EPL GW12 Review; On the First Day of Christmas, My Chairmen Said to Me…

Tis the season to be folly, Chairmen are on the verge of delivering their final votes of confidence, and the critical Christmas period could finally see time called on one of our Premier League Managers.

A quick turnaround in fixtures could also see the annual merry go round kick-off as we approach the festive period, and chaos of Christmas football. Thus far, we have survived zero managerial casualties in the top flight – not a huge surprise given the Covid change in circumstances for all – but that generosity of chairmen is not infinite, and it would be the biggest surprise in Premier League history to see us go the whole season without the guillotine falling on someone.

This weekend’s results saw pressure continue to mount on Chris Wilder, who despite his heroic and legendary status within Sheffield, cannot genuinely foresee keeping his position at the helm given the severe lack of form and points on the board. It would be one thing to remain loyal to Wilder in a close relegation battle, but another to give him the opportunity of salvation considering they’re on course for a record low points score in history. A 3-0 defeat at St. Mary’s is not a sackable offence in isolation, but the truth is they only have one point from 12 games and that is unacceptable. Change is coming.

Pressure is also increasing on Mikel Arteta, with Arsenal probably the second most disappointing team of the season, struggling for results, performances, goals – it’s hard to believe they have anything more to offer looking around their personnel and body language. It’s a mighty fall from grace given the FA Cup and Community Shield trophies noted on his CV just this year, but Arsenal cannot afford to be patient. They’ve made no secret of their financial difficulties and should they not reach European competition for next season, they will have bigger problems than just who to hire in the hot seat. People WANT to believe in Arteta, but this is a results business, and when your Captain is sent off for violent conduct and you go on to lose at home to a side in the bottom 3, results are not going in your favour.

Bilic and Solskjaer are not winning their fans and chairmen over neither, although are nowhere near as perilous in their positions as Arteta and Wilder. United’s fall out of the Champions League was further compounded with a tough draw against La Liga leaders Real Sociedad – revolutionised by the arrival of David Silva in the summer. A home draw to Man City can be seen as a positive result, but it was another lacklustre performance – at home, in the derby, what does it take to get going again? Bilic wasn’t expected to keep West Brom in the Premier League this season, and will feel unfairly treated should he lose his job, but it’s that time of year and that low in the table that sentiment goes out of the window and panic sets in. I would like to believe that Bilic will remain in the role for a much longer opportunity to prove they’re not one of the worst 3 sides in the division, but it’s unlikely anyone will be able to make that happen. If they do, it’s likely Graham Potter’s Brighton will be sucked in and we’ll be hearing votes of confidence echoing from the south coast.

So as one weekend comes to a close, and a midweek schedule opens, let’s look back at the most significant moments to grab our attention.

Match of the Weekend: Leeds 1 West Ham 2

Leeds have again delivered a fantastic to watch, end to end football match that provided entertainment right to the last… and again have come away from the game empty handed. West Ham have again delivered a strong performance, run their legs off for the cause, and come out victorious through effective set-pieces. Bielsa gets all the plaudits for bringing this high octane football to England, but results are not yet going in his favour and it’s our old British grit of grinding out results that is working out for Moyes’ Hammers. Perhaps we will soon see a bit more positivity from Hammers fans and the media as to the wonderful job Moyes is doing. With Masuaka out with injury, West Ham changed their formation and still came out victorious. With Antonio returning soon, West Ham will continue to get results and pick up vital points.

Result of the Weekend: Fulham 1 Liverpool 1

More than just the result, if anything, this result flattered Liverpool. Fulham were excellent once again, led in particular by Ademola Lookman who has been a revelation in the Premier League this season with the confidence placed in him. Fulham will be gutted to not have been two or three up in the first half, and to have lost control of the game due to a sloppy penalty incident. With Spurs drawing at Palace, Liverpool failed to take advantage and make top spot their own – a frailty not seen in Klopp’s Liverpool for over two years. Could their recent away form cost them the Premier League title? It’s been noted across fans and media that Liverpool are the strongest side in the land and its their title to lose, but with no wins in 5 away games it could be that teams have the right plans to nullify their brilliance.

Fulham are going in the right direction with their performances, but still have a long way to go to be confident of coming through their relegation battle. The form of Sheff United makes their lives a little easier, but there’s plenty more points to fight for, and they will have to work harder to dominate games on the front foot rather than counter-attacking the big sides too.

Man of the Weekend: Emiliano Martinez

How could things get worse for Arsenal right now? Their form is miserable. They can’t score for toffee. Their Captain is sent off for violent conduct. Their star striker broke his goal drought… by scoring an own goal… oh and the best player of the weekend is their former goalkeeper who is helping Aston Villa become the best team in the League – beginning with ‘A’.

Martinez was superb in keeping the Wolves side out, re-enforcing their need for the missing Jimenez. He did everything possible to keep Aston Villa in the game whilst Wolves created all the play – the perfect performance to enable your side to steal the 3 points when not at the races – which is exactly what happened when Villa won the last minute penalty in the derby.

Few words have been used to express the value Martinez has brought to Villa, whilst Grealish, Watkins and Barkley have got all of the attention but this was a game to have renewed belief in backs against the wall victories for Villa.

In Form: Southampton

Again, and again, and again… Southampton are picking up points on a regular basis, with goals from all over their line-up, and defensive discipline ensuring clean sheets at the other end. Could they be the real deal? Probably not, but… if a solid defence, creative midfields and a goalscoring machine are all it takes – they bloody have it in buckets. Except of course that day that got humiliated by Heung-min Son… but having recovered from that, they got themselves to 3rd this weekend and face the worst Arsenal side for 80 years in midweek.

Out of Form: Wolves

It’s finally time to talk about Wolves, and their difficulties during this transition season. Having lost Doherty and Jota, two key players last season – they have also suffered injuries to key players, most notably losing Jimenez to a fractured skull. The new signings are yet to settle, and Adama Traore has been in and out of the team, not looking like his former self, not creating the opportunities that they were thriving on last season. Since a win against Palace, they have lost games to Villa, Liverpool and Leicester without scoring, obtained a point against Southampton in a 1-1 draw and beat the useless Arsenal. Their next fixture at home to Chelsea is an opportunity to renew some energy and drive but Chelsea will not make it easy. Has their momentum ended since their promotion season? It’s difficult to maintain such energy and motivation over such a prolonged period, and given their high energy brand of football – perhaps those players are just not capable of delivering it anymore as we saw with Poch’s Spurs after 4 years. Nuno Espirito Santo is too highly respected a coach to just disappear into the sunset, but they’re unlikely to achieve the success of their recent years.

By Stephen Lee

EPL GW12 Preview: Big Games Everywhere but Not a Pint to Drink

Fans continue to return to stadiums but the rest of us must remain seated on our sofas at all times, there’s no room for a Super Sunday Sesh just yet.

On face value, all Premier League weekends are just as exciting as any other – same 20 teams – same number of points available – yet sometimes the algorithms at work and the status of play can add unexpected drama to each fixture through Friday Night to Sunday Night – and this week has the added excitement that it begins all over again on Tuesday Night with domestic midweek football. There will barely be time to review what’s happened before we’re on to the next defeat – right Arsenal?

Whether its Leeds vs West Ham, the most exciting Manager in the Premier League vs… I’ve said enough about Moyes recently, you know where this is going. The Midland Derby of Wolves vs Villa, the Manchester Derby, Master vs Maestro in Ancelotti’s Everton hosting Lampard’s Chelsea, the Stars in Stripes of Southampton vs Sheff Utd, a London Derby of Palace and Spurs, Liverpool coming unstuck against Fulham, Arsenal and Burnley’s 0-0 thriller, and I left out Newcastle vs West Brom and Leicester vs Brighton – inevitably both games going on to be the best of the lot. There’s so much on offer this weekend, you’d be a fool to miss it.

Match of the Weekend: Leeds vs West Ham (Everton vs Chelsea)

Why settle for one game, when you can have two? It must be an insane year when we’re predicting West Ham matches in back-to-back weekends as the ones to watch, but again it’s with the belief that Moyes has built a new army of soldiers ready to go to battle in his name – solid, robust, structured, rigid and inflexible. It’s not always pretty, but it can be effective. Leeds are the hardest working team in the league, and West Ham will be up for chasing them around the park. The difference will occur in those moments of magic, that Jared Bowen looked to deliver on a number of occasions in the previous outing against Man Utd, and Leeds have spread across their front line and midfield. Phillips is unlikely to unlock holes in the West Ham backline, so it’s more likely to be low crosses and shots from the edge of the box, both of which Leeds are capable of delivering to the back of the net. As it’s Leeds, expect another downpour of rain and mistake from Fabianski.

As a side note to this, Everton vs Chelsea has all the hallmarks of a Premier League Classic. Both sides have been in impressive form with the ball, both are developing a solid defensive shape to increase their run of points. Chelsea know the focus is on the league now Europe has ended for the winter and this will be a test of their ability to actually break down teams and dominate matches, not just exploiting spaces and set-pieces. I feel it will be a low scoring affair unless an early goal / red card sets everything off. A tussle I have a lot of interest in watching is Calvert-Lewin versus Thiago Silva. This is a chance to really show how far the young forward has come.

Man of the Weekend: Sadio Mane

It could have been any of the Liverpool attacking quartet, it really depends on their individual focus and the team line-up, but Liverpool are gunning to prove they’re the best team in the country and their feeling of being victimised is galvanising their already outstanding quality into militant discipline to get the job done. Mo Salah is in great form, Diego Jota rested, a little pressure taken off Firmino… so therefore it must be the turn of Sadio Mane to be getting headlines. Fulham are performing better, they were set up well to break Leicester on the counter – and they did themselves enough pride in the 2-0 defeat at The Etihad. Liverpool will be ruthless in ensuring they beat that 2 goal margin, and they’re enjoying a mini-revival in defensive performances.

Klopp has seen too many VAR decisions go against them, and will want to put this to bed early to focus on welcoming Spurs to Anfield on Wednesday.

Tipped Treble:
@Man Utd Away Win
@Palace 1st Half Under 1.5 Goals
@Fulham Away Win by 2+ Goals

It doesn’t take a brave man to back Man City to win at Old Trafford, I’m sure even Gary Neville’s money would be firmly on the blue half of Manchester right now, but it’s not as clear cut as everyone makes out. United are god awful poor, but they still possess individual quality that is seeing them through to their undeserved Top 6 position. That individual quality can come from about a dozen different places, so tactics and form become irrelevant and if the other team has any question marks at the back… like a Pep Man City… that being said, City are coming good just at the right time to make a climb up the ladder. Defensively they’re far more sound, and whilst not firing on all cylinders, the return of Sergio Aguero to the ranks will deliver more goals. The body language at Old Trafford, and their home form in particular, tells me United could be in serious trouble this weekend.

Spurs have shown a doggedly defensive side to themselves more recently, more the Jose we were expecting when he signed over a year ago. The fans have not turned on the club for such performances, they’re ecstatic – beating City and Arsenal to stay top of the table is a Christmas miracle and it doesn’t matter how they got there. Whilst Spurs have been getting early goals on the counter attack, Crystal Palace are unlikely to press forward exposing themselves as City and Arsenal had, therefore we’re likely to see an even more closed game and less first half goals. Palace will fancy breaking on Spurs themselves, and whilst they have pace up top, Spurs will fancy Reguillon and Aurier to do a job on Zaha and Eze.

Finally it’s back to the Cottage where I double down on Liverpool’s run with them to win by 2 or more goals. In my mind I see this as a clean sheet but Fulham are building confidence, and Liverpool are due an error. However I definitely know Klopp will not want to hang around in this one with Spurs to come, so early goals and lots of them.

By Stephen Lee

EPL GW11 Review: Four-midable Champions; Four-ging a Dynasty

Liverpool closed a pulsating weekend of football with a stunning demolition of one of the League’s best defences to prove they’re rightly still favourites to win the Premier League.

When Jurgen Klopp isn’t taking to his lectern and delivering Nuremburg-esque speeches about our abandonment of player welfare, the unfairness of early kick-offs, and raising his troops against what is unfounded evidence of a permanent conspiracy about Liverpool (come on admit it, he looks like someone with film reels of the JFK assassination, press cuttings of that Pentagon missile from 9/11 and a blog subscription to ‘How Gerry McCann Got Away With It), he is clearly still spending quality time on the training field – not just with his Stars – not just with his starting line-up – but the entire Liverpool playing staff because the whole organisation is singing beautifully from the same song sheet – this time against Wolves, seemingly irrelevant to his starting XI, Liverpool rock and rolled for 90 minutes with another clean sheet for the unheard of goalkeeper, inexperienced defence, and the usual mob up top banging in the goals. As with the moon landing, the answer is staring us straight in the face but we just don’t want to admit it… Liverpool are so far ahead of everyone, there’s absolutely no chance of anyone actually getting there… right Conspiracist Klopp?

Match of the Weekend: West Ham 1 Man Utd 3

Pre-game David Moyes had earned himself a lot of column inches having raised West Ham to 5th in the table and hosting a United side that Hammers fans held genuine belief they could / should be taking points from.

Post-game, David Moyes has reminded everyone that there is a stubborn rigidity to his sides and whilst they can be difficult to beat and create chances – they’re predictable, and do not adapt quickly to change. Also, ultimately, they’re West Ham, and do not have hundreds of millions of pounds worth of talent to change a game when it’s not going your way. With David Moyes, you know what you are getting and the limitations of that expression. Whilst they did create chances, and Jared Bowen was excellent in tying up Telles left, right and centre, they’re not dynamic and consistent enough in the final third. What they would give to replace Bowen-Fornals-Haller with Greenwood-Martial-Cavani. If he can maintain a mid-table position for a few years, West Ham fans will be happy – and they can then attempt to build from that base as they have failed previously. Until then… nights like Saturday will come and go, offering Hammers false optimism of taking the lead against the big teams, but not able to see it out often enough to actually give a damn about chasing Europe etc.

As mentioned pre-game about Ole’s United – they’re disjointed – completely unrecognisable as a football side – yet they’re again in the chase for the Top 4 and primed for Champions League knockout football. It left Gary Neville bewildered, in the space of 5 minutes he was angry and passionate about how poor United were, to then laughing about being 2 points off the top of the table. He even suggested early on, the best thing United could do was whack the ball into their own net because somehow it’s the only way they start playing. The other notable change in their tempo was the arrival of Bruno Fernandes at half-time. Without him, United are lost children waiting to be picked off. With him, they’re energetic children on a sugar rush, chasing down everything, running onto everything, and unleashing shots on goal with confidence everything they touch is going to rocket into the back of the net. This bunch of children need something more than a slightly older child babysitting them, but actual leadership and control. Surely Ole’s time is numbered, even if he wins some kind of trophy, this football is not sustainable physically, mentally or financially.

Oh… the Match of the Weekend obviously also came with a new VAR controversy as only the best league in the world can deliver… did Henderson’s clearance leave the field of play before being converted by Fernandes and Pogba? Well… probably. Next season we should have line judges to ensure this doe… linesmen? Nah, they’re a thing of the past. You must mean Referee’s Assistant? Yeah. Can’t be expecting them to just look down the line they run up and down all day and make decisions…

Result of the Weekend: Liverpool 4 Wolves 0

“I think one more week we are top of the League, unless Liverpool win by many – and against Wolves, they don’t win by many” Mourinho post-Arsenal match interview

Gauntlet set. Mourinho wasn’t exactly wrong, Liverpool needed another 5 goals to actually reach the Premier League summit, but the sentiment remains the same. In what is widely regarded as a difficult fixture at home to Wolves – one Mourinho himself lost last season – Liverpool stepped up and dispatched them comfortably 4-0 to re-affirm their position as the best team in the country. It’s been a quiet period for waxing lyrical about Liverpool, the attention for them has been elsewhere on injuries, fixtures and the victim syndrome they have. In this recent time, pundits have focussed on Spurs and Chelsea and the excellent form they’re in. Yesterday, Liverpool set out to steal back the narrative. Their first fixture as Champions with fans in the Kop, this was party time – to celebrate being Champions, to ignite the fuse on becoming Champions again.

They didn’t just win, they put Wolves to the sword. Their weakened team taking to the field, rotation in place up front, the old familiar routine returned. Salah, goal and assist. Big win, clean sheet. The gegenpress putting new England Centre-back Conor Coady under so much pressure that following his error leading to the first goal, he then inextricably dived to win a penalty – a penalty given until VAR correctly overturned it.

If you’re not a fan of Liverpool, or furthermore despise them as most fans from the 80s do… the remainder of the season does not look good. Sky will be absolutely fuming that the big top of the table clash next midweek between Liverpool and Spurs is on Amazon Prime – and the rest of us should be rightly concerned about the bandwidth required for the millions of fans across the globe trying to watch every moment of what could be considered to be a title winning decider down the road. Book it in – Wednesday 16th December at 8pm.

In Form: Normality

No side in the bottom half of the Premier League table picked up a win this weekend, with 11th placed Palace’s 5-1 demolition the closest. Normality is resuming. This can be skewed by which fixtures are occurring, but the league table is also offering signs that the unpredictable results, scorelines, performances, etc are fading out of this season. Also, we’re getting a sense of what is a mad result anyhow, as teams like Arsenal and Sheffield United just show their true colours for being poor sides.

City, United, Chelsea, Leicester, Spurs, Liverpool all won their fixtures and that routine will follow as closely as it can through the winter and into Spring whilst European football takes a backseat. Midweek games will remain as the League continues to fit into its tight schedule, but this will be more unfamiliar to those teams not in Europe and struggling to find form and consistency anyhow.

Big 6 consistency is a gambler’s paradise.

Out of Form: Arsenal / Aubameyang / Arteta

“I want to give words, congratulations to Mikel Arteta because he gave us a very difficult game. Tactically they are very good, very organised. They gave us problems, problems we were able to resolve. They have a good tactical courage and incredible spirt. They are a good team and he is a good coach.” Jose Mourinho, post-Arsenal interview.

A cheap dig, or genuine praise? Either way the Spurs faithful were loving Jose’s praise of Mikel Arteta and his evolution of football at Arsenal. At the start of the season, Arteta’s Arsenal had arrived as FA Cup Winners, knocking out City and Chelsea at Wembley. Then, Community Shield Winners defeating Liverpool. They started with 100% record after 3 games, and everything was rosy in the Garden of Emirates. Then…

Furloughed staff, redundant mascots, Ozil’s exile… Aubameyang’s contract… Aubameyang’s one goal from open play all season… Arsenal’s one win and six defeats in 8 league games…

Wheels truly off – Arsenal Fan TV are already retailing ‘Arteta Out’ t-shirts for £22.

Given that Sheffield United have one point from 11 games, Arsenal have to be pretty disappointing this season for the focus to be on them – and focus it is, particularly when the other half of North London are having their best season for 40 years, Arsenal themselves have not had a worse start to a league campaign since 1981.

Their reliance on Aubameyang to get them out of trouble is trouble itself. His goals last season propelled Arsenal into a false position – and that was only 8th. With his drought coming at a time of transitional development for players such as Saka, Pepe, Martinelli, Willock and others, Arsenal look completely lost in the final third and are more hopeful of clear cut chances than expectant. Sunday was a return to Arsene’s worst periods, when they would repeatedly pass the ball to each other on the edge of the opposition box without ever being clinical with their opportunities. This period happened to be whilst Arteta played under Wenger. This Arsenal form is cyclical.

Roy Keane joked last weekend after the Leeds game that they would have enough to stay up, mocking the fall from grace Arsenal find themselves in – but this week that seems like an even more legitimate point of conversation. Arsenal are not just 15th in the league, but they have also played 3 of the 5 teams below them and you can rightly question where their next points are coming from.

I do believe there will be 3 worse teams than them this season, but on form that is already debateable.

EPL GW11 Preview: Revenge of the 5th or The Empire Strikes Back?

David Moyes will permanently have a score to settle with the Old Trafford hierarchy, his 5th placed Hammers hosting the fallen empire of Solskjaer’s 9th placed United.

This weekend’s fixtures offer a delight in varying narratives, with Man City set to repeat their spectacular return to winning in style at home to Fulham with the backdrop of not being permitted to host fans in the ground. The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium hosting 2,000 fans for the biggest game of their season welcoming Arsenal to the first North London Derby in over 50 years with Spurs top of the table. West Ham’s quiet rise to 5th will be put to the test as they host the fireworks of Man United, with David Moyes once again set out to prove his former employers wrong. Our first fixture casualty of the season has occurred with Newcastle and Villa being postponed due to a Covid-19 “outbreak” at St. James’ Park, disappointing fans of Friday Night Anti-climaxes… then there’s the rest of the league that will be fun-packed with VAR, questionable penalties, unsung heroes and the widespread title race. Oh don’t you just love the Premier League!

Match of the Weekend: West Ham vs Man Utd

Of course, the standout game of the weekend feels like it should be Spurs vs Arsenal. It’s the North London derby, Spurs are top of the league, and it’s never felt more important to them – but the truth is Arsenal are below par, below what is an average standard for a Premier League side, therefore taking history aside this game just looks like a one sided home banker and not a heated competitive fixture.

There will be far more bang for your buck at The Olympic Stadium this weekend! That’s not often said, but both West Ham and Man United will enter this game with the belief they will be taking all 3 points. Moyes’ West Ham have slipped up the table under the radar, causing some upsets along the way, but generally just being a David Moyes team. Now with 5 at the back, Rice and Soucek in midfield, they’re stubbornly difficult. This has enabled players such as Bowen to become more effective motoring forwards and earning them points, back to back wins over Sheff Utd and Aston Villa have them in nose bleed territory. Meanwhile United’s embarrassment of riches are also a bit of an embarrassment on the field. Solskjaer still shows no real identity in his line-up, no obvious plan to the growth of the side, but any line-up he puts out is capable of getting him out of trouble – as Cavani perfectly demonstrated last weekend with his super sub performance evoking nostalgic memories of Solskjaer in his prime.

This game might take time to get going, but once the bubbles settle, the speed will continuously increase. I see both sides scoring, but ultimately you can’t back against United given their wealth of extraordinary talent.

Man of the Weekend: Harry Kane

Harry Kane is the comic book Tottenham hero, the Roy of the Rovers legend that happens to be ‘one of their own’, breaching every known defence – he’s scored against each Premier League opposition he’s faced – England’s captain, the best strike rate in England since the original gangster Alan Shearer – and to top it all for Spurs fans, he has an impeccable record against North London rivals Arsenal with 10 goals in 11 games. Each image above is his celebration of a North London derby goal. Not only does he regularly score, but he also scores screamers.

He loves the rivalry, even engaging in competitive banter with Sith Lord Piers Morgan, once comically winning a wager that resulted in the Arsenal fan appearing on TV show with a Spurs shirt on.

This weekend, despite the underwhelming form that Arsenal will bring to the new White Hart Lane, Kane will be ready to renew the war, particularly enjoying it not just from above Arsenal but at the summit of the table.

Tipped Treble:
@Chelsea Home Win with Clean Sheet 2/1
@West Brom 1st Half Under 1.5 Goals 1/3
@Spurs Home Win EVENS

Chelsea are relentlessly continuing their fine form, more wins, more clean sheets… the hype and excitement around them and their fans is completely justified and we’re waiting for them to be ‘seriously tested’. Spurs didn’t really go at them, and their Champions League group has been competitive but lacking a Bayern or alternative super power to know how far they have really come. Leeds will definitely cause them problems if only the extra distance that Bielsa’s Leeds force teams into running to keep up. The liklihood of stealing a result from Stamford Bridge is low, particularly the recent form of Bamford and friends in front of goal.

West Brom vs Palace is the kind of fixture that will saturate the televised football market. Not all games need to be on all the time… if you do sit around watching them all… it will get tiresome eventually… it also makes you need to watch them all in case of missing out on any one game being the next Premier League classic. But… I won’t be sitting down for this one – even with Zaha back for Palace. If it does get exciting, it will be in the second half.

Finally, the writing does appear to be on the wall. I appreciate that form is temporary, class is permanent. I also appreciate that the form book goes out the window for any big derby. Let’s see what unfolds at Spurs this weekend, but EVEN money is too good to turn down for the top team in the country versus an Arsenal side with only one league win and one goal in open play since October 4th.

EPL GW10 Review: Are Liverpool being Muscled Out?

Injuries, injuries, injuries… and yet… no-one else seems to be suffering as severely. Perhaps the Gegenpress is not conducive to lockdown football.

“The biggest risk to Jurgen Klopp winning the league again this season is another big injury or two. So, he wants to try and gain that advantage to put some psychological thing into people’s minds. Sir Alex Ferguson did it for 15 or 16 years.” Gary Neville, MNF 01.12.20

Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher again put on a show during Monday Night Football on Sky Sports, fiercely debating Jurgen Klopp, VAR and other points. The particular highlight was the disagreement between them regarding the number of injuries being racked up by Liverpool and Klopp’s persistent arguments that it’s everyone else’s fault but his. Surprisingly, Neville was willing to make the statement that Liverpool will win this league with a canter, if they were not to pick up these injuries. It’s how I feel too. Liverpool look like the strongest team in the league by some distance, have experience of winning, and critically have improved their squad from last season with an on-fire Jota. The biggest challenge to their season is the increasing injury list, and Klopp is making a fanfare of it. Neville senses the similarities between Klopp and Ferguson, who also maintained a squad who should walk the league, knowing only injuries were to impact on their success. The answer, find as many ways to prevent those injuries without taking your foot off the gas. Fergie’s United squad was much more impressive on the whole, and allowed more rotation. Klopp on the other hand is struggling to rotate key individuals, such as Robertson and Alexander-Arnold. For anyone that missed MNF, or generally do not take the time to watch Carra and G. Nev battle it out, start trying to find the time for it. Even if it is a little Liverpool / United biased…

In other news, Feudball’s Preview promoted Match of the Weekend Everton vs Leeds set a new season record for shots in a game. You’re welcome. I mean, I had predicted GOALS GOALS GOALS – and they gave it their all. It’s astonishing that match finished with just the one goal considering the 38 shots on goal – 14 on target.

Equally, the Stalemate of the Bridge played out entirely as expected. Neither team needed to risk defeat in victory and it was hugely apparent as even the ardent fan must have struggled to see the match out. Chelsea edged the game, but it will be Mourinho that left Stamford Bridge the happier – even if he claimed his dressing room was unhappy with just the point.

Finally, we had predicted Nick Pope as Man of the Weekend and what a standout prediction. It turns out… without him Burnley got battered at The Etihad 5-0 for the 4th consecutive season. It was an ambitious shout out to the Burnley #1, especially as he didn’t take to the pitch – but imagine what it could have been if he had played! So… let’s look at what did happen elsewhere.

Match of the Weekend: Southampton 2 Manchester United 3

If like the rest of society you are obsessed with nostalgia, this was the place to find it. Southampton, the bogie team of 90s United, startled the inconsistent Red Devils taking a two goal first half lead. James Ward Prowse, scoring another sublime free-kick, had Beckham comparisons being made all over the internet. Changing goalkeepers at half-time… a thing of the past, but ironically a thing for the future – Dean Henderson’s Man Utd Premier League debut. A lucky United comeback… a centre-forward in the mould of Mark Hughes throwing himself without thought for his own welfare to score the winner… in FERGIE TIME. The best thing about this nostalgic visit, no VAR headlines. All blood and glory left on the pitch. Southampton players, staff and fans could feel rightly hard done by and gutted by the result, but I have a lot of time for Manager Ralph Hussenthal’s comments after the game.

“We hear them celebrating in their dressing room… You know what you have done and how tough you have been because they were celebrating like they had won the Premier League here”. Southampton are not Manchester United, but they should take huge pride in their achievements this season, and all celebrate how far they have come since that 9-0 home Leicester defeat. Also remember they are still without their best player Danny Ings.

Result of the Weekend: Leicester 1 Fulham 2

They can do it! They’re here to stay! We hope…

Fulham set out to out-Leicester Leicester on Monday Night Football and boy did they do it well. It took about 5 minutes for me to consider backing Leicester to win as a mistake. Fulham’s ‘front-three’ looked sharper, harder, faster than the Leicester defence on each counter-attack and it was only a matter of time until the breakthrough occurred. The difficulty from there was in keeping them out at the other end and Fulham held their structure and their nerve through to the 95th minute to take their first away win of the season.

They even scored a penalty! Amazing. Now Scott Parker must make sure this isn’t a one-off, and they can use this to carry momentum into their upcoming fixtures – with Man City away next, it’s important not to lose faith and morale in defeat. But… if they could do it to Leicester, why shouldn’t they back themselves to steal another 3 points?

In Form: Chelsea Defence

Chelsea and Spurs are theoretically the best defences in the Premier League this season, it was no real surprise to see them see out a goalless draw. Lampard has really turned round the fortunes of the Chelsea backline since… well let’s be fair it’s since Mendy arrived to play in goal. But it’s not entirely down to his signing (anyone replacing Kepa was going to bring a confidence boost) as Thiago Silva and Ben Chilwell are also successful new purchases this season and Reece James has made the right back position his own. They held Kane and Son at arm’s length, restricting Spurs to barely leaving the bus station.

Chelsea will have greater challenges ahead, but there is belief that this stubborn defence will create the base for winning trophies.

Out of Form: Sheffield United

Last season, Chris Wilder and Sheffield United were winning games, fans, friends, plaudits… they were the Hen laying the golden egg. Everyone wanted to be them, understand how they made it work with overlapping centre-backs etc.

This season, it just isn’t happening. They can argue they have been unlucky in games, they have had close games regularly, but they’re just not clicking and they’re falling too far from safety. One point from 10 league games is relegation form. Wilder remains well spoken, calm and logical about things. They don’t need to set the world alight, they just need to make sure there’s 3 teams below them when the season ends. Can they achieve that? Of course – but it will require them getting wins on the board soon, and regularly.

Klopp Strop is Height of Double Standards on Player Welfare

Whilst Managers repeatedly blame broadcasters, what are they really doing for the mental and physical welfare of their own? And where should the fingers of responsibility really be pointed?

Following his incendiary interview with Sky last week, Jurgen Klopp has followed up with both barrels to Des Kelly, the BT Pitchside journalist in his postgame interview. Klopp had been further incensed by more injuries to his squad, but also a number of disallowed goals and giving away a last minute penalty in a damaging 1-1 draw at Brighton. With emotions high and tension rising, Klopp snapped at Kelly, congratulating him for causing Milner’s injury.

Klopp: Yeah, congratulations.
Kelly: Me, personally?
Klopp: No, but you work for them yeah? Hamstring. Surprise.

Jurgen Klopp has most definitely marked his line in the sand and he’s building a scouse army to follow him – WAR ON BROADCASTERS. Unfortunately for Klopp, Kelly wasn’t taking any shit – and rightly so.

Kelly: Maybe you’re firing at the wrong target. We are broadcasters, we work within Premier League rules, and Premier League makes the rules, that’s the Premier League clubs, so shouldn’t you be talking to Premier League clubs? Shouldn’t you be talking to chief executives.

The thing is… Klopp has absolutely no ground to stand on. Kelly went on to re-iterate this is a Premier League issue, voted on by the Premier League Chairmen, and Klopp’s protests should be with them. If Mourinho was acting the way Klopp was, we would be slamming him with contempt of the game and rightly calling him out for the childish petulance on display.

This is the second wave of controversy for broadcasters this season, having had the finger incorrectly pointed at them for the Pay-Per-View debacle when again – they were acting on the instructions of the Premier League. Now that PPV is out of the way, the middle finger is being pointed at Sky and BT – with most velocity by Klopp – for Saturday 1230pm kick-offs. Does he have a point? Well quite frankly no. The reason for Saturday 1230pm kick offs is a decision made by the Premier League to maximise the value of domestic and international television rights.

The Premier League decide on the available slots not to please those fans that attend the games (we’ve seen scenarios where fans are unable to use public transport because of scheduled fixtures), sometimes not even to please the fans from the UK – but those who wake up in New York, Malaysia or South Korea. They have hand-picked these times for kick-offs, and those are decided by the 20 Premier League representatives sent from each club. Sky take whatever is offered, but have no control over these.

  • The Premier League set the rules on which games can be broadcast and when.
  • The Premier League decided on a weekly Saturday 1230pm kick-off.
  • The Premier League decided any team that plays by Wednesday night can be selected for the Saturday 1230pm kick-off.
  • Clubs RUN the Premier League through Members’ Voting Rights.
  • Premier League Clubs this season have agreed to only 3 Subs, to continue with the TV Scheduling (and they were responsible for the introduction of PPV).

So why is Klopp foaming at the mouth against broadcasters? It’s the same interview tactic recently employed by intellectuals Donald Trump and Boris Johnson. The truth is irrelevant. The most important factor in Klopp’s empassioned interviews is the ability to shout louder and directing anger at something indefensible. What’s incredible, is his actions in ignoring competent and logical arguments and just shouting louder and louder.

Klopp: If someone tells me again about contracts I will go really nuts because the contracts were not made for a Covid season

The truth is Klopp is struggling this season with injuries and decisions going against him. It’s a run that we have not seen Liverpool threatened with previously under the German. He’s consistently been able to rely upon the same solid 15 or 16 players, and a string of VAR / refereeing decisions until this season – this is the Klopp you get when things go awry. With the injuries “piling up”, Klopp’s been forced to use his squad. With decisions going against him, Klopp’s been forced into humility in defeat. What’s apparent, is Klopp’s no better than the rest of us. He’s used typical deflection tactics to avoid accepting that Liverpool are not meeting his expectations.

If not the broadcasters, Klopp also has time to vent at the officials as seen here. On a roll, he’s taking no prisoners in showing his levels of entitlement. Again, this has not been the fault of the officials, but the angry speeches of a old man losing his grip of control on the greatest show on Earth. The Trump comparisons continue…

What about if we were to point the finger at Klopp and Liverpool themselves, and consider how much they care about player welfare? It’s the latest emotional bargaining attempt from the Managers’ Union, and purported by Klopp this time last year.

Klopp: There would be a few solutions possible but there was not one day where Fifa, Uefa, the Premier League, the Football League and the other leagues sit at a table and think about the players and not about their wallet

It’s the height of double standards when Managers make claims of everyone else not having a care for players’ welfare when they themselves have the ultimate responsibility, and are the ones pushing players into injuries. No-one is demanding that James Milner play, no-one insisted that players be rushed back or risked. If it’s such an obvious disaster to play these players at 1230pm on a Saturday, why are YOU playing them?

It’s time for Clubs to be honest, for Managers’ to be honest. If they really cared for players welfare, they themselves would put their welfare first – alas they do not – alas they’re just protecting their own interests. In fact, they’re probably acting more selfishly in pursuit of glory than the rule makers or broadcasters, who are guaranteed their money regardless.

Sane and Salah have both contracted positive Covid-19 Tests. The concern for their welfare? To sit out two weeks training and return straight to the first team. Why Klopp why?! Did Sky force you to play them? Could they have been eased back? Why have Origi and Shaquiri only played a combined 52 minutes this season?! That must be because BT had too many adverts or something as equally as irrelevant to the selection policy at Anfield.

Liverpool are such victims after all, it’s not like Salah was breaching Covid rules and attending a wedding during the international break. No doubt this was somehow Amazon Prime or BBC’s fault.

Solskjaer spoke out previously “We were set up to fail”. Why? Man Utd were set-up to play at 1230pm on a Saturday, no-one forced them to pick injured players. Solskjaer chose the team he did because he is under pressure to win games, collect points, win trophies – please shareholders.

The same can be said for Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola, Frank Lampard, Jose Mourinho, etc etc.

You want evidence that the Clubs / Managers are not putting players welfare at the forefront of their decision making? Take last night’s incident between David Luiz and Jimenez. The loudest CRACK accompanied the contact between them that left Jimenez out cold with a fractured skull. He laid on the ground requiring treatment for 10 minutes before he was taken to hospital. David Luiz, in contrast, was just wrapped up in bandages and despite blood continuing to pour from his skull, he was not taken off or seen too with concern for his welfare until half-time – 30 minutes later. Where’s the concern then?

Managers and Clubs are making their points public but they’re not often making them with credibility. If they shout loud enough about emotive subjects such as player welfare, or the cost of football, and point fingers at the perennial baddie “Broadcasters” they will incite enough hatred to get their voice heard and logic thrown out the window.

The reason Milner was risked by Klopp is his incessant need to win games, not player welfare. Liverpool, as with any Premier League side, is entitled to a squad of 25 players PLUS the ability to use any player U21 – and they have the majority of those available for selection on a weekly basis. Liverpool have ELEVEN available options in defence before including Fabinho and Milner. These “fringe” players have not been used by Klopp, and the consequences of injuries has increased.

David Luiz’s welfare was not considered important enough for Arteta to use a substitution and protect him from serious mental health concerns. Should the FA have concussion subs? Perhaps – but equally we should protect our players welfare irrespective of our pursuit of points, prizes and money. This was even more poignant given the recent media attention on the link between heading the ball and dementia, which has taken the lives of a number of the England ’66 World Cup winning squad – yet David Luiz just got wrapped up and sent back out like a battered soldier on the front line. Where was the concern for his welfare? It’s probably Sky’s fault for the late Sunday night kick-off, I mean… who plays on Sunday nights?!

Look at Spurs, who have played more games in less time than any other team in the Premier League. They have done so quietly, not complaining too much, just getting on with it. They have used more players than any other side, with those players averaging more minutes than any other sides’ squad players. The more players you use in rotation, the more likely you are going to avoid injuries – a system that is effective at White Hart Lane with them top of the League, in the League Cup Semis, and top of their Europa League group. Perhaps actually using your squad is the way forward.

The final note on this saga in its current guise is to call out the unprofessionalism of Jurgen Klopp attempting to name and shame Chris Wilder, making a mockery of Sheffield United’s one point from 9 games, and creating a divisive civil war amongst the Premier League Clubs. Klopp is not getting his way, but his campaign should be behind closed doors with decorum. Instead, he has gone public with an argument short of facts and strong on irrelevant emotional outbursts. If that doesn’t scream “Donald Trump Playbook” I don’t know what does.

Stay classy Anfield.

NB: Player welfare is important, it’s why the Premier League provide the option of a 25 man squad with the addition of youth players to supplement when required. Rest and recuperation is important, which is why the Premier League have rules to prevent two matches occurring within 48 hours (Christmas exceptions aside). Winning trophies is the legacy that Managers and Players will leave, which is why they put their own welfare aside in the pursuit of glory. That’s their choice. No-one’s fault.

EPL GW10 Preview: Showdown or Stalemate at Stamford?

Given Chelsea’s performance at Old Trafford, and Spurs’ at home to Man City, this could be the dullest top of the table / Chelsea vs Spurs match for a lifetime.

The most intriguing, arguably most important match of the weekend no doubt takes place at Stamford Bridge where Chelsea will host Jose Mourinho’s Spurs for the right to sit at the top of the table. By kick-off, Liverpool will no doubt have beaten Brighton therefore only Spurs will be able to reach the summit, but funnily enough the last time Chelsea held Spurs’ title fate in their hands… well… let’s just call it fisticuffs.

The return of Mourinho is no longer of any value to the media, but the Master vs Apprentice storyline of Lampard vs Mourinho does grab their attention. Lampard has had many great managers to learn from, and his style of play does not appear to be that similar to the Portuguese, except of course for that boring 0-0 at Old Trafford recently where Lampard passed his Provisional on Parking the Bus.

Neither side will win the League with victory here, nor will they have any substantial victory to carry a psychological advantage over Liverpool and Man City. However the victory will provide them the pride of London and firmly place the victors at the top of the chasing pack. I expect this one to be on the boring side, perhaps being edged by a moment of brilliance by any of the outstanding talent on display. Sure, you have to watch, but nah… it won’t be a classic. For a more end to end exciting game, I suggest taking a Saturday afternoon trip to Goodison Park.

Match of the Weekend: Everton vs Leeds

GOALS GOALS GOALS. End of. No need for any further clever interpretation required of why these two teams coming together this weekend is going to be worth a watch – above all the other games – just simply… GOALS.

Not enough for you? Okay. Everton score and concede like it’s the aggregate goals of a game that determine who wins the league. Leeds are relentless in their pursuit of the ball and the man, creating chances at one end, giving chances away at the other. Both sides are exciting to watch, with slightly different fortunes heading into December. Expect Carlo Ancelotti’s side to just sneak the advantage being at home, being more experienced in the league, and having proven goal scorers upfront. Also expect violence. Rated 18.

Man of the Weekend: Nick Pope

You don’t need to be a football expert to know what is going to happen this weekend at the Etihad. Burnley, who stuck to their rigid shape and defensive mentality at home to Crystal Palace, are not going to suddenly break free of their shackles and get at the opposition. If they’re not willing to do it at home to Palace, they’re certainly not going to hold the door open away to Man City. Equally, we know that City have struggled to jam open stubborn defences, twice this week facing a parked bus and only scoring once. Given Pope’s ability and recent form, plus his drive to prove himself as England’s #1, he will no doubt be kept busy once again and could star if he’s able to come away from Man City with a point.

Tipped Treble: Odds courtesy of SkyBet

We’re on a roll! We’re in to profit for the season following last week’s 4/1 Treble. A quick warning, this almost certainly means this treble will spark into a ball of flames and bring me crashing down… so I share this with trepidation. Nonetheless, share I will…

@Brighton Away Win 3/5
@Leicester Home Win 1/2
@West Ham Under 3.5 Goals 4/9

Liverpool are looking like a machine once more. Admittedly, not always, as their midweek Champions League defeat to Atalanta will speak volumes for, but despite an infamous injury list they have gone from strength to strength this league season – the blip against Aston Villa the only serious note against an otherwise stellar start to the season. Brighton have impressed without causing too many troubles. Their win last time out against Villa is a step in the right direction, but in all seriousness, they’re some distance short of a good Liverpool side and will need them to turn up cursing a hangover to have a real threat at taking points here.

Leicester were dumbstruck at Anfield last weekend. They have shown this season they’re capable of roughing it with the big boys, but were completely lost, unable to string passes, bring Maddison, Barnes and Vardy into the game and suffered as a consequence. The truth is Liverpool did that to them, and they will come back stronger. If Rodgers could have handpicked a game to return with, it would be home to Fulham. Leicester may prefer to play on the counter-attack, but they do have enough ability to also play on the front foot and dominate possession. Fulham, I like them. We all like them. Being liked will not keep you safe from relegation. I hope for their sakes they do not need to score another penalty this season…

There are a number of ‘third options’ to complete this treble, but I’m backing a lack of goalmouth action at Upton Park the London Stadium. Villa have set pulses racing in the Midlands, there’s genuine optimism creeping in to the Villains that they can sustain this form and achieve European football next season – miraculous from staying up last year? No. Leicester won the whole God damn thing from last minute survival… impressive nonetheless. Whilst they have put teams to the sword, they’ve also had tight affairs too. West Ham have been inconsistent but at the end of the day, they’re a David Moyes side, and David Moyes knows how to neutralise ambition over 90 minutes. Looking at this Villa side, he will be keen to maintain parity in the game, and hope to edge the fixture by the odd goal. Jose Mourinho joked that Moyes had found his new Fellaini in Soucek. This is exactly the type of game that Fellaini would have made his impression felt, let’s see if Jose was right.

EPL GW9 Review; Contenders and Pretenders

As Spurs perform perfect parallel parking of the bus, inconsistency around them continues and a leading pack begins to develop.

You heard it here first… SkyBet are offering 25/1 on the Premier League season ending with Spurs, Liverpool and Chelsea the Top 3 in any order. With current form, strength in depth, attacking flair and now a dependable solid backbone running through each side… how can you possibly conceive anyone breaking their grip on the title race?

Spurs are doing everything correctly in proving doubters wrong, proving themselves wrong, and possibly proving their fans wrong. Mourinho has always been recognised as a serial winner by ‘any means necessary’, something that many were sceptical he could achieve with this ‘Spursy’ group. However their performance in working harder, faster and more effective than Man City shows they’re a serious threat to Liverpool’s title defence. They can go one step further when they visit Stamford Bridge next weekend which is guaranteed to be the one to watch on Sunday at 430pm.

Chelsea are on fire. No side has kept as many clean sheets, no side has scored more. Chelsea are by no means the finished product, but the distance they have come so quickly, and with the electric potential all around their youthful squad, means if they can keep it together defensively long enough – per game – over the season… they will certainly be there or thereabouts. I reserve the same questions over Lampard for a successful season, however no-one below them looks like putting a run of games together sufficiently to settle in the Top 3. Selecting both Abraham and Werner, they added another assist and goal combo to see off a stubbornly boring Newcastle side this weekend.

It’s not too early to get excited about a mouth watering, table topping, fiery London derby…

Finally Liverpool, who despite injuries racking up across their line-up, looked like a machine once more. The personnel almost becomes irrelevant when the system is in working order. Take Milner for example, not only comfortably slotting in at right back in the place of Alexander-Arnold, but he also added two assists to make up for the missing wingback. No Salah, no problem – then consider how good this 3 week rest must be for the elite striker – to return to the Liverpool side with the likelihood of them being top of the tree at the start of December. Matip and Fabinho at the back is reassuringly secure, they didn’t have too much to do against a seriously disappointing Leicester side, but they did it well and consistently.

Who out of the rest of the pack could ultimately break this threesome up? City again looked poor, this is their worst start for over a decade, and they’ve scored only 10 goals from 8 games. Take the ‘Man City’ label aside, and they’re on the kind of form that made us initially question whether Pep could do it in England. City will improve, but they have a long way to go to be consistent enough for a title challenge in my opinion and suddenly look good at 4/1 to miss out on the Top 4.

Leicester, Aston Villa, Everton, Southampton, Wolves, Man Utd, Arsenal… do me a favour. Leicester were the most disappointing outfit of the weekend. They have suffered a few defensive injuries this term, but it was their inability to find forward players, move the ball, and one dimensional football that concerns me about them competing at the top. Villa – do not trust them – that is all. Everton improved, will continue to improve, but are too reliant on key individuals that when they do not perform, the team does not perform, and they concede too many goals currently not seeing games out. The rest are all capable of beating anyone on their day, but when push comes to shove, probably do not have enough killer instinct.

So I re-iterate… 25/1 for Spurs, Liverpool and Chelsea to finish Top 3 in any order.

Wow. Now all that’s been said… let’s get to the real meat of the weekend.

Tipped Treble:

A quick shout out to my Tipped Treble portion of the Feudball Preview Show. Another successful showing means that if you have followed my Trebles this season for £10 stakes, you would be up… £8.40!!

Taking Aston Villa Trebles out of the equation (I have backed their games 4 times and lost every time) you would be up… £48.40!!

More importantly here at Feudball in the last 3 weeks we have predicted 3 out of 4 winning tips, so well worth keeping an eye on in the lead up to Christmas.

Match of the Weekend: Fulham vs Everton

If for no other reason… Fulham’s Penalty nightmare is reason enough to be invested in their live matches! It’s now 3 misses from 3 games by 3 different players, and what could be more comical than missing a last minute penalty for a draw? It’s obviously falling over whilst taking said penalty and kicking it twice resulting in a free-kick. It’s no laughing matter at the Cottage, theoretically that goal would have earned another point.

What they did bring was open spaces, as predicted in the Over Goals market, and it’s expected that will continue for both sides. Fulham do not look full of goals and yet… they’ve now equalled Arsenal and Wolves – doubling Sheff Utd and Burnley. Could this momentum infront of goal salvage enough points? Nah…

Everton returned to winning ways, but their drop off in the 2nd half will have raised major concerns. Ancelotti will get consistency in this team, built from organisation and structure, but this weekend with a change of shape they allowed Fulham to get back in the game. The real treat about all of this was it being shown live on the BBC meaning more people than ever were tuned in and it didn’t disappoint the neutrals.

Man of the Weekend: Jose Mourinho

Jose deserves all the attention and plaudits for the result against City this weekend, but he was equally right to point that credit to his full squad of players who put the graft in to achieve the performance. Everyone knows how Jose works in specialist games like this, that the whole event is broken down into opportunities for success and failure and he knows that comes down to the individuals to win individual battles. What is more impressive is how he has built this collection of players into more than just a team, but a military unit, that fights for one another, fights for the badge, fights for the win. He now has another – arguably more difficult – proposition next weekend, not that he would be drawn on it until the Thursday night fixture has been completed in their pursuit of all 4 trophies available?!

Result of the Weekend: Sheff Utd 0 West Ham 1

Here’s why Sheff Utd are in the shit. They no longer have any confidence to string passes together, to get shots on goal, nor to prevent the opposition the space to create their own chances. Then there’s not enough time between games to shake that lack of confidence. As predicted before, this is not a situation Chris Wilder has ever been in with Sheff Utd and will lead to further pain.

Losing at home to West Ham is another disappointment and another loss to a bottom half side that will re-enforce their imposter syndrome that they actually do not belong in the Premier League. The worst possible thing to happen to Sheff Utd has been lockdown, as they’re by far the worst team on record playing without fans.

One thing they definitely should not do, is remove Chris Wilder from his job. They should look to get away on a clean break, to reset. If that fails, just accept the inevitable and make the necessary actions to return to the Premier League at the earliest opportunity.

In Form: Che Adams

Fair play to Adams, who endured a torrid time settling into Premier League life with Southampton. It took him 20+ Premier League appearances before he was able to find the back of the net, and had been so out of form that occasionally Shane Long was picked ahead of him. Fortunately, that one goal – a lob over Ederson in a Southampton win over City last season – has been a catalyst (within 90 second video below).

He started this season very brightly working alongside Danny Ings, still in the England forward’s shadow, but finding ways to contribute. Now it appears his redemption is complete. Saints fans would have been devastated by the loss of Ings to injury but in the games without him, Adams has 2 assists and one goal in Southampton’s 2 wins and a draw. If he continues this run of form when Ings returns, Southampton will have a goal scoring front 2, which can cause problems against any defence. In the meantime he can continue to work with Theo Walcott who scored his first Saints goal since joining on loan.

Out of Form: Arsenal – again.

It’s over 6 hours since Arsenal scored a League goal in open play. To word this differently… Arsenal have failed to score from open play in all but 4 of their League games, breaching only the Fulham, West Ham and Sheff Utd goal line with match points return. Those victories seemed to be evidence of the positive changes Arteta was making at The Emirates. Fast forward past underwhelming football boredom against Liverpool, Man City, Leicester, Man Utd, Aston Villa and Leeds and you have a side struggling.

Whilst those sides are arguably the better of the Premier League, Arsenal head into the North London Derby in a fortnight with only a tough Wolves match to prepare – in which they will almost certainly draw a blank again. They say form is temporary, class is permanent. Is there any class there? Remember this is a side that has been full of class in utilising furlough, letting staff go, keeping Ozil on but refusing to play him, in-house arguing about their football mascot… Arsenal fans could find out too late that the class has gone too. The hope in their favour is in having met most of the big sides and turning round wins against the bottom half of the table.

EPL GW9 Preview: It’s BACK! And it’s FREE*!

*Pay-Per-View has been disbanded, but multiple pricey subscriptions still apply bar one occasional BBC match.

The irony is not lost on me, using an image of fans celebrating an England goal whilst discussing the end of the international week, but these levels of excitement only occur once every few years – or in the case of Scotland, once in a lifetime.

But the real football is back! And now every minute is free from PPV meaning if you really wanted to… you could watch every minute of every match for approximately £100 per month… I predict now that this will be the next target for the armchair fan – to collectively unionise and demand that subscription prices are made more affordable. We’ll see. There is an underlying truth that there’s too much money in football, and that money is generally provided by the football fan, so who knows what the next wave of lockdowns will bring. There’s only so long furlough can pay those bills… But for now, let’s celebrate what we have with this week’s games!

Match of the Weekend: Spurs vs Man City

Super Saturday sees a modern day classic of a football match, with so many individual battles set to decide the fates of two of the major sides chasing title glory. This game is far more than just Mourinho vs Guardiola, more than just a recall of the infamous Champions League tie of two seasons ago, more than just 90 minutes of football.

Spurs can rightly believe this is their best chance of success in a Premier League campaign, with comparisons being made between this side now and the best they played under Pochettino. They look increasingly more and more exciting going forwards with Bale returning to full fitness, and a midfield behind becoming more accustomed to their roles in supporting the front three. Mourinho’s game winning changes last time out at West Brom also show a sense of determination to win games and keep the pressure on those around them. From 2nd place in the table and a run of tough fixtures against City (h), Chelsea (a) and Arsenal (h), they could seriously consolidate their title credentials with a performance and results against an inconsistent City.

However City themselves will have renewed belief in their own abilities following a draw with Liverpool last time out, the return of Laporte at the heart of their defence, Jesus leading the line in place of a false 9, a midweek hat-trick for Torres and Foden’s first goals for England… they also have much to play for in what could propel them into the Top 4 still with their game in hand from the first round of fixtures.

The game promises entertainment, though its also a real possibility that if the scores are still level in the final quarter, that not losing will become the priority over collecting all 3 points.

I believe there will be a penalty, I believe there will be goals, I believe Spurs are a better shout than the 3/1 being offered by SkyBet.

Man of the Weekend: Jamie Vardy

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock this week (and Liverpool fans will wish Mo Salah had been instead of attending a wedding and contracting Covid), you will be fully aware that Liverpool are suffering an injury crisis in defence. van Dijk’s absence will be prolonged into 2021, but Fabinho, Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold are also carrying injuries. Andrew Robertson gave everything for Scotland to qualify for Euro2020 and suffered a minor injury as a consequence, and to be fair their defence has not been solid this season at the best of times. So who would you not want to be holding a high line against this weekend? Jamie Vardy. As the scourge of so many sides this season, carrying the form from terrorising the Leeds backline and a rest through international week, Vardy – Barnes – Maddison will be pressing and chasing everything in Liverpool’s half causing further chaos to an unsettled defence. I am not necessarily expecting him to get the winning goal, but his contributions this season without the ball and in assists means Leicester will be more than a handful at Anfield and provide ongoing concerns about that backline.

Vardy’s record against the Big 6 is sublime, and against Liverpool reads as 11 games, 7 goals, 1 assist. I 100% believe this will improve this weekend.

Tipped Treble:
@Newcastle Away Win 4/9
@Spurs Double Chance Spurs or Draw EVENS
@Fulham Over 2.5 Goals 4/6

Chelsea are the side in form, and despite the international break, carry so many threats that it’s hard to see an inconsistent Newcastle side keeping pace with them. Following the last return from an international break, Chelsea dominated at home to Southampton before late goals cost them the win – but they went on to concede just one goal in 6 matches that included 4 wins. They’re dangerous, and entertaining. All things do come to an end, and Newcastle will work hard for the points, but they’re yet to fully connect as a unit and this hurdle will be too high for them.

As discussed, Spurs vs Man City should be a rollercoaster of a game, but I do not believe Man City are rightly the favourites being presented. EVEN money will cover the Spurs win or draw in this fixture, and whilst it is always brave to bet against City, this season’s form suggests Spurs are the more likely victors. City, a side normally so full of goals and attacking prowess, are the biggest surprise in goal return – especially with the mayhem of 20/21, only scoring 10 this term from 7 league games. In contrast, Spurs have 19 from 8.

Everton can welcome back Richarlison this weekend, and it’s much needed to stem the loss of points that have occurred in his absence. Richarlison scored midweek for Brazil, and will be hungry for more. As mentioned previously, Everton have not won a game without him since he arrived from Watford. Considering the pre-Richarlison ban form from the Toffees, they had a 100% win record, scored 12 and conceded 5 in 4 matches. They’ll see the visit to the Cottage as an opportunity to return to form. Fulham on the other hand have attempted to tighen up in recent games, but have still found themselves on the losing side. With more pressure on them to get results at home, they’re likely to provide Everton with chances in their pursuit of creating their own. Lookman will have double motivation to prove himself, following his failed Panenka penalty to earn a point last time out, but also because Everton let him go earlier in his career.

The Missing Lubricant; A Michael Carrick Story.

Following an excess of wingers and number 10s, the game is desperately short of midfield lubricants that connect defence to midfield and attack. Recognised this week by Bruno Fernandes watching Michael Carrick in training.

It’s the summer of 2006, and Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United have finished another unsuccessful season since the arrival of Jose Mourinho at Stamford Bridge. United fell short of the title by 8 points, knocked out of the FA Cup by Liverpool though mustered an underwhelming League Cup success with easy draws against Barnet, West Brom, Birmingham, Blackburn and Wigan. It was their only trophy in 3 full seasons. Given the talent at Old Trafford at the time; Van de Sar, Vidic and Ferdinand at the back – Keane, Scholes, Giggs and Ronaldo in midfield – van Nistelrooy and Rooney up top – this was a gross underachievement.

Ferguson recognised this was a time for a re-shuffle – nothing too dramatic – there was so much talent there – but the side needed WD40; a lubricant. Something to connect it all together. Roy Keane had to be shown the door. Whilst his attitude of demanding more was a necessity, his methods for achieving it were crude, and his impact on the field diminishing. Whilst United fished around Europe for a perfect replacement for the hard hitting anchor midfielder, it was a surprise domestic purchase made to fill the United Captain’s boots. At £18m, Michael Carrick arrived from Spurs. He was the only arrival at Old Trafford that summer.

Carrick was not a top performer in any required ability for the role of a defensive midfielder – lacking in strength, pace, aggression… he was not a particularly strong tackler so placing him alongside Paul Scholes raised concerns. The icons of the past like Robson, Ince and Keane were not being replicated with this purchase… and yet… he was exactly what Old Trafford needed.

If signing Michael Carrick for £18m released Paul Scholes to become the greatest central midfielder in Europe – it’s a bargain. That’s the side to this argument that people do not necessarily see. Paul Scholes was arguably a £50m footballer. In today’s money – £100m. Ferguson knew he needed to get more out of his star assets, Ronaldo for example, was yet to really reach the levels that Fergie knew were there, and was seeking methods to release that energy. Again, Carrick’s purchase was the lubricant to release the full power of the Man United engine.

“The only information we would have got in those days was it had to be forward. You’ve got to pass forward. The style of play was pass forward, run forward, penetration. That was the theme the boss wanted in his teams and then it was up to everyone individually to find a way how to do that.” Carrick, speaking of his arrival at United.

If you look at how that United team went on to line up, with the introduction of Tevez for van Nistelrooy, the style of tactic is very similar to those being implemented by the current United side, Spurs, England and many others. A flat back four – three central midfielders – three forwards across the width of the pitch. The requirement for success was hugely dependent on the hard running of Tevez and Rooney of course, but ultimately the team needed to make forward passes to ensure the goal scoring talent could receive the ball in space. Scholes was the key pass maker, but Carrick’s mobility and vision created the triangles in midfield to open up spaces for Scholes to become more influential.

Even after retirement in December 2014, Ferguson still heaped huge praise on Carrick’s influence, “I think Michael Carrick is the best centre midfield player in English football. I think he’s the best English player in the game”.

He exuded the required qualities for making a success at Old Trafford, and it’s the exact requirement for a Bruno Fernandes type player to be at their most destructive – and the player himself has identified this from recent United training sessions,

“I was watching in training and Carrick was playing because we had players missing and he didn’t miss a pass…

I was talking with Fred and I was going to say to him, ‘Hey, watch him playing and do the same!’ but I thought it was unfair and so I didn’t say it!

I’m learning a lot from him and he’s one of the people I like to listen to. He’s the sort of player from whom you can learn how to be smart in the game, how to be clever.”
Bruno Fernandes to MUTV.

These quotes speak volumes to the value in having former players remain in the Club as coaches, and advisors. It’s a role that is becoming more and more pivotal for the 433 tactics to be effective. Whilst the footballing world chase fast pace wingers and clinical frontmen, they should not be underestimating the need to be fluid from defence to attack, and making forward passes between the lines.

The best comparison to Michael Carrick in the current Premier League can be found in the outstanding form of Pierre-Emile Hojberg. His arrival at White Hart Lane has enabled Spurs to win the ball back more often, but also to move the ball more effectively around the pitch, opening spaces for the front line, and pressing around the 18 yard box to maintain the pressure on the opposition. These players do not get the headlines, they do not do the sexy stuff that gets fans off their seats in excitement, but without their presence the pin-up players are not able to shine and justify their higher transfer fees and wages.

England’s need to find a balance between holding midfielders and creative midfielders would also benefit from this Carrick enigma. Henderson and Rice can do some of this role, Winks a poor man’s Carrick for now, but the Barkleys, Mounts, Grealish etc will need to read the game, make interceptions and execute dangerous passes to drive England forward from midfield. More and more teams are attempting to play the ball through the opposition, and often being found out with misplaced passes and a need to go backwards. It costs momentum to attacks and the opportunity to exploit gaps in the defence disappears.

Given how similar Premier League teams are lining up nowadays, it will not be the difference in quality between the wingers and front men that win leagues, but the ability to keep clean sheets and move the ball forward to those players as quickly and consistently as possible. It’s this reason that Liverpool are able to create as many chances as they do, as their midfield target winning the ball as quickly as possible and releasing it forwards to get the pressure going in the final third. Those are the next generation of players to become £100m transfers. Since Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets set the standard of a crisp passing midfield, not enough players have gone on to break that mould. The fewer they are, the more in demand they’ll become. Just look at Bruno Fernandes, in a team surrounded by multi-million pound midfielders, it’s a retired 38 year old that he is getting the most out of.

The final note on the transfer of Michael Carrick – the 3 years prior to moving to Old Trafford, United won just one trophy – the League Cup. The following 3 seasons returned: 3 Premier Leagues, 1 Champions League, 1 World Club Cup… and another League Cup.