Premier League: February 2020

Premier League: February 2020

We’re in to March and in a shock moment, the unbeatable Liverpool have fallen to a defeat. The Reds went into the final day of the month looking for a 19ᵗʰ consecutive league win that would be a record across all 4 of England’s professional leagues, but they found themselves losing 3-0 at home to Watford. At the other end of the table, Brighton’s 0-1 loss to Crystal Palace on the same day means that they remain the only team in all of England’s top 4 leagues to have not won a match in any competition.


Premier League Round-up


Liverpool lose

“He’s cut! He’s cut! The Russian’s cut and it’s a bad cut. And now it’s Rocky Balboa coming after Ivan Drago!”

– Rocky IV

It finally happened: after 44 league games unbeaten, Liverpool lost at home (of all places!) to Watford (of all teams!). Liverpool looked poor in this game as Watford put them under pressure, with Ismaila Sarr scoring the first 2 goals and playing a key role in Tory Deeney’s to defeat the Reds – who had just 1 shot on target – by a score of 0-3.

For the last couple of months, I have been suggesting that barring a massive slip-up, Liverpool had the title confirmed, but they have been far from great in recent weeks and have now lost 3 of their last 4 games in all competitions following a Champions League loss to Atlético Madrid and Tuesday’s FA Cup loss to Chelsea. Is this the beginning of the slide?

Not likely, as they are in such a strong position. With 28 league games played, they have the same amount of wins as Arsenal’s “Invincibles” managed in the 2003/04 season and they find themselves on the same amount of points as runners-up Chelsea managed that year, 11 less than Arsenal. Yet they will find themselves leading Manchester City by 19 points, or more if City fail to win their game in hand. Such has been the lack of competition from their league opponents this year.

Will they lose the title from here? Highly unlikely as I still see the teams below dropping point even if Liverpool do have a bit of a bad run, but after their bad luck in recent title run-ins, they need to make sure that they get back to winning ways soon. With March seeing them host Bournemouth this weekend, host Atlético in the second leg of their Champions League Tie, travelling to Goodison Park for a Merseyside Derby and returning home to face Crystal Palace, it is imperative that Liverpool get some good results from these games.

Sky Blue Brexit

Probably the biggest news affecting the Premier League this month was the announcement that Manchester City would be banned from European competition for the next 2 seasons due to “serious breaches” of UEFA’s financial regulations. As well as reigniting the race for the top 4 (or top 5 if City finish in the top 4 as expected), it has left City fans worrying about who will choose to move on, as stars like Sergio Agüero and manager Pep Guardiola may decide that European football is too big of a draw to ignore for the next 2 seasons.

To me, there is another discussion that should be had for the rest of the season: the players used in the remaining games. With the Premier League looking all-but gone this season and top 4 not important now due to their European ban, the focus should be on keeping the stars fit to compete in this season’s Champions League, with a view to winning this season before their ban takes effect.

This would also allow them to look to the future in the league matches. We already know that David Silva is leaving at the end of the season, Leroy Sané has been a transfer target and others may chose to move on. Without European football, City may not be able to pull in the big names, so this is a chance to look at the younger players in the squad like Phil Foden, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Gabriel Jesus to see if they are good enough to become key members of the starting lineup if required, while also trying to find a centreback combination that can be successful if Aymeric Laporte is unavailable.

Breaking new ground

February saw the Premier League’s first official mid-season break, as Round 26 was spread over 2 weekends. While I like the decision to have a mid-season break as it will help keep the players fit during a long season, I do not personally agree on the break being split over 2 weeks.

I completely understand why it has been done that way, to maximise television revenue by giving the broadcasters 2 weeks to broadcast 1 round of games, however it does lead to some level of inequality. A team forced to play on the first week of the break could desperately need that break a week earlier if they are struggling with injuries to put together a viable starting XI, while a team who play on the second week could find themselves struggling in an extra match as they return following a break in football.

There is also the issue of the weather. We know these days that weather will cause havoc at this time of year and having all games on the same weekend in my view makes it fairer as poor conditions in the second week will force teams to reschedule in an already busy schedule, but poor conditions in the first week could allow those teams to just play a week later while still getting a break from football, leading to them having a less congested fixtures list.

For me personally, a mid-season break is the right idea, but all teams should have the same week off in order to keep things fairer across the park.

Aiming high

We all know that a high boot is illegal in football as it endangers other players. But when does it suddenly become legal? Answer: when it’s a striker attempting a bicycle kick in a crowded box. Such was the case in Arsenal’s 3-2 win over Everton, as Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s opener was allowed despite his scissor kick bringing his foot dangerously close to the head of defender David Luiz.

I have some sympathy for defenders and midfielders in cases like this, as these overhead kicks are often more dangerous than high boots that everyone else gets penalised for around the pitch – my mind immediately goes to a red card given to Nani against Real Madrid – despite not even getting close to the head – the most important part of the body!

Why do we allow these overhead kicks in crowded areas? Let’s be honest and admit it is purely for the spectacle of seeing the player execute one of these for a shot at goal – visually they look great, in terms of safety… less so.

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Premier League: November 2019

Premier League: November 2019

The title race took a strong swing in the direction of Liverpool in November, as Liverpool beat defending champions Manchester City 3-1 at Anfield, before a 2-2 draw for City at St James’ Park extended Jürgen Klopp’s side’s lead to 11 points going into December.

Tottenham’s struggles continued for the first half of the month, before Mauricio Pochettino was replaced with José Mourinho, which appears to have changed their fortunes in the following weeks. Pochettino was quickly followed into unemployment by Arsenal manager Unai Emery given his marching orders following a 2-2 draw at home to Southampton, while Quique Sánchez Flores made it to the end of the month but no further after a 2-1 loss at Southampton on the last day of the month marked the end of his time at Watford, his sacking being announced on December 1st.

Watford end the month bottom of the table, with Norwich and Southampton joining them in the relegation zone, though Everton, Brighton and Aston Villa are all within 3 points of the bottom 3, though all with better goal differences.


Premier League Round-up


Crime and punishment

Nobody ever wants to see a player get injured, so my thoughts went out to André Gomes as I watched him suffer a serious ankle injury against Tottenham at the start of the month.

A clumsy challenge from Son Heung-min brought the Portuguese midfielder down, but as he went down his foot got caught beneath him, resulting in a fractured and dislocated ankle. Son was clearly distraught at the injury his tackle had caused, but was then given a red card for the tackle – despite referee Martin Atkinson having appeared ready to produce a yellow card until noticing the injury. It was later confirmed that the severity of Gomes’ injury was taken into account, with the red card being given for endangering a player.

As much as I sympathise with Gomes, a red card for Son was an absolute joke. The challenge was clumsy and deserving of a yellow, but by no means dangerous, and the injury was simply the result of an unfortunate accident. In my opinion, a n injury to a player should not be accounted for when deciding on a punishment in these kinds of situation. A simple nudge in the back that is deserving of no more than a free kick could otherwise become a red card if the fouled player fell awkwardly and hurt themselves, meanwhile a much more cynical and dangerous challenge could only receive a yellow as it didn’t cause injury.

Thankfully, the red card was later overturned by the FA, while Gomes is expected to make a full recovery. Hopefully lessons will have been learned when a similar situation inevitably occurs again in the future.

And your winners… and new Premier League Champions…

It’s not even Christmas yet, but the title race looks all-but over. A 3-1 victory over the defending champions at Anfield was a big result in the title fight, but following Liverpool’s 2-1 win over Brighton and Manchester City’s 2-2 draw at Newcastle, the Reds have now opened up an 11-point lead after just 14 games.

While Liverpool have a history of letting a lead slip (sometimes literally, sorry Steven Gerrard!), I find it hard to imagine that it’s going to happen again this year. Liverpool are yet to lose a Premier League match this season and have only dropped points on one occasion, so even if City were to win every remaining game, it’s questionable if Liverpool would drop enough points to lose the lead.

The thing is, I don’t see City going the rest of the season without dropping more points. Leroy Sané has been a big loss to the attack despite the strength in depth there, while Gabriel Jesus doesn’t appear to adequately replace Sergio Aguero whenever the Argentina is missing. Worse though is at the back, where the failure to replace the outgoing Vincent Kompany has left them short at the back following Aymeric Laporte’s injury. Fernandinho is a quality player, but he isn’t a centreback, which teams are able to take advantage of, while he is then missed in the holding role, putting even more pressure on a questionable defence. Whether they wait for Laporte to return, or look to bring in another centreback in January, it could be that it is already too late.

I’m not a betting man, but if I was, then my money would be going the way of Liverpool.

Getting ridiculous

Southampton’s 2-1 win over Watford at the end of the month is a match that is going to stick in my mind for a while. While it was the match I watched during a long-overdue catch-up with an old friend, what I will remember it for is 2 of the worst decisions that I have seen all season.

I’ve thought for years that goalkeepers get too much protection and that was proved after Ben Foster tried to flick the ball past Danny Ings and, realising that Ings had the turn on him, pulled him down in the box. Instead of a penalty for Southampton, a free kick was given against Ings for leaning into Foster. Anywhere else on the pitch and against any other player, that would never go against Ings, so to see it here is ridiculous – thankfully it didn’t impact the result at the end.

That said, the only reason it didn’t impact the result was for a goal from Ings that should never have stood. As Moussa Djenepo rounded José Holebas, he appeared to stumble and stretch out an arm, with replays clearly showing him flicking the ball goalwards, allowing him to regain control of the ball and cut it back for Ings to score the equaliser. Under the new handball rules, it does not matter if Djenepo deliberately handled or not – any contact with the hand/arm by an attacking player in the build-up to a goal is considered a handball, so this should have been clearly ruled out. Unfortunately, VAR apparently didn’t pick up on this as they did not have all angles available to spot the offence. I don’t understand what the point of VAR is if they don’t have access to all available angles. I remain a firm supporter of VAR, but so far this season it’s been a shambles! With the nature of the business, every decision is important, as shown by Flores’ sacking the day after this loss. A “sorry, we got it wrong” after the fact is not good enough.

I bid you adieu…

November 2019 was a dark month for Premier League managers at top clubs. Mauricio Pochettino was shown the door at Tottenham and José Mourinho brought in to replace him, while Unai Emery was also shown the door at Arsenal, with Freddie Ljungberg taking over as interim head coach. Quique Sánchez Flores managed his last match in his 2nd spell at Watford this month as well, with his sacking being announced on December 1st. Meanwhile in Manchester, Ole Gunnar Solskjær remains on the precipice and I currently feel that it will be very difficult for him to make it to the end of the year still in charge at Old Trafford.

I understand why Pochettino was removed given the results this season, but I think that he has been in a similar situation to Solskjær, in that he has not received the support he needed from his club’s chairman. Emery however was not getting results despite bringing in expensive players like Nicolas Pépé, while the apparent lack of leadership, the incident with Granit Xhaka and the consistent failures to create a solid defence meant that his days were going to be numbered. Flores as well was no shock, given that Watford – a club already known for frequently changing their managers – were rooted to the bottom of the table. A 2-2 draw at Arsenal was a high point, but that was eclipsed by a 8-0 loss to Manchester City. With the way results were going, it was too big of a risk to stick with him if they wanted to avoid relegation.

José felt like a bit of a gamble, but things have started well for him at Spurs. Dele Alli has hit form again and results are going their way, even if 2 Premier League games in a row saw them almost throw away a 3-goal lead. United tonight will be a big test, but I’m sure that he will want to get one over on his former team, and I’m sure his players will be up for it too.

Who will be next: Solskjær, Marco Silva or someone else?


Finally, today is a first for my Premier League recaps as I have some content to include that I can take no credit for. Football has been a big part of me keeping in contact with my friend Chris since we stopped working together. A Spurs fan (he has provided all the pictures this site has used from White Hart Lane and the Tottenham Hotspur Staudium), I was very interested to hear his thoughts on Pochettino’s sacking and it was safe to say he had plenty. I joked to him that if he wanted to write something, I’d publish it for him, and within no time, I had an email waiting for me with what I’m about to show you.

Bear in mind that this was written on the evening after his sacking was announced, so José’s early success may have helped, but I think that we still stand by what he has written as the switch in managers looks to be a band-aid on a deeper wound.

Take it away Chris:

‘The Game is About Profit, Not Glory’ – why Tottenham’s issues lie at the top

In 2001, ENIC decided to purchase a controlling stake in Tottenham Hotspur F.C. from Lord Alan Sugar and Daniel Levy became chairman of the club. In these 18 years Tottenham have had 12 managers, an average net spend of £5.4 million per window and 1 league cup win.

As of writing, a quick search tells us that Tottenham Hotspur is the 9th most valuable football club in the world at an estimated $1.6 billion (Forbes; May ’19). ENIC paid an initial £21.9 million for the controlling stake (Telegraph; Dec ’00).

The Spurs way, ever since the ‘glory days’ headed by club legend Nicholson, has been ‘The Game is About Glory’ – in his great words, ‘It is better to fail aiming high than to succeed aiming low. And we of Spurs have set our sights very high, so high in fact that even failure will have in it an echo of glory’. Should you ask any footballing fan what their definition of success is for their team, or any team, the last word that would come to their lips is ‘profit’.

On 27th May 2014, Tottenham appointed Mauricio Pochettino as Head Coach on an initial 5-year contract which started, what most football fans across the globe believed to be, the new era of Tottenham Hotspur. With the plans in full swing for a new, world class stadium, a strong, young and promising spine throughout the starting XI, the club needed rejuvenation and Pochettino seemed to be the answer.

In 5½ years, Pochettino has taken Tottenham to a new level. Leaving the club with the most wins by a Spurs manager in the post-war era (159), 4 consecutive top-four PL finishes and their first ever Champions League final, have ENIC, Daniel Levy and Tottenham Hotspur F.C. made a grave mistake? Tottenham have gone from being a club known for their inadequacy, ‘lack of guts’ and on the wrong end of the infamous ‘St Totteringham’s Day’ for so long, too long. There is one man responsible for changing that mindset, that gut, that desire and putting Tottenham on the global stage.

Not even 6 months after taking the club to their first ever Champions League final, the board of Spurs have taken the ‘brave’ and ‘difficult’ decision to part ways with their finest manager in many of our fans’ lifetimes. The first period of Pochettino’s tenure where he has faced criticism has been matched with rash, baffling dismissal instead of being matched with the support, investment and trust he has earned.

The performance of the team cannot be ignored in the recent past. The incredible Champions League run has eclipsed the Premier League performance of the club and, as of October 2019, Tottenham hat the joint most Premier League losses of 16, joint only with relegation-candidates Brighton & Hove Albion. This, however, was pre-warned by Pochettino who, within a press conference, was clear that having not signed any players from 31st January 2018 to 2nd July 2019, having significantly under-paid and important players not being offered suitable new contracts would result in ‘a painful re-build’. I have no doubt that this has been an expectation for Pochettino for some time who has had to work with limited investment deserving of his achievements over the course of his employment by Levy.

As of writing the shortest candidate for the job is Jose Mourinho. A natural winner when surrounded by money and a lot of it to pay the best players the best money for the biggest transfer fees. Is he, the fans (and Daniel Levy) naive to think that anyone is able to do a better job for the club than the man just fired? Only time will tell but, unless Levy and ENIC decide the game is about glory, rather than profit, it’s going to be a long road.

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Premier League: September 2019

Premier League: September 2019

3 became 1 in September as Liverpool were the only team to go through to the end of September still unbeaten, while Manchester City and Leicester both fell to defeats at Norwich and Manchester United respectively. That win was United’s only one in the league during the month as a loss at West Ham and dismal 1-1 draw at home to Arsenal left with just 9 points, well off the pace of their rivals. Liverpool are already beginning to look pretty comfortable at the top of the table, and while you imagine City will still be safe in 2ⁿᵈ place, the rest of the top 4 and European qualification spots look very much up for grabs at the moment. Meanwhile at the bottom, Watford have already changed managers, with Quique Sanchez Flores returning in place of Javi Gracia but they still find themselves rooted to the bottom of the table, while Villa and Newcastle closed the month in the bottom 3, 1 point away from safety.


Premier League Round-up


Backup needed

It was a classic tale of David versus Goliath. Defending champions Manchester City came to Carrow Road in Round 5 and it would have been only the most optimistic/deluded Norwich fans that would have thought they could come away with a win. Norwich had Patrick Roberts unavailable as he was on loan from City and an injury list almost long enough to create a starting lineup, to the point that they had 2 keepers on the bench just to fill all the spots – even Tim Krul and Ben Godfrey were playing hurt. The Canaries’ starting XI had been assembled for £6.45m, compared to City’s lineup in excess of £400m. There was only one way this match was going… 2 hours later, City were walking off the pitch with an L beside their name, courtesy of a 3-2 shock victory.

While this was an incredible result, the big feature of this match was the awful play at the back from City. With Aymeric Laporte out injured until 2020, John Stones and Nicolás Otamendi were paired together at the back with disastrous results, as mistake after mistake gifted Norwich chances. Then things got even worse midweek as Stones was ruled out for up to 6 weeks with a muscle injury.

When Vincent Kompany moved on in the summer, I thought it was an odd decision not to bring in a 4ᵗʰ centreback. Stones and Otamendi have often appeared to have costly mistakes in them, but more importantly it was leaving them dangerously short. In their absence, Fernandinho has had to fill in at CB and while Rodri’s introduction has meant he hasn’t been missed so much in the midfield, he is still a midfielder playing out of position, which is going to cause issues.

In my opinion, City need to bring in another centreback in January. I’m not saying they need to break the bank to bring in a superstar, but they need to bring in a specialist at the position so that they have suitable cover when their starters aren’t available. In a title race as close as it looks like this one could be, the decision to not bring in a replacement for Kompany could be the difference.

Play the kid!

Chelsea have had a mixed start to the season, but with the transfer ban, they deserve a lot of praise for their willingness to use young English talent. Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori have been key players in the opening months of the season, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi look certain to have key roles on their returns from injury.

By contrast, Phil Foden has made just 1 appearance off the bench in the first 2 months of the league, for just a handful of minutes. Foden has looked an incredible talent, but he is not getting the minutes he requires to take a step forward and is now being overtaken by other players in terms of promotion to the senior national team.

Now, he is surely learning and benefiting from the tutelage of Pep Guardiola and training with so many superstars, but it’s hard to believe that he will trusted to take over from David Silva with very little topflight experience if there are other big names available at the right price. He needs to get minutes under his belt now to prove that he can cut it at the top level. For me, Foden needs to look at a move away from the Etihad and to another Premiership club in January. He needs to sit down with Guardiola and see where he fits in the team’s plans. If they can guarantee him a significant place in the squad for next season, then he needs to look at a loan move to prove he deserves those minutes; if they can’t make any promises then perhaps it is time to look at a more permanent move, as Jadon Sancho did.

Pick one… Manager chopping block

It took just 4 rounds of Premier League football before we got our first managerial casualty of the season: Javi Gracia was sacked at the start of the international break following 1 draw and 3 losses, being replaced by former manager Quique Sanchez Flores. Inspired by this, my “Pick One” for this month is: who will be the next Premier League managerial casualty?

First up is Frank Lampard. This will be pretty short as I don’t see there being any chance of Lampard being removed from the job midway through the season barring an awful series of results. He has been hampered by the transfer ban and loss of Eden Hazard, but is doing a great job of bringing through young English talent to build the team around for the coming seasons.

Another manager in a rebuilding phase at an elite club is Ole Gunnar Solskjær. The Norwegian is overseeing a horrible period at Old Trafford as the team tries to rebuild, with players like Antonio Valencia, Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez moving on. While there were a few big money signings in Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, the rebuild is going very slowly, with a lack of new faces and a focus on the existing players and youngsters coming through. While United are goig through a bad series of results, they have been missing a number of star players like Paul Pogba, Luke Shaw and Anthon Martial, but it is clear that there are holes in the squad, such as an experienced striker to lead the line and score 20+ goals per season. For me, the issue goes beyond Solskjær to Ed Woodward and he should be the one to go, but the chances of him falling on his sword are minimal. Woodward is currently saying United will be patient, so I think the former United striker is safe for now, but if pressure continues to build on Woodward, I’m sure the situation will change rapidly.

The best placed manager at risk is probably Unai Emery. Arsenal may be in the top 4 but they are already will off the pace of Liverpool and City and even find themselves behind Leicester City. The Spaniard is in his second season and has just broken Arsenal’s transfer record on Nicolas Pépé, who has struggled to match the performances of 18-year-old academy graduate Bukayo Saka. All the while, the defence that has been the clubs obvious issue for years continues to be a liability. With Chelsea, Spurs and United struggling, this was Arsenal’s chance to shine… and they aren’t doing it.

Staying in London, and if Emery is in trouble then Mauricio Pochettino is definitely in danger. Spurs came into the season the team likeliest to challenge Liverpool and City for the title, but find themselves (at time of writing) in 6ᵗʰ, behind Leicester and West Ham. Too many key players seem miles off their best as their contracts come towards an end, while Pochettino has not seemed satisfied with the way things are being ran, stating a few months ago that he is only the coach and has no say in transfers. Results and performances need to improve soon, otherwise if Pochettino isn’t sacked, he may choose to walk.

While all of these managers are in some degree of danger, the man who I feel is currently on the hottest seat is Marco Silva. The former Watford manager as been at Everton since May 2018 and the club has worked hard to put together a quality side, yet they finished behind newly-promoted Wolves and 7 points from 7 matches leaves them just 2 points above the drop zone with a worse goal difference than Aston Villa. For a club of their stature to be in this position is unacceptable and I honestly can’t see him lasting far beyond the international break.

Who do you think is most at risk?

May 2019 in the Premier League

May 2019 in the Premier League

It’s hard to believe but the Premier League season is already over for another year. April had just 2 rounds of football left to play but there was still plenty of importance to these matches, as Cardiff’s 2-3 loss to Crystal Palace saw them become the final team to be relegated with 1 game left. At the other end of the table, Chelsea and Tottenham managed to hold onto the top 4 spots to earn Champions League football over Arsenal and Manchester United, while the title chase went down to the final day and saw Manchester City emerge victorious, beating Liverpool to the title by a single point.


A very special season

We have had title races finished later in the season (“Aguerooooooooooooooooooooo!”) but this season’s battle between Manchester City and Liverpool will be one that lives long in the memory. Coming into the day, it was highly likely that both teams would win their respective matches to give City the title, but there was still a chance that a miracle could happen for the Reds. It almost did too, as Sadio Mané put Liverpool ahead in their match against Wolves and Glenn Murray put Brighton ahead. Sergio Agüero equalised almost immediately and Aymeric Laporte put City ahead just 10 minutes later to put them back ahead in the title race and goals from Riyad Mahrez and İlkay Gündoğan confirmed the trophy would be staying at the Etihad for another year.

City and Liverpool were head and shoulders above the rest of the league this season. They were top 2 for goals scored (95 and 89 respectively, next was Arsenal with 73), goals conceded (23 and 22, Chelsea and Spurs were closest with 39) and clean sheets (20 and 21, next was Chelsea with 16), leaving the gap between 2nd and 3rd at 25 points and a goal difference of 43! Of the 10 preceding seasons, Liverpool’s 97 points would have won them the league in all but the 2017/18 season. They lost just 1 league match all season: a 2-1 loss at the Etihad, which involved John Stones clearing the ball off the line just 11mm before a goal would have been awarded. What ultimately cost Liverpool was too many draws in the early months of 2019, as they drew at home to Leicester and away at Manchester United (who struggled with injuries in this game), West Ham and Everton between January and March to throw away what had been a 7 point lead heading into 2019.

Both teams will be aiming to be as good, if not better, next season, while you would hope that the other teams from the top 6 will also improve. We could be in for a treat next season!


Going too far

Jefferson Lerma scored a beauty of a goal on the final day of the season in an eight-goal thriller between Crystal Palace and Bournemouth, but should he have even been on the pitch?

Just before halftime in the penultimate match against Tottenham, Lerma was involved in an awful moment with Son Heung-min. The Korean had won a foul but as h reached out for the ball well after the whistle was blown, Lerma came in to step on his outstretched hand. Son certainly overreacted by shoving Lerma in the face and was deserving of his red card, but Lerma pathetically chose to stay down on the ground curled up in a ball and should have received at least a yellow for his part in the altercation.

Later in the match, he and Dele Alli got into an altercation on halfway, which resulted in the pair receiving yellow cards, which should have seen Lerma dismissed at this point even if he had not been red carded earlier.

Against Palace, he may have scored a stunning goal off the woodwork, but was also involved in a couple of moments that left a bad taste in my mouth. In a moment reminiscent of the week before, Lerma reached out for the ball after being fouled, only for Zaha to kick the ball out of his hands, leading to a shoving match, however Lerma once again avoided any punishment and Zaha was cautioned. Lerma did not appear to let the issue lie, though, as the build-up to Palace’s final goal involved a strong run by Zaha that could have potentially been stopped by a good tackle by Lerma, only for him to instead try to body-check him and fail miserably.

From his altercations to his diving, Lerma was an embarrassment this month. Bournemouth would do well to move on from him quickly as he will likely bring bad press to the club if he continues in this vein.


Thanks everyone for reading this season! I have plans for a couple of Premier League posts over the summer and will back with a similar series of articles next season.

November 2018 in the Premier League

November 2018 in the Premier League

3 more rounds of Premier League football were crossed off the list in November. Manchester City and Liverpool both remain unbeaten in the league this season after City won 3/3 (including a 3-1 humbling of derby rivals United at the Etihad), while Liverpool drew at Arsenal but got back to winning ways against Fulham and Watford.

Meanwhile it was announced this month that VAR will come to the Premier League next season so in celebration, I will avoid moaning about the slew of poor decisions this month and instead leave that to Charlie Austin… Park Life!


A star in sky blue

Sergio Agüero netted his 150th Premier League goal in their 5-1 thrashing of Southampton to cement himself as one of the greatest strikers to have played in the league. The Argentine was always going to be remembered by scoring 23 goals in 34 matches in his debut season (including that goal in the eleventh hour to win the league), but his exploits over the years since have left it in no doubt and his 151st goal in the match against United has moved him to 8th in the Premier League goals chart, ahead of Michael Owen. What makes it even more impressive is that his goal:game ratio is so much higher than the players around him, with a ratio of 0.69 (151:219) comparable to only Thierry Henry (0.68) and Harry Kane in the top 20!

Granted, he has benefited from being in a great team, but he has also missed substantial time with a number of injuries over the years, while he has often had competition from a number of strikers and yet kept his place as the top dog through 3 managers and one caretaker manager. At 30, he still has a couple of good years in him and does not appear to be showing any signs of slowing down, while the quality around him to supply him with the ball is improving. Alan Shearer’s record of 260 goals is likely beyond him, but I would not bet against him beating Wayne Rooney’s 208 goals before the end of his career.


A mixed start

It’s safe to say that Tottenham’s young centre-back Juan Foyth has had a mixed start to his Premier League career. Signed in the summer of 2017, the 20-year-old made his league debut at the start of the month at Wolves, where he almost cost Spurs the win by giving away 2 penalties, which were both converted to turn a comfortable 0-3 into a close 2-3 that should have actually been 3-3 had the officials not wrongly disallowed a goal at 0-2 for what they adjudged to be an offside by Matt Doherty.

Credit to Mauricio Pochettino, though, as he kept Foyth in the starting XI the next week away to Crystal Palace. He had a shaky start again, conceding a cheap corner after playing an errant pass in the vague direction of Hugo Lloris, but he popped up in the right place at the right time to score the only goal of the game after Harry Kane’s shot was blocked.

After the game, Pochettino described him as a “potential top player” and it is really great to see him doing this as the manager’s faith will help Foyth’s morale and motivation so much. He does need to be careful though as he was lucky not to concede a 3rd penalty in 3 matches when he came through the back of Eden Hazard in the box with Spurs ahead 1-0, only for the referee to wave play on.

Spurs have had a number of talented centre-backs play for them in recent seasons. With the right management, has Pochettino found another gem?


First one down

Slaviša Jokanović became the first managerial casualty of the year following the 2-0 loss at Liverpool with former Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri coming in as his replacement. It’s never nice to see a manager given the boot, but in this case it’s hard to argue that there was any option. After 12 matches, they found themselves with just 5 points from a win and 2 draws. They were scoring goals, but not consistently enough, while they were shipping far too many goals and could not settle on a consistent set of personnel at the back. The Premier League is a huge step up from the Championship and while they signed a number of players with experience in the league (including the loan signing of World Cup winner André Schürrle) the quality of performances has not been good enough. Fulham need to strengthen their squad if they want to stay up, but if things are going poor then it is understandable to want to change manager ahead of the January transfer window so that he has time to settle in and decide what personnel he needs. The change has certainly appeared to have a positive impact on the team as they won their first game under Ranieri 3-2 at home to Southampton and have also drawn against Leicester, almost doubling their points in the 3 games he has been in charge for, which has left them just a point (and 5 goals) away from safety.

Jokanović is clearly a good manager. Unfortunately for him, this was just one step too far this time around.


Top 6 prediction

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

 

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 The Final Rounds

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 The Final Rounds

Hey guys, sorry for the delay in getting back to this series. It took me a little longer than I expected to catch up on life after my trip away so by the time I had caught up the final round of games was upon us.

So the Premier League is now over for another season. Manchester City are the Champions of England and have broken most records on the way to their title. Meanwhile West Brom’s valiant efforts under caretaker manager Darren Moore were not enough to overcome the odds and they were relegated along with Stoke and Swansea (even more galling as Cardiff have been promoted). Chelsea’s loss at Newcastle on the final day means that they will be playing in the Europa League next season along with Arsenal and Burnley, while Manchester United, Spurs (who waved goodbye to Wembley with a goal-fest against Leicester) and Liverpool will be joining City in the Champions League next season.

 


Record Breakers

What season City had. They ended up proving my prediction that their defence would lose them the league completely wrong, not only winning by 19 points, but also facing the fewest shots over a season since Opta records began (236). Their possession (71.9%), total passes (28,242) and pass accuracy (89%) were all records since Opta records began, as was their 15.9% shot conversion rate, which helped them towards a league-record 106 goals in a season. Their 32 wins and 4 draws saw them become the first team in the history of the league to reach 100 points, 10 more than the famed Arsenal “Invincibles” of 2003/4! This is a fantastic achievement and while I would expect their rivals to improve and get closer to them next season, it is hard to imagine this team not defending their title in 2018/19.

Along with all these records they broke, they also held the top 4 spots on the list of assists this season, with Kevin De Bruyne’s last minute assist for Gabriel Jesus earning him the top spot with 16, one ahead of Leroy Sané and 5 ahead of Raheem Sterling and David Silva.

In fact, pretty much the only record City didn’t break this season was that of most goals for a player in a 38-game season. That went to Golden Boot winner Mohamed Salah, whose opener against Brighton put him on 32 goals for the season, not only 2 goals ahead of Harry Kane’s impressive haul of 30 goals, but also enough to break Shearer, Ronaldo and Suarez’s record of 31 goals. Unlike City’s dominance, I doubt that Salah will be able to live up to these heights next year (though I would not be surprised with him making it into the 20s), but the guy has been on fire this season and rightfully earned his spot in the record books. It will be interesting to see if Liverpool can hold off attention from the more attractive clubs like Man City, Barcelona and Real Madrid, especially if he fires the Reds to Champions League glory.


Down but not out

With the season coming to an end, teams will now begin to turn their eyes to the future and start considering who they will sign for the coming season. While Stoke, Swansea and West Brom go down to the Championship, there are some players who I am sure will be leaving, either for another Premiership team or a different league. Stoke especially have a number of Premiership quality players who I will likely be finding a new club in the coming months:

Having spent time at Bayern Munich and Inter in the past, there is no way Xherdan Shaqiri will follow Stoke to the Championship. The Swiss international was one of Stoke’s stars in an awful season and topped the stats for goals (8) and assists (7) in the league this season. Only Joe Allen and Jack Butland played more minutes for Stoke than him in the league in 2017/18. With Marko Arnautovic leaving for West Ham and Jesé not working out as hoped, Shaqiri was not left with much help up front but still looked impressive during a doomed campaign. He may decide to move back to the continent, but if he does choose to remain in the Premier League, I could see him working well as a rotational player in the Spurs attack. They need more depth and more players who can chip in with goals and Shaqiri can certainly provide that, whilst also allowing the men up front to stay fresh throughout the season.

As mentioned above, Joe Allen’s 3,142 minutes in the league for Stoke was bested only by Jack Butland this season. He was also second to Shaqiri for assists (5) while also scoring 2 league goals. Though the numbers may not be anything special, he is a much more talented player than these stats suggest. The “Welsh Xavi” played 189 more passes than anyone else in a Stoke shirt and his 1,977 touches was almost 200 more than the next on the list for Stoke. He may not be the flair player that top teams will be looking for, but with 7 years of Premier League experience under his belt – including 4 at Liverpool – he will be an attractive prospect to a team towards the middle of the table hoping to push for Europe. With it announced that Scott Arfield will be leaving Burnley for Rangers, I think that Burnley are a potential landing spot for Allen, as they will want to get some players in to help them live up to this season’s exploits and also hold their own in the Europa League.

Jack Butland played more minutes than any Stoke player in the league this season and finished the season with the most saves of any keeper (144) despite Stoke having the joint worst number of goals conceded. A potential member of Gareth Southgate’s World Cup squad, there is no way that he will be playing Championship football next season. He will want to maximise his chance of playing for England by signing for the best team he can, and as such I can see Liverpool as an attractive option, or Arsenal if they decide to move on from Petr Cech. Both squads have had somewhat questionable defences over recent years but will still look more secure than what he has had in front of him at Stoke, while both teams will appreciate a young, talented shot stopper who is English-qualified but due to relegation can probably come at a discounted price.

With so many influential players likely to leave Stoke, it will be a difficult job for whoever is in charge next season to bring them straight back into the top flight.


Back fighting?

What a great end to the season for Newcastle! At one point earlier in the season they looked at real risk of relegation, but pulled themselves up the table in 2018 and despite a string of losses towards the end of the season finished on a high with a dominant 3-0 victory over Chelsea to finish 10th. The Premier League needs a Newcastle side that is competing in the top half of the table, but that has been a rarity in recent seasons. But what do they need to do to give themselves the best chance of this?

  • Keep hold of Rafa – Rafael Benitez is a former Champions League winner and has arguably worked wonders with the side he has this season. A manager of his quality should not have been relegated to the Championship but such was his willingness to take on the role at Newcastle in 2016 despite their precarious position, and his willingness to see the Magpies back into the Premier League at the first opportunity, he has the good graces of the fans. The worry now will be losing him. He has been frequently frustrated by the lack of support financially in the transfer market and many will be worried that he may look for greener pastures, especially with an attractive position available at Arsenal and possibly a spot at Chelsea too. With Rafa at the helm, I feel that this Newcastle side can do better than expected, but I do worry for them should he leave.
  • Make the loans permanent – Newcastle’s results improved in 2018 following the arrivals of Kenedy and Martin Dubravka on loan. These 2 players made such a huge impression on matches the improvement in performance was clear to see. If Newcastle want to compete in the right parts of the league, they need to be getting players like this on the books as permanent deals rather than as short-term loans, otherwise the squad will struggle to get the consistency over the seasons.
  • Get a reliable striker – Especially in the first half of the season, Newcastle struggled with goals. Though they improved as they went through 2018, only Burnley (36) scored less goals out of the top 14 than Newcastle’s 39. Ayoze Perez was their top scorer with a “whopping” 8 goals, whereas fellow strikers Dwight Gayle and Joselu only managed 6 and 4 goals respectively. When your centre back is 4th on the list of goals scored with 3, you know there’s a problem! Newcastle desperately need a player who can score 12-15 goals per season if they want to regularly challenge in the top half of the table. Jay Rodriguez may not have head the best couple of seasons since his injury issues, but 7 goals in a struggling West Brom team suggested he could be getting back to his best and a better supporting cast. Southampton may have only just avoided relegation this season but they will be at risk next year if they don’t substantially improve after the season. Charlie Austin missed a number of matches through injury and yet still ended up as their top scorer with 7 goals. He’s a quality striker but has never quite managed to hold down a starting spot at Southampton on a regular basis, so I would not be surprised to see him move on to a team that can guarantee him a starting spot while also providing him the players around him to provide him with the opportunities. But of course for this, Newcastle will need to likely put their hand in their pocket and spend a bit of money.

And each of these ends up coming back to the same point: Newcastle needs to spend money to get the players in that Rafa Benitez wants. I have genuinely felt sorry for Newcastle fans in recent years when prospective takeovers have fallen through. If Mike Ashley will continue to refuse to spend money then he needs to find a buyer soon!


 

Thanks to everyone who has been reading this series over the past year. I do not know if I will do exactly the same next year but writing these has really helped me get back into the Premier League after a couple of years of not really caring, so I’m sure there will be something. Watch this space guys!

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 34

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 34

Congratulations to Manchester City whose 1-3 win at Wembley, combined with United’s shock defeat at home to West Brom, won them their third Premier League title, proving my early season prediction wrong in the process. Despite the win at Old Trafford, West Brom’s chances of survival are still slim (at best) as they are at least 9 points behind Swansea – who have a game in hand – with an inferior goal difference. Andy Carroll’s late equaliser may have doomed Stoke to life in the Championship, while Southampton’s 2-0 start against Chelsea was ruined by 3 goals in 9 minutes and leaves Mark Hughes close to his first ever relegation as a player or a manager.

Congratulations also to Wolves, who are now guaranteed a place in the Premier League next season!


What’s next for the best?

City’s run to the title has been dominant this season! In 33 matches, they have only failed to take maximum points 5 times (2 losses and 3 draws) and they currently have a goal difference of +68, 25 higher than the next best goal difference (Liverpool). Pep Guardiola will have very little competition for Manager of the Season – I would argue only Sean Dyche can potentially beat him to this award – as he has made this team almost unbeatable in the toughest of the top domestic leagues. He has clearly worked hard on developing his players and it is helping players like Raheem Sterling begin to live up to their potential.

But the Sky Blues cannot rest on their laurels and will need to work hard to defend their title next year, especially if they plan to progress further in the Champions League.So what do they need to look at ahead of next season:

  • Plan B – As dangerous as City have been in attack this season, they will eventually come up against teams who set up well enough to stop the Sky Blues’ current tactics. For that reason I feel they need to look at finding another striker. Jesus and Aguero (if he stays) are both fantastic strikers but they have similar playing styles, I would argue that Guardiola needs to find a taller and more physical striker to give their attack an extra dimension and a more direct option. Imagine the fun De Bruyne and Sané would have crossing the ball in to a target man. The quality of the supporting players is such that it will not require a top name to fill this spot, as they will get the chances and just need to be able to finish them – just look at how Kelechi Iheanacho has struggled since leaving the Etihad. If they could get him, a player like Fernando Llorente would probably have more success in this team than he has had at Spurs this season.
  • Increased depth – If City want to defend their league title and win the Champions League next season then they need to improve their depth. They were heavilylinked with Riyad Mahrez in January and I think that he would be a great addition for them as he, Sané and Starling will give Guardiola great selection headaches and allow for greater rotation, while Phil Foden should also continue to get more minutes as he develops. Fernandinho is probably one of the most underrated players in the squad and I would recommend Guardiola try to find a capable understudy to ensure City do not struggle if he picks up a long-term injury, while the team could also do with improving their depth at fullback, as we saw this year that the quality wasn’t quite there behind Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy, who missed so much of the season he will almost feel like a new signing next season.
  • Settled defence – 
    26535165526_452185cb2b_o
    Is Pep set for the Manager of the Season award? – Image from Flickr – Pedro Haas

    Last week when discussing the importance of David de Gea to United’s season, I compared some of his key stats to the main keepers in the other Top 6 clubs. Despite playing the same number of games and Ederson having to make only half as many saves, United had still managed to keep more clean sheets in the league so far this season. City have a number of quality centre backs (Stones, Kompany, Laporte and Otamendi) yet they still concede more goals than they should. Injuries have not helped, but the form of these players has been up and down like a yo-yo. It will be difficult for City to keep scoring at such an impressive rate next season, so they need to make things safer at the back. They have the players, now they just need to perform.


Crime and punishment

2 challenges this weekend, both awful, but different punishments. Ben Davies put in a horrible high challenge on Vincent Kompany with his studs catching him not far below the knee. How he did not receive a red card I don’t know, I can only assume the officials had a bad angle as he only received a yellow. Even more ridiculous was the lack of punishment from Mike Dean when Marcos Alonso planted his studs in the top of Shane Long’s calf right under the referee’s nose. It was an unnecessary and horrible challenge, but luckily as Dean missed it Alonso will receive a retroactive punishment, unfortunately Davies will not receive any further punishment as the referee clearly saw the incident and acted on it during the match. To me, this is ridiculous.

This isn’t the first time this season that I have suggested introducing an idea from rugby, but I think that football could benefit from a citing system. In rugby, a player can be cited for an on-pitch incident regardless of whether the referee has seen and acted on the incident. This means that if an independent panel finds that the referee’s punishment has been too lenient – as with the yellow card to Davies – the player can still receive a fitting punishment for his actions. For such a professional sport, there is far too much of an opportunity for a poor refereeing decision to impact the league, not just that week but for the next couple of weeks! I can see already the arguments that football has managed fine without this for years and that it is taking away the authority of the referee, but nobody treats the referee with any respect or authority as it is (just look at the hordes of players around him every time he blows his whistle) and surely as fans of the sport we would rather see the right decisions being made and players receiving the punishments they deserve. Just imagine if Davies nets the winner against Brighton…


The race for Europe

Who would have thought all those months ago when Burnley started the season well that they would still be in with a shot of qualifying for the Europa League with just 5 games remaining. They had a poor spell towards the middle of the season but have recovered well and are back to winning ways, just 2 points behind Arsenal. Regardless of whether they do qualify, for a team with the smallest playing budget in the league, to be pushing for such a high league position – despite having lost Robbie Brady and Tom Heaton to injury early in the season –  is fantastic and I would argue Sean Dyche is the only person who can realistically compete with Guardiola for Manager of the Season honours.

They have been solid at the back all season and players like James Tarkowski and Nick Pope have deservedly received England call-ups during the season, but earlier in the season they did not necessarily look overly dangerous up front. Recently though, the decision to pair Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes has made them look much more dangerous up front. It reminds me of Stoke’s progression in the past from a defensively organised team under Tony Pulis to a team that could also attack well under Mark Hughes, but this has been done over the space of a season and with the same manager, which is very impressive.

The high league position will be huge for the Burnley budget and with such an impressive manager I think players will be interested in coming to Turf Moor next season. However I have faith that Dyche will be smart with his signings and continue to bring in players that complement the team. Could a return for Danny Ings or Charlie Austin be on the cards this summer? I wouldn’t bet against it.


17/4/18 – 23/4/18 predictions:

So the next week of football will be interesting for the table as some teams try to make up their game in hand while other teams end up playing twice. I have no idea how soon I will be able to write about any of these games (it will most likely not be until after the weekend), so rather than class it as a specific round of matches, I have decided to group all these matches together for my next set of predictions. Typical cup football getting in the way of league schedules, eh?

Brighton & Hove Albion v Tottenham Hotspur – Spurs win

AFC Bournemouth v Manchester United – United win

Burnley v Chelsea – Draw

Leicester City v Southampton – Leicester win

West Bromwich Albion v Liverpool – Liverpool win

Watford v Crystal Palace – Draw

Arsenal v West Ham United – Arsenal win

Stoke City v Burnley – Burnley win

Manchester City v Swansea City – Man City win

Everton v Newcastle United – Draw

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 33

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 33

Manchester City were denied the opportunity to celebrate winning the title against their fierce rivals Manchester United following a United comeback at the Etihad that saw them go from 2-0 down to 3-2 up. While City will still win the league (though maybe not away at Spurs on Saturday), it will have felt good for United and their fans to escape the title celebrations that would have been at their expense. Despite resting a number of regulars in attack, Arsenal’s 3-2 win over Southampton brings them closer to Chelsea – who could only draw 1-1 at home to West Ham – while the Saints’ loss leaves them 3 points away from safety, but with a game in hand over Crystal Palace.


The Manchester Derby

There was so much that took my attention during United’s 2-3 victory over City, but many of the points wouldn’t join into a coherent post of its own, so I have instead looked discuss my thoughts on the match in a quick-fire fashion:

  • Full credit to United for coming back from 2-0 down at half time and win 2-3. Against a team as good going forwards as City, going 2 goals down in the opening 30 should be terminal as teams would generally have to open themselves up so much to find the goals needed to draw level that they would leave gaps at the back for City to exploit and score more goals. Away from the tactical side of things, to go 2-0 down in 30 minutes away at your local rivals should hit the morale so bad, it is a measure of the quality of the United players that they held their heads high and kept pushing to get back in the game rather than capitulating under the occasion.
  • That said, how City did not get a penalty for Ashley Young’s challenge on Sergio Aguero is beyond me! The days of a challenge being legal as long as the player got the ball first are way back in the past, Young may have got the ball first but his foot then clearly came over the ball and caught Aguero high. There is no doubt in my mind that it was a penalty and in today’s climate I would have found it difficult to argue against a red card for the fullback.

    table
    A comparison of the keepers who have played 5+ games for clubs in the top 6 this season (stats from the league only)
  • Where would United be without David de Gea? The Spaniard’s distribution may not have been at its best in the build-up to Ilkay Gundogan’s goal, but he more than made up for it with a world-class save from Aguero late on. Only City (24) have conceded less goals than United (25) this season and de Gea’s 16 clean sheets puts him top of the league this season, but these stats do not show the full story. His 103 saves in the league this season is the 4th most of any keeper this season, but you need to go down to 12th in the list to find the next keeper currently playing for a top-6 team. Compared to his fellow top-6 keepers, de Gea is having to make too many saves! Data from Opta suggests that where de Gea has conceded 23 goals (excluding own goals) he would have been expected to concede 37 goals, the highest differential for a keeper in the league this year. This guy is saving United’s season! United need to look at upgrading their defence this summer as they cannot continue to rely on de Gea every season.
  • Following Young’s challenge on Aguero mentioned above, United broke on City but the attack was stopped by a foul on Jesse Lingard. While the foul was clearly stopping a chance to counter against the Sky Blues, Lingard’s decision to roll around on the floor 100 times (only a slight exaggeration) was absolutely pathetic! If the FA are serious about getting simulation out of the game and attempting to deceive an official by exaggerating the effect of a challenge then he has to be banned for this.

The Great Dane

It must be hard when in the same team as Harry Kane, but Christian Eriksen rarely seems to get the love he deserves in the Tottenham attack. Considering the quality of Kane and Alli and the improved form of Son Heung-Min it is understandable, but he is such an important part of the attack. In terms of goals scored he is on pace to have one of his best seasons ever – especially if the FA do award him the second goal against Stoke rather than switch it to Kane – and in recent weeks he has done a great job of keeping Spurs’ attack going while Harry Kane has been injured. His ability to play across the width of the pitch behind the striker allows him to move around and pick up the space that gives his team the best advantage, while he has a great range of passes and is lethal over a dead ball.

Spurs need to improve their depth throughout the squad, but I think they would struggle to adequately replace the Dane if he was out with an injury.


Double trouble

When you’re fighting against relegation, you should be trying to do everything you can to get all your best players on the pitch at the same time. To me, therefore, it is a shock that Javier Hernandez seems to start so rarely for West Ham. With 34 points, they are only 6 points outside the bottom 3 so every goal they can score is vital.

Marko Arnautović has been revitalised since moving from the wide position to the central striker role, but Chicharito is another proven goal scorer and has showed in the past that he is more effective with regular playing time rather than appearances off the bench. With relegation still a threat, I think David Moyes needs to find a way to fit both of these players into the starting XI as a strike partnership. I can’t imagine he’d be able to pick either player next season if West Ham get relegated…


Round 34 predictions:

Southampton v Chelsea – Chelsea win

Burnley v Leicester City – Draw

Crystal Palace v Brighton & Hove Albion – Palace win

Huddersfield Town v Watford – Watford win

Swansea City v Everton – Draw

Liverpool v AFC Bournemouth – Liverpool win

Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester City – Draw

Newcastle United v Arsenal – Arsenal win

Manchester United v West Bromwich Albion – United win

West Ham United v Stoke City – West Ham win

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 21

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 21

The final round of Premier League games in 2017 gave us one of the shock results of the season as Manchester City’s winning run came to an end with a goalless draw at Crystal Palace, which the home team could have won with a couple of late chances. Elsewhere around the country Chelsea put 5 past a weakened Stoke lineup to leapfrog Manchester United – who drew their third consecutive game – into second place, while Swansea City’s first match under new manager Carlos Carvalhal ended in a 2-1 victory away at Watford.

 

Screenshot_2018-01-01-16-47-20
I spent far too much time trying to find the Spurs match for my Round 21 predictions

The long wait

Can someone please explain to my why the match between Tottenham and West Ham was not played along with the rest of the Round 21 matches?!

I’m sure the Spurs players will have appreciated the longer break over the festive period, but this means that they are now playing on Tuesday (at Swansea), Thursday (West Ham) and Saturday (Everton), with just 1 rest day between each of these games. This hardly seems fair on the squad as they will likely have to rotate heavily against 3 teams whose performances are all improving over recent rounds.

I have mentioned before that Spurs do not have the same strength in depth as most of their rivals at the top of the table, so this first week of 2018 could prove critical in their chances of qualifying for the Champions League next season.

A costly trip?

While the 2 points dropped at Selhurst Park have little impact on Manchester City’s lead, I’m sure there were some fans watching the game thinking that this could be the moment the title could become a competition again. Impressive young star Gabriel Jesus was in tears after a knee injury forced him off midway through the first half and the best midfielder in the league Kevin de Bruyne was stretchered off following a heavy challenge in stoppage time.

Luckily for City fans the injuries look like they may not be as bad as initially thought, as de Bruyne was seen hobbling post-game, but Jesus looks to be out for at least a month. As of now, this injury leaves Sergio Aguero as the only striker available to Guardiola – and there have been plenty of stories linking him with a move back to Spain in this transfer window.

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The final results of 2017 – From http://www.premierleague.com

Personally, I already thought City would be stupid to allow such a quality player to leave even before this injury, so it will be interesting to see if they decide to hold onto him until the end of the season or get another starting-quality striker in… or perhaps both to ensure they have sufficient cover following any further injury.

Timely returns

Sam Allardyce has revitalised Everton since he was hired to replace Ronald Koeman! Despite having the same personnel, this weekend’s loss at Bournemouth was their first league defeat under Big Sam, and even that was caused by an individual error and an unfortunate deflection. As if this wasn’t good news enough for Everton fans, two quality players have returned from long-term injury layoffs at just the right time to help their team.

Winger Yannick Bolasie returned against West Brom on Boxing Day after over a year out with a cruciate knee ligament injury, while midfielder James McCarthy made his first start of the season following a hamstring injury that prematurely ended his 2016/17 season.

To get such experienced and talented individuals back after so long will be like having 2 new signings, but with the added benefit of them having already been part of the club so being aware of the direction Allardyce is looking to take the team. It can take a new signing time to gel at a new club, whereas these returning players will be hoping to make a more immediate impact and secure their places in the gaffer’s long-term plans.

 

Due to the quick turnaround between Round 21 & 22, combined with a bit more New Year’s celebrating than planned, I won’t be predicting Round 22’s results as most of the New Years Day games will be over by the time this is up, but I will be back with my Round 23 predictions in my next Ramble.

In the meantime, Happy New Year to you all, I hope 2018 brings you happiness and good health.