Premier League winners and losers

Date published: Monday 2nd November 2015 1:29



Don’t expect me to write vast swathes about Liverpool when they were covered at length in 16 Conclusions (I’m not Daniel Storey, I do not have an infinite number of words), but one point that slipped through the net on Saturday was the Reds’ reaction to going behind. After an initial panic, it took less than five minutes for them to gather themselves. In less than a week since Jurgen Klopp hinted at a mental weakness – seen when Southampton scored a late, but not too late, equaliser – he had instilled enough resilience to guarantee that there would be no insurmountable deflation.

“It felt like the end of the world and it’s not the end of the world, it’s only a goal and you can come back always and that’s what we have to understand,” said Klopp last Sunday and eight days later, he was proved right: Chelsea scored early after a series of Liverpool defensive mistakes and it was not the end of the world; it was merely the start of a long match.

Remarkably, victory marked the first time since December 2014 that Liverpool had come from behind to win a Premier League match, which hints at a malaise too deep to fix in just a matter of weeks. We will hold back the bunting until it happens again, but the signs are incredibly positive: Liverpool already look physically and mentally stronger. From those foundations we should now see the actual football getting better.

Incidentally, that come-from-behind victory over Leicester from almost 11 months ago was also a 3-1 win and it also lifted Liverpool into eighth place. The word of warning is that it was followed by home draws against Sunderland and FC Basle. The challenge for Klopp is not to take two steps back after that healthy stride in the west London sunshine.


Philippe Coutinho
“I love this player. Who doesn’t love Phil Coutinho?”

However much you earn, however many Barcelona players try to turn your head, however many fans have their names on your shirts, that has got to be bloody good to hear.

Coutinho has looked a little shellshocked this season – perhaps first overawed by his new, possibly uncomfortable status as the team’s creative focal point, and then perhaps a little apprehensive about the exit of his mentor and confidante (“Brendan is always available to talk to and for me that is very important,” he said in June) being followed by the arrival of a louder, more demanding, unfamiliar manager. Coutinho will have heard plenty about Klopp’s heavy rock football and wondered where a wiry pianist fits into the score.

That Klopp clearly sees a place for Coutinho may just lighten the nerves and feet of the Brazilian, who might be advised to read Jamie Redknapp’s unusually insightful column in the Daily Mail in which he suggests that Coutinho could be Klopp’s new Mario Gotze – a man so talented that he was allowed to retain some baby-faced chub in the face of all that exhausting gegenpressing. After all, plodding heavy rock is only lifted to greatness by riffs from talented soloists.


Arsene Wenger
When you say “it’s now or never” you are leaving yourself open to a resounding reply of “never” but Arsene Wenger’s belated faith in Joel Campbell (who almost anchored a ‘five players out of their depth’ list on Football365 last week) left the word in the throats of the unbelievers. Having looked lost in the company of Glen Kamara and Alex Iwobi on Tuesday, Campbell thrived alongside Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez on Saturday.

We studied a list of Arsenal’s right-sided options after injuries to Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and concluded that he would bring in Mathieu Flamini and shift one of Santi Cazorla or Mesut Ozil wide. Against a side that claimed six points from the Gunners last season, we presumed the policy would be to put safety first. How wrong we were. The policy was to throw in a player who has looked way, way short of Premier League class and trust that his fragile belief would grow. It worked.

The encouraging aspect of that team selection from Wenger is that he learned from the humbling opening-day defeat to West Ham that it is no longer an option to move Cazorla out wide.

“He’s at an age where he has experience and where it’s a bit more difficult on the flanks. His technical quality, vision and experience are very important central,” said Wenger in October.

Campbell might want to buy Cazorla a smoothie.


Manchester City
The lazy line is that Manchester City cannot win the title without quality back-up to Sergio Aguero and David Silva, because of course every other contender has top-notch reserves ready to bound off the bench and replace two of the five best players in the Premier League. Aguero and Silva are a better pairing than every other club can muster, and Manuel Pellegrini’s options to replace them are generally better than the back-up options elsewhere. Wilfried Bony is no Aguero but he is better than Radamel Falcao, more effective than Wayne Rooney (right now), probably similar in quality to Olivier Giroud and roughly 427 times better than Divock Origi.

Since the irreplaceable Aguero and Silva were simultaneously injured in early October, Manchester City have scored 14 goals in five games. We think they’re probably coping okay.


Newcastle United
They might have drawn 0-0 but six shots on target (added to eight in the logic-defying 3-0 defeat to Sunderland), a rare clean sheet and a much-improved performance add to the growing belief that Newcastle will pull away from relegation trouble this side of Christmas. I predicted Norwich, Bournemouth and Sunderland for the drop before the season began, and I can certainly see that trio being the bottom three on New Year’s Day.

Should Newcastle be happy with avoiding relegation? God no. But it’s a start. And when the pressure is eased, we might just see Georginio Wijnaldum, Moussa Sissoko, Ayoze Perez and Alex Mitrovic begin to relax and enjoy themselves. And then imagine if that fun translated into the stands! Geordies? Enjoying themselves? You don’t usually see that outside of Tuesday nights on MTV.


Jack Butland
A year ago he was shipping two goals in a 2-1 defeat at Brentford while on loan at Derby.

Ladies and gentlemen, we now have two fit England goalkeepers that do not give us a twitch in the arse department.


Nine different nationalities starting the game, another two coming off the bench, negligible Premier League experience in the whole squad, a foreign manager with zero Premier League experience. It really shouldn’t work. It must really p*** off the game’s PFMs that it does.


Jamie Vardy
Come on. This is getting ridiculous now. Not since Harold Kane has a fictional character scored so many goals.


Claudio Ranieri
What do you do when you lose a left-back? Bring in a striker, of course. Italy will be revoking his passport.


Marc Albrighton
More Premier League assists than any other Englishman this season. No. 39 on our last England ladder and rising.


Everton fans
After six goals in five home games before Sunday came a glut of six in 90 minutes. It may have only been Sunderland but there was a glimpse of what a front four of Romelu Lukaku, Arouna Kone, Ross Barkley and Gerard Deulofeu can achieve when Roberto Martinez has the courage to deploy the full, fearsome quartet (and the opposition are terrible). It had all become rather dull watching Everton and after the first game of this season, I remember a particularly irate Everton fan ringing 6-0-6 after what he described as “the 39th game of last season”. It was all a bit pedestrian. And all a bit samey. Where was the joy?

‘Adding only Tom Cleverley to a failing squad is not going to solve the problem when the problem is a lack of oomph,’ I wrote in Winners and Losers after that opening weekend.

There was no lack of oomph on Sunday.

I will leave Daniel to get semi-aroused about Lukaku (six PL goals, four assists) on his return from holiday and merely say that you would have to be a hard-hearted bugger not to be pleased for Kone.




Jose Mourinho
Whether Garry Richardson’s information was correct or whether it came from a player on the outside of a coterie of players who are still actually backing Jose Mourinho, there is no doubt that the revelation that one Chelsea first-teamer reportedly said “I’d rather lose than win for him” is massively damaging. It’s a powerful quote – even without attribution – that suggests there is a seam of mutiny at the club, however narrow.

Interesting quotes from his old Real Madrid defender Alvaro Arbeloa emerged last week that were largely headlined on his belief that Mourinho would turn things around at Chelsea, but there was another line that leapt off the page:

“He demanded all the time more from us. And when there are a lot of demands, and when in the end there is friction, it wears down the dressing room a bit. I used to see him with dark rings under his eyes and thinking: ‘this guy is not sleeping, he is not relaxing’.”

Chelsea have apparently reached that juncture; Mourinho has definitely reached that juncture.

In 16 Conclusions, I said that there is something fundamentally wrong with Chelsea and that Roman Abramovich needs to ensure that every Chelsea player is asked – without fear of prejudice – what the problem might be. Simply put, if it turns out that the majority believe that the problem is Mourinho, he has to go.


James Milner
A list of Premier League players who had run the most kilometres from the week approaching Jurgen Klopp’s first Liverpool match featured James Milner at the top, followed by Bournemouth’s Andrew Surman and Matt Ritchie. Klopp does love his players to work hard, but would he want Surman and Ritchie in his Liverpool XI? Now we’re wondering if he will want Milner after he was dispossessed five times in the first half at Stamford Bridge; he will have heard Klopp’s screams in his ear long after he was hauled off after 63 minutes.

Milner was listed among five unjustified undroppables earlier in the week, but the problem with having ‘runs around a lot’ as your best feature is that it loses its value in the marketplace when everybody else starts running around a lot too.


Daniel Storey
He went on holiday and the big game got interesting. To be honest it was a struggle to keep it to 16.


Louis van Gaal
He is an insufferably smug b**tard but quotes from Alan Pardew after Saturday’s 0-0 should make Louis van Gaal pause and ponder as he prepares to write down the same names in the same positions to face CSKA Moscow on Tuesday night.

“We didn’t give Martial an inch today,” said Pardew whilst strutting like a peacock. “Not an inch. It was a big target for us to stop him and we felt that if we could stop him we could stop their creative angle. And when you take into account his age, that’s some recommendation.

“I have to say that he’s an impressive young player. I think he handled himself very well today, because he would have felt our presence around him, and still he had moments in the game.

“With such a young player, he’ll have to be very, very careful, the Manchester United manager, to keep his exuberance there. Because we’re all looking to stop him.”

Add that (‘keep Martial’s exuberance’) to the long list of tasks in Van Gaal’s in tray. Right at the top should be ‘attack attack attack’ but Pardew’s words point to a massive problem: A 19-year-old ‘winger’ is now being targeted by the opposition. And it’s a whole lot easier to double up on a winger than a pacey striker playing on the shoulder of the last man. Martin Kelly and Wilfried Zaha could combine to mute Martial; he may well have destroyed Scott Dann and Damien Delaney over 90 minutes.

“We don’t know (Martial’s best position) yet because he played always in Monaco as a left winger; as manager I have to see what is the best balance in the team. That’s not so simple, so I have to decide every week dependable on the game plan and qualities of opponent, and so on,” said Van Gaal after the game.

Sorry Louis but that’s b*llocks. Martial played almost exclusively for Monaco last season as a striker. He then played exceptionally well for Manchester United as a striker. You gave him the No. 9 shirt because he is a striker.

Meanwhile, your chosen striker did not touch the ball in the penalty area at Crystal Palace while you had no shots on target from open play.

If, as Pardew suggests, you stop Manchester United by stopping Martial, then Van Gaal is helping put pressure on the brakes.


Attack, attack, attack
Second-most possession. Second-least shots. Which makes having the second-best conversion rate in the Premier League like keeping your shotgun in the cupboard and trying to hunt rabbits with a spoon.


Garry Monk
The last time Swansea failed to win any of four consecutive home games, it was December/January of the 2013-14 season; Michael Laudrup was sacked in February.

The problem with working for a brilliantly run club that prides itself on continuity when a manager exits is that you’re never irreplaceable.


West Ham
The only two home sides to have taken points from West Ham this season are Sunderland and Watford; it’s no coincidence that they are two sides less likely to dominate possession in a typically ‘home’ manner. When given the ball and challenged to break down the Hornets’ defence, the usually dynamic Hammers side lost its thrust. This is not a team that responds very well to being favourites – as evidenced by home defeats to Leicester and Bournemouth, draws with Norwich and Sunderland and now defeat at Watford.

“Watford were full of respect for us – but when they smelt that we weren’t penetrating enough, and that our movement and passes were slow and backwards, they smelt the opportunity to go at us,” said Slaven Bilic. “We learned a lesson, and I see no reason why we won’t come back and play like we did before.”

Hmmm. We’re not sure that ‘playing like you did before’ is the answer, Slaven. That only works if the opposition play like the home team. The Hammers need to find a way of dominating games against inferior sides, something that really does not suit the tricky pace of Victor Moses and Manuel Lanzini.

A Plan B could be the difference between being mid-table entertainers and genuine contenders for Europe.


Andy Carroll
In a week when his manager described him as the best player in England in the air, he was really very sh*t on the ground.


Crystal Palace
Eleven games in and still no Premier League goals from any of their strikers this season. Start packing your bags for London, Papiss Cisse.


Sam Allardyce
“We were down before he came but he has brought back some belief by basically saying ‘if you do what I say, I show you what to do and you do it, then we will win games.’ If you have a manager who believes that and the players believe it too, we will win games. He puts real emphasis on the defensive side. Several times in the build up to Newcastle, we have split into defensive and attacking units with the manager doing the defensive stuff.”

So said Billy Jones last week.

That went well.


The Daily Mail’s Neil Ashton
This never gets old.

Sarah Winterburn

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