Premier League: January 2020

Premier League: January 2020

February is here and the inevitable Liverpool slip-up to lose the title is looking less and less likely. The Reds won all their Premier League games in January, whereas both of their closest rivals dropped points, with Manchester City being held to a draw at home to Crystal Palace and Leicester losing 2-1 at Burnley.


Premier League Round-up


Legend in sky blue

While City’s draw against Palace made Liverpool’s title victory all the more likely, January 2020 was a big month for Sergio Agüero. The Argentine scored his 12ᵗʰ Premier League hat-trick (a league record) during their 1-6 demolition of Aston Villa, which saw him score his 176ᵗʰ Premier League goal to become the top-scoring non-British player in Premier League history. Then, against Palace, he scored his 250ᵗʰ and 251ˢᵗ goals for the club.

Agüero is a world-class player and a fantastic talent, and he has been a key part of Manchester City’s success over the last decade – it was in fact his goal with his first touch off the bench that saw them win at Sheffield United recently. A few years ago, it looked like his time at the club may be coming towards an end as he initially struggled to adapt to Pep Guardiola’s style of play, but he has got pas those issues and got back to looking like the elite player he had proved himself to be.

Only once in his Manchester City career has he failed to reach 20 goals in all competitions (17 in the 2012/13 season), which considering the issues that he has had at times with injuries shows just how good a player he is. At 31, he probably has a couple of good seasons in him as he relies on movement and positioning rather than outright pace, but City need to start making sure they have a quality replacement ready for when he is no longer available. Will Gabriel Jesus be the man? Time will tell…

Fair reward

Regular readers will know how much I hate simulation and diving. It’s disgusting, cheating and has no place in the game. I am fully on board punishment for players who are caught simulating in matches, but I also think that there needs to be more of a look at promoting good behaviour.

During Manchester United’s 4-0 win over Norwich, Anthony Martial was fouled in the box with the score at 0-0, but though he went to ground, he did not make a big deal about the challenge and instead got back to his feet to try to keep playing, however the chance was gone. And yet despite this, no penalty was awarded. The same weekend saw Theo Walcott fouled by Lewis Dunk during Everton’s 1-0 win over Brighton. Walcott was passing Dunk to go clean through on goal when Dunk pulled him back. Though Walcott tried to keep his feet, he was clearly off balance, which affected his shot, but again no penalty was awarded.

If we want to get rid of simulation, then it is important to not just penalise offenders, but also to reward players who are honest and try to play on when fouled if they are clearly not gaining an advantage. If players know that they won’t get the free kicks and penalties they deserve without throwing themselves to the ground, can we really blame them for going down so easy?

Transfer talk

The January transfer window is not really the place to get fantastic deals done, but even by normal standards, the big teams were largely underwhelming this season.

Steven Bergwijn and the permanent signature of Giovani Lo Celso add some good depth to the squad despite the departure of Christian Eriksen to Inter, but I feel that Spurs needed to find a central striker to lighten the load on Harry Kane, which became even more important with him getting injured.

Chelsea were another team who I felt needed to look at bringing in another striker as they don’t seem to trust Olivier Giroud, yet they celebrated having their transfer ban reduced by signing nobody. They are currently holding onto 4ᵗʰ spot and the potential of Champions League football next season, but this lack of a new striker could be costly.

For Arsenal, the loan signings of Cédric Soares and Pablo Marí could be just what they need to solidify their defence and see them start to climb up the table. I feel however that City made a mistake to not bring in another centreback as they have proved themselves to be weak at the back when Aymeric Laporte is missing.

Manchester United’s signings are interesting. Bruno Fernandes could be a great signing to improve the team’s chance creation and goal scoring (at time of writing after 25 rounds, they have scored just 36 goals). The signing that has the potential to be either brilliant or terrible is that of Odion Ighalo, who has joined on loan from Shanghai Shenhua until the end of the season. Ighalo has Premier League experience, having spent a couple of seasons at Watford that saw them promoted from the Championship, but his prolific start quickly faded and he went from 20 goals in 38 games to 17 in 42 to 2 in 19 before moving to China. His time in China has been prolific, with 36 goals in 55 games for Changchun Yatai and 10 in 19 for Shanghai, but at 30 years old, there will be questions over his ability to transition back from the Chinese league to one of the toughest leagues in the world. He is a United fan though and has taken a pay cut to make this dream move a reality, so it may be that this is able to help propel him on and if he can chip in with a decent number of goals, the experience he will bring to the young forwards around him will be invaluable.

The nation’s hopes in the palm of your hands…

Major tournaments and goalkeeping errors have often gone hand in hand for England over the last couple of decades. So many times we have seen an absolute howler one of the main memories from England’s World Cup or Euros campaign. Things appeared to improve for a time, first with Joe Hart then more recently with Jordan Pickford, but both began to look skittish and if I’m honest, I’ve lost a lot of faith in the Everton keeper.

What also can’t help is that it is rare in recent years that an England keeper has come from a top-table club. My personal feeling is that this harms our keepers, as even the best keeper in the league will struggle to avoid conceding if he doesn’t have the players in front of him. Jack Butland looked to be the next big thing a couple of years ago, but a disastrous campaign for Stoke saw them relegated and though Butland rarely seemed at fault for the goals, it looked like an entire season of picking the ball out of the back of his net took its toll and he has not reached the same level again since.

So with the European Championship coming up this summer, who should England take in their squad? I used the Premier League website to check the stats of the English keepers in the league as of the end of January.

Keepers
I have calculated the Save % by dividing the number of saves by the combined number of saves and goals conceded

Assuming England carry 3 keepers in their squad, Dean Henderson and Aaron Ramsdale would be my top 2 choices – with Henderson taking the number 1 shirt as not only does he have the best save percentage, but he is also playing for the most successful team this season. Henderson and Ramsdale are both inexperienced at internationals level, so I would probably look to take someone more experienced to help them adapt to the new environment, which unfortunately rules out Alex McCarthy. Ben Foster and Tom Heaton would be the next best options, but Foster is retired and Heaton out injured. Pope has been around the squad for a while, but again does not have the experience of playing in a tournament, so Jordan Pickford would take the third spot for me, more by process of elimination than on the strength of his performances.

Who would you select for the Euros?

feat football prem league logo green

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

 

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 32

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 32

Manchester City took another step towards the Premier League title this weekend with a 1-3 demolition of Everton. That win at Goodison Park means that they can win the league at the Etihad on Saturday with a victory against local rivals Manchester United, who beat Swansea 2-0 this weekend. Staying near the top of the table and Tottenham’s 1-3 victory at Stamford Bridge (including stunning goals from Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli – who needs Harry Kane?!) has almost guaranteed them a place in the Champions League next season, while the defending Premier League Champions will be back in the Europa League. West Brom’s relegation is as good as confirmed following their 1-2 loss against Burnley and with Alan Pardew leaving, the club will surely be looking for a manager who will help them in the Championship rather than rushing to find someone who can potentially save them from inevitable relegation. Mark Hughes’ attempts to save Southampton from relegation got off to poor start with a 3-0 loss at West Ham in an atmosphere unrecognisable to that of Round 30, while Stoke fell to a 3-0 defeat at Arsenal.


Undefendable

I feel so sorry for Jack Butland on pretty much a weekly basis. With Joe Hart out of favour, this is his big chance to represent England in a major tournament, yet Stoke’s form could be his undoing. The Potters have the worst defensive record in the league (61 goals conceded – 4 more than West Ham or Watford) and yet despite that, Butland has actually had a pretty good season. He has made some mistakes, but he has also put in a number of great performances an made some brilliant saves. In fact, he has made the most saves of any keeper in the league this season with 120, 11 more than Łukasz Fabiański in second.

Butland’s problem has been the men in front of him. Despite a selection of good quality defenders (Wimmer, Shawcross, Zouma, Martins Indi), Stoke just haven’t been able to defend effectively! This weekend the defence allowed Arsenal 11 shots on target, including 2 penalties… I doubt there are many keepers who would have conceded less than 3 goals had they been in Butland’s place. I still expect him to make the England squad, but he may have to make do with a space on the bench. Hopefully Gareth Southgate will look closely at Butland and give him every chance to compete with Jordan Pickford for the number 1 jersey.


Bright future

plstatNo Aguero? No problem this weekend for City as they ran out 1-3 winners at Goodison Park. Their front 3 of Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sané all got on the score sheet in this game and showed that even if the City careers of the original stars that brought City success (like Aguero and Vincent Kompany) are coming to an end, there is still plenty of success to come for City. Take a look at the table to the side showing the 2017/18 Premier League stats for the starting front 3 against Everton. With the oldest of them being 23, it can be argued that none of these players have even yet reached their peak and yet they have scored more goals between them than almost half the teams in the league this season! With Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva playing just behind them, this attacking quintuplet will cause problems for any team and should probably be the focal point of this team going forward over the next few years. If they can keep Aguero then that will be fantastic for them as he is such an experienced and natural goal scorer that these players can learn off even if he is not playing so many minutes going forward. If not, bringing in a player like Riyad Mahrez would push all the front 3 to be at their best, though I feel they would be better suited to bringing in a striker with a bit more physicality and height to give them a Plan B if the usual beautiful attacking play doesn’t work.


Mixed day for Mané

Sadio Mané may have got Liverpool’s first goal against Crystal Palace but he had mixed fortunes in this match. As well as having a first half goal disallowed for offside, he was also booked for simulation following a challenge from Andros Townsend. While the replays clearly show Townsend making contact with Mané, the Senegalese winger’s fall to the floor was not only delayed but also highly theatrical. Going by the ban earlier in the season for Oumar Niasse when he “exaggerated the effect of a normal contact to deceive the referee”, then this is clearly a dive and I can see no defence for Mané. It’s just a shame that the referee punishing him for the dive means that eh will not receive a ban for his actions.

In the second half, he was lucky to stay on the pitch as he tussled on the edge of his box with a couple of Crystal Palace players, ended up on the floor and – with all the arrogance of a striker at a top-table club against a lesser raked team – reached out and grabbed the ball with his hand even though the ref was allowing play to continue. This denied Crystal Palace a chance in the final third so I have no idea how the referee has not given him a second yellow here. It was clear that Jürgen Klopp knew Sané had got lucky as he subbed him off within minutes of the incident. I can’t help but wonder how the match would have finished had Sané received the card he deserved.

While on the subject of cards not being given, there are very few things I hate more than players waving imaginary cards at referees as Yohan Cabaye did following Sané’s handball. There is no need for it and professional players should be setting a better example. Unfortunately, respect to referees generally seems low on FIFA or the FA’s agenda, so the Frenchman is sure to get away with this.


Round 33 predictions:

Everton v Liverpool – Liverpool win

AFC Bournemouth v Crystal Palace – Palace win

Brighton & Hove Albion v Huddersfield Town – Brighton win

Leicester City v Newcastle United – Leicester win

Stoke City v Tottenham Hotspur – Spurs win

Watford v Burnley – Draw

West Bromwich Albion v Swansea City – Swansea win

Manchester City v Manchester United – City win

Arsenal v Southampton – Arsenal win

Chelsea v West Ham – Chelsea win

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 26

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 26

Another bad week for Antonio Conte! Chelsea’s 4-1 loss at Watford on Monday night meant that the Blues dropped back behind Liverpool in the standings, whilst Tottenham – who drew 2-2 at Anfield – are now only a point outside the top 4. Arsenal sent out a signal of intent following their big January signings by demolishing Everton 5-1, and they now sit only 5 points outside the top 4, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang already contributing for the Gunners. Swansea’s resurgence under Carlos Carvalhal has seen them rise out of the relegation zone at the expense of Huddersfield, whose winless run continues following a 2-0 loss at Manchester United.

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City’s draw at Burnley means they have dropped 5 points in their last 4 league games, they had only dropped 4 points in the preceding 22 games – From http://www.premierleague.com

Role models?

In all the hysteria surrounding the final minutes of Liverpool’s draw with Spurs, what has not been discussed much is Dele Alli’s yellow card for diving… again! This is his third yellow card for diving since his Premier League debut in 2015 and for a player of his undeniable quality he doesn’t need to do this! Now I have made my feelings clear previously that the FA’s ability to retrospectively ban diving is a step in the right direction, but to stamp diving out the game they need to be able to ban players for diving regardless of whether the ref is fooled or not.

Troy Deeney has also got himself in the headlines for the wrong reason this week after his middle-finger gesture in his goal celebration against Chelsea. Deeney has already been suspended twice this season for red cards including a violent conduct charge for a clash with Joe Allen but has avoided punishment for this transgression despite Alli receiving a 1-match suspension earlier this season for a gesture of his own. How Deeney has got away with this is beyond me!

But my biggest issue here is that both these players are role models to youngsters! As if them being Premier League footballers wasn’t enough, Deeney is his club’s captain while Alli is an England international. I understand that players can make mistakes but both are making them repeatedly and I would not want to be a parent and seeing my child idolise either of these guys at the moment.

Don’t get shirty

I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Newcastle on Sunday. After a taking a lead through Mohamed Diamé, they were denied the 3 points at Crystal Palace by a 55th minute penalty for Ciaran Clark pulling on Christian Benteke’s shirt.

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Just one result can completely change the position of a team in the lower half of the table – From http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport

When I say I feel sorry for Newcastle, I should clarify – I 100% agree that the incident was a foul and deserving of a penalty, but these are never called by officials! This happens in the box at every set piece and if you call every single one then the games get into double digits for penalties. Players don’t know what they can and can’t get away with as there have been much more impactful shirt pulls that have gone unpunished previously.

I see 2 options: this needs to always be penalised or never be penalised. In my opinion the former is a better option. We may get a couple of weeks with a ridiculously high number of penalties, but most players will adapt and stop giving away these fouls or they won’t get picked by their managers. Surely a couple of weeks of penalties is worth it for a cleaner game.

No defence for this

Stoke’s early improvement under Paul Lambert stalled at the weekend with a 2-1 loss at Bournemouth. While Stoke are clearly starting to improve, their defence is still suspect and cost them at the weekend. Bournemouth’s first goal was at best a comedy of errors and at worst a shambles at the back, while Lys Mousset had a free header for the winning goal. I feel sorry for Jack Butland, who has not played poorly on the whole this season but has had so little help from his defence. With Joe Hart out of favour at West Ham, he should have been pushing for the England number 1 shirt, but the fact that he is part of a team with the worst defensive record in the league will surely harm his chances and possibly his confidence too. If Stoke do go down this year – I think they will be safe but with it so close in the table it is too tough to call – then it will be down mainly to defence rather than the guys up front.

Round 27 predictions:

Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal – Draw

Everton v Crystal Palace – Everton win

Stoke City v Brighton & Hove Albion – Draw

Swansea City v Burnley – Burnley win

West Ham United v Watford – Watford win

Manchester City v Leicester City – Man City win

Huddersfield Town v AFC Bournemouth – Draw

Newcastle United v Manchester United – Man United win

Liverpool A Southampton v Liverpool – Liverpool win

Chelsea v West Bromwich Albion – Chelsea win

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 18

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 18

The turn in fortunes continued in Round 18 of the Premier League as Everton, Crystal Palace and West Ham all earned 3 points in their respective fixtures to climb up the table. Palace and West Ham now find themselves 2 points above the relegation zone while Everton are up into 9th and are getting closer to where we would have expected them to be before the season started.

Swansea and Newcastle both find themselves in the relegation zone, with Stoke and Bournemouth only a point above the drop, and you wonder how much longer things can continue before a change is made somewhere in the setup.

 

Room for improvement

Played 18, Won 17, Drawn 1, Lost 0, Goals scored 56, Goals Conceded 12… The stats are outstanding and you wonder who (if anyone) will be able to halt City’s charge into the history books, but perhaps the scariest thing is that the Champions-in-waiting could be even better.

With the world’s most expensive left back Benjamin Mendy out long-term following a ruptured ACL, former midfielder Fabian Delph has become the Sky Blues’ first choice in the position. While City have continued to win, Delph’s performances haven’t quite matched the quality of his attacking teammates. In recent weeks, Delph was at fault for Manchester United’s best chances in their Round 16 clash and picked up a yellow card for a desperate challenge on Kieran Trippier, who had gotten away from him inside the final third. While this has not proved costly in either match, the time could still come where a Delph mistake in an unfamiliar position could cost City a result.

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The latest round of Premier League results – From http://www.premierleague.com

Injuries can never be predicted, but the decision to allow both Aleksandar Kolarov and Gaël Clichy to leave in the summer was an odd one considering both are experienced left backs and there was no real backup for Mendy in the squad. It will be interesting to see in January whether Guardiola decides to bring in another left back to bolster the squad or decides to continue with the Delph experiment.

A refereeing lottery

Let me start this section by making it clear that I appreciate the work of match officials and respect that the job they do is not an easy one. This is by no means an attack at them. However, there were a number of incidents at the weekend where I couldn’t help but question the officials’ decisions.

Huddersfield’s opener in the 1-4 victory at Watford should have been disallowed for offside not once, not twice, but 3 times! Yet amazingly the officials never picked up any of the offences. The main job of the linesman is to watch for the offside in these situations, so to miss all 3 is embarrassing! Leicester’s attempted comeback at home to Crystal Palace was dealt a blow when Vicente Iborra’s goal was disallowed for a push on the defender in front of him. While it was arguably the correct decision by the officials, I imagine Leicester players and fans would have been less than amused watching the City v Tottenham match and seeing the referee allow play to continue when Danny Rose did the same to Eliaquim Mangala in the Spurs box. 2 pushes in the back, yet one ends in a foul and the other play gets waved on.

Staying with the City game, there were 6 yellow cards given out in total by referee Craig Pawson, but 3 of these could arguably have been straight reds. Nicolas Otamendi’s boot into the face of Harry Kane may not have been leading with the studs, but it was still a dangerously high boot and warranted a red card. Kane’s lunge on Raheem Sterling with his studs showing looked a worse challenge then that of Troy Deeney on Collin Quaner, yet Kane gets away with a yellow and the Watford captain gets an early bath. Paul Pogba will have likely been unimpressed to see Dele Alli receive just a yellow for his challenge on Kevin de Bruyne, considering the Frenchman saw red the other week for a similar challenge.

I appreciate that referee’s positioning can greatly impact what they see and that different officials may see an incident slightly differently without the benefit of replays. But surely the FA should be doing everything it can to ensure consistency, otherwise the players will not know what they can and can’t do. I love seeing Wayne Barnes’ appearances on Rugby Tonight talking about how the Premiership referees get together to look over incidents from the weekend and feel that the Premier League would benefit from something similar if they don’t already have this. It would also help referees if they had some access to video replay technology if there is uncertainty over the severity of a challenge to ensure the correct decision is made.

After all, nobody wants an official’s mistake to affect the result of a match.

Dive! Dive! Dive!

Have the new FA laws surrounding retroactive bans for diving helped solve the issue? So far, I’ve got to say no. Manuel Lanzini has just become the 2nd Premier League player to be banned for “successful deception of a match official” after earning the penalty that put West Ham ahead at Stoke. The dive was in my opinion much worse than the one that resulted in Oumar Niasse’s ban, as Niasse exaggerated the effect of contact whereas Lanzini was clearly going to ground without any contact being made.

There have been so many dives in the league this season, but the new FA laws are too limited at when they can ban a player, as the dive must result in a benefit to the diving player’s team in order for the FA panel to intervene. So many times this season we’ve seen players get a yellow for a dive or the referee to wave play on. Other than the referee’s decision, what real difference was there between the Lanzini dive and the one by Brighton’s José Izquierdo against Burnley? Yet Lanzini is now banned for 2 games and Izquierdo didn’t even get a yellow.

pltable
The Premier League table after 18 rounds – From http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport

The only way to get diving out of the game is to retroactively punish each offense, regardless of the impact it has on a game. If a player knows that simulation will result in a 2-game (or more for serial offenders) ban regardless of if it results in a goal, then the FA panels may have a few busy months initially but simulation will soon come down to a bare minimum when players see there is zero tolerance.

As it stands, the current laws are a step in the direction, but there is still a long way to go to kick diving out of the game.

Round 19 & 20 predictions:

Due do Christmas plans taking me away from my trusty TV, I’m going to need some time to catch up on the action over the Christmas period so will be combining the next 2 rounds of Premier League action into one article. I’m sure 20 matches will give me plenty to talk about…

Round 19

Arsenal v Liverpool – Draw

Everton v Chelsea – Draw

Brighton & Hove Albion v Watford – Brighton win

Manchester City v AFC Bournemouth – City win

Southampton v Huddersfield Town – Southampton win

Stoke City v West Bromwich Albion – Draw

Swansea City v Crystal Palace – Palace win

West Ham United v Newcastle United – West Ham win

Burnley v Tottenham Hotspur – Draw

Leicester City v Manchester United – United win

Round 20

Tottenham Hotspur v Southampton – Spurs win

AFC Bournemouth v West Ham United – Draw

Chelsea v Brighton & Hove Albion – Chelsea win

Huddersfield Town v Stoke City – Draw

Manchester United v Burnley – United win

Watford v Leicester City – Leicester win

West Bromwich Albion v Everton – Everton win

Liverpool v Swansea City – Liverpool win

Newcastle United v Manchester City – City win

Crystal palace v Arsenal – Arsenal win

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 13

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 13

Another week down in the Premier League and the idea unlucky number 13 proved to be the case for Burnley who were denied a well-deserved draw courtesy of a late Alexis Sanchez penalty. Elsewhere in the top 7, Mohamed Salah’s goal against his former club was cancelled out by Willian’s cross/shot (definitely a shot despite what he says in interviews!) and Tottenham dropped 2 points at home to mangerless West Brom. Towards the bottom of the table, Crystal Palace got just their second Premier League win of the season to leave themselves just 3 points (and 8 goals) away from safety, while Everton conceded 4 goals at Southampton.

 

Does the punishment fit the crime?

I can pretty much guarantee there will be a similar incident each week in the league, if any of them lead to penalties it will be interesting to see if they all result in charges, as the FA have set a precedent now. It will be interesting to see the result of this charge and what impact it has moving forward.

I wrote this last week after the news that Everton’s Oumar Niasse was charged with “successful deception of a match official“. Niasse was given a 2-game ban as it was decided that he “exaggerated the effect of a normal contact to deceive the referee”. So what has the reaction been in this weekend’s league matches?

PL results
Round 13’s results – From http://www.premierleague.com

Burnley’s 0-1 loss to Arsenal came at the hands of a late Alexis Sanchez penalty that had me fuming. As the ball was crossed into the box, James Tarkowski put his hands on he back of Aaron Ramsey. Moments later, Ramsey was lying in a heap on the floor and referee Lee Mason was pointing to the spot. It may have been a foul and it was certainly a big risk for Tarkowski to put hands on Ramsey, but there is no way the contact justified the Welshman’s theatrical fall. If that wasn’t exaggerating the effect of a normal contact, then I don’t know what was! Yet Niasse gets a ban and Ramsey will most likely getaway with this.

Andre Ayew got away with diving during West Ham’s 1-1 draw with Leicester as Martin Atkinso chose to play on, while Fernandinho was shown a yellow card for his dive at Huddersfield. In both these cases they have done the same thing as Niasse (I would even go as far as to say these were more of a dive) yet they will get away with no further punishment as they did not successfully deceive the official.

The ability to retroactively punish a successful dive is a step in the right direction, however to get diving out of the game, I feel this needs to be expanded to include any attempts of diving, whether the referee falls for it, penalises the dive or waves play on. Only once a player knows any dive will result in a ban will we see it become less common in the beautiful game.

A day to forget

Ryan Shawcross will not be looking back on Stoke’s 2-1 loss at Crystal Palace with any fondness at all. Usually such a reliable player, he had a awful game. For years, Shawcross and his fellow Stoke defenders have been know as a well-organised group that are very effective at dealing with balls into the box. Yet both goals they conceded at the weekend came from their defence – and Shawcross in particular – not reading the flight of the ball correctly.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, with the score at 1-1, he had a chance to tap in a cross from a yard out. Rather than going for the ball with his head, he chose to stretch a leg out and eventually made too much contact with the ball, diverting it away from the goal!

Shawcross is a very good Premier League defender, but unfortunately seems to be in a period of poor form. It is poor fortune for Stoke that many of their top players seem to currently find themselves in the same circumstance.

Signs of improvement

They may not be sorted defensively yet, but Liverpool are looking very impressive in attack. New signing Mo Salah has been a revelation for the Reds this season and has already scored more goals than their last 3 top scorers have in the entire season! Mane and Coutinho are always going to be an danger going forward and with other players in the squad like Firmino and Lallana they have enough depth to not need to rely on Daniel Sturridge’s fitness.

table
How the Premier League table looks after 13 rounds – From http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport

After 13 matches, they are behind only the Manchester clubs in the number of goals scored, but they could still improve here if they want to move up the table, especially as they continue to struggle at the back. Firmino does a good job up front for Liverpool but I don’t see him as an out-and-out striker and Daniel Sturridge spends too much time out injured and often seems too selfish in my opinion, so I think that picking up a striker like Olivier Giroud in January – we know he considered a move from Arsenal as Ronald Koeman said they almost signed him at Everton – could help them take the next step.

 

Round 14 predictions:

Brighton & Hove Albion v Crystal Palace – Draw

Leicester City v Tottenham Hotspur – Draw

Watford v Machester United – United win

West Bromwich Albion v Newcastle United – WBA win

Arsenal v Huddersfield Town – Arsenal win

AFC Bournemouth v Burnley – Burnley win

Chelsea v Swansea City – Chelsea win

Everton v West Ham United – Draw

Manchester City v Southampton – City win

Stoke City v Liverpool – Liverpool win

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 12

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 12

There were goals galore in this week of the Premier League, with every game having at least 2 goals. Manchester City’s 0-2 win at Leicester keeps them 8 points clear at the top of the table and chasing the accomplishments of the ‘Invincibles’ of Arsenal’s 2003/4 season. Elsewhere, Chelsea’s 0-4 demolition of West Brom proved the end of Tony Pulis’ time in charge whilst also leapfrogging them above Spurs, who lost the North London Derby 2-0 at the Emirates, whilst Liverpool and Burnley made it 3 wins in a row with victories over Southampton and Swansea respectively. And the less said about West Ham, the better!

results
Round 12’s results – From http://www.premierleague.com

Diving into the history books

So Oumar Niasse has become the first player in the Premier League to be charged by the FA for “successful deception of a match official” following his dive in the 6th minute of their 2-2 draw at Crystal Palace, which resulted in a penalty scored by Leighton Baines. While it is great to see retroactive punishment being used for dives, which will hopefully lead to more honest play, I wonder if this was deserving of its place in history.

Phil Neville and Alan Shearer were both certain that this was a dive, but there was clearly contact between Niasse and Scott Dann – even if Niasse’s fall was worthy of an Oscar! Discussing this with a colleague at work who plays football regularly for a local club, he echoed my thoughts that strikers are taught to go down under contact, especially in the box. It is one thing to fall theatrically following minimal contact, it is another thing entirely to throw yourself to the floor without being touched. It is still technically a dive, but he has been impeded at least marginally.

Personally I would like to see both incidents like this and actual dives both outlawed, but I think that when there is even slight contact, it can be questionable as to whether this is a dive or a foul, or quite possibly both! I can pretty much guarantee there will be a similar incident each week in the league, if any of them lead to penalties it will be interesting to see if they all result in charges, as the FA have set a precedent now. It will be interesting to see the result of this charge and what impact it has moving forward.

Welcome returns

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“Lions don’t recover like humans” – Picture from Flickr – l3o_

United’s 4-1 victory over Newcastle on Saturday saw the return from injury of 2 fan favourites for the Red Devils. Paul Pogba made his first start after 9 weeks out while Zlatan Ibrahimovic came off the bench for his first appearance since mid-April following a serious knee injury. While Zlatan’s late cameo had a limited impact on the game, he looked sharp and will be putting the rest of the league on warning, but Pogba’s return may have won United the game.

I have never been completely sold on Pogba when I have watched him in the past, but seeing the way United’s title challenge has faltered during his spell out and the way they looked back to their best on Saturday has helped me see the quality that the Frenchman possesses. His play on the edge of the box to make the space to provide the cross for Anthony Martial’s equaliser was so assured for someone who has been out for 2 months, and he had a clear desire to be involved, leading to him making a great run from halfway as United broke downfield and being in the perfect position to receive Marcus Rashford’s cushioned header to score United’s third goal of the game. Romelu Lukaku also seemed to benefit from Pogba’s return and got on the score sheet in the league for the first time since the end of September.

With Pogba & Ibrahimovic’s returns and Lukaku starting to find the net again, United may be able to get back to challenging for the title. They now just need City to drop 8 points somewhere along the line…

Riding high

table
How the Premier League table looks after 12 rounds – From http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport

It’s gone somewhat under the radar in my posts this season, but how well are Burnley doing?! Sean Dyche’s men have quietly gone about their business this season and find themselves not just in the top half of the table, but behind only the Big 6. Not just that, but they’re currently pushing for Europe as they are only behind Arsenal and Liverpool due to goal difference and trail Spurs by 1 point and Chelsea by 3!

Burnley under Dyche have always been known as a team with a well-organised defence, and that is no different this year as their 9 goals conceded (level with Spurs) puts them behind only Manchester City (7) and United (6). Not bad when you consider Tom Heaton’s injury means they have played most of the season with the previously unknown Nick Pope in goal! But unlike other defensively-oriented teams like those managed by Tony Pulis, Burnley are also playing attractive football, their 12 goals putting them firmly in the middle of the table.

I think that their defence may be good enough to get the odd point against the teams currently above them, but if they want to take the next step they probably need to get another striker who can get 15-20 goals a season. Former Claret Danny Ings has struggled to break into the Liverpool squad since he recovered from injury. I’m sure both parties would benefit from him returning on loan to Turf Moor in January. His goals could push Burnley to the next level while regular football could reignite his Premier League and International career.

 

Week 13 predictions:

West Ham United v Leicester City – Leicester win

Crystal Palace v Stoke City – Stoke win

Manchester United v Brighton & Hove Albion – United win

Newcastle United v Watford – Draw

Swansea City v AFC Bournemouth – Bournemouth win

Tottenham Hotspur v West Bromwich Albion – Spurs win

Liverpool v Chelsea – Draw

Southampton v Everton – Draw

Burnley v Arsenal – Arsenal win

Huddersfield Town v Manchester City – City win

Simulate This!

The English FA have today announced a new regulation that should help to combat diving in football. Under the new rules, If a player is found to have dived in order to win a penalty or get a player sent off – either a straight red card or a second yellow – then he will be punished retrospectively for “successful deception of a match official”. Until now, the only punishment available to divers was a yellow card if the referee picked up on the simulation.

Diving has become such an issue in the modern game, it’s rare that we are able to go a week without seeing a commentator or pundit discussing whether a player dived to win a penalty or free kick. The most memorable one in recent months was by Middlesbrough’s Gaston Ramirez against Bournemouth, a laughable flop about 4 steps after the tackle that rightly saw him receive a yellow card (he was later sent off after receiving a second yellow).

It is good to see that the FA are taking steps to stop players diving. Though calling it ‘simulation’ may sound fancy, diving should be called what it is: cheating! So in this regard it is good to see that the cheaters will be punished from next season.

This can’t be the last move against diving though. ‘Successful’ divers will only be punished if their cheating wins their team a penalty or gets an opponent sent off, so plenty of successful dives will still go unpunished if they are outside the box and either don’t result in a card or only result in an opponent receiving a first yellow card. Therefore incidents like Alexis Sanchez’s embarrassing gymnastic routine after Christian Fuchs threw a ball at him would still not be picked up post-game by a panel (Sanchez did get a yellow but that was for not being far enough away at the throw-in rather than his theatrics). It also wouldn’t pick up if a player’s dive earned a defender their first yellow and they later got a second one for a legitimate foul. Perhaps worst of all, it wouldn’t pick up if a free kick was awarded due to a successful dive and a goal was scored, unless the defender was also sent off for the challenge.

This is a great first step but once this is up and running it should be extended to any clear dive that is missed by a referee can be punished. Otherwise players will just get smarter about how and where they cheat. Only once there is zero tolerance can this be properly removed from the game.

Hopefully this is the next step towards making the beautiful game beautiful again.

 

What do you think about the new regulation? Do you think enough is being done to combat diving? Comment on here or feel free to tweet me @PS_tetheridge