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

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Rounds 28 & 29

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Rounds 28 & 29

Hey guys, apologies for no Round 28 Ramble, when planning my week I hadn’t taken into account the round continuing until Thursday evening, then I didn’t have enough time to write anything before Round 29, so I have once again combined both rounds for this piece.

What a horrible month it has been for Arsenal! Following their 5-1 victory over Everton in Round 26, they have only won 1 match in the next month – a 0-3 Europa League victory at Östersunds FK – losing 1-0 at local rivals Spurs and 1-2 in the home leg of their Europa League tie (going through 4-2 on aggregate), before losing 0-3 to Manchester City twice in a week in the Carabao Cup final and the league, before Sunday’s embarrassing 2-1 loss at Brighton. These results have left them with little chance of qualifying for the Champions League through the Premier League as they are now 13 points behind Spurs, who currently occupy 4th. West Brom’s troubles continue and their 3 league wins all season (1 under Pardew) leaves them rock bottom of the league 8 points behind Southampton in 17th. Crystal Palace currently have an injury list longer than their list of league victories this season and currently sit just within the relegation zone level on points with Stoke and 1 behind Southampton, while Swansea, West Ham, Huddersfield and Newcastle are all within 3 points of the relegation zone.


pl 28Jobs available in the Big 6?

With the way things are going at the moment, I think there will be 2 vacant manager positions at Big 6 teams by the end of the season.

As mentioned above, Arsenal are on a dire run and a second year without Champions League football, combined with a series of shocking performances in defeat, will surely spell the end of his reign. He has given so much to Arsenal over the years that I hope he is given the chance to walk rather than being sacked, however I cannot see how he can remain in the job another season. Despite finally spending big money on players like Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and signing Mesut Özil to a new contract, they were unable to keep hold of Alexis Sanchez and their results have been awful compared to the teams they should be competing against. They may have improved their attack, but even though they gained Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, they lost proven influential players in Sanchez and Olivier Giroud to their rivals. Their defence is also shocking still despite a couple of signings in recent years. There is no pace in the centre and little confidence throughout the defence, while Petr Cech is nowhere near the keeper he used to be any more and should have done much better for both goals against Brighton. Too often as well the midfield and attackers only seem interested in going forward rather than helping the defence, the balance is completely off in the squad and it needs sorting for next year if they are to have any chance of making it back into the Champions League.

As it currently stands, Chelsea are also looking at a season without Champions League football as losses to United and City have left them 5 points behind Spurs – not the way they would have wanted to defend their title! Antonio Conte has a squad full of quality but when you look at some of his squad selections, you would not think so. Chelsea have shelled out almost £90 million for strikers Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud this season after deeming Diego Costa surplus to requirements, but in a big game against City’s arguably shaky defence, Conte chose to keep Giroud on the bench until the 78th minute and Morata until injury time, instead playing Eden Hazard in a false 9 position that will not trouble the best teams enough. Giroud is getting used to a new team and Morata a new league, but if Conte is not willing to keep faith with them how will they adapt and be able to excel in this team? It does not sound as if Antonio Conte is happy at Stamford Bridge and I expect to see a new man take the reins this summer.


Hanging refs out to dry

If stories in the last week are to be believed, VAR will not be utilised in next season’s Premier League matches. What a ****ing joke! I understand that there are still some kinks to be ironed out, but there are so many wrong decisions being made that are costing teams vital points. Only 7 points separate Brighton in 10th from Stoke in 19th, so a couple of dropped points (or worse, goal difference) due to a bad decision could be the difference between Premier League survival and playing in the Championship next season.

pl29.jpgIt wouldn’t be so bad if the officials were making the right decisions but anyone who reads this series on a regular basis will know that they’re not! In fact I’d argue there is on average at least one completely wrong decision per week! Some of them you can see why the officials may have given the decision they did, but can someone explain to me how Charlie Daniels can be clearly shoved over in the box and not get a penalty? Dele Alli should have also won a penalty against Crystal Palace in Round 28 with the score at 0-0, though I wonder if the decision wasn’t given due to his history of diving. It’s the most blatant penalty I’ve seen in weeks! If a referee and 2 linesman are still struggling to consistently make the right decision, they need that technology to help get the calls right as soon as possible. Football is a big-money business, but technology-wise, it needs to come out of the Dark Ages.

As an aside while writing about officials, I don’t understand how a referee can interfere with play and then allow the game to continue! Bobby Madley (who I praised in Round 25) arguably cost Burnley the game in their Round 28 match against Southampton by blocking off Ashley Westwood from a pass leading to the Southampton equaliser, before then not giving a penalty for a pull on Ashley Barnes in the box. Maybe I am coming from too much of a rugby background, where a referee would stop the game and award a scrum to the team in possession if the ball hits him or he blocks a tackler, but I don’t see how an official should be able to influence the match in such a way. I have a lot of sympathy for Burnley and their fans as that is 2 points lost that they should have had, while a Burnley win would still see Southampton in 17th but only due to goal difference rather than a 1 point advantage.


Round 30 predictions:

Manchester United v Liverpool – Man Utd win

Everton v Brighton & Hove Albion – Everton win

Huddersfield Town v Swansea City – Draw

Newcastle United v Southampton – Newcastle win

West Bromwich Albion v Leicester City – Leicester win

West Ham United v Burnley – Burnley win

Chelsea v Crystal Palace – Chelsea win

Arsenal v Watford – Draw

AFC Bournemouth v Tottenham Hotspur – Spurs win

Stoke City v Manchester City – Man City win

 

Both images in the text are from http://www.premierleague.com

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 24

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 24

Liverpool came into Week 24 of the Premier League looking to continue their hot run after becoming the first team to beat Manchester City in the league this season. They came away with nothing following a 1-0 loss at bottom of the table Swansea, despite some close chances in the dying minutes. This is the real attraction of the Premier League: on their day anyone can beat anyone, which is a lot less likely in most of the top European leagues.

Elsewhere, Stoke saw an immediate improvement under new manager Paul Lambert. Their 2-0 victory over Huddersfield lifted them out of the relegation zone and put more pressure onto Southampton manager Manuel Pellegrino, who could only hold Spurs to a 1-1 draw this weekend. Meanwhile Watford’s 1 point from the last 4 league games marked the end of the Marco Silva’s tenure as he was sacked following their 2-0 loss at Leicester.

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I doubt this was how Liverpool were planning to build on their victory over City

Unfortunate accident

I hate to start this week on a low note, but what a horrible injury for James McCarthy to suffer! The Republic of Ireland international suffered a horror fracture of the tibia and fibula as he attempted to tackle West Brom striker Salomon Rondon, ending his season. This was a horrible injury and it is no surprise that the replays were halted right before the injury itself so as not to distress viewers. The quick reactions of Jordan Pickford, Jay Rodriguez and Rondon to call a halt to the game and get medical assistance to McCarthy was proof enough of the severity of the injury. I also couldn’t help but feel sorry for Rondon, who had done nothing wrong but was visibly affected by his part in the injury and I couldn’t help but be impressed that he was able to put that to the back of his mind and continue playing for the remainder of the game. This was a complete accident and nobody could be blamed for it. As horrible as it is, injuries can and will happen in sport.

It is unfortunate that this has happened now to McCarthy. He has only played in 6 games this season (4 in the league) having only just recovered from another injury. He is a very good player and when on form an important part of the Everton squad, but such long-term injuries could make it difficult for him to get back into the squad next season. Hopefully the recovery goes well and we see him back in the league on a more regular basis next season.

Every cloud has a Silva lining

When I have been looking at managers at risk over the last few weeks, someone who I did not consider was Marco Silva (now formerly) of Watford. Watford may not have been on the best run, but they were still in the top half of their table, which is a great achievement considering the quality of the league. However what I didn’t account for was the willingness of the Pozzo family to change their manager when they feel they can do better. From the fact that Javi Gracia has already been named as Silva’s replacement, it would seem that this has been in their mind for a while.

Watford started the season so well, but in recent months they have gone off the boil and struggled for results. They currently lie 10th in the league, but the league is ridiculously tight this season and they are only 4 points outside of the relegation zone – 20th placed Swansea are only 6 points behind them now following their win last night! When the difference between mid-table and the drop is so small, every result matters and that would have put Silva at risk with the owners, however their statement was very telling.

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The bottom half of the table is incredibly tight, it’s impossible to predict who will finish in the bottom 3

In the statement announcing Silva’s removal, Watford cited Everton’s approach for him following their decision to replace Ronald Koeman, saying that since that saga there had been “a significant deterioration in both focus and results to the point where the long-term future of Watford has been jeopardised.” Strong words, but they do have a point. Watford were flying high before Everton’s approach, yet since then they have struggled for results and began to drop down the table. Silva never publicly distanced himself from the Everton role and you can’t help but wonder if his heart has been in the job since then. It could just be unfortunate timing with the run of bad form, but it certainly looks as if the Everton approach has affected the squad.

The good news for Silva is that he is still considered a good quality manager, I will be shocked if Pellegrino makes it to the end of February and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Silva as one of the names towards the top of Southampton’s list.

Transfer talk

Probably the biggest story of the round was the announcement that Manchester United agreed a swap deal with Alexis Sanchez moving to Old Trafford and Henrikh Mkhitaryan going the other way. I think this a great deal for both parties involved.

Arsenal and Sanchez have been going through the motions for a while now and it was only the inability to sign a replacement that stopped Sanchez moving to Manchester City in the summer. Sanchez was ready to leave and has not performed at his best this season, but a move to United will likely (hopefully) see him back to his best. He is a versatile player, able to lay up front, on either side or just behind the striker, which allows Mourinho plenty of tactical flexibility when picking his squad. It also means that all the attacking players will have to up their game to compete against him rather than just the players in a single position. Since 2014/15, Sanchez’s 85 Premier League goals scored or assisted is behind only Harry Kane (108), Serio Aguero (104) and new teammate Romelu Lukaku (86) so he will surely improve the United attack.

Mkhitaryan has not had the best of times at Old Trafford. He had some great moments but also a number of dreadful moments that lost him Mourinho’s trust. It was clear that he was surplus to requirements with United, yet I can see him playing well at Arsenal as I think they will fit his style of play. Hopefully such a talented player will be able to turn his career around and show the Premier League just how good he can be.

This deal works well for both clubs as United offload a player that they do not need while getting in a quality player at no cost. Arsenal would have lost Sanchez for free in the summer, so they have managed to effectively get a player that should fit their system that they likely wouldn’t have been able to get otherwise.

From one completed transfer to transfers that I wonder if they will happen or are even being looked into. Fraser Forster has lost his place in the Southampton starting line-up to Alex McCarthy, while Joe Hart’s loan spell at West Ham has turned into a nightmare as he has fallen behind Adrian in the pecking order. With the World Cup this summer, both of these keepers need to be playing regular football in order to earn their place in the England squad, so I would not be surprised if they are looking for other clubs – though Forster could be banking on a return to the starting XI if/when Pellegrino is replaced. Liverpool are looking to become more competitive and the signing of a new keeper would probably help this.

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City got straight back to winning ways with a 3-1 victory over Newcastle

But would they want to make a transfer now? While Hart and Forster have impressed in the League, neither was having the best of seasons, so would they be much of an upgrade on Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius? Nick Pope’s form for Burnley in place of the injured Tom Heaton has been immense, I struggle to imagine one of these players warming the Burnley bench next season. Heaton is probably the one closer to international recognition, so a move to a club competing at the top of the league and in Europe would certainly help his international aspirations.

Round 25 predictions:

Swansea City v Arsenal – Arsenal win

West Ham United v Crystal Palace – Draw

Huddersfield Town v Liverpool – Liverpool win

Chelsea v AFC Bournemouth – Chelsea win

Everton v Leicester City – Draw

Newcastle United v Burnley – Burnley win

Southampton v Brighton & Hove Albion – Draw

Manchester City v West Bromwich Albion – City win

Stoke City v Watford – Draw

Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester United – Draw

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 11

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 11

Week 11 threw up some tantalising clashes towards the top of the table. Chelsea look to have got through their bad patch and picked up the win hat home to Manchester United, Tottenham backed up their amazing midweek win over Real Madrid with a 1-0 victory against Crystal Palace – despite missing a number of regulars and being down to their third-choice keeper – and Manchester City continued with their dominance by beating Arsenal 3-1.

At the other end of the table, Everton and Bournemouth got much-needed victories at home to Watford and away at Newcastle respectively, while West Ham’s 1-4 loss at home to Liverpool marked the end of Slaven Bilic’s tenure.

 

Changing of the guard

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How much longer can City’s unbeaten run last? – From http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport

I wasn’t going to write about West Ham this week as I said everything last week, however with the news that has broken over the last 24 hours, I felt it right to give mention to this. Slaven Bilic has been sacked and, while it is a shame to see such a good manager shown the door, I don’t think recent results and performances left the owners any choice. During his interview after the Liverpool game my overriding thought was that we were listening to a man who knew his time was up. With the speed that David Moyes was named as his replacement, I can’t help but wonder if he had already been told that he would be gone once they had his replacement sorted. But is Moyes the right person for the job? While Moyes is clearly an experienced manager who was known for his sound defence at Everton, it could be argued that they improved after he left, while his stints at United, Real Sociedad and Sunderland have been less than successful (sacked twice and a resignation following Sunderland’s relegation). Moyes looks like he could be a boom or bust decision, for West Ham’s sake, I hope it is the former.

Meanwhile, the gossip columns have Sam Allardyce being linked with the vacant Everton role. Though, like West Ham, they need someone good at shoring up what has been a woeful defence, I do not feel that Allardyce suits the style of play that the Everton owners and fans will want. However, I also feel that interim manager would be right for the job on a permanent basis as he still does not seem to have settled on a team that will work for him – trying Gylfi Sigurdsson as a false 9 was a horrible idea – and lacks the experience that a team like Everton truly needs to make a run back up the table and draw in the required talent in January. I don’t know who would be right for them right now as I think Sean Dyche has too much of a good thing going on at Burnley, but they need to move fast in order to find the right man.

Big losses

Arsenal’s 3-1 loss at the Etihad was not just costly in terms of league position (they are now 12 points behind City) but also a big blot on Arsene Wenger. Over the summer, the Gunners paid a club record £46.5m to sign striker Alexandre Lacazette, yet Wenger decided to start him on the bench against one of the best clubs in England. If he had started Olivier Giroud up front it may have made sense, but Giroud was also on the bench and we were left with Alexis Sanchez leading the line. Not only is Sanchez more of a supporting striker/winger, he also spent the entire transfer window being linked with a move to City! I have said before that I am not sold on City’s defence (though Ederson is a clear upgrade on Claudio Bravo last season) so I think not starting an out-and-out striker was a missed opportunity for Arsenal. When he finally came on, Lacazette’s goal was his sixth in this league campaign. If he continues to be benched for the big games, there will be some awkward questions coming Wenger’s way.

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I doubt José Mourinho will have been happy with the success Alvaro Morata had against Chris Smalling – Picture from Flickr – l3o_

Meanwhile, I think Manchester United can probably consider themselves lucky to come away from Stamford Bridge with just a 1-0 loss. Take nothing away from Alvaro Morata’s goal – that was a beautiful header and gave David de Gea no chance – but he was given a free header, despite United playing with 3 centrebacks. Smalling seemed to struggle with Morata all day and on another day could have conceded 2 penalties for holding and pulling back the Spaniard. They may still have the best defensive record in the league – 5 goals conceded, 2 less than Spurs or City – but the danger Chelsea posed in the final third will be of interest to other teams. In the meantime, United now need to pick up 8 points from somewhere to catch up with their intercity rivals… With City’s form, that will be no easy feat!

 

Week 12 predictions:

Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur – Spurs win

AFC Bournemouth v Huddersfield Town – Draw

Burnley v Swansea City – Burnley win

Crystal Palace v Everton – Everton win

Leicester City v Manchester City – Man City win

Liverpool v Southampton – Liverpool win

West Bromwich Albion v Chelsea – Chelsea win

Manchester United v Newcastle United – Man United win

Watford v West Ham – Draw

Brighton & Hove Albion v Stoke City – Draw

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 8

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 8

Round 8 of the Premier League was a week for the home teams, with 5 home wins, 5 draws and no away wins. Watford came from behind to beat Arsenal 2-1 but by far the more notable result was at Selhurst Park, where Crystal Palace finally got on the scoresheet and in doing so beat defending champions Chelsea 2-1. Meanwhile in Manchester, City’s 7-2 demolition of Stoke helped them open up a lead over local rivals United, who drew 0-0 at Anfield.

 

No depth

Sitting 5th in the league 8 weeks into the season, it is hard to definitively write off a team’s title hopes, but I don’t see Chelsea defending their title this year. 2 losses in a row have left them 9 points behind leaders Manchester City and losing to a team that have been unable to score in their opening 7 games will be a huge knock for morale.

In my opinion this is a problem of their own making, as they are relying too heavily on just a couple of players. N’Golo Kanté was a vital part of Leicester and Chelsea’s title runs the last 2 seasons as he elevates the defence to a much better level by dealing with most dangers before the ball even gets that far. With him – and Nemanja Matic, who was transferred to Manchester United – missing, the defence was exposed by Palace, who caused them a number of problems. They have conceded 8 goals already this season, which is more than the 2 Manchester clubs combined and need to shore up at the back to avoid dropping out of Champions League contention.

As well as Kanté, they are also currently missing star striker Alvaro Morata. I mentioned in the last round that leaving Michy Batshuayi on the bench after Morata’s injury suggested Conte didn’t really trust him to lead the line, and judging by this performance it is clear why! However Chelsea have sent so many squad players out on lone, with Morata injured and Costa gone he is their only recognised striker. It is terrible planning from Chelsea to keep only 2 strikers as there is now nobody who can step in if Batshuayi continues to struggle. Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Tammy Abraham (who scored twice for Swansea at the weekend) are both out on loan at other Premier League clubs. I understand that regular game-time at other Premiership clubs will be good for their development, but considering Conte knew Costa wasn’t in his plans, surely it would have made sense to keep one of these strikers as an extra option.

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The latest Premier League Standings from http://www.premierleague.com

Brilliant Belgian

Kevin De Bruyne is arguably the best midfielder in the Premier League – and perhaps even the World – at the moment! Against Stoke on Saturday, it looked like the Belgian was on another planet. He has moved into a slightly deeper position this season and while he may not be getting on the scoresheet so much this season, he is dictating play and controlling the attack like a quarterback.

The disguise on his through ball to Leroy Sané for City’s second goal was brilliant and caught the defence flat-footed, his cross for their 4thgoal was inch-perfect and his through ball for their 6th was a pass that many players wouldn’t have even thought about playing, let alone been able to execute! His 32 Premier League assists since his Man City debut is the highest of any player in this time period. The scary thing is that at 26, he is probably only just starting to hit his prime! With Aguero coming towards the end of his time as City’s star striker, and Sané, Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva leading the next wave of young stars, this is a chance for the Sky Blues to build the team around the Belgian and finally start having the European success they crave.

The Arsenal way

Arsenal’s at Watford will be a huge negative for Arsene Wenger. The loss leaves them 6th in the league (Watford have leapfrogged them into 4th) and they are already 9 points behind Manchester City with a vastly inferior goal difference. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Troy Deeney’s comments after the game will be a huge headache for Wenger.

In interviews after the game, Deeney stated that when he competed against the Arsenal defenders ‘none of them were up for the challenge’ and he said that they lacked the cojones (his word not mine). I’m not surprised that Martin Keown was unhappy with the comments, but I doubt he was very surprised. The Arsenal way has been about playing attractive football for so long, they have often lacked the enforcers to front up in defence since players like Keown and Patrick Viera moved on. Wenger clearly prefers players who are comfortable with the ball like Laurent Koscielny, but while it is good to have a player like this, it is also important to have a stronger no-nonsense defender who will not allow a physical striker to rough them up as Deeney did. Manchester City and Chelsea have generally looked more defensively sound over the years when Vincent Kompany and John Terry were playing and probably the best defensive pairing of recent years has been Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic at Manchester United. With Liverpool, Chelsea, Spurs and both Manchester clubs regularly competing towards the top of the table, Wenger needs to look at finding a proper holding midfielder to shield the defence and a more physical defender to deal with the Troy Deeneys of the league, otherwise Champions League football will be beyond them.

 

Week 9 predictions:

West Ham v Brighton & Hove albion – Draw

Chelsea v Watford – Chelsea win

Huddersfield Town v Manchester United – United win

Manchester City v Burnley – City win

Newcastle United v Crystal Palace – Draw

Stoke City v AFC Bournemouth – Stoke win

Swansea City v Leicester City – Draw

Southampton v West Bromwich Albion – Draw

Everton v Arsenal – Draw

Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool – Spurs win