Tottenham, the Premier League’s run-enders
Manchester City had won six straight league games. Then they faced Spurs.
Burnley were unbeaten at home for four months. Then they faced Spurs.
Chelsea had won 13 consecutive league games. Then they faced Spurs.
Everton were unbeaten in almost three months, dropping just six points. Then they faced Spurs.
Crystal Palace had won six of their last eight league games. Then they faced Spurs.
Not only does that read like a weird remix of Afroman’s ‘Because I got high’ (I know you’ll try it out), it also describes just how effective Mauricio Pochettino’s team have been against all manner of in-form opponents. Tottenham probably won’t win the league, but you have to look hard to find meaningful flaws.
Tottenham’s chance creation
Tottenham’s winning run in the league has now reached eight matches, a sequence that has only been bettered twice in the Premier League since 2009. Not only does that show just how impressively Pochettino’s side have pushed Chelsea (and their 13-match streak of league wins is one of those aforementioned two) despite participation in Europe and with weaker squad depth, but Tottenham have produced this superb run of victories at the most crucial time in the season. The expectation was that the clubs behind Tottenham would snap at their heels. Instead, they have extended their lead.
As Tottenham prepare to face Arsenal, knowing victory would ensure finishing above their rivals for the first time in 22 years, they could not be in ruder health. This streak of eight victories has been achieved with the concession of just four goals, but it is Tottenham’s chance creation that is most noticeable.
Chances created per game (since start of Tottenham’s winning run):
Tottenham – 15.1
Manchester United – 12
Manchester City – 11.7
Liverpool – 11.7
Chelsea – 11.14
Southampton – 10.29
Everton – 9.75
Watford – 9.29
Arsenal – 9.14
The gap to Tottenham and Manchester United in second is bigger than the gap between United and Arsenal, in ninth. This is a purple patch that has grown into a purple field.
Eriksen may have provided the final, glorious touch to Tottenham’s winner on Wednesday evening, but don’t let that persuade you that the Dane was not also his team’s provider. No player on the pitch managed more than his four chances created. N’Golo Kante may have been the deserving Player of the Year, but Eriksen is the Premier League’s best on current form.
If the statistics above highlight Spurs’ ridiculous chance creation, Eriksen is the one most responsible for making the figures look silly. Over the last eight games he has created 30 chances, seven more than any other player in the Premier League and only 21 fewer than Hull City have created as a whole.
Even across the season, Eriksen’s chance creation has been exceptional; his total of 97 is 16 higher than Kevin de Bruyne in second place. A reminder than Eriksen signed a new four-year deal last September worth just £70,000 a week. That’s £5,000 a week more than Marko Arnautovic and James Morrison, and less than Fraser Forster and Andy Carroll. He’s at least three years younger than them all.
The plan could not have worked out better. Having left Eden Hazard and Diego Costa on the bench at Wembley, using them as match winners in the final 30 minutes, Conte started his rested pair against Southampton on Tuesday. Three goals and an assist between them, and Chelsea march on in two competitions.
Conte now understands the importance of victory at Goodison on Sunday. Keep their former striker quiet and take all three points, and home wins over Swansea, Sunderland and Middlesbrough will guarantee them a second league title in three years. Easy does it?
Aged 29 and with an international career to upkeep, Fabregas must be bitterly disappointed to have started only ten Premier League matches this season. Yet if the response from most players would be to throw toys from pram and instruct the agent to publicly engineer a move, Fabregas is the outlier. Every time Conte has called upon him, Fabregas has delivered.
Do not underestimate the difficulty of irregular appearances for a team pushing for the title. There is no settling-in period, but a demand to play at your peak performance level whenever and wherever required. In 1,039 minutes across 24 matches, Fabregas has contributed a goal or assist for every 86.5 minutes played. That’s better than any teammate to have started three or more league games.
What is more, Fabregas has created a chance for every 24.7 minutes played in the league this season, better than any other current Premier League player to have started three or more matches. Quite simply, he is the most useful reserve in the country.
It is indicative of the widespread impatience within the Premier League that we viewed Costa’s four-game goalless run in the Premier League as a drought, but on Tuesday he scored his 18th and 19th league goals of the season to keep Chelsea in a commanding position to win the title.
For all his faults – and most of those can be sold in a positive light when things are going well – this will be Costa’s third league title in four seasons, and he has scored a combined 66 goals and counting across those three triumphant campaigns. There’s no doubt that any manager in the world would love to have a Costa.
Beating this Sunderland team might be pushed towards the bottom of a managerial CV, but finally a clean sheet and a win for Agnew. Go and beat Manchester City on Sunday, and they might even have a squeak of staying up. Don’t get too excited.
Chelsea’s Mr Right Place, Right Time. There are better central defenders in the Premier League, but we should be careful not to overlook Cahill’s impact at Chelsea. Bought by Andre Villas-Boas, rated by Rafael Benitez, key under Jose Mourinho and grown again under Conte. They can’t all be wrong.
Three wins in a row in two competitions, increasing Arsenal’s chances of making the top four from nil to slim. Beat Tottenham at the weekend, and it really would be time to announce Wenger’s new contract.
Vital attacking contributions in two victories. One more and Monreal will find Garth Crooks asking whether he’s always been a natural goalscorer or just going through a purple patch. Or both.
The perception of Moyes, even during times of success, has been as the stereotypical dour Scot. His Everton team were at their best when digging in, but at Sunderland this reputation took on a negative connotation. The accusation was that Moyes’ personality played a part in Sunderland’s miserable form: a self-fulfilling prophecy. Dourness is hardly the most inspirational personality trait in a relegation battle.
You can also go too far the other way. Recently, Moyes’ demeanour is of a man told by a cod-psychologist the importance of projecting a positive vision of himself. Has he been reading weighty books with bright, shiny covers and titles such as ‘Think big, be better’, ‘You are your own improvement’ and ‘Growing, showing, always knowing’, advertised on QVC by men with tans and white teeth but no soul?
Before the trip to Middlesbrough, Moyes took this unfaltering positive thinking to unseen places. “It will definitely get better,” he said. “We will definitely win games. That will change, no doubt about that. I believe it will change this season. There is no question at all that it will turn around – I hope it’s soon.”
Sunderland were facing the only team within touching distance of them, a Middlesbrough side who hadn’t won a league game since December 17 and had scored four goals in their previous ten matches. They lost 1-0, and will probably be relegated this weekend. They have taken seven points of the 48 available in the league since Christmas. Having talked up the chances of improvement, surely Moyes at least had enough wherewithal to keep as quiet as possible in his post-match interviews?
“Criticism is rightly due but not on tonight’s performance, players have stuck at it and shown they’re capable of trying to get points and win games,” Moyes said. “We could have criticism in other games which was right, but tonight and against West Ham United we played well. It wasn’t for the lack of want or trying. The players were fantastic in terms of effort they put in but came up short.”
Words like “fantastic” should not be used when describing a defeat to the second worst team in the division. Positivity can be a powerful tool, but Moyes has taken it to the point of parody. He is Alan Partridge announcing a second series before having to sack staff over the intercom. He is David Brent explaining why redundancy is a good thing. Moyes would like to be remembered, simply, as the man who put a smile on the face of all who he met.
“There is nobody who wants to win more than me,” Moyes would go on to say in that post-match interview. “I am used to winning, I’m not used to losing and I don’t want to get used to it either.”
For a manager not used to losing, Moyes is certainly a fast learner. He has won nine and lost 32 of his last 54 league matches in charge of Real Sociedad and Sunderland, stretching back to March 2015. That is over two years of embarrassing underperformance.
For those who might remark that Sunderland’s relegation has been coming for some time, there are two retorts. The first is that Moyes’ predecessors at least engineered a great escape before being sacked, and the second is that Sunderland were not entirely broken when Moyes arrived. This is not a strong Premier League bottom half, and Sunderland were longer odds than Watford, Hull, Burnley and Middlesbrough to be relegated. Moyes spent £35m last summer.
No matter how many times Moyes tries to place a facade over his own incompetence, we can see through it. The emperor isn’t just without clothes, he needs a shave and there is a funky smell coming from his nether regions. Sunderland will be relegated, this weekend or next, and there can be no positive spin on that news. Moyes can say that it is not just his fault, but he was employed precisely to insure against the demise he has overseen. He deserves to lose his job, and not get another until he can prove to owners of football clubs that this managerial funk has not become the terminal decline of a career.
Since the final whistle blew on Liverpool’s victory against West Brom, the three teams directly below them in the table have played four games, and won every one. Liverpool have played Crystal Palace at home, and lost a home game at Anfield after scoring the opening goal for the first time since May 2015 (also against Palace).
Jurgen Klopp must hope that Manchester City prevail in the Manchester derby on Thursday, Tottenham prevail in the north London derby on Sunday and they can beat Watford on Monday evening. If all those games go against them, Liverpool’s hopes of Champions League qualification will be hanging by a thread.
Started 18 Premier League games in 2014/15, and we thought it was too many.
Started 10 Premier League games in 2015/16, and we thought it was too many.
Has started 17 Premier League games already in 2016/17, and we think it is too many.
Southampton supporters will tell you that Yoshida has improved this season, but the lapses in concentration and positional indiscipline remain. The defending for Chelsea’s opening goal was reminiscent of that player at five-a-side who says he scored loads of goals for his school team but can’t actually run in a straight line.
How many times does Wenger need to play Coquelin to work out that he isn’t good enough? Lost the ball far too often, either through being caught in possession or inaccurate passing. Add in the customary occasional lack of positional discipline, and you have a ‘how to’ guide for being a poor holding midfielder.
There are plenty of damning figures for Arsenal’s last two seasons, but 42 Premier League starts for Coquelin is more relevant than most. Make it stop this summer.
If Arsenal are indeed a team that now plays with a 3-4-3 formation, Walcott must be a worried man. He is most comfortable on the right of a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, but Wenger’s new shape has no room for that role. The width provided by the wing-backs forced Walcott to tuck inside and he was tentative, as if uncomfortable with learning the new trick.
With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain impressing at right wing-back, Walcott is quickly running out of available positions in this Arsenal team. His best hope is that Mesut Ozil is sold in the summer and not replaced. Don’t bet against it.
With Islam Slimani injured, at least Musa would get some Premier League minutes, right? Well, no. The Nigerian was put on the bench in favour of Leonardo Ulloa and left on the bench in favour of Shinji Okazaki. His £16m move has so far returned seven league starts, and only two since November.
The losers section
Short, isn’t it?