Premier League winners and losers

Date published: Monday 21st March 2016 12:43

Roberto Martinez Everton

Winners

 

Harry Kane
The list of players to score 20 or more goals in consecutive seasons now reads as follows: Alan Shearer, Andy Cole, Robbie Fowler, Les Ferdinand, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Thierry Henry, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Carlos Tevez, Robin van Persie, Luis Suarez and Harry Kane. Kane is the first new English entrant on the list since 1996.

The suspicion that Kane would be a one-season wonder was not one of malice, merely a disbelief that a player could sprint so quickly from a standing start. Kane didn’t score his first Premier League goal until April 2014. Since scoring his first, Kane has managed 44 more in 70. It’s an astonishing record for a 22-year-old.

Should Kane reach 50 goals by the end of the season, hardly an unthinkable achievement, he will have reached the landmark in 86 matches (including his few PL games on loan at Norwich). A selection, by way of comparison:

Alan Shearer – 66 (matches to reach 50 Premier League goals)
Thierry Henry – 83
Luis Suarez – 86
Robbie Fowler – 88
Michael Owen – 98
Carlos Tevez – 126
Robbie Keane – 128
Robin van Persie – 142
Wayne Rooney – 146
Gabriel Agbonlahor – 184

Now go and bloody do it for England, Harry.

 

Louis van Gaal and faith in youth
There are plenty of reasons to be bitterly disappointed with Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United, but you have to give the Dutchman credit for his faith in the club’s young players. Evidently some of this has been forced upon him through injury, but there is no doubting the trust Van Gaal has shown in Rashford, Anthony Martial, Guillermo Varela, Jesse Lingard and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson.

“In January we took the risk not to buy a left full-back. We needed one, but we said maybe Borthwick-Jackson and Varela could do the job,” said Van Gaal earlier in March.

“All the young players are hungry. They want to prove and show to the manager, to everybody, that they are the best. They always give spirit to the team and that’s why we decided not to invest in January. The policy is to have a small selection so you can give youngsters a chance. Thanks to my policy and the club who approved it, Rashford is there and it’s the same with Borthwick-Jackson and Varela.”

It’s hard to refute those claims, though the injury to Wayne Rooney has at least facilitated Rashford’s rise. While many suggested that the 18-year-old needed a break against Manchester City, Van Gaal stuck with him and got his handsome reward.

So far this season, Van Gaal has given minutes to 14 players currently aged 21 or under. His own underperformance means that he will surely not be around to reap even the short-term benefits, but his replacement will. Because we all know how much Jose Mourinho likes trusting in youth.

 

Norwich
Three massive points, made more important still by Aleksandar Mitrovic’s late goal in the Tyne-Wear derby. Alex Neil could not have wished for a better weekend.

It does not matter than Norwich only managed one shot on target at the Hawthorns. Quality beats quantity in a relegation battle. What a time to find your first win of any kind since January 2.

“The one benefit we’ve got over other teams about us is our players have never turned against each other,” Neil said after the victory over West Brom. “The squad has always been solid, with one goal. We’ll take strength from that.”

If Neil is talking about Newcastle, the point is valid. In two weeks’ time, Norwich have a chance to hammer several nails into a north-east coffin.

 

Danny Welbeck
When you are tired of Danny Welbeck, you are tired of football. It’s bloody brilliant to see him back and scoring.

 

Alex Iwobi
A hugely impressive first Premier League start, under the circumstances. Given the nod over Joel Campbell and Olivier Giroud (Welbeck could have started as a wide forward), Iwobi did not let his manager down.

Iwobi had more shots and shots on target than any other player on the pitch, and scored his first senior goal. Only one player on the pitch made more tackles, indicative of his desire to impress. Well done young man.

 

Arsenal and the impossible unlikely dream
‘So entrenched is Arsenal’s behaviour patterns that the short-term future is easy to predict,’ we wrote after the FA Cup defeat to Watford. ‘Arsenal will lose to Barcelona but rally in the league, providing a meaningful but ultimately unsuccessful title challenge. If Leicester win the league, Arsenal players and manager will remark that many big clubs have missed an opportunity. This will be a collective failure.’

So far, so right. It’s unlikely (Arsenal are priced as third favourites at 6/1 at the time of writing), but that doesn’t mean it is impossible. Arsenal’s season is still salvageable. They are 11 points behind Leicester with a game in hand and then seven more games remaining.

Win all their remaining fixtures – trips to West Ham and Manchester City are the toughest – and Arsenal will get to 79 points. That would leave Leicester requiring 14 points from their last seven matches to ensure finishing above them, and Tottenham 19.

So, Tottenham lose to one of Chelsea or Liverpool away, and they can be caught (though their goal difference is considerably better). Leicester drop seven points in four matches against Chelsea (a), Manchester United (a), West Ham (h) and Everton (h) – let’s say lose, lose, draw, win – and Arsenal can overtake them too. Leicester’s biggest test comes in the three-game home straight, when the pressure is turned up to the max.

Of course, Arsenal will probably go and lose at home to Watford next weekend, so…

For more on Arsenal’s win, you should read Matt Stead’s piece right here. Who says I only promote my own stuff?

 

Christian Eriksen
Scored in a Premier League game for just the fourth time this season, but Eriksen was back to his buzzing best against Bournemouth, creating four chances. The Dane’s reputation is slightly divisive among Tottenham supporters (although only between ‘good’ and ‘excellent’), but it’s worth noting that only Mesut Ozil has created more chances in the Premier League this season.

That’s even more impressive when you consider the work Eriksen gets through. Against Bournemouth on Sunday, Eriksen covered more ground than any other Tottenham player, sprinting 61 times; that’s nothing new. This is a player who has started 18 matches since the turn of the year.

 

Cesc Fabregas
The last time Fabregas scored more than once in a Premier League game? December 27, 2009, for Arsenal against Aston Villa. Abou Diaby scored the other.

 

Riyad Mahrez
He’s scored 29.6% of Leicester’s league goals this season, and assisted a further 20.4%. You can do the maths: Mahrez has directly contributed to exactly half of the league leaders’ goals. Wow.

 

Philippe Coutinho and the spectacular
Of every player to have played at least 500 Premier League minutes this season, only Wilfried Bony and Sergio Aguero shoot more often than Coutinho. Given that 53 of his 83 shots this season have come from outside the box, perhaps it is no wonder that occasionally one goes in. Is this the law of averages rather than an indication of unerring accuracy?

Perhaps, but it is still a welcome return to form. Against Southampton, Coutinho scored his first Premier League goal in exactly four months, following his delicate dink over David de Gea on Thursday. After a few months of looking like a decidedly English attacking midfielder, Coutinho suddenly looks Brazilian again.

 

Leicester’s defence
Taking their place in the winners list for about the sixth time in the last three months. This is why:

Leicester’s first 50 league games since promotion: 11 clean sheets.
Leicester’s 19 league games since: 11 clean sheets.

Brilliance from Mahrez and Vardy has made Leicester’s league title possible, but the extraordinary defensive improvement has made it probable.

 

Sadio Mane
After the rumours of serious Manchester United interest last summer, it really hasn’t been a good season for Mane. On Sunday, the Senegalese scored his fourth and fifth league goals of the season. It was the first time he has scored more than once in a Premier League game since his record-breaking hat-trick in May.

 

Marcus Rashford
An 18-year-old born in Wythenshawe and scoring for Manchester United after 15 minutes of his first ever Manchester derby to become the youngest ever scorer in the fixture in the Premier League era. Lovely.

 

Jermain Defoe
Goals in consecutive Premier League games for only the second time since September 2012, and right on cue. If only his defenders could keep it tight at the other end, Defoe might yet keep Sunderland up.

 

Aleksandar Mitrovic
As each generation produces a breed of footballer more well-oiled and professional than the last, we hold a special place in our hearts for those who refuse to conform. Mitrovic isn’t so much a maverick as one place along from totally unhinged. It’s bloody marvellous to watch.

Is there any other Premier League player capable of getting into this position? I doubt it.

 

West Ham
It’s a sign of the times that a point at Stamford Bridge – a ground where they had not won in ten attempts – felt so much like two dropped. Slaven Bilic’s side have lost twice in the league since November, and still have a squeak of the top four.

 

Stoke City
“Nobody mentions us, but maybe we don’t mind that,” said Mark Hughes after Stoke’s win at Watford. It was their sixth away from home of the season, a club record. “We are a little bit under the radar and we just get on with it.”

Stoke’s lack of praise stems from their own traditional lack of glamour and a spend on players higher than most other clubs in the Premier League’s mid-table. Hughes is right that his side have travelled below the radar, but should teams win their games in hand, Stoke will sit in ninth.

That said, Hughes’ evolution at the Britannia is impressive. The greatest compliment you can pay to Stoke is that this doesn’t even feel like a memorable season, more a solid base from which to push even higher in 2016/17.

 

Swansea
A sixth consecutive season of Premier League football is now virtually guaranteed, despite the managerial upheaval during this season. It’s easy to forget that 2016/17 will only be the eighth in Swansea’s history spent in the top flight.

 

Losers

 

Martin Skrtel
At the start of the season, Skrtel was Brendan Rodgers’ first-choice central defender. The Slovakian started all eight of Rodgers’ league games in charge before being sacked, and indeed Jurgen Klopp’s first nine too. Liverpool’s defence was notoriously flimsy, but Skrtel was the mainstay. Now he is the weakest link, surely behind Dejan Lovren, Mamadou Sakho and Kolo Toure in the pecking order. If that wasn’t the case before St Mary’s on Sunday, it surely is now.

Skrtel was introduced at half-time to replace Lovren, returning from a hamstring injury before which he had copped some flak for his declining performances. It took four minutes to upset the natural order of the first half, Skrtel pulling down Graziano Pelle only to see Simon Mignolet save the resultant penalty.

Not to be outdone, Skrtel was then caught out of position to allow Mane to drive through and score, and then missed his header to allow the same player to score the winner five minutes from time. Top work.

Skrtel is not brilliant in the air, not disciplined enough positionally and exposed in Klopp’s system of playing with a high line. Joel Matip, come on down.

 

Liverpool
What a way to burst the bubble after four unbeaten league games and a run of eight matches without conceding more than one goal. Those supporters gleefully discussing possible Champions League qualification at half-time must feel thoroughly sick. Even Jurgen Klopp, claiming after the game that the top four was possible should Liverpool win every game, didn’t truly believe it.

There are no prizes for guessing where Liverpool’s problems lie. Klopp may wish to add one attacking player to his armoury, but Coutinho and Roberto Firmino at least provide a basis around which recruitment can be focused. Behind them, there is no obvious banker. Liverpool’s defensive structure is comprised of players who are either not quite, not quite anymore or not quite yet.

Liverpool have now conceded three or more in a Premier League game six times this season, a total ‘beaten’ only by Aston Villa, Bournemouth, Newcastle, Norwich and Sunderland. Only those teams have conceded goals more often than Liverpool too. It is pretty unsavoury company to keep.

It’s easy to blame the central defence – and Skrtel is deservingly taking his turn under the microscope – but this is also a question of defensive organisation. It is not that Liverpool are useless, for they have allowed the second fewest shots and shots on target in the Premier League, more that they have left themselves exposed at set-pieces and in open play. Conceding 40 goals from 96 shots on target demonstrates firstly how clear-cut those chances are, and secondly that Mignolet must improve if he is to keep his place.

It also indicates that Klopp needs to find the right type of pressing midfielders to fit his system. With full-backs pushing on, it is those pressers that determine the success of Klopp’s strategy. Should they fail, Liverpool suddenly look extremely exposed. Much work to do over the summer.

 

Manuel Pellegrini
“We lost very important three points because they are also fighting for a Champions League place but we are not going to give up,” said Pellegrini after the Manchester derby defeat. Unfortunately champ, it looks like you and the players already have.

When City’s squad needed motivation and inspiration, Pellegrini has provided only limp deflation. Pep’s always preferred the Europa League anyway.

Not read 16 Conclusions? Silly.

 

Manchester City’s shooting
In their last three games in all competitions, City have taken 47 shots. Seven of them have been on target. There should be double training sessions all week at Carrington.

 

Martin Demichelis
The worst individual performance since I first got to second base at a house party in October 1999.

For more on Demichelis (but mercifully not that awful October night), go here.

 

Remi Garde
It’s becoming the worst-kept secret in football, Garde’s imminent sacking first revealed on Saturday before an awkward silence from Aston Villa on Sunday. Monday should bring the blessed relief.

Garde’s time at Villa has been a disaster, winning three and drawing seven of his 23 games in charge. Four months after his appointment was intended to save Villa’s season, the Frenchman has been wholly unable to halt the decline.

Yet it’s hard not to feel sorry for Garde, who was desperate to improve Villa’s squad in January and at least try and stamp his own identity on a set of players assembled by Paul Lambert and Tim Sherwood. When Garde needed Villa’s board to stand up and be counted, they hid in a locked cupboard and slid a note saying sorry under the door. No players arrived in January, and Villa’s fate was sealed.

During the traditional Changing the Guard ceremony, also known as ‘Guard Mounting’, one regiment takes over from another. In this changing of the Garde, it’s Villa’s manager who should feel like he’s been shafted.

 

Roberto Martinez and the myth of fluidity
There was a wonderful quote doing the rounds from a Wigan supporter at the time that Martinez was appointed at Goodison, a warning about the Spaniard’s ability to take the club forward:

‘…Martinez will beat a dead horse for all it is worth,’ it read. ‘I think under Martinez you will have absolute blinders one week and then the next week absolute shockers, but never consistency like Moyes. Moyes could prepare a defence for the inevitability of a counter attack started by a poor pass, which Martinez was utterly hopeless at during his time here.’

Somebody ask them for the lottery numbers.

This column has been pretty scathing of Martinez’s underperformance at Everton, but there is a misconception that a preference for attacking play is a synonym for managerial fluidity. It is not. Martinez’s insistence on attacking football as the key to Everton’s success whatever the weather is as set in stone as Tony Pulis’ direct football or Louis van Gaal’s obsession with possession. Such rigidity almost always gets found out.

Martinez’s unwavering commitment to one way of playing means that teams are able to plan for obvious eventualities. Stay tight on Ross Barkley and cut off the connection to Everton’s right wing starves Romelu Lukaku of service. Martinez’s blind spot to defensive organisation means that any well-drilled team can wait for defenders to be dragged out of position or make individual mistakes. Everton offer at least one such chance a game, normally two or three.

“My philosophy and my way of working is not to keep clean sheets, my philosophy is to win games,” said Martinez in January. It is a truly laughable over-simplification of Everton’s struggles, and Martinez’s non-acceptance that clean sheets and wins are not intrinsically linked is incredible. Either he changes his mindset on an ASAP basis, or he will struggle to keep his job. As he should.

 

Everton’s home record
Sixteen points now collected from 16 home games, a record that only Crystal Palace and Aston Villa can admire in the Premier League. Only four teams in the last three completed seasons have ‘boasted’ a home record as bad as Everton’s so far in 2015/16; all but one were relegated.

Everton have now kept one clean sheet at home in the Premier League since April. A reminder that Martinez has publicly stated his ambition to finish in the top four. They’re three points off the top half.

 

Alan Pardew’s bitterness
Cheered by Leicester’s rise are you? Think it’s a good story for the game in need of one? Impressed by their performances under pressure and resolve? Then you aren’t Alan Pardew.

‘Unlike Leicester we have been unfortunate to lose key players for long periods,’ Pardew wrote in his programme notes ahead of Crystal Palace’s home game against Claudio Ranieri’s team. ‘Today’s opponents have been awarded 10 penalties this season, which is double the total of any other team.’

This is why Pardew is so difficult to root for, and his slumps are enjoyed by supporters across the country. He sounds like a man who would tell his children Father Christmas doesn’t exist just so he could take credit for buying the presents.

 

Crystal Palace DNA
“I genuinely came back to Crystal Palace because the DNA of how I wanted to run a club and what I wanted to do, would fit me much better” – Alan Pardew, December 2015.

“We had to sit ourselves down at half-time and take away the tyre that we were dragging behind us after five defeats. Make no mistake, it was Crystal Palace DNA which got us home by getting blocks in at the end. We thwarted a Swansea side who are in good form, so it makes it a little bit more sweet that we managed to pull it back” – Pardew, February 2016.

“This team’s DNA has been to fight, to battle, to scrap, and we didn’t do that in the first half there. That was the most disturbing thing. It was uncharacteristic, but that will worry our fans” – Pardew, February 2016.

“I thought we played a fairly measured game in the second half, so that was a good sign. We certainly had more of a Crystal Palace threat in the second half than we had in the first half. That’s what will get us out of it, our DNA” – Pardew, March 19.

There are therefore two explanations for Palace’s run of two points from their last 33 available:

1) Pardew’s DNA, an inability to address a slump, is more powerful than Palace’s own DNA.
2) Palace’s manager is talking a load of old guff.

 

Tony Pulis and dreary home performances
Just as a run of ten points in four games guaranteed West Brom’s Premier League safety and threatened to improve Pulis’ approval rating at the Hawthorns, along comes another dreary home defeat to a lesser side.

Before Saturday, Norwich had allowed two or more shots on target in every away game this season, and their average shots on target faced is 5.1. West Brom didn’t even manage one. Pulis’ side have now had two or fewer shots on target in 50% of their home games this season.

This dull home form is hardly anything new. West Brom have only won 15 home league games since November 2013; nine of those wins have been 1-0.

 

Sunderland’s generosity
Sam Allardyce prides himself on the defensive resilience of his teams, but this one is testing his patience. Sunderland have dropped points from winning positions in each of their last three matches. Had they held on, Sunderland would be four points outside the bottom three. Now is not the time for generosity.

 

Emmanuel Adebayor
Five Premier League starts, and now withdrawals at half-time in two of them. Those hoping “world-class” Adebayor would reignite Palace’s season were remembering a long-lost striker.

 

Daniel Storey

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