Tottenham (not just Harry Kane)
Harry Kane ‘broke the record’, and there is sarcasm and cynicism contained within those inverted commas, but the dismantling of Southampton was a communal effort. Dele Alli, Heung-min Son and Christian Eriksen wrote the spells and Kane did the magic, while Eric Dier looks revitalised in central midfield. Davinson Sanchez is the type of central defender that you could never tire of watching.
Burnley’s away record
In 2016/17, Burnley took seven points away from home all season. In 2017/18, they have taken six points from away games at Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge, Anfield and Wembley. You have to say that’s magnificent.
It is fair to say that Liverpool’s defending has generally improved (yes, apart from those five minutes at Arsenal) since the shambolic 4-1 defeat to Tottenham at Wembley. Jurgen Klopp’s team have kept eight clean sheets in 14 games since.
Yet, as ever, it is their attack that merits the headlines. Picking off Swansea has become as easy as taking sweets from a sleeping baby, but they were merely the latest to be put to the sword. Liverpool’s nagging insistence on spurning chances has not disappeared, but they are creating so many that it often doesn’t matter.
Since that Tottenham rout, Liverpool have had 241 shots in 14 games and no team has managed more on target. Liverpool have scored 45 times in those 14 matches. It’s hardly surprising that they’re unbeaten during that run.
Hoo boy did they need that. The knives were being sharpened after Leicester took the lead, but then Watford won a game after falling behind for only the second time in 2017. The run of four straight defeats is over and they are back in the top half again.
One of the defences of Jose Mourinho is that he took over a squad that was predominantly packed with dirge. And yet Lingard, Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia, three of Manchester United’s best performers this season, are those that Mourinho inherited.
If Young has been United’s surprisingly consistent performer in a previously unfamiliar position, Lingard has been their man of moments. In their last seven matches Lingard has played 518 minutes, never once completing a full 90, and was used as a half-time substitute against Burnley. His six goals in those games have earned United five points. That’s the current gap to Liverpool.
Twenty-nine points from their last 36 available. It’s not perfect, but it is more than any other club bar Manchester City. The Premier League’s top six is now the home of manufactured crisis, the baton passed between managers. Antonio Conte has had his turn.
Cesc Fabregas created more chances than any other Premier League player on Boxing Day, but it’s the combination of Cesar Azpilicueta and Alvaro Morata that will generate the most effusive praise. Against Brighton, defender created goal for striker for the sixth time this season.
My top three favourite Chelsea Spaniard stats:
3) Only three players in the Premier League have more assists than Azpilicueta. All play for Manchester City.
6 – Cesar Azpilicueta has assisted Alvaro Morata for six Premier League goals this season – the joint-most for one @ChelseaFC player to another in a single season (Fabregas-Costa 14-15 and Lampard-Drogba 09-10). Amigos.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 26, 2017
20 – No team in Europe's big 5 divisions has seen more league goals scored via Spanish players this season than @ChelseaFC (20 – level with Real Sociedad). Arriba.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 26, 2017
There will always be debate about Sam Allardyce’s style of football, but you cannot doubt his ability to shore up a defence. The goals Everton have conceded in their seven games look like Allardyce is composing a love letter to himself in binary: 0 0 1 0 1 0 0.
Allardyce has cut down the number of shots on target Everton face by over 30%, and is yet to lose. If there are concerns about a team that has managed only 20 shots on target in six league games, they are mitigated by that team moving up the Premier League table.
Allardyce is going to get Pickford the No. 1 goalkeeping spot for England in Russia. He must be leaping for joy at Big Sam’s appointment.
A sensational free-kick from a central midfielder now loving life in England and with the form to prove it.
His first league goal or assist of the season at the 19th time of asking, which is quite something. This was also Ince’s first top-flight goal since February 2014. It’s time for potential to be realised.
His first league start of 2017, in Everton’s penultimate game of the year. Bolasie arrived at Goodison as an exciting prospect who had shone through adversity at Crystal Palace. Having suffered his own individual nightmare, we must wish him well on his comeback. The Premier League misses players with the skill and guile of Bolasie.
Sinking without trace. Anybody who thought that Swansea’s problems would disappear with the removal of Paul Clement must believe in fairytales. This club’s problems started with the breakdown in trust between supporters and club hierarchy, and the subsequent decline emphasises just how integral that trust was to Swansea’s success.
Still, the speed of the collapse is quite something. Having finished 12th in 2015/16, beating Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool in the final three months of that season, Swansea have taken 54 points from 58 league games since. Regular managerial changes papered over the cracks somewhat (a strategy Sunderland tried), but they continue to widen underneath that thin veil of respectability.
It was Gylfi Sigurdsson and Fernando Llorente, not Clement, who kept Swansea up last season. No team that concedes goals at a rate of more than 1.8 per game deserves to survive, but Swansea did. Without that pair, both sold for profit that was then squandered like Christmas money on New Year’s Eve, Swansea’s lack of squad depth, width and vision for the future have all been laid bare.
Swansea are only five points from safety, and they have 18 games remaining. Yet it still feels like a mini-miracle is required to save them.
“We were impressed with what he had to say and what he has to offer,” West Brom chairman John Williams said on November 29. “We are looking forward to an exciting new era under his charge.”
Perhaps that excitement is being saved for one big blowout, when Pardew’s West Brom side score 14 times in 90 minutes including three overhead kicks and four diving headers?
In six matches under Pardew, West Brom have scored twice. Their three points in that run have all come from 0-0 draws. Rather than be the breath of fresh air after Tony Pulis, Pardew has donned a baseball cap, headbutted a striker while naked and grimly talked about being undervalued. His is a wonderful Pulis tribute act.
There are reasons to keep faith, it must be said. In Pulis’ last six matches, West Brom had 17 shots on target and created 31 chances. In Pardew’s first six, they have had 23 shots on target but created 63 chances.
And yet we expected better, quicker. Being more attacking than Pulis is at best a back-handed compliment, and Pardew’s run of six games included Stoke, Swansea and Crystal Palace.
A case of when, rather than if, Pellegrino is asked to clear his desk. It is not entirely his fault that Southampton have no accomplished striker and that their most valuable asset is sat on the sidelines waiting to depart, and it is not entirely his fault that the club’s summer transfer business was thoroughly underwhelming. Yet a large part of management outside the Premier League’s top six is making the most of an inadequate hand. Pellegrino was dealt bad cards, but has played them even worse.
Southampton are a mess. Their attack remains the same wretched dirge that caused Claude Puel’s sacking, but the Frenchman at least made Southampton reasonably resolute. They had the best defence outside the top seven last season.
Pellegrino’s trick was to keep the miserable attack and slowly allow resoluteness to be replaced by defensive calamity. Having conceded 11 goals in their first 11 league games (scoring only nine), they have allowed 19 in nine since. Southampton have kept one clean sheet in all competitions since September 16.
Pellegrino’s issue is that Southampton’s short-termist strategy allows for very little loyalty to be accrued. A club that has had five managers since the start of 2013 and yet made progress in almost every season will have no qualms about removing a manager who appears unfit for purpose. There will be few supporters sending Pellegrino thank you cards when he does leave.
West Ham 2-2 , Arnautovic after begovic slip pic.twitter.com/iyOmgX2XhF
— . (@NotDiegoCosta) December 26, 2017
And that wasn’t even his last mistake of the match. Let’s start Asmir campaign.
Five yellow cards in 294 minutes this season, and the ignominy of being substituted at half-time before he got himself sent off. Rojo’s propensity to get himself into scrapes would be excused were he a magnificent defender. He isn’t.
“I think I’m capable of doing the job at any club in the world so I’m sure I can do it at West Ham,” said Moyes on December 19. “I have to come here and show I can do it.”
Perhaps Moyes should concentrate on West Ham for a bit. He has been rightly credited for transforming Marko Arnautovic and beating Chelsea, but Moyes has still only won two of his ten matches in charge. If he would prefer to focus on four points against Arsenal and Chelsea, just as significant is two points (and 13 conceded goals) against Newcastle, Bournemouth, Everton, Watford and Leicester.
Two of those games (and six conceded goals) have come since Moyes’ puffed-up boast of his own managerial acumen. Beating West Brom at home on January 2 is now a necessity.
Jose Mourinho and insufficient progress
Manchester United’s manager was our early loser, but that piece was published even before Mourinho played the underdog card about Manchester City’s spending. Having spent £35m and £20m more than City’s record transfer purchase on players in each of the last two summers, Mourinho’s pleas should fall on deaf ears.
We did not necessarily expect Manchester United to win the league, but they were expected to at least compete. In the space of three months, United have dropped 12 points on their rivals (which could be 15 by late on Wednesday) and been eliminated from the League Cup by Championship Bristol City. In a table of results since the beginning of October, Manchester United are as close to Stoke in 15th as City in first. Should City win tonight, it’s as close to Newcastle United in 18th. United are getting worse, not better.
Manchester United’s attack
For a while this season, the answer to criticism of United’s style under Mourinho was to point at the goals scored column and remark that they were the second highest-scoring team in the division. Even if that was aided by an early-season surge against meek opposition, the point was valid. Manchester United were rampant until the end of September.
Yet since he took his team to Anfield with the intention of shutting up shop and earning a draw, Jose Mourinho has watched his side score 22 goals in 13 league games. That’s fewer than Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham over the same period.
Romelu Lukaku’s confidence is wilting, Zlatan Ibrahimovic looks as if his full recovery will either take longer than Manchester United can allow or will never come, and Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford have both earned censure from Mourinho for their profligacy.
One issue with United’s two wide forwards is that they are being starved of chances. Rashford is a central striker by trade, forced to muck in on the wing according to Mourinho’s infamous demands. The list of Premier League players with more shots on target this season is alarming, Marcos Alonso, Eric Choupo-Moting, Jay Rodriguez, Aaron Ramsey and Shinji Okazaki chief among them.
The suspicion is that both Rashford and Martial have had their enthusiasm curbed by their manager, and are now struggling to recapture the buzz. Both will still provide moments of magic, but the norm is more sedate and far less easy on the eye.
With Juan Mata and Henrikh Mkhitaryan also struggling as creative forces, United’s attack is beset by lethargy. They are waiting for chances to appear rather than forcing the issue. That, not money, is the biggest current difference between the two Manchester clubs.
The argument against awarding a red card for this type of high foot offence is that Francis (as with Sadio Mane) made a genuine attempt to play the ball, and nobody is accusing either of any malice.
But there must come a stage when negligence is punished, whatever the intention. If you raise your foot to that height, you should be responsible for what then occurs. If you play the ball and not the man, you are fortunate. If you connect with an opponent’s face, you should be sent off.
Grzegorz Krychowiak and Renato Sanches
Arrived to great fanfare as proof of their new clubs’ increased clout in the transfer market, the loans of Krychowiak and Sanches will do well to make it beyond the end of next month.
On Boxing Day, the pair were behind Jake Livermore and Tom Carroll in the pecking order and started on the bench. They got 33 combined minutes.