Who Tops The Winners? Who Else?

Brendan Rodgers is one of the best managers in football while David Moyes' time is surely coming to a close. Why give him another window and a war-chest?

Last Updated: 17/03/14 at 15:26 Post Comment

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Winners

Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers
A truly dominant display founded on unfamiliar defensive resolve and quick, counter-attacking football that Manchester United simply could not cope with. Liverpool played as though we expected, yet the champions looked woefully unprepared for the biggest game of their season so far.

The truth is that Liverpool did not even have to play at their brilliant best to secure a 3-0 victory that underlines their status as title challengers. Daniel Sturridge fluffed his lines twice in the first half, Luis Suarez's footwork was not quite as nimble as usual, and Raheem Sterling struggled to have the same impact through the centre. But, as many teams have found at Old Trafford this season, it mattered little.

The Reds have now recorded a 43-point swing over their rivals from this stage last year; the gap to Chelsea is only four points with a game in hand at home to Sunderland on March 26; the lead over United is now 14 points and 29 goals - on the pitch on Sunday, it looked as though it could have been even more. Liverpool played like contenders; the champions, a fallen giant.

Brendan Rodgers will have been particularly pleased with the platform his defence provided for an impressive victory. Martin Skrtel was excellent, bossing the back-line in the way Nemanja Vidic used to do for United. Glen Johnson and Jon Flanagan worked tirelessly to snuff out the hosts' predictable plan to attack from the flanks and then burst forward in support when Liverpool had the chance to break - an approach that was aided by Simon Mignolet's careful distribution.

It may not have been their most inventive performance of the campaign, but Liverpool were organised and clever in their use of the ball. They looked like a cohesive unit - every man understanding his specific role - while United were reminiscent of Tottenham in recent weeks - mindful of showing desire and commitment, but clueless as to how to apply those qualities in a way that would eke out an important victory.

While David Moyes should not have taken United from Premier League champions to seventh inside eight months, Rodgers' transformation of Liverpool has been equally surprising. We have repeatedly mocked him for his soundbites (and will continue to do so - "We just talk about players improving their performance level and improving their life." Oh Brendan), but this doesn't detract from Rodgers' status as one of the best managers in the game - and he is still only 41.

That none of the Reds' outfield players on Sunday have been signed in the last two transfer windows points to Rodgers' strength as a coach who can develop his squad. With money to spend in the market, he has not always convinced. On the training ground, he has taken a team that finished eighth in 2011/12 with just 52 points and 47 goals to second with 62 points and 76 goals after just 29 games. It is a phenomenal achievement.

"We're probably a year ahead of where we've been but that's testament to the players and how quickly they're adapting to the methods," said the manager as he played down Liverpool's title chances in the wake of their most significant victory to date. Considering the Reds' form and fixture list - with Chelsea and Manchester City to come at home - the opportunity is certainly there.


Manchester City
A battling three points followed by an unexpected slip-up for Chelsea.

For more on City's victory at Hull, click here.


Arsenal
A hard-fought victory in the north London derby despite Arsene Wenger's annual battle with a predictably depleted squad. Arsenal showed great spirit to dig in against Spurs to move level on points with Liverpool and stoke the embers of their title challenge, but it is still difficult to believe they can win the league this season. Not that I wish to spoil anyone's fun.

Against Chelsea on Saturday, the Gunners will need to be more ruthless. They have won only four of their last 25 matches against the Blues and failed to score in both of their previous clashes with Jose Mourinho's side this season. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain cannot afford to miss the sort of chances he passed up at White Hart Lane if Arsenal are to further close the gap and really make a fight of it at the top.

While there are no concerns about the defence - with Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker impressing again on Sunday - Arsenal's worries lie in a lack of attacking options that Wenger failed to address last summer or in January. The manager will hope that Aaron Ramsey brings back his goal threat when he soon returns from injury but, without Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott, Arsenal will struggle to stretch opponents of Chelsea, Man City and Everton's quality.

Lukas Podolski is clearly not the answer, while Olivier Giroud - who has flattered to deceive this year - didn't manage a single shot in 90 minutes against Spurs. The telling statistic that the striker has scored just once in 15 matches (in all competitions) against Chelsea, Liverpool, Man City and Man United suggests that he is not going to be the difference at Stamford Bridge or against City at the Emirates.

Arsenal will no doubt battle until the end now they are fighting on only two fronts, but there is a sense that they are being kept at arm's length in the title race. Despite being level with Liverpool, it will take an enormous effort to overcome an injury crisis that Wenger should have foreseen.


Aston Villa
One of the least expected results of the season, despite Villa already beating Arsenal and Man City earlier in the campaign. With the much-improved Fabian Delph driving through midfield and Christian Benteke continuing his gradual return to form, the hosts rattled Chelsea and were deserving of their unlikely victory.

Now nine points clear of danger, Paul Lambert's aim should be to secure Villa's first top-ten finish in three years.


Stoke
Hot on the heels of Villa following an impressive turnaround against West Ham as they chase their first ever top-ten finish in the Premier League.


Jay-Rod and R-Lamb
A goal apiece in the race to be Roy Hodgson's fourth-choice striker in Brazil. He's going to pick Andy Carroll, isn't he?


West Brom and Pepe Mel
A first win after eight matches of Pepe Mel's reign to gain the slightest amount of breathing room in the battle at the bottom. With a slipping Hull side, Cardiff and Norwich to come in the next three fixtures, the Baggies have a great chance to kick on and secure their top-flight place. They can't afford to pass up the opportunity before away trips to Manchester City and Arsenal.


Everton
Six points better off than at this stage last season following Seamus Coleman's beautiful last-minute winner against Cardiff. Finishing above Manchester United - whom they host on April 20 - is a worthy challenge to Everton as Roberto Martinez looks to avoid the season petering out.


Fulham
A dead cat bounce that offers tantalising hope to supporters. But Fulham are still bottom and four points adrift of safety having played a game more than West Brom and Crystal Palace and two more than Sunderland. Saturday's trip to Manchester City will surely maintain the status quo.


Losers


Chelsea and Jose Mourinho
A complete and utter meltdown in a manner that suggests the mental strain of the title race is taking its toll. Has Jose Mourinho ensured a self-fulfilling prophecy by preaching that Chelsea won't really be ready to challenge until next year?

Of course, the Blues still sit four points clear at the top having played a game more than Liverpool and Arsenal, but suddenly the Gunners have been given great encouragement ahead of their trip to Stamford Bridge on Saturday. After they lost to Aston Villa - who have been dreadful for most of the season - Chelsea's trips to Crystal Palace and Swansea in the next four league outings look a whole lot trickier.

The simple truth is that they never got going against Villa. With Fernando Torres lining up in attack, the Blues lacked a focal point in the final third to link with Eden Hazard in the role Samuel Eto'o normally performs. Torres failed to hit the target with any of his five attempts during his 67 minutes on the pitch - once again reinforcing the evidence of his sorry decline.

While Mourinho must know to expect little from Torres by this stage, he will be more concerned by Oscar's drop in form. So disappointed was the manager with the Brazilian's display on Saturday that he took the risk of replacing him ahead of Willian, who was already on a yellow card. Two minutes later, Willian was off, as Chelsea's task became even more difficult.

Mourinho didn't help matters by his exaggerated remonstration on the touchline that surely fed into the mindset of his players. Chelsea completely lost their cool, lacking the composure to withstand Villa's late pressure and create chances of their own to secure a vital result. As the tension increased, it was no surprise to see Ramires crack as he almost did the same to Karim El Ahmadi's shin.

With the Brazilian duo now missing for the Arsenal clash, Mourinho will be forced into deviating from his usual plan in the tougher tests. Chelsea will not be able to counter at the same speed or press with the same intensity as they did at home to Manchester United and away at Manchester City. Preparing for this change will not be easy, either, with Galatasaray visiting Stamford Bridge in midweek.


Gilet Purveyors
To what extent has Tim Sherwood harmed the gilet industry? The last thing they will have wanted to see is a Premier League manager discarding his bodywarmer as though it was a cursed and entirely impractical fashion item.

We did enjoy Sherwood's post-match quip, however: "I just want to wear my heart on my sleeve, when I wear them."


Cardiff
Desperately unlucky on Saturday; plain old desperate throughout the season.


Norwich
Never has the metaphor about circling the drain been so apt. Around and around they go, waiting for the last four matches in which Norwich will be sucked down the plug hole with a satisfying gurgle. The ironic thing is they'll probably sack Chris Hughton at that point, when he's one of the best managers to bring them straight back up.


Swansea
The one team in the bottom seven who risk telling themselves they're too good to go down. Everyone else must be acutely aware of how crap they are by this stage.


Manchester United and David Moyes
Well, that was embarrassing in every conceivable way. As Liverpool looked to keep their title hopes on track at Old Trafford, David Moyes' programme notes spoke of securing "another important boost". At no stage did it ever look like it would arrive.

The champions were outclassed by a team that finished 28 points below them last season - a team they beat home and away in the league with weaker starting line-ups than Moyes selected on Sunday. This was the manager's strongest team, and yet all they could muster was a measly single effort on target. It was a stinging shot from Wayne Rooney - the one player who actually looked as though he could make a difference to the result.

Perhaps that isn't entirely true. Michael Carrick also showed he could make a difference to the result as Liverpool repeatedly bypassed him in midfield. Meanwhile, Daniel Sturridge easily evaded Nemanja Vidic twice in the first half to waste two clear-cut chances. Considering the defender's run-around, it was no surprise that Mark Clattenburg was happy to believe Sturridge's fall when Vidic dived in to concede the third penalty of the afternoon.

The referee's decisions led to a bizarre reaction from Moyes. "It's hard to assess a game which was littered with penalty kicks and decisions, some were right and some were wrong," said the manager. But it isn't hard to assess the game at all. While there may have been some debate over Liverpool's final spot-kick, Sturridge should have been awarded one more for a trip by Carrick. It wasn't as though Clattenburg handed the victory to the visitors - they won their penalties by creating the sort of chances that United simply couldn't replicate.

That Robin van Persie didn't test Mignolet once - and has managed only two efforts on target in his last four matches - points to the absence of a convincing attacking approach that has stifled United's progress all season. And to think Moyes used his programme address to speak about an upturn in fortunes after wins over Crystal Palace and West Brom.

The next three matches - against Olympiakos, West Ham and Manchester City - should decide the manager's fate. But in truth, United should already be looking at alternatives. It is time to admit that Sir Alex Ferguson's selection has failed spectacularly - what sense is there in throwing bad money after good by handing Moyes a warchest to spend in the summer? He is clearly not the man for the job, as Liverpool should have known with Kenny Dalglish when they allowed him to splurge over £60m on Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam (we no longer include Jordan Henderson).

As Moyes admitted that the job was harder than he expected following Sunday's humbling defeat, I was reminded of his comments about needing a footballing brain to understand United's approach in the 2-2 draw with Fulham. He has come out fighting and he has tried to manage expectations. The only thing he hasn't done is work out a way for United to maintain a winning run. There has been no evidence of improvement and for that, he surely has to go.


Juan Mata
From not playing under a brilliant manager to playing for a manager who has no idea how to get the most out of his talent. It has not been an enjoyable season for United's new right winger.

Matthew Stanger - follow him on Twitter

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ven if United were to sign CR7 & Messi to play upfront, the fact remains Fletcher and Cleverly are playing in midfield. That's where the problem is. Fletcher is too slow with an awful pass, while Cleverly is simply rubbish

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Di Maria - A Signing of Necessity, or Opportunity?

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hese days, these days, you can't say something racist without somebody saying that you're a racist.

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'Wrong' Views Not Silenced By Shouting...

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rop Rooney (he's so disappointing, overrated and overpaid), and play Di Maria and RVP upfront, much like the set up at the Netherlands team with Roben and RVP...

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Di Maria - A Signing of Necessity, or Opportunity?

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