March 2019 in the Premier League

March 2019 in the Premier League

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

Going to ground

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

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

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

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

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

We’ve got a long way to go.

A mixed day

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

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

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

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

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

Mic them up!

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

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

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

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

Top 6 prediction

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


Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 16

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 16

We may only be 16 weeks into the season, but could the weekend just gone be remembered as the one where Manchester City won the 2017/18 Premier League? Their win at Old Trafford puts them 11 points ahead of their local rivals, while Chelsea’s shock defeat at West Ham leaves them a further 3 points out and surely ends their title defence. West Ham’s win puts them 18th in the table, behind West Brom on goal difference, while Swansea’s win against the Baggies allows them to leapfrog Crystal Palace who could only draw at home to Bournemouth despite being awarded 2 penalties.

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The latest results – From

And for the record, the irony of both City’s goals coming from corners after my comments last week is not lost on me.

A tale of 2 strikers

2 strikers will have taken most of the headlines for Palace’s draw against Bournemouth: Jermain Defoe and Christian Benteke.

The 35-year-old not been having the best of seasons back at Bournemouth, coming into this game with just 1 goal in 12 league matches, but his 2 goals on Saturday were vintage Defoe and give credence to the idea that ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’. His movement off a beautifully worked corner was always going to be hard for the Palace defence to pick up even without the help of his teammate pulling his marker back, then he made the first-time shot look easy as he diverted the cross into the goal. If that was a great goal, his second was an early frontrunner for Goal of the Month as he lobbed Julian Speroni from a tight angle to pull Bournemouth level. He may not have the pace he did early in his career, but the technical ability is still there and he has the experience and knowledge to often make up for the lost pace with great positioning. Hopefully these 2 goals will be the confidence boost he needs to start getting back on the scoresheet on a more regular basis.

If Defoe had been having a bad start to the season, then Benteke’s has been even worse, coming into this game, the Belgian was yet to score following 10 appearances and had become second fiddle to Chelsea loanee Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Following this match, he may be lucky to make the next matchday squad! With the score at 2-2 in injury time, Palace won their second penalty of the game, but despite Luka Milivojevic – who had earlier scored from the spot – still being on the pitch, it was Benteke who stepped up to take the penalty. The penalty attempt was absolutely awful and easily saved by Asmir Begovic, leaving Benteke with only 2 successes from 5 penalties in the league since joining Crystal Palace. It seemed a strange decision to switch penalty takers to Benteke at such a crucial point and Roy Hodgson made it clear in interviews after the game that this was a decision made on-field rather than by him. The important thing is that this is a costly miss: the goal would have won Palace the game and left them on 13 points, ahead of West Ham on goal difference. Instead they are back down to the bottom of the table. Over the last 5 games they have earned more points than anyone else in the bottom half of the table, but their start to the season was so bad, they can’t afford to let opportunities like this pass them by if they want to stay in the top flight.

Could Jordan Pickford be on its way to becoming England’s number 1? – Picture from Flickr – Pete

Keeper crisis?

Despite his indifferent form over recent seasons, Joe Hart has remained Gareth Southgate’s first choice for the England number 1 jersey. He hasn’t had the best of starts to the season at West Ham, but if we’re honest he hasn’t had much help from his defence. Under David Moyes, the Hammers are starting to look better, but last week’s match at Manchester City looks like it may have come at the worst time for him! He was unable to play against his parent club as part of his loan agreement and replacement Adrian put in an impressive performance that earned him another start in this weekend’s victory. If he carries on like this, it will not be easy for Hart to win his starting spot back, so Southgate may have to look elsewhere for his starting goalkeeper. But where?

Jack Butland looks to be perhaps the best shot stopper, however his Stoke side have conceded more goals than any other Premier League club, and he has also shown a weakness in his game when the ball is at his feet, leading to occasional mistakes such as at the weekend against Spurs. Fraser Forster made a couple of good saves against Arsenal but does not look as solid as he did a few years back (though this has probably not been helped by the changing personnel in front of him over the seasons). Tom Heaton is currently injured and the form of Nick Pope does not guarantee that he will find it easy to get back into the starting lineup, while Pope himself has limited top flight experience so a starting spot for the Three Lions may be a bit premature. Jordan Pickford has received some criticism this season but Everton are a team on the up and having Sam Allardyce in charge is already helping to shore things up at the back. Of the keepers mentioned, only Pope is currently starting for a team placed higher in the league, and Pickford has more top flight experience, while he could also be considered the next in line as he played in England’s draw with Germany last month.

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City’s lead is already beginning to look unassailable – From

The last few years have been great for England as they have developed a couple of talented keepers to rival Joe Hart, now the next step is to get more of these keepers regularly playing at the top of the Premier League table and in Europe.


Round 17 predictions:

Burnley v Stoke City – Burnley win

Crystal Palace v Watford – Draw

Huddersfield Town v Chelsea – Chelsea win

Newcastle United v Everton – Everton win

Southampton v Leicester City – Leicester win

Swansea City v Manchester City – Man City win

Liverpool v West Bromwich Albion – Liverpool win

Manchester United v AFC Bournemouth win – United win

Tottenham Hotspur v Brighton & Hove Albion – Spurs win

West Ham United v Arsenal – Arsenal win