The last time Carlos Carvalhal and David Wagner came face-to-face in the managerial dugout: Football League Championship Playoff Semi-final second leg, May 2017. Huddersfield travelled to Hillsborough, following a goalless draw in the first leg at home to Sheffield Wednesday, fell behind to Steven Fletcher’s header, roared back through an own goal, and eventually triumphed on penalties, on their way to promotion to the Premier League.

And both sides meet again this weekend, with top flight football the end game, although the circumstances are a little different. It’s not about getting to the top flight, more like staying in the top flight; Huddersfield are in 15th place, on 30 points, three ahead of the drop zone, their fairy-tale years might just extend. Swansea, meanwhile, seemed dead and buried at the end of December, Paul Clement was dismissed with the club languishing at the foot of the table, Leon Britton had a little stint as player-manager, then Carvalhal came in, having resigned from his position at Sheffield Wednesday. Since then, things have gone north for the South Welsh side, only two league defeats since the Portuguese came in, and they’re currently two places above Huddersfield, although separated only by goal difference.

Both sides are currently above water, but nowhere near safe, especially in such a tight league table. A win here is a shoot up for one side, as much as a defeat means a drop down for the other. The upside for both sides is that unlike last season, both might well survive. The flipside, though, means, unlike last season as well, both might well go down.

Elsewhere:

  • The question: will Petr Cech ever get that 200th clean sheet? The Czech goalie has been on 199 since 2017, and ever since has failed to have any other shut out. With Watford coming to an uncertain Emirates crowd, where the atmosphere hasn’t been the most joyous of late, this might not be the weekend for that clean sheet. More importantly for Arsenal, a win is paramount to halt their awful league form. They did manage a win at the San Siro in midweek, though, the more important- if not most important- target in their season now.
  • It’s destination Old Trafford at lunchtime on Saturday, as Manchester United play host to Liverpool in a Red derby of second against third. The focus is not unlikely to be on Jose Mourinho and whether he would set up his side to be cautious, and with United above their rivals ahead of the game, it might well be the case.
  • It’s another six-pointer this weekend, as 17th-placed Southampton travel to 16th-placed Newcastle. Southampton have cause for optimism in the fact that they haven’t lost in six games, but only one of those games have they won. Newcastle, meanwhile, lost at Liverpool last weekend, a game they would view as a bye, a definite free hit. Being on home soil demands a result, but home soil hasn’t been their best place to play this term.

Fixtures

Huddersfield v Swansea

Manchester United v Liverpool

Stoke v Manchester City

West Brom v Leicester

Arsenal v Watford

Everton v Brighton

West Ham v Burnley

Bournemouth v Tottenham

Chelsea v Crystal Palace

Newcastle v Southampton

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

‘Why is this geezer any better than Gary Rowett’. Words of disdain from a bewildered ‘pundit’, as a British manager is overlooked for a Premier League job as a result of a foreigner once again. Paul Merson’s displeasure was no secret, neither was Phil Thompson’s, both men on Sky Sports venting their peace last January when Marco Silva was handed the Hull City job. But despite Hull getting relegated in May, Silva performed miracles in giving a fighting chance in the first place, losing only twice at home in his five-month spell- one of which was a dead-rubber against Tottenham-, and ultimately successfully auditioning for the Watford job, the Portuguese potentially getting that appointment ahead of another Brit.

Silva sees his Hornets side lie in 10th place, after a quite impressive so far, as he prepares to host bottom club Swansea, and a fellow Portuguese manager who’s no stranger to his appointment been met with sneers. When Sheffield Wednesday made the decision to hire Carlos Carvalhal in the summer of 2015, not many were elated, after all under previous gaffer Stuart Grey the Owls only finished in the top half of the championship on goal difference (more than on par by their standards), and Carvalhal’s career had seen him manage 15 clubs in Portugal. It was hardly a move to set tongues wagging.

But in his two full seasons at Hillsborough, he led Wednesday to the playoffs twice, falling short in the final in 2016, before a penalty shoot-out brought heartbreak last May. However, Carvalhal left his position last weekend, defeat at home to Middlesbrough left the side firmly lodged in the bottom half of the second tier, which just about makes his appointment- until the end of the season- by the Swans all the more startling. Not that he is fazed.

‘I am confident myself and my staff can help the club to a better position’ says the new Swansea boss. ‘If we do things right here at Swansea, we will stay here for a long time’. Doing things right hasn’t particularly been the Swans’ forte of late, not least in terms of oversight or recruitment, and definitely not on the pitch. Bottom of the table, three wins from 20, lowest goals tally so far (11), and chairman Huw Jenkins stating that fund for the January window can only arrive through player sales doesn’t make things any more comfortable, the Welsh could really do with some width in the side, to say the very least.

Jenkins also admitting that his biggest regret was not bringing back Brendan Rodgers also clearly highlights that Carvalhal is no first choice for the task, neither will he quite be seen as the saviour cometh by the fans. The Swans need get on the right path, and quickly too. A new manager bounce at Hertfordshire on Saturday will be a good start.

Elsewhere

  • Hello Alan. Hello Arsene. It looks like being a keen touchline battle on Sunday at the Hawthorns when Alan Pardew, who seemingly annoys everyone else, hosts Arsene Wenger, who is seemingly annoyed by everyone else; their little handbags session in November of 2006 still lingers in the memory. By Sunday, that game would become of the 811 that Wenger has managed in the Premier League, as the Frenchman will overtake Fergie at the Hawthorns as the manager with most appearances in this league. For West Brom, meanwhile, it would probably be a relief to see the back of 2017, a year which they’ve won only seven league games, only two of which have come this season, and none since August.
  • Last season’s championship’s top two go head-to-head as they bid to retain the Premier League status they fought to acquire last term, Brighton may be in 12th place, but are only four points off the drop, while Newcastle are three behind the Seagulls, in 15th. Neither side has shown a cavalier attacking attitude so far this season, but you sense both might go for it here, the kind of game where both would expect to get something sufficient.

Fixtures

Watford v Swansea

Crystal Palace v Manchester City

Manchester United v Southampton

Newcastle v Brighton

Huddersfield v Burnley

West Brom v Arsenal

Chelsea v Stoke

Liverpool v Leicester

Bournemouth v Everton

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

Pressure? What pressure? Pressure is poor people in the world trying to feed their families. There is no pressure in football’. Those were the words on Jose Mourinho during his first reign as Chelsea manager, as he discarded any thought of being under pressure after his side suffered two losses in a row.

He’s no longer in the dugout in West London, but the man currently in that position is just about on the threshold of the supposed pressure that Mourinho said doesn’t exist in this game. Antonio Conte watched on the side-lines, as his Chelsea team were ripped to bits in the Champions League in Rome, in what was perhaps the Blues’ most abject performance under his stewardship. That loss makes it three defeats in six games, which probably shouldn’t feel like cause for such alarm at a club who won the title at such a canter six months ago, but factor in that their two wins in that time have been in the League Cup and an unconvincing- if fortuitous- win over Watford in the League, hence the malaise at Stamford Bridge.

The Blues defence has been in a state of chaos lately, just see the midweek showing against Roma for reference, but that might get a bit of alleviation considering who’s coming to town this weekend, or rather who’s bringing his charges to town this weekend. Upcoming visitors Manchester United’s gaffer Mourinho has always approached games away to the top six with caution, his team have only scored once in the last nine games at the home of his side’s direct rivals, and more than a few were quick to lambast his tactics against Liverpool last month (as if it’s a crime or it’s his first time doing it).

Another sit-back-and-wait-for-the-game-to-open-itself-up plan would be no surprise and is expected, which might not be the worst thing to happen to Chelsea. Deliver a convincing- or at least sustained- attacking display, even without finding the net, and it might just be met with plaudits on the squad’s resolve. But that could also lead the door open at the back, where Chelsea have- as aforementioned- been a tad generous, to sugar-coat it.

And as even the defensively-tight Spurs found out last weekend, one lapse in concentration is more than enough. One lapse might be enough to increase the heat on Conte.

Elsewhere:

Soft-centred, spineless, basically weak; those are some of the tags already outlined and ready to be splashed out at Arsenal once the final whistle goes in a Gunners game away to the top sides. A 4-0 loss to Liverpool earlier in the season saw them become subject to another scrutiny, but in truth, bar a late defeat at Watford a few weeks back, the Gunners have made steady- if unnoticed progress since that hiding at Anfield in August. They’ve won five of seven league games, and were even unlucky to leave the home of the champions Chelsea with just a point. So a trip to table-toppers and goal-churning Manchester City, might be the last or best place to go to at the moment. On one hand, a creditable result against Pep Guardiola’s side is seen as something of a statement of re-assertion, if not intent; on the other hand, losing by a single goal against City is considered a creditable result these days, and if Arsenal display the kind of laxity they showed at Liverpool, a morale-sapping defeat is not implausible.

It hasn’t particularly been the most eye-catching start to the season from Swansea, performance or results wise, only a leaky Everton backline prevents them from occupying the final relegation spot. So, a home game against Brighton is one in which the Swans faithful will be expectant, the Welsh club’s reading of one win, four defeats and four goals in five home league games is a bit below-par.

 

Since David Unsworth took temporary charge of Everton, the Toffees have had three away games, all three lost, with one goal scored and seven conceded. That places a fair bit of extra pressure on Saturday’s home clash against Watford; the Hornets have only lost once away from Vicarage Road this season- quite unluckily at champions Chelsea for that matter-, but will they short on confidence as they come into this game on the back of two straight defeats?

Fixtures

Chelsea v Manchester United

Tottenham v Crystal Palace

Huddersfield v West Brom

West Ham v Liverpool

Manchester City v Arsenal

Newcastle v Bournemouth

Everton v Watford

Southampton v Burnley

Swansea v Brighton

 

Stoke v Leicester

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

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Published in International Watch

Everton Agree £45m Deal for Swansea Midfielder

Everton have agreed a deal worth to be in the region of £45m for Swansea and Iceland forward Gylfi Sigurdsson. With the fee, Sigurdsson will become Everton’s record signing, beating the £31.8m they paid for Romelu Lukaku in 2014

The former Tottenham player who scored nine goals and created 13 more last season to help Swansea City beat the drop will have his medical at Goodison Park on Wednesday.

Sigurdsson, who is the Saint’s record goal scorer in the English Premier League with 34 goals has been a subject of a move to Everton since July, with the saints rejecting bid worth to be in the region of £40m on two occasions

Though, Sigurdsson admitted in May he was fully committed to Swansea, he has been unsettled at the Liberty Stadium, missing the club’s US tour and friendly against Birmingham.

Sigurdsson’s reported signing will take Everton’s summer spending spree to over £130m having earlier signed Jordan Pickford, Michael Keane, Henry Onyekuru, Sandro Ramirez, Wayne Rooney, Davy Klaassen, and Cuco Martina.

Meanwhile, Everton manager, Ronald Koeman has indicated that he expects contract rebel and club midfielder, Ross Barkley to follow Romelu Lukaku who joined Manchester United for £75m out of the club

 

Published in International Watch