Premier League winners and losers

Date published: Tuesday 6th December 2016 9:05

Winners

Alexis Sanchez
“If he leads Arsenal to the title, then he is world-class,” says Alan Shearer. Which is obviously bollocks. To judge a player’s worth on silverware when there are so many variables is absurd. Luis Suarez was phenomenal in 2013/14 without leading Liverpool to the title, Gianfranco Zola was wonderful without winning the Premier League with Chelsea and Steven Gerrard was one of Europe’s finest midfielders and yet was never crowned champion of England. Jamie Vardy’s goals helped Leicester win the title last season and he is barely Premier League class now.

By any measure, Alexis Sanchez is currently one of the best players in the world. Use your eyes and see energy, invention, desire, skill, insouciance and class. Use the stats and note 11 goals and four assists in the Premier League this season. Against West Ham, he was simply unplayable.

Instead of wondering about an arbitrary ‘world-class’ status or asking why Arsene Wenger did not play Sanchez as a centre-forward earlier (he occasionally did and it didn’t really work), let us just enjoy a footballer who has been a delight to watch since the minute he arrived right up to that cheeky third goal on Saturday night.

We don’t constantly have to ask ‘how good?’, just ‘when can we watch him again?’.

 

Diego Costa
The most complete centre-forward in Europe right now? Certainly, no player in the top five leagues has contributed more than Costa’s total of 16 league goals or assists. It is a number matched by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang but his split (15 goals, one assist) makes us more inclined to laud Costa (11 goals, five assists), whose assist for Chelsea’s second was breathtakingly good. The movement, the physicality, the elegance, the pass. Sublime.

World-class, Alan? Oh you really are spoiling us with your banter.

 

Chelsea
“Chelsea look scary to me. They don’t have to have all the ball to win games. Liverpool do, Manchester City do, Arsenal do. Chelsea play in a pragmatic way, they are hard to beat.”

That was Graeme Souness before Saturday; he should be petrified now.

For more on Chelsea’s win read Matt Stead’s excellent 16 Conclusions.

 

 

Tottenham
Boy did they need that. They needed a game against compliant, porous opposition happy to play the dummies in a shooting drill. They needed a referee to fall for the latest Dele Alli drama after 39 frustrating minutes. They needed Christian Eriksen to get a long-overdue shot of confidence. They needed Moussa Sissoko to come off the bench and make a significant, positive contribution. They needed three points to avoid being pulled into an unseemly battle for fifth with Manchester United.

We shall try to ignore the fact that five of the seven teams they have beaten this season are in the bottom eight, at least until Daniel Storey writes his 16 Conclusions from their 1-1 draw at Old Trafford on Sunday.

 

Alan Pardew
Boy did he need that. He needed opposition whose minds were elsewhere. He needed the Southampton keeper to drop a bollock. He needed his defenders to really start to defend. He needed Christian Benteke. He needed three points that suddenly make Palace look like a mid-table side even though they really have only got a point a game (more on that later).

Should he have then said that Palace’s investors knew little about football if they were worried by six consecutive defeats? Clearly not. Was anybody surprised? Not at all. Will it make Palace’s clueless investors a little less likely to listen to Steve Parish the next time one of these inevitable runs happens? You would certainly hope so.

 

Ryan Fraser
A first Premier League goal and a first Premier League assist. And presumably a first Premier League start in three months next week. Well done, wee man.

 

Jack Wilshere
Bizarrely still without a Premier League goal or assist but watch the highlights of that remarkable game again and see how many times the transition from defence to attack comes through Wilshere thinking two or three steps ahead and somehow finding the time and space to make it happen. A class act.

 

West Brom
Four years ago, West Brom were fourth at this stage of the season. But that was a West Brom with Romelu Lukaku. Now West Brom have Salomon Rondon (who we love) so seventh is at least as impressive.

There has been no great revolution at West Brom, who are a Tony Pulis side doing what a Tony Pulis side do…but with added fizz. Matty Phillips is now playing so well that Nacer Chadli has swapped the Tottenham bench for the West Brom bench, while Chris Brunt is relishing being released from the shackles of a left-back role.

They have now scored more goals than Manchester United this season. Read that again and take it in.

But congratulations Jose, your side has the best pass completion rate in the Premier League. West Brom? They have the worst. After Leicester, nothing and everything makes sense.

 

Phil Jones
It turns out that the man we all expected to fall short in a title challenge is perfect for a team in sixth. He was our early winner on Sunday night.

 

Marcos Rojo
Lucky, lucky boy.

 

Henrikh Mkhitaryan
If your side is going to throw away yet more late points from a penalty conceded by the awkward, gangly legs of Marouane Fellaini, the best place to be is on the bench having been replaced by the awkward, gangly legs of Marouane Fellaini.

The Armenian started for the first time in the Premier League since his 45-minute sacrificial slaughter against Manchester City; he might not have pulled up any trees, but he certainly loosened enough branches to be given another chance against Tottenham on Sunday.

 

Ronald Koeman
That precious point will just about ease the pressure this week but nothing less than victory at Watford on Saturday should now be acceptable.

 

Jordan Pickford
There is something wonderful about goalkeepers celebrating saves and defenders celebrating tackles. Sunderland need an awful lot of both this season.

 

Stoke City
We can all rest easy in our beds once again as Stoke are ninth.

We gave Mark Hughes towers of criticism for Stoke’s start so we owe him piles of credit for an astonishing recovery; over the last eight games, their record matches that of Liverpool.

What was most impressive about Hughes this weekend is that he kept faith with the same team and system despite the availibility of Joe Allen and Glenn Whelan, who sat on a very strong bench alongside Wilfried Bony.

 

Goalscoring defenders
Marc Muniesa, Steve Cook, Nathan Ake, James Tomkins, Christian Kabasele, Leighton Baines, Gary Cahill, Jonny Evans. And only the latter a header from a corner.

Losers

Marouane Fellaini
On Saturday morning I learned that some people still watch Soccer AM, and I watched Marouane Fellaini talk to the middle-aged man they bizarrely still call ‘Tubes’ and bristle at a question about his over-physical style. He also said, “this season, I just play in the midfield defensively and I’m happy like that,” and I thought ‘well, you might be happy, but is anybody else?’.

About 32 hours later, Gary Neville was entirely absolving Jose Mourinho of any blame for Manchester United’s latest capitulation when he said that Fellaini’s challenge was “idiotic” and continued: “He’s such an experienced player, he’s played here before, he knows the ground and the crowd, it’s a poor individual moment.

“It’s no reflection on the manager, he has made the substitution for the right reasons and he has been let down by his player.”

But as Leon Osman explained that at Everton they “wanted him as far away from our box as possible” and expressed no surprise at this latest misdemeanour, you wondered why – if Leon Osman knew, we all knew, every Manchester United fan knew – Mourinho did not see this coming too.

If I put a full glass within reaching distance of my two-year-old, do I blame his ‘poor individual moment’ when he sends it crashing to the ground? Well, of course I do; I am a brilliant mother and that child is a f***ing liability.

 

Jose Mourinho
This ‘what can I do, we’re so unlucky, we played so brilliantly’ record plays on. And on. And on.

This time last year, Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United also drew 1-1 away from home, having dominated possession and created just two shots on target all game. That result kept United in third place, on 28 points, just a point behind Manchester City and Leicester. The Dutchman declared himself “disappointed”.

This latest 1-1 from Mourinho’s United – their third in a row in the Premier League – keeps them in sixth place, on 21 points, a full 13 points behind Chelsea and a point ahead of West Brom. The Portuguese has grumpily mumbled “no comment” a couple of times, shrugged his shoulders at his awful “luck” and blamed Everton’s tactics for giving him no choice but to bring on his giant toddler.

Sorry (not sorry), but if Van Gaal was forced to constantly explain why his side dominated possession and yet failed to dominate scorelines then Mourinho should have to do the same. To mumble about ‘luck’ and ‘individual errors’ should not be acceptable. This United side is average, forgettable and at least as bad as anything we have seen over the three seasons between iconic Premier League managers.

Do we just swallow this notion that Manchester United are a) brilliant and b) unlucky, just because we are told? Watching them against Everton, it felt like they were just doing enough to beat a pretty poor, disjointed Everton side and the statistics back that up – two shots on target, a pass completion rate 10% down on the average. There were moments when Mkhitaryan, Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic almost combined well but we are in December and ‘almost combined well’ is not really good enough when Chelsea already look like the finished article. United are producing moments while other teams are producing matches.

You don’t lose seven points in the last ten minutes of games simply because of individual errors; you lose seven points in the last ten minutes of games at least partly because you’re not doing enough in the preceding 80. And Mourinho is at least partly culpable for that.

 

Loris Karius
A goalkeeper for the future but Liverpool need someone better right now. Daniel Storey wrote about the problem at length here.

 

Jurgen Klopp
It would be unfair to lay all blame at the feet/hands of Karius because once again, Liverpool made an absolute cock of things defensively. They have conceded 14 goals in eight away games this season and that is a) ridiculous b) worse than Sunderland and c) utterly at odds with the title challenge their attacking players merit.

And if we say that Mourinho cannot be absolved of blame for throwing points away then Klopp cannot either, regardless of his gracious acceptance of defeat, his lovely big smile and the fact that any sane person would love one of those big bear hugs.

This was the fourth time under Klopp that Liverpool had been two goals ahead in a Premier League game and failed to win, and it has taken little over a year to notch that unwanted quartet of cock-ups.

Whether it’s complacency, a lack of defensive organisation or a trust in the wrong players, there is a pattern so there must be a problem. Klopp’s job is to find and eradicate that problem. He might want to start with the fact that one defensive injury leads to Lucas Leiva at centre-half.

I remember the reaction when I wrote in February 2014 that a 4-3 win over Swansea showed why Liverpool were both the neutrals’ choice and ultimately destined for failure; less than three years later, the same opinion should provoke little more than a shrug and a ‘tell us something we don’t know, Captain Obvious’.

 

Pep Guardiola
Managing one of only five clubs in Europe who average more than 60% possession. Whoop.

Managing an absolute clusterf*** of a defence. Oops.

Go and read those 16 Conclusions.

 

West Ham
Our early losers. There’s an awful lot that is rotten in the state of east London.

 

Theo Walcott
Reverting to the mean? He has started every Premier League game for which he has been available this season but in 65 minutes against a poor West Ham side on Saturday he failed to create a single chance, have a single shot on target, attempt a single tackle or find a teammate with over 50% of his passes. He now looks the most vulnerable to Aaron Ramsey’s return from injury.

 

Leicester City
Former F365er Philip Cornwall had a theory that the only way to stop the dross at the bottom of the Premier League being happy to be the dross at the bottom of the Premier League was to shake up relegation and demote any team who managed to ‘amass’ less than one point per game. No mercy, just relegate the buggers.

Right now, Leicester would be on course for relegation and deservedly so. They are rotten. They are awful. They are the worst away team in the Premier League. I am almost as embarrassed at predicting ninth for them this season than all my colleagues should be about predicting relegation last year.

 

Watford
They should be embarrassed at slipping three points behind Manchester United.

 

Southampton
You really cannot blame them for having half an eye on Thursday.

 

Charlie Austin
Surely counting down the days until Southampton get a striker befitting of their status.

 

Bob Bradley
It wasn’t pretty but Bradley should not be judged on games like these…save that for next week against Sunderland.

 

Burnley
It’s been 17 years since Coventry survived without winning an away game. Nobody should model themselves on Coventry.

 

Sarah Winterburn

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