Handing out or ripping up contracts and winning 4-0 – every Premier League club’s biggest mistake

Dave Tickner
Everton manager Frank Lampard after another Premier League defeat

Nobody’s perfect, everyone makes mistake. Even the Premier League clubs who are doing splendidly haven’t got every decision right.

So having congratulated every club for their most correct decision of the season it’s only fair that we now slap them in their stupid faces for their biggest errors. We’ll warn you now, some of these are a stretch.


Arsenal – Going eight points clear
Okay, so we’re off to a bad start here but there haven’t been many bad decisions at Arsenal this season. There was one, but the lawyers don’t want us to talk about that. So we’ll have to go for this. Because what Arsenal have done this season, like absolute f**kwits, is go so far clear at the top of the table that losing the title to Manchester City in accordance with the prophecy will now go down as a bottle job. The fact they’ve opened up that sweet-spot lead that is both large yet also surmountable while still having two games to play against City only makes it sillier. Stay in your lane and fight Brighton for sixth, you damn fools.


Aston Villa – The Tyrone Mings Captaincy Caper
Steven Gerrard’s big powerplay at the start of the season, given that Mings has now started 90 per cent of Villa’s Premier League games this season and Gerrard is sacked and little lamented, didn’t pay off. Gerrard lurched from stripping Mings of the armband in July and publicly calling out the defender, to leaving him out of a honking 2-0 defeat at Bournemouth over apparent concerns over the England international’s consistency, to almost immediately recalling him and claiming credit for Mings still being a quite good Premier League defender.

It also just felt incredibly performative from Gerrard, like he was cosplaying seasoned alpha manager, and by September Mings’ form had Gerrard claiming that his public criticism had been entitled to take attention away from Mings and allow “Tyrone… to focus on Tyrone”, which was a pretty brazen rewriting of the events of July and August.


Bournemouth – Giving Gary O’Neil a permanent contract
Bournemouth picked up 13 of their 17 points this season during the 11 games of O’Neill’s caretaker reign. They’ve got one point from five games since handing him the job permanently during the World Cup break.

Their overall current league run is eight defeats in the last 10 games. Wanting the air of permanence is understandable but in truth the air had already gone out of Bournemouth’s new manager bounce by the time O’Neil was handed the permanent reins, with a four-game losing run ended by a 3-0 win over Frank Lampard’s Everton which hardly counts.

Bournemouth now find themselves in a messy eight-team (we think) fight against relegation saddled with comfortably the least experienced and reassuring managerial presence among that group now that Everton have finally committed Bambicide.


Brentford – Twatting Manchester United 4-0
It was the early-season wake-up call they needed, you fools! It gave Erik Ten Hag the cover he needed to make sweeping changes that are beneficial in the long term! They’re good again now! Nobody wants that. Apart from United fans, but tits to them.


Brighton – Not taking the Caicedo money
Time will tell on this one but it really was an awful lot of cash to turn down and a touch surprising given Brighton’s wildly successful model of selling players at the peak of their value and sneakily already having signed the very ideal replacement for about 87p two windows earlier.

Brighton’s reluctance to sell below their asking price in January is understandable, but they are now left with a disgruntled player having shown time and again how they can move on and even improve without seemingly irreplaceable components.


Chelsea – Signing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Specifically, signing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and no other striker. You can question the amount they’ve spent or the structure of the deals or those massive amortisation-based contracts or whether any of it is particularly healthy, but Aubameyang is the one that already just looks an objectively bad move.

He was bombed out by Arsenal for good reason and while Chelsea’s plan appears to be to use the next six months as the most expensive bedding-in period in football history it still seems remiss to spend about half a billion quid across two transfer windows and end up with Aubameyang and a loaned-out Romelu Lukaku as the only actual strikers in the squad.

It’s something Chelsea will presumably address at unimaginable expense in the summer but nothing better sums up the current fears/hopes (delete as appropriate) that Chelsea’s madcap spending is a wildly incoherent trolley dash with no underpinning plan or philosophy than outspending the rest of European football put together while singularly failing to address the most obvious, glaring weakness in the current squad.

Chelsea striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang sat on the bench


Crystal Palace – Playing five of the Big Seven in their first seven games
Can we really blame Palace for their fixture list? Not really, but it does still feel like it’s shaping their season a bit. They’ve spent the whole campaign looking like a team slightly better than their league position, and they’re at it again now, risking being drawn back into the relegation equation after a run of games against Tottenham, Chelsea, Manchester United and Newcastle with United again, Brighton, Brentford, Liverpool, Villa, City and Arsenal to follow. It’s like they’ve learned nothing from August and September and/or are powerless to do anything about the random doings of the mysterious fixture computer.


Everton – Delaying the obviously necessary managerial change until the arse end of January – again
First of all, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Frank Lampard had to go and doing it late was better than not doing it at all, but the timing of it was still an absolute mess, giving new manager Sean Dyche (again, minuscule credit where it’s due for swallowing pride and getting the right manager in) no time to bring in the sort of January mood-lifters that can turn a relegation fight around.

What’s ridiculous is that Everton made the same mistake last year, with Lampard arriving just as the January window was closing and being handed the hurriedly agreed and largely unhelpful additions of Donny van de Beek and Dele Alli after a quick rummage around the Big Six Bargain Bin.

In the continued spirit of faint praise, we should probably concede that “proper managerial appointment and no panicky last-minute signings” is still an improvement on “ego managerial appointment and terrible panicky last-minute signings” but it’s a club in an absolute mess and making a variation on the same mistake two years running is the sort of thing that deserves to end in relegation.

Obviously, we now desperately hope that doesn’t happen. We’re massively Team Everton just so we can see Your Henry Winters and Your Dominic Kings and the Chris Bascombes Of This World hail Dyche as an inspirational miracle worker for pulling off a great escape when he keeps them up. That’s how this works, right lads?


Fulham – Not checking Mitrovic’s studs before the penalty at Newcastle
They’re still seventh and doing absolutely fine, but they were a slip away from being right on the heels of Champions League-chasing Newcastle when Mitrovic had the chance to put them 1-0 up from the penalty spot only to slip and hit the ball twice. Newcastle scored a late, late winner and Fulham – who had been flawless since the World Cup until Mitrovic’s mistake – have gone on to lose narrowly again since then to an unconvincing Spurs. They now trail Newcastle and Spurs by eight and five points respectively but it could have been oh so different.


Leeds – Failing to upgrade central defence in the summer
The alarming porousness of Leeds’ defence almost took them down last season, the effects seen most alarmingly in a seven-game run in February and March that brought just a single point and the concession of 24 goals.

There has been some improvement this season – there pretty much had to be – but the middle of the defence has remained a conspicuous point of weakness in a team that has conceded 33 goals in 19 games and often in the most alarming clusters.

Leeds have already lost two games despite scoring twice and another despite scoring three. They’ve drawn 2-2 against relegation rivals Southampton and West Ham in games that really could and should have been won. They had to score four to get past Bournemouth.

They really aren’t that far away from being a pretty comfortable mid-table side, but the goals they concede – and the nature and timing of them – is so often so costly.


Leicester – Thinking they’d solved the defensive problems
Leicester made a horrible start to the season, taking one point and no clean sheets from the opening seven games of the season in a run which culminated in 5-2 and 6-2 defeats at Brighton and Tottenham after taking the lead.

After the international break, a chastened and quieter Brendan Rodgers, apparently self-aware enough to realise he was perhaps fortunate to still be in a job, went back to basics for a bit. The results were good, with five wins – and plenty of clean sheets – in the eight games between September’s international break and the World Cup.

But Leicester have reverted horribly to type, conceding 10 goals and picking up just one point in the five games since the World Cup. Back you go, Brendan.


Liverpool – Not buying a bloody midfielder
Concluding your January transfer business in December might seem clever, but come on lads. Another forward? You have many forwards. You don’t need another forward. And if you did need another forward, you needed one to play through the middle which is not what you’ve got anyway. But what you definitely needed, and have done for quite some time now, is a midfielder. You should have bought one of them, if anything.


Manchester City – Buying Erling Haaland and somehow being worse
Adding a cheat code striker to a cheat code team was only ever going to heighten the harsh but definitely real criticism of Pep Guardiola as a manager who can only succeed on easy mode. City’s results actually going backwards despite Haaland’s substantial presence is making Pep go full “crunch Champions League knockout game” for even the most prosaic of league encounters, with talk of crazy tactics and going needlessly 2-0 down a lot just to be able to prove some kind of point.


Manchester United – Not dealing with Ronaldo in the summer
Probably harsh, this, but they’ve got a lot right and it’s clear that getting Ronaldo out of the club was definitely a good thing. But there was never any way it was going to go well with him and Erik Ten Hag, and United quite correctly were only ever backing one horse in that fight. In hindsight, that should have been done more fully in the summer which would have had the added bonus of avoiding the grim spectacle of Piers Morgan’s shit-eating-grinned attempts to haul himself back to relevance by piggybacking his best pal’s childish tantrum.


Newcastle – Abandoning the sane and sensible transfer policy for Anthony Gordon
It was inevitable that Newcastle would at some point do a mad transfer with daft money for a player they didn’t particularly need whose bona fides as an improvement on what they have are dubious. We welcome it, really. But doing it on someone as overwhelmingly mid as Anthony Gordon? I know they’re new at this, but it’s just not very superclub, is it? And it got entirely swallowed up by all Chelsea’s antics anyway. Next time, buy Neymar or someone.

Sometimes it’s easy to see which clubs are doing quite well by how much of a reach these are, isn’t it?


Nottingham Forest – Buying a whole load of new players again
We’ll have to wait and see whether we’re proved very right or very wrong on this one but our gut is telling us Forest have overdone it this time.

Sure, we’ve all enjoyed watching them buy a whole mess of players and then do exactly the same thing again. Especially as one of them is Keylor Navas (a move which actually does make some sense beyond just being great fun, which would be enough). But we all saw how long it took for that pretty much entirely new squad from the summer to get their head round things. Having now got their head round things, Forest have gone and completely overhauled the squad again. Adding free agent Andre Ayew after the transfer window was shut for good measure is ludicrous but at the very least represents admirable commitment to the brand. We have no choice but to admire it.

But we do think they might have gone too far. We enjoyed how much piss it boiled when they signed 20 players, so we take no great pleasure in now being all Buzz Killington about it, but Forest won one of their first 11 Premier League games of the season as a team of virtual strangers and have won four (and draw three) of the subsequent nine as something approaching a coherent team. It took months to get that delicate balance together and we’re not entirely sure Ayew and the gang justify the risk in upsetting it all again. Especially as Forest can’t really afford to have another lengthy bedding-in period for newbies with a run of games over the next month or so that splits pretty much down the middle between tough games against the top eight and crucial ones against relegation rivals: Leeds, Fulham, Man City, West Ham, Everton, Tottenham, Newcastle, Wolves is a season-defining run of upcoming games.


Southampton – Relying on James Ward-Prowse
As this feature’s more happy-clappy counterpoint notes, Southampton retaining Ward-Prowse was their best decision of the season because they would be jiggered without him. But they’ve become ever more reliant on their main man, who frequently appears to be the only Southampton player with even a rudimentary understanding of the assignment.

He is their creator, organiser and very often primary goal threat. He’s quite a good player but not that good.

That Saints’ only league win since October came in the game Ward-Prowse scored his only two league goals since August says much about the team and the player. And also Everton, against whom this inevitably occurred.


Tottenham – Ripping up Matt Doherty’s contract
There are arguably more instantly and significantly impactful errors. Allowing the January window to pass with no further clarity on Antonio Conte’s future one way or the other is certainly one, leaving the club in a state of limbo where almost nothing can be said about next season with any certainty. To the extent that even finally addressing an area of the pitch that has been a conspicuous source of concern since the departure of Kyle Walker almost six years ago cannot be viewed as wholly satisfactory, because in Pedro Porro they have secured a high-class wing-back who may or may not be any use to whoever may or may not be in charge by August.

But for sheer bang-your-head-against-the-wall Spursiness it’s hard to beat the mess that ended with Matt Doherty being mutual consented with two hours left of the January transfer window. It’s so very Spurs, representing the humiliating mistake at the end of a sequence of them going back years.

It has been known from the start of the month that Porro was Spurs’ top January target for the RWB position, yet they spent the whole month Spursily trying to shave a few million off the asking price only to then find themselves having to write off a, what, £8m asset in the panicked final moments of January to fall foul of loan rules Spurs either didn’t know about or had forgotten about or just hadn’t considered up to and including the moment Djed Spence decided to join Rennes rather than an English club.

Of course, even having eight players on loan to international clubs is a direct reflection on the mess that is Spurs’ recent transfer activity. Those eight loanees include not just the quota-filling January exits of Bryan Gil and Spence but also Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso – still two of the six most expensive signings in the club’s history.

As much as anything else, though, it just felt like a grubby and shabby way to treat Doherty, whose time in north London cannot be considered a great success but he was no wastrel and was until the end a viable member of the first-team squad.


West Ham – Not trusting the plucky band of cup-run mavericks in the league
The Hammers have been excellent in cup competitions this season, sauntering through the Europa Conference group stage without a care or a blip and making short work of different but difficult FA Cup assignments against Brentford and Derby.

In the league, though, they have been shit. There’s a difficulty level factor involved here of course, but there’s no denying that West Ham are a more carefree and effective and fun team away from the stress of league competition. Let’s see some of that cup-run joie de vivre in the league please; it almost certainly couldn’t be any worse.


Wolves – The Diego Costa Experiment
We can’t really blame Wolves too much here. We were as excited about it as they were. But facts are facts. The great man currently has more yellow cards (2) and red cards (1) than he does goals (0) or assists (0). It cannot be said to have been a success.