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 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 Round 17

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 17

Revenge was served by Leicester City boss Claude Puel midweek as the Foxes left Southampton – who sacked him in the summer – with all 3 points following a 1-4 victory. The swap of managers earlier in the season has propelled the team back up the table and they are now only 5 points outside the top 4. Clubs who have replaced their managers during the season fared relatively well in Round 17, with Everton’s victory at Newcastle solidifying their spot in the top half of the table, Crystal Palace coming back from 0-1 down to beat 10-man Watford 2-1, West Brom keeping a clean sheet in a goalless draw at Anfield and West Ham following up the weekend’s victory over Chelsea with a draw at home to Arsenal.

At the top of the table, Manchester United and Chelsea recovered from their losses at the weekend to win at home to Bournemouth and away to Huddersfield respectively, while Manchester City made history with their 15th consecutive Premier League victory.

 

Guardiola’s team

“Putting my neck on the line here: Manchester City will not win the league this year.” – Football Ramble – Premier League 2017/18 Round 5

12 rounds on, how wrong is my prediction looking? When I wrote that I was talking about how their defence would cost them the title this year, but while their are certainly still question marks over their defenders, they appear to be improving as a unit and are being helped a lot by the massive upgrade between the sticks – Ederson has been fantastic for them and will surely be adding to his sole Brazil cap in the next few years – as well as receiving help from the pressuring tactics of the players further forward. Even if they do concede, the quality they have further forward makes you think they can always score at least one more.

Watching the City players this year is like watching Barcelona during Guardiola’s tenure, but a lot more exciting. They are no longer spending 20 minutes just passing the ball around at the back, instead they are getting the ball into the final third and then ripping defences apart with a series of one-touch or two-touch passes. They do not have tall, physically imposing players up front, instead relying on smaller, technically gifted players like Aguero, Jesus, Silva and de Bruyne. Fernandinho may not be N’Golo Kanté but he has quietly become a very reliable rock in front of the defence that allows the attacking talent to let loose.

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The scores of all the midweek games in the Premier League – From http://www.premierleague.com

Guardiola has done some fantastic work at City since his arrival, improving players both individually – Sterling and Stones look better by the month – but also as a unit. It is very difficult to imagine this team dropping 11+ point more than their rivals over the rest of the season and while I don’t think they will win the Champions League this season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them be the last English team standing.

A much-needed return

Tottenham’s 2-0 win over Brighton was notable for a couple of things: Serge Aurier’s cross as he was fouled that looped over the keeper into the goal and – more importantly here – Erik Lamela’s first start in 14 months.

The Argentine has recovered from a hip injury just in time for a congested fixture list over the festive period that will require teams to rotate their players effectively. I have mentioned previously that Spurs’ lack of depth has been costly this season, so to get another quality attacking talent back will allow slightly more rotation of Lamela, Kane, Eriksen, Alli, Son and Llorente. Son hes been been pitching in with some goals recently and Eriksen will always be looking to score/assist from a dead ball situation, so if Spurs can start winning games regularly without Harry Kane’s name on the score sheet, it will allow them to give him a rest when needed to keep him in top condition. It wouldn’t surprise me if they try to get another goalscorer in January though to increase the competition for positions.

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Competition is high for the final Champions League position, and also around the relegation zone – From http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport

At the other end of the pitch, with the news that Toby Alderweireld will be out until at least February, it will be interesting to see if Spurs try to bring in another centre back during the January transfer window in order to give them more options at the back. Considering how well he played when given the chance last year, I imagine they’re regretting selling Kevin Wimmer in the summer.

He’s back… for now

One of the biggest positives for Leicester in their improvement since bringing in Claude Puel has been the form of Riyad Mahrez. The Algerian has been back to his best recently – dodgy blonde barnet not withstanding – and has been a big part of the Foxes’ climb up the table. His goal on Wednesday night in the 1-4 defeat of Southampton was impressive, especially when you see that he actually slipped as he received the ball but was able to get back to his feet, get himself in position and fire into the net from outside the box.

The big worry for Puel and Leicester fans now is whether they can keep hold of him. It is no secret that he wanted to leave in the summer and you have to imagine that his recent resurgence will once again make him an attractive prospect for a team searching for an attacking star. If he were to move to another English team, I would imagine Spurs or Arsenal (especially if they lose Alexis Sancez) would be the favourites, but it also wouldn’t surprise me to see him leave the league for a team on the continent.

Round 18 predictions:

Leicester City v Crystal Palace – Leicester win

Arsenal v Newcastle United – Arsenal win

Brighton & Hove Albion v Burnley – Burnley win

Chelsea v Southampton – Chelsea win

Stoke City v West Ham United – West Ham win

Watford v Huddersfield Town – Watford win

Manchester City v Tottenham Hotspur – City win

West Bromwich Albion v Manchester United – United win

AFC Bournemouth v Liverpool – Liverpool win

Everton v Swansea City – Everton win

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 14

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 14

Premier League fans did not have long to wait to see their team play again as the league was on a short week between Rounds 13 and 14. 6 of the top 7 won while Spurs’ 2-1 loss at Leicester drops them behind Liverpool and Burnley. Raheem Sterling’s last minute goal against Southampton helped the Sky Blues make history with their longest ever run of consecutive Premier League wins (12 and counting). Towards the bottom of the table, Wayne Rooney’s return to the Everton starting XI proved costly for West Ham as he scored a hat-trick – including a goal from his own half – in a 4-0 victory that puts them 5 points above the relegation zone.

 

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The results of Round 14 – From http://www.premierleague.com

Staying relevant

I was going to write about this after the weekend but chose a few other topics instead. That turned out to be the perfect decision following Ashley Young’s brace in Manchester United’s 2-4 win at Watford on Tuesday.

Young and Antonio Valencia have done a fantastic job of keeping themselves relevant through the years at Manchester United. Initially used as wingers, the changes in tactics and formation over the years have limited the need for out-and-out wingers, while the club has brought in players who can work as a hybrid winger/striker or winger/attacking midfielder like Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard. However rather than disappear from the club and move on to pastures new, they have both reinvented themselves by dropping back to the fullback positions. They are both still full of pace despite being in their early 30s and work hard to not be a weak link in defence whilst being a anger going forward with their quality of crosses and shots.

Many teams this season are also choosing to play 3 at the back and look at wing-backs, which benefits these players even more as they have the fitness to run up and down the touchline all game. I would argue that they have quietly gone about their business in becoming some of the best full backs in the league and it is certainly benefiting United.

Depth counts

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

In the past I have worried that Spurs’ lack of depth could prove costly for them this season and it currently seems to be the case. With Toby Alderweireld injured, Spurs are limited in how much they can change things up at the back and between Europe and the Premier League, the remaining players are tiring and getting caught out. In attack, they are in a similarly bad spot with Fernando Llorente struggling to find the new meaning they must continue to rely on Kane and Alli, who are getting limited chance to rest between their Spurs and England commitments.

Contrast with United who handed a rare start this season to Jesse Lingard against Watford, Chelsea who brought in match-winner Antonio Rüdiger in place of César Azpilicueta, Liverpool who were able to bring top scorer Mo Salah off the bench or City who could start David Silva on the bench despite missing Leroy Sané through illness. Unless they make some quality signings in January, I worry that their current lack of depth could cost them a spot in the top 3 or even, if they continue to progress in the Champions League, the top 4.

 

Round 15 predictions:

Chelsea v Newcastle United – Chelsea win

Brighton & Hove Albion v Liverpool – Liverpool win

Everton v Huddersfield Town – Everton win

Leicester City v Burnley – Draw

Stoke City v Swansea City – Stoke win

Watford v Tottenham Hotspur – Draw

West Bromwich Albion v Crystal Palace – West Brom win

Arsenal v Manchester United – Draw

AFC Bournemouth v Southampton – Draw

Manchester City v West Ham United – City win

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 9

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 9

Another week, another win for the underdogs. This time Huddersfield have played the role of David as they take down the Goliath that is Manchester United. Elsewhere in the league Chelsea escaped losing 3 league matches in a row with a late surge to beat Watford 4-2, while Manchester City remain unbeaten following a 3-0 victory at home to Burnley. Towards the other end of the table, Leicester – currently without a manager after the sacking of Craig Shakespeare – won 2-1 against Swansea, while Ronald Koeman was shown the door following Everton’s 5-2 loss at home to Arsenal.

 

Buy British

Anthony Martial burst onto the Premier League scene in the 2015/16 with 11 goals in 31 league games and was one of the few good points of Louis van Gaal’s reign at Old Trafford. However he has found his chances more limited under Jose Mourinho and has also found it harder to score. Against Huddersfield, he was probably lucky to not be penalised after appearing to lash out following a strong challenge from Tommy Smith. This got me thinking, maybe the issue is that he is not ready for the physical demands of the Premier League.

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David de Gea took time to adapt to the Premier League – Picture from Flickr – nguyễnlong15

The Premier League is always touted as being a physical league and England has always been known as a country that is more famous for its physically dominant players like Tony Adams rather than its more skillful players. In that regard, it is almost the exact opposite of La Liga. Even some of the more skillful English players of recent years, like Wayne Rooney, are always noted as being physically strong and you rarely hear of him or Harry Kane being out-muscled. For players who are used to less physical leagues – Ligue 1 and La Liga for example – this would be a big change of style that they may struggle to get used to. Victor Lindelof (signed from Benfica) had a poor afternoon at Huddersfield and was culpable for the second goal due to misjudging the long ball forward. Renato Sanches has also not yet lived up to the hype at Bayern Munich or Swansea and again this could be down to the Premier League and the Bundesliga being more physical than the Primeira Liga that he was used to.

This isn’t even a new phenomenon; so many players have excelled in other leagues but struggled in England – such as Diego Forlan – while even David de Gea initially looked like he could be a bust until he got used to the physicality of the league and the difference in style. As great as a player can look when playing internationally or in other leagues, there is no way to know how they will adapt to the Premier League until they are featuring regularly. I’ve noticed that players who are used to the Bundesliga don’t seem to struggle that much and I think that this is because this is probably the closest of the top European leagues to the Premier League in terms of playing style and physicality. It must also be remembered that there are very few top leagues where the teams towards the bottom can even consider beating the top teams, whereas the Premier League loves to remind us this season that anyone can beat anyone!

We always hear that English players are overpriced, and to be honest when you look at the quality of imports that were brought in for the same money that is often true, but at least with an English player who has spent his career playing in the Premier League and Championship, they are already used to the physical demands of the league. While the ceiling may be higher for an import, the floor may be much lower, so if in doubt, I can see why some clubs would prefer to stick to the more reliable middle ground rather than risk a big money bust.

Lucky Chelsea

Chelse may have come out of their game against Watford with all 3 points, but they should consider themselves very lucky. Pedro’s opener was a beautiful strike but should never have stood as replays clearly showed that Eden Hazard was the last to touch the ball before it went out of play, so Chelsea’s corner should have actually been a goal kick. Not only this, but Richarlison missed 2 gilt-edged chances at 1-1 and 1-2 that looked easier to score than to miss! If either one or both of these goals had been scored, then it may have been too much of a mountain for the defending champions to climb in this game.

A season away

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Everton’s drop into the relegation zone has cost Ronald Koeman – table from http://www.premierleague.com

How much will Spurs be regretting their slow start to the season right now? 4 league victories on the bounce have left them 3rd in the league, 5 points behind Manchester City and level on points with Manchester United. Their 4-1 demolition of Liverpool at a packed Wembley Stadium showed just how effective the team is. I think that Spurs will be able to finish top 3 – possibly even top 2 – this season, but I don’t think they have quite enough to win the title this year.

They have a very strong starting XI and have probably the best balance between attacking quality and defensive solidity, however I think beyond the starting lineup they are lacking the depth of their title rivals, especially if they are looking to challenge in multiple competitions. Just look at how often this year United’s substitutes have come on to win the game! If Spurs can spend the next 2 transfer windows deepening their squad, then I think next year could see them go all the way in the 2017/18 season.

 

Week 10 predictions:

Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur – Draw

Arsenal v Swansea City – Arsenal win

Crystal Palace v West Ham United – Draw

Liverpool v Huddersfield Town – Draw

Watford v Stoke City – Watford win

West Bromwich Albion v Manchester City – City win

AFC Bournemouth v Chelsea – Chelsea win

Brighton & Hove Albion v Southampton – Draw

Leicester City v Everton – Everton win

Burnley v Newcastle United – Burnley win