F365’s top ten disappointments of the season

Date published: Wednesday 4th December 2019 8:02

10) Newcastle’s front three
One goal. A single solitary strike from £40million centre-forward Joelinton three months ago. That’s the total return for Newcastle’s £81million investment this year in their forward line.

It’s an embarrassing statistic and not one in isolation. Miguel Almiron finally offered an assist on Saturday, ten months after arriving in the Premier League as Newcastle’s previous record signing. Steve Bruce can only hope the Paraguayan can kick on from here.

And he really does have some grounds for genuine belief. Because for all their struggles, there have been signs that something could be brewing between Almiron, Joelinton and the thrillingly inconsistent winger Allan Saint-Maximin. All three are still in their maiden year as Premier League new boys and though they can only really get better, the feeling is they will.

But potential is scant return on £81m.

 

9) Paul Pogba
The World Cup winner has been taking the piss out of United for a year and a half now. He wanted to go last year; they gave him the vice-captaincy. He wanted to go this year; United tried to give him a pay rise. Give it another six months and Old Trafford could end up being renamed the Pog Bowl.

Pogba has been absent since September, since when he’s been in Dubai and Miami while United flip-flop between underwhelming and shambolic. If United players felt Bastian Schweinsteiger was pushing his luck with his excursions while injured, it would be fascinating to know what Pogba’s team-mates think of the midfielder’s jet-setting. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said “every player is allowed to be injured” but no longer can we take anything about Pogba and his commitment to United at face value.

Still, Solskjaer takes every opportunity to crawl a little bit further up his arse: “He’s one of the best midfielders in the world and it’ll be like signing a new player before the transfer window opens.” He’s not going to shag you, Ole. He doesn’t even want to play for you.

 

8) Roberto
There is a lot to pick apart from West Ham’s poor season so far. The win at Chelsea perhaps saved Manuel Pellegrini – for now, at least – and it is no coincidence that the three points and a clean sheet came in the absence of Roberto.

Lukasz Fabianski’s stand-in has been, to use a technical goalkeeping term, utter sh*te. He was signed in the summer on the suggestion of director of football Mario Husillos, whose job is supposedly under threat as a consequence. In the seven matches the 33-year-old played before being bombed for David Martin, Roberto conceded 16 goals, many of which were a direct result of his incompetence. West Ham dropped from fifth place to 17th. In the four games before and following his stint in the sticks, West Ham kept four clean sheets.

But we don’t need statistics to recognise that Roberto is not much good at his job; the fact he’d had 11 different spells at various clubs before joining West Ham really should have alerted us – and them – to that fact.

 

7) The champions
Manchester City emerged as the victors in a title race as thrilling as it was tight last season. So the fact they are already 11 points off leaders Liverpool is a huge disappointment to everyone at the Etihad and those of us hoping to get our kicks from a similarly close scrap at the top of the table.

City could cling to excuses should they wish but many of them could have been foreseen and averted before the start of the season. Their main downfall has been their defence, which Pep Guardiola chose not to strengthen despite the overwhelming case for recruiting another centre-back. Vincent Kompany left, Nicolas Otamendi wanted to, and Guardiola did not trust John Stones during the run-in.

Losing Aymeric Laporte so early on was a huge blow – but one they should have been better equipped to face. Fernandinho makes an adequate stand-in, but he is not a centre-back and his combativeness is missed in midfield when he drops back.

It is hardly a secret that City and Guardiola would prefer the Champions League this season but their Premier League struggles are not a consequence of trying to scratch the European itch. City will have to strengthen in January to make a concerted push through the Champions League knock-out stages. For their title hopes, it is surely already too late.

 

6) Big signings failing to deliver
Arsenal, Brighton, Newcastle, Watford, Spurs, West Ham, Man City, Wolves, Leicester, Sheffield United and Aston Villa all broke their transfer record during the summer. Four months into the season, the jury is still out on most of those big-money buys.

Nicolas Pepe and Joelinton have scored one each for Arsenal and Newcastle respectively, while none of Wesley, Sebastian Haller, Oli McBurnie and Neal Maupay have yet reached five goals. Midfielders Tanguy Ndombele and Rodri have both shown glimpses but as yet little consistency. The only two of that list to be getting value for money so far are Wolves and Leicester, who both spent big to secure loan players on permanent deals.

That is perhaps the crux of the matter: the other record buys, all new to the Premier League, all seem to require time to settle. But given the substantial outlay, several chairmen would have reasonably expected big-money signings to make that adjustment a little quicker.

It is not just the record signings. Manchester United have kept only two clean sheets since splurging £135million on two defenders; Moise Kean and Alex Iwobi are yet to do anything of note for Everton; Joao Cancelo is yet to break into Man City’s creaking defence; Che Adams hasn’t scored a goal for Southampton; and Pablo Fornals is still sat on the bench despite West Ham being bobbins.

 

5) Watford’s managers
Watford’s season so far in numbers: 14 games, one win, nine goals scored, 28 conceded, 20th place. So for a club with a fondness for firing managers, it should come as no surprise that the Hornets are looking for their third of the campaign.

Javi Gracia was dismissed four games – all defeats – into the season but the rot had set in last term when an FA Cup final appearance papered over some dreadful league form during the run-in, which is becoming a Watford tradition. He reluctance to play new signings Danny Welbeck and Ismaila Sarr didn’t help his cause and the presumption was that a new voice would jolt the squad towards an improvement.

But under Quique Sanchez Flores, it never came. Back for a second stint, the Spaniard presided over just one win in 10 games during an 85-day reign. Almost nothing changed under Flores, except he played Welbeck. Which didn’t go well.

Flores admitted after losing from a wining position at fellow strugglers Southampton that Watford were mentally fragile. The noises coming out of the dressing room suggest the same, with a strong preference among the players for a British manager who can lift their spirits. They could just give their own heads a wobble, of course…

 

4) Tottenham under Pochettino
His sacking was greeted with dismay by many Tottenham supporters but a parting had become inevitable. Indeed, ever since the summer, the writing was on the wall for Pochettino and this Spurs cycle.

It was great while it lasted, and a five-year reign is an anomaly in the Premier League these days. Pochettino worked wonders to retain the hearts and minds of his players but the peak was Madrid in June. Regardless of whether Spurs won or lost that Champions League final, a new direction was required. It quickly became apparent that Pochettino and the club were struggling to agree which route to take.

They bought some players, which for Spurs is progress in itself. But they kept too many whose mind had long since wandered. When Pochettino looked around his dressing room, too many pairs of vacant eyes were staring back at him. In turn, the manager’s enthusiasm for his job waned too.

The lack of the togetherness which took Spurs back to the top level became woefully apparent on the pitch. They were 14th by the time Daniel Levy decided to pull the trigger and though Pochettino could hardly argue with the decision, nor does it besmirch his CV.

 

3) Everton
At the time of writing, Marco Silva remains in gainful employment. The only reason for that can be that Everton have not yet found someone they feel could do a better job. Which is surprising given how low the bar has slipped this season.

Before the Merseyside derby on Wednesday, Everton sit one place and two points above the bottom three with 12 points and eight defeats from 14 matches. It was a surprise Silva took charge of the last-gasp defeat at Leicester given the mutinous reaction to the previous week’s failure at home to Norwich. With Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal to come before Christmas, the chances are the Toffees will be in the bottom three by the halfway point of the season on Boxing Day.

What’s gone wrong? There is no single root cause. Poor recruitment, poor form, injuries and inflexibility have all played a part. Regardless, the bottom three is a long way from the top six, where Everton thought they could be this season. Silva will surely go but simply replacing the manager won’t be the magic fix, as you would hope Everton’s hierarchy have sussed out by now.

 

2) Emery’s Arsenal
David Luiz reacted to Unai Emery’s sacking with regret on behalf of the Arsenal players for having ‘let down’ the Spaniard. But words are cheap when the squad so clearly stopped playing for their manager.

As is usually the case in situations such as Arsenal, there is enough blame to be shared out among everyone at the Emirates. The ownership barely seem bothered; the football board have yet to demonstrate any clear vision; the manager flailed hopelessly; the players reacted by mocking him rather than working for him.

For Emery’s part, no one can say he didn’t try. The manager was chucking sh*t at the wall until the day he departed but never could he make anything stick. From persistent tactical switches to an inconsistent approach with individuals – nothing Emery did was able to drag Arsenal forward from the stale final days of the Arsene Wenger era.

Whoever replaces Emery won’t have it easy either. This is neither a happy squad nor a balanced one. Freddie Ljungberg may well fair better in getting a tune out of these players in the short term, but similarly to what happened at Manchester United a year ago, there appears little prospect of sustained improvement without a major overhaul.

 

1) Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
No club outside the top four has won more than five of their 14 Premier League matches so far this season. Yet Manchester United still languish in ninth place. The spirit of 1999? More like 1989, when Sir Alex Ferguson was clinging to his job.

Yet Solskjaer seems in little danger of losing the job he earned on the back of an interim reign powered by smiles and nostalgia. That enthusiasm, especially with these players, was always going to wane, though no one thought it would dissipate before the ink was dry on his permanent contract.

Each passing week offers more of the same dirge from United, and Solskjaer is struggling to justify it. “I think there is loads of evidence these boys are closer to winning games than losing games,” he said after admitting his side deserved nothing more than a draw against Villa on Sunday. Last week he was just happy they didn’t capitulate completely after going 2-0 down at Sheffield United.

Mourinho was sacked almost a year ago for picking up 26 points in his first 17 league matches of the season. Anything less than three wins in their next three games against Mourinho’s Spurs, Man City and Everton will see them fail to match that substandard total. Mourinho had burned his bridges with vast swathes of the dressing room and he had to go. Solskjaer remains on good terms with his players, which perhaps makes their failure even worse.

Ian Watson

 

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