenge in the top half of the table. Jay Rodriguez may not have head the best couple of seasons since his injury issues, but 7 goals in a struggling West Brom team suggested he could be getting back to his best and a better supporting cast. Southampton may have only just avoided relegation this season but they will be at risk next year if they don’t substantially improve after the season. Charlie Austin missed a number of matches through injury and yet still ended up as their top scorer with 7 goals. He’s a quality striker but has never quite managed to hold down a starting spot at Southampton on a regular basis, so I would not be surprised to see him move on to a team that can guarantee him a starting spot while also providing him the players around him to provide him with the opportunities. But of course for this, Newcastle will need to likely put their hand in their pocket and spend a bit of money.

And each of these ends up coming back to the same point: Newcastle needs to spend money to get the players in that Rafa Benitez wants. I have genuinely felt sorry for Newcastle fans in recent years when prospective takeovers have fallen through. If Mike Ashley will continue to refuse to spend money then he needs to find a buyer soon!


 

Thanks to everyone who has been reading this series over the past year. I do not know if I will do exactly the same next year but writing these has really helped me get back into the Premier League after a couple of years of not really caring, so I’m sure there will be something. Watch this space guys!

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 36

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 36

We are now just 2 and a half rounds away from the end of the season and for some teams there is still plenty to play for. West Brom’s late revival has probably come too late to save them from the drop, but their 0-1 win at Newcastle leaves them currently just 3 points behind Swansea in 17th, though the Swans do have a game in hand. Burnley’s point against Brighton has secured them a place in the top 7 barring a 15-goal swing in goal difference, while Crystal Palace’s 5-0 victory at Leicester (their largest win in the Premier League) sees them jump up to 11th and be all-but certain of safety. Meanwhile, Liverpool’s hold on 3rd place is under threat as their goalless draw with Stoke means Spurs will leapfrog them if they win their game in hand.


Right guy, wrong time?

Looking at their results in recent weeks, I can’t help but wonder what might have been for West Brom. Following Alan Pardew’s introduction, the Baggies won just 1 league game out of 18 and took just 8 out of a possible 54. Yet under caretaker boss Darren Moore they are unbeaten in the league and have picked up 8 points from a possible 12, including wins against Manchester United and Newcastle. West Brom have earned 28.6% of their points under Moore despite him having only been in charge for 11.1% of their matches this season! It’s not even just the results, but the quality of teams played as he has taken 7 points off of Mourinho, Klopp and Benitez – 3 of the best managers in the league!

Moore has got these players working for him in a way they never did under Pardew. The Barcelona incident was a clear indication that he did not have the support of the dressing room that he need to keep the club up, but Moore appears to have their support and also got results by – as suggested by Chris Brunt – going back to the West Brom way. Whatever he is doing, it is working! A couple of weeks back, the Baggies looked certain to be down. I still find survival unlikely, but under Moore there is at least a belief that the great escape could be possible.

At the moment, he is merely the caretaker manager, but I hope he has shown enough over the last couple of weeks to convince the board to make him permanent. Dropping down to the Championship could see them lose a number of top players, but a manager like Moore may convince some of them to stay and also give them the confidence to push for an immediate return to the top flight.


Handball?

Burnley just can’t buy a penalty in the league this season! They had 2 appeals turned down in their draw against Brighton, the first when the ball ricocheted off the post and onto Shane Duffy during a goalmouth scramble, the second when a knock-down at a set piece struck Bruno’s outstretched arm from close range. Away from Turf Moor, Erik Pieters survived a late handball shout at Anfield as Georginio Wijnaldum’s cross hit him on the arm in the 87th minute.

So what actually constitutes a handball? The FA website’s rules and regulations section states:

HANDLING THE BALL

Handling the ball involves a deliberate act of a player making contact with the ball with the hand or arm. The following must be considered:

  • The movement of the hand towards the ball (not the ball towards the hand)
  • The distance between the opponent and the ball (unexpected ball)
  • The position of the hand does not necessarily mean that there is an offence
  • Touching the ball with an object held in the hand (clothing, shinguard, etc.) is an offence
  • Hitting the ball with a thrown object (boot, shinguard, etc.) is an offence
  • The goalkeeper has the same restrictions on handling the ball as any other player outside the penalty area. Inside their penalty area, the goalkeeper cannot be guilty of a handling offence incurring a direct free kick or any related sanction but can be guilty of handling offences that incur an indirect free kick.

That leaves a lot of discretion for referees, and anytime there is too much discretion involved, mistakes can be made far too easily. We the viewing public get the benefit of multiple replays whereas the officials get one chance and will not necessarily have the best angle. This may be a controversial suggestion, but I wonder if it would benefit the FA to trial a zero-tolerance approach to handling the ball in a similar way to touching the ball with the foot in hockey. It may lead to a number of penalties initially as defenders get used to the new rules, but in the long run the clear stance on what constitutes a handball could be a real benefit.


Sliding down and out?

Things are not looking good for Huddersfield right now. They started the season so well but in recent months they have been sliding down the table and now find themselves just 3 points above the drop zone. They have just 3 matches left in the league this season but they are away to Manchester City, away to Chelsea and at home to Arsenal… not really the way you want to end the season when fighting for survival. It gets even worse when you realise that they are yet to win a match where they have gone behind!

Southampton looked much improved in their 2-1 win over Bournemouth and have a slightly easier set of remaining games (away at Everton, away at Swansea and at home to Manchester City). None of these are easy matches, but I still see more potential for Southampton to build some momentum off this week’s win and pick up the points to leapfrog Huddersfield by virtue of their better goal difference.

Right now I can see Huddersfield joining Stoke and West Brom in the Championship next season.


Round 37 predictions and the missing matches:

I’m going to be away this weekend so Round 37’s write-up will join with my thoughts on the games in hand. At that point we will have just one round left in the Premier League this season.

 

Brighton & Hove Albion v Manchester United – United win

Stoke City v Crystal Palace – Palace win

AFC Bournemouth v Swansea City – Swansea win

Leicester City v West Ham – Leicester win

Watford v Newcastle United – Newcastle win

West Bromwich Albion v Tottenham Hotspur – Spurs win

Everton v Southampton – Draw

Manchester City v Huddersfield Town – City win

Arsenal v Burnley – Draw

Chelsea v Liverpool – Draw

 

Swansea City v Southampton – Southampton win

Chelsea v Huddersfield Town – Chelsea win

Leicester City v Arsenal – Arsenal win

Manchester City v Brighton & Hove Albion – City win

Tottenham Hotspur v Newcastle United – Spurs win

West Ham v Manchester United – United win

Premier League Ramble – The Elongated Week

Premier League Ramble – The Elongated Week

It’s been an odd week of Premier League action. With just a few teams still involved in the FA Cup, teams have been playing league matches throughout the week, leaving just over half the league still with a game in hand. Champions Manchester City were welcomed onto the Etihad pitch by a guard of honour by Swansea and thanked the Welsh side by putting 5 goals past them. Stoke and Southampton drew their matches, moving them closer to the Championship, while West Brom followed up their win over Manchester United by coming back from 2 goals down to draw at home to Liverpool, who still had something to cheer this weekend as Mo Salah was named PFA Player of the Year.

Possibly more important than the football this week was the announcement that this season will be Arsene Wenger’s last in charge at Arsenal.


End of an era

Though results over the last 2 seasons have suggested change was coming and despite me even predicting as much, it was still a shock when the news broke on Friday that Arsene Wenger will be stepping down as manager of Arsenal at the end of the season. Having taken over at Arsenal on 1st October 1996, he has been the Arsenal manager through the entire time I have been watching football! I doubt the Premier League will ever see another manager have such a long tenure with a single club.

The results and standings may not have been to the level Arsenal – and Wenger – would have hoped over the last couple of seasons, but at a time like this it is important to look back at his achievements with the Gunners. These last 2 seasons are the only times Arsenal have not finished in the top 4 of the Premier League under Wenger, with the Gunners always finishing in the top 2 until 2005/06, while he has won 3 league titles (1997/98, 2001/02 and 2003/4), 7 FA Cups (1997/98, 2001/02, 2002/03, 2004/05, 2013/14, 2014/15 and 2016/17) and 7 Community Shields (1998, 1999, 2002, 2004, 2014, 2015 and 2017). “The Invincibles” of 2003/04 remain the only team to go an entire 38-match Premier League campaign without losing a single match. Individually, Wenger has been named Premier League Manager of the Season in 1998, 2002 and 2004 and was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2006. He has always sought to create teams who play attractive football and has maintained a high level of success throughout the years with only a handful of big-money signings, while also seeing the club through their move from Highbury to the Emirates in 2006.

wengUnfortunately for Wenger, his long tenure has perhaps harmed Arsenal in recent years as they have been unable to adapt to the football played by some teams, with organised, physical defences often denying them points they should not be dropping and expensive attacking teams exposing an inconsistent defence. For this reason, I do not think we will see managers getting anywhere near Wenger’s 22 years with a single club moving forward as managers will be changed to freshen things up once a team does not adapt. It is a credit to Arsenal that in such a cut-throat business they have stuck by Arsene Wenger despite the lack of silverware between 2005 and 2014. I can’t imagine any of the other classic “Big 4” teams would go more than a couple of seasons without silverware before changing manager. There has been a lot of fan hostility towards him in recent seasons, but I sincerely hope that they continue to use these final games as a way to thank Wenger for his service to the club over the year.

This summer, the focus turns to who will replace him… I don’t envy that manager at all!


The king has been crowned

It will come as no surprise to anyone that Mohammed Salah has won the PFA Player of the Year award for 2017/18. The Egyptian has been in fine form this season and looked a completely different player to the one who struggled for minutes at Chelsea.

He may not have had the best of performances at the weekend against West Brom, but he still managed to score another goal, leaving him with 31 goals from 33 Premier League games, level with Shearer, Ronaldo and Suarez for the most in a 38-game league season. I can’t imagine many people would bet against him breaking that record against Stoke. In fact at £34m he has already been worth less than £1m for each goal he has scored in all competitions, good value for money in the modern game!

When Philippe Coutinho was sold to Barcelona many fans may have been worried, but Salah has more than picked up the slack and has been a big part in one of the most destructive attacks in the league this season, providing 9 assists to go along with those goals. Liverpool’s 80 goals scored leaves them comfortably second in the league rankings, and Salah has been directly involved (scored/assisted) half of them! I can’t even begin to imagine how many others involved him playing a big part in the build-up.

The question now will become what happens going forward? Will he have a sophomore slump in 2018/19 or will he be able to keep up the performances, even if the numbers drop slightly (I can’t imagine anyone being able to keep scoring so regularly over 2 seasons)? More than that, how long until Real Madrid or Barcelona inevitably come calling? And how long can Liverpool keep hold of him when they do?


A long-awaited goal

931 days. That’s how long Danny Ings went without scoring ahead of his 4th minute opener against West Brom. He’s had 2 serious knee injuries since moving from Burnley to Liverpool and as such was making only his second start under Jurgen Klopp. As well as his goal, he also had another great chance and should have also had a penalty when he was impeded by Craig Dawson trying to reach a ball through.

Ings remains a quality player and at 25 years old he can still be a star in the league if given the chance to play regularly, but despite Klopp backing him to start scoring I can’t see him getting the minutes he deserves with Roberto Firmino ahead of him in the pecking order and the front 3 being so effective as a group. There are very few top class English strikers so regular football could easily see Ings pushing for a spot in the England squad. I really think that Ings would benefit from a move away this summer to get his career back on track. But where could he go?

Spurs could do with another reliable goal scorer to back up Harry Kane, but that leaves Ings in the same situation as he is in now. The rest of the Big 6 are sorted up front or will be looking for more expensive options. In my opinion, the best spots for him would be the teams currently occupying 7th to 10th: Burnley, Leicester, Everton and Newcastle. All of these teams will be looking to compete for the spots outside the top 6 and a striker who can score 15-20 goals a season would be a huge benefit. Of those, I would see Burnley and Everton as the most attractive options. Burnley are Ings’ former club so he is used to the environment and 0Sean Dyche’s style of management, while I’m sure the fans would love to have back a player who was their top scorer in the 2013/14 and 2014/15 seasons. Everton on paper probably have the strongest of the squads and Ings would certainly benefit from the calibre of players providing him with the ball.

Personally, I’d suggest he pick Everton, they have had a poor season but I would expect them to be more competitive next year, whereas Burnley’s smaller squad could struggle to repeat their heroics of this season. That said, if Burnley do manage to make it into the Europa League, the chance of European football would be a huge draw and really help his aspirations. A return to his former club to help them in Europe would be a wonderful story heading into next season.


Round 36 predictions:

Liverpool v Stoke City – Liverpool win

Burnley v Brighton & Hove Albion – Burnley win

Crystal Palace v Leicester City – Draw

Huddersfield Town v Everton – Everton win

Newcastle United v West Bromwich Albion – Draw

Southampton v AFC Bournemouth – Draw

Swansea City v Chelsea – Chelsea win

West Ham United v Manchester City – City win

Manchester United v Arsenal – United win

Tottenham Hotspur v Watford – Spurs win