Premier League winners and losers

Date published: Monday 27th November 2017 8:52

Winners

Arsenal
Winners firstly because of their gritty victory over a Burnley team who matched Arsenal over 90 minutes but were left with nothing once again. Arsenal’s last three games against Burnley have ended in 1-0 or 2-1 wins. Every one has been secured with an injury-time goal.

If the mark of a side that believes in itself and its manager is fighting until the end, you cannot doubt Arsenal this season. They scored twice in the last ten minutes to beat Leicester from behind, scored twice in the last ten minutes to kill off Everton, scored in the last ten minutes to win in Belgrade and scored in the dying embers against Burnley. Arsenal have scored more goals in the last ten-minute segment of matches than in any other.

Arsenal’s weekend was made far better by the stumbles of those sides around them. A draw between Liverpool and Chelsea was the perfect result, while Tottenham’s home malaise provided a wonderful boost. Arsenal have gained five points on their north London rivals in the space of eight days to halt talk of a changing of the guard.

Since the end of August and the shambolic defeat at Anfield, Manchester City have at least eight more points than every other Premier League team thanks to their stunning winning run. Yet Arsenal sit second in that table. There have been notable setbacks against Watford and Manchester City, but no club other than City are even close to faultless. Over their last ten games, Arsenal have taken two more points than Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham and six more than Liverpool.

If we praise the managers of those clubs for their progress, we must therefore also praise Arsene Wenger for the manner of their response to crisis. We have had our fingers and toes burnt too many times to truly believe that Arsenal have turned a corner, but beat Manchester United next weekend and they will be in touching distance of second place. That would be a significant achievement, and further evidence that being out of the Champions League really does help domestic form.

 

Crystal Palace
According to Opta, this was the first time Palace have scored an injury-time winner at home in the Premier League since 1998. It is impossible to overstate the difference in mood between a home draw with Stoke, and another presentable chance to kick start the season spurned, and the victory which puts Palace just three points from safety. They have now earned three of their eight points deep into stoppage time in two of their last three home games.

 

Gary Megson
It looks increasingly likely that Alan Pardew will be named West Brom’s new manager after holding positive talks with the club, but that only makes Megson’s brief performance more important. After a spell away from the game, West Brom’s caretaker admitted that Saturday at Wembley gave him a buzz to get back into management again. An away draw against Tottenham will only assist his future job prospects. Expect to see him at a Championship club near you soon.

 

Raheem Sterling
A goal for every 95 minutes played in the Premier League this season. That’s better than Harry Kane, Alvaro Morata, Mohamed Salah and Romelu Lukaku.

‘Just as important as how many goals Sterling has scored this is when they have come,’ I wrote in Champions League winners and losers on Thursday morning. ‘The winner against Feyenoord, the winner against Bournemouth, the winner against West Brom, the equaliser against Everton, the opening goal against Napoli; these are vital contributions.’ You can now add the winner against Huddersfield too.

 

Manchester City’s resilience
How could you not be impressed (as Matt Stead was)? The only question left of Manchester City was how they would deal with falling behind and being forced to break down a stern and spirited defensive line.

The answer is that they would huff and puff and blow Huddersfield’s house down to record an 11th straight league win. City have now conceded the first goal in four matches in all competitions this season, but have won three and drawn one of those games.

With home games against Southampton and West Ham to come this week, while Manchester United travel to Watford and Arsenal, the gap at the top could easily be ten or more points in early December. The anticipated bunfight between Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho is becoming a cakewalk.

 

Marco Silva and Watford’s away form
Our early winners. When people advised Silva to reject Everton’s advances in favour of a bigger job next summer, I wasn’t convinced. Reputations can be knocked down as quickly as they can be built. This month’s flavour of the month is next month’s soured milk.

I think I was wrong. While Chelsea would surely not risk giving the keys to their car to Watford’s manager, there will be owners and presidents across European football wondering how much it would take to persuade Silva to lead them in next season’s Champions League. Watford are five points off third place, having already passed the half-way mark of last season’s points total.

 

Richarlison
He’s really bloody good, and he’s only 20. Were this the break-out season of a domestic player it would be impressive, but this is Richarlison’s first season on a new continent and in the most high-intensity league in the world. PFA Young Player of the Year, anyone?

 

Mohamed Salah
An astounding improvement, and a goal against his former employers to remind them just what they are missing. If Eden Hazard provides the dribbling and link-up play, Salah provides the goals and is 18 months younger than the magnificent Belgian.

There is plenty more on Salah and Liverpool in 16 Conclusions from Saturday, but one statistic is worth repeating: Liverpool have had 61 shots on target from inside the penalty area this season, and Salah has had 24. Second on that list are Mane and Firmino, with seven.

Another statistic: In 2013/14, Luis Suarez had 31.6% of Liverpool’s shots on target. He was the leader of Liverpool’s attack, enjoying his own miracle season. So far in 2017/18, Salah has had 32.1% of Liverpool’s shots on target. It is unthinkable that a player signed as a wide forward could be more dominant than Suarez.

 

Mamadou Sakho
Some Crystal Palace players have under-performed badly this season, but Sakho is not one. It is no surprise that Palace have won three and drawn one of his eight matches, but won one and drawn one of the eight he has missed.

Yet more important than Sakho’s defensive aptitude is how much hunger he has to succeed at Selhurst Park. One of the benefits of him being castigated by Liverpool is that he would be grateful for whichever club cherished and appreciated him thereafter.

“I wanted to bring all the players together into the celebrations because it was a tough game and we all deserved to enjoy this goal and that is why I went to see the players on the bench,” said Sakho after the scenes of jubilation that followed his winning goal. “This game is not just the 11 players on the pitch but also the players on the bench and the fans.”

A simple message, but one which goes down very nicely with supporters. Following the departure of Mile Jedinak, Palace supporters needed a leader to complement the example set by Wilfried Zaha. Sakho is their new cult hero.

 

Huddersfield Town
It is highly unusual for a losing team to take their place in this list, but Huddersfield Town came mighty close to pushing this Manchester City engine off its tracks. Huddersfield’s summer business might make them slightly less plucky than David, but City are undoubtedly a financial Goliath.

After the naivety displayed against Tottenham in September, this was proof that David Wagner has found a safer strategy for facing the best attacking teams in the Premier League. On this evidence, the newest club in the Premier League will not go down.

 

Charlie Austin
A scorer of more than one goal in a Premier League for the second time since December 2015 on his first Premier League start of the season. Should be enough to give him a little run in the team.

 

Southampton
They had scored more than twice in one of their last 21 league games, the 3-2 victory over a miserable West Ham that required two penalties. And then Everton came to town, bringing with them a defence comprised of those over-the-hill and under-baked. The perfect tonic.

 

Ryan Bertrand
Danny Rose is still sat on Mauricio Pochettino’s naughty step, which has opened the door to be England’s first-choice left wing-back in next summer’s World Cup. If the accusation is that Bertrand is more of a full-back than wing-back, claiming assists is one way to change perceptions. A wonderful time to set up your first league goals since March.

 

Ashley Young
From Manchester United nonentity to one of their highest-performing players and the recipient of a new contract. There’s no doubt all that can be sold as an insult to Manchester United as well as a compliment to Young, but he will not care a jot.

 

Losers

Everton’s hierarchy
There was no obvious argument against sacking Ronald Koeman. Everton’s manager had become a shell of his 2016/17 self, and so had his team. Their form was getting worse rather than better.

Yet sacking a manager is a process, not just a snap decision. It may sound slightly unpleasant, but in the days and weeks prior to the sacking, alternative options should be sounded out until you can be confident of a smooth transition. Time is money.

For Everton to still be searching for their manager over a month after asking Koeman to clear his desk reflects incredibly badly on those responsible for making those decisions. They have courted a rival club’s manager and been chased out of town, and have a caretaker in place who is unfit for purpose. And still supporters wait for news.

When Koeman left, Everton were not an unattractive option. There were clearly issues in an unbalanced squad, but Everton were eight points behind fourth place and only five from the top eight. Had the club’s hierarchy engineered an effective succession plan, a new manager bounce might have quickly alleviated talk of crisis.

Instead, the inaction of Everton’s decision-makers has compounded the mistakes of Koeman’s reign. Rather than herald an improvement, sacking Koeman has actually prompt a downturn in form caused by the uncertainty of a caretaker manager who nobody other than his friends believes is good enough for the task. Everton have conceded 16 goals in six games under Unsworth, and nine in their last two matches.

Unsworth’s mini-reign has been shambolic, but he does not to deserve to shoulder the majority of the blame. Not when majority shareholder Moshiri was appearing on Talksport to announce that a permanent appointment was near without bothering to tell the current incumbent. It is pathetic man-management. You do sometimes wonder how these successful businessmen manage to look so amateur when they are introduced to a football.

I also don’t buy into the idea that senior players deserve the censure. Of course many of them are under-performing and are paid large amounts of money to be better, but no footballer deliberately plays badly. When one individual is below par, the fault may lie with them. When an entire group is so badly below par, you have to look higher up the chain.

The duty of a football club’s hierarchy is to rise above the noise and act as a calming and stabilising influence. Bill Kenwright and Moshiri have done the opposite, ignoring the fire extinguisher in the corner and reaching instead for a barrel of petrol. The supporters do not deserve this wretched season, but the owners do. You are only as strong as those who lead you.

 

David Unsworth
Look Dave, I let you off the hook in the last section. But come on. You got this job with several lorry loads of goodwill from those in the game who prioritise personality and nationality over aptitude, and yet even they must concede that your impact has been pitiful.

Unsworth’s credentials were that he knew Everton inside out and would demand passion and heart from the club’s first team, but they seem not to have got the memo. Everton have capitulated in each of their last two games.

The team selections have also been strange, actively adding to the image that nobody knows what job they are doing. Here is Everton’s front four for their four league games under Unsworth:

Leicester (a):
LW – Mirallas
RW – Lennon
AMC – Rooney
ST – Calvert-Lewin

Watford:
LW – Rooney
RW – Sigurdsson
AMC – Baningime
ST – Niasse

Crystal Palace:
LW – Lookman
RW – Lennon
AMC – Sigurdsson
ST – Niasse

Southampton:
LW – Mirallas
RW – Lennon
AMC – Sigurdsson
ST – Calvert-Lewin

Only three times in those four games was a player picked in the same position for consecutive matches. It gives the impression that Unsworth is simply rolling the dice on a game-by-game basis, and that might not be far from the truth.

 

Steve Walsh
Our early loser, because Everton’s entire season is framed by their illogical summer business.

 

Swansea City’s attack
Four shots on target in their last three games, against Burnley, Brighton and Bournemouth. Swansea’s limp attack is brought to you by the letter ‘B’, for ‘Bugger me they miss Gylfi Sigurdsson’.

 

Tottenham and the lack of game-changer
It is instructive that Tottenham and Manchester City faced similar situations at the weekend, falling behind against a team whose strategy instantly became putting ten or 11 men behind the ball and aiming to thwart their opponents. City passed their test; Tottenham tripped over theirs.

There was a desperation to Tottenham following West Brom’s goal, a team doing the same thing over and over again in the hope that it would work, and then taking shots from more and more unlikely areas in search of the magic moment. Spurs ended the game with 25 shots but only five on target. That low percentage on target was due to 16 of the 25 shots being from outside the area.

Between them, Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli had 16 shots. These three have the potential to dovetail beautifully, but it really does require at least two of the three to fire. With Eriksen looking knackered and Alli out of Premier League form, Tottenham were easy to defend against. This was not a desperate rearguard action from West Brom.

The issue, as has been stated many times before, is that Pochettino has no game-changer in reserve, nobody with pace to stretch the game and take advantage of a weary defence. Mousa Dembele is a central midfielder that offers control but not invention, while the Fernando Llorente experiment has not worked yet. Chelsea turned to Cesc Fabregas, Willian and Pedro. Manchester City turned to Gabriel Jesus. Tottenham had only Moussa Sissoko left unused.

Both of those sides have bigger transfer budgets than Tottenham, but that is an easy excuse for Spurs’ hierarchy and one that is barely permissible. They did not have to spend £40m-£50m on a Plan B when the intricacy of Alli and Eriksen is thwarted. Even £10m-£15m might have done, as Richarlison at Watford demonstrates.

Instead, Tottenham are left dancing the same old dance. There will be times when it works to magnificent effect, but also times when their individuals are below par and thus kept at bay. Surely Pochettino must use January to take pressure off tired legs?

 

Mark Hughes
Stoke City have won seven of their last 30 league matches. Hughes has a knack of winning when his job is called into question, but it might be time for the Houdini act again. After all, this not just a short-term issue. Stoke have taken 62 points from their last 58 Premier League games. At what point do the owners begin asking serious questions?

 

Sean Dyche
“It was highly unlikely it wasn’t going to get given, you can draw your conclusions from that,” said Dyche after the Arsenal defeat. “It probably is a penalty but it was never not going to be given, I can assure you.”

Wonderful work. Dyche has hinted at a campaign against his own team and the bias of referees in favour of bigger clubs while simultaneously accepting that the referee made exactly the right call. ‘The bastards are always blowing up for fouls when we foul.’

 

Newcastle United
The takeover, the return of Jamaal Lascelles and Mikel Merino and a new striker in the January transfer window can all not come soon enough. Four defeats in succession and Newcastle are slipping down the table.

 

Dele Alli
Dismal against Arsenal, excellent against Dortmund, dismal again against West Brom. Whatever people say to the contrary, Alli has an issue with consistency this season.

 

Manchester United’s attack
As stodgy and lethargic as it has been all season, even with Paul Pogba. Jose Mourinho cannot deny that he has the players to score goals, create chances and forge an attack that plays with exuberance and freedom, but he must find a way to get the right tune out of this orchestra. November has produced too many bum notes.

 

Daniel Storey


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