School’s over, Lads!

Okay, in truth school has been over for quite a while now, it was a case of the couple that were bound to settle scores that school time didn’t quite help deal with (FA Cup final), and those representing the school in external competitions (Champions League final). Then again, here’s the awkward question; why bother with the effects of cups if this is a Premier League report? Well, there’s a reason why the academic system is so flawed. We delivered the mid-term report at the turn of the year, so we get full-term with the season having reached its end. So, who’s going to Mommy with anticipation of a bad summer, who has ‘can do better’ all over them, and who’s the top-class student we didn’t want to see leave.

Arsenal

An unquestionable disappointment, especially since the turn of the year, as the Gunners fell completely fell out of the top four equation as the season wore on. Much (dis)credit lies with their away form, they didn’t get any away point in 2018 until the final day. Attention turned to the Europa League once domestic issues seemed a bridge too far, but their dream ended in the last four. Alexis Sanchez finally left in January, trading places with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang also arrived in winter. Oh and Arsene Wenger has stepped down, so there’s that.

Would they have taken this in January: Surely not. They weren’t in the top four at the turn of the year, but were still very much in the mix. Another year without Champions is definitely disappointing.

Top performer: Nacho Monreal earned his call-up to Spain’s World Cup squad, having looked like the only Gunner interested in playing for the whole season. Aubameyang also showed signs of more to come with 10 league goals since arrival at the start of the calendar year.

Should have done better: Petr Cech finally reached the milestone of 200 clean sheets, but didn’t do much to inspire confidence this season, so has been handed the No.1 shirt. Hector Bellerin blew hot and cold, so has been handed the No.2 shirt. Granit Xhaka still looks less than assured, Sead Kolasinac faded after a bright start, Shkodran Mustafi also didn’t inspire much confidence in defence… actually there’s too many of them, why did we start naming individually?

In the dugout: Wenger finally stepped down after 22 years, to commemorative plaques, standing ovations, and emotional banners. After long speculation linking the Gunners with Thomas Tuchel, Carlo Ancelotti and Max Allegri, Unai Emery is the new manager at the Emirates.

Grade: D

 

Bournemouth

It was the same outcome for the Cherries, start badly, don’t panic, pick up form, in February, survive comfortably. A 12th-placed finish is more than satisfactory for Eddie Howe’s side, dangerous question would the fans start to expect more?

Would they have taken this in January: Their season may have petered out a bit in the end, but given they were firmly lodged in the relegation fight at the turn of the year, then YES.

Top performer: Nathan Ake proved to be a quality signing as expected, Lewis Cook played into England’s World Cup standby list, while Josh King’s contributions to the side are more than just his eight goals.

Should have done better: Asmir Begovic should have been an upgrade on Artur Boruc in goal, but surprisingly performed below expectations. Same can be said of Jermain Defoe at the other end, and then there’s Jordan Ibe.

In the dugout: To Bournemouth’s pleasure, there’s little chatter on the Howe-is-bound-to-leave-eventually board.

Grade: B-

 

Brighton

An undisputable success of a first ever Premier League season. 15th place doesn’t quite highlight how impressive their campaign was, Chris Hughton knitting a side greater than the sum of its parts, not that the parts were any bad. Memorable wins at home over Manchester United and Arsenal were icings on a very delightful cake.

Would they have taken this in January: Absolutely. Survival was always the aim, and it was achieved with room to spare.

Top performers: All of them. Fine, you want names? Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy’s partnership was more than impressive, as were Dale Stephens and Davy Propper. Jose Izquierdo and Glenn Murray were also notable performers, but none comes close to Pascal Gross. Brighton’s German creator-in-chief only cost 3million last summer, it would be a surprise if he doesn’t attract offers in this window.

Should have done better: Errr… in January we went for Anthony Knockaert, so let’s go with that again. Don’t ask. We said the academic system is flawed.

In the dugout: Chris Hughton is definitely not going anywhere.

Grade: B

 

Burnley

Burnley are ranked as the seventh-best team in England; that’s just about the only way to put their phenomenal season. Much was made about how they’d struggle due to the previous season’s away form, but they amassed more points on the road in 2017/18 than they’d previously done overall. They have European football waiting. Again, phenomenal.

Would they have taken this in January: Yes. Yes. Absolutely. Yes. They occupied this spot at the start of the year, but wouldn’t have even minded 17th then, let alone 10 places higher.

Top performers: Everyone. From promoted-to-starting-line-up James Tarkowski at the back, Jack Cork in the middle, Jeff Hendrick behind any of the lone forward, Johann Gudmundsson out wide, and any of the regular forwards- Sam Vokes, Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood- it’s been brilliant all round.

Should have done better: The signings weren’t quite good, mostly because they couldn’t quite crack into a settled side. Charlie Taylor, Georges Kevin Nkoudou, and Nakhi Wells stand out in that particular area.

In the dugout: Sean Dyche will surely stay put, with European football on the horizon.

Grade: A+

 

Chelsea

Tumultuous season all-in-all, manager discontent, supposed squad unrest, finishing outside the Champions League spots. Typical title defence campaign for the Blues, as they had to settle for fifth place. FA Cup final seems more of a blow softener than season saviour, and Antonio Conte looks like he’s headed for the door marked ‘Do One’.

Would they have taken this in January: Absolutely not. There were more than signs of discontent at the club at the turn of the year, but dropping out of the top four is nigh-on unacceptable.

Top performers: Ngolo Kante remains ever-reliable, as Cesar Azpilicueta remains ever-consistent, while Eden Hazard is still the go-to man. Antonio Rudiger had a strong finish to his debut season at the club, while Andreas Christensen’s campaign may have stumbled to the finish line, but the Dane still made significant progress.

Should have done better: Alvaro Morata began life at Stamford Bridge like the ideal replacement for Diego Costa, but ended it with evidence as to why the Chelsea’s number nine shirt might be hexed. Tiemoue Bakayoko didn’t cover himself in glory for much of the campaign, neither did Pedro, or Victor Moses. The less said about Ross Barkley the better.

In the dugout: Literally everyone is waiting for Antonio Conte to be sacked soon.

Grade: D

 

Crystal Palace

It’s no longer news that they began the season with seven straight losses, during which they scored zero goals, then chairman Steve Parish, weeks after preaching about the long-term planning that would come with manager Frank de Boer’s philosophy, sacked the Dutchman in September. In came Roy Hodgson, who didn’t just steady the ship, but eventually sailed it to mid-table.

Would they have taken this in January: Definitely. Things didn’t look as grim in December, as they did two months before, but mere survival was always going to be met with elation. A place off the top half exceeded expectations, even at the start of the season.

Top performer: The likes of Scott Dann, Patrick Van Aanholt and James Tomkins deserve honorary mentions, while loanee Ruben Loftus-Cheek played his way to England’s World Cup plane, but there’s no iota of doubt that the brunt of plaudits should go the way of Wilfred Zaha. First stat is nine goals and seven assists from the Ivoirian, the second is the fact that Palace lost all 10 league games they played without him, including those first seven.

Should have done better: None of the men between the sticks merited much praise, hence the acquisition of Vicente Guaita from Getafe. A stat of two league goals is nowhere near good enough from Christian Benteke.

In the dugout: Hodgson stays on, even at 70.

Grade: B-

 

Everton

All the optimism that came with the summer had evaporated by winter, and it didn’t return during spring, if anything it got worse. From the surveys, the booing of players and manager Sam Allardyce, the latter of whom seemed to not notice the fans’ distaste, the Toffees’ season was one long, tedious, journey.

Would they have taken this in January: Given that they spent most of the first half of the campaign battling to keep their heads above water, they would be more satisfied with eighth place. The issue was more of how they played their way to that position.

Top performer: Idrissa Gueye remains reliable in midfield, Jordan Pickford did little wrong in goal, while seven goals is not bad for Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

Should have done better: Everyone else? Fans let Morgan Schneiderlin know what they thought of his performances, same for Ashley Williams. The summer signings barely impressed.

In the dugout: Big Sam has been binned, and Marco Silva appears the favourite to succeed him.

Grade: D

 

Huddersfield

Picture the celebrations at Stamford Bridge after a point for the Terriers secured them survival, and you might just understand its gravity or how much of a surreal journey this is. Some fans are shaking their head in disbelief over promotion in 2017, let alone this.

Would they have taken this in January: You bet.

Top performer: Just like promotion, it was an enormous team effort from the Yorkshire club, so let’s credit manager David Wagner then.

Should have done better: Tom Ince, perhaps. But crediting their success as a team effort means he gets little stick.

In the dugout: There are rumours linking Wagner with Leicester City. Picture the Huddersfield fans covering their hears and humming when they hear such.

Grade: A

 

Leicester City

Ninth place for a team like Leicester should be considered a success, yet there’s still ounces of discontent at the club. From the poor run of form to end the season, the complaints over manager Claude Puel’s training methods, the ripple effect of their 2016 success still has a giant shadow around the King Power.

Would they have taken this in January: Probably, given their second-highest finish in the Premier League era. The fact that seventh place, and Europe, looked to be for the taking means there’s a tinge of disappointment.

Top performer: Jamie Vardy bagged 20 league goals this season, with minimum fuss. Harry Maguire earned a spot in England’s squad to Russia. But the team just doesn’t look the same without Wilfred Ndidi.

Should have done better: Riyad Mahrez continues to go one way and the other, surely it’s time to let him go, Kasper Schmeichel regressed a bit, yet not as much as Wes Morgan. Kelechi Iheanacho ended the season in fine form, but didn’t get a league goal until March.

In the dugout: Rumours of the Foxes dismissing Puel are rife. Call Pellegrino?

Grade: C

 

Liverpool

A more than commendable season for the Reds, a top four finish turned out to be achieved with some comfort, while they thrilled in Europe, emerging as the Champions League's top scorers, before losing the final to Real Madrid in Kiev. Some errors from goalkeeper Loris Karius in the Ukrainian capital aside, not really much to complain about.

Would they have taken this in January: Absolutely. Top four and getting the knockout phase of the Champions League was the aim, and it was surpassed in truth.

Top performer: Roberto Firmino still bubbles under, Sadio Mane still has the tendency to be inconsistent, but still did little wrong, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was unlucky to get injured and ruled out of the World Cup after such a terrific season, while Andy Robertson is already a fan favourite. But none come close to Mohammed Salah, the man who swept all the awards this season. His 32 league goals is a 38-game record, his 44 in all competitions for Liverpool equals Ian Rush's.

Should have done better: Suddenly this section is hard. Karius improved immensely this term, but isn't without question, and he'll hope to recover from his Kiev gaffes. Joel Matip will consider this season one of utter regression, other than that, no real blemish.

In the dugout: Jurgen Klopp will surely remain, and will hope this entertaining side adds a trophy to their name.

Grade: B+

Published in International Watch

The end of the season: such a routine time, where the expected play themselves out: some teams reveal kits for the new season (yes, you, Everton), Manager XYZ says he’s leaving club XYZ at the close of the campaign, a tearful farewell follows the departure of a long-serving cult hero at a club, and Real Madrid win the Champions League (just typical).

Oh, right, and also, supposed writers run out of gas and opt to take a look at those Premier League players who might well switch clubs at the end of the season (or June 30 in Football-Managerish). It’s the ti…errr.. like I said, out of gas. So, straight to it then. Who are those players you could just about bet on to switch clubs after the season is read its last rites?

Arsenal

It’s likely there’ll be a raft of changes at the Emirates come the end of the season, the biggest one being the departure of Arsene Wenger. After 22 years, the French gaffer will call time on his Arsenal tenure at the end of the campaign, and it’s not unlikely that some players will also depart. Jack Wilshere’s contract runs out at the end of the season, as does the recuperating Santi Cazorla (although there’s an option of a one-year extension for him), while there are rumours linking Hector Bellerin with a move away. And with a new manager coming in, there’s expected to be a squad shake-up. No rest for the Arsenal revolving door in the summer, then.

Bournemouth

With first team opportunities hard to come by lately, Artur Boruc might well move on at the end of his contract in the summer. Harry Arter remains linked with the exit door, the rumours putting West Ham in front of the queue. Marc Pugh and Rhoys Wiggins are also out of contract at the end of the season.

Brighton

There’s always a worry for the Seagulls that bigger guns might come calling for Pascal Gross, who has been involved in 44% of the team’s goals in the Premier League this season. Liam Rosenior and Steve Sidwell will have no contracts once the season ends, and are likely to be moved on. Same might go for Niki Maenpaa and Uwe Hunemeier.

Burnley

There’s the big Burnley conundrum in terms of who’ll be in goal next season. Tom Heaton is arguably the best English goalkeeper in the league, but having been side-lined for most of this season, his deputy in Nick Pope hasn’t done too badly, even managing to force his way into World Cup contention. Both are good for number one spots at club level, and come next term, it’s likely one would move in search of it. Stephen Ward and Dean Marney are out of contract soon, while Scott Arfield has already agreed to join Rangers (no, not the one in Enugu).

Chelsea

It’s not Chelsea if there’s no forthcoming change for a new season once an old one is coming to a close, and this term looks to be no different.  Antonio Conte looks as likely to stay at Stamford Bridge next season as pigs are to fly, Chelsea are reportedly in talks with other managers already, and this- coupled with the fact that Champions League football for the next campaign is unlikely, means changes to the playing staff as well. David Luiz has spent most of this season- injury or otherwise- out of the team, Danny Drinkwater’s time at the club looks to be coming to an end, and it remains to be seen whether Tiemoue Bakayoko would get another season to get into shape, while backup goalkeepers Willy Caballero and Eduardo are out of contract in the summer. The big question is whether Eden Hazard would stick around for a second season with European elite football in three years. One thing’s for certain, though: there’ll be lots of loanees, as always.

Crystal Palace

Palace’s problematic position for the past couple of years has been in goal, with the men between the sticks having rarely convinced. All three are about to be out of contract, though, as Julian Speroni, Wayne Hennessey and Diego Cavalieri are bound to be free agents by the end of the season (although Vicente Guaita is due to join from Getafe). There’s also bound to be a hairy transfer window for the Eagles, with Wilfred Zaha likely to be subject of speculation, while there’s uncertainty surrounding Christian Benteke- even if he has said he intends to stay. Joel Ward, James McArthur, Bakary Sako, Lee Chung-Yong, Damien Delaney, Yohan Cabaye and Martin Kelly are also out of contract soon (I know right, too long).

Everton

There’s bound to be another busy summer for the Toffees, not least in terms of the exit door, likely starting with manager Sam Allardyce himself. The likes of Sandro Ramirez, Davy Klaassen and Cuco Martina are likely to be moved on after just a season, while fans would pay to drive Ashley Williams away. Joel Robles becomes a free agent once the season ends.

Huddersfield

Errr…. Not much to talk about here. Dean Whitehead and Rob Green are soon to become free agents, but (not to sound mean) who’d really miss them? Aaron Mooy might attract clubs in the summer. 

Leicester

Goalkeeper Ben Hamer runs out of contract at the end of the season, as does Robert Huth, who’s been out of the side this season thanks to a combination of injury and Harry Maguire. Riyad Mahrez has reportedly revoked his transfer request, but his case is still tagged under ‘remains to be seen’. Currently out on loan players Leo Ulloa, Islam Slimani, and long-serving Andy King are likely to also move on. As is customary at the time of the season, Claude Puel is reportedly likely to be dismissed.

Liverpool

The big transfer issue for Liverpool, since Philippe Coutinho said bye, has been Emre Can, who runs out of contract in the summer. The injured German is under Juventus’ radar, and there have been reports of a deal being signed with the Italian club. The right-back position looks rather clogged, and one of Nathaniel Clyne, Joe Gomez, and Trent Alexander-Arnold might well move on, something Daniel Sturridge would also be considering. James Milner and Alberto Moreno can also leave on a free at the end.

Manchester City

Who’d wanna leave? Okay, Yaya Toure has confirmed his departure at the end of the season, while loanee Eliaquim Mangala’s contract runs out. Joe Hart would also return from his temporary stint at West Ham, but surely be on the way out again.

Manchester United

Luke Shaw, Luke Shaw, Luke Shaw, Luke Shaw, Luke Shaw. The young left-back has been subject of some finger-pointing by manager Jose Mourinho, and there wouldn’t be a shortage of clubs coming in for English defender, who’s departure from Old Trafford seems inevitable. Michael Carrick retires at the end of the season, Anthony Martial remains linked with the exit door, while Marouane Fellaini’s contract issue remains unresolved. Matteo Darmian and Daley Blind are also bound to leave. Have I mentioned Luke Shaw?

Newcastle

Most of the Magpies’ squad is still comprised of their Championship side, even if some of them don’t appear on the pitch. Much depends on whether or not players arrive, although the likes of fringe players in Jesus Gamez, Curtis Good and Massadio Haidara, as well as loanee Tim Krul, are all out of contract at the season’s close.

Southampton

The future of a few players, and perhaps the manager, depends on whether the Saints can avoid the drop (which is likely), while Sofiane Boufal is likely to move after his exile by Mark Hughes. Jeremy Pied and Stuart Taylor are soon to no longer have contracts.

Stoke City

With relegation having been confirmed, clear-outs are not unlikely. Xherdan Shaqiri is unlikely to follow the club to the Championship, same goes for Joe Allen (picture Brendan Rodgers in Glasgow with open arms). Glenn Johnson, Jakob Haugaard, Stephen Ireland and Charlie Adam all run out of contracts soon, but dropping them a tier might make the team reconsider.

Swansea City

Another side whose players’ futures might hinge on whether or not they go down, although Alfie Mawson is likely to have a busy summer no matter what. The likes of Martin Olsson and especially Lukasz Fabianski are bound to move on should relegation be the case, while Ki Sung-Yeung is out of contract and has been linked with AC Milan, while long-serving veterans Leon Britton and Angel Rangel are also soon to be free agents.

Tottenham

It’s the stuff of mini-battles at Tottenham, with the likes of Danny Rose and Toby Alderweireld seemingly on the losing side of off-the-pitch tussles with manager Mauricio Pochettino. Both have a fair amount of suitors, and both are likely to be moved on. There are also rumours of Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama leaving, while Fernando Llorente might consider the exit door considering the (lack of) playing he has had. Backup goalie Michel Vorm is soon to be out of contract.

Watford

It’s not Watford if you don’t expect change at the end of the season. Manager Javi Gracia only arrived in January (on an 18-month contract), yet there are more than a few suggestions that he might be shown the door once the season reaches its close, especially with their usual end-of-season form. Any potential managerial change is always likely to lead to changes in the playing staff as well, so expect departures as well as arrivals- some Hornets fans might bite your hand off for the opportunity to drive away the inconsistent Etienne Capoue. Miguel Britos is out of contract at the end of the campaign.

West Brom

With relegation now sealed, there’s going to be changes at the Hawthorns, beginning with the managerial post. Ben Foster has declared his intention to stay even in the Championship, but clubs are surely going to come for defender Johnny Evans; Salomon Rondon has done his reputation little harm, and will lure admirers, while the likes of Nacer Chadli and Jay Rodriguez might remain in the top-flight with someone else. Chris Brunt might stick around, but his contract is currently due to expire at the season’s end, same goes for Gareth Barry, James Morrison, Gareth McAuley, Claudio Yacob and Boaz Myhill.

West Ham

If the fans had their way, the changes would begin from the boardroom. They might well settle for the departure of manager David Moyes, whose short-term contract runs out at the end of the season. Same applies for James Collins and Patrice Evra, the latter of whom is unlikely to get any renewal. Expect Robert Snodgrass to depart almost as soon as he returns from his loan at Aston Villa.

Published in International Watch

It wasn’t so much as being nervy, but rather occupying a convoy of nerves at the St. Mary’s, as Southampton managed to stumble over the finish line against Bournemouth. The win was a narrow as it was vital, the performance as irrelevant afterwards, as it was shaky during; the air punches from Mark Hughes and his assistant at the final whistle, along with the sighs of joy and relief from the players summed it up: Southampton still have life in them.

This South Coast derby had been a must-win for the Saints, after a torrid of form in the league- no wins since February prior to this. There had been close calls, a 3-2 defeat at Arsenal where the Saints spirit and commitment yielded plaudits but no points, a 3-2 defeat at home to Chelsea where their impressive start was replaced by a horrific conclusion as they threw away a two-goal advantage; there had also been insipid displays; from the 3-0 loss in Hughes’ first game, at West Ham, to the 3-0 loss in Mauricio Pellegrino’s last, at Newcastle.

But every battle has a turning point if things are primed to still end well, every war its twist of fate that shows there might just be salvation after all, and perhaps this is the Saints’ Normandy moment, their Battle of Gettysburg situation. Two goals from Dusan Tadic was enough for victory over the Cherries on Saturday…well, two goals at the attacking end, at least. At the other end, there was a combination of brave and gutsy defending, mixed with desperate and nervous defending, as well as a few good saves from goalkeeper Alex McCarthy (one of which was a blinder in stoppage time to keep out Josh King’s deflected effort). The football was hardly mind-blowing, the fans were edgy, and the players had their fair share of tiredness, but they held on nevertheless.

That big win became even bigger considering the state of results of elsewhere. When the Saints were hanging on against Bournemouth, fellow relegation battlers Huddersfield were succumbing to Everton at the John Smith’s stadium. The Terriers had gone into that game with a chance of virtually gaining survival, but a 2-0 loss, where they lacked any sort of invention going forward and didn’t look like scoring even if the entire Toffees squad got hypnotised, now leaves them just three points above Southampton, who are in 18th. That’s the first point to note for David Wagner’s team, the second is that their final three games are against Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal, two of those away from home. The celebrations at the end of that win against Watford a fortnight ago sent a message, the lack of one at the end of this defeat sent another.

The relegation battle story of this weekend doesn’t end with those two, as before Huddersfield and Southampton took the pitch for their respective games, Stoke City had gone to Anfield and claimed a point. It was an expected backs against the wall game for Paul Lambert’s side, but perhaps the result wasn’t as predicted, the Potters sharing the spoils after an impressive display at the back. The reality is that it’s still no wins in 12 for the Potters, and they’re still 19th having played a game more than their rivals around the drop zone, but this could well be a big point, especially considering one of their final two games is against Swansea.

Swansea would also face Southampton before the season runs out, and this weekend, despite their second half performance, they fell to defeat at Chelsea. A frustrating evening for Carlos Carvalhal leaves his side just a point above the drop zone. That home game against Southampton in the penultimate will be vital.

West Ham, meanwhile, are only two points off Swansea, and by extension three from Southampton. They also have a rather terrible goal difference, not aided by their loss at home to Manchester City, which made them the worst defence in the league so far this season. Brighton, who drew at Burnley, may be two points further forward, but aren’t quite safe yet, especially as they end the season with a home game against Manchester United, as well as trips to Liverpool and Manchester City.

This long slog looks like playing out right to the wire.

Five-star Eagles

One team that’s probably safe are Crystal Palace, who, amidst the battles going on elsewhere, were putting five past Leicester City on Saturday. There was a first goal at home for Christian Benteke in just about a year, while the likes of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and (of course) Wilfred Zaha came to the party, which was almost literal at the end of it. Palace haven’t lost against a side currently in the bottom half since September, Palace have the best goal difference in the bottom half, Palace are three points off the top ten. This was the same side that were goalless and pointless in October.

Elsewhere

  • It was a brilliant reception for Arsene Wenger as he walked on to Old Trafford for the final time, before receiving an award from Sir Alex Ferguson, and even (yes, really) sharing a smile with Jose Mourinho. At the end of it, there was no smile on his face, as his youthful side came close to grabbing a point at Old Trafford, but his last league game at the Theatre of Dreams succumbed to Fergie Time; how fitting. Arsenal still haven’t managed an away point in 2018; how worrying.
  • That West Ham loss to Man City, means City are now seven points away from a century of Premier League points in a season, as well as two goals away from the Premier League record of 103 in a season (by Chelsea in 2009/10). They have more goals in the first half of games, than West Ham have over 90 minutes.
  • Having looked doomed all season, suddenly West Brom won’t go down. Their win at Newcastle means they’re not mathematically relegated, yet. It also means they are unbeaten in four games under Darren Moore. They’ve won two games in that time, Tony Pulis and Alan Pardew combined for three league wins in nine months.
  • On the Chelsea win at Swansea, it’s finally 50 up in the Prem. for Cesc Fabregas at last. More pressingly, should Chelsea win all their remaining three games, they might finish in the top four.
  • And Mohammed Salah scored for Liv… oh, hang on. He didn’t (!). He even missed a sitter in Liverpool’s goalless draw with Stoke (what!!!).

Results

Southampton 2-1 Bournemouth

Burnley 0-0 Brighton

Manchester United 2-1 Arsenal

Crystal Palace 5-0 Leicester

West Ham 1-4 Manchester City

Newcastle 0-1 West Brom

Huddersfield 0-2 Everton

Swansea 0-1 Chelsea

Liverpool 0-0 Stoke

Monday Night Football: Tottenham v Watford

Published in International Watch

When Carlos Carvalhal was swamped in celebration by his staff, while Sam Clucas lay down on the turf in exhausted disbelief, Swansea had just confirmed another special result, as Clucas’ second goal of the game put the South Welsh side 3-1 up at home to Arsenal, with less than 10 minutes.

That the win lifted them temporarily out of the drop zone and undoubtedly off the foot of the table was one thing, that it was achieved against the Gunners was another, and that it was their first back-to-back league success of the season, after seeing off Liverpool eight days earlier, was something else as well.

‘It’s all about winning’, said Swans defender Mike van der Hoorn. ‘If you are winning then life is happier. I was talking to the boys when we were having lunch at Fairwood about how life is so much easier when we win’. ‘It changes you as a person’, the Dutchman added, ‘the belief is there and now we need to keep up this form.

The belief certainly looks there under Carvalhal, under the swamp of haplessness that was present in the closing stages of Paul Clement’s tenure. Not just that Swansea had beaten Arsenal, but that Swansea outplayed Arsenal, going toe-to-toe with them, looking them in eye until the Gunners blinked; they had more shots, and more corners, than their more-illustrious opponents. The Jacks had beaten Liverpool at the Liberty stadium on the previous Matchday, and here they began well, Jordan Ayew seeing his shot deflect wide, Alfie Mawson coming close on two occasions, while a superb tackle from Arsenal’s Mohammed Elneny denied Clucas an opening. It would be the Gunners who would take the lead though, as an excellent piece of foresight, as well as pass from Mesut Ozil found Nacho Monreal, who, prior to this season had one league Arsenal goal to his name (at the Liberty Stadium in 2013), but was celebrating his fourth of this campaign.

That seemed to be the beginning of the end for Swansea, under Clement, it probably would have been without question. But Carvalhal’s first win as manager was a comeback victory at Watford, and his side demonstrated their new found resolve when Mawson played in Clucas, who slotted home the equaliser barely 100 seconds after Arsenal struck.

The Swans have been showing enough grit and effort to earn a fair bit of luck this season, and judging by the game at home to Liverpool, when Roberto Firmino directed a free header onto the bar, unmarked, in the 93rd minute, they were getting it. But that would be nothing compared to what occurred midway through the second half in this game. From quick Arsenal throw-in Monreal shuffled the ball to Shkodran Mustafi, whose ill-advised back pass put goalkeeper Petr Cech under pressure, and the latter’s miscued clearance fell straight to Ayew, who required just one touch to accept the gift, and put the hosts in front.

The stadium was in full bounce, and with 19 minutes left, watched as Nathan Dyer’s shot grazed the outside of the post, as Swansea sought a third. But they would get it late on, a not-so convincing moment from Monreal resulted in Ayew making his way into the box with the ball, and his deflected cross would be turned home by Clucas. Cue delirium at the Liberty, from the fans, goal scorer, and dugout as well, Swansea had scored seven league goals at home this season before that night, then they got three in 84 minutes. The belief is rising, as are the performances on the pitch.

‘If we can continue to play at the level we have in the last two league games’ said van der Hoorn, ‘and the fans can keep it up too, then it will make for a very interesting finish to the season’. If Swansea keep this up, it might just make for another seemingly unfathomable escape this season.

Cherries in Dreamland at the Bridge

Olivier Giroud made his way into a seat at Stamford Bridge, the Frenchman had signed for Chelsea, less than a day after playing a part in Arsenal’s loss at Swansea, but what he proceeded to watch would be nothing short of jaw-dropping. For the first 45 minutes, Chelsea toiled and probed as they sought a way through, but none was forthcoming, and barely two minutes into the second period had been played when they fell behind, Callum Wilson in an exchange with Jordon Ibe, before finishing under Thibaut Courtois. One became two soon after, Junior Stanislas the next to find himself in behind the Blues defence, and his finish also went under Courtois, albeit the Belgian ‘keeper got something on the effort. Stanislas would turn provider for the third, his shot having been turned in by former Chelsea defender Nathan Ake, who didn’t hold back in celebrating. There was no celebration from Antonio Conte, though, his side have dropped to fourth place on goal difference, and are only two points away from fifth-placed Spurs. Conte says he doesn’t feel pressure, but recognises the fight on Chelsea’s hands to make the Champions League next season. Also known as pressure

Spurs Catch United Napping

‘I don’t think it’s very normal to concede a goal like we did’, said Jose Mourinho, as he watched his side concede to Spurs’ Christian Eriksen after just 11 seconds played at Wembley. ‘Ridiculous’ he described it, and United, perhaps stunned by such a start, never really got going, and before the half hour mark, they would concede again, Phil Jones slamming Kieran Trippier’s cross into his own net. The scoreline barely flattered Spurs, who will know they should have added more, Mauricio Pochettino’s side are two points off third place. As for Manchester United, the gap to City increases to 15 again.

Elsewhere

  • Huddersfield are well and truly on the side, as the Terriers have slipped to 17th place after yet another defeat, this time at home to Liverpool. A well-taken strike from Emre Can, and another wonderful display from forward Roberto Firmino were the highlights, as the Reds bag a first win since beating Manchester City almost three weeks earlier, and climb to third. Huddersfield might wonder if things would have gone differently had Laurent Depoitre’s shot not been away by Loris Karius when it was still goalless.
  • Debut: Theo Walcott bags an assist as Everton salvage a point at home to West Brom. Second game: Theo Walcott’s double gives Everton three priceless points at home to Leicester, the English winger’s brace was responsible for Everton getting their first win of the New Year, against the Foxes, whose pre-match was covered in speculation about Riyad Mahrez, the Algerian absent for the game, but doesn’t leave the club in the end.
  • Oh, and it was transfer deadline day last night, Giroud’s move to Chelsea part of a three-way roll that saw Michy Batshuayi leave for Dortmund, whom had initially sold Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to Arsenal, although the transfer crescendo had to share the limelight with some actual football (how horrible!).

Results

Swansea 3-1 Arsenal

Tottenham 2-0 Manchester United

Stoke 0-0 Watford

Southampton 1-1 Brighton

Newcastle 1-1 Burnley

Manchester City 3-0 West Brom

Chelsea 0-3 Bournemouth

West Ham 1-1 Crystal Palace

Huddersfield 0-3 Liverpool

Everton 2-1 Leicester

Published in International Watch

The FA has given Arsenal manager three-match touchline ban after he conceded to the improper charge against him by the English football governing council.

The 68-year-old French man was also fined £40,000 after he admitted that his languages against Mike Dean in last Sunday draw against West Brom were offensive.

Wenger was furious that West Brom were awarded a late penalty from which they equalized and according to reports the Arsenal manager was said to use swearing words at Dean.

He faced a charge for his actions after the game but he was unrepentant and made some damning statement about officiating in England.

Wenger after his side lost 3-1 to Man City earlier in the season said the level of officiating in the English League was depleting.

At his press conference today, the former AS Monaco manager said he was shocked that he got charged and said nothing would change his stance on the assessment of the referees.

Wenger said: First of all, yes I’ve been asked. I maintain what I said in the press conference.”

 “100 per cent. I have nothing to change in that. Nothing has changed.

 “I’ve been in England for 21 years and I’ve tried to serve this game with honesty, integrity and when I have something to say, I say it. On that front, nothing will change. Never.”

Wenger, who also served four-match ban last January for pushing Anthony Taylor, will sit out his side’s FA Cup 3rd round encounter against Nottingham Forest this Sunday, League cup semi-final meetings with Chelsea at the Emirate and a league match meeting with Bournemouth at the Dean Court stadium on the 14th of this month.

Published in International Watch

Well apparently nothing signifies the holidays than Premier League pandemonium, as four days after Arsenal and Liverpool acted out their own chaotic drama, Bournemouth and West Ham followed suit with a similar equally-shared six-goal..err, thriller?

‘We entertained everybody this Boxing Day and I hope people enjoyed the match, but I would have enjoyed it more if we had won’, said Marko Arnautovic afterwards, summing things up rather accurately for both sides, a game which, for all its entertainment and drama, leaves both sides still lodged in the bottom four, separated by a point. Rather similar to the Arsenal v Liverpool game.

And like the game at the Emirates on Friday, the displays at the back weren’t one to be proud of. It took only seven minutes for the goals to start flowing, veteran West Ham defender James Collins dashing unmarked at the near post to head home Aaron Cresswell’s cross. But on the half hour mark Bournemouth would level things up, Ryan Fraser floating a free kick into the West Ham box, which caused a fair bit of scrambling. The ricochet eventually fell to Dan Gosling, whose left foot shot found its way into the net. Again, Arsenal and Liverpool semblances: the first half only told a bit of the story, although Bournemouth’s Simon Francis would consider himself rather lucky to have only seen yellow after his studs met with Cheikhou Kouyate’s face.

The second period was mostly the hosts’, but although they would take the lead through Nathan Ake 12 minutes after the break, they didn’t quite make the most of their superiority, as Eddie Howe admitted, even Arnautovic acknowledged that the Cherries ‘attacked more’. Still, West Ham looked unlikely to find a way through, David Moyes afterwards saying that ‘there were periods in the game I didn’t think we were getting back in it’. But a giant helping hand would come the Hammers’ way, well a helping foot, as Bournemouth goalkeeper Asmir Begovic slipped, allowing Arnautovic to draw the game back level. ‘That moment changes the feeling of the game, psychologically it hurt as we were looking comfortable at that time’, said Howe. And Arnautovic would be at it again as the game ticked towards the end, another moment Begovic would want to forget, failing to hold Javier Hernandez’s effort, and his former Stoke teammate pounced. Suddenly Bournemouth, from comfort zone, were in big trouble, while West Ham were on the verge of a priceless win. ‘It was zero points, then three points’ Arnautovic added.

But as Arnautovic also said, ‘then one point’, as in rather controversial circumstances parity would be restored. From a lumped ball forward, Ake headed on, and Callum Wilson added the final touch to make it 3-3, only to see the linesman flag go up. After some consultation with the referee, however, the goal was given, despite Wilson seemingly offside, and having used his arm to guide the ball in. ‘I didn’t think it would be given with the length of conversation between the officials’ said Howe. ‘It looks like we might have got away with one there.’ David Moyes, on the other hand, was expectedly not pleased. ‘I don’t know why he wouldn’t go with his linesman’s decision’ said the Scot. ‘He puts his flag up obviously because he believes there’s an offside. The worst part is that it’s a Bournemouth player who puts the ball in the net with the top of his arm. It should have been stopped for that.’

‘The three points were taken from us’ was the view of Arnautovic, although he and his manager agreed that the result was a fair one, Moyes admitting that the game could have gone either way.

But in the end it went neither way. It’s still as-you-were down at the bottom.

 

Two points dropped- again

There was no childish displays and decision-making from Manchester United’s players here, but Jose Mourinho would no doubt have been utterly displeased with the way his side defended in the third minute, as Ashley Barnes was on hand to put Burnley in front. The Clarets had won three previous Boxing Day meetings between these two, and looked on their way to a fourth when Steven Defour’s delightful free kick was too much for even David de Gea, and United trudged into the break two behind. Jose rang the changes at the break, and one of the substitutes was to come to the rescue, as Jesse Lingard scored both early and late in the second period to salvage a point for the Red Devils, he has five goals in five games. Problem is, for the second game in four days, it’s another two points dropped for United. Should Manchester City win at Newcastle, the gap would be 15 points.

Elsewhere

  • It was some much-needed respite for Watford, as they halted their run of four straight defeats by coming from behind to beat Leicester at Vicarage Road, taking them within two points of the Foxes. More importantly it has them looking over their shoulder a little less.
  • For the sixth time in the league this season, Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross finds the bonce of Alvaro Morata and hits the back of the net, Brighton the latest recipient of that formula. Three league wins in four for the Blues, they’re only a point away from second place.
  • It was a welcome return to the goals for Dele Alli, as Spurs ran out 5-2 winners against Southampton. The Saints are only two points from the drop zone, and go to Old Trafford next, Mauricio Pellegrino is definitely not in the most comfortable of situations. This game, though, was about one man. It seemed inevitable, and Harry Kane set his own record of Premier League goals in a calendar year (39), as well the most goals in Europe in 2017 (56), not even Lionel Messi can boast that for this year.

Results

Manchester United 2-2 Burnley

West Brom 0-0 Everton

Huddersfield 1-1 Stoke

Liverpool 5-0 Swansea

Bournemouth 3-3 West Ham

Watford 2-1 Leicester

Chelsea 2-0 Brighton

Tottenham 5-2 Southampton

Wednesday: Newcastle v Manchester City

Thursday: Crystal Palace v Arsenal

Published in International Watch

The old cliché: The worst is over. It hasn’t been the best past few weeks to cherish if you’re connected with Bournemouth, after that seemingly morale-boosting win over Huddersfield in mid-November, the Cherries haven’t won in seven league games and have slipped into the drop zone.

The past few games haven’t been the best, their last three league encounters have been against Manchester United, Liverpool and Manchester City, with defeats in all, by an aggregate score of 9-0, and in the midst of that run they’ve also been knocked out of the League Cup by Chelsea, completing a quadruple of torrid fixtures, which Eddie Howe will be glad to see the back of.

‘What a run of fixtures we’ve had, but we’re through that now’, says the manager. ‘Playing four top sides consecutively is tough, but we have to focus on the games we have coming up.’ Bournemouth would have considered themselves unlucky to have met in particular Liverpool and Man City in the form they were in, Howe saying after the Liverpool defeat he hopes he doesn’t face them anytime soon. They may be through with that hellish run, but there are still problems in the side, not least in terms of injuries.

When Junior Stanislas limped off in the defeat at the Etihad on Saturday, he became the eighth Bournemouth player currently side-lined with injury, a worrying number for Howe, and rightly so. ‘With the tough runs we had, we couldn’t rotate as much as we’d have liked over this period’ Howe said, and on evidence of the Man City game, the lack of rotation might take its toll, as the Cherries leg were visibly tiring as the game drew to a close, and there hasn’t been the most sufficient of rests.

Upcoming opponents West Ham may have just about turned a corner in the past few weeks, but they slumped to 17th place following their loss at home to Newcastle, one point and one place above Bournemouth. ‘The games are coming thick and fast now and we need to go to Bournemouth and make sure we pick up some points’, says Hammers defender Winston Reid, the Kiwi defender calling on his teammates to avoid the kind of errors they made on Saturday.

This has all the makings of a six-pointer. On Boxing Day, one of these sides might just unwrap a much-needed gift.

Elsewhere

  • Alan Pardew says he was impressed by the support of the fans even in defeat at Stoke, but he would know the fans can only be positively vocal for so long, their home game against Everton looks like a must-win. Problem is, no side has won against Everton since late November. The Toffees are still unbeaten under Big Sam, and can move up to eighth with a win here.
  • After their impressive start, Watford’s form has slipped in the past few weeks, four defeats in a row and no wins in six. They’re still in the top 10 though, and win here would not only arrest the slide, but take them within two points of opponents Leicester.
  • After that heavy defeat at home to Spurs, travelling to Old Trafford probably isn’t the most immediate game Burnley fans would have wanted. Then again, they did hold Manchester United to a draw there last season, and have already taken points at Chelsea, Liverpool, and even Spurs this term. The hosts need a win to stop their stuttering run becoming a cause of concern.
  • Stoke’s win against West Brom was largely welcome, as it carried them up to 14th. It definitely hasn’t evaporated the pressure away from Mark Hughes, though, and faltering against Huddersfield would highlight the kind of inconsistency the Potters have been showing in the past 18 months. The Terriers on the other hand, could climb into the top half with even a point.

Fixtures

Chelsea v Brighton

Huddersfield v Stoke

Tottenham v Southampton

West Brom v Everton

Bournemouth v West Ham

Manchester United v Burnley

Liverpool v Swansea

Crystal Palace v Arsenal

Newcastle v Manchester City

Watford v Leicester

Published in International Watch

On a day where Everton had all but sealed the deal to appoint Sam Allardyce as their new manager, a man they overlooked, Sean Dyche, steered his team to another win, one that sees them move up to sixth place.

The win at Bournemouth is their fourth in five games, and even the odd game out was the narrow and controversial defeat at home to Arsenal on Sunday. They’ve conceded just twice in that run, while their away victory at the Vitality stadium is their fourth this season, three more than the whole of the last campaign.

It was a deserved win as well, a positive first half where Chris Wood headed an attempt at the post, and saw another effort saved by Asmir Begovic ended with the Clarets going a goal up, Wood tucking home from close range eight minutes from halftime after Robbie Brady’s effort deflected off Steve Cook’s feet and into his path.

But Brady would steal the spotlight 20 minutes after the break, cutting inside Andrew Surman, before unleashing a beauty of a shot into the top corner from 20 yards. Burnley were the dominant side here, and you couldn’t begrudge the away fans when they were singing ‘we’re all going on a European tour’, as, despite Josh King pulling one back for the hosts, the result takes them to sixth place, four points behind fourth place, while Bournemouth conceded for the first time in November, as Eddie Howe got a sour present for his 40th birthday.

Tipped by many to go down following the losses of key men at both ends in Andre Gray and Michael Keane, as well as the potentials of ‘second season syndrome’, Dyche has taken his team to unfancied heights, his team will start the final month of 2017 in a Europa League spot. Still, the bigger sides continue to ignore him, as Everton have shown in appointing Allardyce, a 64-year-old who had previously lamented the limited opportunities given to young British managers.

Burnley wouldn’t mind Sam’s double-standards, they’ll gladly keep their man.

Young at the Double at Vicarage

Jose Mourinho looked stupefied, turning like he was almost trying to tell someone ‘did you see that?’. Ashley Young was wheeling away in celebration after scoring his second, a sublime free-kick that left Watford goalie Heurelho Gomes motionless. Five minutes ago, he had fired in a driven shot to beat Gomes at his nearpost, then Anthony Martial added another for Manchester United after Young’s second. Troy Deeney and Abdoulaye Doucoure would cut the gap to 2-3, but Jesse Lingard capped off a wonderful display with United’s fourth. Mourinho said United should have been ‘smoking cigars’ at three up, but ultimately it’s the win that counts. It did dispel two baseless press theories over the Red Devils though; that they’re boring and can’t attack.

Elsewhere:

  • Another game, another winless outcome. Spurs are sliding down fast. They’ve gone from third at the start of the month to seventh at the end of it. Little wonder Mauricio Pochettino slammed his side’s attitude.
  • 95 minutes. Manchester City were being held at home to Southampton. They had won 11 in a row in the league so far, and that streak looked like coming to an end. Then Kevin de Bruyne laid the ball off to Raheem Sterling. A right-footed curler, a touchline mayhem, and a final whistle later, City maintain their eight-point gap.
  • It was almost like Erik Pieters had Mohammed Salah in his Fantasy Premier League side as he gave that ill-advised back pass, and the Egyptian found the net with ease. That was Salah’s 11th goal of the season, as he had taken his 10th, just moments earlier, with aplomb. The travelling Liverpool fans then began with ‘how Shit can you be?  We’re keeping a clean sheet ‘. If evidence of Stoke’s misses in this game is taken into account (yes Mame Biram Diouf, you)  then very. 
  • And Everton marked the impending appointment of Allardyce with a demolition of West Ham and former manager David Moyes, Wayne Rooney bagging a treble, with his third a thing of beauty. But no, it’s not better than David Beckham’s.

Results

Bournemouth 1-2 Burnley

Chelsea 1-0 Swansea

Leicester 2-1 Tottenham

Arsenal 5-0 Huddersfield

Stoke 0-3 Liverpool

Manchester City 2-1 Southampton

Watford 2-4 Manchester United

Everton 4-0 West Ham

West Brom 2-2 Newcastle

Brighton 0-0 Crystal Palace

 

Published in International Watch

 

Seven league goals in seven league games, 11 in 10 in all competitions, 16 in 13 for club and country, yet somehow some are still to be fully convinced by Romelu Lukaku. For all the Belgian’s fine start to his Manchester United career- picking up where he left off from last season with Everton, he’s still without the odd criticism. The most prominent of them all, is his said-inability to score against the big sides, deeming him a flat-track bully.

Flat-track bully? Think again. Lukaku did indeed manage to score only four times against the top six, one of which was a penalty, but you could excuse the Belgian over the fact that former club Everton set out against those big sides mostly with the aim of avoiding defeat, and in the end offer very little up front, leaving Lukaku isolated. So four goals should perhaps even be credit-worthy, especially when you consider that one of those was an enviable solo effort at Manchester City’s Etihad stadium.

But the criticism towards isn’t more about his goals against clubs of those magnitude than it is about the impact of his goals against clubs of those magnitude. In those four games in which he scored, only in one of those did he end up on the winning, and even that was a 4-0 win, so his goals were responsible for a solitary point against the top six last season.

So, when he and his new team travel to Anfield to take on Liverpool on Saturday noon, there’ll be quite a few (cynical) eyes on whether or not he can deliver the goods, whether or not he can deliver market-defining goods (forgive the reference); with no one trying to remember that he has registered four goals against the Reds in the past.

Whatever the performance is on Saturday, there’s no denying Lukaku has made a fine start to his Old Trafford career. If he can be a game-changer in the big clashes, however, is a question that might be offered an answer come 2pm on Saturday.

Elsewhere:

Three months into the season, and Crystal Palace still haven’t found the net in the Premier League. Now they are without forward Christian Benteke, and host the champions come Saturday. Chelsea themselves are likely to be without front man Alvaro Morata, who’s in line to make a quick recovery after his injury against Manchester City before the International Break, but probably won’t play until at least the midweek game against Roma in the Champions League. Perhaps it’s the best time to be without their star striker.

Leicester and West Brom. Two teams who have spent the past few weeks with more plaudits than points, which itself is not much. Neither side have won since the second weekend of the season. There’s only so much applause one can get without end product.

Okay. Okay. They’ve had a few hiccups in the past few games, but Spurs have to start winning at Wembley. Their impeccable away form doesn’t only suggest how good they are, but also how much their ‘home’ record so far has held them back. Bournemouth are the next side to visit the ‘home of football’. Spurs can’t afford for the Cherries to be the next side to leave unscathed.

Fixtures

Liverpool v Manchester United

Manchester City v Stoke

Crystal Palace v Chelsea

Watford v Arsenal

Brighton v Everton

Swansea v Huddersfield

Tottenham v Bournemouth

Burnley v West Ham

Southampton v Newcastle

Leicester v West Brom

Published in International Watch

 

We’ve been here before. Not just once. These days there always seems to be a post-mortem once Arsenal are done with an away trip to the Premier League ‘big boys’, and this was no different. Four goals conceded, no shots on target, looking at sea throughout the encounter. Yet the most immediate, and perhaps most accurate, conclusion was that it should have been a lot worse. Although it would be ridiculously unfair to overlook how scintillating and irresistible Liverpool were, the biggest talking point would always be Arsene Wenger’s side’s capitulation, not for the first time in recent years under the Frenchman’s stewardship. There had been an 8-2 shellacking to Manchester United in 2011, a 6-0 humbling at Chelsea in 2014, the same year in which they were thumped at Anfield as well, by a difference of four goals. But could this be the most damaging? With players still seeking the exit door, it might be. Want-away men Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alexis Sanchez- making his first appearance of the season- were shown no reasons why it was worth hanging around, although they hardly made a case for themselves either, while another player with an uncertain future, Mesut Ozil’s most notable act of the match was being on the brink of tears after the final whistle.

The return of Sanchez, which had been arguably the headline in the build-up to the game all week, was seen as a boost to the Gunners, but Wenger left fans scratching their heads with his decision to drop record-buy Alexander Lacazette on the bench. Jurgen Klopp made his own bizarre decision for the hosts, choosing to leave out Simon Mignolet and put Loris Karius in goal- the German’s first league appearance since December- citing that he was simply giving the Belgian a ‘rest’, but on the looks of it, he could have even given Mignolet a rest by putting him in the game. Liverpool began the game well on top, and only a combination of not-so good finishing from their winger Mohammed Salah and a good save from opposing goalkeeper Petr Cech prevented them from going in front inside 10 minutes. But Cech could do nothing on 17 minutes, when Joe Gomez’s inch-perfect cross was met by Roberto Firmino to give the hosts a merited lead. Cech could have done nothing, but the Arsenal defence should have done something. Instead, despite the return of skipper Laurent Koscielny, they stood almost in unison to watch Firmino leap to glance home the opener. Five minutes before the break, it was two, a swift Liverpool counter-attack ended with Sadio Mane scoring a very Sadio Mane goal, his third strike in as many league games. Before then, the game had seen Salah denied by Cech once again, then the linesman’s flag, and a rather comical back-heel by Gunners midfielder Granit Xhaka in front of his own goal which gave away a corner. The visitors had to improve after the break, and for about 10 minutes after the restart it looked like they did, until they won a corner on 57 minutes. Then events transpired, Salah robbed a sloppy Hector Bellerin around the halfway line, and the Egyptian ran half the length of the pitch before finishing with deadly assurance. All that was left was for Daniel Sturridge to come on and score his first goal of the season within two minutes of his entrance, crowning the Reds’ perfect day.

The traveling fans- well those that remained- watched in horror; this is not the first time in recent years they had been subjected to such humiliating conditions. And you wouldn’t begrudge them wondering whether this wouldn’t be the last.

 

Football’s Irksome Rule Strikes Again

97th minute at the Goldsands stadium, Manchester City are being held away at Bournemouth, much to their angst. Then Raheem Sterling scores the latest of late winners and runs into the clutch of the away fans. Such a nice and heart-warming moment, until Sterling returns to the pitch and is shown a second yellow card for over-elaborate celebrations by referee Mike Dean. The irritating rule remains, and in this case it begs two questions. First, the most obvious and recurring one, why are players not allowed to celebrate with the fans who chant their names and pay their wages? Second, why was Sterling the only one cautioned when clearly a herd of City players followed him into the crowd? The Englishman will be suspended for the game against his former club Liverpool, after the International break; the unsavoury end overshadowed a decent game, which had an absolute howitzer from Bournemouth’s Charlie Daniels to open the scoring. The Cherries are still waiting for their first point of the season, although the headlines of this game were the dismissal of Sterling, some fans unrest, and a quite interesting conversation between Sergio Aguero and a Matchday steward.

 

Elsewhere:

Leicester City proved to be the biggest test so far, but Manchester United still passed it. They had to wait for the breakthrough, and even missed a penalty, as it looked like being a throwback to one of many games at Old Trafford last season, but eventually the Red Devils found a way past the Foxes. Jose Mourinho’s side are three for three so far; they’ve scored 10 times, and have conceded 10 goals less.

Spurs still can’t get any joy at Wembley. It looked like they would manage to steal three points in a hard-fought and frustrating afternoon against Burnley, until the Clarets’ new boy Chris Wood struck gold for the visitors in the 92nd minute. Another sickening late collapse for the Lilywhites, who need to sort out that national stadium itch. And soon; with Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund still to come there.

In the battle of the unrests, Newcastle saw off West Ham with three unreplied goals on Saturday afternoon. It was a more than welcome relief for Rafa Benitez and the Toon, while West Ham are supposedly going to review manager Slaven Bilic’s position during the week, the Hammers lie bottom, pointless and with the worst defence in the league.

Speaking of zero points, Crystal Palace are also in that category, having suffered another home loss, this time to Swansea. The Eagles are yet to even score a league goal under new gaffer Frank de Boer; that philosophy will take a while.

 

Results

Liverpool 4-0 Arsenal

Manchester United 2-0 Leicester

West Brom 1-1 Stoke

Chelsea 2-0 Everton

Bournemouth 1-2 Man City

Newcastle 3-0 West Ham

Watford 0-0 Brighton

Tottenham 1-1 Burnley

Crystal Palace 0-2 Swansea

Huddersfield 0-0 Southampton

Published in International Watch

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