Not since December 2017, less than a month into Sam Allardyce’s reign, had Everton recovered from going behind to win a Premier League game. Their prospects of procuring Carlo Ancelotti back then were limited, even with the Italian having recently been sacked by Bayern Munich. But this bizarre marriage is starting to become rather convenient for both parties.
The Toffees had inexplicably drawn their last league game after conceding twice in stoppage time to Newcastle defender Florian Lejeune. Ancelotti himself noted after beating Watford that “football is unpredictable”. In terms of that fine line between genius and stupidity, Everton had too often lost their balance and fallen flat on their face into the latter category.
So this is genuine progress. Ancelotti now has more points (15) from almost half as many league games (8) as permanent predecessor Marco Silva (14 from 15). It’s safe to say no-one – at Everton or otherwise – envisaged it going this well so soon.
For not appointing David Moyes. Clever Everton. Silly Billy Kenwright.
Scoff all you like. But while you debate about whether Barcelona were more ridiculous in bidding £85m for Richarlison than Everton were for rejecting it, the Brazilian will go about his business. And if that includes sprinting from about 15 yards inside his own half in stoppage-time after 90 intense minutes against his former club to play an inch-perfect pass that contributes to a game-winning goal, so be it.
Just remember, next time you see assists or anything similar cited as the clincher in an argument, that Moise Kean will be credited with creating Theo Walcott’s goal at Vicarage Road; Richarlison was the architect. And there is something glorious about the fact he has made almost as many tackles (54) as he has had shots (57) in the Premier League this season. Any Everton future built around him has the potential to be prosperous.
@TheBlueRoomEFC Just highlights the difference between 2 players at around the same time and situation in each game, guess what happens next in each situation, Richarlison's control was brilliant for that run, and he had been on for 90 mins not 2 😂😂 pic.twitter.com/2hDsSUuu7r
— David D (@Gold_Coast_Blue) February 3, 2020
That video of him being told by Joao Sacramento that Raheem Sterling, on a booking, had possibly dived on Sunday was knowingly hilarious. It’s the way he takes another sip of his water and places his bottle carefully in its holster before sprinting towards the fourth official to remonstrate. Pantomime at its most glorious.
Do read 16 Conclusions on a game that was no more a masterclass than the defeat to Liverpool was a disaster. No, I won’t let that go.
Back-to-back wins against the two sides now directly above and below them in the table offers a little breathing space after a stifling winter.
The struggle to strike a balance between defence and attack continues. No team has recorded fewer victories without a clean sheet (2), nor more defeats without scoring (8) this season. If they can maintain that two-point gap to 18th come May, they will hardly care.
No club should be 22 points clear after 25 games. Virgil van Dijk should not be controlling 30-yard passes with his left foot and attempting backheel shots with his right at 0-0. Andy Robertson and Roberto Firmino should not be able to assist a goal with two first-time flicks. Trent Alexander-Arnold should not be able to combine a clearance under pressure in his own half with a simultaneously brilliant pass that releases Firmino and results in a goal within eight seconds. And for those of a certain disposition, Southampton should not be restricted to an xG of 0.72 from 17 shots.
You might argue that no keeper should be permitted to pick up a teammate’s pass, Shane Long should not be blocking Danny Ings’ efforts and Van Dijk, Robertson, Firmino and Joe Gomez should not all be making mistakes leading to Southampton efforts. But the point is simple: Liverpool have normalised the abnormal, made the extraordinary look ordinary and rendered the ridiculous as little more than routine.
Four players have at least seven Premier League goals and assists each in the Premier League this season. Kevin de Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez have benefited from and contributed to some sensational performances from Europe’s highest goalscorers, while Heung-min Son continues to be quietly elite. Matching the achievements of Lys Mousset by recording a hat-trick of assists means Roberto Firmino is finally receiving adulation for what he has been doing for almost four years.
He is the Premier League’s most unique player, the personification of attack being the first line of defence, a centre-forward judged not on his goal output but his team input. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain knows “he’s such a joy to play with and to feed off”. Jordan Henderson realises that “some of the stuff he does is madness really”. There must be no better teammate to play alongside in Europe right now.
Pretty much this, really. He is now within three goals of Jamie Vardy in the top goalscorer stakes. Only Alan Shearer and Thierry Henry have won three consecutive Premier League Golden Boots. Mo Salah might soon be part of that nonpareil conversation.
The parks of both Goodison and Selhurst share one thing in common: they are perceived as particularly ‘tough places to go’. And indeed, only two sides have won at both Everton and Crystal Palace this season: Manchester City and Sheffield United.
The trifecta can be completed when they visit Turf Moor in April, but Chris Wilder’s Blades are slicing through any and all preconceived beliefs. It was thought that they would battle relegation, then that they would eventually fall away, then that a mid-table finish would suffice. It is a sign of an upwardly mobile club that expectations continue to be reassessed and redefined with each game. We are now almost two-thirds of the way through the season and Sheffield United would be disappointed not to qualify for Europe.
That gap to fifth is down to 12 points, but maintaining their advantage over Chelsea was far more instructive. If they can keep them at arm’s length they will qualify for the Champions League once more; one club might catch the Blues but two or more won’t overhaul both them and the Foxes.
Anyone who can make a professional fool look accidentally silly deserves the utmost credit.
Amazed @OfficialBHAFC take off Aaron Mooy (their best player today) with 18mins left and The Seagulls 3-1 down
— Ian Abrahams (Moose) (@BroadcastMoose) February 1, 2020
Do yourself a favour and search ‘March Schelotto’ on Twitter, too. It’s great fun.
The only team to have lost fewer Premier League games than Arsenal this season is Liverpool. That must count for something, right?
What a week. From losing to a second-string West Brom side on Saturday, to releasing club accounts on Tuesday that referred to Premier League survival as “an absolute necessity”, with relegation incurring “serious financial consequences”, to losing to Liverpool on Wednesday and falling into the bottom three after contriving to let a two-goal home lead slip against Brighton on Saturday.
The fun continued into Sunday with a grovelling Sky Sports apology for journalists daring to have an opinion. The irony of that being replaced by Geoff Shreeves seemingly reading verbatim a series of unchallenged club statements was lost on nobody.
For that is now the real West Ham way: to focus all efforts on managing not the club itself, but the public image of the owners.
David Moyes will rue “a couple of really silly mistakes” as it absolves the manager of blame and puts the emphasis on the concentration of the players. But if he genuinely considers that a “good” performance simply “tarnished” by individual errors then it is difficult not to fear for the Hammers.
Two of their goals were deflections. A quarter of their efforts were blocked. Brighton, with one win in nine league games, had almost two-thirds of the possession and seven more shots.
Their second goal was a microcosm of West Ham’s season: no-one taking responsibility led to a collective and catastrophic failure. Aaron Cresswell’s indecision, Arthur Masuaku’s panicked clearance, Angelo Ogbonna’s hesitation and Issa Diop’s unsuitable resolution covered about ten seconds of slapstick defending on which the match turned.
And that is why Moyes cannot feign ignorance. West Ham’s last shot was from Michail Antonio in the 70th minute. Graham Potter brought on Solly March and Ezequiel Schelotto to provide width and energy in the 72nd, Moyes responded with a straight swap of Masuaku for Antonio in the 74th – failing to respond adequately to the opposition’s changes – Pascal Gross made it 3-2 in the 75th and Glenn Murray completed the comeback with the equaliser in the 79th.
The double substitution to bring on Pablo Fornals and Manuel Lanzini came in the 85th minute, the horse having bolted long before then. From the 71st minute to full-time, Brighton had ten shots and 73.1% possession, while West Ham did not create a single chance at home to and 3-1 up against a relegation rival. That is not just down to “a couple of really silly mistakes”. At least not necessarily from the players.
One might assume it was a manager labouring his point, sending a veiled message to the club’s owners to invest. But the reality is that Roy Hodgson simply chose what he considered to be the best of what was available to him after a dreadful January transfer window for Crystal Palace.
The juxtaposition was obvious. In their first game after a winter in which their depleted squad was further weakened, Palace named their oldest-ever Premier League starting line-up. Player of the month Jairo Riedewald was absent, Max Meyer was given a matter of minutes to impress and Vicente Guaita dropped them into precisely the kind of hole he has been rescuing them from all season.
It translates to a run of one win in ten, no goals in two and a drop from sixth in November to 14th by February.
For Hodgson, it is surely the beginning of the end. With a contract that expires in the summer and a possible one-year extension that neither party wishes to contemplate right now, there seems to be no prospect of long-term planning at Palace.
Which is fine, considering the circumstances surrounding his arrival. He was only ever meant to be a stop-gap, the parachute activated in a Frank de Boer-induced panic. That was a short-term measure taken in September 2017 that has lasted through to 2020.
But what comes next? Palace have spent just £26m on signings over Hodgson’s five transfer windows, leaving him with a squad arguably worse than the one he inherited. A club that has relied so heavily on the expertise of a 72-year-old manager and the talents of a 27-year-old forward have placed themselves in a bubble that is liable to burst at any moment.
Something does not quite measure up when, as a manager, you publicly question how you can be “critical” of your players “after this performance”, yet privately keep them in the dressing room for around an hour afterwards.
Read 16 Conclusions for a little more on a manager who will stand at a career crossroads this summer, but consider this: as much as he can be excused for failing to keep this relentless pace with Liverpool, he and City deserve opprobrium for being just two points above Leicester. If Real Madrid knock them out of the Champions League, this might be Guardiola’s worst season as a manager to date.
Do read Seb Stafford-Bloor’s piece; he might slag his colleagues off (he doesn’t), but he’s bloody good.
Also, were Watford the only collective group of people not to watch any of the 2018 World Cup? Their refusal to mark Yerry Mina from set-pieces was basically goading Garth Crooks into parodying himself.
He probably wasn’t ranting about “the f**king basics of football” in the Everton dressing room at Vicarage Road. It was his mistake that contributed to Watford’s second goal, and his sending-off for two naive yellow cards that inspired Everton to convert a 2-2 away draw into a transformative 3-2 victory. The surprisingly imminent return of Andre Gomes might mean Delph is sidelined for more than just the one game.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Let’s presume everyone already knows the folly of: “How many teams break Wolves down? Not many.” It was far from a poor result, but one that generated yet more questions – including with regards to Bruno Fernandes.
They have rather quietly won just one of their last six Premier League games. Two of them have come against Liverpool but, with Europa League football about to increase their workload further, is a small squad being stretched to its limits?
What a glorious tribute to Birmingham it would be for Aston Villa to win the League Cup against much superior opposition while also being relegated. Around 40 minutes with a man advantage on a Bournemouth side that conceded four times against West Ham last month should probably generate more than a single goal.
He has still beaten just one team that started the day above his Chelsea side since being appointed manager. And that win over Norwich in August hardly inspires confidence in a coach’s ability to make a team more than the sum of its parts.
It turns out that making someone the most expensive footballer ever in their position does not automatically equate to them being the best. What worked for Liverpool and Virgil van Dijk has thus far summarily failed for Chelsea and our early loser.