February 2019 in the Premier League

February 2019 in the Premier League

Hey there Premier League fans, thank you for you patience and sorry it has taken so long to get this written. The Six Nations largely took over my life over the last couple of months and typically my (usually quiet/non-existent) social life actually had some stuff going on to leave me with even less time. I promise you won’t be waiting anywhere near as long for my thoughts on March’s action.

Manchester City took the league lead back from Liverpool and 3 wins means that they are now in the driving seat (having a game in hand) over their title rivals, who dropped 4 points with draws at West Ham and Manchester United. The draw against Liverpool and 3 other wins continued United’s renaissance under Ole Gunnar Solskjær and a top 3 spot is beginning to look a real possibility. It was not all positive news though, as 2 more managers were let go in February: Claude Puel was dismissed by Leicester following an embarrassing 1-4 loss at home to Crystal Palace, while Claudio Ranieri lasted just over 3 months at Fulham.


Role models

Premier League footballers are watched by millions of people every week including thousands of children. They are some of the best players in the world playing in arguably the best league in the world. As such, they are arguably in a position where children will look up to them as role models.

So imagine my disappointment when I saw Burnley’s Ashley Barnes going absolutely crazy at a lineman after he was accused of diving to try winning a penalty. Yes, diving is disgusting and needs to be kicked out of the game, but this was a terrible call as he was clearly caught by Southampton keeper Alex McCarthy. It’s understandable that Barnes would be angry at not being awarded a clear penalty – the penalty given to them later in the game was their first in 68 league games – and in fact being given a yellow for diving, but that to me does not excuse the way he reacted to the officials and I am shocked he was not given a second yellow for this reaction.

This was not the first incident this season of players disrespecting officials as just the week before, Wilfried Zaha was given a second yellow card for dissent after sarcastically applauding the referee who had just booked him against Southampton.

There is no place for either of these reactions in football. Officials have a hard enough time doing their job and getting the right decision (more on that in a moment) without players and fans giving them abuse. Players need to control their emotions and cut out this behaviour as it will just lead to children doing the same in grassroots football, which will stop people wanting to become an official.


Costly decision

It takes just one second to potentially change the outcome of a game completely. During Brighton’s home match with Burnley, the Seagulls found themselves 0-2 down but on the attack with about 15 minutes left. The attack came to an end as Burnley’s Jeff Hendrick appeared to handle the ball, but this was missed by the officials. Burnley countered and Ashley Barnes beat the offside trap on halfway before being fouled by keeper Mathew Ryan in the box, scoring the penalty for a 0-3 lead and eventually a 1-3 victory.

Instead of a Burnley penalty, this should have been a Brighton penalty and the core would have likely been 1-2 rather than 0-3, which with 15 minutes left could have completely changed the result.

VAR is making its way to the league next season and while not everyone is sold on it yet, this is a perfect example of just how important it can be to get the right decision.


Penalty points

Leicester’s 3-1 loss at Tottenham threw up an interesting moment as the Foxes were awarded a penalty when 1-0 down. Demarai Gray had been given the start ahead of Jamie Vardy as Claude Puel wanted to develop other options, but as soon as the penalty was awarded, Vardy came on to replace him and take the penalty. Things didn’t work out for them though as his shot was saved by Hugo Lloris. This moment left me with a couple of questions:

  1. Why say you want to develop other options and then go back to the tried an tested for something that should be as guaranteed as a penalty. This could instead harm Gray’s development and confidence.
  2. Should Vardy have been able to take the penalty?

This second one is interesting to me as though there is nothing against it in the rules, it does not feel right to me. Much like how a team cannot substitute their keeper at full time for a penalty shootout but must instead bring them on before the end of extra time, I feel that the penalty should be taken by someone who was on the pitch when the penalty was awarded. As well as feeling right, it surely makes sense tactically as well as otherwise a player’s first touch of the ball is them taking the penalty, which as Vardy showed is not necessarily going to be good news for them.


A great turnaround

Manchester United’s 0-0 draw at home to Liverpool would probably be considered a good result for them looking back at how the first half of the season went, but when you look into the match even further you realise just how good the result was.

With Nemanja Matić already missing through injury, United’s midfield was dealt a blow about 20 minutes in as Ander Herrera left the pitch with an injury to leave United with a midfield pairing of Andreas Pereira and Scott McTominay. Things got even worse as Jesse Lingard had to replace the injured Juan Mata about 5 minutes later and then himself left the pitch injured just before halftime, being replaced by Alexis Sanchez. Marcus Rashford had also been struggling with an injury from around the same time as Herrera’s injury but with no subs remaining had to play the rest of the game.

Granted, Liverpool lost Roberto Firmino to injury as well in the first half, but that still left them 2 available subs in the second half, so for United to hold on with 10½ men against the title contenders and in fact almost win it (Joel Matip’s own goal was disallowed due to Chris Smalling’s offside) shows just how far United have come under Ole Gunnar Solskjær.


Sarri v Kepa

Chelsea may not have had a league game in Round 27 as they were losing on penalties to Manchester City in the Carabao Cup Final, but they were still making waves that would continue into the next round of matches.

As extra time edged towards penalties, Maurizio Sarri chose to replace Kepa Arrizabalaga – who had gone down with cramp twice in the extra period – with Willy Caballero, who is known to have a good record against penalties. Kepa however refused to leave the pitch, leading to Sarri having to back down and be moved away from Kepa after the whistle.

While this was a public embarrassment, Chelsea media moved quickly to play the incident down, with Kepa’s statement saying that it was a misunderstanding and he was making it clear that he was fit enough to continue. Sarri’s actions in their next league match against Tottenham said otherwise though, as he dropped Kepa in favour of Willy Caballero. When asked about the change of keepers, Sarri stated:

“Kepa made a big mistake and so it was only a message for the whole team, all the dressing room”

While I completely agree with the decision to drop Kepa under normal circumstances, the fact that this went completely against the public line taken by Chelsea may have put him on shaky ground (as if he wasn’t already with the performances and results his team were getting) and showed that when push came to shove in the match, player power beat out the manager. If Sarri makes it beyond the end of this season, I will be shocked!


Top 6 prediction

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

 

January 2019 in the Premier League

January 2019 in the Premier League

Hey guys, sorry for taking almost half of February to write this one, as I’m sure you can see from the amount of 6 Nations content, this is a busy time of year for me and that’s before I even take into account work and anything else going on in my life!

January saw the winter transfer window come and go with less excitement than in some previous years. While some teams were busy looking to improve on their season like with Chelsea bringing in Gonzalo Higuain and Newcastle breaking their transfer record to sign Miguel Almiron for £20m, some started planning for next year (Chelsea signed Christian Pulisic then loaned him back to Dortmund for the rest of the season), and some made no action at all, such as Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United. United continued their resurgence under Ole Gunnar Solskjær, going unbeaten in the league to close the gap on the teams above, while a 2-1 loss to Manchester City at the beginning of the month and a draw at home to Leicester reduced Liverpool’s lead at the top of the table.


Transfer talk

The January transfer window is far from easy. Swapping clubs halfway through a season can mean it takes a while for a player to bed into their new surroundings, while the club have likely signed them due to a pressing need for them to perform.

Alvaro Morata started his Chelsea career so well but then struggled to keep scoring the goals and this has led to Chelsea loaning him out t Atletico Madrid and bringing in Gonzalo Higuain on loan to replace him. While Higuain is clearly a talented player and has the experience of playing for Maurizio Sarri, but he has no experience of playing in the Premier League and at 31 years old it could be argued that his best years are behind him, so there is no guarantee that this move will have any more success than playing Morata. If Higuain does not work out as hoped, then they could be forced to once again rely on Eden Hazard leading the line, though it has been shown that playing him in the false 9 position is a detriment to his game and is not good enough to have consistent success in the league. I also feel surprised with the Pulisic signing as the playmaker positions (both out wide and centrally) are pretty well covered by Chelsea – to the point that England international Ruben Loftus-Cheek is not even a regular starter – whereas further forwards they are lacking that guaranteed quality to compete at the very top of the table.

A player who has made an immediate impact though is Ryan Babel for Fulham. The Dutchman has immediately improved the Fulham attack with his pace causing the Spurs defence serious issues in a 2-1 loss and a couple of his crosses leading to goals in the 4-2 comeback victory over Brighton. With a target man like Aleksandar Mitrović up front, you need quality wingers to get the ball in to him from wide positions and the former Liverpool man is doing exactly that.

One team who may be regretting some of their transfer activity is Liverpool, who allowed Nathaniel Clyne to go out on loan to Bournemouth. It is strange that he has so quickly fallen down the pecking order at Anfield but with Joe Gomez out injured long-term, Clyne was the clear backup to Trent Alexander-Arnold at right back. With him moving to the Vitality Stadium, it was Sod’s law that Alexander-Arnold would get injured, and that has left Liverpool playing a range of midfielders at the position, leaving them vulnerable in defence, as we saw when James Milner was tasked with defending against Wilfried Zaha, leading to a red card following 2 bookable offences.

Perhaps the best work in the transfer market this January belongs to Bournemouth and West Ham, who both managed to keep hold of star strikers Callum Wilson and Marko Arnautović respectively. Wilson is having a career-best year in the Premiership with 10 goals and also marked his England debut with a goal, but the rumour mill suggested a move to Chelsea was imminent. Personally, I think that he would have been a safer bet for Chelsea than Higuain (who had scored 8 goals in about as many games while on loan for AC Milan). I can’t help but wonder if a knee injury that led to a minor operation during January helped save the Cherries from losing their star striker. As for Arnautović, he has helped make West Ham’s attack look much more dangerous since moving into a central striker role and is one of their top scorers this season, but looked set for a move to China that looked all-but certain when he waved to fans following his substitution against arsenal and then didn’t feature against Bournemouth. However, he chose to stay and signed a new contract with the Hammers. A player of the Austrian’s ability, able to play up front and in a wider position, is such a big part of the team and would not be easy for West Ham to replace. It will be interesting to see if either of these players looks to move in the summer…


On borrowed time?

Following Chelsea’s 2-0 loss at Arsenal, Maurizio Sarri shocked people with a scathing attack on his players, saying that they lack motivation and determination. It was an interview that divided fans and pundits and while it initially led to a reaction – with a 2-1 win against Spurs seeing them progress to the Carabao Cup final on penalties and a 3-0 victory at Sheffield Wednesday putting them into the 5th round of the FA Cup – the next Premier League match was an unmitigated disaster as they lost 4-0 to a Bournemouth side that was missing start striker Callum Wilson. Since then, a 5-0 victory over Huddersfield will have barely started to paper over the cracks before 6-0 loss at Manchester City saw them drop to 6th in the table!

Sarri has such a talented squad and had a great unbeaten run at the start of the season, but now everything is falling apart. Despite their defensive issues, club captain Gary Cahill has barely featured this season in any competition and has apparently been barely spoken to by Sarri since his arrival, Callum Hudson-Odoi has barely featured yet was not allowed to leave with Bayern Munich keen to take him, there have been concerns over N’Golo Kanté being used in a more forward position than the holding role where he excels and the lead striker role has been a mess with neither Alvaro Morata or Olivier Giroud given a decent run of games or any confidence from the manager and Eden Hazard often wasted in a false 9 position when there is a legitimate striker on the bench.

The players may not have been at their best, but as we have seen with United this season, it is the manager’s duty to get them performing and if they cannot do so then they have no reason to be at the club. Roman Abramovich is not known to be patient with his managers and I will be shocked to see Sarri still in the role next season. With Chelsea currently on the worst run of form of anyone in the top 6, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him gone within the month unless performances and results improve considerably.


Another sad day

In what has been an exciting season of Premier League football, the 2018/19 season is one that will be looked back on with more than a hint of sadness. Following the terrible helicopter crash at Leicester that claimed the life of Leicester City chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and 4 others, January saw the loss of Emiliano Sala after his plane went missing over the English Channel. The Argentine had just signed from Nantes to Cardiff for a club record fee of £15m on January 19th but his aircraft was declared missing on January 21st and the official search was called off on January 24th, though a privately funded search continued and found the wreckage of the plane on the seabed on February 3rd. A body was recovered on February 7th and identified as Salah, while pilot David Ibbotson is yet to be found.

This is yet another tragic story this season and my thoughts go out to the family and friends of both Sala and Ibbotson. As with the helicopter crash though, it was heart-warming to see the response of the wider footballing community, from players and pundits continuing to donate to the private search while Ibbotson remains unfound, to Arsenal including him on the programme’s team sheet when Cardiff faced them, with the image of a daffodil where his squad number would have been. Meanwhile Nantes plan to retire the number 9 shirt in his honour.

Unfortunately not all fans have reacted as well, with a pair of Southampton fans having been found to taunt Cardiff fans with plane gestures, but I am glad to see that Southampton acted quickly to ban those involved – hopefully forever!

Football, especially its fans, can have a bad reputation (I myself have been disgusted at fans actions in the past) but moments like this and the tragedy in Leicester show that there is still something to be proud of in this sport.


Top 6 prediction

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

 

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

 

Eyes On: 2018 FA Cup Final

Eyes On: 2018 FA Cup Final

Last weekend was a busy one for sport in the UK. Not only were the semi-finals underway for both the Pro14 and the Premiership, but British hopes looked good with Simon Yates leading the Giro d’Italia and as if that wasn’t enough, The FA Cup final took place on Saturday!

This was by no means the thriller that some previous finals have been, with few real chances actually being created, but Antonio Conte’s Chelsea ran out 1-0 winners over Manchester United, courtesy of Eden Hazard’s penalty, to provide the Italian with some silverware this season in (possibly) his last game in charge.

Rash decisions

Marcus Rashford has become the darling of fans in recent seasons, but he has not had the best couple of months. His minutes have been limited and when he has been started ahead of Romelu Lukaku, his performances through the middle have not matched the level of what he has produced out wide.

With Lukaku only fit enough for the bench, Rashford was given the start up front but was wasteful with the ball, frequently giving it away in the first half with poor passes or tame shots. Though he did improve after half time, he still couldn’t find a way to get the ball in the back of the net, with an attempted chip over Thibaut Courtois in the 72nd minute his best chance, but easily saved after being too low. He was removed just after this last attempt and right now it is hard to imagine him being a big part of José Mourinho’s plans next season considering the need to compete with free-scoring teams like Liverpool and Manchester City.

World Cup worry

I must admit that I was a bit surprised when Phil Jones was named in England’s World Cup squad for this summer. Though he can be a very good player, he is by no means consistent and has been part of a defence that has been bailed out too many times by David de Gea.

Chelsea’s goal lays squarely at Jones’ feet as he did not position himself well to defend against Eden Hazard and was thoroughly beaten by the Belgian’s first touch. Rather than take one for the team and bringing Hazard down about 35 metres out from goal, Jones tried to chase level with him and dived in to try and get the ball away inside the box, missing the ball completely and taking down Hazard to give away the match-winning penalty in the 21st minute.

There were a number of comments that this should have been a red card as he was the last defender, but I personally approve of the amended law that states a player can receive only a yellow card if there is a genuine attempt to win the ball, avoiding the “triple punishment” of a penalty, red card and subsequent suspension.

What worries me here is that Jones will potentially be playing in an England shirt soon against none other than Eden Hazard and Belgium. Hazard knows he has the beating of him and I would be shocked if Belgium don’t try to create 1-on-1 matchups between the pair should Jones feature in that match.

A classy touch

As President of the FA, Prince William would usually be presenting the trophy to the winners, but due to his brother’s wedding earlier in the day, he was unable to make the match (even royals have to miss football for family events). With a need to find someone else to present the trophy this year, I think the FA made the perfect decision.

The FA chose to give the job to Jackie Wilkins, the widow of Ray Wilkins, who passed away in April aged 61. The former England midfielder made over 300 appearances for Chelsea and Manchester United, before going on to help coach Chelsea in 1998-2000 and then 2008-2010, including 2 spells as caretaker manager in 2000 and 2009. For the FA to pay tribute to Wilkins in this fashion was wonderful to see. I have not always agreed with their decisions, but this one was spot on!

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 9

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 9

Another week, another win for the underdogs. This time Huddersfield have played the role of David as they take down the Goliath that is Manchester United. Elsewhere in the league Chelsea escaped losing 3 league matches in a row with a late surge to beat Watford 4-2, while Manchester City remain unbeaten following a 3-0 victory at home to Burnley. Towards the other end of the table, Leicester – currently without a manager after the sacking of Craig Shakespeare – won 2-1 against Swansea, while Ronald Koeman was shown the door following Everton’s 5-2 loss at home to Arsenal.

 

Buy British

Anthony Martial burst onto the Premier League scene in the 2015/16 with 11 goals in 31 league games and was one of the few good points of Louis van Gaal’s reign at Old Trafford. However he has found his chances more limited under Jose Mourinho and has also found it harder to score. Against Huddersfield, he was probably lucky to not be penalised after appearing to lash out following a strong challenge from Tommy Smith. This got me thinking, maybe the issue is that he is not ready for the physical demands of the Premier League.

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David de Gea took time to adapt to the Premier League – Picture from Flickr – nguyễnlong15

The Premier League is always touted as being a physical league and England has always been known as a country that is more famous for its physically dominant players like Tony Adams rather than its more skillful players. In that regard, it is almost the exact opposite of La Liga. Even some of the more skillful English players of recent years, like Wayne Rooney, are always noted as being physically strong and you rarely hear of him or Harry Kane being out-muscled. For players who are used to less physical leagues – Ligue 1 and La Liga for example – this would be a big change of style that they may struggle to get used to. Victor Lindelof (signed from Benfica) had a poor afternoon at Huddersfield and was culpable for the second goal due to misjudging the long ball forward. Renato Sanches has also not yet lived up to the hype at Bayern Munich or Swansea and again this could be down to the Premier League and the Bundesliga being more physical than the Primeira Liga that he was used to.

This isn’t even a new phenomenon; so many players have excelled in other leagues but struggled in England – such as Diego Forlan – while even David de Gea initially looked like he could be a bust until he got used to the physicality of the league and the difference in style. As great as a player can look when playing internationally or in other leagues, there is no way to know how they will adapt to the Premier League until they are featuring regularly. I’ve noticed that players who are used to the Bundesliga don’t seem to struggle that much and I think that this is because this is probably the closest of the top European leagues to the Premier League in terms of playing style and physicality. It must also be remembered that there are very few top leagues where the teams towards the bottom can even consider beating the top teams, whereas the Premier League loves to remind us this season that anyone can beat anyone!

We always hear that English players are overpriced, and to be honest when you look at the quality of imports that were brought in for the same money that is often true, but at least with an English player who has spent his career playing in the Premier League and Championship, they are already used to the physical demands of the league. While the ceiling may be higher for an import, the floor may be much lower, so if in doubt, I can see why some clubs would prefer to stick to the more reliable middle ground rather than risk a big money bust.

Lucky Chelsea

Chelse may have come out of their game against Watford with all 3 points, but they should consider themselves very lucky. Pedro’s opener was a beautiful strike but should never have stood as replays clearly showed that Eden Hazard was the last to touch the ball before it went out of play, so Chelsea’s corner should have actually been a goal kick. Not only this, but Richarlison missed 2 gilt-edged chances at 1-1 and 1-2 that looked easier to score than to miss! If either one or both of these goals had been scored, then it may have been too much of a mountain for the defending champions to climb in this game.

A season away

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Everton’s drop into the relegation zone has cost Ronald Koeman – table from http://www.premierleague.com

How much will Spurs be regretting their slow start to the season right now? 4 league victories on the bounce have left them 3rd in the league, 5 points behind Manchester City and level on points with Manchester United. Their 4-1 demolition of Liverpool at a packed Wembley Stadium showed just how effective the team is. I think that Spurs will be able to finish top 3 – possibly even top 2 – this season, but I don’t think they have quite enough to win the title this year.

They have a very strong starting XI and have probably the best balance between attacking quality and defensive solidity, however I think beyond the starting lineup they are lacking the depth of their title rivals, especially if they are looking to challenge in multiple competitions. Just look at how often this year United’s substitutes have come on to win the game! If Spurs can spend the next 2 transfer windows deepening their squad, then I think next year could see them go all the way in the 2017/18 season.

 

Week 10 predictions:

Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur – Draw

Arsenal v Swansea City – Arsenal win

Crystal Palace v West Ham United – Draw

Liverpool v Huddersfield Town – Draw

Watford v Stoke City – Watford win

West Bromwich Albion v Manchester City – City win

AFC Bournemouth v Chelsea – Chelsea win

Brighton & Hove Albion v Southampton – Draw

Leicester City v Everton – Everton win

Burnley v Newcastle United – Burnley win

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