Premier League winners and losers

Date published: Monday 7th May 2018 10:19

Winners

Darren Moore
Listen to every interview with former team-mates or colleagues of Moore, and each person uses exactly the same phrase: Mr West Brom. Moore played more games for this club than any other, and has since coached within the club’s academy structure and on the first-team staff. He was part of the squad that completed West Brom’s other great Premier League escape, in 2004/05.

Experience of a club and a situation is not everything, but it can certainly help. Having lost the apparent safety blanket of Tony Pulis as manager (who was allowing the club to fall into relegation trouble), West Brom had two options: Go for the well-regarded, respected internal coach, or gamble on the name. They went for the latter; they went for Alan Pardew.

That decision will take West Brom down. Only a draw between Southampton and Swansea on Tuesday can prolong this survival bid, and even then West Brom must beat Crystal Palace away while Swansea lose at home to Stoke or Southampton concede a hatful at home to Manchester City. This is not going to happen. West Brom are a 1/200 shot to be relegated.

But eventual relegation, because it was so inevitable, does not make the last few weeks of this season redundant. Moore has started the healing process at the Hawthorns long before anyone thought it was possible. Some first-team players will leave this summer, but those remaining will have more confidence that they can start next season at running pace. Moore’s performance might even persuade one or two players to stay who would otherwise have looked for a way out.

Incredibly, Moore is not yet a done deal to take over on a permanent basis. That was never the plan; Dean Smith, Lee Johnson or A N Other Championship manager was. That proves both that West Brom were not aware of what they had, and that Moore has outperformed even the highest expectations.

Short-term bump is no proof of long-term suitability, and history is littered with those who showed early promise before fading away. Mike Phelan won both of his first two Premier League games as Hull City manager at the start of last season.

But West Brom are a club without many signposts pointing them in the right direction. In their absence, they must go for what is working now having watched everything else fail to work for the last 12 months. Moore has beaten Rafael Benitez, Jose Mourinho and Mauricio Pochettino in three of his first five games as a manager. Just give him the job already.

 

Arsene Wenger
A fine and appropriate send-off from a club that does a good line in classy celebration. Wenger is a once-great manager but still a great man. His farewell day, complete with the gratitude of every supporter at the Emirates, was a fitting tribute.

Wenger did not want it to end this way. He would have preferred one or two more seasons, and desired to leave Arsenal carrying a trophy above his head. But it has become clear over the last three years that Wenger’s exit could never be ideal. In fact, brief announcement followed by short-ish goodbye is as tidy as Wenger and Arsenal could have hoped for.

Wenger’s own words were emotive and eloquent. “Thank you for having me for such a long time. I know that’s not easy,” he said, addressing the crowd. “Above all I am like you: I am an Arsenal fan. That means this is more than just watching football, it’s a way of life. It is caring about the beautiful game, about the values that we cherish.”

Can we also refute this notion that there is something two-faced or fickle in supporters who wanted Wenger to leave the club now taking part in the fanfare over his departure? Surely thinking that the manager is not right for the job now can be mutually inclusive with appreciating Wenger’s role in changing Arsenal and English football, and wanting to celebrate that? To those criticising Arsenal fans for their mawkish messages of farewell: What would have been your reaction if Wenger was booed at the Emirates yesterday? Don’t be so bloody one-eyed.

If this was the day Wenger never wanted to come, the best he could have hoped for was that he and the club bid adieu in a manner that everyone at the Emirates will cherish for years to come. That final ambition was perfectly achieved.

 

Chris Hughton
A magnificent job done by a lovely man. Sometimes the good guys don’t finish last. Or 19th. Or 18th. Or 17th. Or 16th. Or 15th.

 

Jonathan Hogg
A performance that Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp would have been proud of. On Sunday against Manchester City, Hogg made nine interceptions in a single match. That’s the highest total in a Premier League game since October 2016.

 

Huddersfield Town
A crucial point earned at the most unlikely of stadia. Manchester City supporters might have celebrated their team lifting the Premier League trophy on Sunday, but the biggest cheer of the day came from the away end at the final whistle. David Wagner’s team got what their grit deserved, and one more point would make survival virtually certain.

 

Antonio Conte and Chelsea
It may ultimately matter for nought in the Premier League unless Liverpool or Tottenham falter further, but do not be tricked into thinking that this run of form is entirely meaningless. Chelsea have now won five straight matches in all competitions for the first time this season.

With Antonio Rudiger and Tiemoue Bakayoko finding form and plans being formulated for both a new manager and the club’s summer transfer activity, don’t be surprised to see Chelsea competing for the title again next year. After all, this is exactly what they do.

Now go and read 16 Conclusions

 

Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Slightly ludicrously, this was only the second match that Lacazette and Aubameyang have started together at Arsenal. Their relationship has been thwarted by a combination of injury, Europa League cup-tying rules and Wenger’s decision to rest players to prioritise European competition.

But include substitute appearances, and the pair’s record is prodigious. Since the beginning of April, Lacazette and Aubameyang have spent 211 minutes on the pitch together. In that time, those two players alone have scored nine times, or once every 23.4 minutes. There lies the perfect platform for a new manager.

 

Roy Hodgson
The first manager to keep a side up after it has lost its opening seven league matches since Tom Watson at Liverpool in 1900. Hodgson has clearly been aided by a squad that was sapped of belief but had no little skill, but it was on him to transform the mood.

Given that Hodgson’s last managerial assignment ended with him apologising for England’s Euro 2016 exit to Iceland, that’s quite the turnaround in fortunes. The British old-timer manager who retained the least amount of media goodwill is the one who has achieved the most this season.

 

David Moyes
Premier League survival secured thanks to Moyes’ seventh away win in 38 attempts since taking over at Sunderland in July 2016. Now to win over a fanbase and doubting media by spending any money he is afforded wisely and taking West Ham back into the top half. Good luck.

 

Javi Gracia
A fourth win in 14 matches to allay his fears of the sack this summer. Another Watford season draws to a close in customary fashion, with me thinking that they have been both intriguing and dull in equal measures across the course of the season and me momentarily forgetting the name of their manager.

 

Losers

Carlos Carvalhal and Swansea City
After Swansea’s defeat at Bournemouth on Saturday, the Guardian’s Stuart James described the second-half performance as ‘pathetic and gutless’. James is an excellent writer, and certainly not prone to hyperbole. His was not the reaction of the fan, more concerned observer. This survival bid has gone south very quickly indeed.

So it was surprising to hear Carvalhal in chipper mood in his post-match press conference. “We will score,” he said on the subject of Tuesday night’s must-not-lose game against Southampton. “I am not worried because I have players who can score. Even if they are not scoring, we achieved goalscoring situations against Chelsea and Everton. In the Chelsea and Everton games, we deserved much more than we got and I believe in my players and I believe they can score because we have got goalscorers in the team.”

That’s some gumption from a manager whose top scorer has seven league goals and whose team has scored twice in their last seven matches while keeping one league clean sheet in three months.

If Carvalhal’s cheery optimism is merely a cover for the anger and indignation he will release onto his players before Tuesday evening’s game, there is no issue here. But the suspicion among those who cover the club is that the strength of personality that engineered this rejuvenation in form has petered out after its initial few months. Swansea haven’t just taken three points from a possible 21 – they’ve looked poor for long periods of each of those matches.

Carvalhal is sticking with a back three that reduces plenty of Swansea’s attacking threat without making them watertight. A central midfield of Ki-Sung Yueng and Tom Carroll provides little other than the occasional pleasant pass and a generally soft centre. Swansea are not just getting beaten, they are easy to beat. There are more reasons to fear Southampton than expect this situation to be resolved in the space of two days.

 

Jose Mourinho’s excuse
How unlike Mourinho to hound out a young player in public having repeatedly talked them up in the recent past. At least this time we got two for the price of one.

Mourinho is not a man who finds apportioning blame difficult, so we were ready for defeat at Brighton – United’s third to a promoted club this season – to prompt another chastisement of something or someone. This is Mourinho, master attention deflector.

Even so, the criticism of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford was strong. “For 10 months I get asked ‘why always Lukaku? Why always Lukaku? Why always this player?,’” he said. “‘That guy doesn’t have a chance to start, the other one is on the bench’. You know why now.”

Mourinho’s insistence that players must take responsibility once they cross the white line has some merit, but the buck has perennially stopped at the feet of the manager. Furthermore, the Manchester United’s boss might want to ask why Martial and Rashford looked so deflated against Brighton.

Could it be that Martial has started four league games in over three months and this was Rashford’s third in 2018, leaving them short of confidence and match readiness? Or could it be that the purchase of Alexis Sanchez has left both feeling like slightly unwanted goods? Or could it be that the style of Mourinho’s United since the opening month of the season has stymied their attacking endeavour?

Mourinho now faces a tough balancing act. Asked to choose between two young attackers and the manager, Mourinho might not like the answer provided by some United supporters.

 

Stoke City’s two mistakes
Stoke’s first issue was sticking with Mark Hughes for too long. The Welshman won nine of his last 36 matches, but they had been on a poor run for almost a year. By choosing to put unmerited faith in Hughes to turn around the situation, Stoke missed out on the usual firefighters.

But their second error – and most crippling – was to fail to line up a replacement for Hughes before sacking him. It might sound disloyal to the current manager, but no sensible club makes the plunge and then starts looking. Processes should be in place.

Stoke approached Martin O’Neill, Gary Rowett and Quique Sanchez Flores but made none of them stick. When chief executive Tony Scholes then prioritised experience in English football as part of the recruitment process, the pool of candidates was shallow. They ended up with Paul Lambert, who had a recent reputation for struggling in the Premier League and struggling to make his team score goals.

It is easy to say in hindsight, but from that point Stoke were doomed. They won his first match, at home to Huddersfield, and Lambert did succeed in making Stoke more defensively secure, but their attack has dried up entirely. Since that first game, Lambert’s Stoke failed to score more than once in each of their 13 league games. It doesn’t matter how solid you are at the back if you’re struggling to create chances and Peter Crouch is your No. 1 striker.

Stoke’s relegation is what happens when an established Premier League club takes its eye of the ball and assumes that they are safe from the drop no matter how many bad decisions they make. They must now decide whether Lambert is the right man to help them bounce back. That takes a large leap of faith.

 

Harry Kane
Looks half-knackered, quite frankly. Playing Kane in this state a fortnight ago was doing England no favours, but now playing him over and over again is harming Tottenham and the player too.

Kane came back early from his injury in a bid to win the Golden Boot, but it has backfired. I have no issue with him claiming a goal that he scored, but he’s now playing at half-pace. Play Heung-Min Son at centre forward against Newcastle and start Lucas Moura. It cannot be worse than the West Brom defeat.

 

Sam Allardyce
“We discussed plans for next season yesterday with Farhad. I think we have some clarity moving forward now. (Regarding) ins and outs of players, it is a wait-and-see basis in terms of what we can try and achieve and then, under those circumstances, what players do we move on. Didn’t I just say that [I was staying]? For clarification, yes.”

This claim has been disputed by numerous reports linking Everton with approaches for several managers this summer.

“It’s an entertainment game, you’re trying to capture hearts and minds, and certainly I think, particularly from a home point of view, we’ve achieved that, not just with the results but the way we’ve played and the way we’ve beaten teams.”

Sorry, Sam. But while the first claim cannot be disproved until the summer, the second was disproved on Saturday afternoon. Unless those boos and chats of “F*ck off Sam Allardyce” were ironic, Allardyce has a long way to go with those hearts and minds.

 

Claude Puel
At least you’re making it easy for the club, fella. Probably warn the next guy to expect the same deal.

 

Liverpool
No victory in three Premier League games. Now they must beat a promoted club at home – or Real Madrid in Kiev- to avoid the silliest of slumps into the Europa League.

 

Tottenham
One victory in four Premier League games. Now they must beat a promoted club at home to avoid the silliest of slumps into the Europa League.

 

Dominic Solanke
He simply isn’t good enough, I’m afraid. I’ve just realised Solanke has won a senior international cap this season, which now seems potty.

 

Nick Pope
Conceded four or more goals in a league game for the first time in his career. That covers matches for Burnley, Charlton, Bury, York City, Aldershot, Cambridge United and Welling United.

 

Mohamed Salah
You’re good at everything else, so don’t bother throwing yourself to the ground with an opponent more than 30 centimetres away from making contact. For all the disagreement over players making the most of contact, some dives are easier to spot than others.

 

Daniel Storey


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