When Liverpool signed Steven Caulker on loan from Queens Park Rangers in January, fans heralded the signing of a central defender. They were sorely mistaken. The England international has made four appearances since joining the Reds, just one of which was a start as centre-half. To his credit, the 24-year-old helped in keeping a clean sheet in the FA Cup against West Ham. But in the Premier League, Caulker’s role has not been to guard the Liverpool goal. In each of his three substitute appearances in the league, the former Southampton man has been assigned the role of battering ram. What’s more, he has proven somewhat effective. He was introduced with two minutes remaining against Arsenal, with Joe Allen equalising soon thereafter. But his striking cameo against Manchester United failed to precipitate a late recovery. Against Norwich, Caulker completed an admirable volte-face. Jurgen Norbert Klopp brought him on to provide defensive reinforcement with Liverpool leading 4-3, before Sebastien Bassong scored a late equaliser. Cue Caulker’s return to the front line, with the January signing playing a crucial role in Adam Lallana’s winner. At this stage, he’s probably ahead of Christian Benteke in the pecking order.
Manchester City fans will hope Manuel Pellegrini has learnt his lesson. The Chilean has struggled in games against City’s direct rivals this season, failing to beat any of their fellow residents in the top five. Over six games against Leicester, Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester United, City have lost four. The common theme in two – the 2-1 defeat to Arsenal and the 3-1 loss to Leicester – was the inclusion of Fabian Delph. But not just the inclusion of Fabian Delph. The inclusion of Fabian Delph as a left-winger. It is no coincidence that both of Delph’s forays on the left-hand side were curtailed early. At Arsenal he was substituted at half-time with City 2-0 down. The scoreline was the same when he was hauled off against Leicester after 52 minutes. The 26-year-old has performed well as a central midfielder since joining from Aston Villa, but a winger he ain’t.
Mame Biram Diouf
“As a footballer you just have to be ready for anything and that’s what I think in my head. I just think now we are winning 3-0 so we just need to stick together, do my job as a right-back and switch everything – take out all the striker things and put in the right-back things.”
Explaining his role as emergency cover at right-back against Bournemouth, Mame Biram Diouf provided an insight into how he shifted his attitude from attack to defence. An injury to Glen Johnson last weekend forced the striker to reprise the role he had successfully taken against Chelsea in the Capital One Cup in December. Diouf was moved from central striker to right-back after 52 minutes, and helped prevent the home side from mounting a comeback.
It was a decision which caused equal levels of consternation at Old Trafford and laughter elsewhere. Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao had departed in the summer, leaving Louis van Gaal with only Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez and James Wilson at his striking disposal. Hernandez was subsequently sold on transfer deadline day to Bayer Leverkusen, with an unknown teenager from Monaco arriving for £36.7million. The forward department at Manchester United looked in dire need of renovation. Van Gaal’s explanation merely exacerbated matters.
“He can play as a No.9 and a, and he can also play as a No.6 and No.8. This year he will play more as a No.9 and rather than 6 and 8 because there we have other players.”
The ‘he’ was, of course, Marouane Fellaini. The hair with legs carved a much-maligned figure for much of his first two seasons in red, and he would now be utilised as a striker. Bother. In his defence, the 28-year-old has made one injury-enforced start as a striker this season. Back in September, he played the full 90 minutes in a 3-1 victory over Liverpool.
Yoan Gouffran played as a central midfielder away at Manchester City in October. It was his first Premier League start April. Newcastle lost 6-1. He has not started since, and has featured for just 83 further league minutes. With all of the previous information, how have Newcastle not seen fit to relieve Steve McClaren of his duties?
Gouffran made one tackle – the same amount as Ayoze Perez and Florian Thauvin – one clearance and two interceptions against City. He had 33 touches, fewer than every starter expect left-back Kevin Mbabu, who had the excuse of not playing as a central midfielder. He completed 24 passes, and attempted 32. Winger Gouffran was removed mercifully after 66 minutes, by which point Manchester City led 6-1.
Again: How is Steve McClaren still in a job?