For the second season in a row, there’s no springtime doom and gloom at Newcastle. No talk of fans rallying with banners demanding a club that tries, no claim of the players letting down the fans, and no sign of a squad underachieving. Tyneside feels alive and buoyant, smiles are on faces fans, and the team is overachieving by sitting in the top half.

‘It’s very good what is happening in this club, in this city. We are where we deserve to be, I think’, said Mohammed Diame, who put in a man of the match of performance as Newcastle came from behind to beat Arsenal. Yes, Newcastle beat Arsenal. After 10 defeats in a row, spanning six years, and no wins against the Gunners in eight years, the Magpies grabbed a completely deserved win, their fourth in a row, as well their fourth successive home win. ‘With the last four results, we’ve won four games in a row now, and confidence is high’, said defender Paul Dummett.

And there was no shortage of confidence, even when Arsenal took the lead. It had been 13 years since the Toon celebrated a home win over Arsenal, Nolberto Solano bagging the solo goal back in the winter of 2005. Then Alan Shearer and Michael Owen were the headline men up front, Rafa Benitez was managing at Liverpool, with Glenn Roeder in charge. Normally Newcastle heads would have dropped, conceding the first goal against a bogey team and that familiar feeling would start to creep in, of those 10 games in a row that they lost to the Gunners, only in one of them did they score equalisers- yet they were hit 7-3 in that one- so perhaps a shot in morale would have been expected the moment Alexandre Lacazette latched on to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s pass, and became the first player to score against Martin Dubravka at the St. James Park this season.

But dropping heads isn’t quite a feature of the new Toon, not what has made punch above their weight, made them win four games on the bounce. This may have been a shuffled Arsenal side, but there’s no discrediting Newcastle’s resolve. ‘People were talking about the changes they made but you could see the quality which they had, especially in the first half’, said Benitez. For quality, Benitez would have been delighted to see that that was the word surrounding his side’s equaliser. From Jonjo Shelvey’s superb pass, to Deandre Yedlin’s one-time cross, and Ayoze Perez’s one-touch finish, the goal that gave Newcastle parity involved eight of their 11 players, with nine passes.

It was a third goal in as many games for an in-form Perez, who bagged winners against Huddersfield, and at Leicester lately, but it’s the Spaniard’s work ethic that has been his most brilliant characteristic, and that has also been the watchwords for the rest of the squad. That work ethic, not so similar with Newcastle’s Premier League teams in recent past, always accused of a lack of trying and giving up too easily in the past. Not this side. ‘Everyone was pulling in the same direction…’ said Benitez, while Dummett pointed out ‘the organisation between the back four and midfield’ as key. But perhaps bigger proof of their hard work and focus is Diame pointing out that the team would enjoy this ‘for a few days, then get back to work’. There’s no room for resting on laurels, no room for slacking off, as they showed in the second half, with Islam Slimani and Perez combining to play in Ritchie, who- just like he did against Manchester United here- grabbed the winner.

With 41 points, Newcastle are one point behind ninth-placed Everton, whom they face next. ‘We’ll go to Everton hoping to beat them and take over them’ Dummett added. A win at Goodison Park next weekend takes them to ninth place; only twice in the past 11 Premier League seasons have they finished higher. Not that Benitez is one to get carried away, it’s still a case of one step at a time. The first step was always survival, and with 41 points that has been achieved, just ask Dummett. ‘Yes, definitely’.

City kings of the land, inevitably

You could excuse the nerves from the Manchester City fans and manager when Tottenham halved their advantage. City had been on top and took a deserved- yet fortuitous- two-goal lead, until Christian Eriksen pulled a goal back for Spurs (insert Harry Kane joke here). There was semblance to City’s implosion at home to Manchester United the previous weekend, and Spurs sensed it, the fans roaring them on while the players forced City to cede the ball, both at the end of the first half, and the start of the second. But City didn’t give up control or their lead this time, and with less than 20 minutes left, Raheem Sterling- guilty of a few misses in the derby and here as well- put the game to bed. City have won at Chelsea, Arsenal, United and Spurs this season; more importantly they got to within touching distance of the title. A West Brom win at Old Trafford would suffice.

Not that Pep Guardiola was watching, though. The City boss was presumably on the golf course when United took on West Brom, laboured at home to the bottom club, and, courtesy of a Jay Rodriguez header, suffered a second home league defeat of the season to hand City the title. Which means United had delayed City’s coronation at the Etihad on derby day, only to gift them the title by losing to a side that had won only twice in the league all season. Sums up this week of football. This also means City have won the league at the joint-fastest time ever (with five games to spare, just like United in 2000-01), and in seven years they’ve won three league titles, half the number of times United manager Jose Mourinho pointed out that he has won eight career championships in his post-match conference.

Elsewhere:

  • That defeat at St. James means Arsenal are yet to record an away point in 2018, the only side in the top four divisions in the country awaiting their first spoil on the road. Incredible.
  • Now it’s five wins in a row for Burnley. Not only did Sean Dyche’s side put some considerable daylight between them and recent opponents Leicester, they are now only two points behind sixth-placed Arsenal.
  • Mohammed Salah scored. Next!!
  • The jubilation was uncontainable, from the pitch to the dugout and the fans, when the goal went in and at the final whistle. It looked like Huddersfield-Watford would peter out to a goalless draw, until Tom Ince popped up for the Terriers in the 91st minute, his fifth goal against Watford. More Importantly, it has them on 35 points, on the brink of survival.
  • And in the crisis Clasico, Southampton managed to toss a two-goal lead at home to Chelsea, and grab defeat from the cusp of victory.
  • Oh, and welcome back to the big time Wolverhampton Wanderers

Results:

Newcastle 2-1 Arsenal

Tottenham 1-3 Manchester City

Southampton 2-3 Chelsea

Manchester United 0-1 West Brom

Huddersfield 1-0 Watford

Swansea 1-1 Everton

Crystal Palace 3-2 Brighton

Liverpool 3-0 Bournemouth

Burnley 2-1 Leicester

Monday Night Football: West Ham v Stoke

Published in International Watch

10 Potential Managerial Changes Next Season

Wednesday, 28 March 2018 15:07

This be the final quarter of the season, mateys; where leagues are won, cups are taken, relegations are suffered, and end of season awards are doled out. But not many things say the end of a season like when a manager leaves his post, either having earlier stated that he would leave when the season ends, or having made the sudden, but inevitable departure, or having been courted by bigger fish.

So what are the potential managerial changes that are foreseeable once the final whistle of the season goes? We have a look at 10…

Paris Saint-Germain

Without a shred of a doubt, it’s the first potential managerial change that many people are foreseeing, and not without reason. After last season’s early UEFA Champions League exit at the hands, alongside only second place in the domestic league, PSG went big in the market, shattering the world transfer record (for Neymar) and the second-world-transfer-record-in-form-of-a-loan (Kylian Mbappe), only to suffer another early exit. They may be coasting to the Ligue 1 title, but after Laurent Blanc was sacked following three consecutive league titles, one league crown and insipid European exits won’t cut it for Unai Emery, especially considering he was hired because of his continental previous with Sevilla. It’s hard to fashion a way to see the Spaniard remaining as manager next season, not least because his contract expires at the end of this campaign, and the French club already contacting Antonio Conte’s representatives. Which brings us nicely to….

Chelsea

It’s little gain pointing out the mood of Conte at Stamford Bridge this term, the Italian has gone from title-winning mastermind to sulky maverick in less than 12 months. Chelsea are currently lingering outside the top four, have won three league games from nine in 2018, and have their fate well out of their own hands, and Conte has spent time questioning the Blues hierarchy on several occasions, from not getting his players, to the board not fully committing to him. All the elements of an inevitable divorce.

Real Madrid

W…W...Wa…Wait!! Before you aim the stones and bring out the clubs, hear ye out. Zinedine Zidane’s success at Real Madrid so far is as much of a mean feat as it is a secret, but there’s no question Los Blancos have floundered this season. They were out of the title race as early as December, they’ve suffered more defeats than the whole of last season already and were bundled out of the Spanish Cup in their own backyard. It’s hard to ignore their resurgence since the start of the year, though, the goals have started to come in (yes, Cristiano Ronaldo) and they made light work of PSG in the Champions League last 16, but it’s in Europe where their only hope lies, and a quarter-final exit at the hands of Juventus might well spell the end for Zizou.

Bayern Munich

Another almost sure-fire change ahead of next season. Bayern have been transformed since Jupp Heynckes returned in September, and are at most two wins away from a sixth successive Bundesliga title, as well as going well in Europe. But despite the smiles on the pitch, and the appeals from chairman Karl Heinz-Rummenigge, Heynckes, 72, still remains intent on stepping down. There have been rumours of Thomas Tuchel (who is by no means done here), as well as Julian Nagelsmann, as potential replacements.

Arsenal

Call it bold, or foolhardy if you like; and perhaps it is. After all, many have had the gusto to predict the time by which Arsene Wenger would have left the Emirates, and all of them have been proved wrong. But the pressure seems unyielding and the discontent louder as each game of the season grows by, and you sense that should the Gunners lift the Europa League, Le Professeur might just finally walk off into the sunset. There have been endless rumours of Italians Max Allegri and Carlo Ancelotti as potential dugout replacements, while Thomas Tuchel’s name has come up in recent days. This might well be Wenger’s final hurrah. Just don’t bet on it yet, though.

Everton

It’s been a season of complete discomfort at the Blue end of Merseyside, despite the wave of optimism that swept it in the summer. After spending big at the start of the season, Everton were primed for a charge against the top six, even with the loss of Romelu Lukaku, while FourFourTwo even talked about them probably being among one of the potential outside challengers for the title. So, surely the fans wouldn’t have expected the Toffees to be spending most of its time trying to stave off relegation trouble, after a torrid start to the season saw Ronald Koeman sacked and Sam Allardyce replacing the Dutchman. Big Sam has just about guaranteed safety already, but there’s little for appreciation or optimism under his stewardship so far, Everton have had at least four games this season where they haven’t managed a shot on target, the performances have been laboured, and they’ve only won once away from Goodison since December. The fans have made no secret of their discontent, surely a side that was the sixth biggest spender in Europe in the summer and winter windows combined ought to play with ambition when away to Watford and West Brom, at the very least. Stranger things than Big Sam staying on next season have happened, but it’s hard to see Big Sam staying on next season.

Borussia Dortmund

Another side where the ship has steadied but the comfort isn’t quite there. Since the sacking of Peter Bosz, Peter Stoger has come in and kept things together nicely at Dortmund, Die Schwarzgelben haven’t lost in the league under his stewardship and are in a Champions League place. But there have been complaints over the football ever since the former Koln arrived, Dortmund have become harder to beat but hard to watch, and they did get beaten, in the Europa League at the hands of Red Bull Salzburg. Stoger’s exploits will have no doubt interested other sides, and done his stock no harm. Perhaps Dortmund would be glad to have someone take him off their hands.

Olympique Lyon

Exciting. That’s been the word associated with Olympique Lyonnais this campaign, the youthful exuberance of a youthful and exuberant side has been pleasing on the eye. But no doubt there would be bumps in the road, as there have been this season, recently as well. After a late win over PSG in February, Lyon were eight points behind the capital side, and seemed like outsiders for a title race. But the form nosedived after that, no wins in their next five domestic games. They were compensating for their drop in the league with a steady run in the Europa League, but at the last 16 stage they were bundled out by CSKA Moscow, denied a home final in the process, and that seemed like the boiling point. First, Benjamin Marcal didn’t take too well being substituted in that defeat at home to CSKA, a discontent he didn’t hide from coach Bruno Genesio. A verbal confrontation immediately followed, and Marcal has been exiled from the team ever since. Then there was chairman Jean Michel-Aulas denying reports that Genesio had offered his resignation before the Marseille game. A win in that encounter has kept them in the hunt for Champions League next season, and pushed the unease inside the club aside for the moment, but it’s not hard to sense that all is far from well at Lyon. Rumours of Claudio Ranieri being touted as a replacement are of little help to the issue.

West Ham

It’s fair to say that move to the London Stadium hasn’t quite had the desired effect that it was supposed to. After that impressive seventh place finish in 2015/16, better things were expected as the club moved away from the Boleyn Ground. Or perhaps following the impressive campaign of 2015/16, expectations became rather unrealistically high. Nevertheless, much was expected after the Hammers moved to the future, the seemingly next level, but little has been delivered. An underwhelming season last time out and a bad start to this one saw the axe swing on Slaven Bilic, and David Moyes was brought in as a replacement, despite the sneers from the fans. Moyes did start well, rejuvenating a previously forlorn Marko Arnautovic, but form has tailed off. Three defeats in three, with 11 goals conceded, are hardly any cause for optimism, and though most of the fans’ distaste has been spat at the direction of the owners, it’s not hard to foresee another managerial change at the East End.

West Brom

Duh!

Okay fine: Three league wins all season, one win since Alan Pardew replaced Tony Pulis in December, those aren’t the kind of stats West Brom were expecting this campaign. It’s been one mishap to another for the Baggies, from the sacking of the club directors to the oh-so-famous taxi-gate incident involving four of their players. It’s no wild guess to say that a lack of options is what’s keeping Pardew in the job; relegation is just about a certainty now. Pards surely won’t be around after.

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

There were scarves, banners, as well as commemorative t-shirts from West Bromwich Albion, as the club sought to honour Cyrille Regis in the first league game at the Hawthorns since the former Baggies striker’s passing, the likes of Ian Wright, Bryan Robson and Ron Atkinson also appearing at the ground to pay tribute. It was a memorable and emotional occasion, and even the visiting Southampton fans held their scarves up before kick-off.

By kick-off, however, it was going to be back to business, as both sides had relegation demons to battle, and it took the hosts only three minutes to hit the front, Ahmed Hegazi getting his head to Chris Brunt’s brilliant corner for his first goal since the opening day of the season. The early goal drove the atmosphere of the crowd to a state of near-cacophony, and as Hegazi was off celebrating what was only the fifth home goal since Alan Pardew arrived last November, all from set-pieces.

Southampton, though, have been growing well in games as the weeks have gone by, no wins in 11 prior to this game, but they hadn’t lost in three as well, and they weren’t going to let their heads drop here, as six minutes after Hegazi scored, Sofiane Boufal fired a shot narrowly wide of Ben Foster’s goal. ‘It was difficult because we conceded quickly but the team showed the personality to keep going and playing in our way’ said Mauricio Pellegrino.

The Argentine, who’s been under pressure of late, and watched a Saints fans chuck a season ticket at him against Brighton in midweek, watched on here as Southampton kept searching for an equaliser, Foster getting down well to the visitors debutant Guido Carrillo five minutes before halftime. But from the resulting corner an equaliser would surface, a short take between James Ward-Prowse and Boufal resulted in Mario Lemina thumping home a fierce strike, for his first goal since joining the Saints in August. And there was still time for Southampton to take the lead before the break, another corner, this time Ward-Prowse opted to put in the box, and Jack Stephens, guilty of losing Hegazi for the West Brom goal, headed one into the top corner. ‘I was disappointed with the West Brom’s opening goal- he was my man- so it’s nice to make up for it’, said the Saints who scored his third goal in three games, having not scored in any since his senior career began.

Then came a big talking point, 10 minutes after the second half began. Wesley Hoedt made a fine solo towards West Brom area before getting caught by Gareth Barry, and the resulting free-kick was subject to debate by Boufal and Ward-Prowse over its execution. ‘There’s a bit of competition for the free-kicks, but it shows how passionate we all are’, said Ward-Prowse, who took the kick, and fired it firmly into the bottom corner, to give the Saints a cushion. ‘There’s a good feeling around the team and all the lads want to do well to help the team’ Ward-Prowse added, and his point was just about by the fact that Boufal was the first man to slide towards him in celebration.

They would be pegged back with 18 minutes left, however, another wonderful delivery from Brunt was headed home, this time, by Salomon Rondon, but held and left with the win, which takes them up to 15th. It doesn’t quite (or do anything to) relieve Pellegrino of pressure, but it’s a cause for relief, if not optimism. ‘We need to keep going now’ said Stephens. ‘There’s no point coming here and getting a big three points then losing or drawing. We need to use this to push on now and get out of the situation here’.

‘Hopefully these three points can help us to increase our confidence on the pitch’, said the Saints boss. With Liverpool the next opponents in a week’s time, they’ll need as much confidence as they can get.

Chaotic Thriller at Anfield

Hugo Lloris beat the turf in agony, Harry Kane watched on with grimness, as Mohammed wheeled away celebrating a certain Liverpool winner, six minutes after the Spurs talisman had missed from 12 yards, while Reds boss Jurgen Klopp was bombing away in celebration as Anfield roared, Liverpool were five points clear of fifth place as things stood. But it wasn’t quite done, from a long throw by Kieran Trippier, Virgil van Dijk was adjudged to have kicked Erik Lamela in the box, another penalty was awarded, this time Kane made no mistake, as his 100th Premier League nicked a point for Spurs. It’s still very much in the balance, the top four tussle.

Elsewhere

  • That Anfield stalemate- however entertaining- then meant that Arsenal’s dismantling of Everton less than 24 fours earlier would count for even more, the Gunners racing into a four-goal lead inside the first for the second home league game in a row. But as 4-0 first half leads mostly go, only one would be added to it, although that one completed Aaron Ramsey’s first ever senior hatrick. For Henrikh Mkhitaryan, making his home debut, it was a hatrick of assists, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang bagged one on his maiden appearance. There are now six points behind third place, for now at least.
  • For the first time since April last year, Manchester City took the lead in a Premier League game, but failed to win it, as they were guilty of missing a fair amount of chances (yes, you, Raheem Sterling) at Burnley, before conceding a late Johann Berg Gudmundsson equaliser. The draw sees their cut to 13 points, which still seems a fair bit to be caught…but hang on, what do you mean Pep Guardiola named only six subs for the game!
  •  It was always going to be a straightforward win for Manchester United against Huddersfield, particularly if they scored first, and after some tough work, they got the breakthrough in the second period, which was added to by a home debut goal from Alexis Sanchez. The Terriers were as threatening at Old Trafford as they were at the Emirates and Anfield, and they moved down to 19th place.
  • Here at Spotkick, we believe in philanthropy, caring for and helping out others (or is that altruism?), not least by means of information. So we informatively recommend you check out the goals of this Premier League weekend, in case you missed them, you might as well derive a fair bit of satisfaction from Victor Wanyama’s blockbuster at Anfield for Spurs, Lemina’s thunderbolt for Southampton at West Brom, Danilo’s curler for Man City at Burnley, Jose Izquierdo and Pascal Gross for Brighton against West Ham, who themselves produced a fine finish in Javier Hernandez, to mention but a few. You’re welcome.

Results 

Manchester United 2-0 Huddersfield 

West Brom 2-3 Southampton 

Brighton 3-1 West Ham 

Leicester 1-1 Swansea 

Arsenal 5-1 Everton 

Burnley 1-1 Manchester City 

Liverpool 2-2 Tottenham 

Bournemouth 2-1 Stoke 

Crystal Palace 1-1 Newcastle 

Monday Night Football: Watford v Chelsea 

Published in International Watch

Andy Cole. Dion Dublin. Ian Wright. Les Ferdinand. Four World-class strikers in their time, who made their fair share of contributions to the English top flight, three of whom ended up winning the Premier League. If there’s one other thing they’ll want to be known for having in common, it’ll be finding inspiration in former West Brom and Aston Villa forward Cyrille Regis, who proved to be a pioneer, a motivator for black footballers to chase their dream in the country, despite the adversities that came (and still comes) with it.

‘There was Brendon (Baston) and Laurie (Cunningham) and Viv (Anderson) but there was something about Cyrille that myself and Wrighty and Ferdinand’ said an emotional Dion Dublin earlier this week, after Regis passed away of a heart attack. ‘We were the players that looked at those players and thought we want to play, we want to be like you’. ‘Me in particular playing centre-forward, Cyrille Regis was my hero. All I wanted to do was play like him’ Dublin went on. ‘I used to watch him all the time and if it wasn’t for him I would never have been a professional footballer.

If it wasn’t for Regis, not many black players would have lived the dream of making it at professional level, Cole and Viv Anderson rained in their tributes over his impact, while Ian Wright referred to Regis as Martin Luther King. And from the looks of it, Regis had quite a dream, otherwise he probably would have been deterred by the seemingly endless bouts of racism he received in his playing time, from the monkey noises in a game at Newcastle, to the bullet sent to him in a threatening letter about stepping on to the pitch right before he made his international debut for England, but Regis was a man who barely aired his distaste for the discrimination he received, rather he kept on playing, week in, week out, to the disdain and ridiculousness of the abusers.

‘Cyrille was the main reason why a lot of young black kids looked at football and thought there was a genuine opportunity to play’ said Brian Deane, scorer of the Premier League’s first ever goal. ‘He embodied the spirit of the inner cities of the time…’. And when teams came out to play this weekend, they stopped to recognise Regis, even though the Premier League didn’t plan on it at first, initially West Brom were the only Premier League side who were going to pay tribute to the former forward, but calls from the likes of Anderson led to Premier League eventually deciding on it. The recognition was beyond the English top flight though, as every game in the English Football League paid tribute as well, even the Scottish cup, and Celtic winger Scott Sinclair, whom Regis was his agent, spoke of the guidance and advice he and the other players under Regis received from the 59-year-old.

It’s still naïve to say that racism in the game has vanished, the issue of players being despised for the heinous crime of being black is still very much rife, as Liverpool’s Rhian Brewster and the attack on Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling in the past few weeks have shown, but as Jefferson Jackson, in the CW’s fictional Legends of Tomorrow, said to the slaves when he travelled back in time to America’s more despicable days ‘it doesn’t become equal, or anywhere near good enough, but it gets better’. And it has gotten better in Britain, thanks in no small part to Cyrille Regis.

A player who turned out for three Midland clubs, all rivals with each other, yet not when it came to him. And at the weekend, the rest of bickering teams in the land united in acknowledging a pacesetter.

Elsewhere:

  • Amidst the applauding in unison, there was still football to be played, and no one played it this weekend like Eden Hazard. It was only five minutes into the game at Brighton, when the Belgian had thumped Chelsea in front, and played a part in an exquisite second, from Willian. Hazard added another in the second period as Chelsea ran out 4-0 winners, a result which probably didn’t quite reflect Brighton’s efforts. Two goals, wonderful turns and dribbles, moments of seemingly daring the opposition to make a tackle, yet Hazard’s best touch came after the final whistle. Class.
  • There’s just this love affair that happens when Sergio Aguero and Newcastle come face-to-face, although it is the kind of love affair that the Magpies will more than want to end, as the Argentine’s hatrick gave Manchester City three points on Saturday, bouncing back from the Liverpool defeat in effective, if not at times uncomfortable fashion. At times it was hearts in mouth for the home fans, especially when the score was at 2-1, but Newcastle never really seemed like a side that were believing they could leave the Etihad with something. And a wonderfully incisive Leroy Sane run into the box later, Aguero would cap off the win and his treble, his 12th goal against the Toon in less than eight years, one of which Newcastle spent in a different division.
  • Alexis Sanchez seems all but gone from Arsenal now, but on evidence of this game, who needs him? Only 22 minutes had gone when Arsenal were 4-0 up against Crystal Palace, Alexandre Lacazette getting on the score sheet to end his goal drought, and become the scorer of the 500th goal for Arsenal by a Frenchman. If this performance was anything to go by, perhaps the Gunners were glad to see Sanchez leave. But with Arsenal, it’s always a soon-to-be disproved ‘if’.
  • Marco Silva has become managerial casualty number eight of the season (that means an average of a managerial departure every three match-weeks), after Watford lost at Leicester. Silva had expressed confidence in the safety of his job after the defeat, something the Hornets hierarchy clearly didn’t echo, and they were keen to point out a lack of focus as the reason for the Portuguese’s dismissal. Javi Gracia is the new man in charge.
  • Speaking of a new man in charge, it was a happy start to life at the Bet365 stadium for Paul Lambert, as Stoke bagged three much-needed points at home to Huddersfield, thanks to Joe Allen and Mame Biram Diouf. The Potters have climbed out of the bottom three.
  • There was applause at the start at Goodison Park, for Regis, while in the second half there were tears from the face of West Brom forward Salomon Rondon, after his unfortunate accident with Everton’s James McCarthy resulted in the latter suffering a double leg break, not long after returning from a two-month lay-off. Elsewhere, there was a first league point, goal and shot on target of the year for Everton after 20 days. That seems about right. The Toffees lie in ninth place, as close to eight spot as they are to 18th.

Results

Brighton 0-4 Chelsea

Burnley 0-2 Manchester United

Arsenal 4-0 Crystal Palace

West Ham 1-1 Bournemouth

Everton 1-1 West Brom

Leicester 2-0 Watford

Southampton 1-1 Tottenham

Manchester City 3-1 Newcastle

Stoke 2-0 Huddersfield

Monday Night Football: Swansea v Liverpool

 

 

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

It’s quite an understatement to say West Brom’s form hasn’t been the envy of many. 15 league games without a win, stretching back to August, and they’ve lost seven and conceded 22 in that time, costing Tony Pulis his job.

It hasn’t quite been an upswing since Alan Pardew came in, they haven’t scored in the three games he’s managed, and are outside the bottom three only on goal difference. But they battled to a goalless draw at free-scoring Liverpool in midweek, and goalkeeper Ben Foster believes that result would have given them a bit of a spring in their step as they face another daunting task in the visit of Manchester United. ‘I think we’ll pat ourselves on the back but we’ve got another tough match on Sunday, and we can at least take a lot of confidence into that’ said the former United goalkeeper, who is on the verge of his 200th game for the Baggies.

The fans had been on Pulis’ back before his sacking, often citing the style of football, and the style as expected seems to be changing under Pards. ‘It wasn’t only a defensive display because when we actually got the ball I thought we tried to go for it and nick something’ Foster said of the Liverpool.

But the anticipated front foot football hasn’t yielded dividends yet, in fact they have more clean sheets in their last three games than in their previous 13; you’d think it was Pulis who just replaced Pardew. Between now and the FA Cup tie in Early January, West Brom have trips to Stoke and West Ham, either side of home games against Arsenal and Everton after this United game; given their current it’s not implausible that they enter the FA Cup third round bottom of the league table.

Either way the Baggies plan to do it, positive front foot displays or ‘shit football’, wins need to start coming, and start coming fast. Foster seems certain that they have some momentum with them. If that’s the case, it might just have come at the right time.

Elsewhere:

  • Mark Hughes says he doesn’t do relegation, so he’ll certainly be sitting in utter discomfort at the thought of his side languishing in 15th place, two points from the drop zone. Seven defeats in their last 10 isn’t good reading for a side that once consistently pitched their tent in ninth place once the season came to a close. Sparky is under pressure, and this might not be the right time to face West Ham. The Hammers have kept two successive clean sheets, collecting four points from home games against Chelsea and Arsenal. Momentum is steadily building for David Moyes and his side.
  • Spurs have picked themselves up a bit after their rough patch, two wins in a row with seven goals scored and one conceded, Mauricio Pochettino has seen his side return to the top four. But their biggest test of the season is likely to come this weekend when they host none other than ‘petrol’ Manchester City (don’t snigger, Wenger said it), whose 15 wins in a row and unbeaten start to the league season is barely news anymore. That run should come to an end at some point, right? RIGHT??
  • Benitez earlier in the season described his Newcastle side as a ‘short blanket’, leaving either your top half or your feet cold, an analogy for the deficiencies of the Magpies. To keep up with that analogy, Newcastle have been cold all over recently, seven defeats in eight games, their early season form looks so far away now it’s like it never happened. It’s probably not the best time to travel to the Emirates, where Arsenal have only failed to win once in the league so far, and where Newcastle have only won once in 11 league tries.

Fixtures

West Brom v Manchester United

Chelsea v Southampton

Arsenal v Newcastle

Stoke v West Ham

Leicester v Crystal Palace

Bournemouth v Liverpool

Manchester City v Tottenham

Watford v Huddersfield

Brighton v Burnley

Everton v Swansea

Published in International Watch

West Brom have confirmed the appointment of Alan Pardew to succeed Tony Pulis at the Hawthorns.

Pulis was sacked last week after a home defeat to Chelsea proved one winless game too many, that loss and their two draws that have followed means the Baggies haven’t won a league game since August, 12 games ago.

56-year-old skilled FA Cup final dancer Pardew has been out of managerial action since Crystal Palace, ironically Pulis’ former club, decided to do away with his services late last year. So he might have that in mind when he takes charge of his first West Brom game against the Eagles. Fate huh.

‘I’m thrilled with the opportunity Albion have provided and looking forward to getting to work with what I consider to be a talented group of players’, Pardew told the club’s website. Given that West Brom are currently in 17th place in the league, it’s quite some work on his hands, but chairman Jon Williams trusts in and is impressed by his ‘experience of more than 300 Premier League games and the kind of dynamic leadership from which our club can benefit’.

Pardew’s appointment means Gary Megson, who was in caretaker duties after Pulis left, leaves the club, as Williams confirmed.

Published in International Watch

In Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the Decepticons waited for quite a while for the return of Sentinel Prime, an Autobot; which was weird in its own, until it was revealed that Megatron- leader of the Decepticons- had colluded with Sentinel before the latter’s disappearance. Once Sentinel returned, the Decepticons had more than levelled the playing field against the Autobots, elevating themselves, and narrowing the distance, as well as quickening the transport (transition) of their ‘brothers’ to earth.

Paul Pogba might not be a truck that dynamically transforms into a kick-ass ‘robot’, he might not have betrayed one side to help the other, and he certainly doesn’t speak in an unavoidable heavy accent, but for weeks his return had been yearned for by Manchester United, manager and fans alike. And judging by how cut off the Red Devils’ midfield has been from their attack over the past month, the players were probably on the prowl for re-entry as well, and when the Frenchman did make his return at home to Newcastle, he was the engine that made things tick, as United scored more than once in a league game for the first time since the end of September. ‘He affects our football. With him we have more creation.’ said Jose Mourinho, and it did look it, his quick feet, his hold up play and his ability to transition the midfield into attack with such quickness took United to another level, and he bagged a goal and an assist to boot.

The assist came in the 37th minute, crossing for Anthony Martial to head home after gliding past Isaac Hayden. But that was an equaliser, as less than 15 minutes in Pogba had watched his side fall behind; a cross from DeAndre Yedlin, and a slip from Victor Lindelof (not winning friends at Old Trafford so far) let in Dwight Gayle, and the forward’s shot went into off the base of the post, and made him the first opponent to score at Old Trafford in the league since Gylfi Sigurdsson for Swansea in April, and the first to do so from open play since Middlesbrough’s Grant Leadbitter over a year ago. Newcastle were enterprising, and Jacob Murphy’s shot rolled wide as they sought. The Magpies didn’t let their heads dropp when Martial’s equaliser was followed five minutes after by Chris Smalling heading the hosts in front, and Hayden had to be denied by David de Gea, while Gayle deflected a shot just wide of United’s goal, both incidents on the verge of half-time.

But in the second period, their performance, almost inevitably, dropped, and United would create daylight between both sides, Pogba tapping home from Marcus Rashford. All that was left was for Pogba to leave to a standing ovation, for Romelu Lukaku to end his goal drought, and then the biggest cheer came when Zlatan Ibrahimovic to make his return from a long time out. The lion had returned, but the day belonged to Pogba, who needed just an hour to emphasise how much he’d been missed.

Sentinel’s plan for the Decepticons failed eventually, however, Megatron ultimately proving to be his downfall. For Mourinho and United, the hope is that Pogba’s re-appearance becomes the spark to upstage the Autobots from across the City.

Gunners Get Firing in NLD

It was an Arsenal masterclass on Saturday, as they dispatched Spurs with ease in the North London derby. Both goals might have seemed contentious, but they were either-way decisions and the win was thoroughly deserved, and a certain Mesut Ozil provided a gem of a performance. In truth, the win flattered Spurs, who had to get on the front foot after conceding twice in five minutes, but they hardly threatened and had Hugo Lloris to thank at the other end for keeping the score-line down. Christian Eriksen looked like those Danish exploits had taken a bit out of him, Harry Kane and Moussa Dembele looked clearly unfit, while Moussa Sissoko looked… like Moussa Sissoko. The discussion has shifted from a shift in the balance of power in North London, to Spurs’ failures away to the top six. Four wins in 87 games away to the rest of the top six. That’s cause for discomfort, if not concern.

Pulis sees Nowhere to Hide

It was another defeat for West Brom and Tony Pulis, a meek surrender at home to the champions did little to alleviate the pressure the manager is under. On the ground where Chelsea laboured to a title-clinching winning in May, there was no such difficulty this time around, class acts from Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata ensured it’s four league wins in a row for Antonio Conte and his side.

Elsewhere:

  • Chelsea have won four in a row, Liverpool three, United have scored four times in five league games, yet they’re all still well behind the top; all because Manchester City keep steamrollering past every side they face. 1-0 up at Leicester on Saturday, two centimetres and 15 seconds changed everything. Harry Maguire hit the post for the Foxes midway through the second half, and less than 20 seconds after, Kevin de Bruyne smashed in a peach at the other end, almost re-asserting City’s status as a side built for crushing opposition hopes. 10 league wins in a row, they’ve already beaten three of last season’s top five.
  • It was a new era for West Ham, but it was an old feeling for the Hammers; and as a matter of fact for their latest manager David Moyes as well. A two-nil loss away to Watford was completely deserved, it’ll surely take some time before the new rein gets going (if it ever does). They’re still in the bottom three.

Results

Arsenal 2-0 Tottenham

Manchester United 4-1 Newcastle

Liverpool 3-0 Southampton

Leicester 0-2 Manchester City

Bournemouth 4-0 Huddersfield

Watford 2-0 West Ham

West Brom 0-4 Chelsea

Crystal Palace 2-2 Everton

Burnley 2-0 Swansea

Monday Night Football: Brighton v Stoke 

Published in International Watch

A decade ago Arsenal probably wouldn’t have envisaged such a situation. The North London derby of autumn 2007 saw the Gunners leave White Hart Lane with three goals, three points and a top class performance as they maintained their early-season form, and nudging Spurs manager Martin Jol another step toward his inevitable sacking. That was the seventh season in a row where they hadn’t tasted defeat in the league to the Lilywhites, the laughing stock of the capital, always stuck in limbo as they bid relive the glory days of the ‘60s.

Well 10 years later, it may not quite be the glory days that Spurs fans had always dreamt about, but they look quite a cut above their North London rivals at this point, two- admittedly far-fetched and ultimately futile- title challenges in the past two seasons, finally finishing above their neighbours for the first time in 22 years last term, by 11 points as well, one could say the balance of power between those two has shifted.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger doesn’t agree though, considering more of an open debate than a forgone conclusion. ‘I think the question about the balance of power in North London is one we have to answer and the only way to answer is on the pitch.’ said the Frenchman. But Wenger did admit that the Gunners have ground to make up ‘with the top teams’, as Arsenal lie four points off their upcoming visitors, and 12 behind leaders Manchester City. Not that he considers his side as underdogs, though, and why would he, the Gunners have won five out of five league games at home this season, scoring fourteen times and keeping three clean sheets, so it bodes well for their clash against Spurs at the Emirates.

‘We have no fear’, says Wenger. ‘We are focused on nullifying their strengths and expressing ours. Tottenham are a good side but we have the quality’.

In a game of such magnitude, it’s hardly down to just quality, a touch of brashness and the willingness to scrap are also requirements, something Arsenal don’t show on frequent occasions against the big guns.

They might need to get down in the mud to dig out a positive result in this one, that fearlessness Wenger boasts of would surely come in handy.

Elsewhere:

  • Second place. Closest challengers to leaders City. Best defence in the league, yet this weekend’s game against Newcastle has the looks of a must-win for Jose Mourinho and Manchester United. The good news is Paul Pogba is back in the squad, so is Zlatan Ibrahimović, although the latter is extremely unlikely to feature. A win for the Red Devils, and Newcastle will have lost four in a row, the promising start to the season would start looking a distant memory.
  • Virgil van Dijk is going to Anfield. Although it’s probably not the way the Dutchman would have anticipated at the start of the summer. Despite the endless bouts of speculation linking him to a move to Merseyside and undeniable interest from the Reds, no move materialised. Now Van Dijk will lead out Southampton as they play visitors to Jurgen Klopp’s side, whose opposite number Mauricio Pellegrino would be more worried about Liverpool’s three wins in a row and 10 goals scored. Well, if Pellegrino was the kind of guy who worries, that is.
  • The last time Chelsea played at the Hawthorns, Michy Batshuayi bagged a late winner, Antonio Conte leapt into the arms of his assistants, and Batshuayi tried his hand some photography as the Blues celebrated winning the league title. That was just six months ago, but discomfort isn’t something that dilly-dallies in terms of flying to the Chelsea camp, their win against Manchester United before the International Break was a welcome result with the pressure rising on Conte. Well Antonio, it could be worse, you could be your next opposition manager. Tony Pulis isn’t particularly having a time to cherish in the Midlands at the moment, no wins since August, and the fans unrest over his style of football won’t go away. The Baggies supporters would happily take a ‘shit’ win here, though.
  • And there’s a new era beginning for West Ham. More than a few eyes will be watching to see the Hammers’ first game under David Moyes, away at Watford, who could easily have under a new manager themselves, had the Hornets not rejected Everton’s approach for Marco Silva.  More pressingly, though, they come into this on the back of three defeats in a row.

Fixtures

Arsenal v Tottenham

Crystal Palace v Everton

Watford v West Ham

West Brom v Chelsea

Manchester United v Newcastle

Burnley v Swansea

Brighton v Stoke

Liverpool v Southampton

Bournemouth v Huddersfield

Leicester v Manchester City

Published in International Watch

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