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.

 

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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.

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