Tottenham and their attacking energy
“It wasn’t our intention to play like this,” Swansea coach Alan Curtis said after the 2-1 defeat to Tottenham. “They just had wave upon wave of attack.”
It was a striking admission from Curtis, but he was left with no choice. Swansea were not just pinned back, they were tied up with rope and chains and the padlock key swallowed for good measure. Tottenham had 34 shots, the highest by any team in a Premier League game this season. Mauricio Pochettino’s side also managed 14 on target; no other team this season has beaten 12. Only the heroics of Lukasz Fabianski stopped the scoreline being as embarrassingly one-sided as the match statistics.
Seven of the Tottenham side that face Swansea had played against Fiorentina on Thursday evening, and yet three days later they were not only able to turn in a dominant performance, but also to cope with trailing 1-0 at half-time.
While their north London neighbours looked sapped of energy and fight after a five-day gap between fixtures, Spurs were the opposite. They completed 603 sprints, the most of any Premier League team this weekend, and covered 122.1km. No other team managed more than 115.4km.
This superhuman physical and mental energy may well run dry before the end of the season, but we’ve been saying that for some time. In the final stages of their last two league games, it has been Tottenham and not the opposition who has won the points. Someone search Pochettino for his wand and pointy hat; he must be a wizard.
Louis van Gaal
A victory to turn every expectation on its head. Defeat to Arsenal with a ragtag bunch of youngsters, stand-ins and square pegs in round holes was supposed to rubber-stamp Van Gaal’s departure as Manchester United manager. The Dutchman ended it three points from the top four and in a stronger bargaining position than he has been for three months.
There is an argument that Sunday’s match was Van Gaal’s ideal scenario. Backs to the wall and with little to lose in a big game, the pressure was – for once – not piled in front of his own dug-out. Van Gaal’s willingness to trust in youth was, by his own estimation, one of the reasons he got the job: “It is the culture of Manchester United, and that that is why they take me as a manager, I think.”
Yet it would be remiss not to praise Van Gaal for the victory. Despite Arsenal’s ineptitude, United’s manager offered at least his middle finger in the direction of those who have called for his immediate sacking (including me). His own under-achievement is well-established, but there is life in the old dog yet.
“I have never seen the dressing room quite so happy and relaxed,” Van Gaal said after the victory over Midtjylland on Thursday. “Not only the players who played, but those on the bench and those who are injured, they were all laughing and talking with each other and happy. It has been quite a long time since that happened.” At the time it seemed a fanciful claim, but Sunday brought emphatic evidence.
In times of adversity, a manager discovers those in his squad who will sink and swim. He may only be enjoying an Indian summer but, against Arsenal, Van Gaal proved himself to be the ideal man to hand out the rubber rings and armbands to his team of kids.
Ineffectual home performances against struggling sides are not the signs of champions. Scruffy late winners from substitute strikers really, really are.
Guus Hiddink and Chelsea resilience
Since Hiddink’s appointment on December 19, Chelsea have taken 21 points from 11 matches. Extrapolate that across the entire season, and they would be sat ahead of Arsenal in third place, four points behind Leicester. Chelsea’s turnaround may not have been stunning, for such an adjective seems out of place when discussing Hiddink, but it has been hugely impressive.
Most striking of all is the resilience that Hiddink has added to this Chelsea squad, low on morale after the Mourinho era. They have come from behind to take at least a point in five matches under the Dutchman’s interim stewardship.
In his first ten weeks in charge, Hiddink’s Chelsea have collected seven points from losing positions in the league. That’s as many as Mourinho’s Chelsea managed in the whole of 2015.
Between start of season and January 15 (Premier League):
Minutes per goal – No goals scored
Minutes per assist – 724
Minutes per shot on target – 181
Between January 16 and February 28 (Premier League):
Minutes per goal – 270
Minutes per assist – 270
Minutes per shot on target – 108
You have to hand it to Fabregas. He got so sick of everyone going on about him starting the season strongly and tailing off that he decided to completely reverse the trend. How’s that late-season form looking now, chumpos?
“If he plays like he did today everybody will start talking about him,” Pulis said about Berahino after the 3-2 victory over Crystal Palace. “His mind is clear and he is set on his football again. The most important thing is that he has a God-given gift and he should squeeze the pips from it, and have a great career. Everything will follow. If he is playing well he will get the recognition – and the move.”
Those last three words may sit uncomfortably with Berahino given his isolation at West Brom. The striker played pretty well last season and all bids were rejected, so further promises are likely to fall on deaf ears.
For now, however, there must only be positivity. With Berahino starting his second league game since October and scoring a wonderful goal, the striker must surely now have earned an extended run in Pulis’ team. Weird how having your best players on the pitch helps a side to perform better.
The last game Bolasie started was also Palace’s last league win, against Stoke on December 19. His introduction at half-time changed the pattern of Saturday’s game, if not the result. Alan Pardew will be hopeful that his winger can again be the difference against Sunderland on Tuesday.
He scored with his first two shots in the Europa League. He scored with his first two shots in the Premier League. He couldn’t celebrate his memorable league debut because he had a chemistry exam on Monday morning.
Maybe it’s United who found the perfect formula.
Four goals and two assists in his last ten Premier League games. I’m really happy for him. No, honestly, I am. *Sobs*
Newcastle supporters’ best weekends of late may all have coincided with their side not playing, but this one was better than most. The six sides around them all played, and took a total of one point between them. Now for Steve McClaren to make the most of the leg-up.
Bilic is now four points away from matching Sam Allardyce’s total from last season. Plenty are still waiting for the West Ham wobble, but still it refuses to come.
Only the top two have lost fewer league games than West Ham this season. To be four points off the top four at the beginning of March under a new manager bedding in new players is a remarkable achievement.
Joins Dwight Gayle as the second Crystal Palace striker to score more than once in a Premier League game since Andrew Johnson in February 2005. Any more of this funny business and Wickham will be on the transfer list.
The club, the players and your manager are all making you look like fools. It’ll never change until wholesale changes are made.
For more on Arsenal and their latest bottle job, go to 16 Conclusions.
After the League Cup final, Sarah Winterburn wrote that Liverpool were a 9/10 club with 7/10 leaders. Wonder whether Ozil gets the opposite feeling?
Against United, Ozil did what Ozil does. He scored one, assisted another and created five other chances. The German’s six chances created was more than every other player from both sides combined. He is also now just two away from Thierry Henry’s all-time Premier League assist record, and we’re still in February.
In terms of chances created, the gap between Ozil and third place is the same as the gap between third and 63rd. He is by far and away the best attacking midfielder in the Premier League. If only Arsenal had the strikers to take full advantage.
Ozil’s creative magnificence should be handsomely rewarded. He should be picking up a Premier League winner’s medal in May, and being named PFA Player of the Year. Instead, he’s in danger of (again) having the FA Cup as his biggest hope of a trophy in March.
Ozil is serving up Michelin-starred food for steak and chips strikers. Arsenal supporters must be worried that such a task soon gets tedious.
Walcott already got a good kicking in 16 Conclusions, but it really is worth repeating just how terrible his 63 minutes were: ‘No shots, no chances created and six passes completed in 63 minutes. He touched the ball 17 times and managed to lose possession on ten occasions. It would be hard to do worse deliberately.’
Wenger put faith in Walcott for a big game with good reason. Michael Carrick and Daley Blind’s comparative lack of pace made them sitting ducks for a quick forward prepared to play on the last shoulder. Even with both United central defenders dropping deep to counteract the issue, Walcott was expected to make hay. He ended up making his supporters scream.
As Arsenal’s – and thus Wenger’s – longest-serving player, Walcott’s own fortunes are entwined with that of his manager; it’s easy to see him being cleared out in the post-Wenger spring clean. On the evidence of Sunday, it can’t come too soon. Like Arsenal, the stagnating Walcott is unreliable in the most crucial moments. It’s an imperfect recipe for success.
“We’re regarded as an underclass,” Pardew said in December. “It’s beginning to bug me. I don’t hear a lot of promoting English coaches and managers. There are no English or British managers in the top teams. I get accused of being arrogant. For me, it’s self-belief. English coaches really have to have a steely resolve because the press are tougher with us.”
“Foreign ownership has taken the focus away a bit,” he continued. “Immediately I look at the Reading job [Steve Clarke had just been sacked] and think ‘a foreign manager is going to get that’. Jobs come up in the Premier League and the first three or four names are foreign.”
It was good to see Pardew finally stick up for that most mistreated and downtrodden element of English society, the white, English, middle-aged football manager. It was also good to see him realise that the press are tougher on English managers than foreigners, like that time the press analysed the way little Englander Andre Villas-Boas stood on the touchline. The foreign coach has been getting an easy ride for too long, while managers like Pardew, Allardyce and Harry Redknapp are never touted for big jobs by their mates in high places. Good on the little guy!
Pardew was also right to be worried about ANOTHER foreigner coming in at Reading after massive foreigner Steve Clarke cocked things up. Brian McDermott may sound like the name of a man born in Slough, but he’s actually from the Peruvian town of Chimbote, where they only study football through analytics. Children in the town even have their eyes removed to stop them watching actual matches and believing their gut instincts. Bloody hipsters.
Of course, Pardew’s big bold statement came after Palace had beaten former club Newcastle 5-1. He’s been a lot quieter lately. On Saturday, Palace lost their seventh league game in eight, and they have now taken three league points from the last 30 available. Lose at Sunderland on Tuesday and relegation becomes a possibility.
Still, at least Pardew is well away from the top half, where all those ghastly foreigners live. Best to be in the bottom seven, with the other three English managers in the Premier League.
NB: For those keeping a record, Pardew blamed referee Jonathan Moss for Palace’s latest defeat.
As Matt Stead wrote after the game, returning to Upton Park was the one Allardyce really wanted to win, so he could hold his ears up to the stands and feed off the boos. But he didn’t win. Having had the widespread support of a fair chunk of the media, the work of Slaven Bilic on a similar budget (and lower salary) has made Big Sam’s own work look modest.
Allardyce has a reputation as the perfect firefighter, the man to save any club from peril. Yet when he took over Sunderland, they were in 19th position. He found them five points from safety but only seven away from 11th with 30 games remaining. Sunderland now sit in 19th position. Should Newcastle win their game in hand, they will be four points from safety and 13 points away from 11th with 11 games remaining.
If there has been progress, it is in comparison with Dick Advocaat’s dire start rather than by any other reasonable measure. Allardyce also spent £15m in January. Victory against Crystal Palace on Tuesday is a necessity.
Sunderland and inconsistency
Sunderland have not gone more than two league games without defeat since May 2015. Before then it was December 2014. It’s hard to get anywhere when every two steps in the right direction are followed by a large leap backwards.
Since the beginning of last season Sunderland have won 13 league matches, of which seven have been immediately followed by defeats: 0-8 vs Southampton (a), 1-3 vs Hull (h), 1-4 vs Crystal Palace (h), 2-6 vs Everton (a), 1-3 vs Arsenal (a), 1-4 vs Tottenham (a), 0-1 vs West Ham (a).
Twenty-nine goals conceded in seven games straight after wins. Who said anything about the power of victory?
Victor Anichebe and Rickie Lambert
With Pulis finally clearing out his kitchen cupboard and finding a dusty Berahino at the back, begging to play football, West Brom’s two back-up strikers should prepare themselves for an extended spell on the sidelines.
Since the end of October, Anichebe and Lambert combined have played 100 more league minutes than Berahino. That’s about 17 different kinds of stupid.
It is the ‘hope that kills you’ principle in action. Had Norwich lost 2-0 at Leicester, with the goals coming in the 12th and 62nd minute, we would be talking about another defeat, but an expected one.
As it is, Norwich gave everything at the King Power on Saturday. They sat back and invited Claudio Ranieri’s side onto them, aware of the danger of the counter-attack. They backed themselves to stay resolute in defence, and pick up a vital point. And they came close. So, so close.
“I don’t think we deserved that,” said Neil. “In the game we had good chances and defensively we were solid. It was a tough one. I think if Leicester were the better side and thoroughly deserved to win, then you take it on the chin and regroup for the next game. But we had a great opportunity to get a point or even more if we had taken one of our chances. It was disappointing for that to happen at such a crucial time of the game.”
It seems illogical to think that a 1-0 defeat could be more damaging than 2-0 but, with only three days before their next match, Neil must pick a squad of players off the floor. It’ll take some doing.
“At previous clubs he has proved he is a world-class striker and he has shown it over and over again. He has a point to prove and it has given us a lift to see someone like that come in with the run we were on” – Scott Dann.
“We have just signed a world-class striker. We aren’t expecting any trouble” – Steve Parish.
On Saturday evening, Adebayor was worse than trouble; he was nothing. No shots, no chances created, no headers won. The most damning statistic is this: In his 45 minutes before being substituted, Adebayor failed to touch the ball nearer than 30 yards from goal.
Palace’s other players were complicit in such dross, but Adebayor has not yet had the impact many at Selhurst Park hoped. If this ‘world-class’ striker was recruited to stop the rot, we’re still waiting.
This column regularly gives Rooney stick, but that’s principally because he’s the highest-paid player in the Premier League performing worse than at least 30 of his peers. One of the great things about Rashford’s immediate impact on United’s team is that it offers a glimpse of what might be, and what United fans should expect from Rooney. They have been forced to set their expectations wilfully low.
Rooney has scored more than one goal in a game for United twice in the past year, but Rashford has done it twice in four days. In the space of 170 minutes, an 18-year-old striker has managed 24% of Rooney’s goal total from the last 12 months.
Hiddink is already making Mourinho’s Chelsea collapse look even worse. The last thing he needs is for Van Gaal to end on a bloody high.