10) Leicester sticking with a manager they didn’t want
It might sound harsh on Craig Shakespeare, but he was never meant to be a Premier League manager. His temporary appointment following the sacking of Claudio Ranieri was supposed to be exactly that, and yet Shakespeare’s impact in his first four games left Leicester’s owners with little choice. You can’t replace a guy who has won every match without piling enormous pressure on his replacement.
The mistake was keeping Shakespeare beyond the summer, despite universal misgivings about his suitability for leading Leicester into the new season. Rather than giving a new manager the summer to build a squad and establish plans for the season, they sacked Shakespeare after two months of the season with the club in the bottom three.
9) Crystal Palace’s weird Frank de Boer thing
I’m sticking by my opinion that Palace appointing De Boer was not necessarily a terrible idea, but the way they managed the process absolutely was. De Boer had been schooled in the Ajax way of playing, and made no secret of his desire to replicate that at Selhurst Park.
Palace’s owners must have known that, because De Boer was hardly promising pragmatism in his job interview. Lurching from Sam Allardyce to De Boer is one thing, but doing that and then not backing the new manager in the transfer market takes a special kind of foolishness.
The only permanent summer signings were Jairo Riedewald and Mamadou Sakho, who had already been at the club on loan. De Boer proved himself incapable of both cramming square pegs into round holes and altering his own style to fit Palace’s squad, and the club may well pay the ultimate price for their horrific start to the season.
8) Everton putting all their eggs in the Giroud basket
The only surprise when Everton sold Romelu Lukaku is that his move to a big club had not come sooner. Everton had appeased their striker the previous summer but, with Chelsea and Manchester United competing for him, Lukaku was always leaving Goodison. The only question was for how much.
Yet Everton somehow didn’t have a succession plan in place beyond assuming that Olivier Giroud (and his family) would be keen to swap London for Merseyside and Arsene Wenger for Ronald Koeman. It was no secret that Giroud had no intention of making the move, and yet his was the only name seriously mentioned.
Instead, Everton were left with four natural No. 10s and only Sandro Ramirez, Oumar Niasse and Dominic Calvert-Lewin as striking options. Koeman failed to find the solution to that particular quandary, David Unsworth failed to find the solution to that particular quandary and now it’s Sam Allardyce’s turn to find the solution to that particular quandary. Getting soft penalties would seem to be the current strategy.
7) Swansea’s central midfield obsession
While Everton were busy replacing a centre forward with numerous No. 10s without actually solving the issue, Swansea sold a No. 10 to Everton and replaced him with an eclectic bunch of central midfielders to continue the chain of incompetence.
Replacing Gylfi Sigurdsson’s goals and assists may have been an impossibility for Swansea, but it might have been an idea to at least try. Sam Clucas showed glimpses of excellence for Hull last season, Roque Mesa was considered worth the gamble and the name of Renato Sanches was too glittery to turn down, but signing all three has led to a bloated central midfield in which all would struggle to start.
It also took Swansea’s eyes off the other issues within their squad. Like having one left-back and putting their goalscoring hopes on a former striker whose career has gone south and a 20-year-old loanee.
6) West Ham sticking with Bilic into the new season
“I should have got rid of him in the summer,” West Ham co-owner David Sullivan told the Guardian last week on the subject of sacking Slaven Bilic. “But beating Tottenham in the last home game and beating Burnley was just enough. My family gave me such grief for not doing it. I thought he’d sorted things out.
“I’m very involved with physically bringing in the players. I’m not involved in the strategy. The manager said he wanted Fonte from Southampton and Snodgrass from Hull. My kids begged me not to sign them.”
There are many different definitions of leadership, but this is not one. Leaders don’t pass the buck, or continuously paint themselves in a positive light, or base their long-term decisions on short-term events, or call out people still employed by the club.
Still, Sullivan’s family were right; Bilic should have gone in the summer. Then they could have approached Marco Silva post-Hull City rather than David Moyes post-Sunderland.
5) Arsenal resting Lacazette for big games
Alexandre Lacazette’s agent was at pains to say that there were no huge issues with his client being left on the bench against Liverpool and Manchester City.
“It’s not worrying, because he played at Chelsea,” David Venditelli said. “Our way of working is to relativise things: 11 matches, nine starts. Of course, it’s not nice to see that he didn’t start the match, but it was – as Arsene Wenger explained – for tactical reasons. He’s learning. Alex needs to have calm around him. He’s happy, and Arsenal are too with his work.”
Impressive smoothing over of a potentially tricky situation, but that doesn’t alter the mistake made. Having broken their club record to sign the centre forward Arsenal supporters had been crying out for after failed Gonzalo Higuain, Karim Benzema and Luis Suarez sagas, why on earth would Arsene Wenger then leave out said striker for two massive away matches? Particularly in favour of Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck, one of whom doesn’t want to be at the club and the other who is far less prolific than Lacazette.
Both comprehensive defeats categorised Arsenal as also-rans.
4) Newcastle tightening the pursestrings when it mattered most
Let’s play a game. Go through each one of Newcastle’s league matches this season, and make a combined XI for each one. I promise you that you will never name more than three or four Newcastle players. Rafael Benitez is doing his best to squeeze the maximum out of a squad littered with Championship-level players.
Mike Ashley had to spend more over the summer, for this is a club whose transfer activity is still stuck in 2005. The club-record purchase is still Michael Owen and they are the only Premier League club not to break it in the last two years, but the bigger issue is that they signed no player in the summer who was a significant upgrade on what they had.
The striker issue is the biggest embarrassment, paying £5m for Stoke City’s fourth-choice centre forward and instantly making him first choice. This is not intended as a slight on the willing and determined Joselu, but Newcastle should be aiming higher. Failing to do so could cost them the end of the Benitez dream.
3) Chelsea failing to keep Antonio Conte sweet
Chelsea cannot be surprised that defending the title has been so hard. Since Manchester United were the last team to retain the title in 2008/09, the league champions have finished in an average position of 4.9. Since 2012/13, their average finish is 7.8.
Having hit gold with Antonio Conte, who won the title in his first season in England, Chelsea had a chance to keep their coach sweet and breathe new life into a squad ahead of a title defence and a season which would see them forced to combine domestic assignments with Champions League football.
Their response was to miss out on Romelu Lukaku, miss out on Ross Barkley, miss out on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and miss out on Fernando Llorente. Chelsea did make some signings, but losing out on your first choices is not a strong look for defending Premier League champions. It may cause the eventual departure of a wonderful coach.
2) Manchester United playing defensively against Liverpool
Jose Mourinho’s pragmatism has been misinterpreted as him being a purely defensive manager, but against Liverpool, Manchester United’s manager got it badly wrong. Jurgen Klopp’s team had not kept a clean sheet in seven matches, and United had scored 21 goals and taken 19 points in their seven previous games. The obvious answer was to attack Liverpool’s fragility and send a message to Manchester City that they could stay on the coat-tails of a team in form.
Instead, Mourinho went for safety-first. United stopped Liverpool from scoring, but the 0-0 meant they lost ground on City and inadvertently revealed that Mourinho lacked the courage to gamble for first place. United have scored 15 goals and taken 16 points from their nine league games from Liverpool onwards. Leicester City have a better record.
1) Liverpool not signing a central defender
On the one hand you can admire Klopp for sticking to his guns and decreeing that only Virgil van Dijk would do. Why bother buying a central defender who isn’t your priority only to replace him in a year’s time with your Plan A?
On the other hand, Liverpool are still having to pick Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan in big games, which makes the counter argument look utterly foolish. Klopp had the chance to invest in his defence and instead spent £35m on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. It looked a baffling call at the time and it looks a baffling call every time Lovren or Klavan make a ricket.
“Look out there and tell me five that would make us stronger. Five,” said Klopp on August 6. “Then you win a prize. It’s difficult how it is. We have four. I don’t think we need more. In the moment I’m fine.” How about we give you 20 and get four prizes, Jurgen?