Premier League winners and losers…

Date published: Monday 21st September 2015 11:38

Arsene Wenger

West Ham deservedly top the Winners, with Chelsea, Anthony Martial and others close behind. Arsene Wenger the old dog who can’t learn new tricks? He can’t even sit on command properly anymore…

 

Winners

West Ham
‘Be careful what you wish for’ was the title of a blog on Richard Keys’ website.

‘West Ham should be careful what they wish for with Sam Allardyce – better the devil you know,’ wrote Stan Collymore on the Daily Mirror website.

“If you’ve got Sam Allardyce as your manager you’re pretty much guaranteed to stay up,” said Jamie Redknapp. “He knows what he’s doing. He knows his way around the transfer market. It’s a dangerous game.”

“Sam knows his way around the Premier League,” said Graeme Souness. “Tried and trusted. It’s one of those. Be careful what you wish for.”

These examples are taken from the first page of Google for a search of ‘West Ham be careful what you wish for’, but there are sure to have been many others telling West Ham just how lucky they were to have had Sam Allardyce. Rather than paying the price for ambition, Davids Gold and Sullivan and Karren Brady will be toasting the name of their new manager. The champagne sure will taste sweet.

There is no doubt that allowing Allardyce to leave the club without a replacement lined up was a risk, but fortune has favoured the brave. Interest in Jurgen Klopp and Rafael Benitez came to nought, but Slaven Bilic has instilled both a team spirit and counter-attacking style that has taken West Ham to third in the Premier League. It has also accounted for Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City away from home. Whatever else the club achieve this season, that is a remarkable achievement.

I resisted the temptation to join the BCWYWF brigade, and not only because of Allardyce’s record of two victories in his final 17 matches at the Boleyn Ground. The only clubs West Ham beat competitively in 2015 under Big Sam’s management were Hull (now in the Championship), Bristol City (now in the Championship), Burnley (now in the Championship) and Sunderland (trying their best to get into the Championship).

Instead, this was about more than just logic. This was about a club twisting rather than sticking, aiming for more as opposed to being happier with their lot. Allardyce had been asked to play an entertaining brand of football, but it was foolish to ask him to change. Bilic plays that desired style of football as standard.

September is not the time to make sweeping judgements about West Ham’s season, but nor too were May, June, July and August when West Ham were patronisingly reminded of what they had lost. The fact remains that three of the club’s most memorable away performances of the last six years have come in the last six weeks. Those pretty bubbles are blowing in the air.

 

Anthony Martial
One would forgive the Daily Mirror’s David McDonnell for having an angry word with the headline writers on the Mirror sports desk on Monday morning, after the ‘What a waste of money’ back page was shared gleefully around social media by Manchester United supporters (and featured in Mediawatch). One important thing to note: Nobody thought Martial would be this good, this early.

The looks on the faces of United fans as Martial applauded their support after the final whistle tell the story. Not since Robin van Persie in 2012/13 have they been able to take such joy from the performance of a striker, and not since the run of form from Adnan Januzaj under David Moyes has a young, exciting attacker made such an impression. This feels more sustainable.

Against Southampton, Martial was superb. He is a menace to defenders, a young, hungry striker who is never still, wriggling into position and demanding possession. His turn for United’s equaliser, whilst others around him were appealing for a penalty, left Virgil van Dijk with twisted blood, while the coolness of his finish for the second hinted at a player far beyond his years.

“He is still 19 years old,” Van Gaal said after Martial’s debut goal, and it is worth mentioning that he still looks incredibly (and understandably) raw. “He has to adapt to a new culture, to the high rhythm of the Premier League. you cannot expect from players from this age that they have consistency. You cannot ask that.” Those points are valid, but it’s Martial’s strike partner (more than a decade his senior) who is exhausting United’s reserves of patience, losing friends while the Frenchman is busy making new ones.

You just try to turn down the hype-meter now, Louis. In the space of 50 minutes at St. Mary’s, Martial scored more away league goals than Wayne Rooney has managed since March 2014. He’s played 1,753 fewer minutes.

 

Diego Costa
A winner because he stayed on the pitch.

There is no doubt that Diego Costa should have been sent off against Arsenal on Saturday, but let’s not pretend that we are dealing with anything other than a master of the dark arts. Costa’s record of no red card since December 2012 (and none in the league since March 2010) indicates as much. We are dealing with a glorious b*stard.

Some of the fall-out from Costa’s display on Saturday also leaves as much of a sour taste in the mouth as his performance itself. This idea that the striker is typical of a foreign malaise in the Premier League is both absurd and offensive. Go and watch videos of Alan Shearer and come back to me.

Like Shearer, Costa has perfected the art of crossing the line only at opportune moments. His trap-setting of Gabriel was the football version of this Harry and Lulu Harry Enfield sketch. Costa is the epitome of the player you’d love in your team, but hate in everybody else’s. That will only be taken as a compliment by the pantomime villain of every piece.

The only downside for Chelsea is that this felt like a game-changer. Mourinho will surely have to rein in his striker in the short-term; you feel referees will be wise to the schtick and keen to avoid being made to look the fool again.

 

Chelsea
Hard to shower too much praise on a side scoring once against a side with ten men and another against nine, but Jose Mourinho will not give one tiny jot. Two wins in a week, six goals scored and consecutive clean sheets make Jose a happier man.

For all the talk of crisis (yes, by me too), Chelsea are now just three points behind Arsenal. One suspects Mourinho will have higher ambitions than simply finishing above the “specialist”.

 

Danny Ings
Plenty of reasons to be negative about Liverpool’s performance and result against Norwich, but the impact of Ings was not one of them. I’m even going to resist the D:Ream pun for the first time on record.

While the injury to Christian Benteke will cause Brendan Rodgers another headache, his replacement offered far more in the way of movement and energy. Both forwards playing 45 minutes allows for a handy comparison – Ings had more shots and shots on target and created more chances. He also took his goal superbly, sliding the ball past the excellent John Ruddy with his left foot.

Whilst Benteke has managed just five shots on target in 495 league minutes this season (and one of those shouldn’t have been allowed vs Bournemouth), Ings has had three in 195. I’m in danger of damning with faint praise, but Ings has earned a run in this team. He just has to hope Rodgers continues to stave off his obsession with 4-3-3 and strikers farmed out wide.

 

Riyad Mahrez
Mahrez in the Premier League, 2014/15 – Four goals, three assists.
Mahrez in the Premier League, 2015/16 – Five goals, three assists.

 

Russell Martin
Saturday, 10.30pm – Martin’s wife goes into labour.
Saturday, 11.00pm – Martin leaves Norwich’s hotel by car.
Sunday, 3.30am – Martin arrives at hospital in Norwich.
Sunday, 9.25am – Martin’s baby is born.
Sunday 9.45am – Martin leaves hospital to drive back to Liverpool.
Sunday, 2.00pm – Martin arrives back in Liverpool.
Sunday, 4.00pm – Martin starts for Norwich at Anfield, captaining the side.
Sunday, 5.20pm – Martin scores Norwich’s equaliser.

He’ll have worse days. Now go to sleep man.

 

Odion Ighalo
Twenty league goals in 2015 for Watford’s best player so far. Whilst Premier League defenders have been advised to keep watch on Troy Deeney, Ighalo’s displays and goals should remind them that Watford are far from a one-trick pony.

 

Callum Wilson
The Premier League’s joint top scorer, Wilson is doing his bit to be the Charlie Austin of 2015/16. He’s played in non-league, don’t you know.

 

Matt Ritchie
His first ever Premier League goal, five-and-a-half years after making his top-flight debut. Via Dagenham, Notts County and Swindon, it’s been a circuitous route. The quality of his goal should make up for the wait.

 

Heung-Min Son
A wonderful home league debut from the South Korean. After just one game, is this the player Tottenham supporters want to watch most after their young English striker? Do they wanna see the Son shine after the Kane?

 

Losers

Arsene Wenger
As I said above, Diego Costa should indeed have been sent off, but cries of discontent and anger should be directed not just at Mike Dean but also their own manager. This was Arsene Wenger’s chance to finally alter the damning statistic regarding his record against Jose Mourinho, but that was lost in a cloud of ill-discipline. If you get involved in Costa’s games, you have to box clever. Gabriel fell for the trick, and Santi Cazorla’s late challenge was stupidity personified when on a yellow card. Another chance gone.

It would be a stretch to say that Wenger may enjoy the manner in which the Costa storm deflects attention from another defeat to his greatest rival, but it is a silver lining to a dark grey cloud. Wenger vs Mourinho is a rivalry in name only, a contest so one-sided it’s in danger of toppling over.

Once again, the promises of an Arsenal title challenge look lost on the breeze. Last season it took them until November 9 to lose their fourth match in all competitions. On Wednesday, Tottenham will have the opportunity to bring that forward by six weeks.

Arsenal may still only be five points from the top, but this is a squad already creaking in September. The lack of additions mean that the cold winds of winter will surely blow Wenger’s house down again.

As Sarah Winterburn wrote in 16 Conclusions on Saturday, ‘we have banged this drum until we have calluses on our hands but once again we must pick up the sticks to pick out the rhythm of that old classic ‘Why the f*** didn’t they buy a defensive midfielder and a striker?’ With Francis Coquelin ruled out of Wednesday’s match, the song is set for yet another re-release.

“Buying and selling is one way to strengthen your team but that’s not the only way,” said Arsenal’s manager on September 10, a quote so dripping in Arsene Wenger you could bottle the residue and sell it as Eau de Prof.

It’s an honourable intention, but nothing more than ludicrously naive. Labelling inaction as a means of improvement and adequate preparations for a title challenge against Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea is an absurd stance to take, even more so when you consider the threadbare options in areas of Wenger’s squad. It also jars against the revelation that Arsenal’s cash reserves now total £193m. This is becoming a parody.

The same person at the same club making the same mistakes. We’re not quite at that stage yet, but a familiar feeling is growing; August promises followed by an autumn and winter in which such ambitions are made to look foolish through their own inaction. If your future success is dependent on an old dog learning new tricks, it might be time to take a long walk in the woods when he can no longer even sit on command.

 

Wayne Rooney
The problem with having a striker at the club who actually looks like a Premier League-standard footballer is that it makes your own dire performance level look even more conspicuous. As Manchester United captain, Wayne Rooney will be delighted for his new team-mate, but he must also have serious reservations about his own standing in the side.

“He knows my standards and he knows what I want from a striker,” Van Gaal said less than a month ago, reiterating his summer message that Rooney was his No. 1 striker. “He thinks he can perform [in that position] and I think that also, otherwise I would not be playing him there. I think that his best position is the striker’s position and he agreed with that conclusion.”

Yet Rooney was moved back into a No. 10 role against Southampton as Martial took over responsibilities in leading the line. The switch may have ignited some attacking flair from United, but it did little to drum up any signs of life in Rooney. No shots, no chances created, no crosses, no fouls won – that’s all you don’t want in a No. 10. Van Gaal has repeatedly spoken of his belief that Rooney will come good, but patience must be wearing thin. It’s now 11 league games without a goal, and just eight shots on target during that run.

They tried him up front, and it did not work because Martial offered more. They tried him in midfield, and it did not work because Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin and Michael Carrick offered more. They tried him at No. 10, and it did not work because Ander Herrera offered more. Is it now time to see how things work with Rooney on the bench? At the moment, he’s being carried in this United team.

 

Brendan Rodgers
You can go here to read far more about Liverpool’s latest step backwards and last week’s Winners and Losers for a more thorough assessment of my thoughts on Rodgers. Things have simply got that little bit worse.

Since the away victory at Swansea on March 16, Liverpool have won five of their 18 matches in all competitions. Five of those games were against teams we could broadly describe as top-four rivals (Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea), with a return of just two points.

Demands for patience are valid when a manager is taking a team forward, but at a slower rate than many may like. They are not valid when a manager is taking a team backwards after more than three years in charge. Therein lies the decision that Liverpool will soon be forced to make should things fail to improve.
Steve McClaren
‘Chelsea and Manchester City are Newcastle’s league fixtures directly following this weekend, and it is a fallacy to suggest that games as early as mid-September cannot be must-win. Lose at home to a newly promoted side at St James’ on Saturday, and the groans around Tyneside will be audible from Darlington’ – Football365’s Big Weekend.

And so it came to pass. If Newcastle were abject against West Ham on Monday, they managed to scrape further into the bottom of the barrel during the first half against Watford just five days later. They may have moved up a place thanks to Sunderland’s 2-0 defeat at Bournemouth, but that is where the tiny flickers of positivity end.

Not according to McClaren though, who used award-winning levels of one-eyed optimism to describe his side’s performance. “Our spirit was tremendous in the second half and we nearly got it back,” the manager said. “We created chances and got one back through Janmaat, but we didn’t have that finishing touch to come back and get what would have been a great result for us.”

Two things, Steve:

1) If a home draw with Watford can be described as a great result after two points from your opening five league matches, Newcastle are in more trouble than we first thought. You sound like John Carver, and there is no greater insult.
2) You didn’t score said goal, so focusing on the positives five days after saying a huge improvement was needed will convince nobody.

McClaren’s propaganda acts as a weak facade for his performance at the club so far. There were relevant doubts after he mangled Derby’s promotion campaign last season, and very few of those questions have been answered in the affirmative. After a significant summer spend, the new manager is already under huge pressure.

 

Manchester City
That some people took our ‘City in crisis’ headline from Sunday seriously exposes the reactionary hyperbole of modern football, but Manuel Pellegrini will still be perturbed after two home defeats in five days.

“It was exactly the same as Juventus, we were playing in that crazy way,” said Pellegrini after the game, who must also be slightly concerned about Sergio Aguero’s stop-start beginning to the season. “We must concentrate more because two balls decided the result. In the last two games we didn’t play with the concentration or intensity we had shown in the first five games.”

City’s wonderful start to the season afforded them the opportunity for slip-up, but they would be ill-advised to let huge positivity ebb away before September is out. Lose to Tottenham next weekend and they could find themselves behind neighbours United.

 

Tim Sherwood
“These next two games mean absolutely everything to this club,” Sherwood said on Thursday. “We’ve got two of the biggest football matches this club is ever going to have ahead of us. The players will know after the West Brom game that the next time they play it will be the most important game they are ever going to play in for this club.”

As I wrote in Big Weekend, the issue with hyping up the importance of your next match as a motivational tool is that it makes you look bloody foolish if your players then fail to turn in a meaningful display. That is the reality that Sherwood now faces.

There was great anticipation at assessing Sherwood’s ability to manage through a medium-term strategy rather than a short-term punch to the face. So far, the signs aren’t good. It’s Liverpool, Chelsea, Swansea, Tottenham and Manchester City to come in the space of the next six league games.

 

Sunderland and short-termism
I must be careful of writing a team off in September. It was a mistake I (almost) made last season, only for Burnley to respond to their dire start.

That said, what Sean Dyche’s side lacked in ability they accounted for in effort and team spirit. Dick Advocaat’s Sunderland currently have none of those qualities. They look like a collection of highly paid but lowly motivated individuals, no cohesion with each other or loyalty to the club.

Sunderland’s entire ethos is centred around short-termism. They have a manager who had to be persuaded to take the job after initially rejecting it, and is on a one-year deal. They have an owner under enormous pressure from supporters and a number of players signed signed in desperation by a manager who will leave before they do. They have had five managers (Advocaat, Poyet, Di Canio, O’Neill, Bruce) in the last four years.

The longest-serving player in Sunderland’s starting side against Bournemouth was Billy Jones, who has been at the club for less than 16 months. That breeds a team with a critical lack of organisation and unity.

Once again they were made to look shambolic defensively and blunt in the final third at Bournemouth. Jermain Defoe is the only Sunderland player with more than two shots on target this season, and the only one with more than one goal. Even he has only registered an average of 1.8 shots per match.

The biggest worry for Sunderland is not their results, but the opponents who have put them so firmly in their place. Leicester, Norwich, Swansea, Aston Villa, Tottenham and Bournemouth – an averaging finishing place last season of 14.7th in the Football League ladder. Advocaat’s side are struggling to breathe against the lesser sides in the table. The best sides will surely squeeze the life out of their flimsy Premier League existence.

 

Maya Yoshida
Sometimes you look at a teamsheet and one thing jumps out at you. I can never prove my predictive powers to you, but seeing words ‘Maya’ and ‘Yoshida’ at right-back did exactly that. It took 50 minutes for that prediction to come to pass.

Only Ronald Koeman knows why Yoshida was picked there over Cedric Soares. One would hope it doesn’t happen again.

 

Kevin Mirallas
In February, Kevin Mirallas spoke of his desire to leave Everton for Champions League football, an ambition he eventually went back on in May (when the offers didn’t come flooding in?).

Come September, and Mirallas is restricted to cameo appearances off the bench. Managing to get himself sent off within two minutes of a 92nd-minute introduction, and thus missing the Merseyside derby, will do little for the Belgian’s standing at Goodison.

I included Mirallas on the list of players who needed to buck up their ideas. I said ‘buck up’, Kevin. With a ‘b’ not an ‘f’.

 

Sam Allardyce
Sitting somewhere between this and this. Even the gravy tasted bitter on Sunday lunchtime.

 

Do as I say, not as I do
“I’ve played derbies in many countries,” said Mourinho after the victory over Arsenal. “To win derbies you need emotional control.”

Sure thing, Jose.

 

Francis Coquelin
“It is a little knee injury, said Wenger. “I don’t know how long it will be. Certainly not for midweek. I don’t know yet how long.”

Oh goodness me, Arsene.

 

Brazen optimism
“Today it was all about the first goal and we got that first goal and it freed us up,” said Brendan Rodgers after a match in which his side scored first and then conceded to draw 1-1.

Spectacular work yet again.

 

Daniel Storey

More Related Articles

Comments