Liverpool's English Attack Tops The Winners

Liverpool's glorious attacking prowess sits atop the Winners, where there is space too for Chelsea, Giroud, West Ham and Hull. In the Losers, Sherwood takes a pasting...

Last Updated: 24/02/14 at 12:57 Post Comment

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Winners

Liverpool's Attack (And Roy Hodgson)
For all the understandable talk about Manchester City's phenomenal attacking prowess this season, this is now the Premier League's top-scoring side. At times against Swansea, they looked utterly and absolutely brilliant.

The most positive news for Roy Hodgson (and Liverpool fans, actually) is that this was an attacking display without principal threat Luis Suarez offering anything of note other than his growing sense of frustration at a current lack of goals. Instead, on an afternoon following a dismally dull draw for Euro 2016 qualifying, the England manager will have been left hugely impressed by the English trinity at the heart of all Liverpool did right. They may form the heart of that campaign, too.

Daniel Sturridge will take the headlines, and rightly so. The striker now has 27 goals in his last 27 domestic matches, and has scored at a rate of a goal every 83.1 league minutes played this season. That's a better record than Cristiano Ronaldo (83.6 minutes), Lionel Messi (95.1 minutes), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (97.1 minutes) and Diego Costa (101.8 minutes). It sounds inherently strange to say, but four months before the World Cup there is no striker in better form, and he's English. I'm going for a lie down.

Next up is Raheem Sterling, who continues his remarkable resurgence at Anfield. Only provided with his second start of the season following Sturridge's ankle injury in November, such has been Sterling's excellence that Brendan Rodgers has altered Liverpool's tactical shape in order to guarantee his inclusion. His pass to Sturridge for the opener against Swansea was sexy enough to be provided with a packet of Kleenex and a sheepish look, and was by no means an isolated incident - this now looks like a winger with both pace and end product. What is this witchcraft?

Finally comes Jordan Henderson, a midfielder with a reputation fully redeemed after being unfairly tarred with the brush of Liverpool spending £80million on him, Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam and Andy Carroll within a seven-month period. That Henderson scored more than one goal in a game for just the second time in almost three years on Sunday is testament to the faith paid in him by Brendan Rodgers, who has increasingly allowed the midfielder to operate in an advanced role ahead of Steven Gerrard. He excelled there against Swansea.

"Jordan showed great leadership today," beamed Rodgers after the match. "You could see him driving the team on. We've been telling him to get into the box and arrive in there, because he's got the energy and legs to do that."

It's a quote that could have been used about Gerrard a decade ago, and provides hugely positive signs for both club and country. A conclusion that would have been unthinkable just a year ago is becoming ever more apparent - England must look to replicate Liverpool's attacking aptitude to have their best chance of success in Brazil.


Chelsea
As I mentioned here, this all just feels a bit inevitable with Chelsea, remembering that 1-0 wins were the hallmark of Jose Mourinho's success during his first tenure at Stamford Bridge (Chelsea won 11 games by that scoreline in the 2004/5 title-winning season). The victory over Everton on Saturday lunchtime was just their third by that score in the league this season, but also their second in four matches.

It was lethargic, it was ugly and it was won with the fortune that all successful title bids rely, but this is a time of the season at which the result is king, and nothing else matters. When the going gets tough, Chelsea and Mourinho revert to what they do best.


West Ham

Football continuously provides reminders of quite how quickly things can change, but West Ham's current surge is perhaps a more obvious example of this than any other this season.

Less than a month ago, all looked lost. West Ham had been beaten 3-0 at home to Manchester City in the Capital One Cup to complete a 9-0 aggregate defeat, been thrashed 5-0 at Forest in the other domestic cup and had taken five points from the last 27 available in the Premier League. They were second-bottom of the table.

At such a time, Sam Allardyce looked a dead man walking - his excuse about his side's injury list perfectly valid but becoming dangerously well-worn. It seemed a matter of when, not if, he would be removed from his position, finally separated from his ridiculous salary.

Since then, Allardyce has been entirely vindicated for his demands of patience, and the faith in him from the club utterly justified. The turning point was the draw earned at Stamford Bridge in Alamo-esque circumstances, a tiring, demanding point that peculiarly seemed to give the players renewed energy. Four successive wins have followed, with just a single goal conceded in that spell. It's close to seven years since the Hammers have won four on the spin, in the glory, halcyon days when Alan Curbishley was a competent manager.

"It proves my point again, doesn't it?" Allardyce boasted after the game. "That's why I'm good at what I do." Quotes such as that make Allardyce a difficult man to like but, despite his huge wage, it's hard not to respect both how his side are playing and their recent results.


Olivier Giroud

Whatever the moral questionability of Olivier Giroud's recent bedroom escapades ("Mousse from a bowl is very nice, but to put it on a person is demented"), there was no doubt that in the minds of Arsenal supporters it was damn good to see him back to his best on Saturday against Sunderland. He has been sorely missed.

Giroud's January insistence that he did not wish to see Arsenal adding to their striking options was an honourable act of self-confidence, but it did not account for the personal 'issues' that may or may not have occurred in the Arsenal team hotel prior to the Crystal Palace match.

The Frenchman's omission for the FA Cup tie against Liverpool was understandable. Arsene Wenger's claim that Giroud had "looked a bit tired recently" fell on understandably deaf ears after tabloid exposés, but being rested for Arsenal's tertiary priority was not a surprise.

His further exclusion against Bayern Munich on Wednesday, however, hinted at a more punitive measure taken by the club, or alternatively that Giroud had matters within his private life that required resolution before his professional responsibilities could be resumed. Whatever the explanation, there is little doubt that Giroud looked rejuvenated against a clumsy, disorganised Sunderland side.

His first goal was as a result of Jack Wilshere's surge from midfield, his pass finding the Frenchman's left foot - a cool finish was the predictable result. The second came after a woefully weak backpass from Santiago Vergini, from which Giroud was able to poke past Vito Mannone and into the net, and there was still time before the break to provide an assist for Tomas Rosicky to complete the sort of mesmeric team goal from which Arsenal could be forgiven for attempting to trademark.

"I had no hesitation about Giroud's strength of character and I wanted him to come back in the team and be successful," was Wenger's post-match assessment of his striker's return. "He was today by scoring two goals, one great one at the end of a good movement and one a gift."

If he can put personal concerns to one side, there is little doubt that Giroud's form will be crucial in any potential success. Given the lack of alternative options, he is Arsenal's most important player right now.


Arsenal

Getting back on track after a potentially consuming midweek defeat was the necessity for Arsenal, but doing so with an air of élan was a hugely appreciated luxury. Sunderland were blown away by a sumptuous first-half display that brought three goals and genuine reasons to believe that their title bid is not yet over.

Arsenal have now entered their brief respite period before the fixture list again makes the eyes water. Sunderland (h), Stoke (a) and Everton (h) in the FA Cup provides lighter relief after a run of Liverpool, Manchester United, Liverpool and Bayern Munich, and if the Gunners can record three victories in this easier trio, consecutive league games against Spurs (a), Chelsea (a), Manchester City (h) and Everton (a) will seem far less daunting. They are a third of the way towards achieving that target.

It may only have been Sunderland, but such a fixture could not have come at a better time. More than two goals scored in the Premier League for the first time in ten games, and an opportunity to persuade supporters that all is still well. And just look at that third goal. It certainly wouldn't be demented to smother that in mousse.

They may be fourth favourites for the title in places, exactly the same as before the season began, but this is still a club just one point from the summit in late-February. Saturday was a reminder for fans not to practice their well-perfected looks of resigned disappointment just yet.


Wayne Rooney

The illogicacy of paying Wayne Rooney £300,000 a week may well not be fully known until Adnan Januzaj, David De Gea, Juan Mata or any potential summer signing clears their throat and enquires as to why they won't be paid the equivalent or similar, but all Rooney can do to answer the critics (of which there are many) is score goals. After a dry spell of one goal in 11 matches for United he did exactly that, and what a finish it was too.

"I've been trying to do well for the team and trying to help us win," Rooney told Sky Sports after the match at Selhurst Park, as if that was anything above the minimum expectation of a forward paid very handsomely even before his pay rise.

That said, Rooney turned in another performance of great determination and no little quality against Palace, one that left his manager unsurprisingly waxing lyrical. "Wayne's one of the top players. He shows it week in, week out for us and you can see the change in him - his leadership, what he's trying to bring to the team."

Now keep doing it until you're 33, Wayne.


Norwich

Chris Hughton appears to be some sort of Chris Hughdini, seemingly able to wriggle out of an impending sacking by getting a result just in the nick of time. The victory over Spurs owed much to the monotony of their opponent's attacking attempts, but Norwich fans will care not a jot.

The hope for Norwich is that, like the famous escapologist, the punch in the stomach represented by a final four fixtures against Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal, won't act as the fatal blow.


Hull City

It says a huge amount about the job that Steve Bruce has done at Hull that a 4-0 away victory is not bigger news, but such is the reward for sensible transfer activity, bringing in Premier League experience to bolster a Championship-looking squad. Tom Huddlestone, Jake Livermore, Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long were all involved in Hull's four goals against Cardiff, underlining Bruce's shrewd business in the transfer market.

Safety has now surely been confirmed, and for that Bruce and Hull should be warmly applauded.


Newcastle Season Ticket Holders

After eight weeks and four days (and 462 minutes of actual playing time), a goal! An actual league goal! At home!

Newcastle may still be drifting through the remainder of the season, without another fixture to excite fans until August, but at least they improved after an unimaginably dreary first half against Aston Villa. Some fans had been wondering whether they would actually ever score again.


Loic Remy

Newcastle have played five Premier League matches without Loic Remy this season - they have failed to score a single goal in any of those games.

Given the complete regression of Papiss Cisse's confidence and finishing, and the rather simple footballing qualities of Shola Ameobi, Newcastle fans will be mightily relieved that they managed to tempt Remy up to St James' Park last summer. Without him, this would have been a campaign of great struggle.


Losers

Tim Sherwood
It may have been only Spurs' second defeat in his 11 Premier League games in charge, but this still felt like a turning point in Tim Sherwood's Tottenham tenure.

The sad fact is this: Sherwood simply isn't a football manager with enough tactical nuance, experience or quality to manage at this level just yet. I praised Sherwood after the win against Everton for keeping things simple, but there must come a time when simplicity becomes naivety. Step forward a defeat to Norwich.

On Sunday, Spurs were downright rotten. Their opponents effectively set up with two banks of four, making it clear that they were going to make things ugly, and Sherwood's side showed a complete inability to break them down. Two shots on target all match, and an in-form Emmanuel Adebayor left incredibly isolated, found only by long 'searching' balls from the base of midfield. There are only so many times a forward should have to applaud the effort in a wayward pass before exclaiming "now listen the f*ck here, chaps."

The squad selection made such a scenario entirely predictable. Norwich are not a team that will surge forward in attacking waves (and in Ricky Van Wolfswinkel have one of the league's most anonymous strikers), so quite why Sherwood felt the need to select Etienne Capoue, Moussa Dembele, Nabil Bentaleb and Paulinho in midfield goodness only knows. The early injury to Capoue provided an opportunity to alter this, but in bringing on Nacer Chadli one is effectively gambling on picking the right occasion at which a stopped clock shows the correct time.

Bentaleb will rightly receive much of the ire, for he is Sherwood's baby. Without a Premier League minute before the appointment of the 'Have A Go One', Bentaleb has played 90 minutes in each of Spurs' last seven Premier League games, and on Sunday looked like the water carrier with aquaphobia. The sum total of his achievements was to play five yard passes into the feet of Dembele or Paulinho, whilst offering very little cover for a defence that seems to excel only in last-ditch tackles borne out of positional lapses or substandard decision-making.

Sherwood's complete inability to interpret the requirements of a match look set to undermine his initially promising tenure. If scores of Tottenham fans can all realise that a match is crying out for the intricacy and creativity of Christian Eriksen in order to create a link between midfield and attack, why can't he? Instead, the Dane was left on the bench for the entire game whilst Aaron Lennon, Paulinho, Chadli and Andros Townsend all failed to add enough invention to break Norwich's resolve. It became almost embarrassing that the manager didn't even attempt such a strategy, and left his side ripe for the picking.

There have been recent matches in which Spurs have impressed (4-0 away at Newcastle being the obvious example), but the evident conclusion is that they now operate in the haphazard and random manner always likely when a manager freely admits to having no faith in tactics. "We'll have a go and then you have a go, and we'll see what happens," may be a fun way of operating for the neutral, but it is becoming grossly frustrating for Spurs supporters that have seen Sherwood fail the test every time he has been faced with an opponent that has a plan.

"We need to go and get better," was Sherwood's post-match response, a gloriously predictable quote from a man with simplicity at his core. When his side win it's "we played well", and when they lose it's "we played badly." No more, no less.

Under Sherwood, Spurs will remain as they are at present. They will beat some teams, and they will lose to others. They will be workman-like and eye-bleedingly competent, but in order to qualify for the Champions League, competency hangs around the neck like an albatross. Spurs will surely finish in fifth or sixth position, and another season will be marked down as 'not quite'. So will the manager.

With his barks from the touchline, Sherwood looks like a wannabe PE teacher given Spurs club shop vouchers for Christmas that somehow managed to wangle the Headmaster's job. Without proper guidance and instruction, the school's performance will eventually become a laughing stock.


Roberto Soldado
Another chance late on in a match and another horribly shanked effort, only tempered by the fact that it was less horrific than the one against Dnipro on Thursday. That's not a huge consolation for Spurs fans watching Alvaro Negredo perform for £4million less and Daniel Sturridge for half the price. Thank goodness he takes good penalties, eh?

It's now one goal from open play in 22 Premier League games for Soldado. With a summer move back to Spain looking likely, things are beginning to look terminal. Spurs fans may have scoffed at the recent form of Mesut Ozil, but should hold back their laughter - theirs is surely the worst Premier League signing of the season, and we've not even got on to £30million man Erik 'three league starts' Lamela.


Cardiff
That, it appears, may just be that. Cardiff may only be three points from safety and with a comparatively gentle run-in, but if you lose 4-0 at home to Hull City then relegation should be something of a certainty.

Cardiff looked likely to be the best equipped to deal with the rigours of Premier League football in August. The purchases of Steven Caulker and Gary Medel seemed logical and intelligent, and Malky Mackay a manager that players seemed to place faith and belief in. This is a side that finished 15 points ahead of Crystal Palace last season, and seemed to have improved.

Unfortunately, all has been undone through the clusterf*cks of a mindless owner, Vincent Tan causing the club to crack at its very core. His sacking of Mackay came as little surprise, but the decision to appoint Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looks one soaked in ineptitude.

"It's an embarrassing defeat," the Norwegian said after a match in which his side were out-classed by. "I'm not going to make any excuses. We just weren't good enough." Cardiff fans don't want excuses, but instead a manager that seems capable of changing a losing mentality.

Solskjaer has now had seven games in charge in South Wales and he has taken them closer to the drop. His sole league win came in fortune and from behind against Norwich at home, but the manner of the defeat to Hull put paid to any of the possible confidence taken from four points in their last two home games. Appointing the Norwegian seemed a huge gamble given that his only managerial experience came at his previous club Molde, who he took to sixth place in the Norwegian league last season, and he looks completely unprepared for the relegation battle.

Fulham gave Rene Meulensteen 13 league games before concluding that his inexperience made him unsuitable for the task at hand. How long before Vincent Tan takes a similar plunge? Right now, Cardiff look nothing but doomed with Solskjaer in charge.


Liverpool's defence
Before I have to put on my tin helmet, you can feature in the Losers section when winning, and Liverpool's defence firmly belong in such inauspicious company.

Whilst Liverpool's dreamy front four do their best to make a title bid seem more than mere fancy and folly, inadequacies at the back undermine at almost every opportunity. If Kolo Toure doesn't get you, Martin Skrtel will, the pair single-handedly costing Liverpool four goals in three matches. Rodgers spent £35million on the defence in the summer, but it looks all the more shaky for the investment.

Skrtel was the villain against Swansea, a calamitous shouldered own goal only bettered by the hauling down of Wilfried Bony even after his defensive partner Daniel Agger had won his header fairly. There will be plenty of Liverpool's previous opponents with little sympathy for the Slovakian, penalised for his penalty box misdemeanour following at least five examples of similar in recent weeks.

As Sarah Winterburn wrote here after the game, the gap between the quality of attack and defence at Anfield makes them the team to watch at present, but whilst the neutral may find it thoroughly enjoyable, it must be hugely frustrating for Liverpool fans.


Edin Dzeko
When Edin Dzeko inexplicably missed an open goal against Stoke on Saturday, somehow managing to kick the ball against his standing leg, his frustrated response was to kick out at the post in anger. City fans may have been surprised to see him actually connect with the goal rather than getting his foot caught in the net, such is Dzeko's ghastly form.

The salient fact is this - in his last five matches Dzeko has attempted 25 shots, but only three have hit the target. He can no longer be relied upon in the biggest matches or the tightest situations.

The Bosnian has 17 goals this season, but on only two occasions, against Crystal Palace at home and Leicester away in the Capital One Cup, have his goals actually affected the outcome of the match. A striker does not enhance a reputation by scoring half of his goals in 5-0, 5-0, 5-1, 6-0 and 7-0 victories, and never has a return of a goal every two games looked as false.

Dzeko's status in the City squad is waning, and this is a club with no scope for players to be carried (or at least it shouldn't be). Manuel Pellegrini will surely spend the summer looking for a viable replacement.


Southampton
The team selection of Mauricio Pochettino for the FA Cup tie at Sunderland managed to rile up people enough that it was still being discussed a week later, but on Saturday, we saw why.

Fans can take a 6am departure for a 650-mile round trip for an early FA Cup kick-off moved for television. They can even take limping out of the competition, largely due to the selection of an understrength side, simply because they are woefully addicted to their club and the game. But when the rested players then lose 3-1 at West Ham in their next fixture, things really start to stick in the throat.

Rooted in mid-table, Southampton are now involved in a mini-league with Newcastle for 8th position. That's about as exciting and inspiring as it sounds.


West Brom
After reading Big Weekend on Friday, one commenter questioned why West Brom rarely get included in such round-ups. A day later, his side provided their own evidence.

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