Premier League winners and losers

Date published: Tuesday 14th February 2017 10:20


Anthony Martial
The exclusive was not timed particularly well. On Friday evening, The Sun’s Neil Custis wrote that Jose Mourinho has lost patience with Anthony Martial, the use of the past tense at least hinting that the damage had already been done. Custis went on to write that Mourinho intended to give Manchester United’s left-wing position to Marcus Rashford and offer him the chance to make it his own. Less than 16 hours later, Mourinho picked his United team to face Watford, which included Martial on the left wing and Rashford on the bench. So much for that ‘lost patience’.

Something had clearly gone badly wrong in Custis’ line of communication, but that did not detract from the importance of Martial’s afternoon. There is often a sense with Mourinho that wide forwards must work twice as hard to impress the Portuguese, as if the position itself jars against his methodology. They are expected to track back as much as attack, with free passes only handed out to those in possession of a game-changing attacking armoury. Martial will never be an all-tracking, all-running, all-hounding winger, and so the Frenchman’s task is to persuade Mourinho that he merits being the exception to his manager’s rule.

Young players can freeze in those situations, particularly those struggling for confidence and without the obvious backing of their manager. Watford may have been complicit in their own defeat, with Walter Mazzarri’s decision to start Craig Cathcart as a right wing-back constituting professional negligence, but Martial took full advantage. He was the game’s best player.

This was also the first time since February that Martial has scored and assisted a goal in the same Premier League match. One swallow doesn’t make a summer, but neither should we believe that Mourinho has entirely lost faith in a special young player. A bit of added confidence can be a powerful thing.


Sean Dyche, in spite of himself
I wonder if Dyche realises just how much his self-perceived lack of recognition has harmed his reputation in the eyes of many? He is not an obviously arrogant man, but his public accusation that a foreign manager would be lauded for doing the same job as him fails to resonate. Sean mate, stop talking for a minute and listen: Everyone is praising you.

Should Chelsea win the Premier League title then Antonio Conte deserves to be named manager of the year after his first season in England. Yet whoever wins that award, Dyche merits second place at least. He may consider himself as too unfashionable and too English to earn praise, but you’d struggle to find any supporter or pundit who disagrees with the above assessment.

On Sunday, Burnley didn’t just hold Chelsea to a 1-1 draw, they probably merited victory. This was not a team playing with backs to the wall, escaping after clearing ball after ball from their own area and tackling for their lives. Sixteen teams have made more tackles than Burnley this season, while 12 have committed more fouls.

That is not to say that Burnley are an expansive, attacking team. Only Sunderland, Hull and Middlesbrough have created fewer chances, four teams have had fewer shots on target and only Sunderland have made more clearances. Yet what else should we expect from a team created on such a budget?

It’s a statistic typically reserved for the early rounds of the FA Cup, but Burnley’s starting XI against Chelsea was signed for just £3m more than the striker sat on the opposition bench. While their peers struggle to keep their heads above water in a division where even a point per game will see you safe, Burnley are ten points clear of the bottom three.

Dyche deserves more credit than any other manager for his club’s astonishing home record. Those who look unfavourably on a pitiful run of results on the road should be warned against pessimism: It doesn’t really matter how you get to 40 points, just that you do. Burnley now only require four more points in 13 league games to achieve their highest top-flight points total for over 40 years, at a time when swimming against the financial tide has never been as hard for an unfashionable team in an old Lancashire mill town.


Liverpool in those big games
Jurgen Klopp’s record against the current top six since his appointment as Liverpool manager is thus:

Chelsea – 3-1, 1-1, 2-1, 1-1
Manchester City – 4-1, 3-0, 1-1, 1-0
Arsenal – 3-3, 4-3
Manchester United – 0-1, 0-0, 1-1
Tottenham – 0-0, 1-1, 1-1, 2-1, 2-0

For all the flaws in Klopp’s management – and he would not claim to be the perfect coach – a record of one defeat and eight victories in 18 matches against Liverpool’s closest competitive rivals is astonishing. Whether it reflects Klopp’s motivational ability ahead of the biggest occasions or Liverpool’s own preference for teams attacking them rather than sitting back has not yet been proven, but the fact stands: Learn to overcome the weaker teams and Liverpool should be guaranteed Champions League football next season.


Sadio Mane
Seeing him stream away from Ben Davies was like watching the last ten metres of a race between a toddler and their uber-competitive uncle. “Take that. You, loser. Me, winner. That’s why I’ve got the girl and you’re still needing other people to help you go to the toilet.”

Only four players have more non-penalty Premier League goals than Mane this season: Romelu Lukaku, Diego Costa, Alexis Sanchez and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Mane has started at least two games fewer than each.


Joel Matip
Liverpool’s league record with Matip starting: P15, W9, D5, L1.

In those games Liverpool have conceded at a rate of less than one per game. Instructive, if not conclusive, evidence that Klopp’s team perform better when their best central defender is available. Who knew?


Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
There’s a realistic chance that Oxlade-Chamberlain could start in central midfield against Bayern Munich in the Allianz Arena. I won’t know how that makes me feel until after the match, but I’ve got butterflies already.


Manolo Gabbiadini
Our early winner. I may have been generous in calling him handsome and stretching the truth slightly in labelling him an Italian international, but the description of his impact was at least accurate. Gabbiadini has provided the lift that Southampton and Claude Puel needed, just as the locals were beginning to get restless.


Paul Clement
The long-term apprentice is doing a damn fine impression of the master in his first few weeks in South Wales. Four more wins in 13 matches and Swansea will surely be safe. Poor Ryan Giggs.


Relegation? Pah. We’re going to finish tenth and thus realise the ultimate futility of life. What comes after this? Is there another world? How many players will we sell in the summer?


Joe Allen
A third of all his career goals in six glorious months at Stoke. Had you told me in May that by the following February Allen would be the top goalscorer for the Premier League team in ninth, I’d have assumed Jurgen Klopp had gone mad before being sacked as Liverpool manager.


They won, and thus at least stopped the banners from being displayed against Arsene Wenger. Do you think I’m stupid enough not to mention them as winners?


A new clutch of central defenders
If it seems a bit mean to lump Harry Magurie and Michael Keane into the same section then I apologise, but there is a reason for grouping them together. Along with Ben Gibson, this is the trio fighting to most take advantage of England’s chronic lack of in-form central defenders and an unexpected manager in charge of the national team.

Last season, Keane, Gibson and Maguire were part of Championship promotion campaigns, but during this campaign each has proved that a lack of top-flight experience does not have to render the Premier League a frightening place. With Lewis Dunk, Shane Duffy, Adam Webster, Angus MacDonald, Danny Batth, Sam Hutchinson, Aden Flint and Liam Moore all performing well in the Championship, there is reason enough to believe that looking down rather than abroad would be a savvy strategy for Premier League clubs aiming to recruit central defenders.


Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Six chances created in 90 minutes. Looking solely at the goals scored tally underplays just how much fun Ibrahimovic is having at Old Trafford.


Tony Pulis’ entertainers
The following list details the number of players in a Tony Pulis-managed team to score five or more league goals in a season:

2011/12 – 2 (Peter Crouch and Jon Walters)
2012/13 – 2 (Jon Walters and Peter Crouch)
2013/14 – 2 (Dwight Gayle and Marouane Chamakh)
2014/15 – 1 (Saido Berahino)
2015/16 – 1 (Salomon Rondon)
2016/17 (25 matches) – 4 (Salomon Rondon, James Morrison, Nacer Chadli, Gareth McAuley).

Want more statistics, do you? OK. The following list details the number of times a Tony Pulis-managed team has scored three or more goals in a league game in each season:

2011/12 – 1
2012/13 – 2
2013/14 – 5
2014/15 – 2
2015/16 – 1
2016/17 (25 matches) – 5

He might not quite be a passable Kevin Keegan impersonator just yet, but Pulis is a-changin’. With more than three months of the season remaining, West Brom have already matched their entire total of league goals from last season.


Manchester United’s sixth-place curse, welcome back.



Leicester City’s runaway train
During Leicester City’s title victory last season they became an unstoppable force, a snowball careering downhill, picking up admirers and speed along the way. That is not to say that their triumph was due to determinism or fate – both require a suspension of belief and takes away from the achievement – but Claudio Ranieri’s team did seem incredibly certain of their destination, despite the un-trodden path.

This season, exactly the same is occurring. The snowball gaining in size and power has become the runaway train, careering off the tracks and hurtling into the abyss. Just as Leicester could not be pushed from their destined route to the title, relegation now feels like the appropriate denouement of such a fantastic sporting tale, a story that all can only watch unfold.

Ranieri has talked up his players, but to no avail. Ranieri has criticised his players, but to no avail. Ranieri has changed his team, but to no avail. Ranieri has changed the team’s diet, but to no avail. Ranieri received a public vote of confidence, but to no avail. Leicester City’s manager has run out of tricks to halt this slide.

The most impressive element of Leicester’s 2015/16 was how they improved after Christmas as their much-vaunted rivals fell away. Rather than collapse under the pressure, Ranieri’s players embraced it. Leicester became far more resolute in defence and far more efficient in attack as their opponents began to understand the best strategy for thwarting them.

Again, this season has provided a mirror image. Having been stuck in 15th position at the turn of the year – and six points ahead of the bottom three – concerned supporters may at least have supposed that the season had reached its nadir. What has followed is one point from six league matches and a team yet to score a league goal in 2017. Their away form remains as wretched as ever: Three points from a possible 39 this season.

If the club’s final roll of the dice came in that public vote of confidence, so too Ranieri’s came on Sunday evening. The Italian suggested that he might drop the stars of the title-winning season in favour of younger, fresher players.

It would surely be a futile task. Is Ben Chilwell, brought on at half-time and booked, going to stop this rot? Is Islam Slimani, a £30m signing with nine shots on target in six months, going to make the difference? Is Andy King really the central midfielder to answer any top-flight manager’s prayers? If Leicester’s reserves were likely to change the club’s course, they would already have been tested and trusted.

All the while, Leicester bend and break their way towards the bottom three. If 2015/16 was the Premier League season with the Hollywood script then the film needs to be released soon, because Burton Albion away on a Tuesday night isn’t quite the ending the director had in mind.


David Moyes and momentum
Question: How can a 4-0 away win be damaging?

Answer: When it is immediately followed by a 4-0 home defeat, and emphatic proof that the manager is incapable of generating any forward momentum in a squad that desperately needs it in order to survive.

Each of Sunderland’s escapology acts have been achieved through an unlikely late-season streak, but each were also preceded by evidence that they did have some resilience. A five-game unbeaten run in April-May 2014 ensured survival, but they also went four unbeaten in December and January. A five-game unbeaten run in April-May 2015 kept them up, but they went four games without defeat in both September and November. A five-game unbeaten run in April-May 2016 again kept the wolf from the door, but they had also gone four games without defeat from the beginning of March.

If a similar run is to come under Moyes this season, its arrival is being kept well hidden. The longest Sunderland have gone without league defeat this season is two matches, and four of their five league wins have been followed by defeats in which they have conceded 12 times and scored just once. There’s a reason why they are the clear favourites to finish bottom of the table.


A squad containing John O’Shea, Joleon Lescott, Darron Gibson and Steven Pienaar
It’s not 2008, lads.


Crystal Palace and Sam Allardyce
Four points from eight league games in charge. Four goals from eight league games in charge.

With Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Southampton and West Brom now their only away league opponents remaining, Crystal Palace’s Premier League survival relies upon their home form. The chances are that they will need to beat Middlesbrough, Burnley, Hull, Watford and Leicester to reach 34 points and have a fighting chance of staying up – Tottenham and Arsenal will be far tougher opponents. That would mean taking more points in their next seven home league games than in their previous 21.

If Allardyce’s task is at least clear after another goalless defeat, you would hardly wish to gamble on his success. For the first time this season, Palace are now odds on with every bookmaker to be relegated. Even that price is only held in place by the reputation of a manager wholly failing to match up to his previous average.

Last month, this column compared Alan Pardew’s last ten matches with Allardyce’s first five (new manager first):

Shots: 8.4 vs 11.2
Shots on target: 2.8 vs 4.2
Chances created in open play: 4.4 vs 6.9
Shots faced: 14.8 vs 14.7
Shots on target faced: 5.0 vs 5.9

Three games later, nothing much has changed:

Shots: 7.9 vs 11.2
Shots on target: 3.5 vs 4.2
Chances created in open play: 5.1 vs 6.9
Shots faced: 12.5 vs 14.7
Shots on target faced: 4.8 vs 5.9

The point of repeating these figures is to prove that, if Allardyce’s team are even playing better than Alan Pardew’s, it is not enough of an improvement to instigate meaningful progress. Pardew was sacked after one of the worst runs in the club’s top-flight history. Having had the bar set sensationally low, Allardyce has still managed to trip up on his way over.

The biggest issue for Allardyce is how he has sucked the creativity out of Palace: Since he took over, no Premier League team has created fewer chances from open play. Given that he has Wilfried Zaha, Christian Benteke, Andros Townsend, Jason Puncheon, Yohan Cabaye and Loic Remy at his disposal, that should be deeply embarrassing.

Crystal Palace supporters probably don’t need to be made to feel much worse, but I have one more reason for pessimism. The current average position of the eight league opponents since Allardyce joined is 11.4. The current average position of Palace’s 13 remaining opponents is 8.9. Palace may well need to take four times as many points against those teams to stay up.


Tottenham in those big away games
Tottenham’s record in away games against the current top six since Mauricio Pochettino took over:

Liverpool – 0-2, 1-2, 1-1, 2-3
Manchester City – 2-2, 2-1, 1-4
Manchester United – 0-1, 0-1, 0-3
Chelsea – 1-2, 2-2, 0-3
Arsenal – 1-1, 1-1, 1-1

As well as only winning once in those 16 matches, and losing nine times, an interesting pattern emerges amongst those defeats: Goals conceded early. In seven of those nine, Tottenham conceded the first goal of the game in the first 25 minutes. In those nine losses, Pochettino’s teams conceded 11 goals before the 25-minute mark.

Another issue for Pochettino to solve is Tottenham’s tendency to allow the concession of one goal to bring another. On Saturday, Liverpool scored twice in three minutes. Last month, Manchester City scored twice in five minutes. In November Chelsea scored inside five minutes either side of half-time. The same happened in other league defeats against Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City included in that list above.

This is not intended as a scathing assessment. Tottenham have progressed rapidly over the last two seasons, and deserve huge credit for their overall improvement. Yet considering yourself as title challengers inevitably means you are judged by harsher measures. In the biggest away games, Pochettino must demand better.


Mauricio Pochettino
Speaking of which, it would be remiss not to point out Pochettino’s two big mistakes at Anfield. As soon as your eyes fell upon the teamsheet, Sadio Mane vs Ben Davies jumped out as a mismatch. To choose Heung-min Son, effectively a forward, as Davies’ cover only exacerbated the problem. How Pochettino must wish that Erik Lamela could return from his exile.

The second was to see how Hull City, Burnley and Swansea successfully combated Liverpool’s attack and ignore that evidence. Just because those three are significantly weaker than Tottenham does not negate the effectiveness of their strategy. For Spurs to defend with such a high line and push so many players forward acted as a first-half suicide that second-half improvement failed to sufficiently counteract.

For far more on Liverpool vs Tottenham, go and read 16 Conclusions


Diego Costa
Our early loser. Michael Keane gains the credit above, but this was the shackled, frustrated Costa of last season. Costa is hardly out of form, but no shot on target in his last 195 Chelsea minutes is a mild headache Antonio Conte will not want to turn into a migraine.


Jamie Vardy
Last scored on December 10. Last had a shot on target on December 17. Last assisted a goal on October 29. Vardy’s place in this Leicester team is based on his past achievement only, and even that may now be losing sway with Ranieri.

A film that started with racially abusing a man in a casino could end with relegation back to the Football League. Good job the middle was decent, eh?


Mesut Ozil
Arsenal may have beaten Hull in spite of their performance, but there was no silver lining for Ozil. Monday morning brought reports that he could be dropped for the midweek trip to Bayern Munich, as an astonishing fall from grace continues. The German may reasonably feel that he would be better off out of Arsenal and the Premier League this summer.


Slaven Bilic
Threw a microphone to the floor to earn a sending off and likely subsequent ban.

“It is nothing personal, but the referee was very, very bad,” said Bilic after the game. Nothing personal you see, Michael Oliver. But he thinks you were sh*te.


Middlesbrough’s attack
It is not difficult to diagnose the issue with Aitor Karanka’s team, and it is one that may take them sleepwalking to relegation. Middlesbrough have scored more than once in only four of their 25 league matches. They’ve had 59 shots on target in 25 matches, and are thus on course for the lowest total in the Premier League since 2005/06, the earliest season I can find reliable information for.


Ryan Shawcross
Because Tony Pulis said so. At least, according to Mark Hughes he did.


Daniel Storey

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