Klopp and Manchester United are slammed in Premier League winners and losers

Date published: Monday 9th May 2022 10:35 - Matthew Stead

Frank Lampard has pulled Everton together, Brighton shamed Manchester United and Jurgen Klopp made himself look a little bit pathetic.

Frank Lampard
There must be one remarkably self-satisfied but equally relieved graffitist roaming Merseyside. It will never be known whether Vitor Pereira would have been a continuation of the Everton chaos timeline, a solution to the club’s many ills or something in between, but Frank Lampard has undoubtedly benefited from an intangible neither the Portuguese manager nor his Goodison Park predecessor Rafael Benitez ever could have generated or harnessed: a wholesale buy-in. The heroic former coach of Liverpool and – as truly lamentable and reductive as the stereotype is – a foreign coach with no thorough understanding or Knowledge Of The Premier League, faced varying degrees of opposition from the start. Lampard, even if only through desperation from a fanbase searching frantically for answers and meaning, was welcomed with precious few caveats.

As things stand, he has capitalised on those circumstances. The support is back onside. The players are motivated. Both are feeding off the other. With those two key facets united in symbiotic purpose, Everton have been reinvigorated.

The Toffees were 16th when Lampard was appointed, four points above the relegation zone. Fourteen games later, they occupy the same position but the gap to 18th has been reduced to just one. This is no great escape and anyone selling it as such is a fool. Yet Everton have more belief, optimism and conviction than at any point of Benitez’s reign after its first month. Ten points from a possible 15 against Manchester United, Leicester, Liverpool and Chelsea is an excellent return for a team once destined for the Championship and subsequent financial oblivion.

Everton have not had more than 37% possession in any of those five games. Their aggregate shots for (48) is dwarfed by the attempts they have allowed (74). But the inspired form of Jordan Pickford, the stabilisation of Fabian Delph and the repurposing of Alex Iwobi has combined effectively with Lampard’s coaching of a more dogged, determined and resolute team.

Safety is far from assured and one setback could easily derail Everton from what remains an uncertain short and long-term course. But the fans at least have a team which elicits some level of pride, the players are responding to their vociferous support with courage and conviction and Lampard has pulled it all together.

 

Brighton
The boos that underpinned a draw
came 163 days ago. Five weeks have passed since Graham Potter openly ruminated on how his players must deal with the “challenge” of fans imploring them to shoot; those same supporters had again greeted a disappointing result with a smattering of jeers. Both mild flashpoints followed goalless stalemates at home to struggling sides: Leeds in November and Norwich in April. The AmEx had nothing to heckle against Manchester United, no reason to risk disrupting the masterful effervescence of their team. Brighton’s first home win since Boxing Day was also the biggest top-flight victory in their entire history.

“The build-up suggests we’re getting there. Of course, the longer you go, you can hear the crowd, ‘Shoot, shoot, shoot’, and that sometimes is a challenge for the players,” Potter had said after that drab Norwich game. The Seagulls had 31 attempts and though a six-game losing run had stuttered to its conclusion, a draw against the club bottom of the table was no cause for celebration. It left Brighton 13th and sliding.

A 4-0 win over Manchester United lifted them further into the top half, increased what is already guaranteed to be their highest Premier League points total and came from only 17 efforts on goal in comparison. The fans were too busy greeting each of the six passes of their crowning move for the fourth with an ‘Olé!’, culminating in a collective ‘Go on!’ as Pascal Gross slid Danny Welbeck in. The roar that came as Leandro Trossard bundled the ball over the line was one of disbelief but also elation at the fruits of Potter’s labour finally being ripe enough to pick. Seven unanswered goals against the teams in 6th and 8th will do for a side lurking ominously in 9th, whose ceiling is still not in full view.

 

Thomas Frank
The headline statistic is that Brentford have as many points as Watford and Norwich combined. But one of the main differences between the Championship play-off winners and the two sides that earned automatic Premier League passage ahead of them was summed up by Kristoffer Ajer’s strike against Southampton. In holding off Nathan Redmond, striding past Mohammed Salisu and nutmegging Fraser Forster, the centre-half became Brentford’s 15th different Premier League goalscorer this season. Norwich have had 10; Watford boast just eight. Only Chelsea, Liverpool, Newcastle (all 17), Manchester City and West Ham (16) have more. That squad togetherness has been vital for the Bees.

The most remarkable aspect about Brentford’s maiden campaign in the division has been the serenity with which they have navigated it throughout. Few tipped them for relegation but that emphasises their achievement rather than undermining it. The Bees have had at least three points between them and the drop zone all season, from their opening victory over Arsenal to their eight-game winless run in January and February. It is not normal for a newly promoted club to acclimatise this well to a level they have never experienced but Brentford seem more suited to the Premier League than they ever did the Championship. Thomas Frank has done a sensational job.

 

Antonio Conte
It remains the case that no manager has ever faced Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp twice in the same league season while avoiding defeat against both. This is their eighth full campaign together in a division and their dominance of the Bundesliga and Premier League has made it difficult for any other coach to stay in touch. But in three games against Liverpool and Manchester City, Antonio Conte has shown enough to suggest he could be the great leveller, if given time, patience and investment.

With that memorable February victory at the Etihad sandwiched between two draws against Liverpool, Tottenham have already come close to mastering what is theoretically the hardest part. Taking eight points from the runaway title challengers is phenomenal. But 12 points from a possible 39 against the rest of the top half undermines that progress and must be addressed, particularly considering their most important fixture of the season is still to come against one of those teams they stand alongside in the chasing pack.

The time to contemplate and perhaps lament that will come. But the improvement under Conte is undeniable: this team was 9th with nine goals scored and 16 conceded from 10 games when Nuno Espirito Santo was sacked; Tottenham have accrued more points than all but Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal, scored 51 goals and conceded 24 since his successor was appointed. If they keep him and invest well, that gap will only continue to close.

Now go and read 16 Conclusions.

 

Pep Guardiola
A phenomenal reaction to a setback that threatened to leave their season in ruin. Pep Guardiola’s philosophical response to a crushing Champions League exit – “you play with emotions; emotions are uncontrollable” – did not suit a particular narrative, nor did it satisfy the need to conduct a thorough post-mortem in search of greater meaning. When blame needs to be apportioned, such intangibles are awkward.

But Guardiola controls nothing quite like the rigours of a league season, particularly one in which the breathing room is restricted each week, when the margins for error grow ever more slender. Manchester City have won their last four Premier League matches by an aggregate score of 17-1; the momentum has undeniably swung when many felt it could slip from their grasp.

Man City boss Guardiola

 

Aston Villa’s front three
Before Saturday, Emiliano Buendia, Danny Ings and Ollie Watkins had played 555 minutes together for Aston Villa. Their last start together as an attacking triumvirate came against Manchester United in January; Jacob Ramsey scored immediately after Ings was substituted and Philippe Coutinho completed the comeback in a 2-2 draw a few minutes later.

Since then, only twice had the trio shared a pitch. They spent 13 minutes together in a 1-0 defeat to Watford in February, Watkins being introduced as a second-half substitute and Buendia making way soon after. Then in just over half an hour against Norwich last week, something clicked. Ings replaced the injured Leon Bailey after 40 minutes, assisting Watkins’ opener almost instantly. Buendia came on for Coutinho in the 76th minute and set up Ings to make it 2-0.

Coutinho is the headliner but Steven Gerrard might have found the right note with his support acts. Ings and Watkins were deemed incompatible long ago but it is a mistake to dismiss such partnerships: they are nuanced and a mutual understanding can often take time to mould. Buendia feels like a more suitable accompaniment than Coutinho, who remains a fabulous player but one whose £33m option could be far better invested elsewhere in the squad.

 

Eddie Nketiah
Arsenal have played four games since Alexandre Lacazette mentioned being “in discussions with a lot of clubs” and desperate to return to the Champions League. Illness ruled him out of the subsequent match against Chelsea two days later but Eddie Nketiah has simplified Mikel Arteta’s decision as to whether he should reinstate his temporary captain. Two goals at Stamford Bridge and another brace against Leeds, with a couple of excellent, selfless displays in between against Manchester United and West Ham, have kept Lacazette sidelined.

Nketiah did not start a single game for Arsenal between their FA Cup exit on January 9 and their defeat to Southampton on April 16. Lesser players might have dropped a level in terms of commitment or focus but the 22-year-old waited patiently for his opportunity and is making up for that lost time. Arsenal really ought to try and convince him to stay. And the form of Mo Elneny shows how brilliant Arteta’s squad management has been.

 

Crystal Palace
Patrick Vieira is slowly adding more strings to his Crystal Palace bow. Wilfried Zaha crowned the Frenchman’s first win from a losing position against Southampton, before securing the first 1-0 victory of his reign seven days later at home to Watford. This is already guaranteed to be the club’s fewest number of defeats in a Premier League season. Their goal difference will finish positive for the first time in a top-flight campaign since 1991 barring an unlikely collapse against Aston Villa, Everton and Manchester United. One of the youngest managers in the division used nine players aged between 20 and 27 to relegate the club’s former head coach and one of their nominal rivals. Roy Hodgson deserves credit for keeping Palace locked in stasis despite chronic underfunding; Vieira is reaping the dividends and building something worth believing in.

 

Romelu Lukaku
Only he could get his first two Premier League goals of the calendar year and become Chelsea’s top scorer for the season in the process, while simultaneously being relegated to a corner signature in a much wider picture.

 

Losers

Watford
The definition of insanity is the condition of being seriously mentally ill, or an action that is stupid and likely to have extremely bad results. Watford, apropos of nothing, have done the same thing over and over and expected different results.

Xisco Munoz played the part of Javi Gracia, sacked after struggling in early autumn. The role of Quique Sanchez Flores – a previously discarded Premier League manager returning to approximately no positive effect and leaving within three months – was played impeccably by Claudio Ranieri. And in Nigel Pearson and Roy Hodgson, the Hornets fell back on the forlorn hope of being rescued by a British coach with vast experience.

Only 10 teams have ever lost more games in a single Premier League season than Watford, who could feasibly overtake all but three of those – including their own pitiful effort in 1999/2000 – with losses against Everton, Leicester and Chelsea. Two of those games are at their penetrable Vicarage Road home. This could genuinely stand as one of the worst campaigns in Premier League history by the end.

Hodgson, of course, was derided for laughing and joking with Wilfried Zaha at full-time, then applauding the Crystal Palace supporters on his way to the tunnel. “Unfortunately, they were a bit too far away,” was his explanation as to why the Watford fans were not given the same treatment. He has been chastised for the action and reaction but it is hard to feel that Hodgson is anything other than a by-product of a Watford approach that hardly promotes managerial loyalty and connection with the supporters. His reign will have lasted 117 days from the date of appointment to his last game and that is somehow still longer than both Xisco and Ranieri were given to trudge along.

“It is a privilege to be a Premier League player, coach or manager,” Hodgson said before the game. “You certainly miss it when you are not one anymore. The players need to realise that.” So, too, do the owners and board. They would be sorely mistaken if they think Watford will make it back to the Premier League soon without proper systemic change.

 


Ronaldo, Raphinha join Leeds ‘idiot’ in Premier League weekend’s worst XI


 

Manchester United
The easiest way to damn United after a defeat is to look through their victorious opponent’s team and consider not which players would get into Ralf Rangnick’s interim team, but how their prospective signings would be treated at Old Trafford. This is a club obsessed with optics, social media traction and identity, each of which seep into their transfer decisions.

Consider, for example, how the supporters might react if Manchester United went into a summer deadline day having made only two first-team signings, only to purchase a Barcelona reject from Getafe for £15.7m.

Just think what the board might have said if it had been recommended that £3m was spent on a player because they created 95 chances for an Ingolstadt side relegated from the Bundesliga.

Ponder the scoffing punditry response to signing pretty much any player from Ligue Un and expecting them to acclimatise to the pace and power of the Premier League.

Yet Marc Cucurella, Pascal Gross and Yves Bissouma helped dismantle Manchester United. Moises Caicedo, too – a player the Red Devils only recently considered it too much of a ‘clusterf***’ to bring in but who Brighton persisted with and have since coached into a supreme midfielder. Robert Sanchez kept a clean sheet. Lewis Dunk marshalled the defence well. Leandro Trossard and Alexis Mac Allister dovetailed superbly. Manchester United would not consider any of these players to be on their level but they sauntered past them with consummate ease.

That is something Erik ten Hag must change: perception. Manchester City signed their best players from Wolfsburg and Monaco. Liverpool built a ruthless winning machine around a core made up of parts from Roma, Southampton, Hull and Sunderland. There is value to be found everywhere, gems that can be unearthed through meticulous scouting not just for good players with underlying numbers, but for players who perfectly fit a specific system or particular teammates. If Brighton can achieve that then it shames Manchester United that they cannot.

 

Jurgen Klopp
The most accurate thing he said after the game was that it is “my personal problem”. Jurgen Klopp serves the best interests of no-one but Liverpool, their owners, their players and their fans. He speaks only from that perspective and that is fine: all managers do, which allows Pep Guardiola to publicly propagate a festering Manchester City belief that the nation supports only one of the runners in this title race. Whether it is designed to feed a siege mentality or is simply a natural consequence of a manager being subsumed into a club’s culture, it happens. And it always looks ignorant and naive to the outside world, for whom it is not intended.

But Klopp has a real issue. It’s not his prerogative to “like this kind of football” but equally it is not his place to state “they should do more for the game”. And it is absolute bollocks that he “cannot coach” such “world-class players” to defend in a low block.

“It’s a game against Liverpool and they have 36% possession,” said the manager whose Liverpool team had 35% possession in a Champions League final against Tottenham three years ago. The game state dictated that was the sensible course of action then; the circumstances – and indeed result – meant it was the practical route for Conte and his players at the weekend.

Tottenham will operate in a manner that suits them. Liverpool and every other club do the same. Punching down to an away team 21 points worse off and cry-arsing about the right or wrong way to play just makes you sound pathetic, particularly when the complaint essentially boils down to Tottenham blocking a few shots. They also scored a well-constructed goal, led, only conceded through a deflected effort from outside the area and should have won with a free header in stoppage-time. The way in which they restricted Liverpool certainly is Klopp’s “personal problem”. He has five games to figure it out and avoid this incredible season ending only in a gulp of Carabao.

 

Leeds
Not since October had they occupied the relegation zone. A five-game unbeaten run has become three without a win, heading into three more difficult games from which at least five points and perhaps more are needed.

Everything has been timed terribly from a Leeds perspective, from their own drop-off in form to the rejuvenation of Everton and Burnley. They have had a safety net almost all season but that has evaporated and they have such little time to reverse the momentum. There is a sense that the Toffees and Clarets have the wind behind them. For Leeds, it has become an uphill struggle in a tornado.

 

Burnley
With that said, it will be interesting to see how Burnley respond to the first complication of their brave caretaker era. Mike Jackson and his team reaped 10 points from a possible 12, yet defeat to Aston Villa at home will halt that faith and positivity. The honeymoon period is over and the reality of James Tarkowski not doing the washing up and Ashley Barnes leaving skidmarks on the toilet bowl has already set in.

 

Southampton
One defeat in 10 between December 15 and February 25. One win in 10 between March 5 and May 7. Ralph Hasenhuttl’s Southampton.

 

Chelsea
Only Southampton (18) and Newcastle (16) have dropped more points from winning positions at home than Chelsea (11) this Premier League season. The club has understandably been existing in a state of flux off the field for months but after a brief reprieve, it has started to seep into their performances and results. Since Roman Abramovich was sanctioned on March 10, they have won four of nine Premier League games. For many reasons, they are among a handful of clubs desperate for the campaign to end and relieved that time is soon.

 

Leicester
Last season, Leicester’s longest run without a Premier League victory was two games. Claude Puel’s sacking was instigated by a sequence of six winless matches in early 2019; the closest Brendan Rodgers had come to such form was two draws and two defeats in four February 2020 fixtures. But in this season alone, the Foxes have been on two separate five-game runs without victory. Rodgers managed to snap the first shortly before their Europa Conference League campaign commenced with the knockout stages in March. He will hope history can repeat itself since that campaign was curtailed.

But the concession of yet another goal from a set-piece, defeat at home to perhaps the worst away team in the country and the lack of absolute mathematical safety by mid-May contribute to a general sense of malaise. Leicester have picked up more Premier League points this calendar year (17) than only Everton (16), Norwich (11) and Watford (9). Eleven players and loanee Ademola Lookman have King Power contracts which expire either this summer or next, meaning decisions must be made. Rodgers did not forecast a revolution in the transfer window but that rebuild will require some delicate manoeuvring and far more than a sprinkle of their usual market stardust. Leicester are approaching a crossroads and their course of action is something of a mystery.

 

Eddie Howe
That’s a paddlin’.

More Related Articles