Rewind back to a fortnight ago. Manchester City, one league defeat to their name all-season, and four in all competitions- two of which were inconsequential, prepared for a weekend game at Everton. A win there would give them the chance to confirm the league title at home to neighbours Manchester United, and though their record at Goodison had been a bit underwhelming, on the evidence of this season, victory there looked a sure-fire certainty. And so it proved; by halftime City were in command, the win already in the bag, now it was United next, but first a Champions League quarter-final first leg across Merseyside awaited.

But a 3-0 defeat to Liverpool, after a chaotic 19-minute period, had them staring at European exit. Nevertheless, there was still the chance to win the league in front of United, and by halftime in the Mancunian derby they were two up, in control, and should have been out of sight. Yet, almost inexplicably, they managed to turn a position of complete dominance into utter desperation, this time it was a 16-minute period, and their 2-0 advantage became a 2-3 deficit, that they would never recover from. There was more misery to come in Europe again, as, despite City threatening a comeback with a fast start and a dominant first half, they would suffer another loss to Liverpool. Suddenly, in the space of six days, Pep Guardiola’s men have gone from near-invincible to a pack of cards, the tendency to fold all too common now.

It might well have been different, with the ever-so-common what might have been situations: what would have happened had Pep not set them up to be short-handed at Liverpool and if they didn’t panic in that first half at the back. What would have happened if Raheem Sterling had buried those first half chances against United. What would have happened if Leroy Sane hadn’t been wrongly disallowed by the linesman’s flag in the second leg against Liverpool. But that’s the thing about what might have been situations, they never happened, and because they never happened, in the end it doesn’t matter. What matters is that City are out of the Champions League, and haven’t won the league yet. They might not even do it this weekend, even with a win, but it’s just as important to find a response to a troubled week, as they face another tough test.

In terms of what might have been, none will be wondering this season than Spurs. What might have been: had they started the season well at Wembley; had they not had that torrid run in November and December; had they not been caught napping by Juventus in the Champions League in March. Yet here they are, unbeaten in 14 league games, 20 domestic outings, but have nothing more than a top four spot and a semi-final place in the FA Cup to show for it. They are well lodged in a top four place, despite their November-December scare, 10 points behind fifth-placed Chelsea, level on points with third-placed Liverpool, but having played a game less; even second place is not unrealistic, only four points separate them from United. A win at Wembley this weekend, and they all but seal their place in the Champions League next season, a win and they keep pace with Manchester United, a win and they retain their advantage over Liverpool.

A win, also, and they would have beaten all the sides in the top six at Wembley bar one. For all the talk of how much the stadium would be a drawback (and it did start like it), Liverpool, Man United and Arsenal have all tasted defeat here, and not just defeats, deserved defeats which probably should have been by even greater margins, only Chelsea managed to nick a win in August. They will be full of confidence going into this game, thanks to their form and the fact that City look like they’re there for the taking, like they can fold with the littlest form of pressure, and there’s what the league leaders need to avoid, the growing sense of invulnerability, the fear factor perhaps diminishing, the psychological beating of teams perhaps been chiselled away. It’s the sort of reputation that sort have built so far this season, and wouldn’t want to trample so late in it. A win here and they would have won away at Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Spurs in the same season, a rare feat. More importantly, though, a commanding win here, and the sneers are discarded.

Elsewhere:

  • Separated by seven points and five places, Stoke’s chances of catching West Ham, not too dissimilar with their chances of survival, look like they will boil down to their Monday night trip to the London Stadium. They’ve won only once in 10 games under Paul Lambert, and have a knack for not scoring. Get one here early, though, and they might just benefit from a potentially tempestuous atmosphere.
  • In another game with potentially massive consequences at the bottom end of the table, it’s derby day as Brighton travel to Crystal Palace. Chris Hughton’s side are within touching distance, even though they passed up quite an opportunity against Huddersfield last weekend. A win this time, and they would be on the cusp of survival, not to mention the added bonus of keeping their 17th-placed rivals firmly in the mire.
  • Mark Hughes would have had cause for optimism over Southampton’s performance at Arsenal last weekend (who wouldn’t), but as they host Chelsea on Saturday lunch-time, the question isn’t whether they can kick on but rather bag wins, even draws will hardly help their cause anymore. Chelsea’s semi-crisis wasn’t helped by last weekend’s stalemate against West Ham. At least one of these team’s worries will find little relief this weekend.
  • Oh, and there’s every chance Mohammed Salah would continue his scoring spree as Liverpool host Bournemouth. Shame that he’ll miss out on the golden boot, given all of Tottenham’s goals from now till the end of the season are likely to be awarded to Harry Kane.
  • And in what’s basically a Europa League play-off, Burnley play host Leicester City. Who’d have thought that in September?

Fixtures

Tottenham v Manchester City

Liverpool v Bournemouth

Manchester United v West Brom

Crystal Palace v Brighton

West Ham v Stoke

Swansea v Everton

Southampton v Chelsea

Burnley v Leicester

Huddersfield v Watford

Newcastle v Arsenal

Published in International Watch

Nine places, yet a gap of seven points. That’s the reality of ninth to 18th in the Premier League, as this season’s ever-changing, ultra-unstable relegation battle continues. In a season where there was as much of a title race as there has been in the past five Bundesliga, the fight to keep heads above is dominating the headlines (next to Manchester City’s absurd form, that is).

The first relegation spot (bottom of the table) is currently occupied by West Brom, who have had one hell of a season, almost literally. From their win drought which lasted from August to January, the sacking of Tony Pulis and then the dismissal of the club directors, to the taxi-gate incident involving for first-team players, it’s been a campaign to forget. The Baggies are currently seven points from safety, with three wins all season, and would surely start to feel cut adrift from the rest. They go to Watford this weekend, and it’s little gain saying a win is of utmost importance.

In 19th place, Stoke are only a point away from safety, a cause for optimism, but they seem to have garnered a habit of dropping points from positions of advantage, as last weekend’s draw at Leicester shown. There have been improvements under Paul Lambert, and the Potters host Southampton in what would be described as a six-pointer. It’s fair to say it hasn’t gone to plan for Southampton this term, their decision to ditch Claude Puel for Mauricio Pellegrino as a result of the style of play hasn’t quite worked out, both on an aesthetic and substantial basis. The Saints only clawed their way out of the bottom three thanks to Manolo Gabbiadini’s late goal in that draw at Burnley last weekend, though one defeat in their last nine games in all competitions may suggest an improvement.

Occupying the final relegation spot are Swansea, even if the Welsh side have been resuscitated under Carlos Carvalhal. Since the Portuguese arrived at the end of last year, Swansea have only lost twice in the league, although the latest of those defeats was the 4-1 hammering at Brighton which took them back into the drop zone. It’s another game akin to a six-pointer, as they take on 13th-placed West Ham, who they can actually overtake. West Ham’s form have stalled a bit after their resurgence under David Moyes, and they were heavily beaten at Liverpool last time out, but a win here would take them to 33 points, which, considering the state of things this campaign, would put them on the tethers of survival.

And that’s the word for these sides at the bottom half of the log, the ‘S’ word. Not excluding Crystal Palace (in 17th), Brighton (12), Huddersfield (14), Newcastle (15), who have the toughest tests this weekend, on paper at least. Crystal Palace play host to Manchester United this weekend, still short of Wilfred Zaha, whom they seem unable to play without- the Eagles have also hit a reef, dropping from 12th to 17th in recent weeks. Brighton are in 12th place, three points away from the top half, but only four points above the drop zone. They grabbed that impressive 4-1 win against Swansea a week ago, and will fancy their chances against an Arsenal seemingly in crisis.

For Huddersfield, it’s a trip to Spurs, where they received their first lesson of the season, a 4-0 loss in September which forced them to be a little more cautious (if not too cautious). They have managed two wins on the bounce, though, and won’t be short of confidence. Newcastle, meanwhile, have a trip to Anfield to look forward to, not that many have looked forward to it this term. Only West Brom have managed to win here in any competition this season, keeping the Reds’ Fab Three at bay is no enviable task.

With 10 games to go for all teams this season, it’s definitely crunch time, where two straight wins shoots you up, and two straight losses leaves you in danger of being cut adrift.

Elsewhere

  • Too soon for a guard of honour? Following Manchester City’s 3-0 win at Arsenal on Thursday night, Pep Guardiola’s side only require five more wins to guarantee the title, so who’s a better opponent immediately after that calculation than champions Chelsea. Blues manager Antonio Conte has already urged his side to spend like City this week. Playing like them, however, seems to be a different case.
  • That Burnley are still seventh despite being unless since mid-December is testament to how much of a great start they had. It’s also testament to how horrendous the sides below them have been, especially next opponents Everton. The fees spent on transfers in both windows this season is no secret, yet they’ve spent more time trying to survive than qualify for Europe. Yet they could go level on points with Burnley, proof of how the rest of the league are rather inferior to the top six. But with Everton away this season, a shot on target, let alone a win, would be as welcome as it would be surprising. 

Fixtures

Southampton v Stoke 

Liverpool v Newcastle 

Burnley v Everton 

Leicester v Bournemouth 

Manchester City v Chelsea 

Brighton v Arsenal 

Crystal Palace v Manchester United 

Tottenham v Huddersfield 

Watford v West Brom 

Swansea v West Ham 

Published in International Watch

‘Who else would do it?’ was Mark Hughes’ question after been asked about his future a Stoke following a home loss to Newcastle on New Year’s Day.

Well the Potters' answer has come six days later, and it was: No longer you Sparky; as following the FA Cup loss to Coventry City three hours earlier, Hughes has been dismissed from his role as Stoke manager.

The Potters have had a declining 18 months, finishing last season in a disappointing yet still flattering 13th place, and this season they currently occupy the final relegation spot, after 22 games played in the Premier League.

Following the defeat at Coventry, their first in the FA Cup to a side from the fourth tier or lower since losing to Bradford City in 1938, Hughes said the loss was a blessing in disguise, arguing that Stoke will focus on fighting to survive in the league. ‘Has the situation changed markedly from this afternoon? I don’t think it has’ said Hughes.

Welshman Hughes joined Stoke in the summer of 2013, and managed exactly 200 games with the club. He also had managerial spells at Queens Park Rangers, Fulham, Manchester City and Blackburn.

Hughes was seemingly defiant post-match and confident that he would be in charge of the side when they travel to Manchester United in 10 days’ time. ‘…when we wake up on Monday morning the reality is our priority clearly has to be league form’.

The reality is Hughes will probably sleep longer on Monday morning.

Published in International Watch

Premier League Mid-Term Report: Part Two

Monday, 25 December 2017 12:44

Manchester City

Ah Yes. The seeming autocrats of the Premier League so far, no one beats them, no one attempts to have the ball against them, no one even dare avoid defeat to them. Top of the league, 17 league wins in a row, 60 goals scored (sixty!!), their goal difference tally is higher than the goals scored section of every other team, 13 points ahead in the league. Then again, Pep, we’re still not convinced. Let’s see you lead Chesterfield to the Quidditch championship.

Would they have taken this in August: Top of the league, won their Champions League group, into the last four of the League Cup, there’s quite literally nothing else on offer. 

Top performer: The squad, manager, back room staff, training pitch, everything about City, even roads in the city (okay quit drooling). David Silva is in prime form, Raheem Sterling looks unstoppable, Ederson is an upgrade in goal, but there’s no substitute for Kevin de Bruyne.

Should do better: Why are you here?

Grade: A+

 

Manchester United

Second on the table, 41 goals scored, 14 conceded, won their Champions League with ease, yet fingers are still being pointed. They have conceded points quite sloppily so far, but much has to do with their city neighbours being in abnormal form.

Would they have taken this in August: Would they indeed? After all the years of mediocrity post-Fergie, sitting pretty in second is much welcome. Again, but for City’s outrageous form, things would be looking a lot better. Their League Cup exit at the hands of Bristol City was a potential trophy gone, that would displease Jose Mourinho.

Top performer: Romelu Lukaku started like a house fire, 10 goals in his first 10 games in all competitions. Since then though he’s managed four, but he’s still having an impressive debut season. David de Gea continues to defy logic and normalcy, but the fluidity in the side is always lacking when Paul Pogba is unavailable. Credit to Nemanja Matic for allowing the Frenchman freedom to roam.

Should do better: Chris Smalling has improved of late, as has Victor Lindelof, but both started poorly. One man who has gone in the opposite direction is Henrikh Mkhitaryan, after the Armenian’s glorious first month of the season, his form has nosedived alarmingly, he even regularly misses out of the entire 18 these days.

Grade: B

 

Newcastle

‘Short blanket’ Magpies just climbed out of the relegation zone, having swung into poor form after their bright start. Rafa Benitez would be one waiting for the January window, although the potential takeover looks likely to be a stumbling block.

Would they have taken this in August: Probably, yes. Given Rafa’s complaints over his squad before the campaign, two points off the drop zone isn’t much cause for alarm. It isn’t one to get tongues wagging either, mind.

Top performer: Jamaal Lascelles has performed admirably when fit, and the skipper is never shy to speak out if things are going awry, loanee-turned-permanent-addition Mikel Merino has been impressive in the side. Perhaps with the way the summer looked, Joselu also leans towards ‘hit’ than ‘miss’.

Should do better: Aleksandar Mitrovic looks a more capable player in his position than those appearing regularly, but his attitude is still a giant hitch. Read that sentence again, although this time put ‘Jonjo Shelvey’ where appropriate.

Grade: C-

Southampton

Claude Puel is sacked for the torrid style of play despite finishing eighth and reaching a cup final. Mauricio Pellegrino is appointed with the prospect of better football. December, and the Saints in 13th, eight points behind Puel’s Leicester, who won at the St. Mary’s with some good football. The Saints lack of goals this term shows the blame shouldn’t have laid solely on Puel last season, though Charlie Austin is finding his feet with five goals in six.

Would they have taken this August: Probably not. The Saints were expecting to be among the best of the lot, and with constant attacking and goal-scoring football. They haven’t quite managed either, although there are worse positions to be in.

Top performer: Mario Lemina has been a top signing from Southampton, while Nathan Redmond continues to spark in non-existent attack. Austin also deserves a mention for his recent form.

Should do better: Plenty. Fraizer Forster’s form for the past 18 months has been alarming, and although he might have improved a bit in the few weeks, he still concedes soft goals, and seems to be an easy target. Dusan Tadic and Steven Davis have gone awfully quiet, while Manolo Gabbiadini’s early form at the start of the year seems like a flash in the pan. Oh, and let Virgil van Dijk go already.

Grade: D

 

Stoke

So rumours that Stoke would struggle again this year weren’t so daft after all. The Potters lie three points away from the drop zone in 14th, and though they won recently against West Brom, there is still a sizeable amount of pressure on Mark Hughes.

Would they have taken this in August: Maybe, the squad looked shorn of quality as the season began, and though Hughes dismissed talk of them set for a struggle as rubbish, it seemed inevitable.

Top performer: Eric Choupo-Moting has performed in patches for the team, but is among the better performers. Xherdan Shaqiri is still their hub of creativity.

Should do better: Everyone else? Kevin Wimmer has been a disappointing signing, Jese scored on his debut but has done little since, Darren Fletcher’s form is a bit of enigma, and Joe Allen has also dropped glaringly. Saido Berahino hasn’t scored in two years.

Grade: D

 

Swansea

Terrible defence, the league’s worst attack, no invention to come back and win games from behind, Swansea have acted by ridding themselves of Paul Clement. The witless display that was on show in player/caretaker manager Leon Britton’s first game means the Swans have a lot of work on to avoid the drop. Bottom at Christmas, and rightfully so.

Would they have taken this in August: Who would have taken being bottom of the table at Christmas? There was quiet optimi…okay no real cause for alarm at the start of the season, even as Gylfi Sigurdsson and Fernando Llorente left, the arrivals of Renato Sanches and Wilfred Bony were interesting arrivals. That seems to be the most interesting thing about them so far.

Top performer: Tammy Abraham. Goes without saying.

Should do better: From the rest of the squad down to chairman Huw Jenkins and owners Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien.

Grade: E

 

Tottenham

Seen as arguably the best team in the land at the start of the season, there were worries over Wembley, and for the first two months of the campaign they seemed justified, as Spurs won away but couldn’t buy a ‘home’ win. It’s been quite the opposite lately, Mauricio Pochettino’s men haven’t lost at home since August, but haven’t won in five away games.

Would they have taken this in August: Perhaps. This was seen as a season of transition for Spurs. Fifth place and a point off the top four isn’t that bad, 21 points from the top isn’t good. Neither was the manner of their League Cup exit against West Ham, although they did impressively top a Champions League that included Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, beating the European champions on the way.

Top performer: Davinson Sanchez might have dropped a bit, but the Colombian has been an excellent buy from Ajax. Christian Eriksen and Kieran Trippier have been impressive, same for Harry Winks. No one has scored more goals in a calendar year in the history of the Premier League than Harry Kane.

Should do better: Erik Lamela has returned from a long lay-off and should set his sights on improving as the weeks go by. Moussa Sissoko is still a curious case, and Dele Alli’s form has dropped considerably.

Grade: B-

 

Watford

Impressive start, and seemed like Dark Horses for a European place. Their form has tailed off a bit, but they still lie in the top 10. And eyes are still poking over manager Marco Silva.

Would they have taken this in August: No doubt. They might have been hoping for more considering how the season had been going, but should have no real complaints.

Top performer: Richarlison is such a watchable lad, the 20-year-old has had his fair share of glaring misses, but in general has been a big hit, as was Nathaniel Chalobah before he got injured. Defender Christian Kabasele has also been impressive, but none more than the ever-present Abdoulaye Doucoure, the French manager is enjoying a fine campaign, and even has six league goals to his name.

Should do better: From underrated forward to senseless front man, Troy Deeney and his mas cojones haven’t had the best campaign. He’s currently serving a four-game ban, having missed three over suspension earlier. Save some displeasure for Etienne Capoue as well.

Grade: B

 

West Brom

First two games, two 1-0 wins, it looked to be going rather nicely. Yeah, about that. Those are the only wins for the Baggies in the league so far this term, they haven’t won in 17 games. Tony Pulis has been dismissed, and Alan Pardew has come, yet the improvements haven’t. Second from bottom, West Brom are in need of some resuscitation.

Would they have taken this in August: Before the season began, surely not. After those first two games, absolutely not.

Top performer: Tough call, it’s been quite a collective mess at the Hawthorns. Gareth Barry set a new record of Premier League appearances this season, so that’s something. Goalkeeper Ben Foster and defender Ahmed Hegazi are probably the least disappointing of the lot.

Should do better: The lot.

Grade: F

 

West Ham

Following their rather eye-catching summer additions, much was expected of the Hammers this term, well better than last season at least. By November, though, Slaven Bilic had been dismissed, and replaced to the distaste of more than a few, David Moyes, who wasn’t a proponent of the ‘West Ham way’ (I don’t know what that is either). Things have considerably improved in the past few weeks, but the Hammers are still battling to stay up.

Would they have taken this in August: Not a chance. Even with how bad last season was, the Hammers didn’t expect to sink this low.

Top performer: Adrian has been doing well since usurping Joe Hart as the first choice goalie, even in his ageing state Pablo Zabaleta still gives his all, while Michail Antonio and Arthur Masuaku aren’t doing badly. West Ham, though, are hardly the same side without Manuel Lanzini.

Should do better. Hart was supposedly the headline arrival. Four months later, he’s struggling to maintain a starting spot. Andre Ayew still continues to swing one way and the other in extremities, Aaron Cresswell’s hasn’t been the same since injury in 2016.

P.S: Put Marko Arnautovic somewhere in-between? The Austrian announced himself by attempting to reshape Southampton defender Jack Stephens’ jaw in August and quickly developed into the boo boy. But his performances of late have been impressive, three goals in his last four games, including that one against former club Stoke.

Grade: D-

 

 

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

‘Lads, it’s Tottenham’. That famous supposed words that Sir Alex Ferguson told his players when Manchester United were 3-0 down at White Hart Lane at halftime in 2001. United rallied after the break, storming to a remarkable 5-3 win, and continued their seemingly eternal run of not losing to Spurs in the league.

16 years on, things seem rather different. Spurs have finished above United in three of the previous four campaigns, and the last four meetings between both sides have been shared equally in terms of wins, and the Lilywhites even lead the aggregate score in those quad of games (5-3), admittedly a statistic of little relevance. But the biggest relevance concerning their next meeting with United is that they travel to the Theatre of Dreams, not without pressure, but rather with the home side’s exigency for three league points.

United followed up their away point at Anfield a fortnight ago- where Jose Mourinho more than defended his side’s cautious tactics- with a defeat at new boys Huddersfield last week- where Mourinho criticised his players’ attitude. The League Cup win at Swansea was undoubtedly a welcome result, but it’s unlikely to look a bit more than a side attraction, and come lunchtime on Saturday, a win against Mauricio Pochettino’s team is imperative.

The plus side is, The Red Devils are still impeccable at home this season, four league wins, six in all competitions, all without conceding; and Spurs haven’t scored here in their last three visits. The downside, is Spurs’ remarkable record away from home, four out of four in the league this season, six away league wins on the bounce, scoring 25 times, and they have won at Old Trafford twice in 15 months (2012 and 2013) at one point.

The onus is on Mourinho and his side to play some front foot football, but the manager would take any kind of win on Saturday, even the squad knows that’s more important. ‘It’s a massive game against Spurs and we need to win’ said Ander Herrera.

16 years ago, it would have been a near-formality. There’s a reason for United to be wary now. After all lads, ‘it’s Tottenham’.

Elsewhere:

  • Two new(ish) eras begin at the King Power stadium as Leicester play host to Everton. For the hosts, it’s the first league game under Claude Puel, and the focus is likely to be about the style of play as much as the result. For Everton, meanwhile, former defender David Unsworth has made no secret of wanting the job on a fulltime basis. His rein began with a midweek loss in the League Cup, his audition surely begins now.
  • All right, Sky Sports. Do your thing. It’s the meeting of old friends and similar styles as Jurgen Klopp goes head-to-head with his former right-hand man David Wagner, and Liverpool host Huddersfield. Amidst the bromance that’s bound to be between both gaffers, there’s still business to be done, Liverpool- still reeling from their thrashing at Wembley- are only a point and two places above the Terriers, who have already claimed a major scalp in beating Manchester United last weekend.
  • Watford are a side with impressive bounce back ability, and after a rather unlucky defeat at Chelsea last time out, don’t bet against Marco Silva and his Hornets recovering with an immediate home win. Should that be the case, however, it’ll be an increasing cause for concern for opposite manager Mark Hughes, whose Stoke side have stalled after a bright start to the season.

 

Fixtures

Manchester United v Tottenham

West Brom v Manchester City

Liverpool v Huddersfield

Bournemouth v Chelsea

Leicester v Everton

Brighton v Southampton

Burnley v Newcastle

Crystal Palace v West Ham

Watford v Stoke

Arsenal v Swansea

Published in International Watch

At the end of the week when the inevitable finally came forward, when Diego Costa was confirmed as Chelsea’s past, with an agreement reached between the Premier League champions and Atletico Madrid, their current frontman Alvaro Morata delivered a huge statement on being the present and future.

Morata had registered three goals in his first five league games for the Blues, but the cynics were quick to point out his not-so impressive display against Arsenal, questioning his toughness as to whether he could consistently rise to the hustle and bustle of the Premier League, although prior to the Stoke game manager Antonio Conte had backed him to thrive and hailed him as ‘polite’.

Ah yes, the Stoke game, especially away from home, which is always viewed as the barometer of the hard-hitting nature of the Premier League. Do well in the cold, windy Potteries, and you’ll become Prem. material. And it took Morata only 82 seconds to get going, a long ball from Cesar Azpilicueta (who has now assisted four of Morata’s six league goals) catching out the Stoke defence, and his finish was unflinching.

For all the praise that Morata and Chelsea merited on Saturday, it was also hard to say Stoke made it a bit easier for them, and a clear evidence of that arrived on the half hour, when Potters skipper Darren Fletcher chested the ball to Pedro, who, one-on-one with Jack Butland, wasn’t ready to pass up such an opportunity, as Chelsea would go into the break with a two-goal lead.

Morata’s biggest- criticism is probably not the right word- distinction from Costa was the latter’s ruthlessness and ability to conjure a goal from next to nowhere, but if his second goal of the game was anything to go by, where he picked up a loose ball from over 25 yards away, turned Glen Johnson inside out, before finding the net with aplomb, then Chelsea have little to worry about in that regard. There was still more than enough time for him to complete his hatrick, getting a faint touch to Azpilicueta’s pass to become the first Chelsea player to bag a treble in the league, since a certain Diego Costa did in September 2014. Suddenly he had answered all the questions. He had done it at Stoke, he had scored a Costa-esque goal, and he even bagged all three strikes with his foot, after his previous goals for the club had been all headers.

On Friday Conte had described him as a kind of guy of one would want his daughter to marry (yes really), but with Vittoria Conte only nine years old, that’s unlikely to happen. If he keeps this up though, the manager might just owe him big come May.

It Keeps Raining Goals

For a while it looked like things would be made uncomfortable for Manchester City, with Palace putting up a good fight, reducing the home crowd to mild angst, and very nearly opening their account for the season, when Ruben Loftus-Cheek struck the post. But on the stroke of half time Leroy Sane put City in front, and for the Eagles, it went dark from there. 5-0 it finished, Pep Guardiola’s side have now scored 16 goals in their last three league games without reply. As for Palace, they’ve conceded only one goal less under Roy Hodgson than they did under Frank de Boer, with two games less. And they still haven’t scored. Next up, Manchester United (!!!).

That’s What The Fuss is All About

Sunday, 27 August. Liverpool dispatch Arsenal 4-0 at Anfield, and some Reds fans wonder why they might need Philippe Coutinho (sought by Barcelona) after all. They hadn’t won another game since then, until Saturday, when Coutinho- whose move to the Nou Camp never saw the light of day- produced a performance reminding Liverpool why they fought so badly to keep him, providing the first goal for Mohammed Salah, and scoring the second with a delightful free-kick, in a 3-2 win at Leicester. It’s not to say the Reds’ obvious problems took a break though, their defensive ineptitude still shown, particularly in the first goal they conceded, and had Simon Mignolet not saved Jamie Vardy’s penalty, it might have ended all-square. But with the way things have gone in the past couple of weeks, Jurgen Klopp was more than relieved to take any kind of victory.

Elsewhere:

  • It was a different sort of Manchester United victory at the weekend, as their win at Southampton was more nervy than comfortable and they held on for the best part of the second period. But it was still a win, and one that highlighted a different but necessary quality associated with champions. Nothing wrong with the odd ugly three points.
  • It all seemed like Everton would suffer another defeat, this time at home Bournemouth, which would no doubt jack up the pressure on Ronald Koeman. Enter Oumar Niasse, Everton’s forgotten man, who had been told to find a new club 45 minutes into a pre-season game in the summer, and the Senegalese’s double turned zero points into three. Three goals in two games for him, he’s suddenly their joint-top scorer.
  • There was no East End ambush for Spurs at the London stadium this time around, Harry Kane scoring twice before Christian Eriksen added a third for Mauricio Pochettino’ side. Two West Ham goals from Javier Hernandez and Cheikhou Kouyate either side of Serge Aurier being dismissed for the visitors, threatened to ruin the day for Lilywhites, but the North Londoners still haven’t dropped a single point away from home all season. And that just places more focus on Wembley.

Results

Stoke 0-4 Chelsea

West Ham 2-3 Tottenham

Manchester City 5-0 Crystal Palace

Southampton 0-1 Manchester United

Brighton 1-0 Newcastle

Burnley 0-0 Huddersfield

Leicester 2-3 Liverpool

Swansea 1-2 Watford

Everton 2-1 Bournemouth

Monday Night Football: Arsenal v West Brom

Published in International Watch

 

How will Spurs cope with playing at Wembley?’ has been the question asked by many after it was confirmed that the Lilywhites will use the national stadium for their home games while their new stadium is being completed. The query came about following the less than stellar performances and results from Mauricio Pochettino’s side at that ground last season, which was arguably responsible for their Champions League group-stage elimination (two defeats) and their Europa League round of 32 exit to Gent, and it was where they lost the FA Cup semi-final to Chelsea. Coincidentally, it’s Chelsea who will be the first side to visit Spurs at Wembley in the Premier League, the champions making the short trip as they seek to kick-start their season, after losing their first game, a 3-2 home defeat at the hands of Burnley doing nothing to quell the malaise going on at the Blues’ camp, the Diego Costa situation still unresolved and Antonio Conte still demanding more signings. Chelsea will be without the injured Eden Hazard, suspended duo Cesc Fabregas and Gary Cahill, while they’re still sweating over the fitness of summer arrival Tiemoue Bakayoko; although Victor Moses returns for the champions, after missing the defeat last Saturday. The Blues haven’t won away at Tottenham in four games, and have just one win in 11, but those were at White Hart Lane, and Spurs’ hopes of re-creating the old ground’s atmosphere at Wembley will not have been helped by the restriction placed on ticket purchases- some 20000 tickets won’t be sold for the game. But the bigger issue is how comfortable the hosts will feel at their temporarily new home, particularly in terms of their high-pressing game, while for Chelsea it’s about avoiding talk of any sort of crisis at the club. It may be early in the season, and it may not quite be as defining, but it could be a blueprint of things to come.

 

Elsewhere:

First big test for two new-look teams: On Monday night Manchester City and Everton meet at the Etihad stadium, in what might be a first indication of how strong both teams are. Both sides have spent big in the transfer window, both sides won their opening games in solid if not unspectacular fashion, and both sides are aiming to make significant progress from the previous campaigns. The Toffees haven’t lost in any of their last two league games here, but they haven’t won in six either.

The most unwelcome of guests: Crystal Palace travel to Anfield on Saturday, seeking a fourth win there in succession. And they could do with it, after last weekend’s humbling against newly-promoted Huddersfield; there’s still more than a few teething problems early in the Frank de Boer era, but Liverpool are always vulnerable, as Jurgen Klopp’s men showed at Vicarage Road last weekend.

The most haunting of trips: Well it used to be, until last season, when Arsenal thumped four past Stoke at the Bet365 stadium (the name’s still terrible). The Gunners make the trip to the Midlands on Saturday evening aiming for two wins out of two in the new season, something they haven’t quite managed since the 2009/10 campaign. Stoke meanwhile need to get some points on board before the pressure on Mark Hughes- the bookies favourite to get the sack- reaches altitude.

And at Turf Moor that same day, Burnley host West Brom in what could potentially be the weekend’s most boring game. Or maybe not; both teams- who won last weekend- have shared eight goals in their last two meetings in Lancashire. Don’t bet the house on an all-action packed encounter though.

 

Fixtures

Saturday

12:30: Swansea v Manchester United

15:00: Liverpool v Crystal Palace

Southampton v West Ham

Leicester v Brighton

Burnley v West Brom

Bournemouth v Watford

17:00: Stoke v Arsenal

Sunday

13:30: Huddersfield v Newcastle

16:00: Tottenham v Chelsea

 Monday

20:00: Manchester City v Everton

Published in International Watch