Rather than just say that this is getting really, really f**king silly now – which it is – let’s add an extra layer of congratulation to Vardy. In the 23 years of the Premier League, no English player has ever scored in nine consecutive matches, and only Ruud van Nistelrooy has ever managed 10. Even that was done over two seasons.
For Vardy to achieve this feat at Leicester, a club outside the league’s elite, only underlines the extraordinary nature of the achievement. However quickly this form dissipates, and to what average scoring level Vardy falls, is irrelevant. The record is in his sights.
Remi Garde and another way
A monumental difference in performance and mood. From the chalk of Tim Sherwood’s white cliffs of Dover to Remi Garde’s French cheese.
If the national stereotypes feel too strong, they are appropriate at least this once. Remi Garde took his first opportunity to bring back Aston Villa’s continental brigade back into the first team, and they performed admirably against the league leaders. Jordan Amavi, Idrissa Gana, Jordan Veretout, Carlos Sanchez, Carles Gil, Jordan Ayew. Even Charles N’Zogbia played a part!
Villa may have offered little in attack, but they survived the Manchester City onslaught. It’s been a long time since Villa’s underbelly was anything other than squidgy soft. A run of seven consecutive Premier League defeats has, finally, come to an end.
This was an instant improvement. Gone was the tactical vacuum of Sherwood’s dice-rolling defence and midfield, replaced by a coherent plan to stop the division’s most potent attacking midfield. How weird that those useless French players Sherwood shunned instantly improved the side in his absence.
It’s not difficult to want Garde to do well, introduced against a backdrop of unfair mistrust. Think I’m overstating that mood? Here’s Charlie Wyett in The Sun on Thursday afternoon: ‘Now, Aston Villa will be joining Sunderland in the Championship after the ridiculous decision to appoint Remi Garde.’ He hadn’t even had a single match in charge.
Villa’s new manager still has an immense task on his hands to keep the club in the Premier League, but let’s not pretend that he isn’t better equipped than his predecessor. Villa Park enjoyed their first evidence of the changing of the Garde.
There were concerns that Alli’s senior England call-up was a hasty move from Roy Hodgson, but you can’t demand that the England manager builds a sustainable future with younger players only to worry when he does exactly that.
What’s more, Alli is ready. Against Arsenal he again demonstrated his ability to rise to the occasion, controlling the midfield and bursting forward with pace. There are very few more exciting young central midfielders in Europe.
If Alli’s rise has surprised neutral observers, for Mauricio Pochettino it is proof of something he already suspected.
“We saw big potential in Dele Alli but youngsters have to develop their game and mentality,” Pochettino said after the victory over Aston Villa. “I don’t want to lie to you. It is true Dele Alli from the first day of pre-season started to show he was capable of playing in the Premier League.”
The praise was reiterated after the draw with Arsenal, Alli named Man of the Match in his first north London derby start: “He has the chance to play in every game. It’s his first season in the Premier League, and he needs to improve a lot. But from the beginning of the season, he has started to show he is a really good player. He is very young, but very mature.”
Alli’s entire career has been played out at double speed. He made his first start for MK Dons aged 16, and had played 40 times for them before turning 18. Most young signings from lower league spend a year in Premier League academies before making the step up, but again Alli was different. He has already made more senior international appearances than he did for the Under-21s, and as many as he made for the U19s. He is the fourth youngest player to start a Premier League match this season.
The typical missive is not to pile too much pressure on young English players, and that’s wholly appropriate. But that doesn’t mean we can’t get hugely excited about Alli’s progress and potential. This kid looks the real deal.
Leicester sit above Manchester United, Tottenham, Liverpool and Chelsea. The defending champions in 16th, having conceded the third most goals. West Ham winning way at Arsenal. And Manchester City. And Liverpool. Five different teams scoring five or more goals in a game, including Everton and Newcastle. Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and Odion Ighalo as three of the league’s top four scorers. Georginio Wijnaldum scoring four goals in a match.
We wrote at length at the start of the season about why the increased funds afforded to the Premier League ‘rest’ could make this a brilliant season. Quod erat demonstrandum, as mathematicians write.
A very good weekend for Leicester, the only member of the top three to win. Imagine saying that in bloody November, for goodness sake.
His first Premier League goal on just his second start, enough to draw significant praise from his club manager and cause the first murmurs of possible England selection. If that indicates quite how shallow the pool is, Lingard is doing handstands in the deep end.
Asked how Crystal Palace had beaten Liverpool on Sunday, match-winner Yannick Bolasie had a simple answer: “The gaffer’s tactics were spot on.”
Asked to explain why Palace had beaten Liverpool three times in succession and the answer was repeated: “It is the gaffer’s tactics, he knows them inside out.”
Music to the ears of Pardew and his tactical simplicity (and I mean that as a compliment). As John Cruyff said, “Football is simple, but it is difficult to play simple.”
For all Pardew’s personal flaws – or shall we go with foibles? – there is no doubting his current performance. He is England’s form club manager, however that makes you feel.
There has been cause for concern in Walker’s quality over recent seasons, so it’s only fair to laud him when in form. There were rumours of the right-back being sold in the summer after the arrival of Kieran Trippier, but Mauricio Pochettino refuted such suggestions.
Not only has Walker held off the competition of Trippier, he will have designs on winning back his England place too. Nathaniel Clyne isn’t exactly ripping up trees in Sefton Park.
Manchester United in three years’ time
Axel Tuanzebe (17), Cameron Borthwick-Jackson (18), James Wilson (19), Anthony Martial (19), Andrea Pereira (19), Paddy McNair (20), Luke Shaw (20), Adnan Januzaj (20), Memphis Depay (21), Jesse Lingard (22), Phil Jones (23), Daley Blind (25), Chris Smalling (25), Matteo Darmian (25), Marcos Rojo (25). Not all will make it at Old Trafford, but those are 15 players either used or named in match-day squads by Louis van Gaal this season.
There are plenty of reasons to be grumbly about Manchester United’s current style, but the list above provides reason for an awful lot of patience. These could be United’s, if not Van Gaal’s, future boys.
Louis van Gaal
It’s all very well criticising United’s style – and it’s often not enjoyable to watch – but quickly becomes a folly. Van Gaal is too headstrong to listen to the chants of dissent even when it’s not working. Expecting him to with United two points off top spot is an exercise in pointlessness.
Sky’s commentators mentioned Arsenal’s trip to Munich on Wednesday four or five times on commentary as reason for their apparent fatigue. A reminder that travelling on a plane in business class for two hours isn’t exactly like hitch-hiking your way to the airport and then curling up in the hold.
For reasons of balance, if nothing else, it’s worth pointing out that Tottenham played Aston Villa on Monday. They covered 115km and made 589 sprints (both more than their opponents). Five of that same front six then started against Anderlecht on Thursday evening.
Those same five players then started against Arsenal on Sunday, where Spurs players covered 114km and made 516 sprints (both more than their opponents). Therein lies the benefit of a young, hungry squad.
On only seven occasions this season has a player created more than six chances in a Premier League match. Ozil accounts for three of them.
Ozil has now created 54 chances in the league this season, more than any other player. The gap between him and third place is the same as between third and joint 40th.
Lukaku loves scoring against West Ham, his equaliser on Saturday his seventh in as many games against them.
In fact, Lukaku just loves scoring. His next Premier League goal will be his 50th, having started just 94 times. Not bad considering 50 of those starts came before he turned 21.
Not quite the tribute to Lev Yashin and Gordon Banks that BT Sport’s commentators would have had you believe, but still the finest performance of Elliot’s career on Tyneside.
Elliot has had an odd time at Newcastle. He has kept six clean sheets in 12 domestic cup and European matches, but has a dire record in the Premier League. Before last week’s game against Stoke, it was one clean sheet in 16 league games as a Newcastle starter, and an average of over two goals per game conceded. A nice time to record consecutive clean sheets, just when his manager needed them.
‘Four defeats on the spin, Norwich are quickly being let down by their defence – unsurprising as it’s virtually the same one that got relegated last time,’ Big Weekend read. ‘Neil’s side have scored as many league goals as Manchester United – and more than ten other clubs – but only Bournemouth and Sunderland have conceded more.’
The value of a hard-fought, ground out 1-0 win cannot be overstated. This was only Norwich’s second in all competitions since December 2, 2014.
Nothing like a home win and clean sheet to a) improve the mood and b) make me look stupid. They’re not the first and won’t be the last.
A moment to epitomise the feel-good factor surrounding Leicester. When Mahrez picked up the ball and marched to the penalty spot, it could have caused some angst with Vardy understandably wanting to extend his goalscoring streak. Instead, Mahrez passed up his own chance to score.
“When Riyad Mahrez gave Jamie the penalty, it was a great moment,” Ranieri said after the game. “We have two strikers who can shoot the penalty, they choose on the pitch who feels good, and they can shoot. Riyad said to him: ‘Take it.’” Awww.
A bizarre scoring record. Against Sunderland last season, Bolasie scored three times in 12 minutes. At Anfield on Sunday, he equalled his total from that match in the 85 league games before and since.
Apparently not good enough for Al-Jazira in the United Arab Emirates, but plenty good enough for the top six of the Premier League.
When signing a South American (Lanzini also holds an Italian passport) from the Middle East, the best you expect is an ageing international who hits the ground running to ‘do a job’. That West Ham have landed a 22-year-old intent on proving his worth and earn a permanent move gives Lanzini all the aura of a Football Manager cheat player.
She said yes!
Every international break, one of the papers runs a feature bemoaning (or at least noting) the lack of English managers in the Premier League. “Why aren’t British managers given a chance at the top?” asks Harry Redknapp and his band of brothers. “Because there is nobody sodding good enough,” the rest of us respond in unison.
If things haven’t yet reached a nadir, the sound of barrels being scraped is deafening. Ranking the top eight English managers under 50 years of age by league position is a mournful exercise: Garry Monk (14th), Eddie Howe (18th), Sean Dyche (23rd), Paul Clement (25th), Gary Rowett (26th), Gary Bowyer (36th), Simon Grayson (37th). You have to go down to the third tier to find Nos. 9 and 10. Which of these is in line for a job in the Premier League’s top half any time soon? Howe, perhaps? Clement, at a long shot. And that’s it. The problem isn’t going away.
Now it looks as if Monk, top of that list, is set for the sack, leaving Eddie Howe as the Premier League’s only up-and-coming English manager, and one of only three under the age of 43 in England’s top two tiers. That’s sodding bleak.
Rather that wring your hands over the reality, it is time to ask the questions. Is the cushy, comfortable life of the pundit far preferable to that of a manager? Do today’s ex-players have so much money banked that they neither have the motivation or inclination to work again? Are these ex-players so used to being lauded on the field that they can’t face starting in the lower leagues and working their way up? Does the inevitable move towards the European sporting director model prick the ego of the English manager, hardwired to take on every role in the club and wear his heart on his sleeve?
Whatever the answers to those questions, blaming clubs for turning to foreign managers only adds to the continued wilful blindness over the issue. It isn’t the fault of Johnny Foreign that he’s a) better at his job than the English equivalent b) more prepared to work under the sustainable sporting director/transfer committee model and c) typically prepared to take a lower salary. Rather than crying about the milk being spilt, perhaps it’s time for England’s managers and the coaching system as a whole to assess why they’re the ones kicking over the bottle.
It was actually much better on Saturday evening, and yet still Chelsea lost. Eden Hazard looked brighter, Kurt Zouma looked more solid, Branislav Ivanovic wasn’t there. Willian and Pedro dovetailed effectively. Better.
In six months they’ve gone from being criticised in victory to praised in defeat. That’s an appropriate judge of just how far they have fallen.
Jose Mourinho and Chelsea signings
As football decision-making increasingly becomes a task for the club as collective, Mourinho may absolve himself of much of the responsibility for Chelsea’s transfer activity. In fact, it might be his staunch case for the defence.
Filipe Luis for £15.8m, Juan Cuadrado for £27m, Baba Rahman for £17.6m, Michael Hector for £4.5m, Papy Djilobodji for £4m, Loic Remy for £10.5m, all in the last 18 months. It’s not hard to see where that £80m might be better spent on this current Chelsea squad. Whoever is most at fault should be worried for his position.
Having Loic Remy and Radamel Falcao as your back-up strikers makes the form of Costa imperative to Chelsea’s chances of success. He’s become renowned more for his sh*thousery than his goals. It’s three league goals in 13 matches in a run stretching back to April for Costa. The only teams who have suffered at his hands (or feet) since mid-March are Aston Villa, West Brom and Sunderland.
The problem is that if Costa isn’t scoring goals, he isn’t offering a great deal else. That seems a bizarre reality for a striker who appears to cause defenders such headaches, but the aggravation and antics actually have very little positive effect on Chelsea’s attacking play. The opposite, if anything.
Costa has created chances at a rate of one every 73 minutes this season, less often than Aroune Kone, Christian Benteke, Rickie Lambert and Wilfried Bony, among many others. When you consider that he’s only had eight shots on target in his last 1016 Premier League minutes, you’re left with an ineffective forward whose behaviour occasionally makes him a liability.
If not a fatal blow to any long-term aspirations, this was a short-term winding for those who had already installed Jurgen Klopp as favourite to be officially named as the next Messiah. Brendan Rodgers showed himself adept at losing to Crystal Palace, and so too has Klopp.
Arsenal’s central midfield options
Santi Cazorla may have been ill and Francis Coquelin fatigued after a long week, but it’s only early November. When Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta are the next in line, Arsenal’s starting central midfielders can’t afford for the tank to run empty.
In 22 days between December 21 and January 12, Arsenal face Manchester City, Liverpool, Southampton, Newcastle and Bournemouth in the Premier League with an extra FA Cup tie squeezed in. Wenger can only hope and pray that his two midfielders stay in tip-top condition. Sunday shows what happens when one isn’t but still has to play through a lack of other options.
Sarah Winterburn mirrored my thoughts on Giroud here, but it’s worth responding to the inevitable replies about his ‘minutes to goal’ ratio with a statistic of my own. Since arriving at Arsenal, Giroud has played 28 times in the league against Tottenham, Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea, Arsenal’s ‘big five’ opponents. In those 28 games, he’s scored seven goals.
Great form is temporary, but Giroud’s inability to lead the line for a title-winning side is permanent. Unfortunately for Arsenal fans, the same can probably be said about Theo Walcott.
Kevin de Bruyne
Those ‘flick behind the leg’ finishes look great when they come off, but dreadful when they don’t, especially at 0-0 away from home. Thousands of away fans screamed to politely enquire why De Bruyne didn’t just kick it normally.
No cause for huge panic, but still an opportunity missed to extend their lead at the top. This was just the eighth time in the Premier League era that the top club has failed to beat the bottom club.
Horse placenta, cheese, goat’s blood and voodoo – Pellegrini will try anything now to get Sergio Aguero fit again. Wilfried Bony hasn’t exactly shone in Aguero’s absence, but having both strikers injured leaves a gaping hole that only 19-year-old Kelechi Iheanacho can fill.
The rumours of Monk getting the sack started a fortnight ago. Since then they’ve lost 3-0 at home to Arsenal and 1-0 at Norwich, and failed to have a shot on target on Saturday against the third-worst defence in the league.
Monk was being backed to be Roy Hodgson’s replacement as England manager in September. That always looked astonishingly hasty.
“It was a huge three points. The pressure on us was enormous. It’s taken us far too long to get our first league win under our belt but hopefully we can pick up from here on in.”
So said Allardyce after the derby victory over Newcastle. Rather than “pick up”, Sunderland have simply fallen into the same old rut . Allardyce was the fourth manager to win his first Wear-Tyne derby, but one victory in isolation was never going to be enough.
‘This is why you sign Sam Allardyce,’ wrote Michael Walker in the Independent after that win. ‘As with Tony Pulis, Allardyce brings a certain discipline, organisation and force of will.’ You can forget the manager’s February self-assessment that “I don’t think there is any coach more sophisticated than me anymore,” for that is not why he was brought in.
Yet Allardyce can’t work miracles. From conceding six goals in one game to scoring none in the next, Sunderland are beset with problems across the pitch. Steven Fletcher, Ola Toivonen, Duncan Watmore, Jordi Gomez, Billy Jones – not what he was, not what he can be, not yet, not anymore and never will be.
“I have to get the whole team better than what they are at the moment,” was Allardyce’s post-match admission on Saturday. The rough translation of that might well be “I can’t sodding wait for January”.
Bournemouth goalkeepers and reserve strikers
“Very cruel on us,” said Eddie Howe after the defeat to Newcastle, before going on to explain why it wasn’t really cruel at all. “The one opportunity they get they score, and we had countless opportunities.”
Indeed Eddie. You make your own luck in this world.
Mourinho might not have been present at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday, but we can guess his first instruction to Steve Holland: “If Rahman plays exactly like he has been doing, take him off.”
Rahman played exactly as he has being doing. They took him off.
The silliest tackle you ever will see.