Premier League 2020/21: December

Premier League 2020/21: December

Happy New Year Premier League fans!

Before I get into this, I have a sincere apology to make, to my good friend Chris and all Spurs fans. It was beginning to look like this would finally be their season, but it would appear that I jinxed them by praising them so much in last month’s article, as they promptly went off the boil and dropped right out of the Champions League qualifying spots.

Tottenham were replaced at the top of the table by Liverpool, who led the league at Christmas as saw in the new year at the top spot, though Manchester United finished the month just3 points behind with a game in hand. Leicester and Everton filled out the top 4, though Villa are just 3 points behind, with a game in hand on Everton and 2 on the Foxes. The rest of the big name teams (other than 13ᵗʰ-placed Arsenal) fill out the rest of the top 8, with Chelsea, Spurs and Manchester City all finishing the month on the same number of points as Villa, though games in hand favour City and Villa.

At the bottom of the table, Chris Wilder’s seat must be feeling pretty toasty, as Sheffield United’s 1-1 draw at Brighton saw them double their points tally for the season, 6 points behind West Brom, who have turned to Sam Allardyce to keep them up. Fulham fill the final spot in the relegation zone, but they are only 2 points behind Brighton with a game in hand, while Burnley will hope that their improved form helps continue to pull them away from danger.


The race is on!

The race for the Golden Boot: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – 13 goals; Son Heung-Min (Tottenham), Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton) & Jamie Vardy (Leicester) – 11 goals

The race for Playmaker of the Season: Harry Kane (Tottenham) – 10 assists; Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) & Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United) – 7 assists

The race for the Golden Glove: Emiliano Martínez (Aston Villa) – 8 clean sheets; Ederson (Manchester City) & Alex McCarthy (Southampton) – 7 clean sheets


Rewarding honesty

Anyone who has been reading my Premier League thoughts for years will know that I hate diving. It’s cheating, pure and simple, a way to deceive the officials into giving a penalty or a free kick.

Now, we’re certainly in a much better place then we were a few season ago, but there are still far too many occasions where you see players either going to ground without being touched or feeling the slightest brush from a defender and Launching themselves through the air as if they were taking flight.

This issue (and the obvious solution) was highlighted to me as I watched 2 matches on 5ᵗʰ December: Chelsea’s 3-1 win over Leeds and Manchester City’s 2-0 win over Fulham. With the score 2-1 at Stamford Bridge, Ian Poveda was caught in the box by Ben Chilwell. Rather than go to ground, he stayed on his feet in an attempt to still make something from the situation, but the chance was now gone. What should have been a clear penalty to Leeds ended up being nothing. Meanwhile at the Etihad, Fulham defender Joachim Andersen caught Raheem Sterling in the box. Though there was less contact than in the Poveda incident, Raheem didn’t hesitate in throwing his legs into the air and doing a dramatic belly flop, and the penalty was awarded for Kevin De Bruyne to double the score and secure the win.

And herein lies the issue and the reason that players will continue to dive: if they are honest and stay on their feet, officials will not react. Officials need to go back to basics and look at what constitutes a foul – it does not need to include the player going to floor. If they start rewarding the honesty of players by awarding a free kick or penalty even when the player keeps their feet, then players will not have to dive in order to win the decision they are due – and anyone who continues to can be rightly vilified!

Classless

On 16ᵗʰ December, West Brom became the first Premier League team this season to part ways with their manager, with he announcement that they had sacked Slaven Bilić. That very same day, Sam Allardyce was announced as the new manager. It’s understandable why West Brom made the change, as they were 19ᵗʰ in the league on just 7 points. The problem is, this came less than 24 hours after the team held Manchester City to a 1-1 draw at the Etihad.

No offence to West Brom, but a draw at the Etihad is likely going to be one of the best results of the season, and the fact that both the sacking and the new appointment were announced the next day says to me that the decision was already made ahead of the match, so to sack a manager right after such a positive result shows a certain lack of class.

Big Sam may be an expert in keeping teams up, but this is a weak team in a strong league, and I can’t see this appointment paying off. Bilić will find another team and it would be a beautiful irony if West Brom drops to the Championship and Bilić manages in the Premier League before the Baggies make it back up.

Boom or bust

Leeds have been a breath of fresh air in the league this season. Under the watch of Marcelo Bielsa, the Whites have brought a flashy attack-minded gameplan that has surely been winning them the support of neutrals in a number of matches.

Of course, it hasn’t been all success for them, as their big wins (like 5-2 against Newcastle and 0-5 at West Brom) are a flip side to equally big losses, like the 6-2 loss at Old Trafford. They find themselves entering the new year with 7 wins, 7 losses and 2 draws, with 30 goals for and 30 goals against.

While this level of success will be enough to keep them up this year, they will need to find some way to adapt their game in the long-term, so that they can continue to be super dangerous in attack, but not at the expense of their defence. After all, a focus on attacking brilliance is fine, until your star striker gets hurt or hits a barren spell – I’ve learned that the hard way on FIFA!

Transfer talk

The new year means that the transfer window is open again, and some teams certainly need to be utilising it, as some teams have a clear need.

While Manchester City may finally be creeping back up the table, they are still feeling the impact of playing much of the season without a recognised striker. With Aguero and Jesus, they don’t need to break the bank on a superstar, but they need to get someone who has a striker’s natural instincts if they want to start winning the close games.

Other teams that are in desperate need of a striker are Wolves – who have really missed Raúl Jiménez since his head injury – and Brighton, who are rotating between Neal Maupay, Aaron Connolly, Florin Andone and Danny Welbeck of all people!

Meanwhile, Edinson Cavani has been a great option for Manchester United while Bruno Fernandes has helped drag the Red Devils into the title hunt, but they will need an elite winger and centreback if they legitimately want to win the league – though their early elimination from the Champions League will make it even harder for them to get that kind of quality, especially with Ed Woodward still in his role!

What other teams do you think have a burning need to fill during this transfer window?


Team of the Month

Everton

The Toffees get my vote for December as, following a drop in form, they returned with an unbeaten month. Things kicked off with a 1-1 draw at Burnley, and then they followed this up with 4 wins: 1-0 against Chelsea, 0-2 at Leicester, 2-1 against Arsenal and 0-1 at Sheffield United. That’s a 7-2 aggregate score in December, including wins against 2 of their rivals for European qualification and another big name team to boot!

They are certainly not the perfect team, with Jordan Pickford skittish between the sticks and summer loan signing Robin Olsen not sufficient competition, but in this season where nobody looks like they will run away with the league, a Champions League spot looks a real possibility, so long as they can stay consistent.


Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 36

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 36

We are now just 2 and a half rounds away from the end of the season and for some teams there is still plenty to play for. West Brom’s late revival has probably come too late to save them from the drop, but their 0-1 win at Newcastle leaves them currently just 3 points behind Swansea in 17th, though the Swans do have a game in hand. Burnley’s point against Brighton has secured them a place in the top 7 barring a 15-goal swing in goal difference, while Crystal Palace’s 5-0 victory at Leicester (their largest win in the Premier League) sees them jump up to 11th and be all-but certain of safety. Meanwhile, Liverpool’s hold on 3rd place is under threat as their goalless draw with Stoke means Spurs will leapfrog them if they win their game in hand.


Right guy, wrong time?

Looking at their results in recent weeks, I can’t help but wonder what might have been for West Brom. Following Alan Pardew’s introduction, the Baggies won just 1 league game out of 18 and took just 8 out of a possible 54. Yet under caretaker boss Darren Moore they are unbeaten in the league and have picked up 8 points from a possible 12, including wins against Manchester United and Newcastle. West Brom have earned 28.6% of their points under Moore despite him having only been in charge for 11.1% of their matches this season! It’s not even just the results, but the quality of teams played as he has taken 7 points off of Mourinho, Klopp and Benitez – 3 of the best managers in the league!

Moore has got these players working for him in a way they never did under Pardew. The Barcelona incident was a clear indication that he did not have the support of the dressing room that he need to keep the club up, but Moore appears to have their support and also got results by – as suggested by Chris Brunt – going back to the West Brom way. Whatever he is doing, it is working! A couple of weeks back, the Baggies looked certain to be down. I still find survival unlikely, but under Moore there is at least a belief that the great escape could be possible.

At the moment, he is merely the caretaker manager, but I hope he has shown enough over the last couple of weeks to convince the board to make him permanent. Dropping down to the Championship could see them lose a number of top players, but a manager like Moore may convince some of them to stay and also give them the confidence to push for an immediate return to the top flight.


Handball?

Burnley just can’t buy a penalty in the league this season! They had 2 appeals turned down in their draw against Brighton, the first when the ball ricocheted off the post and onto Shane Duffy during a goalmouth scramble, the second when a knock-down at a set piece struck Bruno’s outstretched arm from close range. Away from Turf Moor, Erik Pieters survived a late handball shout at Anfield as Georginio Wijnaldum’s cross hit him on the arm in the 87th minute.

So what actually constitutes a handball? The FA website’s rules and regulations section states:

HANDLING THE BALL

Handling the ball involves a deliberate act of a player making contact with the ball with the hand or arm. The following must be considered:

  • The movement of the hand towards the ball (not the ball towards the hand)
  • The distance between the opponent and the ball (unexpected ball)
  • The position of the hand does not necessarily mean that there is an offence
  • Touching the ball with an object held in the hand (clothing, shinguard, etc.) is an offence
  • Hitting the ball with a thrown object (boot, shinguard, etc.) is an offence
  • The goalkeeper has the same restrictions on handling the ball as any other player outside the penalty area. Inside their penalty area, the goalkeeper cannot be guilty of a handling offence incurring a direct free kick or any related sanction but can be guilty of handling offences that incur an indirect free kick.

That leaves a lot of discretion for referees, and anytime there is too much discretion involved, mistakes can be made far too easily. We the viewing public get the benefit of multiple replays whereas the officials get one chance and will not necessarily have the best angle. This may be a controversial suggestion, but I wonder if it would benefit the FA to trial a zero-tolerance approach to handling the ball in a similar way to touching the ball with the foot in hockey. It may lead to a number of penalties initially as defenders get used to the new rules, but in the long run the clear stance on what constitutes a handball could be a real benefit.


Sliding down and out?

Things are not looking good for Huddersfield right now. They started the season so well but in recent months they have been sliding down the table and now find themselves just 3 points above the drop zone. They have just 3 matches left in the league this season but they are away to Manchester City, away to Chelsea and at home to Arsenal… not really the way you want to end the season when fighting for survival. It gets even worse when you realise that they are yet to win a match where they have gone behind!

Southampton looked much improved in their 2-1 win over Bournemouth and have a slightly easier set of remaining games (away at Everton, away at Swansea and at home to Manchester City). None of these are easy matches, but I still see more potential for Southampton to build some momentum off this week’s win and pick up the points to leapfrog Huddersfield by virtue of their better goal difference.

Right now I can see Huddersfield joining Stoke and West Brom in the Championship next season.


Round 37 predictions and the missing matches:

I’m going to be away this weekend so Round 37’s write-up will join with my thoughts on the games in hand. At that point we will have just one round left in the Premier League this season.

 

Brighton & Hove Albion v Manchester United – United win

Stoke City v Crystal Palace – Palace win

AFC Bournemouth v Swansea City – Swansea win

Leicester City v West Ham – Leicester win

Watford v Newcastle United – Newcastle win

West Bromwich Albion v Tottenham Hotspur – Spurs win

Everton v Southampton – Draw

Manchester City v Huddersfield Town – City win

Arsenal v Burnley – Draw

Chelsea v Liverpool – Draw

 

Swansea City v Southampton – Southampton win

Chelsea v Huddersfield Town – Chelsea win

Leicester City v Arsenal – Arsenal win

Manchester City v Brighton & Hove Albion – City win

Tottenham Hotspur v Newcastle United – Spurs win

West Ham v Manchester United – United win

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 27

Premier League Ramble – 2017/18 Round 27

Hey guys apologies for how late this article is, I was away last weekend so it had taken me forever to catch up on the weekend’s action… good job there were no Premier League games this weekend!

Round 27 was an awful one for Manchester United, whose 1-0 loss at Newcastle allowed their chasers to catch up. Chelsea got back to winning ways against strugglers West Brom, and Liverpool beat a disappointing Southampton 0-2, while Spurs are now only 4 points off 2nd following their 1-0 victory over Arsenal. Further down the table, Huddersfield earned their first points of 2018 with a 4-1 victory of Bournemouth.

Struggling Baggies

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Spurs’ win over Arsenal was in front of a record crowd for the Premier League, the benefit of using Wembley as a home ground this season – From http://www.premierleague.com

One of the benefits of the delay in getting this post done is that I have been able to see a few more stories beyond the matches themselves. And what a week to see stories as news has come out to say that 4 senior West Brom players broke a curfew and stole a taxi when away in Barcelona. This is the sort of crap that I would expect from academy lads or players who have recently made it into the first team squad, rather than 4 experienced players. I was shocked when I heard the news and even more so when I saw the names – Jonny Evans, Gareth Barry, Jake Livermore and Boaz Myhill. These players aren’t just senior players, they are 4 of the most senior players in the squad (Livermore is the youngest at 28 years old) and Evans and Barry have both played for title-winning sides. These are the players that should be setting an example, yet they are the ones causing issues and distractions. It is questionable whether West Brom have the quality to stay up anyway – though they have improved under Pardew they are still not getting enough results – but if some of the most senior players including the club captain are acting like this then I think we can guarantee West Brom’s place in the Championship next season.

Sad story, happy ending?

Away from the games this week, it has also been announced that Hull midfielder Ryan Mason has been forced to retire from football following recovery from a fractured skull suffered in a challenge with Gary Cahill just over a year ago. It is a shame to hear this as he was a talented midfielder but the injury was such a serious one, the risk is so high in a sport that includes heading the ball.

It looks like there could be a happy ending to the story though as reports suggest that Spurs have already contacted Mason about returning to his former club in a coaching role. It is great to see that they are giving Mason this chance considering he had left the club in August 2016 and I think that they have taken into account the fact that he had been with the club since he joined the academy aged 8 and only left due to not being a big part of the plans moving forward.

I wish him all the best in his future activities, whether he takes up Spurs’ offer or not.

Wrong call from Puel?

Claude Puel has had a lot to deal with in recent weeks with the Riyad Mahrez saga so deserves some sympathy, but I think he made a tactical blunder at the Etihad on Saturday. Leicester started the game with 5 at the back and though they conceded within the opening few minutes they improved after this and drew level through Jamie Vardy’s 24th minute goal. However with the score at 1-1, Puel chose to change things up in the second half and go to 4 at the back, replacing Danny Simpson with Adrien Silva. Did this work? Well City ran out 5-1 winners with 4 second half goals from Sergio Aguero, so you be the judge!

City have consistently showed this season how dangerous they are in the final third, so I think Leicester would have had a better chance of victory clogging the space at the back and hitting City on the bench or capitalising on errors as Vardy did for his goal. Unfortunately for the Foxes, changing to 4 at the back against them was always going to give players like Aguero and De Bruyne the space to work their magic, and they did exactly that.

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Burnley’s drop in form has resulted in a clear gap between the top 6 and the rest of the league – From http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport

Poor performance

Chris Smalling had an absolute shocker on Sunday against Newcastle. His performance was characterised by missed passes and poor positioning and he was also lucky to not concede a penalty as he brought down Dwight Gayle just inside the box. But by far the worst moment though was his dive.

Centrebacks have often been some of the hardest players on the pitch – just think of Tony Adams or, more recently, Nemanja Vidic – so to see him diving under no contact is embarrassing. And to make things even worse, Newcastle scored the only goal of the game from the resulting free kick! People who regularly read these posts will know how much I hate diving, so I’m sure you can imagine how disgusted I am by his performance. Smalling was one of the few players who seemed to impress under Louis van Gaal, but he has appeared to regress since Mourinho arrived and I think a replacement should be a priority for United this summer, as David de Gea is arguably making this defence look better than it really is.

Round 28 predictions:

Leicester City v Stoke City – Leicester win

AFC Bournemouth v Newcastle United – Draw

Brighton & Hove Albion v Swansea City – Swansea win

Burnley v Southampton – Burnley win

Liverpool v West Ham United – Liverpool win

West Bromwich Albion v Huddersfield Town – Huddersfield win

Watford v Everton – Everton win

Manchester United v Chelsea – United win

Crystal Palace v Tottenham Hotspur – Spurs win

Arsenal v Manchester City – City win