Manchester City have rarely been in such a tough title race, writes a man who has not been paying attention. And then there’s Crooks…
The best sentence we will read all week
From The Sun’s story about Erling Haaland losing his head:
City’s leading scorer tweeted a video of the incident along with the phrase ‘WTF’ – which means ‘What the f**k’.
LOL – which means ‘laugh out loud’.
Manchester City: The crisis
Manchester City drawing three straight games is getting some people very giddy about a possible title race, as if absolutely nothing has been learned.
City have not lost any of those games but Oliver Brown in the Telegraph is enjoying the notion that they might:
The serenity of champions-in-waiting has given way to a strange, skittish energy, with the finest team in Europe realising that they confront their toughest title fight in years.
That’s absolute bollocks. They’re closer to Arsenal than they were at the same stage last season, two years ago they were a point behind Chelsea at this juncture and it’s literally only three years since they were eighth after 14 games.
The last time they were top of the Premier League table after 14 games was 2018. They have won four titles in the intervening five years.
This is not simply an aesthetic judgment. The crumbling of defensive poise is backed up by the numbers: since a regulation win over Young Boys last month, they have conceded at a rate of 2.5 goals per game. For the first 18 games this campaign, it was 0.8.
Because comparing 18 games to four games is a rock-solid statistical model.
While Guardiola was adamant his side had barely given Tottenham a look-in, this argument was of dubious statistical merit. Over the past month, City have conceded an average of 10 chances per game, a far cry from the 6.2 they managed before this winter wobble set in.
And 17 of those chances came v Chelsea.
And as for Tottenham, the xG for that game was 2.6 to 0.5 in Manchester City’s favour; they did ‘barely give Tottenham a look-in’. If you’re going to talk about ‘statistical merit’, maybe look at some statistics, fella.
But when the system falters, City can look oddly destabilised. At 21, Doku is already a captivating talent. You only had to admire his shimmying first-half movement, feigning to go left before cutting right and cannoning a shot off the crossbar, to wonder at how he could yet flourish under Guardiola. But there is still a callowness to him, too, reflected in the one successful dribble he completed all game. With that rate of return, there will be limits to how much freedom Guardiola affords his Belgian prodigy.
And last week v Liverpool, he dribbled past 12 players. His dribbling ‘rate of return’ is the highest in the Premier League by some margin. He had one quite poor game that Brown happened to watch.
Brown then writes about the lack of control being exhibited by Manchester City this season, whose crisis takes them all the way down to third after a run of games against Big Six sides that they will not face again until mid-February, and fails to mention one quite significant fact: They are missing literally the best midfielder in the Premier League.
It seems relevant.
The Art of picking a team of the week
It’s been a while since we have visited Garth Crooks and his Premier League team of the week for the BBC, but does somebody want to tell him that Everton lost 3-0 at home to Manchester United last week?
It was a real team performance away at Nottingham Forest by Everton, and Pickford was at the heart of it. To what extent their performance was galvanised by having been deducted 10 points by the game’s authorities is hard to determine.
It would have been easier to determine if they had won last week.
What did have a bearing was the fact that Everton are really quite good and have one of the best away records in the Premier League. In fact, only Tottenham have more away points.
Oh and Nottingham Forest are more than a bit sh*t right now.
This points reduction might prove to be a blessing in disguise for the Toffees.
Hmmm. On reflection we think Everton would rather be 12th than 18th.
Obviously Trent Alexander-Arnold is Crooks’ right-back:
I don’t think I’ve ever seen four better goals in one Premier League match, and two of them were scored by Alexander Arnold. Admittedly his first goal will be credited to Bernd Leno after Alexander-Arnold’s amazing free-kick went in off the back of the Fulham goalkeeper.
So admittedly, two of them weren’t scored by Alexander-Arnold at all.
Our favourite thing about a Crooks XI are the players he picks just to make a point about something/somebody else. So step forward, Martin Odegaard. There’s some blah blah blah about his form but clearly, he only wants to say this:
I also couldn’t help but notice that Mikel Arteta is not complaining about anything at the moment. I suppose when you’ve just gone four points clear at the top of the table having beaten Wolves, there isn’t much to complain about. Let’s hope he can be just as gracious in defeat as he is in victory.
Man with nothing to complain about is not complaining. More as we get it.
No Manchester United players in that team of the week, though picking Anthony Gordon gave Crooks a chance to have a pop at Marcus Rashford, a popular pastime after another rotten hour v Newcastle.
Over in the Mirror:
Man Utd flops send ‘subtle message’ to Erik ten Hag as players turn against manager
This is based around some quotes from Jermaine Jenas, who said on Saturday night:
“The body language of a team tells you a lot at times and there were a few of them that were sending a message to the manager.
“I thought today Marcus Rashford on that right hand side in particular, the way that he just walked around throwing his arms around was one for me that said, ‘Look, I don’t want to be playing on this right hand side’.”
Spotter’s badge to anyone who can tell us what word is not used by Jenas.
It’s a subtle change but it’s one that makes a story very clickable.
Highest of the low
Manchester United have been battered 3-0 twice this season, lost 3-1 at home to Brighton, somehow lost 4-3 in Copenhagen and threw away a lead to draw 3-3 at Galatasaray to leave their Champions League campaign in tatters but…
Erik ten Hag and Anthony Martial argue as Manchester United’s season hits new low
Really, Telegraph? Only losing 1-0 to Newcastle and Martial giving enough of a sh*t to argue might actually make a list of the top 10 highlights.