Game to watch – Everton vs West Ham
It’s all very well enjoying the spectacle of two excellent teams pitting themselves against each other, with high-performing individuals all looking to provide the game-changing moment. But there is just as much to be said for witnessing a sh*t-off between two woefully out-of-form teams, a battle not to be the best but simply the least worst.
Everton saw West Ham’s shambolic collapse under Slaven Bilic and, rather than laughing or resolving to do things differently, managed to capitulate even more spectacularly. Having sacked Ronald Koeman without a replacement lined up, they handed the reins to a caretaker manager who seems to be picking the team by throwing the names of his players against a wall and seeing which ones stick.
Everton are falling so quickly that anything is possible. In their last two games they have conceded five times at home to the team currently 12th in Serie A, and allowed Southampton to score more than 30% of their league goals for the season in a 69-minute spell. The only way things could get worse is if there were two Ashley Williamses on the pitch.
Yet West Ham are hardly in rude health themselves. They might have replaced their failing manager quicker than Everton, but that has hardly sparked an instant improvement. When you are celebrating a home draw against Leicester City as evidence of new-found fight, it reflects most on what came before. West Ham have still only won one away league game since February and are averaging less than a point per game this season.
And then there’s the David Moyes factor. Until now, Everton supporters have largely resisted the idea that they need a firefighter (and by that we really mean Sam Allardyce) to save their season. The idea was that there is enough time left in the season for change, and appointing Big Sam would cause a seismic shift in the bigger vision for this club. But it appears that the call has been made. The fireman is on his way and he’s bringing his pragmatism hose.
You can see why the decision has been made, too. Lose at home to West Ham, and Everton may well drop in to the bottom three and could end the midweek with the worst goal difference in the division. No team is too good to go down, as West Ham supporters will be only too happy to remind them.
Player to watch – Christian Eriksen
‘I’m sorry but there are just too many displays like this from Eriksen,’ read the player ratings on one Tottenham blog following the draw with West Brom. Never mind that this is the player who creates more chances than any other Tottenham man, and works harder than most too.
Eriksen was poor against West Brom, but perhaps he is just knackered having been Tottenham’s creative force while simultaneously dragging his country to the World Cup? Since August 2014, Eriksen has missed only five of Tottenham’s 127 games, and started 184 matches for club and country. It’s an astounding workload.
If the obvious answer is a short rest, Eriksen might be out of luck. In a Premier League where the gap between the best and rest has never been bigger, bottom-half clubs are prepared to set up deep defences and challenge their elite opponents to break them down. That makes the creators in those elite teams more important than ever. Manchester City would miss Kevin de Bruyne, Manchester United missed Paul Pogba, Tottenham would miss Eriksen. There is nobody else that does quite what they do.
For Tottenham that is particularly problematic because of the struggles of Dele Alli this season, and the lack of options from the bench to replace Eriksen. Erik Lamela could return, but even a fully fit version would struggle to replicate Eriksen’s impact. Like Harry Kane, the Dane is irreplaceable. So he just keeps on playing.
Team to watch – Liverpool
The two Liverpools – the defensively sound team and the one that collapses under pressure – can actually be very easily separated. At home, Jurgen Klopp’s team are unbeaten and have conceded twice in the league. Away from Anfield, they have conceded 16 times and won only twice. No team in the league has conceded more.
The other oddity about Liverpool is that their record against the best teams in the league has long been better than against the lesser teams. Liverpool finished top of a top-six mini-league last season and yet still came fourth overall thanks to surprise dropped points against bottom-half sides.
That record has been extended into 2017/18, with Liverpool dropping points against Watford, Burnley and Newcastle, despite holding leads in two of those three games. It’s a case of ‘if my auntie had balls’, but win those three fixtures and Liverpool would be level on points with Manchester United.
A trip to struggling Stoke City therefore provides Klopp’s side a chance to improve on both fronts, and they really cannot afford any more defensive slackness. No team that concedes 23 goals in their first 11 away games of the season – and keeps one clean sheet, against Maribor – deserves to finish in the top four. Liverpool have to find stability now.
Manager to watch – Marco Silva
Comparisons between Marco Silva and Jose Mourinho might be very unimaginative, but they are made with good reason. These two coaches do not just share a nationality, but a work ethic and obsession with the game which makes their match preparation meticulous.
Yet it’s hard to argue that Silva is not currently outperforming Mourinho. While the latter struggles to get a tune out of his expensive attackers, Silva has created a Watford team far greater than the sum of its parts. Should Watford win on Tuesday, they will only be five points behind United.
Stick to their guns and Watford can trouble Mourinho’s team defensively, just like Brighton and Newcastle. That’s particularly true if Mourinho’s answer to their attacking issues is to continue to play with an attacking four and Paul Pogba. Surely we will see more steel in midfield at Vicarage Road?
Watford’s big-game performances this season have been vastly different, thrashed by Manchester City but having beaten Arsenal, drawn with Liverpool and merited at least a point at Stamford Bridge. Silva’s performances in the next two games – against the other two top-six sides – may only help to increase this burgeoning reputation.
One-on-one battle to watch – Alexandre Lacazette vs Christopher Schindler
Say it quietly for fear of the backlash, but Lacazette has been something of a disappointment since his summer move. Whether Arsene Wenger omitting him from the side against Liverpool and Manchester City deflated his confidence or the Premier League is just a tough league for a new striker is open to interpretation.
This is hardly a disaster. Lacazette has six goals in all competitions, but they have come in 18 matches for club and country. Furthermore, in only two games has a Lacazette goal actually made a crucial difference to the end result. Would you expect more from a club-record signing? The problem is that Lacazette is a goalscorer rather than complete striker. The list of Arsenal players who have created chances more often this season is a long one: Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Olivier Giroud, Alex Iwobi, Danny Welbeck, Mohamed Elneny, Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka.
This is partly an Arsenal issue rather than a Lacazette issue. The Frenchman has only had 25 shots in 903 minutes, the same number as Xhaka and significantly fewer than Ramsey in almost the same number of minutes. It’s as if Arsenal are having to re-learn to service a centre-forward again after a season of Sanchez’s false nine experiment.
On Wednesday, Lacazette will face one of the highest-performing central defenders in the Premier League this season in Schindler, a man whose style can be epitomised by his fist pump to the crowd after making a tackle against Manchester City in the style of a goalkeeper post-penalty save. Lacazette will know he is in a game against a defender who prides himself on his involvement, the antidote to Paolo Maldini’s famous “if I have to make a tackle” quote. These are the matches when an expensive striker must look to make hay.
Football League game to watch – Charlton vs Peterborough
No live Football League games this midweek, which is a bloody shame. So we’ll plump for Charlton against Peterborough, sixth vs eighth in League One and two teams with promotion ambitions. Charlton lost 2-0 at Scunthorpe United on Saturday but before that had lost just one of their last 12 games; even that was in the laughable Checkatrade Trophy. Karl Robinson has begun to steer this club away from disaster despite the continued ownership of Roland Duchatelet.
As an outsider, I always see Peterborough as a club that is perennially inconsistent, occasionally lurching into periods of poor form which lead to a managerial sacking. So it’s reassuring to see that Posh’s last ten results are as follows: Loss, win, loss, win, draw, win, draw, loss, draw. Wonderful.
European game to watch – Nantes vs Monaco
Slim pickings here this week, with only Ligue 1 having a full programme and therefore games televised. Paris St Germain host 11th-placed Troyes who are already 20 points behind the leaders and will surely get pumped, while St Etienne vs Bordeaux is hardly a ripper.
Instead, turn your televisions on at 6pm on Wednesday to watch Nantes against Monaco, or fifth vs third in the table. Monaco have crashed out of the Champions League with a whimper. They lost to PSG on Sunday to emphasise just how much the decimation of their squad has destroyed hopes of maintaining their supreme form of last season.
Nantes, meanwhile, are a team on the up. They finished seventh last season before manager Sergio Conceicao was tempted by an offer of Champions League football from former club Porto, but Claudio Ranieri took the chance to continue his managerial career and is enjoying another renaissance.
Nantes have suffered a mini-slump following a sensational start to the league season, but would keep pace with the top four with a win on Wednesday. They have won each of their last four home games and have lost two home league games since February.
Writer to watch – Daniel Storey