Premier League winners but mostly high-profile losers

Date published: Monday 8th November 2021 7:17 - Richard Jolly

Dean Smith, David Moyes and Man Utd all feature among Premier League winners and losers.

Premier League winners are topped by David Moyes, but it’s the losers where we will find Manchester United, Alisson and a couple of sacked managers.

 

Winners

The Moyesiah
David Moyes has famously never won at Anfield. Beating Liverpool at the London Stadium, however, was a landmark result, ending a 25-match unbeaten run, leapfrogging them in the table, offering further evidence that West Ham are the best team Moyes has ever assembled and a side with the stature to make a top-four finish very feasible.

Moyes has been accused of showing an inferiority complex in the past but West Ham attacked Liverpool in the second half: they have the belief to complement their quality and they have scored more goals than City. This is a seriously good team. Moyes has got flair players who work – Jarrod Bowen, Pablo Fornals and Said Benrahma – and workhorses who can create. He has got a striker who used to be used at right-back and who torments defences, in Michail Antonio. He has a set-piece expertise forged by attention to detail, excellent delivery and sheer size: West Ham’s 32 goals from dead-ball situations since Moyes’ return is ludicrously good. But perhaps his greatest feat lies in the mood shift. The London Stadium felt like an intimidating place on Sunday. A theatre of discontent has become a stage for Moyes’ remarkable renaissance.

 

Joao Cancelo
The problem with own goals is that even those as spectacular as Eric Bailly’s do not earn anyone an assist; officially, anyway. But whether or not he is credited with it, the reality is that Cancelo has created five goals in Manchester City’s last two games: three against Club Brugge, two in Saturday’s derby. And while it was a sign of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tactical failings that he selected a system that meant the Premier League’s most creative left-back spent the whole of the first half unmarked, the quality of Cancelo’s supply line is extraordinary. On such days, he feels like the most creative footballer in a side packed with playmakers. But for David de Gea’s athleticism, he would have had at least one goal, if not two. Like Trent Alexander-Arnold, Cancelo is redefining the full-back’s role.

 

Guardiola-style midfielders
Nobody collects technical, creative midfielders quite like Pep Guardiola. Arguably a Manchester derby win came with one as City’s most advanced player, Phil Foden on the left wing, and another as the left-back, in Cancelo. Besides the full-back/flair player, the dominant figures at Old Trafford were the quartet who formed a box in the centre of the pitch: Rodri, Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva and Kevin de Bruyne, with the other three rotating ahead of the Spaniard. Manchester United could neither track them nor get the ball off them as it felt they were playing a higher brand of football altogether. There will be matches when City may need a striker but in matches like Saturday, one would appear an unnecessary encumbrance when a multitude of midfielders have the ability to do something more ambitious.

 

Adam Armstrong
The Danny Ings derby took place without the injured Danny Ings and was decided by his replacement. Just Adam Armstrong’s second Premier League goal was a classy one, enabling Southampton to beat Aston Villa. It also underlined why, although Armstrong had gone nine games without scoring since his debut strike at Everton, he was a suitable successor. He has an Ings-like sharpness, enabling him to buzz around in the style of the departed striker and making him a good fit for Ralph Hasenhuttl’s high-energy brand of football. His goal was the sort, opportunistic and inspired, that Ings could have scored, that Armstrong did score for Blackburn and that, with his shoot-on-sight policy, he may well get again.

 

Sean Dyche
Go back a few years and Burnley fans nicknamed the least glamorous of managers ‘the ginger Mourinho’. Dyche has been described as the ginger Tuchel less frequently, but he has now taken points at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea teams managed by Jose Mourinho, Antonio Conte, Maurizio Sarri and Thomas Tuchel. Burnley only have a solitary win this season, but there are signs that Burnley are regaining their reputation as awkward opponents. After limiting Manchester City to two goals, their last three games have brought that victory over Brentford, along with two draws after trailing; their equaliser at Stamford Bridge came from a combination of two of Dyche’s substitutes, Jay Rodriguez and Matej Vydra, and was the first Chelsea had conceded in open play in the Premier League this season. Factor in a touchline row with Tuchel, who branded Burnley lucky and said they stole a point, and Dyche probably relishes the sense he can still irritate his more celebrated peers.

 

Emile Smith Rowe
Goals are not the only measure of a player’s contribution, but the transformation into a scorer can be a sign of a growing stature. Emile Smith Rowe decorated games last season. He is deciding them now. After one goal in his first 26 Premier League matches, he has four in six now. And after Bukayo Saka had a goal disallowed and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missed a penalty, it felt typical that Smith Rowe was Arsenal’s match-winner against Watford.

 

Ben Foster
Experience is not always an advantage, as Danny Rose demonstrated by conceding a penalty in ludicrous fashion at the Emirates Stadium. But if his performance was unhappy evidence of decline, the Premier League’s oldest player this season saved the spot kick; perhaps, after he kept out Gabriel’s header, it was not even Foster’s best save of the first half. A fine late stop from Albert Sambi Lokonga shows his 38 years have not dulled Foster’s reflexes. His heroics were not enough to secure the clean sheet that will make Claudio Ranieri buy his team dinner, but excellence in defeat should still be remembered.

 

Conor Gallagher
Not since Princess Diana has a blond had a bigger impact at the Palace. Though even Diana didn’t get four goals and two assists in 11 games.

Crystal Palace midfielder Conor Gallagher

 

Losers

Manchester United
Poor, outwitted Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was the face of defeat and a reason for it. He is a symptom and a cause, but Saturday was a chastening day for a club that has lost its way over eight years of heavy spending and confused thinking. The last two matches at Old Trafford have highlighted a gulf in class to both Liverpool and Manchester City which is not just a reflection of the brilliance of Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola.

It instead underlines the multitude of problems: the defensive frailties of a side with two clean sheets in 25 games, and none at Old Trafford in 14 matches; the mediocrity of the ‘McFred’ midfield who expect to be out-passed and outclassed; the impotence of an attack who had just four touches in the City box.

Solskjaer’s vision of United is of attackers and entertainers; by a combination of tactics and an inability to halt City, they fielded a flat back five. There was a passiveness, an emptiness to the performance on an awful afternoon for everyone, bar perhaps David de Gea, whether or not they were selected. Eric Bailly’s own goal was comical. Harry Maguire performance was wretched, again. Aaron Wan-Bissaka has regressed. Jadon Sancho and Donny van de Beek, who both must be regretting joining United, were given token appearances after the damage had been done. Cristiano Ronaldo’s homecoming has taken him back to the awful autumn of 2005, not the Champions League glory of 2008.

Meanwhile, the best available manager has just been hired by a club intent on overtaking United. Their powerbrokers invariably flounder when a manager is failing. Now it feels as though they have no idea what to do.

Now go and read 16 Conclusions.

 

Daniel Farke
Perhaps winning was the sackable offence. Norwich stuck with Farke during 20 Premier League games – albeit separated by a 97-point season in the Championship – that yielded just two points. Then they got a first top-flight win in 617 days, had two Premier League goals to celebrate for the first time in 30 matches and Farke was fired. Or, more probably, Norwich thought a final defeat would be a nail in the coffin only to surprise themselves by beating Brentford. But just when it seemed Farke was a winner for once this season, he was still a loser.

He has been an outstanding Championship manager, especially considering how unexpected the first of his two promotions was, but a poor Premier League one. There are mitigating circumstances in the slender budget he had during his first tilt at the top flight, when Norwich’s biggest buy that season was the £750,000 Sam Byram, and given the difference in resources, perhaps any statistics would have looked unflattering. But Farke has the lowest win percentage of any Premier League manager to take charge of at least 43 games, at just 12.2; that 101 goals were conceded in his 49 games suggested he was never able to construct a resilient enough defence. The opening 10 matches of this season, producing just two points and two goals, did represent underachievement. There have been strange selections and a failure to get much from the raft of new signings; the irony is that Mathias Normann, one of them, scored a terrific goal in beating Brentford, whose prowess in the Premier League had felt like an indictment of Farke. Evidently, however, the belated win came too late.

Norwich have been accused of being too nice, of being too accepting of life as a yo-yo club. There was a theory they would stick with Farke as their best chance of promotion next season. His dismissal means director of football Stuart Webber has displayed more ruthlessness off the field than Farke’s Norwich have on it this season.

 

Dean Smith
‘No one will ever compare,’ tweeted Jack Grealish. ‘The real goat.’ The managerial obituaries may contain the theory that Grealish finished off Smith; the Aston Villa supporters who were captain and manager as they went from the lower half of the Championship to 11th in the Premier League, via a Carabao Cup final, represented a throwback story. But then they were separated, and the proceeds of Grealish’s £100million sale formed part of the case against Smith as he struggled to find a winning formula after Danny Ings, Leon Bailey and Emi Buendia arrived. So, too, did a run of five successive defeats. Perhaps the turning point was the freakish loss to Wolves, when a 2-0 advantage suddenly became a 3-2 deficit; maybe the most damning part was the dreadful first half at Arsenal. But it is only a few weeks since Villa won at Old Trafford. It was one of many highs in a reign that brought a 7-2 thrashing of Liverpool, three consecutive wins over Arsenal and a Wembley promotion. There have been five managerial sackings in the Premier League this season: it is not merely Smith’s essential decency that means his feels the harshest.

 

Anwar El Ghazi
When Smith’s position was imperilled, he needed players to perform for him. Instead, El Ghazi’s first half at Southampton verged on the disgraceful. Cautioned in the 11th minute, he then committed a still more obvious, and rather needless, bookable offence on Tino Livramento, was reprieved by referee Andy Madley and went on to dive blatantly in the Southampton box.

 

Alisson
Sometimes even very good goalkeepers have very bad days and when they do, they tend to be costly. Alisson got a hat-trick of sorts at West Ham: each of their three goals reflected poorly on him. Perhaps he should have stopped Pablo Fornals’ shot. He was still more culpable for the first the Spaniard claimed, but which was debited to the Brazilian, when he flapped at a corner, diverted it into his net and claimed he was fouled. He wasn’t, and a lack of conviction at corners was apparent again when Kurt Zouma headed in West Ham’s third. It is rare a commanding presence feels so ineffectual and if Alisson rarely seems to have a weakness at set-pieces, West Ham deserve credit for the way they crowded him, unsettled him and induced errors.

 

Tottenham’s attack
Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son proved a record-breaking double act last season. Now the facts are less flattering: for the first time since such data was collected, Tottenham have failed to register a shot on target in consecutive Premier League games. Giovani Lo Celso, who hit the Everton post with a sweet strike, can be spared some of the blame but if it reflects badly on the sacked Nuno Espirito Santo, it hardly casts Spurs’ attack-minded players in a good light when they did not work a goalkeeper under his successor. And perhaps the sterility displayed on Antonio Conte’s Premier League bow will encourage him to break up Oliver Skipp and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and bring in someone more creative: possibly even Lo Celso.

 

Brighton’s draw specialists
Brighton don’t so much live by the draw and die by the draw as pootle along by the draw. Sometimes that is admirable; last week at Anfield, in particular. But at others, it shows the enduring lack of ruthlessness that makes it hard to judge just how good a manager Graham Potter is, despite his high-profile fans. Brighton have not won in six league games. Two draws include an inability to beat Norwich and Newcastle, losing a lead and losing their way on Saturday. It suggests Albion’s winning start was the anomaly and now they have reverted to their norm.

 

Brentford
It was unrealistic to expect Brentford to maintain the stunning form they showed in the first two months of the season, but if a comedown after the high was probable, it has been deflating. Brentford only lost once before the October international break; they have lost all four since then. Defeats to Burnley and Norwich on successive Saturdays feel particularly damning and potentially damaging. Their excellent start came with an 11 that rarely changed; now injuries have disrupted them and Thomas Frank’s squad already feels a little stretched.

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