December 2018 in the Premier League

December 2018 in the Premier League

Happy New Year all!

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

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


Pushing forward

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

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

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


A crazy few minutes

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

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

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


Great month for Liverpool

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

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

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


Throwback to the past

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

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

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

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


Top 6 prediction

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

 

October 2018 in the Premier League

October 2018 in the Premier League

Just the 3 rounds of football in October as the international break took place after the first week of matches. Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea continue their unbeaten starts to the season with 2 wins and a draw each. City’s results were probably the most impressive of the 3 as they drew with Liverpool (who remain level on points) and won against Burnley and at Spurs. Arsenal matches the results of the teams ahead of them, as did Manchester United – who were denied a win at Stamford Bridge courtesy of a late Ross Barkley goal – and Bournemouth, who continue to surpass expectations and hold onto a spot in the top 6. The only team to win all their games in October was Brighton, who managed 3 consecutive 1-0 victories, while Fulham were the only team not to pick up a single point this month.


The best of football

Football fans don’t always get painted in the best light – often for good reason – but there were some instances this month that really caught my eye and thought were worthy of praise.

The biggest of these has come in circumstances that we wish had not happened, but centres around the reaction to the helicopter crash following Leicester’s 1-1 draw with West Ham that saw 5 people including Leicester owner and chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. Football fans have not always been the best at showing respect for other clubs’ previous tragedies, but the way that the entire football community has responded to the incident is highly commendable.

On a lighter note, the other moments of class have been related to former players returning to their old home ground with new teams. I remember the shock when Juan Mata was sold to United. Mata was a fan-favourite at Stamford Bridge and has understandably become one at Old Trafford too, so it was wonderful to see both home and away fans give him a standing ovation as he left the pitch during United’s 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge. Similarly, it was great to see Manchester City fans give keeper Joe Hart such a warm welcome on his return to the Etihad with Burnley. He was such a big piece of the club through their early years of success and it never felt right with me the way he was so easily discarded by Pep Guardiola, so it was great to see the fans give him the respect he deserved. It’s just a shame that he was left picking the ball out the back of his net 5 times, especially given a couple of huge decisions from the officials really went in City’s favour during the game.


Kick it out

From some of the best of football to some of the worst.

We quickly find ourselves back at Stamford Bridge and in the final moments of the match as Ross Barkley salvaged a point for Chelsea. While I can understand that emotions would run high at a moment like that, there was no excuse for Chelsea coach Marco Ianni to come running out of the dugout and celebrate not just in front of the United bench, but also to direct his celebration towards them. There is no need whatsoever, it is taunting plain and simple and I have to comment José and the United bench for not reacting the first time. But because they didn’t react, Ianni decided to do it again, sparking ugly scenes at the tunnel. It’s great to see that Sarri apologised and that the FA reacted to the incidents, but a £6,000 fine is pathetically small. This is the Premier League, one of the biggest – if not the biggest – and most popular leagues in the world. Children will be watching Ianni’s actions and thinking that’s acceptable. It isn’t! It was a disgusting and blatant act of disrespect towards Mourinho and the United team and the punishment should have been much more severe.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t it this month as the diving epidemic continued in October. Now first things first, credit to the referees who are coming down hard on the players, with Laurent Depoitre, Aboubakar Kamara and Willian all booked this month for blatant dives, while Alvaro Morata was also cautioned for going down easily during a face-off with a couple of Burnley defenders. Diving is disgusting and needs eliminating from the game. The only problem is that as the referee has picked up on these instances of simulation and given the punishment they can (a yellow card is the maximum punishment on the pitch), the FA cannot give any further punishment. This needs to change if the FA are serious about stamping out diving. If a player knows that they will face a 3-match ban for diving regardless of whether or not they deceive the officials (or better yet get a longer ban if their deception is successful) then after a while players will not want to take the risk as they will know they are putting themselves at risk.


He needs to go!

At almost £90m Paul Pogba was always going to be considered an expensive signing, but I would also call him a costly one. The player has often felt like a distraction in the changing room this season, and if it comes to a matter of someone having to leave Old Trafford and the board picking between Pogba or Mourinho, then I am firmly behind keeping Mourinho.

Pogba has been frustrating on the pitch this season. He has some wonderful moments where he plays beautiful passes, but then he also has plenty of other moments where at best he is anonymous and at worse a liability. He lost his man Antonio Rüdiger far too easy at a corner to allow the German to open the scoring and his showboating lost the ball against Everton, leading to the foul by Chris Smalling that earned a penalty.

And then there’s the penalties. The most pathetic thing I have ever seen on a football pitch. forgoing a run-up for over 20 tiny steps, leaving no power in the shot and making him look stupid if he doesn’t score (he was lucky against Everton that Pickford’s save sent the ball back to him to score on the rebound). With the players in the United squad, there must be someone who can take a proper penalty and if United can get some decent players in January then I will have no problem with them selling Pogba for what will likely be a loss financially.


Attitudes need to change

It was good to see that Glenn Murray made such a quick recovery following Brighton’s win at Newcastle. Murray and Magpies defender Federico Fernández clashed heads competing for an aerial ball and as Murray landed, his body folded and his arms did not protect his fall, leading to his head hitting the floor with sickening force.

Full credit to the players and officials for stopping the game immediately and the medics for their quick actions to stop things from getting worse, but watching Match of the Day, I was shocked to hear commentator Guy Mowbray describe the incident as “something and nothing” as the replays showed Murray’s head hitting the ground. Concussion is a serious worry and this is unfortunately not the first time that the actions of people involved in the Premier League have made it look as if they are not so focused on it. I really hope they prove me wrong.


Top 6 prediction

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

 

August 2018 in the Premier League

August 2018 in the Premier League

Hi guys and welcome to my new series taking a look at each month in the Premier League season. Last season, I found that writing about each week’s matches helped get me back into the league after a couple of years of only taking a passing interest, but I did find that sometimes I was left with not much to write after just one round of matches. For that reason, I will this year be doing a monthly look back at the league – so you only have to read me championing VAR once a month! Usually this will be in the first week of the next month, but occasionally it may be a bit later if I get a little behind.

The Premier League made a welcome return in August and football fans rejoiced around the country. Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and (surprisingly) Watford have set the early pace by winning all 3 league matches in the month, while draws for Manchester City and Bournemouth in Week 3 left them leading the rest of the table. It’s not been a great start for Manchester United or Arsenal however, United winning 2-1 at home to Leicester on the opening night before a loss at Brighton and a 0-3 humbling to Spurs, while Arsenal lost to City and Chelsea before finally picking up a victory over West Ham, who are the only team without a point from the first 3 rounds.


Transfer failed

This summer saw a move of the transfer deadline from the end of the month to 5pm on 9th August to make sure that all transfers were completed ahead of the season’s matches beginning. While a nice idea, the fact that the deadline day remained later around Europe led to somewhat of a damp squib, with very few teams making big-name transfers late in the window. What probably didn’t help either is the shortening of the summer due to the World Cup.

While I like the idea of the window closing before the football starts as it stops players holding out in hope of a move – as we have seen from players like Riyad Mahrez in the past – I do not feel that it worked well as teams were afraid to let someone go and then lose someone else after their window closed to a team on the continent. United and Spurs’ transfer activity was underwhelming to say the least, I imagine there would have been more action if they’d had the extra couple of weeks.

I would love to see this trialled again in the future, but the window cannot be for just the English teams; it needs to be across the continent so that all teams are in the same position. If that can’t be done, then let’s just keep the usual date at the end of the month!


Seeing red

What has been wrong with some players in recent weeks? Maybe it was just because we’ve had some time away from football, but it feels as if the red cards were being brandished much more often than usual in the opening 3 rounds. And not just reds for second bookable offences – though there were some of those too – but stupid red cards! Let’s just take a look back at some examples:

  • Week 1 – At 0-1 up, Everton are reduced to 10 men at Wolves after Phil Jagielka tries to compensate for a poor first touch by diving in when the last man, his foot going over the ball and taking the man on the leg. This is one of the softer reds I will mention but such an experienced defender should know better than to dive in as the last man and especially to keep his feet down
  • Week 2 – Jamie Vardy sees red against Wolves after lunging in hard with a high boot in an attempt to win the ball back. While the high boot can bean understandable mistake, he came in with such force it felt like the red mist descended for a moment
  • Week 3 – Richarlison and Adam Smith square up in the box during Bournemouth and Everton’s 2-2 draw. With their heads almost touching, Richarlison brings his forward and makes contact with Smith. While it may not be a “headbutt” in the same vein as Zidane on Materazzi, it is well known that what Richarlison did is a straight red card
  • Week 3 – With the score at 1-1 between Southampton and Leicester, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, already on a yellow card, receives a second yellow for diving in an attempt to win a penalty
  • Week 3 – Huddersfield’s Jonathan Hogg reacts badly to Harry Arter appealing for a hold at a set piece and pushes him over, making contact with Arter’s head

There were also 2 notable incidents that did not lead to red cards but definitely should have. Only minutes into Watford’s 2-1 win over Crystal Palace, Etienne Capoue receives just a yellow card after raking Wilfried Zaha’s achilles with a high foot. He went on to set up Watford’s opener. Somehow, Newcastle’s Kenedy escaped punishment during Newcastle’s draw with Cardiff after kicking out at Victor Camarasa right under the referee’s nose. Karma was a bitch for him though as he failed to complete a pass in the first half and had his injury time penalty (which would have won the game) saved by Neil Etheridge.

With all of these incidents, I can’t help but wonder what is going through the players’ mind in the moment! Football is such a big money business now, I can’t believe players make such a costly mistake so often. If clubs don’t already have a psychologist on staff, then I think they should all hire one and make sessions with them compulsory for player. Not only will it help them deal with rushes of blood to the head on the pitch, it can also potentially help them deal with life in the public eye – especially helpful for young players.


Theatre of nightmares?

What an awful start to the season for United! They may have started the season with a 2-1 victory over Leicester but after that suffered 2 embarrassing defeats, 3-2 at Brighton and 0-3 against Spurs, with 4 of their goals having come from the penalty spot.
Luke Shaw’s resurgence having been given a shot by José Mourinho at the start of the season – he has earned a call-up to the England squad – has been one of the only bright spots s far this season, but there has been little else to be cheerful about.

David de Gea is going through a rough patch and it is showing just how much he has saved the team in recent years as the centre of the defence has been awful. Bailly, Lindelöf, Smalling and Jones have shown nothing to suggest they are good enough to compete at the top of the league and with their struggles so far this season it’s been ridiculous that they were not willing to pay the money to get in a star like Toby Alderweireld. Meanwhile the man United shelled out money for, Fred, has struggled to make an impact so far – though it does appear to take South American players a bit of time to adapt to the league.

The pressure is seriously on José and it appeared to be showing with his rant after the Spurs loss. It does appear that he has some degree of sympathy from the fans as he did not appear to get the signings he wanted from Ed Woodward this summer. United are a big club but right now I cannot imagine them finishing in the top 4. If results and performances don’t improve soon, it’s hard to imagine a change coming at the top.


Top 6 prediction

So as I am no longer doing weekly write-ups it would be too difficult to try predicting all the matches for the next month, so instead I will make my predictions for how the top 6 will look at the end of the season. It will be interesting to see how much this changes as the months go on.

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

 

Eyes On: 2018 FA Cup Final

Eyes On: 2018 FA Cup Final

Last weekend was a busy one for sport in the UK. Not only were the semi-finals underway for both the Pro14 and the Premiership, but British hopes looked good with Simon Yates leading the Giro d’Italia and as if that wasn’t enough, The FA Cup final took place on Saturday!

This was by no means the thriller that some previous finals have been, with few real chances actually being created, but Antonio Conte’s Chelsea ran out 1-0 winners over Manchester United, courtesy of Eden Hazard’s penalty, to provide the Italian with some silverware this season in (possibly) his last game in charge.

Rash decisions

Marcus Rashford has become the darling of fans in recent seasons, but he has not had the best couple of months. His minutes have been limited and when he has been started ahead of Romelu Lukaku, his performances through the middle have not matched the level of what he has produced out wide.

With Lukaku only fit enough for the bench, Rashford was given the start up front but was wasteful with the ball, frequently giving it away in the first half with poor passes or tame shots. Though he did improve after half time, he still couldn’t find a way to get the ball in the back of the net, with an attempted chip over Thibaut Courtois in the 72nd minute his best chance, but easily saved after being too low. He was removed just after this last attempt and right now it is hard to imagine him being a big part of José Mourinho’s plans next season considering the need to compete with free-scoring teams like Liverpool and Manchester City.

World Cup worry

I must admit that I was a bit surprised when Phil Jones was named in England’s World Cup squad for this summer. Though he can be a very good player, he is by no means consistent and has been part of a defence that has been bailed out too many times by David de Gea.

Chelsea’s goal lays squarely at Jones’ feet as he did not position himself well to defend against Eden Hazard and was thoroughly beaten by the Belgian’s first touch. Rather than take one for the team and bringing Hazard down about 35 metres out from goal, Jones tried to chase level with him and dived in to try and get the ball away inside the box, missing the ball completely and taking down Hazard to give away the match-winning penalty in the 21st minute.

There were a number of comments that this should have been a red card as he was the last defender, but I personally approve of the amended law that states a player can receive only a yellow card if there is a genuine attempt to win the ball, avoiding the “triple punishment” of a penalty, red card and subsequent suspension.

What worries me here is that Jones will potentially be playing in an England shirt soon against none other than Eden Hazard and Belgium. Hazard knows he has the beating of him and I would be shocked if Belgium don’t try to create 1-on-1 matchups between the pair should Jones feature in that match.

A classy touch

As President of the FA, Prince William would usually be presenting the trophy to the winners, but due to his brother’s wedding earlier in the day, he was unable to make the match (even royals have to miss football for family events). With a need to find someone else to present the trophy this year, I think the FA made the perfect decision.

The FA chose to give the job to Jackie Wilkins, the widow of Ray Wilkins, who passed away in April aged 61. The former England midfielder made over 300 appearances for Chelsea and Manchester United, before going on to help coach Chelsea in 1998-2000 and then 2008-2010, including 2 spells as caretaker manager in 2000 and 2009. For the FA to pay tribute to Wilkins in this fashion was wonderful to see. I have not always agreed with their decisions, but this one was spot on!

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 24

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 24

Liverpool came into Week 24 of the Premier League looking to continue their hot run after becoming the first team to beat Manchester City in the league this season. They came away with nothing following a 1-0 loss at bottom of the table Swansea, despite some close chances in the dying minutes. This is the real attraction of the Premier League: on their day anyone can beat anyone, which is a lot less likely in most of the top European leagues.

Elsewhere, Stoke saw an immediate improvement under new manager Paul Lambert. Their 2-0 victory over Huddersfield lifted them out of the relegation zone and put more pressure onto Southampton manager Manuel Pellegrino, who could only hold Spurs to a 1-1 draw this weekend. Meanwhile Watford’s 1 point from the last 4 league games marked the end of the Marco Silva’s tenure as he was sacked following their 2-0 loss at Leicester.

Untitled
I doubt this was how Liverpool were planning to build on their victory over City

Unfortunate accident

I hate to start this week on a low note, but what a horrible injury for James McCarthy to suffer! The Republic of Ireland international suffered a horror fracture of the tibia and fibula as he attempted to tackle West Brom striker Salomon Rondon, ending his season. This was a horrible injury and it is no surprise that the replays were halted right before the injury itself so as not to distress viewers. The quick reactions of Jordan Pickford, Jay Rodriguez and Rondon to call a halt to the game and get medical assistance to McCarthy was proof enough of the severity of the injury. I also couldn’t help but feel sorry for Rondon, who had done nothing wrong but was visibly affected by his part in the injury and I couldn’t help but be impressed that he was able to put that to the back of his mind and continue playing for the remainder of the game. This was a complete accident and nobody could be blamed for it. As horrible as it is, injuries can and will happen in sport.

It is unfortunate that this has happened now to McCarthy. He has only played in 6 games this season (4 in the league) having only just recovered from another injury. He is a very good player and when on form an important part of the Everton squad, but such long-term injuries could make it difficult for him to get back into the squad next season. Hopefully the recovery goes well and we see him back in the league on a more regular basis next season.

Every cloud has a Silva lining

When I have been looking at managers at risk over the last few weeks, someone who I did not consider was Marco Silva (now formerly) of Watford. Watford may not have been on the best run, but they were still in the top half of their table, which is a great achievement considering the quality of the league. However what I didn’t account for was the willingness of the Pozzo family to change their manager when they feel they can do better. From the fact that Javi Gracia has already been named as Silva’s replacement, it would seem that this has been in their mind for a while.

Watford started the season so well, but in recent months they have gone off the boil and struggled for results. They currently lie 10th in the league, but the league is ridiculously tight this season and they are only 4 points outside of the relegation zone – 20th placed Swansea are only 6 points behind them now following their win last night! When the difference between mid-table and the drop is so small, every result matters and that would have put Silva at risk with the owners, however their statement was very telling.

pltab
The bottom half of the table is incredibly tight, it’s impossible to predict who will finish in the bottom 3

In the statement announcing Silva’s removal, Watford cited Everton’s approach for him following their decision to replace Ronald Koeman, saying that since that saga there had been “a significant deterioration in both focus and results to the point where the long-term future of Watford has been jeopardised.” Strong words, but they do have a point. Watford were flying high before Everton’s approach, yet since then they have struggled for results and began to drop down the table. Silva never publicly distanced himself from the Everton role and you can’t help but wonder if his heart has been in the job since then. It could just be unfortunate timing with the run of bad form, but it certainly looks as if the Everton approach has affected the squad.

The good news for Silva is that he is still considered a good quality manager, I will be shocked if Pellegrino makes it to the end of February and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Silva as one of the names towards the top of Southampton’s list.

Transfer talk

Probably the biggest story of the round was the announcement that Manchester United agreed a swap deal with Alexis Sanchez moving to Old Trafford and Henrikh Mkhitaryan going the other way. I think this a great deal for both parties involved.

Arsenal and Sanchez have been going through the motions for a while now and it was only the inability to sign a replacement that stopped Sanchez moving to Manchester City in the summer. Sanchez was ready to leave and has not performed at his best this season, but a move to United will likely (hopefully) see him back to his best. He is a versatile player, able to lay up front, on either side or just behind the striker, which allows Mourinho plenty of tactical flexibility when picking his squad. It also means that all the attacking players will have to up their game to compete against him rather than just the players in a single position. Since 2014/15, Sanchez’s 85 Premier League goals scored or assisted is behind only Harry Kane (108), Serio Aguero (104) and new teammate Romelu Lukaku (86) so he will surely improve the United attack.

Mkhitaryan has not had the best of times at Old Trafford. He had some great moments but also a number of dreadful moments that lost him Mourinho’s trust. It was clear that he was surplus to requirements with United, yet I can see him playing well at Arsenal as I think they will fit his style of play. Hopefully such a talented player will be able to turn his career around and show the Premier League just how good he can be.

This deal works well for both clubs as United offload a player that they do not need while getting in a quality player at no cost. Arsenal would have lost Sanchez for free in the summer, so they have managed to effectively get a player that should fit their system that they likely wouldn’t have been able to get otherwise.

From one completed transfer to transfers that I wonder if they will happen or are even being looked into. Fraser Forster has lost his place in the Southampton starting line-up to Alex McCarthy, while Joe Hart’s loan spell at West Ham has turned into a nightmare as he has fallen behind Adrian in the pecking order. With the World Cup this summer, both of these keepers need to be playing regular football in order to earn their place in the England squad, so I would not be surprised if they are looking for other clubs – though Forster could be banking on a return to the starting XI if/when Pellegrino is replaced. Liverpool are looking to become more competitive and the signing of a new keeper would probably help this.

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City got straight back to winning ways with a 3-1 victory over Newcastle

But would they want to make a transfer now? While Hart and Forster have impressed in the League, neither was having the best of seasons, so would they be much of an upgrade on Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius? Nick Pope’s form for Burnley in place of the injured Tom Heaton has been immense, I struggle to imagine one of these players warming the Burnley bench next season. Heaton is probably the one closer to international recognition, so a move to a club competing at the top of the league and in Europe would certainly help his international aspirations.

Round 25 predictions:

Swansea City v Arsenal – Arsenal win

West Ham United v Crystal Palace – Draw

Huddersfield Town v Liverpool – Liverpool win

Chelsea v AFC Bournemouth – Chelsea win

Everton v Leicester City – Draw

Newcastle United v Burnley – Burnley win

Southampton v Brighton & Hove Albion – Draw

Manchester City v West Bromwich Albion – City win

Stoke City v Watford – Draw

Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester United – Draw

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 15

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 15

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

He’s a keeper

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

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

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

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

A chink in the armour

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

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

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

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

On the counter

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

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

 

Round 16 predictions:

West Ham United v Chelsea – Chelsea win

Burnley v Watford – Burnley win

Crystal Palace v AFC Bournemouth – Draw

Huddersfield Town v Brighton & Hove Albion – Draw

Swansea City v West Bromwich Albion – Draw

Tottenham Hotspur v Stoke City – Spurs win

Newcastle United v Leicester City – Leicester win

Southampton v Arsenal – Arsenal win

Liverpool v Everton – Liverpool win

Manchester United v Manchester City – Draw