Marco Silva, finally making a statement
Silva was appointed to bridge the gap between Everton and the Big Six. He was not expected to do that over the course of an entire season – it will take time and more money for Everton to break into the top six – but over the course of individual 90-minute matches. Wolves’ best achievement this season (unless they win the FA Cup) is competing with and beating the best clubs in the country. That is not to say that Nuno’s team haven’t slipped up badly on occasion, but they have at proven themselves worthy of a place in the top seven on that basis.
Before Sunday, Silva had failed in this task. Everton were decent during long periods of their home game against Liverpool, but that had been the exception to the general rule. Before and during Silva’s reign, Everton had won five of their last 68 matches against Big Six teams. That is unacceptable for a team with their ambition, and he has not improved the record enough.
Sunday’s victory over Chelsea might be a flash in the pan. Everton were fortunate not to be behind at half-time as Goodison grumbled and grouched their misgivings over the lack of cohesion between component parts of the team. They have also flattered to deceive more than once during Silva’s reign – scoring six against Burnley for one.
But Everton’s response after half-time, and the manner in which the mood changed at Goodison during those final 45 minutes, did feel meaningful. These are not poor players, merely a collection of individuals lacking in confidence and thus unable to click effectively. Get a good thing going (and buy a new centre-forward in the summer) and it’s hardly unthinkable that Silva can regain the positivity that has eluded him since the autumn. He’s still clawing back the goodwill at Goodison, but it’s a start.
James Maddison and the perfect response
A disappointing week for Maddison. The player who has created more chances in the Premier League than any other player this season can consider himself unfortunate not to be included in the latest England senior squad, particularly given the glut of full-backs.
But then that should be taken as proof of England’s new-found strength in depth rather than any significant fault on Maddison’s part. Gareth Southgate is clearly a fan, and will be keen for Maddison to make himself undroppable.
So how you react to disappointment is instructive. In difficult circumstances with Leicester City reduced to ten men, Maddison persevered and scored a beautiful free-kick. Good on you kid.
Liverpool, still getting it done
Was it pretty? Goodness no. Was it effective? Just about. Is just about good enough? Damn right it is. You can gain friends and admirers in autumn and winter, but gaining points is all that matters in spring when you are on the home straight of your first league title in 29 years.
This is the part of any title challenge when every misstep causes increased scrutiny, and Liverpool certainly made plenty of those at Craven Cottage. It can become a vicious cycle: mistake brings scrutiny brings pressure brings more mistakes. And suddenly collapse comes and everyone’s calling you bottlers and frauds.
Win their last seven Premier League games and Liverpool can do no more. Win their last seven games and Liverpool will have set an astonishing target that Manchester City might still beat. The scores, performance and journey make no difference. Only the wins do.
Our early winner. He’s scored 11 goals in his last 11 games, has taken on Mohamed Salah’s mantle when Liverpool needed a hero and is still double the price of Paul Pogba to win the PFA Player of the Year award. Go figure.
Leicester City and resilience
Brendan Rodgers would never want a player to get sent off, and certainly not after less than four minutes played, but Harry Maguire’s red card did test the resilience of Leicester City. It is that resilience that was so absent during the final weeks of Claude Puel’s reign. Rodgers is a manager who consistently talks up his demand for fight and spirit through adversity. Leicester showed both in spades at Turf Moor.
Leicester’s other party trick this season has been conceding early and late goals, and doing both against Burnley would have been no surprise given the circumstances. Instead Rodgers saw his sign get over the line and win away from home for the first time since New Year’s Day.
Rodgers will now be confident that Leicester can go on a run – part of the attraction of taking the job in February was their gentle upcoming fixtures. Beat Bournemouth at home, Huddersfield away and Newcastle at home, hardly outside the realms of possibility, and Leicester will be right back in the race for seventh. More immediately, they now have the chance to record three straight league wins for the first time since 2017.
Newcastle have a long to do list to work their way through from May to August, with nothing more important that getting Rafael Benitez to stay. But making Rondon’s loan deal from West Brom permanent is also a must. If there were doubts last season about the striker’s stomach for a relegation fight, they have evaporated at St James’ Park.
Since the beginning of December, Rondon has started 16 league games and scored or assisted 11 goals. In a team that sets up to be defensively secure, those goals have been particularly crucial and that record mightily impressive.
But Rondon is so much more than that. There are few strikers in the league better at holding up the ball, protecting possession and waiting for attacking midfielders to join in with play. The arrival of Miguel Almiron to support Ayoze Perez has created a front three in which Rondon plays the pivotal role. Given Newcastle’s other striker options (sorry, Joselu), he is the difference between the Premier League and Championship.
Now the holder of an extraordinary statistic. Grant is the joint-top league goalscorer for Charlton Athletic in League One and the joint-top league goalscorer for Huddersfield Town in the Premier League.
Grant’s second goal against West Ham was an absolute beauty. This short Premier League spell will do him the world of good ahead of a Championship campaign next season.
Bournemouth vs the rest
Eddie Howe will be irked by Matt Ritchie’s late equaliser, but Bournemouth’s draw did continue their mightily impressive home run. Since November 2017, Howe’s team have played 20 home league games against non-Big Six teams. They have won 11, drawn nine and lost none of those 20 games.
West Ham, despite themselves
A season in microcosm. West Ham supporters will have left the London Stadium content but with enough nagging doubts to drag down the mood that combine to give them a headache. As Peter G wrote this week, they support a nonsense club.
When was the last time a substitute scored 86 or more minutes after coming on in a Premier League game? Never, that’s when.
Chelsea and Maurizio Sarri
One step forward, at least one more back. Chelsea might have beaten Tottenham and Fulham to give Sarri some breathing space, but he’s being suffocated by their underperformance again. One point against Wolves at home and Everton away is no route out of serious trouble.
After the defeat at Goodison, Sarri admitted that he couldn’t explain what had happened to his team after half-time. Chelsea’s manager could reasonably have expected a one-goal lead at the break given their chances, but strength is not proven in part performances. Chelsea crumpled at the first sign of adversity. In Everton, they were hardly facing a team renowned for their resilience this season.
Chelsea’s own lack of resilience is a huge issue for Sarri. Go back to the beginning of October and look at their record when conceding the first goal of the game: Tottenham (a) 1-3, Leicester (h) 0-1, Tottenham (a) 0-1, Arsenal (a) 0-2, Bournemouth (a) 0-4, Manchester City (a) 0-6, Manchester United (h) 0-2, Wolves (h) 1-1, Everton (a) 0-2. In nine matches when Chelsea have conceded first, they have scored a grand total of one goal. That indicates – perhaps even proves – mental fragility.
In attack, Chelsea have become comically reliant upon Eden Hazard to do it all. If he plays well, they can. If he produces a piece of magic, they can score. But they will also be very fortunate not to lose Hazard in the summer, and there is enough around him that he deserves some help.
Chelsea’s Premier League form might not matter too much in the context of their season. With Sparta Prague and one of Benfica or Eintracht Frankfurt standing in their path to the Europa League final, that now presents itself as the simplest route back into the Champions League.
But for Sarri, it really does matter. If Hazard does indeed leave, Chelsea will need a summer overhaul, and that’s assuming that they find a way to buy players with a transfer ban looming over them. It takes a leap of faith for the club’s hierarchy to believe in Sarri’s ability to transform players that already look a little stuck when tasked with learning his philosophy.
It’s just not working out. This doesn’t have to be a damnation of everything Higuain has ever done, but the lack of movement simply doesn’t make him worth persevering with week in, week out when he’s not even going to be at Chelsea next season. He’s scored three goals in seven league games, but two of those were in a 5-0 home win over a rotten Huddersfield and the other was against the worst team in the league.
I’ve banged on about it as much as I’ve banged on about everything that got boring long ago, but it must surely be worth Sarri giving Giroud a go, particularly given that he scored a hat-trick a few days ago. If the argument against it is that Giroud doesn’t score often enough in the Premier League, at least Eden Hazard loves playing with him.
Sean Dyche has a huge problem on his hands. The fixture scheduling of this weekend gave Burnley a chance to take a giant leap forward, and Harry Maguire’s early red card offered another leg up. By Saturday teatime, Burnley had gone backwards.
Dyche claimed after the Leicester defeat that Maguire’s dismissal gave Burnley a “psychological problem” because it shifted the onus on them to attack, but he will not expect any sympathy. The key to surviving the drop is to adapt to changing circumstances and making the most of any opportunity that comes your way. Burnley failed on both fronts.
If it wasn’t bad enough that Burnley failed to take advantage of their numerical advantage, they then conceded a late goal for the tenth time this season in the league. No team in the Premier League has conceded more goals in the last ten minutes of matches, evidence that Burnley are suffering from lapses in confidence or fatigue.
Burnley have played more games than the three teams directly above them and the team directly below. Their last four fixtures are away to Chelsea and Everton and at home to Arsenal and Manchester City; they face Wolves, Bournemouth and Cardiff before then. The Cardiff fixture at Turf Moor might just decide their fate.
But supporters will be most concerned that their team has already enjoyed their bump and are now being dragged into trouble again.
In June 2016, Rico played the final 14 minutes of Spain’s friendly against South Korea. I’m going to go out on a limb and say they will be the only minutes of his senior international career.
Finding new ways to lose, and new ways to quickly give up any accrued goodwill. Jan Siewert admitted he was struggling to discuss the manner in which Huddersfield conceded three late goals. The German rued the misfortune that forced him into three substitutions before the final 20 minutes, meaning he was unable to shake things up after West Ham got a foothold.
Even by the standards of Huddersfield’s season, this was a miserable end. They missed plenty of chances to seal victory, were guilty of some rotten defending for Javier Hernandez’s two goals and ended a game they dominated with nothing. They could feasibly be relegated before the end of March.
On January 2, Arnautovic scored twice against Brighton and was named Man of the Match. A few days later, it became clear that he wanted to complete a move to China. Since then, Arnautovic has played seven Premier League matches and contributed a single assist and no goals. The rumours that he might leave in the summer for his lucrative move probably make sense for all concerned, if West Ham can get a decent transfer fee. Read this.