Big Weekend: Benteke, LVG, McClaren

Date published: Friday 11th December 2015 9:09

Jurgen Klopp
For many, the immediate response to Liverpool’s defeat at Newcastle was to ridicule those who thought they could win the title. Klopp’s side may well fall short, but that’s an odd argument. Manchester City lost 2-0 at Stoke, Arsenal lost 2-1 at West Brom, Manchester United drew at home to Newcastle and lost 2-1 at Swansea. In this ludicrously unpredictable Premier League season, one result is not going to smash hopes of anything.

That said, Klopp does have issues to consider. His midfield three of Joe Allen, Lucas Leiva and James Milner looked stagnant, contributing to a lethargy further up the field similar to that experienced by Manchester United supporters this season.

Most worrying of all, Liverpool failed to do the basics right against Newcastle, the least Klopp will expect. As Squawka tweeted after the game, Liverpool players gave the ball away 124 times during the match, a Premier League high for any game in the last five years. A vast improvement is needed against West Brom.

 

Christian Benteke
Benteke might have been relieved – privately at least – by Daniel Sturridge’s latest injury setback. Given the chance to impress in Sturridge’s stead at Newcastle, Benteke’s performance could have had long-term ramifications for his Liverpool future. He just doesn’t fit the bill.

The worry was that Benteke would not fit Liverpool’s style, and those concerns look valid. In a struggling Aston Villa side last season (and recovering from serious injury), Benteke registered a shot on target every 82.2 minutes played, a shot every 37.2 minutes played and 50.2 touches per 90 minutes. Despite Liverpool having far more of the ball and enjoying far better results than Villa, Benteke’s totals on each of those measurements has reduced. Either he is struggling to get involved, or Liverpool are struggling to service him.

Benteke has now started nine league games for Liverpool, scoring two goals in those starts; he’s looked far better as an impact substitute. Yet with Sturridge again ruled out, the Belgian may well get another chance to prove that he can be Klopp’s ideal forward. Things can only get better.

 

Norwich City
Having taken two points from their last seven away league games, Norwich have piled the pressure on their home record. Victory over Swansea and a draw against Arsenal in their last two give reason for hope, but Alex Neil’s are in danger of slipping down the table. That’s not something they can afford; they have been in 16th for most of the last two months.

Norwich’s defending against Watford last weekend was dreadful. Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley and Gerard Deulofeu will be eager to get started.

 

Louis van Gaal
When Van Gaal arrived in England, the book ‘O, Louis’ was touted as the perfect introduction to Manchester United’s new manager (it is really good). Supporters would be forgiven for defacing their copies, adding a ‘h’ onto the first word of that title. Van Gaal’s second season has been a mighty disappointment.

Van Gaal had promised that the goals would flow for United, but the idea was that attacking and defending was not an either/or arrangement. Having abandoned his defensive principles in Germany, United promptly conceded three goals. Worryingly, that’s exactly what happened the last time Van Gaal attempted something outside the mundane away at Arsenal.

Now Van Gaal must take his side to Bournemouth, struggling but buoyed by victory over Chelsea. With a squad stretched to the limit and rumours of disharmony among his senior players, only a victory will appease the growing army of dissenters.

 

Manchester United’s defence
Given the injuries, Van Gaal might have to select a back four of Guillermo Varela, Daley Blind, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Paddy McNair. Good luck to all concerned.

 

Swansea’s players
Garry Monk’s sacking became inevitable once it became clear that their poor run of form showed no sign of abating, but Swansea’s players must take their own responsibility for the slump.

The buck always stops with the manager, but Swansea’s new head coach should eye some of the club’s senior players with some suspicion after the last few months.

 

West Ham reserves
Let’s play a little game: Name West Ham’s six best players. Go on, do it, write them down.

Done? Okay, now keep reading.

Dimitri Payet, of course, and Winston Reid, you had both of those. Diafra Sakho too, plus Manuel Lanzini, who has been great since arriving on loan. Victor Moses has been first choice on the wing, so he was probably included. And as your last one, did you go Enner Valencia, who was rumoured with a big-money move to Chelsea last season before injury. Bet you had at least four or five of those.

Yeah, well they’re all injured. Good luck Slaven.

 

Southampton
Three defeats and a draw in their last four matches, Southampton’s season has taken a notable backward step. On Saturday, last season’s surprise achievers visit Crystal Palace, themselves up in sixth place. Lose again and Southampton’s mood really will drop. Tottenham and Arsenal come next.

 

Arsenal
Beat Aston Villa on Sunday lunchtime, and Arsenal will go to the top of the Premier League. Having mastered the hardest away trip of the week in some style, Arsene Wenger will be hammering home the need to stay focused at Villa Park. Consistently taking one step forward and another back gives you a special type of stitch.

 

Steve McClaren
It’s almost 13 months since Newcastle won consecutive league matches, so expecting them to beat Tottenham at White Hart Lane is probably a step too far. That said, McClaren will demand that his side do not waste the goodwill generated during the 2-0 victory over Liverpool. It is impossible to make meaningful progress when inconsistency hampers your every move.

A decent performance will do. After Newcastle beat Norwich 6-2 in October they promptly lost 3-0 to Sunderland and drew 0-0 at home to Stoke. They followed victory away at Bournemouth by conceding eight goals in two games to Leicester and Crystal Palace.

“For this club, McClaren is the best we can get right now. I hope the club will give him the faith and keep him here,” Georginio Wijnaldum said this week “That’s the thing in football. When results go wrong, everyone says the trainer is responsible for that. It’s not fair every time. “I didn’t know there was talk about his future but against Liverpool, we fought hard both for him and the team.”

That show of support from last weekend’s match-winner will be appreciated by his manager, but the players’ actions will speak far louder than Wijnaldum’s words. At some point Newcastle have to maintain their quality and fight over a period longer than the odd 90-minute spell.

 

Daniel Storey

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