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.

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 GW8 Review: Whose League is it Anyway?

City and Liverpool are the pundits’ predicted Top 2, but have shown no certainty of this in the opening 8 games leaving the door open for… well basically everyone.

The Etihad was home to the biggest game of the season so far and it is fair to say it did not live up to its hype. The match was reasonably exciting for the fans, with Liverpool starting really brightly and pressing City’s back four with their own front four (I am yet to see it, but presumably the media have been all over the Liverpool Fab Four / Beatles puns). There was action and chances, but neither team showed the levels needed to be worthy of their hype, and the biggest stars of the league struggled to get going at all. The game had 2 penalties, one missed, in a 1-1 draw. Compared to regular 2020 matches, this was hugely understated. The second half wore out into an avoidance of defeat and the stalemate meant Leicester remained top on a weekend that saw Liverpool, Southampton and Spurs all appear at the summit for at least a few minutes. With Villa’s 3 points from the Emirates, Chelsea purring and score lines seemingly determined by the roll of a dice… the Premier League could be heading anywhere. Except Fulham.

Match of the Weekend: Palace 4 Leeds 1

As discussed previously, the International Break can be a good time for teams out of form to recover, and a bad time for teams in for form who lose momentum. I think this break has come at a perfect time for Roy Hodgson, as I am concerned his aged heart cannot take the excitement of a 4-1 win without a significant recovery period.

This is Palace’s first 4 goal haul since the final day of the 2018/19 season, and that was just last day madness as they entertained with Bournemouth for a 5-3 win. Selhurst Park has been short of this kind of entertainment for too long, with an emphasis on being organised and not giving anything away more prominent than creating chances and scoring goals. That being said, Palace showed they have the talent going forwards that – on their day – will cause havoc in the opposition’s final third – mainly because of the lightning pace in Zaha and Eze.

What Hodgson and Palace did extremely well, was to pick a team with the objective of counter-attacking as quickly as possible, having numbers across the full width of the pitch. It’s Leeds’ biggest frailty at the back. Bielsa plays high octane football, trying to get more bodies than the opposition in every area of the field, but that risk leaves space down both wings, and areas for midfield runners to exploit. Hodgson was brave in selecting Eze as part of a 3 man midfield, which worked perfectly on the break. Leeds were not going to change their approach, and ultimately that cost them. Hodgson showed his 448 years of experience, and may have shown a few other sides how to stop the Leeds United steam train.

But of course! No ‘Match of the Weekend’ could be complete without outrageous VAR controversy. So here it is…

Taking the rules to one side for a moment… there is no football fan in the world who wants to see this goal ruled out for offside. Not one. It’s ludicrous. Bamford is doing his very best to stay onside, time his run, communicate with his team mate… and then my word what a delicate finish. It’s tormenting the football gods that we are disallowing goals that tick so many positive boxes. But…

He’s offside. It’s mind-blowing that we have developed and evolved a sport, a religion if you will, over almost 200 years in the United Kingdom, then we introduce “3 Men and a TV” and the world goes to pot (okay, VAR didn’t cause Covid). I will no doubt get into an in-depth piece on VAR and the what, where, when, how and why but for now I will attempt to simplify this as much as possible.

VAR was brought in with the intention of resolving a percentage of decisions that were unanimously agreed to be incorrect. Unfortunately a lack of foresight meant “we” did not consider the huge number of incidents that actually occur within a game that would become hotspots, nor did “we” consider the difficulties and knock-on effects of having to create “black and white” rules on subjective matters such as handball.

The latter was a problem instantly – it was always going to be – but the use of VAR on handballs for attackers meant a rule change, initially to disallow all goals that hit the arm, now to disallow goals only where it hits “below the t-shirt line”. We changed the handball rule. We haven’t changed the offside rule – not in any way. Bamford would not have been offside last season, nor prior to VAR, but since his armpit / imaginary t-shirt cuff (he’s wearing long sleeves!) is now able to score a goal, he is now offside.

WE NEED HELP! This system has so many flaws, but it also needs cooperation and support, not for everyone to consistently slate it and demand better. You’re entitled to think its shit, I am not disagreeing, but the constant changing or rules to manage the reaction of fans is not the way to solve the problem and evolve the sport. How did the VAR official decide where his t-shirt line was? I feel the simplest solution for now is to take the offside point from where the attacker is grounded i.e. feet. Sure, he might reach out with his head and score a header, but fuck it. Let’s just celebrate a goal for a change! Fans want clarity. VAR is seeking clarity. Even if handball did become every time the ball hits someone’s arm, at least players would know the rules, and it would become consistent (he jokes, knowing referees are incapable of consistency).

Man of the Weekend: Harry Kane

So far this season, the media have RIGHTLY sung Kane’s praises, discussed how his game has evolved, improved, and how his stats are incomparable to any other player in the country. We have known for some time that Harry Kane is lethal within the final third of a football pitch, no one-season wonder, whether you see how he does it or not, his numbers are truly remarkable – only Alan Shearer and Sergio Aguero reached 150 Premier League goals faster, they were both in title winning sides that created chances for fun.

This season, we have also seen Spurs be… Spursy. Or at least that’s what we have believed it to be. The late goal conceded against Newcastle was a fluke incident, but they should have put the game to bed – Spursy. The miracle comeback from West Ham may have been a one in a million, but they should have put the game to bed – Spursy. Losing points from winning positions will hurt Spurs, but what we haven’t seen enough of at White Hart Lane, is winning ugly and winning late. True hallmarks of title challenging sides. Twice Kane has stepped up to earn these late goals, assisting at Burnley and heading the winner this weekend at West Brom with minutes to spare. He is shouldering a lot of responsibility at the club, for his country and with huge pressure to reach the numbers we expect him to, yet he seems to turn up week in week out and delivering. Spurs and England fans have every right to believe they have a World Class centre-forward to deliver trophies.

Result of the Weekend: Arsenal 0 Aston Villa 3

“This topsy turvy Premier League season cannot have been kind on many punters’ pockets – Aston Villa are my biggest nemesis – they’ve accounted for 3 of my 7 failed predictions so I’ve chosen to avoid them like the plague” Feudball, October 2020.

Make that now FOUR of my failed predictions. Since I stopped including Aston Villa in my tips, I completed back to back wins… but I forgot their unpredictability, and outright ability, and they proved both in a big way in putting Arsenal to the sword.

What is the more impressive about Villa’s excellent season, is they look like they deserve it and that there’s more to come. Ollie Watkins, the two goal hero, has expressed this himself that he can reach further levels. Questions will be raised, and challenges will come, but they’re regularly keeping clean sheets in the games they do win, regularly creating chances in games they do not. They are beating good sides in Liverpool, Arsenal and Leicester and should be considered a threat to all teams as we move into the winter stage of the season. The biggest threat for them will be keeping their key players fit. Losing Mings will be devastating. Barkley, Grealish and McGinn have gelled perfectly, and Watkins is by far and away the best forward at the club.

In Form: Chelsea

Last week I nominated Hakim Ziyech as the In Form prospect within the Premier League, this week… it’s the whole Chelsea attack. I mentioned how if they can keep their balance right, they’re a threat to all trophies available to them this season – admittedly with huge amounts of luck in Europe – but they’re not conceding goals, and every one of their players is a threat and looks like scoring right now. Ziyech again was instrumental, but Abraham, Werner and Mount also made big impacts on the game.

Sheffield United are currently not the most difficult of opposition, but they did give Chelsea a fright in going 1-0 up, and it speaks volumes for the young Chelsea side that they were not derailed. It should not be underestimated figures such as Thiago Silva, Aziplicueta, Giroud and Lampard himself have on this dressing room. The four of them have won the world’s biggest trophies and understand success.

Chelsea will return from the International Break with four matches against very hard working sides in Newcastle, Spurs, Leeds and Everton, with Champions League games thrown in too. This will really challenge their squad and ability to keep performing when games are thick and fast, but whilst they’re keeping the ball out of their net, they’re going to keep collecting points and produce a title challenging campaign.

Out of Form: Leeds United

Despite an exciting start to the season that has seen them accrue fans across the country, Leeds are not accruing points to keep themselves out of a relegation battle. It’s fair to say that their start has been challenging with Liverpool (a), City (h) and Leicester (h) but they’re conceding far too many goals in their pursuit of happiness and it’s costing them points against other sides – they’ve conceded 4 goals on 3 occasions this season, and that puts too much pressure on the attack to recover the deficit. Also consider that, Bamford – who has a reputation for not taking his chances – is responsible for 60% of Leeds’ goals – so if he starts failing in front of goal more regularly, they will need to find goals from elsewhere often enough to overturn the 4 goals conceded.

That being said, Leeds are still looking far more healthy than the teams below them, and we’re looking at their poor form with a view that they’re capable of being a Top 10 side. There’s no need for panic at this stage, but conceding that many goals to a side like Palace, and only one win in 5, doesn’t sound like things are going well.

Leeds will return from the International Break by hosting Arsenal on Super Sunday. Expect them to be full of running, passion, and determination as ever when that kicks off, and with Arsenal’s recent run they will also be looking to get on the front foot and exploit those same spaces that Palace did.

EPL GW6 Review: Unfamiliar Top 6 Mockery of Big 6 Breakaway

Everton, Aston Villa, Leeds, Southampton amongst unexpected early runners.

Going into this weekend’s fixtures, Everton had given themselves a serious chance of extending their lead at the summit, taking any points away from St. Mary’s in their early Sunday kick-off with Southampton. However, the Saints’ dominant performance over a ‘hungover’ Everton, Leeds steamrolling the Villa runaway train, and Leicester’s smash and grab at the Emirates means the Premier League race is becoming somewhat of a steeplechase – a question of which teams will manage to survive all of the hurdles unscathed, conserving enough energy for the sprint finish. Watching everyone beating everyone else, this season could see anyone’s name on the Premier League trophy. Anyone, except Fulham.

Stand-out Result: Aston Villa 0 Leeds 3
The two remaining undefeated records disappeared this weekend, and although neither were entirely unexpected, the manner of the results and performances reminded us that lockdown football is mad and unpredictable. Prior to the season’s opening, many fans would have predicted a Leeds victory against Aston Villa but given the formbook, the capitulation of the Villans was extraordinary. No goals, and offering many chances, Leeds showed why they’re being thought of so highly. They’re hard working, intense, press all over the pitch, and give the opposition nothing. They’re going to win fans all season long, and many more points along the way. Aston Villa need to be careful on how they react to this loss, and do everything they can to avoid the change in momentum and confidence.

Stand-out Match: Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0
This – game – was – boring. It was awful. Who would ever have suggested it was the one to watch from the weekend?! Oh… I did. Well, so did Sky Sports and so did many other fans tuning in on Saturday evening.

Prior to the weekend, I stated “It doesn’t appear to be in either Manager’s playbook to consolidate and avoid defeat” and I am not budging from that assessment. Whilst neither team committed sufficiently to the win, inspiring a heated debate between Patrice Evra and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink about wanting both sides to play without fear, it would equally be fair to say that neither team looked particularly competent in their tactics. Fear, not a consolidated performance, is what drew this game to a blank. It’s that fear, and lack of ability to impose themselves on the opposition that makes this the stand-out match. Fans of both sides are used to title challenges and winning trophies, and want to be back amongst the silverware sooner rather than later, but this lack of cutting edge and winning mentality – leadership, as Evra repeatedly gestured – means these sides are sorely lacking from the required standard.

The underwhelming nature of this match will fill every Premier League side with confidence going into upcoming fixtures with both sides, damaging their chances in the race for the Top 4 – a race that is increasing its number of competitors with each passing week.

If neither team can be confident in their defence (also to be fair, who is right now?) and they shut up shop through fear, they will be there for the taking against sides high on confidence and with more organisation and depth behind their attacking talent.

What was HUGELY curious about this match, was the HUGE INCOMPETENCE in not awarding a penalty to Chelsea. It’s interesting the lack of media and punditry attention, the outcry and outrage over VAR, that has not happened when a decision has gone against Manchester United. Last week we had the fallout regarding the Pickford challenge, the week before the fallout regarding Lamela’s play-acting – but a definite penalty not given to the opposition at Old Trafford? We used to laugh these off, because “You don’t get away penalties at Old Trafford”… but the idea that there’s a partiarchy system protecting the big teams needs to change. Why is no-one outraged by how bad a decision this was? Maguire literally headlocks Aziplicueta, there’s plenty of camera angles, and plenty of time to get the decision right. Conspiracy? Or Incompetence? Either way, public statements from Referee HQ would settle how we all feel about it.

Stand-out Performance: Patrick Bamford
For the second week in a row, I need to talk about a forward I have released from my Fantasy Football team putting in the performance of the week. The game between Aston Villa and Leeds was likely to produce something special, and Bamford duly took responsibility with an excellent hat-trick – the 2nd and 3rd of which really demonstrated an exceptional standard of finishing. Leeds’ fans had not been entirely sold on Bamford leading their attack this season, feeling he was too inefficient with his chances in their Championship campaigns, but he’s finding his form nicely with 6 goals in 6 games and is carrying the Leeds assault on the top half of the table.

With the match on Box Office, you can enjoy the highlights and hat-trick below.

In Form: West Ham United
When this season’s fixtures were announced, Hammers around the world were understandably concerned for their ability to start their campaign with sufficient points on the board to move away from the relegation battle. However David Moyes’ men have managed to accumulate a number of points, results and performances to turn some of those frowns upside down. They’re unbeaten in their previous 4 games and visit Liverpool next having beaten or held Wolves, Leicester, Tottenham and Man City. Should they avoid defeat at Anfield, West Ham will be set nicely to enter the winter months with more optimism than usual where they will begin with Fulham (h), Sheff Utd (a) and Aston Villa (h).

Out of Form: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Despite the on-going contract sage, Aubameyang started the season in great spirits. The ‘Feudball Goal of the Month’ for September on the opening day, and an assist in the following 2-1 win over West Ham – everything was on song, and he and Arteta appeared to be on the same page. Since those two games, Aubameyang is four games without contributing to a goal. Those fixtures have been a tough run for Arsenal with Liverpool (a), Sheff Utd (h), Man City (a) and Leicester (h) – four of the top sides from last year – but he is their number one talisman, captain, and regularly one of the top scorers in the Premier League. Could his absence from the big games be the reason for Arsenal’s recent struggles against the Big 6? That would be a harsh assessment, given their troubles span over 5 years, but his output during this period should be a minor note in your Fantasy Football planning given his ¬£11.7m price tag.

Playing Second Fiddle Gnarls Barkley

Former Everton star continues downward spiral into mid-table obscurity.

It’s nine years since Ross Barkley made his Everton Premier League debut under David Moyes, and the nation reacted to believing we finally had an English midfield maestro who could pick up the ball anywhere on the field and run with it, beating players, shooting with either foot – his future held no boundaries. Unfortunately for the young Liverpudlian, whilst Barkley appeared to be the future – he was actually just the introduction to a new and up and coming generation of England talent – and Barkley has been left behind to the likes of James Maddison, Jack Grealish, Phil Foden and more notably Mason Mount, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. It’s the latter 3 amongst other more prominent Chelsea talent that has led to Barkley’s departure from Stamford Bridge (albeit on loan) whilst he attempts to rejuvenate his career once more.

And it is not unfair to say ‘once more’. Barkley had promised a lot but never delivered. Much in the same vein as Oxlade-Chamberlain, there is no doubt in either players’ ability to dribble with the ball, to strike the ball with either foot, their levels of strength and endurance – but evidently they’re something short of really pushing on to become regular England Squad members, let alone regular England starters. The most obvious hurdle in both their careers has been injuries, but Barkley has a lot more to answer for looking at his statistics.

During Barkley’s final 4 seasons at Everton he averaged 34 Premier League games – no injury excuses there – but in total only contributed 21 goals and 12 assists. Over his whole Everton career that amounted to contributing to one goal every 5 matches. Barkley never scored 10 goals in a season, and only once did his goals and assists combine to double figures – a remarkable 12 during his ever-present 2015/16 season. I say remarkable, because it stands out in Barkley’s profile.

Whilst on the preferral at Everton, Antonio Conte swooped to sign him. The football world considered a worthwhile punt having signed him on the cheap with his contract running down at Goodison Park. A punt, that sometimes looked like it was delivering, but again the stats suggest otherwise. This was due to be Barkley’s 3rd full season at Stamford Bridge – he really has not earned it. In 52 Chelsea appearances, he has contributed 4 goals and 9 assists.

Barkley has most definitely not pushed on from the express bully of a midfielder we first saw, looking like an evolution of Wayne Rooney when he first appeared as a 16 year old on Merseyside. Not everyone does take their abilities to the next stage (Jesse Lingaard is one of many from the Manchester United Academy to fall foul of this), but not so many people get to under-deliver quite so regularly before they’re found out and shipped off. Now at this stage in his career, he has to decide what he has left in the tank and how best to manage his future.

Having joined Jack Grealish at Aston Villa, Barkley has an opportunity to help develop the next generation of footballer rather than clinging on to his own personal ambitions of an England career. For years pundits have talked about wanting to see Grealish play alongside more talented players – they thought he would leave – turns out Villa have recruited – and we’ll get to see what difference that can make to both Grealish and Villa. Grealish also needs someone to take some of the pressure off his shoulders allowing him to be more expressive on the field. It remains to be seen if this is Barkley’s intention – to take more of a Gareth Barry rather than Gareth Bale role at Villa Park. Either way the next experiment for Barkley is taking place, and the main benefactors are likely to be Jack Grealish and Dean Smith.

What isn’t in doubt, is that Ross Barkley isn’t going to be the next big thing. He has had several chances (202 Premier League Appearances, 25 Goals – playing for Top 6/7 sides) but it’s not going to click. Now if he can turn provider, free up Grealish, and bring some experience to the Villa ranks he could at least feel like he deserves his place at the Premier League Table. At Chelsea alongside Pulisic, Havertz, Werner, Kovacic etc it is clear that he no longer belonged.