December 2018 in the Premier League

December 2018 in the Premier League

Happy New Year all!

It may seem odd to say that a league spanning from August to May can be decided in one month, but with 7 rounds of football in December and some huge results, the Premier League title may have been all-but wrapped up the title for Liverpool by the end of the festive period.

Elsewhere, two managers followed Slaviša Jokanović into unemployment with Mark Hughes being replaced at Southampton by Ralph Hasenhüttl and Ole Gunnar Solskjær replacing José Mourinho at Manchester United.


Pushing forward

I have some real sympathy for Sean Dyche. His Burnley side have not been awarded a penalty in the Premier League since 15th April 2017 against Everton, despite a number of incidents since that looked like they should have resulted in the referee pointing to the spot. The latest incident came in their 3-1 loss to Arsenal, where Kevin Long was bundled over by Sead Kolašinac in the Arsenal box. Soft? Maybe, but by the letter of the law it should be a foul, and by extension in this case, a penalty.

What will be even more galling for Dyche is that in the same round of fixtures, Dominic Calvert-Lewin had a goal disallowed for Everton for a push on Davinson Sánchez during their 2-6 loss to Tottenham – a push that was arguably a softer foul than Kolašinac’s. Then, just 2 matches later, Kolašinac did concede a penalty in the 5-1 loss to Liverpool by pushing over Dejan Lovren. 3 pushes, 2 fouls… the maths just doesn’t add up.

One of my real bugbears in football is the amount of pushing and pulling that goes unpunished. The powers that be need to decide that either any push or pull is legal or every push or pull is a foul, and the officials then need to enforce this. Otherwise we see games ruined by players being penalised one week and not another for the exact same act.


A crazy few minutes

Brighton’s 3-1 victory over Crystal Palace gave us one of the craziest moments of the season, and unfortunately not many people come out of it looking good.

Glenn Murray went down in the box under pressure from James Tomkins – perhaps a little easy, but that’s another debate altogether – but referee Kevin Friend did not award a penalty. Murray stayed down with an injury and in the afters, Shane Duffy inexplicably thrust his head into Patrick van Aanholt, earning himself a deserved red card. Having lost a defender, manager Chris Hughton replaced Pascal Groß with the more defensive Leon Balogun. Things didn’t end there as Friend had awarded a corner, thinking the ball had been played by Tomkins rather than Murray and the corner resulted in Balogun scoring a stunning volley with his first touch of the ball!

While I would hope the officials would be able to get the decisions between a corner and a goal kick correct at this level, this incident to me really highlighted one of the differences between football and rugby. In rugby, an offence like Duffy’s headbutt would cause a reversal in the referee’s original decision as well as any necessary cards. This way, the aggressor is punished with a dismissal and his team are also punished. Had that been the case here, Duffy’s indiscretion would have seen the corner (that they already shouldn’t have) be reversed to a Palace free kick, which could have made a huge difference given the 1-0 scoreline at the time.


Great month for Liverpool

December couldn’t have really gone much better for Liverpool. They continued their unbeaten campaign with 7 wins from 7, including victories over Manchester United, Arsenal and local rivals Everton. Meanwhile, title rivals Manchester City dropped points with losses to Chelsea (2-0), Crystal Palace (2-3) and Leicester (2-1); Tottenham lost to Arsenal (4-2) and Wolves (1-3); Arsenal lost at Southampton (3-2) and drew at Manchester United (2-2) and Brighton (1-1) and Chelsea lost 1-0 to Leicester.

8 of the last 9 league leaders on Christmas Day have gone on to win the title, while Liverpool’s leade on New Year’s Day would be the biggest margin overcome in Premier League history were they to lose the title, so the signs are very good for the Reds. Mohamed Salah may not be scoring with the same regularity as last season, they look much more secure at the back with Virgil van Dijk looking one of the best centrebacks in the league and Alisson currently sits top of the league in terms of clean sheets.

I don’t expect them to go unbeaten this season, but barring a slew of injuries to key players, I find it hard to imagine they will drop enough points to allow anyone else to overtake them, especially as I expect their rivals to also drop more points in such a hotly contested league this season.


Throwback to the past

The inevitable finally happened this season as United’s loss to Liverpool saw the end of José Mourinho’s reign at Old Trafford, with the Special One being replaced by former fan-favourite player Ole Gunnar Solskjær until the end of the season. The move has had instant results, with the team playing a much more attack-focused gameplan with the players looking much freer than before. They may not have played table-topping teams, but 4 wins from 4 has made Solskjær only the second manager in the history of the club to win his first 4 league games in charge, the first being Sir Matt Busby.

It has been wonderful watching their recent performances and with Solskjær in charge and Mike Phelan on his staff, this is probably the closest feeling we have had to the classic United since Fergie retired.

However, I do not want to get carried away. United are still struggling to keep clean sheets and are in desperate need of a top-quality centre back, but the rumours have been that United will be limited to loan signings with Solskjær currently only on loan from Molde until the end of the season. That will not be enough to keep up with the top teams and if players like Pogba begin to act up again (I cannot believe that his new form is down purely to him being given more freedom on the pitch as opposed to him now actively putting in effort) then things could turn horribly again.

Personally, I really hope things work out for the rest of the season and would love to see the Baby-faced Assassin get the role on a permanent basis.


Top 6 prediction

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

 

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 31 (Part 1)

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 31 (Part 1)

This weekend’s football was a bit of an odd one as we only had 4 games due to other Premiership teams still being involved in FA Cup action. However with the international break now upon us, I felt that it was right to still discuss the 4 matches that were played in the league and pick up the other matches when they are rearranged.

Liverpool felt they had a point to prove following defeat to Manchester United and took out their anger on Watford in a 5-0 demolition. Elsewhere, Crystal Palace picked up a vital 3 points at Huddersfield, while their relegation rivals Stoke and West Brom both fell to defeats at home to Everton and away to Bournemouth respectively.

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There may have only been 4 matches this week,but there were potentially still some crucial results – From http://www.premierleague.com

The Prince of Egypt

Who would have thought that the guy who made only 19 appearances in all competitions over a 2-year span at Chelsea would go on to be the clear front-runner for Player of the Season for Liverpool this season? Mohamed Salah never looked good enough for the Chelsea teams of 2013/14 and 20124/15 and though he did better at Roma, there was still little to suggest the sensation that he would be for the Reds this season.

We always knew that he had pace, but he has also showed incredible footwork and strength on his way to topping the Premier League goal scoring charts with 28 goals (so far). He has been equally prolific in other competitions too and currently has 36 goals from 41 appearances in all competitions this season. Those are almost Messi/Ronaldo figures. It will be very interesting to see if he can keep these statistics going for multiple seasons – something that many players struggle with. What makes him even scarier is that he is not even a striker but a wide player, so I am not surprised to see him near the top of the assist charts (joint third with 9, behind only Leroy Sané and Kevin De Bruyne). It is no surprise that Roberto Firmino is having his best return of goals in his professional career this season with players like Salah catching the defenders’ attention.

He is an incredible talent and providing he continues to get the support from his teammates the sky could be the limit for the Egyptian. Liverpool now just need to hope they can hold onto him!


Timely returns

Crystal Palace’s 2-0 win at Huddersfield was a huge result for them. They had been on a bad run of form as their team was blighted by injuries, but this victory pulled them closer to safety while dragging Huddersfield back into the mix. Palace currently lie in 16th but while they could drop back into the relegation zone if Southampton and West Ham win their games in hand, they would only lie 1 point away from safety!

Roy Hodgson has proved me wrong with the way he has salvaged Palace’s season from such a poor start and it has only been the injuries to many of his key players that has halted their march to safety.

Wilfried Zaha may have moved to United too soon and seen his career stall, but he has been revitalised back at Palace and shown the talent that he has. He causes so many problems for defenders and they are often left with the decision of letting him get away from them or fouling him. With all their remaining matches coming against teams who are mid-table or higher, Hodgson needs to hope he and his fellow key players can keep a clean bill of health to the end of the season. If so, they may just have enough to pull off what at one point looked unthinkable and stay in the league.


Round 32 predictions:

Crystal Palace v Liverpool – Liverpool win

Brighton & Hove Albion v Leicester City – Leicester win

Manchester United v Swansea – United win

Newcastle United v Huddersfield Town – Newcastle win

Watford v AFC Bournemouth – Watford win

West Bromwich Albion v Burnley – Burnley win

West Ham United v Southampton – Draw

Everton v Manchester City – City win

Arsenal v Stoke City – Arsenal win

Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur – Spurs win

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 23

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 23

Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ of 2003/4 can sleep soundly for another year knowing their record is safe. Manchester City finally came away from a game with no points following a thrilling 4-3 loss at Anfield on Sunday. This result cuts City’s lead over Manchester United (who beat Stoke 3-0) to 12 points, while Liverpool rise up to 3rd, level on points with Chelsea. A second straight loss for Burnley, this time a 1-0 defeat at Crystal Palace, sees them dropping back towards their mid-table rivals, while Arsenal’s 2-1 loss at Bournemouth sees them losing ground to the top 5.

The upset on Merseyside

What a result for Liverpool! Despite having lost Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona earlier in the month, there was no clear impact on their attacking quality as they came out 4-3 winners, courtesy of goals from Oxlade-Chamberlain, Firmino, Mané and Salah (obviously). When I was predicting the results at the end of my last article, I was tempted to pick Liverpool for the win due to how prolific their attack has been of late. Their defence may still need some improvement – 2 goals in the last 10 minutes made it squeaky bum time at the end) but as long as they can continue scoring more than their opposition they can beat anyone on their day.

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Liverpool are the first team to score 3+ goals in a match against Manchester City this season – From http://www.premierleague.com

Firmino and Salah are surely having the best season of their careers (Firmino already has more goals in any competition this season than in any other season), while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is looking better by the week as he gets more comfortable in the squad and scored a lovely goal to give the Reds an early lead. Adam Lallana has recently returned from injury and will continue to improve with more minutes. The one place Liverpool do need to look is at the back. Virgil van Dyke was missing for this game and there were mistakes from individuals, most notably for Leroy Sané’s goal, where Joe Gomez misjudged the flight of the ball to leave Sané in acres of space, then Loris Karius failed to save at his near post.

Liverpool are clearly improving as the season goes on and it’s clear where the money needs to be spent at the moment. We have just under half a month left, so it will be interesting to see if they make any more signings this season.

Taking the next step

Burnley may be having an impressive season (7th in the league with 34 points, behind only the big 6) but it could be going so much better. Injuries to Chris Wood and Robbie Brady have left Sean Dyche with limited attacking options and while they may have the 4th best defence in the league, they are also one of only 5 clubs to have not yet scored 20 league goals this season.

This is a team that are not currently able to win from a losing position and to take the next step and challenge for Europe, Sean Dyche needs to find a striker that can contribute 12-15 goals a season. The beauty of the Premier League is that anyone can beat anyone on the day, so if Burnley can start turning some of these draws and 1-0 losses into wins, they will be able to continue pushing for European football.

Bringing football into the 21st century

I know not everyone has been happy with the impact of the video assistant referee (VAR) in recent tests during cup games, but this weekend gave us 2 incidents that highlight exactly why VAR needs implementing sooner rather than later.

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Wrong decisions could prove crucial at the bottom come the end of the season – From http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport

While it can also be argued that Southampton threw away a 2 goal lead (again, not looking good for Pellegrino), the equaliser from Abdoulaye Doucouré should never have stood as on review it was clearly controlled at least in part by the hand. The 2-2 result leaves the Saints just a point above the relegation zone, so those 2 points they have been denied could prove crucial in their fight for survival.

Swansea will also feel aggrieved that they had to settle for a 1-1 draw at Newcastle considering they should have had a penalty in the first half when Mohamed Diame clearly (although apparently not to the ref) raised his arm to block a goalbound shot. Not only should this have been a penalty, but this would have also left the Magpies playing the rest of the game a man down and more than likely resulted in Swansea taking the full 3 points. The extra 2 points would still leave them bottom of the table, but within a win of escaping the bottom 3.

2 incidents this weekend, plenty of other throughout the season. It may interrupt the flow of the game slightly, but surely it is more important that the matches are not affected by wrong decisions.

Round 24 predictions:

Brighton & Hove Albion v Chelsea – Chelsea win

Arsenal v Crystal Palace – Arsenal win

Burnley v Manchester United – United win

Everton v West Bromwich Albion – Everton win

Leicester City v Watford – Leicester win

Stoke City v Huddersfield Town – Draw

West Ham United v AFC Bournemouth – West Ham win

Manchester City v Newcastle United – City win

Southampton v Tottenham Hotspur – Spurs win

Swansea City v Liverpool – Liverpool win

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Rounds 19 & 20

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Rounds 19 & 20

Hey guys, apologies for the delay in getting this one up, the last couple of weeks have been pretty busy so I was left with a lot to catch up on after Christmas. Hopefully I should be back onto a more regular schedule going forward!

 

We’ve reached the halfway point of the season and City’s winning streak continues while the chasing pack dropped points over the the last 2 rounds. The title is all but guaranteed to be returning to the Etihad and it would require a monumental collapse in the second half of the season for the title race to even be considered a contest now! At the start of the season, Burnley fans would have probably been happy with a point from these 2 rounds (Spurs at home, United away) but given their performances this season they may actually be disappointed with a 0-3 loss and 2-2 draw, which shows just how far the club have done. Towards the bottom of the league table, West Brom may be improving their performances under Alan Pardew, but they are still not getting the results they need and must go back to August to find their last win (1-3 at Accrington Stanley), while Swansea were clearly thinking along the same lines as me when they announced the sacking of Paul Clement mere hours after I suggested change may be needed. Just call me Nostradumbass!

 

Shooting into the record books

39 Premier League goals in 2017

56 goals in all competitions in 2017

6 Premier League hat-tricks in 2017 (8 in all competitions)

What a year Harry Kane has had! His opening goal in the 5-2 rout of Southampton on Boxing day saw him break Alan Shearer’s record for Premier League goals in a calendar year, and by the time the full-time whistle was blown, the Tottenham striker had completed PL hat-trick number 6 for the year – the first player to ever achieve this! As if that wasn’t enough, his 56 goals in all competition this year made him the top goal scorer in Europe’s top 5 leagues in 2017, a record that has been held by either Messi or Ronaldo for the past 7 years.

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Round 19’s results – From http://www.premierleague.com

Kane is an incredible talent, his eye for goal could make you think he is a modern day Alan Shearer-esque number 9, but he is so much more than that as he has the movement and the passing ability to play slightly deeper an link up with the midfield and wingers. He has the aerial ability to cause problems at set pieces, the strength to hold the ball up but also the pace and control to terrorise defenders when on the run. If he can continue to play like this in 2018 – and most importantly on the big stages like the Champions League and international tournaments – then I doubt it will be long before his name is being thrown around in the discussions about the best strikers in football.

Is he the man to fire England to World Cup glory next summer? I’m not sure he has quite the supporting cast for that yet, but if England can continue to develop players of his quality, the 2020 Euros and the 2022 World Cup could become a possibility.

For Spurs, the important thing right now is to find a way to keep hold of him. The ‘top’ teams will surely come calling over the next few transfer windows and Spurs need to do everything they can to convince him to stay. I’m sure the fact Spurs have been a huge part of his development from his academy days will give them a bit of an advantage, but they need to start winning trophies or it will be all but impossible to keep him in a Spurs kit long term.

Silly season starts early

The January transfer window doesn’t open until January (from Nostradumbass to Captain Obvious) but we have already had the first deal announced as Liverpool broke the news on Wednesday that they were signing defender Virgil van Dijk from Southampton for £75m.

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Round 20’s results – From http://www.premierleague.com

Seventy-five million pounds… I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

In my opinion, the money bandied around in football these days is ridiculous, but even by modern standards this figure seems obscene! This figure has smashed the record fee for a defender, but I have seen very little to suggest he is worth anything near this amount. At 26, he is probably only just reaching his best years and still has 5+ years at the top of his game as a centre back, but it certainly feels like Liverpool have massively overpaid for an average defender… again. For £75m, I’d expect Liverpool to never concede while he is on the pitch and van Dijk to pop up with at least 1 absolute worldie per month. However I struggle to imagine him making much of a difference in that crazy spell against Arsenal when they conceded 3 goals in less than 5 minutes.

Van Dijk has a heavy price tag to live up to, for his and Liverpool’s sake, I hope he can.

Shut up and play

Pep Guardiola hasn’t been a fan of the way some teams have been setting up against him this season. Following their 4-0 win over Bournemouth, he was moaning about how many teams are putting 10 men behind the ball in defence and trying to stop City playing through them. But what else does he expect?!

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The Premier League table at the half way point – From http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport

City’s defence is doing better than I expected this year, with 12 goals in 20 games actually being the best record in the league despite having a central midfielder at left back. Scoring against the Sky Blues is not as simple as it sounds. Despite so many teams trying to park the bus against them, their 61 league goals is still 15 goals more than the next team in the goal scoring charts (Liverpool). If teams were to try and take the game to City, that would just leave them even more vulnerable at the back against one of the best attacks in football and while the goals conceded figure may be a little bit higher, I imagine the goals scored figure would be considerably higher.

Teams need to do whatever they can (legally) to get a result and if they feel putting 10 men behind the ball in defence is the best way, then I have no issue with this. Pep will be getting a considerable wage (and the rest!) to find a way to win. This isn’t La Liga, where the top teams only have a few challenges each season, anyone can win in the Premier League on their day. Maybe he should stop moaning about the other teams’ legitimate tactics and spend the time thinking of ways to keep the winning run going.

 

Round 21 predictions:

AFC Bournemouth v Everton – Everton win

Chelsea v Stoke City – Chelsea win

Huddersfield Town v Burnley – Burnley win

Liverpool v Leicester City – Liverpool win

Newcastle United v Brighton & Hove Albion – Newcastle win

Watford v Swansea City – Watford win

Manchester United v Southampton – United win

Crystal Palace v Manchester City – City win

West Bromwich Albion v Arsenal – Arsenal win

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 15

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 15

Round 15 of the Premier League was a good one for the new managers, with Leicester and Everton both climbing the table with wins, while West Brom and Crystal Palace shared the spoils and each earned a point that could prove crucial in the relegation dogfight (Palace have now risen to 18th). West Ham were the only team to have changed their manager this season that did not pick up at least a point, but they put in a good show at the Etihad and led 1-0 at half time before goals from Nicolas Otamendi and David Silva saved City’s blushes. Elsewhere, Liverpool and Chelsea kept up the chase on the Manchester clubs with wins over Brighton and Newcastle respectively, while Arsenal’s 3-1 loss to Manchester United drops them out of the top 4.

He’s a keeper

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David de Gea is arguably now the best keeper in the world – Picture from Flickr – nguyễnlong15

De Gea is arguably one of the best shot stoppers in the world, capable of making reflex saves with hands and feet alike. It will be difficult to name a keeper in the world who on current form is doing better. When you watch him play like this, it is clear why United have the best defensive record in the league (just 9 goals in 15 games).

Perhaps the most incredible thing is when you look at the way he played when he first joined United. Despite having a defence in front of him that contained Ferdinand and Vidic, it took de Gea a while to grow accustomed to the physicality of the league and the amount of aerial balls into the box in comparison with La Liga. However Fergie stuck with him and he has developed into probably the best keeper in the world. This is a great reminder that sometimes a player will take a while to adapt, so if they are given the chance by the manager and the fans, they can overcome a shaky start to become a world-beater.

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The latest Premier League table – From http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport

A chink in the armour

Manchester City may have won their last few games, but if their rivals have been paying close attention they will have noticed a potential weakness. Over the last couple of games, City have looked vulnerable at corners. They conceded from a corner at Huddersfield last weekend and on Sunday against West Ham, while Southampton also failed to capitalise on 2 chances they created from corners.

Vicent Kompany does not currently look the player he was a couple of years ago before a series of injuries, John Stones was improving but is currently out injured, but Otamendi and Eliaquim Mangala have not regularly lived up to expectations since signing for the Sky Blues. In front of the defence, they are not blessed with height  which will also not help them when defending set pieces into the box. While City continue to bang in multiple goals per game they will probably be able to overcome this issue, but if they start struggling to find the net with such regularity then set piece issues could prove costly.

City’s next Premier League match is against Manchester United. The Red Devils may be missing Paul Pogba after his red card against Arsenal, but they still have height up front in Romelu Lukaku and may even draft in Marouane Fellaini and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to give themselves the advantage at set pieces. Jose Mourinho’s team selection for this game will likely give us a good idea of the tactics they will use come kickoff.

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The weekend’s results – From http://www.premierleague.com

On the counter

After Round 13, I wrote about how good the Liverpool attack was doing this season. With Firmino, Coutinho, Mané and Salah, they have the opportunity to rotate their front 3 in order to avoid tiring the players, while also being able to play all 4 in the big games if looking to go super offensive. This attacking capability will only improve with Adam Lallana returning from injury. Against Brighton, Liverpool showed the most effective way to use this attacking quality: on the counter. Glenn Murray’s shot was saved by Simon Mignolet and Liverpool quickly broke the length of the field for Firmino to score their third of the game.

As well as being technically gifted, Liverpool’s attackers are also incredibly pacy, so when they break on a team it is very difficult to defend against. If the Reds can get more solid at the back, then this could be a fantastic tactic for Klopp to use.

 

Round 16 predictions:

West Ham United v Chelsea – Chelsea win

Burnley v Watford – Burnley win

Crystal Palace v AFC Bournemouth – Draw

Huddersfield Town v Brighton & Hove Albion – Draw

Swansea City v West Bromwich Albion – Draw

Tottenham Hotspur v Stoke City – Spurs win

Newcastle United v Leicester City – Leicester win

Southampton v Arsenal – Arsenal win

Liverpool v Everton – Liverpool win

Manchester United v Manchester City – Draw

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?

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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.

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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