Ralph Hasenhuttl has shown what real Premier League coaching can do. Mason Greenwood has proven how far being a baller gets you.
A good manager raises the standards of a select few players who have already shown obvious ability.
A great manager improves one area of the team through meticulous tactical planning and draws performances out of those less talented.
An excellent manager imprints his entire philosophy on every player regardless of skill level, age and position, enhancing both defence and attack.
A special manager accomplishes all of the above with what he is given rather than what he has signed.
It makes an absolute mockery of the profession of coaching when someone is given a free pass because of the squad they have inherited. An artist should embrace the challenge of creating a masterpiece with crayons and a manager should be no different.
Ralph Hasenhuttl has utilised the transfer market to give himself better tools and materials, but he has never relied heavily upon it. As much of a revelation as Danny Ings has been, as sublime as Che Adams’ winner against Manchester City was and as high as Kyle Walker-Peters showed his ceiling to be (to the frustration of Raheem Sterling), the performances of Jack Stephens, Stuart Armstrong and Jan Bednarek felt more instructive.
These were players discarded or overlooked by different managers, picked up, dusted off and refined by a coach that saw something in them to develop.
Walker-Peters might be the most interesting case, a player ignored and marginalised by Mauricio Pochettino and Jose Mourinho excelling in a position his parent club need to improve. Southampton have shown they can make a feast from scraps; Tottenham are throwing in-date food in the bin.
The north London club will not be the only ones looking enviously at what an actual coach can do instead of pointing fingers of blame in every direction other than at himself. Southampton afforded him time and patience after that Leicester defeat in October but Hasenhuttl earned that trust.
A first league goal since April 2019 from the longest range of any player this season against the recently deposed champions. Well in.
That 200/1 top goalscorer shot is looking good. Just 20 more to go.
Big bully Brendan
Only Liverpool (42) and Wolves (34) have more points against teams in the bottom eight than Leicester (33). Extend that to results versus the entire bottom half and the champions (49) are the only team better than the Foxes (42) at picking on those considerably smaller than them.
When you consider the comparative numbers of Leicester’s Champions League qualification rivals – Chelsea have 26 and 32 points against the bottom eight and bottom half respectively; Manchester United have 20 and 25 – it goes some way to explaining how Brendan Rodgers still has the Foxes in the hunt.
So a comprehensive win over Crystal Palace has Leicester back on track. The bad news? Their final five fixtures include only one against a team lower than tenth. Oh.
Do Manchester United still need Jadon Sancho? Absolutely. Having to fit four excellent forwards into three starting positions is the sort of problem a manager should relish and a level of squad depth every club must strive for. It is far better to have too much than just enough, to promote competition and ensure cover in case of injury or poor form.
But what a bonus Mason Greenwood is. That he has even encouraged that conversation is testament to his ability and his character.
He is a striker who can use both feet effectively and create chances for himself, but the conviction with which he has taken this first-team opportunity is most breathtaking. The mascot-like fawning of Ole Gunnar ‘we are Man United’ Solskjaer should generally be dismissed but he had a point when he said “if you can handle playing for Manchester United then you can handle playing for any team”.
For an 18-year-old to stroll into that side and look so comfortable in those surroundings is quite something. Many players that age are simply grateful for any spare minutes thrown their way; Greenwood is maximising them beyond any reasonable expectation.
“I certainly don’t think it’s a gamble,” said accomplished poker player and club chairman Tony Bloom. “We felt the performance levels the players were capable of were not there and we were struggling to reach the kind of performance levels we needed to not just survive in the Premier League, but to prosper,” added chief executive Paul Barber as criticism mounted of the decision to sack Chris Hughton and appoint Graham Potter in his place.
It was sold by many as Brighton being enticed not by a foreign name, but certainly foreign experience. Hughton only actually started his full-time managerial career a year before Potter, but had spent the entirety of it in England instead of gallivanting across Sweden.
Chris Hughton did a great job getting Brighton up and keeping them up twice.
Graham Potter has done a great job of moving them on.
Tony Bloom did a great job recognising the time was right for change.
— Andy Naylor (@AndyNaylorBHAFC) July 5, 2020
While one guaranteed safety – and surviving with two points more than Cardiff is hardly iron-clad – the other promised the possibility of evolution, progress and growth. Some clubs might aspire to retain top-flight status but Brighton, amid a chorus of ‘be careful what you wish for‘, wanted more.
They have as many points and goals with five games remaining this season as they finished the season with in 2018/19. Safety is assured but with identity and the prospect of more. Many other teams would do well to follow their path.
Their youth will dominate the headlines – and Mason Mount and Christian Pulisic were excellent – but Chelsea’s old guard are carrying them through.
Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva (both 5) were the only players to create more chances at the weekend than Cesar Azpilicueta against Watford (4), and neither combined those efforts with a clean sheet.
Willian might be the one player capable of persuading Roman Abramovich not to discriminate against age.
Olivier Giroud could well start next season ahead of Tammy Abraham in the striker pecking order. Chelsea, smile.
There are so many more words in 16 Conclusions, but how about some praise for your Shkodran Mustafis, your Granit Xhakas, your Sead Kolasinacs, your David Luizs?
Arsenal under Unai Emery and Freddie Ljungberg scored 24 goals and conceded 27 in 18 Premier League games. Mikel Arteta in 16 games has maintained a similar scoring rate (25 scored) but immeasurably strengthened the defence (14 conceded) with the same composite parts at his disposal. That is no mean feat.
That meme of one Spiderman pointing at another Spiderman
Twice over, with the first two having Burnley and Sheffield United badges on their costume and the other two sporting Newcastle and West Ham crests. All four should be content enough with those comparisons.
That is why it is often futile to judge a player solely on goals or assists. Roberto Firmino got neither against Aston Villa but it was his spatial awareness, movement and unselfishness that created Sadio Mane’s opener.
Liverpool have started three Premier League games without the Brazilian this season. They were beating Everton easily when he was introduced in December but the Reds were drawing against both Newcastle in September and Villa on Sunday when he came on to change the game. Divock Origi, it is fair to say, is no substitute for the real thing.
This camera angle
— Liverpool FC (Premier League Champions 🏆) (@LFC) July 6, 2020
The desperation of lukewarm pundits to deliver hot takes can lead to some questionable claims becoming embedded in the wider footballing psyche. Which is to say that some of the sh*te Danny Murphy or Chris Sutton spouts will inevitably stick sometimes.
Murphy described Norwich as the “best bottom of the league team” ever in January. Sutton then called them “brilliant” and “the best ever team who’ve been bottom of the Premier League” in February. And that same month…
Norwich City must be best bottom of the table team in Premier League history.
— John Cross (@johncrossmirror) February 28, 2020
The reality: the Canaries have scored the fewest goals and conceded more than everyone but Aston Villa, losing two-thirds of their games. The Norwich team that was bottom after 33 matches in 2004/05 had more points then than this pretty but poor iteration does now.
A squad with a smattering of genuine talent and a manager just as able was never really properly equipped for this battle. It has been stylish and sanguine but five scoreless games points to a team too good for the Championship but not of the Premier League standard. They are barely going down arguing, never mind fighting.
Crystal Palace fans might not want to admit it but they could well be approaching the same aforementioned crossroads that Brighton have manoeuvred so well. Roy Hodgson encapsulates both sides of that predicament as the safety net who honed his skills in Scandinavia.
He extended his Selhurst Park contract by another year in March but that resolution no longer particularly suits either party. While Palace are not even nearly as close to ruin as once seemed the case, they will be trapped in purgatory for as long as they put off their necessary leap of faith.
Three straight Premier League defeats is no disaster – they suffered that same sequence in both November and January/February before recovering. But a Leicester side in woeful form was barely tested by a Palace team who fielded six players aged 30 or over and only two younger than 27: Jairo Riedewald (23) was the first player to be substituted and Tyrick Mitchell (20) was given eight minutes.
Most alarming is a failure to score in three successive league games. That has not happened since Hodgson’s first matches in charge in September 2017 as Frank de Boer’s replacement. The appointment of the Dutchman has done considerable long-term damage to a club that now refuses to contemplate riding a bike without stabilisers.
Playing so brilliantly for so long created the paradox of someone so many teams wanted but few could afford. How clever to predict a global pandemic that could shatter the industry’s finances, tailoring his performances accordingly to significantly reduce his value.
Wilfried Zaha has created fewer chances than Conor Hourihane, Enda Stevens and Serge Aurier this season. Only once in his last 19 Premier League appearances has he provided more than a single key pass – and Palace lost that game to Sheffield United in February. If the funds are reinvested properly, it might be the time to sell.
The only thing missing was Nathan Redmond wrapping an arm around him, shouting in his face and pushing him in the chest as they walked off the St Mary’s pitch. Pep Guardiola and Manchester City made a resounding statement against Liverpool and followed it up with a whisper against Southampton three days later.
The five games from late December through January – four wins and one draw – is now guaranteed to be City’s longest sequence without defeat this season. They can only match it in their final fixtures. Before this campaign, Guardiola had always gone at least eight league games unbeaten at some point in a season. He had never lost as many as nine matches, nor three in a row away.
Pep Guardiola Tim Sherwood
21 defeats as a
— Duncan Alexander (@oilysailor) July 5, 2020
It is why Liverpool will still start next season as title favourites. Whatever deficiencies the Reds show in their last games can be at least partially explained as an understandable lack of focus. They have earned that right to slow down from an unassailable pace. City have not. The onus is on them to prove they can compete, not on Liverpool to show they will keep going.
Southampton were excellent and this was not a case of City making them look as such. They had all the composure, belief and control their visitors lacked. Having 26 shots is all well and good but 11 were blocked and Saints had only two fewer on target.
Any team would look blunt without their two best attacking players but City should not be so reliant on either Sergio Aguero and Kevin de Bruyne playing to be able to break down diligent defences. There is work to do.
Just pass it next time, mate.
Stop being boring and play more of the kids and fringe players you absolute nerd.
A first home league defeat without scoring since January 2019. It might be boring and predictable but just keep Adama Traore on that bench until the 60-minute mark and be happy with your lot.
Artificial crowd noise
Cheering with a slight delay or this? It’s a no-contest.
"Don't let him turn! Don't let him turn!"
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) July 5, 2020