Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso
In May 2014, Victor Moses was a reserve winger at Liverpool (on loan) and Marcos Alonso was a left-back at Sunderland (on loan), having left Bolton Wanderers the previous year. You’d have got good odds on the pair forming part of Chelsea’s first team two-and-a-half years later, and an even better price on them being the players most responsible for their club’s recent improvement.
Antonio Conte’s switch to 3-4-3 has transformed Chelsea. Gary Cahill looks far more assured with added company, David Luiz has a licence to step up into central midfield that he cherishes like a newborn child and N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic don’t both have to act as the guards of a distinctly clumsy defence and thus cause a huge gap between Chelsea’s attack and the rest of the team. Kante in particular looks revitalised, easily the best player on the pitch against his former club on Saturday.
Despite all that, it is the wing-backs that make this a game-changer for Conte. Their presence allows Eden Hazard to drift infield, with the Belgian happy to publicly express his delight at this new freedom. Hazard is now operating closer to Diego Costa, re-forming a partnership that looked defunct last season.
Against Leicester, Alonso was magnificent. No player on the pitch covered more ground or made more sprints, and no Chelsea player made more tackles. With Hazard nominally playing in front of him, Conte needs a solidity to match the adventure of the modern wing-back. After expensive mistakes in Filipe Luis and Baba Rahman, have Chelsea finally found their long-term Ashley Cole replacement?
Yet while Alonso was at least bought with the intention of playing in his current role, it is the improvement in Moses that is most striking. After years of chugging along in the middle lane, the 25-year-old has put the pedal to the floor.
“When I arrived at Chelsea, I asked the club to see Moses in pre-season. I knew him very well and his reputation,” Conte said after the game. “He played a good game as a winger when we played the 4-2-4. He is a very good player. Now he is playing wing-back and it’s fantastic for us because he has great attention in the defensive situation and can go one against one in attack.”
It is a remarkable transition. We mocked him for signing another new Chelsea contract in September 2015 before joining West Ham, but this was one Moses not part of an exodus. Back at Stamford Bridge following a long-term loan deal for the third time in three years, this time it might be for keeps.
Owes his manager a huge thank you. Antonio Conte’s switch to a back three hasn’t just saved Cahill’s first-team place, it gets the best out of him. Anything that stops a slow central defender being dragged out of position helps.
I have a massive football crush on Luiz, unfairly branded as a joker. After the dust has settled on a move that most people decided would be a disaster before it had even begun, it’s worth pointing out that Luiz has been excellent in Chelsea’s last two games.
Our early winner, for the second time this season. Theo-nly way is up.
Magic. ‘Nicking a living’ might feel an awfully long time ago now, but it lives long in our hearts.
A record top-flight victory and the sort of result that can galvanise a season. If Hull are the kind of competition Bournemouth need to finish above, this was an embarrassingly convincing way to persuade the doubters that their time in the sun did not peak with 16th place last season.
It has been a long and winding route back to the top for a midfielder considered a Bright Young Thing of English football when breaking out of West Ham’s academy in 2008. Having played 26 Premier League games in 2009/10, Stanislas joined Burnley but was sold after they achieved promotion in 2013/14. Having suffered from an injury-affected season during Bournemouth’s promotion and debut top-flight campaign, he’s finally getting a run in the starting line-up.
It’s fair to say it’s going well. Just as Bournemouth have picked up in their last three games, taking seven points, Stanislas has been at the heart of his team’s success. Three goals and two assists in his last three games marks the peak of the 26-year-old’s career. On Saturday against Hull he produced the best individual performance of the Premier League weekend.
He’s 26, and he’s scored 29% of his career goals for club and country in the last seven weeks. That’s what you call a hot streak.
Slaven Bilic and the return of Aaron Cresswell
What a difference one player makes. Cresswell will be (unfairly) banned for the visit of Sunderland next weekend, but his impact on return from injury could not have been greater. It was Cresswell’s fabulous pass that set up Manuel Lanzini’s winner, and his energy at left-back that West Ham have been missing.
More importantly, Cresswell’s return allowed Slaven Bilic to change West Ham’s shape to a 3-4-2-1, with Cheikhou Kouyate moving into central defence and Cresswell and Michail Antonio fielded as adventurous wing-backs. If it seemed a risky move against a Crystal Palace team whose principal threat is in wide areas, the high intensity of the wing-backs counteracted any issues. West Ham were thankful to Christian Benteke’s missed penalty, but earned their fortune with a defensive display not seen in recent months.
Bilic’s formation relies on having proficient wing-backs, but also gives West Ham a stronger central defensive core. Winston Reid and Kouyate did the defending (a massive 30 clearances between them), while Angelo Ogbonna stayed as the spare man (two clearances) and the man most responsible for distributing out from the back.
Of more value in the final third is the extra freedom afforded to Lanzini and Dimitri Payet. A heatmap of both players showed their licence to roam wherever they pleased, with Cresswell and Antonio providing the width. Payet is likely to be effective in whichever position he is picked, but having permission to drift infield from the left sees him at his best.
“This league is so cruel that you don’t have to lose a lot, only a little bit and you are dead,” said clearly emotional Bilic after the game. “It’s the most cruel league in the world. If you are 10 per cent below par in any aspect of the game. Hopefully that’s over now. But we are still in a position we don’t want to be.” For the first time since May, Bilic’s team are at least pointed in the right direction.
Three goals in his last four games for club and country, and Tottenham’s best player at the Hawthorns. One enjoyable statistic from the weekend is that Dele Alli was more than five years younger than every one of the 13 players used by West Brom.
Unfancied – or at least relatively unknown in this country – when he arrived in England, and rather more so after Southampton failed to win any of their first four league games. Since then, Claude Puel’s rebuilding of the house that Mauricio and Ronaldo built is astonishing. Sam Vokes’ penalty is the first goal Puel’s side have conceded in seven matches, and they’re now back in a top eight that is beginning to feel like their natural home.
From being second choice at Southampton to Everton’s No. 1 and hero in Manchester. Both Claudio Bravo and Stekelenburg had 45 touches of the ball on Saturday, but they were two very different types of busy.
Vrilliant goal from Watford’s left-vack to leave Middlesvrough feeling vlue.
Seventeen shots in his last 264 minutes over four games, and four goals to boot. If at first you don’t succeed…
Heads up: The next league goal is Lukaku’s 100th. I’ll organise a party. Or an orgy. Or tweet something dull about it.
Amid all the furore about Ryan Giggs missing out on the Swansea job, a British manager has been given his chance in the Premier League. Mike Phelan has finally been given the Hull gig on a permanent basis, and started off in embarrassing style at Bournemouth.
For weeks we have been told that the uncertainty over Phelan’s position was causing Hull’s poor run of form. That explanation looks a lot less valid when his side then turn in their joint-record Premier League loss against a team that has been struggling for goals in Phelan’s first game post-announcement.
Here’s the thing. It’s an unpleasant opinion, but would Hull have been better off without winning away at Swansea in August? Did that result, coming after the Leicester win, make the appointment of Phelan on a permanent deal inevitable, despite the delay? And, most pertinently, was Phelan the best candidate for the job?
At least two of those questions are impossible to answer, but the worry for Hull supporters is that their team is getting far worse, not better. If the concession of 11 goals in three games to Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea was put down the standard of the opposition, extending that run to 17 goals in four games will provoke a sterner examination of just what is going wrong. The sad answer might be that there are too many Championship players and that the manager is not inspirational enough to make them over-perform.
I’m aware that I might need to don a tin suit of armour to match the hat, but I have no problem whatsoever for Xhaka being sent off for that challenge. It was an act of frustration, wasn’t trying to win the ball and was as petulant as reacting to a bad challenge, the ‘raising your hands’ logic that so often sees red. Deliberate fouls of such a cynical nature really should be punished, you shouldn’t get to do two of those in a match.
“I was on the sideline there thinking he’s definitely off,” Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain said on Goals on Sunday. “The referees did explain that to us to be fair, so he can’t really have any complaints I don’t think.” That would suggest that Arsenal do not intend to appeal.
That said, I’m also aware that there is no clear precedent on the challenge, and thus understand why Arsenal feel slightly aggrieved. It’s a phrase as well-worn as Mike Dean’s expression of weary frustration, but we really do want to see consistency.
As for Xhaka, this is exactly the ill-discipline many feared would hamper his Arsenal career. The good news is that the three games he will miss are Middlesbrough and Reading at home and Sunderland away.
“He is not a dirty player at all, but is sometimes clumsy,” a wonderfully optimistic Arsene Wenger said after the game. “It is what it is, he has to learn from it. Intelligence means that you do not make the same mistake twice.”
He’s been sent off eight times in just over two years, Arsene. Forget twice, and just hope that reaching double figures persuades Xhaka that he might need to tone it down.
He’s taken eight penalties for club and country this season, and missed four. Maybe time to make a change, Pep? Oh, Kevin de Bruyne. I see.
One of those ‘shows how far they’ve come’ markers, but a bitterly disappointing draw at the Hawthorns. Twenty shots, 72% possession, completing 370 more passes than an opponent who registered a 61.5% passing accuracy. You just got Pulis’d. Again.
Only five teams have faced more shots on target, and those same five are the only teams to concede more goals. Add in a sudden, but chronic, inability to defend set-pieces and Claudio Ranieri has a serious problem. Every goal Leicester have conceded has been from inside the penalty area. This isn’t bad luck, it’s incompetence.
Somehow contrived to not win a game during which they had 64 touches of the ball inside the opposition box. Everton had four.
Hey you, you over there drinking your port and your Skittles vodka that I tried and it was actually really nice so thank you for the recommendation and have you tried it with rum? Yes you. You’re our early loser. Sorry champ.
Remember that guy who scored all those goals and assisted all those others? He hasn’t has a shot on target or created a chance since September 17. That was also the last day he completed a pass to Jamie Vardy in the league, which is frankly mental.
It’s Middlesbrough vs Watford and Southampton vs Burnley, guys. I don’t want to go all Danny Baker on Twitter but you’re pulling the wool over our eyes here. John Nicholson agrees.
While Everton were earning a point at the Etihad Stadium, Ross Barkley got a wonderful view of the action. Left on the bench by Ronald Koeman, Barkley wasn’t even brought on as a substitute. It’s the first time he has suffered that fate since March 2015.
If you pride yourself on being defensively dour and scoring the odd goal on the break, it’ll be a hell of a lot easier to succeed when you don’t make calamitous mistakes defending set-pieces. Sean Dyche might need to try and find a plan ‘B’ that ideally doesn’t involve leaving Sam Vokes isolated and asking him to do a job that Christian Benteke or Romelu Lukaku would find tough.
From Big Weekend:
‘Benteke has scored in his last two games for Crystal Palace and scored a hat-trick for Belgium during the international break. Gibraltar might not be any great shakes defensively, but West Ham aren’t exactly performing an extended tribute to Bobby Moore right now either. Benteke is priced with Bwin at 8/5 to score at any time in Saturday’s late televised game, and 9/2 to score first. I like both. A lot.’
Sorry kids*, it’s gruel again this week. All because some arse guffed up a penalty.
* Metaphorical kids. As if I have children.
They lost to the team directly above them in 19th place, and yet that result never felt in doubt before or at any point during the game. Those thinking that sacking David Moyes already would be caving into yet more short-termism are probably right, but neither option will end in anything but certain relegation.
An abject collection of players failing to garner any team spirit playing under a manager with all the inspirational qualities of the sugary corporate banter you get on the back of a bottle of smoothie. Roll on next season.
The goodwill accrued by Karanka for returning Middlesbrough to the Premier League has clearly not run out yet, but the Spaniard’s defensive team selections and his side’s run of dire results will soon leave him scratching around for friends. Middlesbrough have had 19 shots on target this season; Southampton had 14 on Sunday alone.
There is a certain leeway for the under-performance of players who have achieved promotion from the second tier, but the suspicion is that it is Karanka himself holding Middlesbrough back. His insistence on playing with a lone forward (and an out-of-form Alvaro Negredo at that) is infuriating even to a relatively neutral viewer. The lack of minutes afforded to Viktor Fisher (136 in the league), Jordan Rhodes (101) and Adama Traore (61) is just as confusing.
Karanka will know that he is under pressure, but it takes great courage to be more attacking in times of crisis rather than less. Having been promoted while only scoring 63 times in 46 league matches (fewer than Fulham in 20th), there is a valid question as to whether this dog can learn a new trick, and quickly.
I’ve sh*t on them each in turn, but why not save a dollop for the collective. Since the second weekend of the season, Burnley, Hull and Middlesbrough have played 18 combined games. Those 18 games have returned seven points, and two of those were taken in the 1-1 draw between Burnley and Hull. More worrying are the promoted sides’ defensive frailties: those 18 games have seen 39 goals conceded. That’ll only end one way.
Red card appeals
The farce of not being able to appeal yellow cards is laid bare by Martin Atkinson’s mistake in booking Aaron Cresswell for diving when the West Ham defender was clearly caught. Atkinson’s mistake was compounded by the decision to award Cresswell a second yellow moments later. The second booking was debatable, the first plain wrong.