Premier League winners and losers

Date published: Monday 26th October 2015 12:50

Harry Kane

Winners

Harry Kane
That’s what happens when Nick Miller worries about you scoring goals.

Kane is unlikely to receive such generous treatment from all Premier League defences, but strikers must take their opportunities when they arise. In 85 minutes against Bournemouth, he scored as many league goals as he had in his previous 1,515.

“You’re never going to just be on a high, you’re going to have ups and downs,” Kane told BBC Sport after the game.

“It’s about maintaining your focus, not getting too carried away and trying to stay patient. That’s what I’ve been doing. I don’t think I’ve been doing that badly overall. Today the ball dropped for me nicely and I was able to put it in the back of the net.”

It only adds to the suspicion that Kane is a lovely boy as well as a striker determined not to be a one-season wonder.

 

Arsenal and their key four
Back to the top of the Premier League, even if only temporarily. The nervy win over Everton was worth double after the two Manchester clubs drew on Sunday. If West Ham fans will forgive me ignoring their current position, this feels like a three-way tussle for the title.

Much will depend on the continued fitness of Arsenal’s four key outfield players – Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin. Thirty-six starts out of a possible 40 for the quartet so far, and never more than one missing per match. Long may it continue.

 

Slaven Bilic
Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool and now Chelsea. The four biggest hurdles that Bilic has faced as West Ham manager have been jumped over with ease. Add the victory away at Crystal Palace last week, and it becomes five from five. Another bad day at the office for the ‘be careful what you wish for’ brigade.

Those with concerns that the Hammers would be in trouble under a risky, foreign appointment can see the club now 14 points ahead of the relegation zone with ten games played. That’s a greater gap than at the end of last season under Sam Allardyce.

It is easy to assume that West Ham’s run to the top three is built on sand, but there is little evidence for that. As Sarah Winterburn wrote recently, this is a side that has all the right ingredients. Experience, youth, determination, skill, tackling and pace. There are at least two players in Bilic’s squad to cover each of those attributes.

What is most impressive about West Ham’s victories over the league’s biggest clubs is that they have displayed courage in both defence and attack. Their four wins over City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool were not achieved through backs-to-the-wall resilience followed by smash-and-grab winner, but through belief in their ability and effecting their own game plan. Nine goals scored in those four matches, two conceded. West Ham account for 43% of all the home league goals conceded by Liverpool, 50% of Manchester City’s and 67% of Arsenal’s. They have offered a blueprint of how it can be done.

Finally, it is refreshing to hear Bilic remaining adamant that this is no flash in the pan.

If you are not in what I call the red zone, in overdrive, or you fall into a comfort zone, then it is gone and once it’s gone, you need ages to be back in the red zone.

“So how do we approach the next game against Watford? Do we sit there and say we are in the top four and settle for a point? If it was later in the season with one or five games to go, then you might go: ‘OK, we play away and one point we are safe.’ Maybe you put five at the back, but we want to continue with the same aggression, the same philosophy.

“Of course, we don’t want to lose the momentum. The momentum we have now did not come out of nothing; there’s been good training, good players, a good system and then we have enough individual class. That is how we approach games and if we improve, as I have said, we will have a chance against anyone, any team.”

Fighting talk, but with little reason to be afraid. West Ham might well fall back into the pack in the next few months, but that’s the same ‘pack’ people were calling mid-table security during their hand-wringing about trading in Allardyce for Bilic. Right now, Slaven is letting them dream.

 

Olivier Giroud
Twelve players may have played more league minutes for Arsenal this season, but only Alexis Sanchez has more goals. Giroud has now scored five times in his last 317 minutes in all competitions. He can only keep doing what he’s doing.

 

Mesut Ozil
Love you xx

 

Sam Allardyce
As Gary Lineker tweeted: ‘3-0 to Sunderland. If ever a scoreline didn’t tell a story.’ As Allardyce would presumably reply, holding out an empty hand: “This is how many f**ks I give.”

Sunderland were handed the impetus by a combination of Robert Madley and Fabricio Coloccini, but they exploited it to its full value. Allardyce becomes the fourth Sunderland manager to win his second match in charge, each one against Newcastle.

There is still plenty of work for Allardyce to do (and Sunderland were rotten until the penalty) but at least they’re off the bottom. 

 

Sunderland
Winners of the derby against Newcastle for the sixth time in succession, a new record. Wear the champions.

 

Garry Monk
So are Swansea no longer in crisis now they’re four points off the top six? Or is ‘the pressure mounting on Monk after a disastrous run’ still, as one (since deleted) tabloid story read last week?

 

Jamie Vardy
Yep, still really bloody silly.

 

West Brom and Tony Pulis
Since Pulis took charge, no Premier League team has kept more clean sheets than West Brom. That truly is the sound of the Pulis.

 

Quique Flores
He may be Watford’s eighth manager in three-and-a-half years, but Quique Flores might actually have a chance of staying at Vicarage Road for longer than a year. It’s a milestone that none of the previous four managed.

There is a tight bunch of clubs in the Premier League’s mid-table, but Watford are as close to the top four as the bottom three, and as close to top spot as they are to the bottom. They’d have snapped your hand off for that after over a quarter of the season played.

 

Andy Carroll
Regular minutes and maintaining fitness are both more important than goals to Andy Carroll right now, but scoring the winner against Chelsea is a wonderful boost to his confidence. It was his first in the league since January in a career stalled by injury.

 

Jordan and Andre
Both brothers scoring in the same game, found with excellent passes into the six-yard box. Ayews being served.

 

Adam Johnson
A goal against Newcastle in each of his four seasons as a Sunderland player.

 

Younes Kaboul
Who knew he was a left winger? After screaming forward from central defence so late in the game, Kaboul produced a first-time cross that Zinedine Zidane would be proud of. And we all needed a sit down.

 

Losers

Jose Mourinho
There is change in the air. No longer is this a Chelsea crisis but a Jose Mourinho crisis, and there is a subtle difference. The Daily Mirror report that Mourinho will be sacked should Chelsea lose to Liverpool on Saturday, with the Daily Mail mentioning both Carlo Ancelotti and Guus Hiddink in passing. Is there nobody new?

While Chelsea’s results are the obvious instigator of Mourinho’s downfall, it is his own behaviour that will be causing Roman Abramovich significant further embarrassment. After being told to keep his mouth shut by the Football Association last week, the Portuguese responded in typically mature manner by getting himself sent off for trying to enter the referee’s room at half-time. He then took his bat and ball home before the post-match press conference. Plus ca change.

Chelsea will be charged by the FA for failing to control their players after six were booked, but Mourinho can expect an extra letter to land on the Stamford Bridge mat. His behaviour is one of a manager not just under pressure but with the ego of someone who believes himself above the rules. Time to step down a peg or two, Jose. Or be pulled down.

Mourinho’s decline this season feels wonderfully karmic. It’s nice to think that disrespecting his own staff and crudely insulting a female doctor (going on to compound that error rather than apologise) has played a large part in his current funk, having lost the respect that his managerial style depends on. Whether he learns from his lesson is a different question, but karmic punishment is a satisfactory second best behind rehabilitation. Treat others as you would have them treat you.

 

Wayne Rooney and wilful blindness
Plenty is written in 16 Conclusions about Rooney’s latest fall from a position already well below grace, but there is another point to make on his immunity from criticism (although perhaps we have finally reached a turning point).

Since the beginning of March, Rooney has scored four league goals. In that same time period he has provided one assist. Marouane Fellaini has created six fewer chances than Rooney in more than 650 fewer minutes.

Glenn Murray, Charlie Adam and Odion Ighalo are among the 28 Premier League players with more goals in that time – seven of those are English. Almen Abdi, Patrick van Aanholt and Ahmed Elmohamady are among the 58 players to have created more chances – 18 are English. The midfield experiment was unsuccessful, but Rooney is now being picked as a striker again rather than continuing down the Manchester United ladder. He remains Mr Untouchable.

According to most reports, Rooney is the fifth-highest paid player in the world based on salary alone. He is behind only Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Gareth Bale in that regard, paid more than Sergio Aguero, Luis Suarez, Neymar and, well, everyone else.

It is not just that Rooney is simply under-performing to the extent that he no longer merits a place ahead of a 19-year-old new signing, but that his current form mocks the five-year contract extension awarded in February 2014. The speed of his decline has been startling, but let’s not pretend Rooney was a player ever likely to continue scoring regularly at the highest level until the age of 35.

Rooney has only ever twice scored more than 20 goals in a league season, but that never mattered before. Then he was Manchester United’s game-changer, winning matches through his determination, desire and effervescence, if not goals. He was the ultimate street footballer, playing at 100% because he could never envisage any other way. The reason we are now judging Rooney by his numbers is because everything else has gone. His passion has now warped into a frustrated and fruitless search for what has been lost.

Rooney may well recover to a point, and score 10-15 league goals for the next three seasons, or he may not. Even so, that does not justify the faith in and reliance on him by Louis van Gaal, giving him the VIP pass into United’s team. A captain’s armband shouldn’t give you carte blanche to stay on the pitch for 90 minutes, regardless of form. He’s played every minute for which he has been available this season. 

It’s time to start judging Rooney by what you can see, not what you wish you were still seeing.

 

Tim Sherwood
An inevitable end, as Matt Stead wrote here. There are reasons to have patience with managers if they have previously demonstrated an ability to reverse a worrying trend, but Sherwood has never done that. There will be those who decry Aston Villa for their impatience, but it’s an easy accusation to make from afar. The only thing worse than a dreadful managerial appointment is compounding the error through misplaced faith.

Sherwood’s reputation is becoming set in stone. He is the personification of a can of Monster energy drink, brash and ballsy but ultimately flawed, the instant rush giving way to greater fatigue when the short-term hit wears off.

 

Philippe Coutinho (without Daniel Sturridge)
On Saturday Mark Lawrenson wrote a stinging column regarding the form of Philippe Coutinho, in which the Brazilian’s attitude was also questioned. ‘He’s not half as good as he thinks he is,’ was Lawrenson’s tone. If this was Coutinho’s response, it only added more evidence to the file for the prosecution.

In 16 Conclusions last week, I wrote about my initial fears for Coutinho under Klopp. Could he adapt to being forced to combine creativity and hard work, or would he struggle with the workload as many have done before him at other clubs? Matt Stead wrote a piece in midweek offering a slightly alternate view, which was justifed. But Sunday was not a good day.

After attempting just one shot against Spurs, Coutinho the wasteful shooter was back. Against Southampton he had four shots, all off target. Since scoring the winner against Manchester City in March, the Brazilian has had 53 shots in the league. Less than half have been on target, and only two have led to goals. A shot conversion rate of less than 4% indicates that Coutinho should look to create, not score.

He’s in danger of becoming something of a one-trick pony,’ Lawrenson wrote. ‘Stepover from the left, cut inside and have a shot. Stepover from the left, cut inside and have a shot. And so on.’ All were present and correct at Anfield.

This is not all Coutinho’s fault, of course. With limited options ahead of him, he is forced to do things himself. The Brazilian’s style is far more suited to serving a striker with the attributes of Luis Suarez or Daniel Sturridge, rather than a forward like Christian Benteke. Brendan Rodgers was only too keen to insist that Benteke’s arrival would not force Liverpool to change style, but it has severely hampered Coutinho’s effectiveness. Coutinho has provided one league assist since January when Sturridge has not been on the field.

That said, there is no doubt that Coutinho is struggling. Between New Year’s Day and the end of last season he created chances at a rate of 2.37 per game. That has since dropped to 1.0 per match. When Sturridge hasn’t played, it’s just four chances created in six games. That’s a pitiful return for Liverpool’s most creative player.

 

Nemanja Matic
As stupid as stupid can be. Matic is experienced enough to know the type of challenges to make when on a yellow card. That was categorically not one of them.

Mourinho will again draw deserved criticism for Chelsea’s performance, and the buck stops at his feet, but a key player doing something so brainless cannot be accounted for.

 

Jurgen Klopp
Three draws from three games, hopefully enough to persuade Liverpool supporters that there is no quick fix for their malaise.

“I hope I’m not the only person in the stadium who thought ‘this is not the end of the world’. We can work on this,” said Klopp after the draw with Southampton. He’s definitely at the right club for that request.

 

Crystal Palace
Consecutive league defeats to remove a layer of varnish from Palace’s fine start to the season. All of a sudden they’re only four points above the bottom six.

 

Fabricio Coloccini
Was it a penalty? Maybe. Was it a red card? Not for me. Was it a brainless action from Newcastle’s club captain? A thousand times yes.

Worst of all, Coloccini could have kept sprinting with Steven Fletcher and eliminated the danger. The reason he nudged the striker aside is because he had allowed himself to fall into a jog, while Fletcher had kept going for the ball.

On such moments of laziness and stupidity are matches decided. It isn’t the first, second or third time that Coloccini has let down his side.

 

Louis van Gaal
As 16 Conclusions says, this season is all about success for Manchester United. If that makes a modicum of entertainment too much to ask then supporters will accept their fate. The rest of us long for excitement.

 

Norwich
Two points in their last five matches, and three consecutive defeats for the first time under Alex Neil.

Norwich are facing the ultimate dilemma of promoted clubs with squads of insufficient quality. The defence is not good enough to be left unprotected, and the attack isn’t good enough to be left unsupported. The midfield is therefore asked to help out with both, but merely ends up spreading itself too thin.

The problem for Neil is that Norwich are losing to the teams they will have had pre-season designs of finishing above; Newcastle, West Brom and Leicester. It’s not time for panic just yet, but Norwich now face two months of grim league fixtures. Manchester City (a), Swansea (h), Chelsea (a), Arsenal (h), Everton (h), Manchester United (a), Tottenham (a), all before the Christmas period is out.

 

Bournemouth
With their top scorer,  two most expensive signings and first-choice central defender all ruled out through serious injury, Bournemouth’s fairytale campaign is turning into a nightmare. Heavy home defeat to Tottenham only adds to the rotten mood around the club. What a bloody shame.

 

Bournemouth’s full-back adventure
Bournemouth’s full-backs were instrumental in their success last season, but one wonders if Eddie Howe might be better asking them to rein it in a little.

Charlie Daniels and Simon Francis are both in the top four for the number of chances created by defenders this season (Alberto Moreno and Aleksandar Kolorav complete that list). That’s all well and good, but the licence to roam forward handed to them by Howe is leaving their central defenders exposed, particularly when one of them (Sylvain Distin) is the oldest outfield player in the league. Walk before you can run forward, might be the salient advice.

 

Artur Boruc
Goalkeepers are perennially described as “good shot-stoppers”, a compliment bestowed upon them as if it shouldn’t be the bare minimum expectation. It’s like praising a striker for his accomplished finishing of chances in the six-yard box.

Boruc hasn’t even managed that for Bournemouth this season. He has faced 33 shots on target in the league and conceded 17 goals. The best goalkeepers in the league register a save percentage of 75-80%. Of the 24 keepers to start three matches or more, 21 boast a rate between 63% and 82%. Boruc is down at 48.5%.

To add to that, Boruc has now made three errors this season which have directly led to goals, more than any other player in the division. In the Championship a goalkeeper can often get away with his mistakes, but in the Premier League you get punished. Boruc is now 35, and Bournemouth would be forgiven for seeking a January replacement.

 

Stoke City
After four straight victories, defeat to stop them in their tracks. Still in 14th, Stoke’s season is yet to get out of first gear. Jose Mourinho isn’t the only former Barcelona employee suffering from third season syndrome in the Premier League.

 

Gary Neville
One takes Neville’s point about teams nullifying each other, but the ‘best 45 minutes’ I’ve seen this season wouldn’t involve quite so many passes into touch, poor first touches and overhit final balls. The million dollar question is whether he would have written the same thing about a BT Sport game. Oooh, you bitch.

 

Big game excitement
Manchester United vs Tottenham, Manchester City vs Chelsea, Arsenal vs Liverpool, Manchester United vs Liverpool, Chelsea vs Arsenal, Arsenal vs Manchester United, Tottenham vs Liverpool, Manchester United vs Manchester City.  The eight biggest games this season have contained 13 goals and three 0-0 draws.

In only one of those eight matches have both teams scored. Pray for 16 Conclusions.

 

Daniel Storey

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