Chasm-like, that’s the word. There probably isn’t any other term suitable for the gap between the Premier League’s top six and the rest, in terms of points, but mostly quality.

Consider the fact that for all of Arsenal’s league blunders this season, as well as Manchester United’s last term, neither were/are in danger of slipping down to seventh spot, the position from where the scrap seems to begin. Everton seemed to give that seventh place some grip last term, as it also looked down on the rest, while being looked down on the by best, but it’s little gain saying how much the Toffees have floundered this season, in spite of the large transfer outlay, both in the summer and last month.

Yet, it’s testament to how crowded, or rather how inconsistent (if not low in quality) that regions outside the top six is that the Toffees are only two points off seventh. A side who, until the final day of January, hadn’t won in 2018, a side that didn’t manage a shot on target in four out of five games this term, a side recently thrashed out of sight by Arsenal, are only a win away from taking a seemingly certain European spot. Suddenly they are primed to finish in the same place they did last season, despite this one being an obvious disappointment to last term’s improvement. Just look at the fact that Everton are closer to the relegation zone than they are the top six, despite lying in ninth place, and therein lies evidence of how the rest of the league are left to scrap among themselves and the big guns do the same, almost like leagues within a league.

There’ll always be Leicester’s unprecedented league triumph in 2015/16, but however memorable that will be, it’s starting to seem long in the memory, just as the hope that the Foxes’ success had given the ‘smaller teams’ is fading fast. There’s nothing weirder than saying ‘the bottom 14’, but in the Premier League, there’s probably nothing more accurate.

Derby victory for Spurs leaves Arsenal in desperate trouble

You could almost call it the biggest shock of the weekend; that Spurs were so dominant, yet managed to win by just one goal. After an admittedly moderate first half from both sides, the Lilywhites took charge in the second, and Harry Kane’s seventh league North London derby goal put them in front. Kane probably should have had four, as some uncharacteristically wayward finishing prevented him adding to his tally, as well as an outstanding performance from Petr Cech. The Gunners goalkeeper was on hand to deny Kane, as well as Erik Lamela and Kieran Trippier, as his side had their backs to the wall. Arsenal had won their last nine at Wembley prior to this game, but they were a shambles here, Henrikh Mkhitaryan embodying how below par they were. Still, they had two good chances to snatch an undeserved point late on, two chances Alexandre Lacazette won’t look back on with much fondness, and neither will his manager, Arsene Wenger’s agony as the second opportunity went begging told its own story. The Gunners are now seven points off the top four.

Elsewhere

  • It was a memorable day for Newcastle, as the Toon fought their way towards a much-needed at home to Manchester United, their first home victory since October. Rafa Benitez brought in three temporary additions last month, Islam Slimani and Kenedy the headline acts as Newcastle’s problems up front have been well documented, but it was the least fancied arrival, goalkeeper Martin Dubravka who caught the eye at home to the Red Devils. On loan from Sparta Prague, the Czech goalie was required to make a handful of saves, including that wonderful last-minute stop from Michael Carrick, as Matt Ritchie’s goal takes Newcastle up to 13th place. Opposition manager Jose Mourinho is still without a league win at St. James’ Park in what’s now seven attempts.
  • Following that United defeat, the gap at the top is now 16 points, after Manchester City duly dispatched Leicester at the Etihad. Riyad Mahrez, subject of a failed from City last month, and recently returned from his personalised leave, and the Algerian came on as a substitute for the Foxes, but he’ll no doubt be thinking of what might have been, as he watched City’s Sergio Aguero fire four goals past his team. It’s the third time in the Premier League that Aguero has scored at least four goals in a game. As it stands, should City when their next six league games, they can wrap up the title in the Mancunian derby. Motivation for Pep’s men, with complacency bound to set in.
  • The Carlos Carvalhal revival programme continues for Swansea, as they left it late against Burnley on Saturday, Ki Sung Yeung’s late strike taking the Swans to 16th. It doesn’t seem like much, as they are only a point off the drop zone, but they were well-bottom when Carvalhal arrived in December.
  • And Mohammed Salah scored again. Well, what else is new.

Results

Everton 3-1 Crystal Palace

West Ham 2-0 Watford

Swansea 1-0 Burnley

Southampton 0-2 Liverpool

Manchester City 5-1 Leicester

Tottenham 1-0 Arsenal

Stoke 1-1 Brighton

Huddersfield 4-1 Bournemouth

Newcastle 1-0 Manchester United

Monday Night Football: Chelsea v Watford 

Published in International Watch

The former Manchester United and England striker has described Ruud Van Nistelrooy as the best finisher he had seen in the Premier League and chose Argentine international, Carlos Tevez as his favourite strike partner.

Wayne Rooney played with Van Nistelrooy for two seasons (2004 – 2006) with the former Netherland international recording 95 Premier League goals in 150 appearances – he also played alongside his ‘favourite’ from 2007-2009 with the two {Rooney and Tevez} sharing over 40 goals between each other in the League from 2007-2009.

Rooney alongside Ruud Van Nistelrooy
Rooney alongside Ruud Van Nistelrooy

 

Rooney with Carlos Tevez
Rooney with Carlos Tevez

 

Speaking on Monday Night Football, Rooney, who was not short of quality strikers In his 13-year stints at Old Trafford – as he played alongside the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Louis Saha, Dimitri Berbatov, Robin Van Persie to mention a few, described Ruud Van Nistel Rooy as the best finisher he had seen in the Premier League and said Carlos Tevez was his favourite strike-partner.

“We suited each other’s {himself and Tevez} games.

“We worked off each other. It must have been horrible for defenders to have faced us, because we were just in their faces.

“When he signed, there was talk we wouldn’t have been able to play together, but we hit it off,” Rooney, who adds that Nistelrooy is the best finisher he has seen in the EPL said on MNF.

“Ruud Van Nistelrooy was the best finisher I have seen in the Premier League. Even if we won by four or five goals, he would just sit there on his own, gutted. He was fantastic.

The United great also picked the overhead kick against rival Manchester City at Old Trafford as the best goal of his career.

Rooney with the overhead kick goal that condemned City to a 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford in 2011
Rooney with the overhead kick goal that condemned City to a 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford in 2011

 

“The size of the game, City were going for the league it was one of the worst games I have played to be fair.

“The ball takes a bit of deflection, I have realised I was a bit of a space and tried it, and normally I might miss that, but caught it perfectly. It was surreal after I scored.

“In the dressing room after the game, all the staff were in shock. To be honest, I am sick of it.

“The amount of people who come up to me and talk about it. Still it is rightly the best,” Rooney submitted.

The England and Manchester United ended his 13-year-old association with Manchester United after he was allowed to join boyhood club Everton in the summer for free.

He has registered 10 goals in 20 appearances in the league this season but was good only for the substitute in Everton’s 5-1 loss in the hands of Arsenal last Saturday.

 

 

Published in International Watch

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang became the eight player to score on his premier League debut for Arsenal – as he took the Gabonese international 37 minutes to register his name on the score board.

With Arsenal’s 5-1 rout of Everton – scoring four in the first half, Aubameyang’s goal has been voted as fans’ goal of the first half.

With two goals from Ramsey and one each from Konscielny and Aubameyang in the first half, the Aubameyang’s chip over Pickford after receiving a sublime pass from Ozil edged out the other three goals as the best goal of the first half.

With 25,491 votes, the Gabonese international goal racked up 75% of the votes, with Ramsey’s second and first half goal coming second and third with 12% and 11% votes respectively and Konscielny’s header to put the North London side 2-0 up, coming last with 2% votes

 

 

 

There is more to come from me – Aubameyang

The Former Borussia Dortmund said there's more to come from him (Telegraph)

The Arsenal record signing boasted after the 5-1 thumping of Everton that there was more to come from him.

He also revealed the whole Arsenal squad were happy after the game.

Aubameyang, as quoted by Arsenalofficial website said “Of course I was really happy. We won the game in the first half and the second was a bit different. We are all happy today.

“Is there more to come from me? I think so!”

 

 

 

 

Published in International Watch

12 years, 397 games, and 108 goals for a player largely occupying the right wing, yet Theo Walcott’s time at Arsenal can be rightly qualified as underwhelming, the kid who caught the eye back with Southampton, so much so that then-England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson shocked the world by taking him to the World Cup in Germany, has grown to be a man, and a rather unfulfilled man career-wise.

Perhaps that Eriksson decision epitomised Walcott so far, the flush of expectation (Eriksson admitted that he had never even watched him live before calling up to the national side), being the youngest Southampton player, their youngest goal scorer as well, the youngest debutant for the Three Lions (17 years and 75 days), the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year winner in 2006, the youngest player to score a hatrick for the national team, and a European championship finalist at Under-21 level would surely merit some expectation. You can’t be that bad if you produce over 100 goals for your club mostly from the wing, and definitely not after scoring 19 goals from 29 starts in a season (only Harry Kane and Dele Alli were the English internationals to score more than that last season), but by last season Walcott had already been discarded as one of those whose potential was tragically not maximised, a soon-to-be has-been, a nearly man.

And speaking of nearly men, if one club could be classified with that term, it wouldn’t be surprising if many pointed at Everton, the Merseyside club that just don’t seem to be able to get there. There were expectations at the start of the season, the Toffees had finished in a steady (if impressive) seventh place the previous campaign, and splashed the cash in the summer, but they’ve spent the best part of this term fighting to keep their heads above water, while being occasionally thrashed by the teams they aimed to compete with when the season began. They’ve already had three managers this season- albeit one was on a temporary basis- and the latest, Sam Allardyce, was quick to point out the importance of this deal.

‘We have looked at the amount of goals, assists and pace that brings to the side and it is a very good acquisition’, said the former England manager. And in terms of goals and pace, Everton have been lacking this campaign, in four of their last five league games they haven’t managed a shot on target at all, while the lack of pace in the side, at either full-back or up front, has done the Toffees attack little favours- and that’s if you can what they do up front ‘attack’.

With Everton already out of both cups, and in mid-table in the league, this season is already done and dusted and with nothing much to play for, despite it being only January, it’s about setting the tone for the next campaign. Walcott and Allardyce have spoken about ambition and improving the side, and having spent over 40 million in this window (Cenk Tosun arrived at the start of the month), there is a need to show ambition and improvements in the side already.

A club, a manager, and a new signing that are all on the verge of being discarded (if not already), surely at least one will have to pull the others forward.

Published in International Watch

Chelsea completes Ross Barkley signing

Friday, 05 January 2018 18:36

Ross Barkley has officially completed a £15 million move from Everton to Chelsea after talks had previously failed in the summer transfer window.

Chelsea announced the transfer on Friday, confirming the 24-year-old midfielder had signed a five-and-a-half-year contract at Stamford Bridge.

The move was delayed due to Barkley's hamstring injury, but his improved condition has allowed Chelsea to complete a deal for the midfielder — who had just six months remaining on his contract.

According to Goal on Thursday, Barkley was in talks join Chelsea for a reduced price after the Blues had offered double the amount over the summer.

"I'm overwhelmed, I'm looking forward to it and I'm really excited to get started," Barkley said.

"To be given a fresh start at a new club like Chelsea, it's unbelievable for me. I'm looking forward to continuing where I left off at the end of last season and hoping to improve and add more goals to my game."

Barkley, who will wear the No.8 shirt at Stamford Bridge, has not yet played this season but has scored 21 goals in 150 Premier League appearances since debuting for Everton in 2011.

The playmaker also has two goals in 22 caps for England, having represented the Three Lions at the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016.

"Ross is a player we have long admired and are certain he will prove to be an important player for Chelsea," Chelsea director Marina Granovskaia said.

"He possesses outstanding technical and physical attributes, matched with good experience of the Premier League and a strong desire to succeed at the highest level.

"We welcome him to the club and look forward to seeing him in action."

(Goal.com)

 

 

Published in International Watch

Ross Barkley has undergone a medical ahead of his move to Chelsea and the deal could be confirmed by the Premier League champions on Friday, according to Sky sources.

Sky Sports News understand the Everton midfielder and his representatives are at Stamford Bridge finalising the transfer.

Barkley, who has not featured for Everton this season despite recently returning to first-team training following hamstring surgery, had less than six months remaining on his contract at Goodison Park.

The England international came close to joining Chelsea in the summer transfer window after the clubs agreed a £35m fee, but ultimately opted against the move.

Tottenham were also interested in signing Barkley last summer, but Sky Sports News understands they decided against reigniting their interest in the 24-year-old with Mauricio Pochettino focusing on other targets.

Everton manager Sam Allardyce admitted on Thursday that he was expecting to receive bids for Barkley before the close of the January window.

"I would expect there would be sometime in this window if there is going to be any interest from some of the big boys," he said.

Barkley, an Everton academy graduate, has scored 27 goals in 179 appearances since making his debut for the club in August 2011.

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte is close to securing his first signing of the January transfer window

He was rewarded with a new four-year deal in July 2014 by then-manager Roberto Martinez after featuring for England at the World Cup in Brazil.

Barkley, capped 22 times by England, has previously expressed a desire to play Champions League football and will be eligible to play for Chelsea in their last-16 clash against Barcelona in February

(Sky Sports News)

 

 

Published in Transfer Rumors

‘Don’t even talk too much’, wrote his Twitter handle after the game at Goodison Park, and the picture was telling too, as Jesse Lingard had his finger to his lips in silence to, probably the home fans, but definitely to the critics of both him and Manchester United.

The Red Devils had drawn three successive league games prior to their visit to Everton on New Year’s day, but that run of form didn’t stop Lingard’s flow, the Englishman has scored seven times in the league since late November, more than any of Kevin de Bruyne, Leroy Sane, Eden Hazard or Sadio Mane have had all season.

‘He’s been with us in the first team for a few seasons now and this season he’s really scoring and playing his best football and playing with confidence’, said teammate Juan Mata. ‘I think he’s matured as a player and we are very happy with him because he’s helping the team with important goals’

If Lingard’s development has been eye-catching this season, his eye for big goals hasn’t, he ended his first full season with United with an extra-time winner in the FA Cup final in 2016, and popped up with the team’s second goal in their League Cup final win against Southampton last February, and even registered another Wembley strike in the Community Shield at the start of last season. He has carried on in that vein of scoring important goals for the club this term; he grabbed that delightful nerve-settler at Watford in November (the start of his goal-scoring run), hit a double at Arsenal four days after, came up with what proved to be the winner at West Brom, and it was his brace that rescued a point at home to Burnley. And he began the year with an absolute belter in Merseyside to seal their first win in four games, moments after Toffees goalkeeper Jordan Pickford had denied him with a smart save.

Pickford did have his fair share of saves to make on the day, as United produced a dominant display and an eventually comfortable victory. ‘I thought we created a few chances in the first half and were dominant, comfortable on the ball and had a lot of freedom and enjoyment so we knew the chances would come in the second half’ said Lingard, who probably came the closest in the first half, as he saw his shot roll just wide of Pickford’s goal.

But more openings did come for United in the second period, and early on Juan Mata had two tries at goal, the first tipped over by Pickford, the second crashing against the post. Yet for all United’s dominance, their opening goal came from the counter, United’s all-time top scorer and Everton skipper Wayne Rooney gave away possession in midfield, and eventually Paul Pogba- who had a terrific game- found Anthony Martial, whose finish was too much for Pickford. ‘The boys deserved it’, said manager Jose Mourinho afterwards. ‘..the players were top class and on top of it we played very well’.

Everton did push back a bit after falling behind, but a breakthrough was neither coming nor deserved, and inside the final 10 minutes Lingard put the game to bed, his 10th goal in all competitions this term. ‘I’m pushing myself and trying to get as many goals as possible this season to help the team to win games’.

So far, it’s been mission accomplished.

Thriller in North London

It was the kind of game that one prayed wouldn’t end at the Emirates, a game that saw brilliant goals, terrific saves, terrible defending, unfathomable misses, and a livid Arsene Wenger. Alvaro Morata will be one not to look at this game with much fondness, however, the Spaniard missing three gilt-edged chances, the first early on, and the last as the game reached its dying embers. In between those misses, Alexis Sanchez saw the combination of a brilliant right-hand from Thibaut Courtois and the woodwork deny him giving Arsenal the lead, while at the other end Petr Cech foiled Tiemoue Bakayoko; and when Cech was beaten, Cesc Fabregas’s shot flew wide late in the first half.

The second period followed a similar vein, Cech denying Eden Hazard and Marcos Alonso, and Courtois stopping Alexandre Lacazette. But Courtois could do nothing when Jack Wilshere’s thumping hit crashed in off the bar just past the hour mark, for his first league goal since May 2015, and three minutes after Cech would also be beaten, diving the wrong way for a Premier League penalty for the 16th time in a row after Hector Bellerin was adjudged to have fouled Hazard, referee Anthony Taylor warming his way back into Wenger’s hate book, and the French gaffer described the decision as ‘farcical’, and claimed a conspiracy against the Gunners. But there was nothing contentious when Marcos Alonso popped up to turn home Davide Zappacosta’s cross and put Chelsea in front with six minutes left, and that seemed to be that.

But in a game of this manner, it wasn’t going to be, and in the second minute of stoppage time, Bellerin came up with an Arsenal leveller. There was still for Morata to flounder from less than 18 yards, and Zappacosta hit the bar from the follow up, much to the frustration of Antonio Conte. For this two in the Premier League table, it’s as-you-were, although many were still catching their breath right after fulltime to notice that yet.

Elsewhere:

  • The defeat was one thing, that they lost to Crystal Palace at home was another, that they let a lead slip was also another issue, and so was the fact that the defeat means they haven’t won in nine games. It’s more than worrying times for Southampton and Mauricio Pellegrino, and the fans haven’t hidden their displeasure. The Saints are 17th.
  • Manchester City’s winning run had been halted by Crystal Palace on New Year ’s Eve, and so this perhaps seemed like a test on how they would react, which it took them 39 seconds to, Raheem Sterling adding yet another goal to his tally this term. City running out 3-1 winners wasn’t the biggest talk concerning the team this week, neither was Kevin de Bruyne playing despite being stretchered off at Selhurst Park. It was David Silva revealing his premature born son fighting ‘day-by-day’ to survive as the reason behind him missing games, even if the Spaniard did play on Tuesday, and well it should be added.
  • It was another must-win game for West Brom, so typically they lost, as West Ham, thanks to an Andy Carroll brace- one of which was a late winner- came from behind to take all three points, a win that takes them five points clear of their opponents, but only one above the bottom three, and it became six and two when they managed to play out a draw at Wembley against Spurs.
  • Speaking of losing must-wins, Stoke are also in that category, as they slipped into the drop zone following a home loss to Newcastle on Monday. There has reportedly been considerations by the board over sacking Mark Hughes, but apparently Sparky remains because there seems to be available replacement. After all, Hughes himself did ask who’s ‘gonna do it’ if the Potters do get rid of him.
  • And there was a bit of history at Turf Moor on Tuesday, as Liverpool’s Ragnar Klavan became the first Estonian to score in the Premier League. More importantly, it grabbed a late win for the Reds after they seemed to have let it slip.
  • Speaking of the Wembley game, it was a drop-your-contender-for-goal-of-the-season contest, as Son Heung-Min's thunderbolt equaliser for Spurs cancelled out Pedro Obiang's even better strike. Even Spurs' Christian Eriksen Obiang's hit. 

Results

Arsenal 2-2 Chelsea

Leicester 3-0 Huddersfield

Everton 0-2 Manchester United

Burnley 1-2 Liverpool

Swansea 0-2 Tottenham

West Ham 2-1 West Brom

Southampton 1-2 Crystal Palace

Manchester City 3-1 Watford

Stoke 0-1 Newcastle

Brighton 2-2 Bournemouth

Tottenham 1–1 West Ham

 

 

Published in International Watch

They say the new season is akin to the first day of school, there’s that student/club that looks renewed, sporting a new, defiant look, while there’s the one who never wanted summer to end, the one who looks the same, and the one who looks roaring to go, among others.

There’s a touch of optimism from even the biggest cynic at the beginning, but the giant dose of reality comes in form of the mid-term, where your slackness and laxity is confirmed (okay this is getting a bit… just get on with it).

So, how well have the Premier League sides done so far, the tops, the nearly there, the nearly there but won’t be there, all the way to the bottom of the barrel. And there will be grades of course, not like they matter in the real world or anything:

 

Arsenal

The ever-growing, or rather never-ending conundrum, it’s been another season of swinging one way and the other, the tone of which was perfectly set with their opening game, that 4-3 win against Leicester. Sixth place, 21 points off the top, definitely doesn’t read well (although that’s more to do with the leaders themselves). One point from the Champions League spot, and into the League Cup semis is a cause for optimism. They haven’t done badly in the UEFA Europa League either.

Would they have taken this in August: Two places and a point off the top four and into the last four of a domestic cup, perhaps. Their home form has been impressive as well, although they’ll look at the manner of some of their five league defeats with disappointment.

Top performer: Hector Bellerin has had some good patches, but not quite consistent enough, whatever Mesut Ozil does will be met by ‘let’s see if he can do it again so soon’, Alexandre Lacazette has eight league goals and hasn’t done too bad. But it might just be Sead Kolasinac. Even though the Bosnian has tailed off a bit lately, he announced himself with that late equaliser against Chelsea in the Community Shield, and has grown to be something of a fans favourite.

Should do better: Aaron Ramsey hasn’t offered consistency this season, while Alexis Sanchez has spent the half-season like someone stopped from leaving. The backline is still a worry, the loss of concentration at the centre of the defence isn’t worthy of praise, and Petr Cech in goal has barely covered himself in glory.

Grade: C

 

Bournemouth

Another season, another stumbling first half, as Eddie Howe put it, it’s ‘only the expectations that have changed’. But the Cherries are in the bottom three at Christmas for the first time since promotion two years ago, looking a bit caught in the middle of continuing being adventurous and trying to evolve in terms of defending. Improvement is imperative.

Would they have taken this in August: Probably not, the fans wouldn’t have predicted a storming season at the start, but they would have been at least expecting to be above the relegation zone. The supporters are a patient bunch, though, and there could be quiet optimism that they’d come out looking good by spring.

Top performer: Nathan Ake started the season in indifferent form but has been showing Bournemouth why they wanted, while goalkeeper Asmir Begovic has been an undoubted upgrade on Artur Boruc.

Should do better: Despite scoring twice as recently as at Crystal Palace, one of which was an absolute howitzer, Jermain Defoe will surely feel like he can do more. Compared to Jordon Ibe, however, he has moved mountains.

Grade: D

 

Brighton

Five points clear of the drop zone at Christmas, it’s fair to say the Seagulls’ first ever Premier League season hasn’t been bad. They’ve only lost twice at home all season, against Manchester City and Liverpool, and are sitting pretty(ish) in 12th.

Would they have taken this in August: Clear of the drop zone was the key aim. The distance would have mattered little, that they’re only a point off the top half is a cause for delirium.

Top performer: The defensive pairing of Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy have been a hit, despite the latter having mustered three own goals so far, while in goal Mat Ryan has shaken off his shaky start. Glenn Murray has also proven quite reliable up front, but no one is more influential than playmaker Pascal Gross, the German has four goals and five assists so far. At some point he was involved in all of Brighton’s league goals, and whether or not they stay up, you fear for the Seagulls holding on to him come next summer.

Should do better: Huh, this is a tricky one. Brighton have been a truly collective machine so far, it’s quite hard to point out anyone and say they’ve fallen short. Perhaps Anthony Knockaert, he hasn’t quite produced the kind of flair that he showed last term. Then again that was in the Championship, the lack of flair also owes to the gameplan and the Frenchman has more than contributed to the side in terms of hard work, but let’s go with him.

Grade: B

 

Burnley

This season’s fairy-tale side, despite losing key men in the summer, the Clarets lie three points away from fourth spot. Much was made of their shoddy away form last term, but they’ve lost less games away than at home this season, taking points off Liverpool, Tottenham, and Chelsea. Sean Dyche still continues to be ignored by the bigger sides, music to the ears of Burnley.

Would they have taken this is August: Are you kidding? Lost their best defender in the summer, their goalkeeper to injury early on, and a key midfielder earlier this month (Robbie Brady), yet the Clarets have kicked ‘second season syndrome’ in the jaw.

Top performer: The whole team plus Sean Dyche and the fans? Well to point out a few players, James Tarkowski has been rock-solid at the back, Nick Pope has proved a more than valuable deputy for Tom Heaton in goal, Jack Cork looks like a steal from Swansea, even Ashley Barnes and Kevin Long have contributed their fair share.

Should do better: Nothing to see here, people. Move along.

Grade: A+

 

Chelsea

They were in crisis when they lost on the opening day against Burnley, they were defiant at Tottenham the following weekend. They were in crisis when they lost at Crystal Palace in early October, they were defiant when they beat Manchester United in November. That’s been the story of Chelsea season so far, seemingly one defeat away from turmoil, no matter what happens. Antonio Conte had conceded the title a few weeks ago after defeat at West Ham, the champions have even fallen two further points behind (the gap to Manchester City is 16).

Would they have taken this in August: With preparations for the season constantly hampered by Conte clamouring for more players, lying in third place and into the next round of the UEFA Champions League following a rather tough group, as well as League Cup progress, isn’t quite crisis material. Then again, with Chelsea, it’s go big or go home.

Top performer: Andreas Christensen has emerged a top class defender after loan spells in Germany, even managing to keep Gary Cahill out of the side, while Thibaut Courtois still displays class, as does his fellow Belgian Eden Hazard. Cesar Azpilicueta is still their most consistent performer, but the team just doesn’t seem the same without Ngolo Kante.

Should do better: Michy Batshuayi hasn’t really covered himself in glory, although Conte choosing to go with a false nine whenever Alvaro Morata is unavailable is an indication of how much (little) faith he has in the Belgian. Tiemoue Bakayoko started slowly, but has been improving as the weeks go by, while Davide Zappacosta’s deliveries on the wing make his goal against Qarabag in September seem like a giant miscue.

Grade: B-

 

Crystal Palace

The aim in the summer was simple, long-term planning, as after Sam Allardyce announced his departure and subsequent retirement (snigger here), Crystal Palace’s decision to hire Frank de Boer with a plan of tiki-taka football was seen as a bold but commendable move. But after just four league games, Steve Parish and co. saw the Palacelona project as an ill-fated idea, realised Jason Puncheon couldn’t stroke it like Andres Iniesta, and with four league defeats without scoring, De Boer’s tenure at Inter comparatively seemed like a Captain Davy Jones journey, the long-term plan was shoved out. There was no bigger indication of that other than the appointment of 70-year-old Roy Hodgson, but to Roy’s credit, the Eagles have improved of late, and are unbeaten in eight games. That that run can only see them as high as 16th, is testament to how their early season form was. Put it this way, Bakary Sako had no competitor for the club’s Goal of the Month award in September.

Would they have taken this in August: With the aim initially a long term plan, 16th place might be understandable given de Boer’s methods were always going to take time. The fact that De Boer is now a distant memory and the manner in which their season has gone would be the disappointment. But the fans would have bitten your hand off for 16th spot had you offered it to them in October.

Top performer: Ruben Loftus-Cheek has done relatively well in his loan spell from Chelsea, even earning an England call up, but the star is undoubtedly Wilfred Zaha. It doesn’t take a genius to see how much the Eagles improved once the Ivorian international returned from injury.

Should do better: Christian Benteke has finally ended his goal drought, but hasn’t had the best season, Jason Puncheon has under-performed, while goalie Wayne Hennessey still can’t improve. Has anyone seen Connor Wickham?

Grade: D-

 

Everton

Big-money summer, Everton looked like one to watch for this season. But for the first four months, watching them was a sorry sight, the constant personnel and tactical shuffling, and with the side edging towards the bottom three, Ronald Koeman was dismissed in October. Things barely improved under David Unsworth, but the arrival of formerly retired Sam Allardyce has brought about new life, they’re still unbeaten under the veteran manager, and have moved from 17th to ninth.

Would they have taken this in August: Nope, not a chance. For a side that harboured ambitions of pushing the top six sides far, six points from seventh spot is not the best return at Christmas, even worse when you consider the side occupying that spot is Burnley, who sold arguably their best player Michael Keane to the Toffees.

Top performer: Wayne Rooney has bagged 10 league goals this season, and has been a relative hit since his return from Manchester United, but there’s no better performer in an Everton shirt this season than Jordan Pickford. Even in Everton’s darkest times, the goalie still shown, he’s already received an England cap in recognition of his performances, surely would be the first of many. Dominic Calvert-Lewin is also worth a mention.

Should do better: Step forward a few new signings. Keane hasn’t quite hit the heights that was expected in the summer, while Sandro Ramirez and Davy Klaassen haven’t had the best start to their Everton careers, and seem like victims of a change in manager. Kevin Mirallas has also underperformed, once too often.

Grade: D-

 

Huddersfield

It’s still quite hard to imagine the Terriers in the top flight, and that they’re only outside the top half on goal difference is another fairy tale of its own. Six wins already, including that famous one over Manchester United, David Wagner and his side aren’t reading the script.

Would have taken this in August: Some fans are still coming to terms with being in the Premier League, let alone in 11th!

Top performer: Jonas Lossl has been a pair of safe hands in goal, see his performance against West Brom for evidence, while last season’s key men in Aaron Mooy and Christopher Schindler have also been impressive. But perhaps their star of this campaign is Schindler’s defensive partner Matthias ‘Zanka’ Jorgensen, the Dane has been solid at the heart of the defence, his decision to buy drinks for the travelling fans for the game at Southampton only enhances his reputation with the Huddersfield faithful.

Should do better: Tom Ince has struggled for creativity since his move from Derby County.

Grade: B+

 

Leicester

A thrilling start saw them lose at Arsenal, but one win in their first eight games saw Craig Shakespeare given the boot, notwithstanding the magnitude of sides they had to face in that time. The appointment of Claude Puel wasn’t met with welcome mats by many, but the Foxes have improved ever since, they’ve only lost twice under the Frenchman, and lie in eighth place.

Would they have taken this in August: Top half and only five points from a European place, no doubt. Only penalties stopped from making the semis of the League Cup

Top performer: Kasper Schmeichel still oozes assurance and consistency, while Riyad Mahrez has found his feet after a slow start to the season. Harry Maguire has been an outstanding signing from Hull, and Wilfred Ndidi, red card for simulation aside, has done his growing reputation no harm, but Jamie Vardy is still the main man. Demarai Gray also deserves credit.

Should do better: The Foxes haven’t really had terrible performers so far, but for 25 million, surely more was expected from Kelechi Iheanacho.

Grade: B

 

Liverpool

For all the malaise that seems to follow Liverpool this season, they have only lost twice all-campaign, only Manchester City have lost fewer (okay none). The manner of those defeats though, is the cause for discomfort, that ever-fidgety backline has also been the chief reason for eight draws already this season, no side in the top half has more. Still, top four at this stage is no mean feat.

Would they have taken this in August: Top four and winners of their Champions League group, definitely. The hapless League Cup exit at the hands of Leicester is one to forget though.

Top performer: Members of the front four, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino have been impressive, as has Joe Gomez and a rejuvenated Alberto Moreno, but none comes close to matching Mohammed Salah. The Egyptian has been outstanding for both club and country, helping his nation to a first World Cup in 28 years, and has 21 goals for Liverpool this season. From the wing! In December!

Should do better: Surprise, surprise, the defence. Sadio Mane’s form has also nosedived lately. Save some finger pointing for Simon Mignolet in goal as well.

 

Grade: B

 

 

 

Published in International Watch

Who hasn’t done this: Football Manager; you get frustrated with the whole damn thing, telling yourself you’re getting too old and too worked up for this, and decide to call it quits. An utterly mature and self-reflective decision, which only last two and a half hours, as you remember how much you miss it. Inevitable

When Sam Allardyce hung up his… coat?, back in May and decided that he would retire from the game as he left Crystal Palace after steering another relegation escape, you just sensed that May wouldn’t be the last time we’d see Allardici in the dugout, and like Batman in The Dark Knight Rises, he returns, as Everton have finally decided to appoint someone after sacking Ronald Koeman a decade ago.

Allardyce, who joins on an 18-month contract till 2019, was in the director’s box when Everton ran riot against West Ham yesterday, and the 64-year-old (who emphasised how much young British managers are being overlooked) will begin his tenure in Saturday against Huddersfield, replacing caretaker David Unsworth, who will remain part of the backroom staff.

Everton’s majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri expressed belief in Allardyce’s knowledge of ‘the long-term ambitions we have form this great club’ and that his ‘strong leadership will bring great motivation and get the best out of the players’.

Alongside his Palace stint, Allardyce has also managed Bolton, West Ham, Newcastle, Blackburn and Sunderland in the Premier League, and he has a 100% record in his brief stint as England boss. Not even the fancied Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho can boast that.

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

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