Marco Silva and Hull City
Why oh why didn’t they employ him sooner?
In a Premier League table since Silva was appointed manager of Hull, they sit fourth. Even adjusting that to points per game sees them in sixth. They have scored more goals than Manchester United in that time. Most impressive of all, the victory over Middlesbrough took Silva to 40 home league games unbeaten as a manager. It turns out he’s a good manager after all.
I don't know… Marco Silva, coming over 'ere, winning football games, working miracles, getting the best out of previously rejected players
— John Bennett (@JohnBennettBBC) April 5, 2017
Away from the anger towards embarrassingly jingoistic pundits, Silva deserves praise in his own right. Hull are creating more chances, enjoying more touches in the opposition box and completing more dribbles under the new manager.
The defence is hardly watertight, but Silva has appreciated that fortune favours the brave. Hull’s squad does not contain enough quality to win every game, but their manager has improved morale and created a run of home form that has taken them out of the bottom three for the first time since October 21. It makes you roll your eyes in disbelief that Mike Phelan was given his first job in management in such a situation.
A title race that is now, officially, over. If Chelsea’s defeat to Crystal Palace opened the door to allow a chink of light through, Antonio Conte pulled it shut while moaning that “I can never get warm in this bloody house, and you’re not helping by leaving doors open.” Sorry, I just mixed up Conte with my actual partner.
Oh boy. N’Golo Kante remains the favourite to be named PFA Player of the Year, at least partly due to his lack of recognition last season, but Hazard is sure threatening to run him close.
Only eight players have scored more Premier League goals this season than Hazard’s 13, but it is the Belgian’s dominance of Chelsea’s attacks that makes him so brilliant. For a player in his position to have the third most touches of the ball of any player on his team (and only three fewer than Kante) is hugely impressive. Hazard demands to be the centre of attention, and has the talent to back it up a hundred times over.
Tottenham’s resilience, and losing ‘The Fear’
Thought Tottenham had caught The Fear, didn’t you? Yes, same here. Just as Spurs supporters were thinking all things ‘Spursy’, Mauricio Pochettino’s team produced a late assault to dispel any negative thoughts.
For all the questions over whether Pochettino’s high-intensity football would cause fatigue amongst his players, they have proven repeatedly their ability to compete late in matches. Only Everton have scored more goals than Tottenham after the 80th minute.
More impressive still is Tottenham’s resilience. The following indicates the number of points per game taken having conceded the first goal:
Tottenham – 1.55 points per game
Chelsea – 1.50
Liverpool – 1.40
Arsenal – 1.00
Everton – 0.93
Southampton – 0.92
And this list shows the best records in matches in which teams have been losing at half-time:
Tottenham – 1.29 points per game.
Liverpool – 0.83
Chelsea – 0.60
Hull City – 0.58
Manchester City – 0.57
Manchester United – 0.50
Forget the negative connotations of ‘Spursy’, and embrace the most resilient team in the division.
Only two Tottenham players score more often and only three create chances more often. Son is the perfect back-up player, happy to work hard and never more delighted than when helping out his team. Persuading Son to stay last summer was a huge moment in Tottenham’s season.
Beating West Ham in their current guise isn’t going to merit effusive praise, but a first Premier League win since February 11 was accompanied by dropped points from Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Everton. Don’t know what you were all worried about.
A goalkeeper that dives and saves shots! David Ospina is going to be gutted when he finds out.
He did play well. He played very well, in fact. It is hard to imagine a side more malleable in central midfield than West Ham, but Xhaka ran the show on Wednesday.
I’m not going to be convinced this is the start of something special until we see a longer spell of consistent excellence, but these were positive steps at least. Now stop picking Francis bloody Coquelin alongside him.
Our early winner. We knew these days would come. We knew. (We didn’t know).
Watford and Burnley
Congratulations on staying up, despite me always assuming you would get dragged into serious trouble. Is it fun to make me look this bad? I hope you’re proud of yourselves.
Premier League top goalscorers in 2017:
Romelu Lukaku – 11
Harry Kane – 11
*Josh King – 9*
Dele Alli – 9
Alexis Sanchez – 6
Troy Deeney – 6
King only turned 25 in January, and is in the form of his life. Can Bournemouth hang on to him? He feels like the sort of player West Ham will pay £20m for.
Not enough of you read the piece from Tuesday, so I probably shouldn’t repeat myself. Make amends by reading it now.
He’s scored in his last three Premier League games. He’s going to break the record again, isn’t he?
On March 31, West Ham were as low as 40/1 to go down.
On April 1, West Ham were as low as 22/1 to go down.
On April 2, West Ham were as low as 18/1 to go down.
On April 4, West Ham were as low as 16/1 to go down.
On April 4, West Ham were as low as 8/1 to go down.
Could do with beating Swansea on Saturday, you’d think. Do that and they’ll stay up. Lose and Slaven Bilic could be in big trouble.
Pep Guardiola, and a season petering out
In each of the last two seasons, I have spent March fretting that Manchester City would not make the top four. I use ‘fretting’ in the lightest possible sense as I have no horse in the race, but City’s laboured form threatened to put their Champions League qualification at risk each time.
In 2014/15, City dropped to fourth after consecutive defeats to Crystal Palace and Manchester United, with Southampton five points behind and Liverpool seven behind but with a game in hand. City’s response was to win their remaining six league games of the season and make me look silly.
In 2015/16, City lost three consecutive league games in February and March, and on March 20 were just a point ahead of West Ham and Manchester United in fifth and sixth. The response was to take 13 points from their next five games and make me look silly.
And so we meet again. City have now not won in four league games, and should Arsenal and Manchester United win their game in hand both will be a point behind City. It’s that time of the year when I tell Sarah Winterburn that I’m worried about them not making the top four, and she a) tells me that of all the things I worry about this is the silliest, and b) tells me they’ll be fine. She’s always bloody right.
Still, at least the manager agrees. “Today, the Premier League has gone,” said Guardiola after defeat to Chelsea. “Now we have to think about qualifying for the Champions League and finishing in the top four. We face a battle to qualify for the Champions League.”
There is something slightly different this season, of course. Manchester City’s last two petering out seasons were under the guise of Manuel Pellegrini. If Pellegrini was not quite a dead man walking for his final 18 months in charge, he was at least an ill man staggering. City’s hierarchy had been planning Guardiola’s appointment for years rather than months.
There are caveats to Guardiola’s underperformance this season. City’s defence does need surgery, and this is one of the youngest attacks in the Premier League. Two of the club’s five signings designed to feature in the first-choice team have suffered significant injuries, and the central midfield options without Ilkay Gundogan are not fit for purpose.
Even so, that does not disguise the disappointment. Guardiola has spent large periods of City’s defeats this season with an expression that suggests his players are not listening to him or are not attuned enough with his instructions to follow them effectively. If that is the case, the responsibility only ends at the desk of the manager.
Perhaps City will prove me a fool for the third consecutive season. Manchester derby aside, their run-in is gentler than others around them, and we have seen this season that City can quickly click back into gear just as easily as they struggle to dominate matches in midfield. Yet even fourth would be below-par, whatever the revisionism now. The pre-season title favourites are still scrapping for a spot on the podium. Guardiola will consider that an undignified pursuit.
One away win in their last nine, and no away goal scored since January 14. Is Mark Hughes the most mundane Premier League manager?
Swansea and those late goals
If you are going to implode, then do it in style. Paul Clement received praise on these pages and beyond, but the Marco Silva mini-miracle threatens to ruin Swansea’s own attempts to claw their way out of trouble. If drawing at home to Middlesbrough was a missed opportunity that Hull capitalised on in the same fixture, allowing a lead to disappear late on Wednesday was a disaster.
It is nothing new for Swansea. Clement did a post-match lap of the pitch after injury-time victory was sealed over Burnley in March, but Swansea have lost league games to Chelsea, Hull, Liverpool and Manchester City in the final 20 minutes. They have conceded 24 goals later than the 70th minute, and 15 from the 80th minute onwards.
My advice is this: if you are going to watch Swansea, do not leave early. Of the 103 goals in their league games this season, 23% came after the 80th minute.
David Moyes and Sunderland
Why are Sunderland sticking with David Moyes? The results are awful, the performances are dismal and this week’s controversy brought his personality into question too. If supporters were making a list of reasons for optimism after Moyes’ appointment, the only thing left can be ‘Well, he does try hard’.
On Tuesday, Moyes had the look of a broken man in charge of a broken team employed by a broken club. Sunderland’s relegation has been in the post for three years but it will surely be shoved through the letterbox soon. They are comfortably the worst team over that time period to avoid relegation, but the game is up. There will be no Great Escape, no Stadium of Light roar as another unlikely mini-triumph is cheered. Anyone claiming they hadn’t been warned has been living underground since 2013.
With ten minutes remaining at the King Power, with Leicester’s supporters bouncing as they celebrate a 2-0 lead and sixth successive victory, Moyes had one substitution remaining. He had one shot to change the game, to find something, anything. Jack Rodwell was removed, so who was the player introduced? Was it Adnan Januzaj, inconsistent but at least creative? Was it Javier Manquillo, a right-back used and defender thrown up front?
No. It was Darron Gibson. Enjoy the Championship, Sunderland supporters. You deserved better, but your club’s refusal to learn lessons of the recent past both on the field and off made this an eventual certainty.
In previous seasons Sunderland have rolled the dice to find a new Messiah, but this season they hadn’t the fight to even do that. Who would take a job as deckchair rearranger on the Titanic with the iceberg in full view?
And then there were 18. Sunderland’s relegation has long been an inevitability, and now Middlesbrough’s is too. They are seven points from safety, but that gap may as well be doubled given their wretched form.
On Wednesday, they finally scored more than once in an away game for the first time since August. They also conceded more than three for the first time in any game since April 2015. If you can’t do one aspect of the game without destroying your ability to do another, the Premier League isn’t for you.
Liverpool and that same old issue
So it hasn’t gone away after all.
In the 12 games in which Liverpool have enjoyed their highest possession totals, their record reads as follows: Won 4, Drew 4, Lost 4.
In the 12 games in which Liverpool have enjoyed their lowest possession totals, their record reads as follows: Won 9, Drew 3, Lost 0.
Just as pronounced is Liverpool’s defensive record in games with and without high possession:
Goals conceded per game when >65% possession – 1.64
Goals conceded per game when <65% possession – 1.05
Manchester United and their false dominance
They were our early losers, for not getting enough attacking midfielders forward and shooting from bad areas.
We really, really want him to be good, but let’s not beat around the bush here. Rashford has not scored in the league since September, has not scored with any of his last 26 shots, has had ten shots on target in over six months and, as Jose Mourinho said himself, is “desperate” for a goal.
Crystal Palace and a timely reminder
Given the extraordinary victory over Chelsea on Saturday, Palace’s trip to Southampton was a free roll of the dice. Sam Allardyce will be frustrated that his team came up double one, but survival is still in their own hands.
It is the performance itself that will have annoyed Allardyce most, particularly after the departure of Yohan Cabaye due to injury. Any complacency that Palace have got the job done will quickly be forcefully removed on the training ground on Friday. They still need two wins to make safety effectively guaranteed.
Phil Thompson and Paul Merson
We’ll let it lie when people stop championing some managers and disrespecting others purely based on their nationality. Deal?
— Top Flight Talk (@TopFlightTalk) April 6, 2017