Premier League winners and losers

Date published: Friday 17th July 2020 12:40

Winners

Arsenal
This was Arsenal’s first Premier League win against the team starting at the top of the table since February 2016, losing on each of their previous five attempts.

And wasn’t it great to see an Arsenal performance of grit and determination? Mikel Arteta’s side moved above Burnley with victory over Liverpool at the Emirates, and this was a display more at home at Turf Moor: backs against the wall; bodies on the line; everything for the team. Liverpool were Arsenalled.

There might be the odd Arsenal fan who put down their tightly gripped mug of tea at the final whistle with a tinge of disappointment, still with that wistful memory of what that game might have looked like ten or even five years ago. But the majority will recognise that the resilience their team showed provides a much more solid foundation to build from than a couple of pretty one-twos – that will come later.

 

Jose Mourinho
When asked how important it is for Tottenham to qualify for Europe next season, Mourinho said:

“I would love it to happen. Looking at things in a selfish way, since I started we are fourth. And that would mean even with all the problems that we have – injuries, injuries, injuries.

“But I am not selfish, I am just for Tottenham.”
Well, if you’re not selfish Jose, don’t mention it. Of course he is – so he did. But we all know that; it’s a huge reason why he’s been so successful, why clubs – despite his foibles – still want him as their manager.
The win over Newcastle wasn’t a particularly good watch: Spurs had less possession than their hosts and eight shots to their 22. But while they are still a way off that winning inevitability Mourinho teams of old had, there was also the sense that it was planned, that Mourinho knew how the game would go, that if they defended well and were efficient in front of goal it would be a comfortable victory. And it was.
Ben Davies says Mourinho is “more tactical” than Pochettino, that Spurs now “have a plan for each game”. Mourinho has never been a manager who only focuses on what we’re doing – that to him is lunacy. You plan for every eventuality, against every team. And although it’s an easy headline to suggest there are rifts in the dressing room, maybe the players are actually enjoying playing under Mourinho, and aren’t simply toeing the party line and blowing smoke up his arse with the “best manager in the world” comments. Maybe they see the change in mentality at Tottenham that can finally deliver what the Portuguese was brought in to do: deliver silverware.

 

Marcus Rashford
Dr Rashford was totally out of breath when doing his post-match interview, some ten minutes after the final whistle on Thursday. He – like the rest of United’s forward players – continued to chase lost causes and close down defenders for the full 101 minutes at Selhurst Park. They know how important goal difference could be in the race for Champions League football. They don’t want to be going in to that final day showdown with Leicester level on points knowing the Foxes can hold out for a draw to pip them to a top-four spot.

It was only 2-0 in the end, and perhaps United were lucky, but if it had been three or four, with the way their forwards combined again, there would have been no real complaints.

Rashford was the best player on the pitch. He sent two defenders and the goalkeeper for hot dogs for his goal, but it was United’s second that illustrated perfectly the extent to which he has added guile and awareness to his raw ability this season.

The first bit was vintage Rashford: he was through three surrounding defenders with a step over, a couple of neat touches and a burst of pace. But his second role in the goal was a sign of his development this season. Having given the ball to Bruno Fernandes on the left he picked up a position on the edge of the area, and instead of controlling and shooting when he received the return pass, he laid a no-frills touch into the path of Anthony Martial to score. It was perfectly weighted and made all the more beautiful by its simplicity.

In that post-match interview he talked of Martial’s work-rate and his delight to see his partner scoring. Easy to say when you’ve scored yourself, perhaps, but unlike Martial, you don’t get the sense that Rashford is too bothered whether he’s on the scoresheet or not. Everyone says it, but Rashford is genuinely only concerned with his team winning. At just 22, his leadership skills are extraordinary – on the pitch, and of course off it.

 

Olivier Giroud
Chelsea would have no hope of Champions League football next season had Giroud been allowed to leave in January. Since the turn of the year, Tammy Abraham has scored two Premier League goals while Giroud has six. Four of those have come after signing a new one-year contract – weird how people perform better with a bit of job security.

He was man of the match against Norwich, and in truth he was really just the best of a bad bunch. But he does what Abraham doesn’t – he’s there. The final four minutes at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday exemplified the reason Abraham is on the bench and Giroud is starting in this Chelsea team. Having come on to replace Giroud, Abraham – on two occasions – flung his arms up in the air and shouted his frustration into the sky at being close to a cross.

This has happened time and again this season. Abraham is so rarely in the right place, but Giroud almost always is. And Giroud, too, was seen cursing into the empty Shed End, but because he had missed chances, not because he wasn’t there to try and convert them. You can never accuse him of that.

 

Leicester
They had to win, and did. They were fortunate in that they caught Sheffield United on a rare off day, but they probably needed a bit of luck to get through this one after that ignominious second half against Bournemouth.

Vardy was brilliant, playing five key passes and laying on the assist for Demarai Gray. But Wes Morgan’s performance was of greater importance. With Caglar Soyuncu out for the rest of the season after his goal-line wrestling antics with Callum Wilson, Leicester’s defence must have been a real concern for Brendan Rodgers. Incredible consistency in your backline goes hand-in-hand with a lack of game time for those in reserve.

The 36-year-old club captain was dominant in only his second start of the season, and will have to continue to be so in Leicester’s last two games if they are to qualify for the Champions League, against Harry Kane’s Spurs, and Rashford, Martial, Greenwood and Fernandes’ Manchester United.

 

Chris Wilder
Why not say exactly what you think? It makes for far more interesting post-match interviews for one.

“I don’t get this thing about asking for the players’ opinions. Because I’ve seen what their opinion is with my own eyes, and there’s nothing wrong with them. What I’ve seen out there is a really poor performance.

“The introduction of the subs had no effect at all. All our players produced sub-standard performances. Any one of them, other than Dean, could easily have come off.

“So there wasn’t any exchange of views afterwards. And there won’t be either.

“It wasn’t the result or the performance we wanted. We were way off it. We deservedly got beat. Our goalkeeper has kept us in it and I’m delighted to walk away with only a 2-0. We lacked in every part of the game you need to get a result.”

And he’s right, Sheffield United were way off it. They know it, we know it, so why not say it? What is the point of a manager pussyfooting around in front of the media? To save the players’ blushes? As Wilder told SUTV, that’s “bullshit”.

 

Brighton
Nearly there.

 

Raul Jimenez
What. A. Goal.

 

Theo Walcott
The time is now… for the 31-year-old. Great header.

 

David Silva
Leave your free-kicks here when you go, please.

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Losers

Alisson and Virgil van Dijk
Sometimes it’s nice when you can ruffle the hairs of the untouchable. Alisson and Virgil van Dijk have won Liverpool the title. It’s an overused and oversimplified statement, sure, but that doesn’t make it any less true. They had a crap goalkeeper and a crap defence; they spent big bucks to sort the problem. Not revolutionary transfer business, just sensible.

After Liverpool’s 4-0 defeat to Manchester City, Jurgen Klopp claimed the defeat was nothing to do with a drop off in “focus” from his team. He has now changed his tune.

“We took a break, that’s clear, lost concentration, it’s the Premier League and you cannot do that. Virgil van Dijk lost the ball but I didn’t see a lot of offers. Nobody wanted the ball. It makes no sense.”

Souness claimed the Liverpool players were “in their armchairs” and our Mailbox continues to rage on about whether Liverpool are already on the beach, and indeed whether it matters if they are.

In truth, it probably doesn’t. Their form now is not a determiner for what they will achieve next season, and while record points tallies and the like are built up by those looking to fill column inches and big up games to have something riding on them, the players won’t really care.

But that doesn’t stop the rest of us from imagining a pinch of Van Dijk’s cheek or an Alisson nuggie. Did you make a mistake? You naughty little scamps.

 

Norwich
It’s not nice to kick them when they are literally down. But Norwich offered nothing against Chelsea. They didn’t have a single shot or corner in the first half, and despite Daniel Farke hailing the “commitment and desire” of his players, which was evident, there was no real response to going a goal down. They’ll be back, probably, but they’ll need a better game plan to win matches if they are.

 

Wolves
Nuno Espirito Santo was typically cool in response to their setback against Burnley, simply saying: “We just recover and prepare for the next one.” This c’est la vie attitude serves Nuno and Wolves well; the calmness the manager exudes is evident in the way his team go about their business. But Chris Wood’s 96th-minute penalty for Burnley did effectively end Wolves’ hopes of Champions League football. Which is a shame. Given their success in the Europa League this season, they may well have been the cat among the overfed pigeons.

 

Aston Villa
They were so close. Ezri Konsa scored Villa’s goal and should have prevented Theo Walcott’s at the other end. It was the sort of attempted goal-line clearance that, if he had pulled it off, would have been brilliant, but because he didn’t it looks like a bad error.

But he wasn’t most culpable for them leaving Goodison Park without three points. That honour is bestowed on Anwar El Ghazi, whose lack of end product reached laughable levels as he missed from a yard out following Jack Grealish’s perfect cross. Oh dear.

 

VAR
It’s just annoying. Whether you’re in the 95% of people that thought Wilfried Zaha should have been awarded a penalty, or you’re a Manchester United fan, it’s still annoying. There’s no claim of bias towards or against United here: they may have had the rub of the green recently, but they have been and will be on the wrong end of it.

It’s the subjectivity that’s the problem. Jordan Ayew was offside. Marginally, yes, but he was offside. But the challenge on Zaha isn’t definitely a penalty. I thought it was, some people – although they’re wrong – thought it wasn’t. The referee, Graham Scott, didn’t. And to be fair to him, in real time it did look like Victor Lindelof got more ball than man.

But – and this is the point – when he watched the incident back after the game, did he think that was a clear and obvious error? He might have seen that as the sort of howler VAR was brought in to prevent. But the subjectivity is taken to another level with someone else at Stockley Park making their own judgement as to whether the error was clear and obvious.

But it’s not their error. That person doesn’t know the on-field referee’s thought process. Had Scott simply been asked to consult the pitchside monitor, this problem immediately goes away. He may have changed his mind, Crystal Palace may have got a point – or more given United went straight up the other end to score their opener – and Chelsea and Leicester would have some breathing space in the race for Champions League football.

Will Ford is on Twitter

 

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