Premier League winners and losers

Date published: Monday 26th February 2018 11:58

Winners

Huddersfield Town
Potentially a season-changing win. If that feels like a hyperbolic assessment given how tight the bottom half of the Premier League still is, here are the facts:

– Huddersfield had lost nine of their last 12 away league games.

– Huddersfield had scored in two of their last 12 away league games.

– Huddersfield had managed 16 shots in their previous three away league games; they had allowed the opposition to have 38 shots.

– Huddersfield had managed six shots on target in their previous four away games combined; they managed seven in 90 minutes against West Brom.

– Huddersfield have to face Tottenham, Manchester City and Chelsea in three of their last five away games. They needed this.

It obviously helps to face the Premier League’s crisis club, but West Brom still have more resources and better players than Huddersfield. David Wagner continues to inspire a team to perform far beyond the sum of its component parts.

 

Jose Mourinho
If you haven’t read 16 Conclusions yet then do so, but this was a seismic win for Mourinho. He knows more than any manager how the mood can quickly change, but so too can your league position. At 1-0 down, Manchester United were in third, one point above Tottenham in fifth. By full-time they were second, six points clear of the Europa League positions.

Yet this was worth more than that to Mourinho. He got one over on Antonio Conte, who has become an enemy to rival Pep Guardiola, and his substitutions changed the game. Incredibly, this was only the second time that Manchester United have come from behind to win a Premier League game since December 2016. There will be a swagger in Mourinho’s step this week.

 

Liverpool’s attack
As Liverpool took their season goal tally in all competitions over the 100 mark on Saturday, you realise just how much the sensational output of this attack has been normalised. In 2013/14, Liverpool scored four or more in a game on 12 occasions. They have already reached 11 in 2017/18, and they have at least 13 games to go.

From a position in October when the progress under Jurgen Klopp was being called into question by pundits, journalists and ex-players, Klopp has produced a run in the league of 13 wins, five draws and a single defeat. From ninth in the league to third, and Liverpool still have seven of the 11 clubs between 10th and 20th to play in their remaining ten league games. They should make the top four in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2009.

Liverpool’s defensive struggles have been well-documented, but are easing. Liverpool have kept 11 clean sheets, one behind Manchester City, two behind Tottenham, three behind Chelsea and four behind Manchester United. But they have scored three or more in exactly half of their 28 league games this season. That is six times more than Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham. Who cares if you’re top-heavy when the forward line is this good?

In 2017/18, Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino have all scored in the same game on six occasions. Last season, Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar all scored in the same game on eight occasions, and were generally considered to be the best strikeforce in world football.

Neymar, Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappe have done so eight times this season, and Paris Saint-Germain are totally dominant in Ligue 1. Liverpool’s trio are competing with the best in the business. They cost £283m less to buy than PSG’s three will.

 

Romelu Lukaku
He did it in a big game, and he did it when Manchester United really needed him. The finish was cool, the quick feet and assist for Jesse Lingard’s winner superb, and the late surge of pace to beat two defenders and win a corner evidence both of new belief and extraordinary stamina. No Manchester United player has appeared in, or started, more matches this season. Few were still sprinting late in the game.

Only four Premier League players have scored more goals than Lukaku this season, and no centre-forward has contributed more assists. It’s hardly a disaster.

 

Brighton’s attack
Swansea played a significant role in their own downfall, but Brighton still had to take advantage of Carlos Carvalhal’s naivety. This was the first time that Brighton have scored more than three goals in a game since a home game against Burton Albion in February 2017. The last time they did so in the top flight was against Manchester City in 1981. A bit has changed since.

 

Eddie Howe
A goal from one substitute, and the pattern of the game changed by the introduction of the other two. Bournemouth could even have won the game in its final throes, and comebacks always linger fondly in the memory.

 

Glenn Murray
A man who has reached double figures for goals in a top-flight season for the first time in his career at the age of 34, and the fourth top English goalscorer in the Premier League. There is life in the old warhorse.

 

Tottenham’s perseverance
Our early winners, with particular reference to Harry Kane. It doesn’t matter if you have a worse shot conversion rate than Danny Welbeck if you’re having six shots every game. Kane has had 48 more shots than any other player in the Premier League, and it was his sixth on Sunday that eventually gave Tottenham the lead.

Tottenham are the only unbeaten Premier League team in their last ten matches, and they have also collected more points than any other club over that period. Your regular reminder that nobody expected them to be quite this good, or quite this resilient.

 

Eric Dier and Davinson Sanchez
The first time both Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen have missed the same Premier League game since the former joined the club in July 2015, and a clean sheet earned.

This was also the first time Tottenham have won a Premier League game without either of their Belgian defenders playing since way back in August 2014. Neatly, that was Mauricio Pochettino’s first game in charge.

 

Dwight Gayle
Two goals in a game for Newcastle for the first time since 2016, and somehow leading the club’s goalscoring charts with five. With Islam Slimani ruled out for a further two weeks, Newcastle need Gayle as a useful option.

 

Watford
Consecutive home wins for the first time in ten months, and the threat of relegation has now virtually passed. Even more surprising was that Watford kept a clean sheet in the league for the first time since November. Everton were limited to one shot on target in each half.

Watford have allowed the opposition eight shots or fewer in seven league games this season. Three of those seven have come in February. Javi Gracia has made a difference.

 

Jesse Lingard
Hands up who had Lingard as Manchester United’s third top league goalscorer by the end of February when he had started one PL game by November 28?

 

Losers

Alan Pardew
Pardew may not be sacked this week, but he has lost his last chance to be bullish about his own suitability for this role. Until now, Pardew could reasonably insist that West Brom had improved under his stewardship in comparison with the latter days of Tony Pulis. Now even that argument looks as limp as his team’s own results.

Nine days ago, West Brom dominated Southampton in the FA Cup. They had double the number of shots on target as their opponents, let down by ineffective shooting and some meek defending. Against Huddersfield Town on Saturday, it was the visitors who dominated. David Wagner’s side had lost nine of their previous 12 away games, and scored in just two of those. This was abject failure in West Brom’s gentlest remaining Premier League assignment.

Pardew’s biggest problem is that he sells himself as a motivator, and yet West Brom’s players look like they’re going through the motions and have accepted their fate. There is no obvious fight in the squad, no sense that the group has been inspired to improve. That renders the manager virtually useless.

The manager has also lost the support of the fans. After leaving Chris Brunt on the bench again, despite the midfielder creating three of the club’s last five goals, the Hawthorns sarcastically cheered his introduction. Brunt promptly assisted Craig Dawson’s consolation.

The Express & Star reported on Sunday that Brunt, who stayed on the pitch to applaud supporters, stormed into the home dressing room to question the commitment of his teammates and the tactical decisions of his manager. Individual mutiny is rarely a welcome situation, but in Brunt’s case it at least demonstrates that it matters.

There is now no argument for keeping Pardew in charge, although reports suggest that he will get at least one more game. He is a manager whose reputation revolves around the immediate impact he makes, but dropping West Brom and hoping for a bounce has just led to pieces of broken glass strewn across the floor.

The only reason to keep Pardew now is if West Brom have a) accepted that relegation is an inevitability and b) believe that Pardew is the best manager to bring them back up. Given that he has not managed in the second tier since November 2008 and has previously demonstrated his inability to turn round a darkening mood at his last two clubs, those reasons don’t stack up.

 

Newcastle’s collapse
Rafa Benitez was furious. When Jonjo Shelvey missed from six yards out, it looked like Newcastle’s central midfielder has missed the chance to add a layer of icing to a sweet-tasting cake. Fifteen minutes later, Benitez was lecturing his team angrily about the damaging impact of missed opportunities.

Despite all the uncertainty hanging over Newcastle, Benitez has somehow managed to keep the club’s head above water. The positive spin on Saturday is that they have now lost just two of their last ten league games, and both of those were to Manchester City. The margins are still thinner than cigarette paper, but Southampton, Huddersfield and West Brom still have to come to St James’ Park. Win those three (and thus reach 37 points), and Newcastle will be in touching distance of Premier League security.

The negative – and overriding – spin is that Newcastle threw away two points through their own sloppiness. This was only the third time in the league this season that Newcastle have had a two-goal lead, and the first time against a team not called West Ham. It was also the first time in nine matches that Newcastle have scored more than one goal.

To achieve this recent bump in form, Benitez has stuck with what he knows. Newcastle’s previous eight games before Saturday had contained just 13 goals, and that included a 3-1 defeat to Manchester City.

Yet Benitez’s strategy of solidity only works if their team can close games out. This was a wasted chance to record consecutive league wins for the first time since September. Benitez will only hope that his side do not regret their late generosity come May.

 

Sam Allardyce and the lack of goals
Can we say that Allardyce has wasted his chance (past tense) rather than Allardyce is wasting his chance (present tense) yet?

When Everton beat Swansea 3-1 on December 18, Allardyce was bullish, his natural frame of mind. After the game, Everton’s manager was only too happy to tell all why he was being so successful.

“From a tactical point of view, I’ve simplified the game,” he said. “And I’m man-managing the players. I brought some experienced and talented staff with me, along with the rest of the staff – I want everyone to get better. What looked like a desperate situation is becoming a comfortable one. And now people are looking up the table than down.”

Everton supporters might still not be looking down, but that’s only because they’re sitting with their eyes closed, waiting for the season to end. Everton have taken nine points from their last ten league games, and scored eight times in those ten games. More significantly, Everton have averaged 2.1 shots on target per game over that period. Extend that run over the course of the season and Everton would have had the fewest shots on target in the entire Premier League.

And yet, as ever, Allardyce is far happier to take credit than blame. “They get the ball and pass it, not me,” he said after defeat at Watford. “You can’t blame me if they don’t pass the ball to each other.”

Indeed, but perhaps if they enjoyed playing under your management and enjoyed playing your style of football, they might perform better Sam? Or is this the “simplification” that you lauded as the difference when Everton won a few games?

The challenge for Allardyce was never going to be keeping Everton in the Premier League. He was appointed by the club in 13th that had the strongest squad outside the top six. The challenge was going to be convincing Everton supporters that he merited faith as anything other than a quick fix. The attacking misery over the last two months proves that this expensive experiment should be ended over the summer break.

 

Cenk Tosun
“I have to say it is a priority. If we achieve anything going forward to get into the top half, we need at least two players to score 10 goals or more” – Allardyce , December 2.

“We need a frontman if we can find one. We will be actively looking for a frontman in this window” – Allardyce, December 29.

“Our attacking powers are limited – that’s why I’ve worked so hard on keeping clean sheets. We need to strengthen the front line” – Allardyce, January 2.

“We don’t have a finisher to put the ball in the back of the net and if you squander your opportunities in the Premier League, you pay the price” – Allardyce, February 24.

Between those third and fourth quotes, Allardyce spent £27m on a striker who had scored four times in the Champions League between September and December. It’s fair to say that he doesn’t fancy Cenk Tosun. Big money well spent.

 

Chelsea
You can go to Matt Stead’s 16 Conclusions to read more on Chelsea’s latest stumble, but the bigger picture is that they have now dropped behind Tottenham and into fifth. With Spurs in their current guise, this feels like a significant shift and one that Antonio Conte will struggle to reverse.

Chelsea have now won four of their last ten league games, each of them comprehensive victories without conceding a goal: 2-0, 3-0, 4-0, 5-0. Yet the identity of their opponents in those wins is telling: Brighton (twice), Stoke and West Brom.

Conversely, Chelsea’s league games in 2018 against Arsenal, Leicester and Manchester United have returned two points, and they’ve lost to Bournemouth and Watford too. No other member of the top five, competing for four places, are in worse form.

If that wasn’t worse enough, Chelsea trod new ground on Sunday. This was the first time under Conte that they have taken the lead in an away league game and lost. Not a habit you want to adapt with less than three months of a crucial season remaining.

 

Alvaro Morata
Graeme Souness’ withering assessment that Chelsea do not have a “proper striker” went a little too far, but he is paid to be candid, cutting and controversial. His assessment was also not far wrong.

Morata has been dismal for weeks. Perhaps he has been subdued due to a lingering back injury, but the suspicion is that this is the result of a striker who had never previously played more than 1,500 minutes in a top-flight league season.

Morata has scored ten times in the Premier League but only two of those goals (vs Manchester United in November and Leicester in September) actually made a difference to Chelsea’s result. We were allowed to expect far better than this.

 

Antonio Conte
If you bring off your best player for “tactical reasons” with a massive league game in the balance and leave on a striker playing appallingly, don’t be surprised if that best player gets p*ssed off and you receive a wave of criticism when you subsequently lose the game.

 

Carlos Carvalhal
Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. That mantra applies both to Carvalhal’s use of bizarre metaphors and his attacking substitutions.

Against Burnley a fortnight ago, Carvalhal made three attacking substitutions at 0-0 and his team surged forward and eventually overpowered their opponents to win the game 1-0. Against Brighton, he replaced Nathan Dyer with Andre Ayew after just 35 minutes and followed that with the introduction of Luciano Narsingh for Mike Van der Hoorn at half-time and Tammy Abraham on for Tom Carroll after 66 minutes.

With Jordan and Andre Ayew, Abraham, Narsingh and Clucas all on the pitch at the same time and given licence to attack, it’s hardly any surprise that Brighton picked off Swansea and scored three times in the 25 minutes following the final substitution.

Carvalhal’s apology after the game was unnecessary given the club’s run of form under his management, but it coincided with Swansea falling back into the bottom three. The battle has not been won yet.

 

Demarai Gray
Our early loser. We really want Gray to kick on and fulfil that potential, but it just isn’t happening. Turning 22 in June, he’s not a raw kid anymore.

 

Serge Aurier
He actually did three foul throws. Stop his pocket money.

 

Daniel Storey

 

Planet Sport exclusive: Simon Carr on a mission to become Ireland’s first big tennis superstar. (Tennis365)

 


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