Last season’s top four
The first time since March that Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea all won on the same weekend.
Perhaps it’s all just a big misunderstanding, but there are few Premier League players who attract negativity as the default reaction quite like Sterling. Forget the justification of a high price tag, Sterling is being forced to vindicate his own ambition and confidence. Both are traditionally positive traits, yet have been used as sticks to beat a young English player. With Ross Barkley the mantra is patience and faith; with Sterling it’s ‘prove to us what you’ve got’.
Well Sterling is proving it. Used in a central position behind Wilfried Bony in the absence of David Silva, he rewarded Manuel Pellegrini’s faith with a glorious performance including his first career hat-trick. He has settled into life at Manchester City quicker than anyone could reasonably have expected. Still the credit is grudging.
A reminder, not that it should be needed: Sterling is 20. Of the 282 players with three or more Premier League starts this season, only eight are younger. Rather than criticising him for his alleged flaws and occasional mistakes, how about we cherish the brightest young talent we’ve had since Wayne Rooney?
Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil
Sometimes you just have to stand up and applaud. In a World XI selected on current form, you’d be hard pushed to find better options behind Robert Lewandowski as a central striker. Arsenal vs Bayern Munich on Tuesday should be tasty.
My love for Georgie Wine Gum was cemented with this video, his reaction to seeing St James’ Park for the first time. You can’t help but smile.
Wijnaldum seems shy and humble, possesses fabulous skill, pace and power and has scored 17 league goals in his last 29 games. He’s still only 24. Quite simply Newcastle, you’re lucky to have him.
“This is getting silly now,” it feels like I’ve said on almost every Monday this season. Jamie Vardy has now outscored six Premier League teams this season.
Here is your list of the top five goalscorers in Europe’s top five leagues:
12 – Robert Lewandowski
10 – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
9 – Jamie Vardy, Thomas Muller
8 – Neymar
This is getting really silly now.
Clear issues still remain, and Newcastle were helped out by Alex Neil’s tactics, but there is no doubt about the relief that surged around St James’ Park on Sunday afternoon.
Steve McClaren’s defence still needs more work than the Sagrada Familia, but in Alexander Mitrovic, Ayoze Perez, Moussa Sissoko and Wijnaldum he has a front four to rival anything outside the top four on their day. Fair to say Sunday was that day.
Jurgen Klopp’s demanded effort
Using Opta tracking data, the following lists indicate the number of players for each side who covered more than ten kilometres during a match.
Brendan Rodgers’ last weekend in charge of Liverpool:
7 – West Ham
6 – Manchester City
5 – Bournemouth, Southampton, West Brom, Norwich, Sunderland, Arsenal
4 – Aston Villa, Stoke, Chelsea, Newcastle, Leicester, Manchester United, Swansea, Tottenham
3 – Watford, Crystal Palace, Everton
2 – Liverpool
Jurgen Klopp’s first weekend in charge of Liverpool (data for Sunday and Monday’s games not yet available):
8 – Liverpool
6 – West Brom
5 – West Ham, Everton, Manchester United, Bournemouth, Tottenham, Arsenal, Sunderland
3 – Aston Villa, Leicester
2 – Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Manchester City, Watford, Southampton
He might only have had two days to take Liverpool training, but Klopp has already got his message across. Forget zany quotes and magic beards, hard work and commitment will be the foundations for Klopp’s potential success at Anfield. For more on that game from White Hart Lane, read my 16 Conclusions.
The one player who looked instantly comfortable in Jurgen Klopp’s new system and style, Can was like a puppy let off the leash after 18 months of being kept in a defensive cage.
“A midfield role is preferable. Of course it is the manager who decides who plays where. We’ll see where he chooses to play me this season. It is up to the manager but my preference is midfield.”
It showed. Can covered more ground than any Liverpool player other than James Milner (natch), and no team-mate had more shots or created more chances. Only one completed more passes or made more tackles, and two had more touches. It was as if Can was determined to spend 90 minutes demonstrating to Brendan Rodgers exactly what he’d been missing.
Louis van Gaal
Wayne Rooney playing as a striker (if he doesn’t merit a place there he doesn’t anywhere), Anthony Martial starting out wide to use his pace and tendency to cut inside, Ander Herrera able to roam forward, Juan Mata to provide the composure, Bastian Schweinsteiger holding the fort and playing small passes and Morgan Schneiderlin pressing the ball and looking to make tackles. A 3-0 win for Manchester United; a landslide victory for logic.
Since the beginning of last season, Herrera ranks in the following position among the 25 Manchester United players to have started five league games:
Goals – 4th
Assists – 5th
Chances created – 5th
Tackles – 2nd
Successful passes – 5th
Completed dribbles – 5th
Fouls won – 1st
Those are the raw statistics, not accounting for the amount of time spent on the pitch. Yet in the same time period, Herrera ranks joint-tenth for the number of games started.
That last statistic must change. Herrera has earned the right to be trusted – as Matt Stead says here.
“It depends what the press thinks, they call it what they like,” said Wayne Rooney when asked if he thought that his drought was over. “What matters is what my manager and team-mates think. Criticism does nothing at all.”
Your goal at Everton ended a run of 330 days (or 1,550 minutes on the field) without an away league goal. We’re not going to apologise for calling that a drought.
Just another excellent performance. Those still keeping tally have made more notches than on Russell Brand’s bedpost.
Gave the ball away twice in 90 minutes (Chelsea’s best passer), created four chances (double the amount of any other player on the pitch), won four free-kicks (no Chelsea player won more), assisted Diego Costa’s opening goal, covered over nine kilometres and sprinted 56 times. When Willian’s in this sort of form, you don’t miss Eden Hazard.
Wijnaldum got the goals and Sissoko got the assists, but Perez merits at least as much praise as both. Bought from the Spanish second tier and still just 22, the forward is one of the best players in the country at holding off his man, beating a player and keeping an attacking move flowing.
Since the beginning of last season, he has been Newcastle’s best player in difficult circumstances, so it is no surprise that Tottenham have reportedly joined Manchester United in the race to sign him. If Newcastle are to progress, he is the type of player who must stay and buy into hopes of a brighter future.
The player who caused the most pre-match concern ended up being the best player on the pitch.
Dembele is comfortably the most baffling player in the Premier League. There are times when his positional ill-discipline enables him to lose his own shadow in central midfield, yet on Saturday he shackled Philippe Coutinho and acted as the perfect link between defence and midfield.
As 16 Conclusions revealed, Dembele protected and retained the ball to a level far beyond any other midfielder on the pitch. He was composed and disciplined, offering the best performance in that role seen in the Premier League for some time. Now go and bloody do it every week.
Slaven Bilic, Dimitri Payet and Manuel Lanzini
One’s a player of such quality that he epitomises the new-found draw of the Premier League’s nouveau riche, the other a midfielder desperate to make it in Europe on loan from Al Jazira in the United Arab Emirates. Dimitri Payet and Manuel Lanzini are the poster boys of Slaven Bilic’s new West Ham.
Between them on Saturday, West Ham’s two most attacking midfielders had nine shots, created nine chances and shared two goals and an assist. It’s easy to see why Kevin Nolan was told to find a new home.
After a week in which Sam Allardyce accused West Ham supporters of delusion for wanting attractive football and results, Bilic and his new signings are making such a statement look utterly foolish. Bilic has taken more points in his first nine league games than Allardyce managed in his last 21, and as many away league wins as Big Sam did in his last 15 months in the job.
In total, Allardyce won ten Premier League away games in his four years in charge at West Ham. Bilic is on four after only five attempts. It’s early days, but this is emphatic early evidence for the benefits of twist over stick.
“I’m trying to instil in them not to be scared to lose,” said Tim Sherwood after Aston Villa lost their fifth straight Premier League game on Saturday. “If anyone should be scared to lose then it should be me. But I’m not. I want to go out on the front foot and if I die, I die on my sword.” They’re not “scared to lose”, Tim. They’re bloody great at it.
If we were to re-write the Kubler-Ross model for the five stages of football loss, using metaphors of battle and death would have its own subsection. Sherwood is reacting in the only way he knows how, heart on his sleeve as he fronts up. “Like a man,” he would no doubt say.
That’s one particular (and fairly common) mechanism for dealing with a woeful run of defeats and performances, and this is no character assassination. But Sherwood has not yet shown he is capable of his role or deserving of any more patience. Defeat to Swansea next week, and that will surely be that. Randy Lerner will do anything to avoid having an unwanted Championship club on his hands come next May.
Eden Hazard and Jose Mourinho
“I left out Hazard because we are conceding lots of goals,” said Mourinho. “We need to defend better. When you don’t have the ball, quality means nothing. What matters is [thumps chest]; you have or you don’t have.”
And thus ends a sorry chapter in Hazard’s career, his decline from PFA Player of the Year to Chelsea substitute in five months. It’s a startling fall from grace.
Mourinho continued his quote: “It was just a tactical decision, leaving super quality on the bench, but bringing tactical discipline and hoping that the team could be solid. Willian and Pedro did amazing defensive work and allowed the midfield players to be very comfortable. I continue that way, or he comes in our direction and tries to replicate the same work that Willian and Pedro did.”
While the decision may initially seem shocking, Mourinho owes nobody a place within his team. With the manager under pressure, it seems reasonable that he would opt for those players who can best offer a combination of defensive resilience and attacking endeavour rather than merely the latter. Willian and Pedro were both a more natural fit for purpose.
As Adam Bate wrote excellently for Sky Sports, Hazard is not a typical Mourinho-type player, but his ability in the final third allowed for an obvious exception to be made. Not picking the Belgian when in form would be tantamount to Mourinho cutting off his nose to spite his face at a level beyond gross negligence.
Hazard will not be out of Chelsea’s side for long but, with his team struggling, Mourinho has no option but to pick on form over reputation.
That said, this is an element of the Chelsea 2015/16 soap opera that promises to run and run. Unlike Hazard, Jose might pointedly remark.
The size of Sam Allardyce’s task is now laid bare. Failure to beat Newcastle in the Wear-Tyne derby next weekend will see Sunderland enter November without a league win.
With Southampton and Liverpool at home and Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City, Everton and Crystal Palace on the road all to come before 2015 is out, Allardyce needed a strong start. He got something limper than [analogy redacted].
Sunderland’s two shots on target on Saturday were from Billy Jones and Yann M’Vila, indicative of a very worrying trend. Only three of the club’s players have managed more than two shots on target; we’ve played nine games for goodness sake.
Steven Fletcher: One shot in total in his last four matches.
Jermain Defoe: One shot in total in his last four matches.
Duncan Watmore: One shot in total in his last four matches.
Fabio Borini: One shot in total in his last four matches.
If you’ve made it to the end of that symmetrical list without being sick, you’ve got a stronger constitution than 90% of the UK population. What a sorry mess.
His last shot on target in the Premier League came on January 17. Ffs.
A dire day at the office for the manager and several key players after the terrible news of Saturday morning. All in all, a rotten weekend for Everton football club.
The promoted trio
A goal conceded every 19 minutes by Bournemouth, Norwich and Watford combined this weekend. Not good.
Alex Neil’s midfield and substitutions
When Norwich’s team was announced, I did a double take on their midfield. Nathan Redmond, Jonny Howson, Robbie Brady and Graham Dorrans as four of the five players picked away from home, leaving Alexander Tettey as the only obvious cover for the defence. Those fears were realised.
The above image (courtesy of Opta) indicates the average touch position of Alex Neil’s side. Not only was Dorrans predominantly operating just inside Newcastle’s half and towards the right wing, both full-backs (Martin Olsson and Steven Whittaker) were pushing on too, Olsson in particular was given licence to push forward. It left Norwich open in midfield, with Sissoko, Wijnaldum and Perez enjoying vast swathes of space in the opposition half, central defenders forced to push up and therefore leave space in behind.
If the initial selection (or strategy) was an error, it was compounded in the second half when Neil stepped things up from ‘ballsy’ to ‘kamikaze’. On 62 minutes Tettey was removed in favour of Wes Hoolahan, who had clearly been told to push forward immediately.
Now left with no defensive midfielders and with full-backs still attacking, Norwich were left comically exposed. Within 250 seconds of that substitution, Newcastle had scored their fourth and fifth goals and sealed victory.
What might be viewed as refreshing positivity in the Championship quickly becomes naivety in the Premier League. Even out-of-form opposition is too good not to exploit such obvious tactical flaws.
Sturridge’s absence from Saturday’s game against Tottenham made it 59 games missed through injury since joining Liverpool in January 2013, as the same old problem continues to place a ceiling on the potential of his career. Sturridge has made 94 league starts by the age of 26. Across Liverpool, Romelu Lukaku is on 148 at 22. Raheem Sterling is on 85, aged 20.
Jurgen Klopp needs players on which he can rely. There’s no doubting Sturridge’s talent, but his irregular fitness will cause another Liverpool manager sleepless nights.
I could give Gayle the benefit of the doubt for trying too hard after being given a chance to impress Alan Pardew, but such generosity would be misplaced. The striker cost his side against West Ham – he might not be trusted again for some time.
Gayle started by winning a penalty from Carl Jenkinson, but then forced Yohan Cabaye to retake his kick by encroaching into the box. He only completed five passes in 44 minutes, sent off for a wild lunge and a clumsy tackle. Alan Pardew questioned Mark Clattenburg’s decision-making, but his questions should be referred to his striker, not the referee.
Way to impress the new boss, fella.
“Hi darling, how did you get on today?”
“Conceded six, don’t wanna talk about it.”
“Oh dear, well remember what they said to you in training about keeping a positive mental attitude. Focus on the saves you made instead.”
“They only had six shots on target.”
“I’ll run you a bath.”