Vardy is finally stopped, Everton and Crystal Palace provide some exciting Monday Night entertainment and the Chelsea dumpster fire continues to rage. 5 things we learned from the weekend:
Manchester City need to adjust to midtable revolution
Manuel Pellegrini has become accustomed to the occasional blip to an anonymous opponent. Last year Stoke stole 3 points at the Etihad after Mame Biram Diouf bagged the only goal of the game, literally sprinting the length of the pitch with the ball all the way into Joe Hart’s net. The soft core of the side has already been exposed many a time but this year it might be more vulnerable than ever.
Stoke were superior throughout in their weekend matchup, giving the type of performance – explosive and innovatory, all while maintaining a rugged underbelly – that the visitors increasingly fail to combat. It could be argued they were the unfortunate victims of Xherdan Shaqiri’s breakout game, who finally showed his potential. Yet it’s still a tough task recalling many games where Manchester City win despite adversity. The squad is full of front runners, Raheem Sterling and David Silva in particular often go quietest when they are needed most. With the rapidly improving middle-class of the Premier League Pellegrini must spark his side for these games, or risk witnessing these ‘blips’ become a regularity.
West Ham’s injury crisis is worse than Arsenal’s
Any recent passing interest in football will have provided you with coverage of the apocalyptic injury crisis Arsenal are attenuating to endure, while other clubs are prospering with fully fit and fresh squads at their disposal. In truth, the crippling Winter months affect almost everyone and almost always benefits the more privileged teams, such as Arsenal. Despite their conservative transfer activity, Arsenal still have strength in depth which others don’t.
One clear example is West Ham, who failed to convert what was a winnable game against a dour Manchester United team. We already knew Dimitri Payet’s absence would be painfully clear in a team that is starved for creativity outside of the Frenchman and perhaps Manuel Lanzini. The Hammers traveled to Old Trafford without Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia, the two pace merchants that formed a successful tandem last year as well as Lanzini who has been far better than anyone thought. Not only do they miss that pairing but Slaven Bilic is then forced to play Andy Carroll who, at times, seems to have a detrimental impact on the team’s play. Victor Moses departed the first half with an injury and knocks to quality contributors, such as Pedro Obiang have all added up.
All of this combined with the success of some other mid-table clubs has made probable that they finish in the bottom half of the table once again. West Ham have a soft festive fixture list, but I’d be wary of them if they don’t have their non-ponytailed frontline back.
Watford show Norwich the benefit of defined attacking strategy
As Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo stretched Norwich’s defence to breaking point over and over again for 90 minutes, you could forgive Alex Neil for feeling a little helpless. The Scot cycled through his entire strikeforce, deploying the entire arsenal which resulted in one, solitary shot on target. Lewis Grabban started, Mbokani came on to assist him and then had to partner Cameron Jerome up front. Safe to say that the trio are not firing on all cylinders, with the entire team grabbing 4 goals in 8 league games. They, like Bournemouth, are the current main beneficiaries of terrible North-East football and Aston Villa’s perpetual crisis.
Watford, on the other hand, are loving life as they moved into the top half of the table. Watching them imparts a sense that the squad that has found its purpose in life. Troy Deeney was born to battle Sebastien Bassong and Ryan Bennett. Ighalo is everything that Saido Berahino should be, if he was ever released from Pulis’ clutches. Quique Sanchez Flores and his team know what they’re trying to do each game with results to back it up, Norwich are just trying to find a viable option up front.
Willian’s Chelsea contribution overstated
A few weeks ago when Chelsea were showing signs of rebooting their torrid campaign, Willian was proclaimed by some as the only attacking performer who had produced consistently throughout the season. The recency bias was in full flow at that time, as Willian had scored some sensational free-kicks in consecutive weeks that had helped Chelsea secure results in the Premier League and in Europe. The truth is he just hadn’t been as noticeably awful as his colleagues, a statement he enforced with his showing in the 1-0 home defeat to Bournemouth.
The dirty secret with Willian is that he’s possibly the most boring player to watch in the Premier League, considering his athletic and technical abilities. Whether this is his own fault, or that of a certain sharply-dressed Portuguese man in close proximity to the pitch, is debateable. It only takes a small amount of squinting to see Willian is just James Milner on fast-forward. That’s not a particularly bad thing, a winger who tracks back and is very selfless in their play can be invaluable, just as it was to Chelsea last season lest we forget. But his inability to do much damage against Charlie Daniels and other average fullbacks must be part of Chelsea’s inability to pick up the slack left by Eden Hazard and Diego Costa this season. One last thing when seeing his : Willian cost around £32 million.
Swansea must keep the ball to rebuild their season
Peculiarity was the theme of a drizzly affair at the Liberty Stadium. The season has taught us that Leicester winning 3-0 away from home is not unusual. The fact that it came against Swansea is also less surprising than it would have been 12 months ago. But there were more intricate details from the match that made for odd viewing.
The raw stats say that Swansea had 59% possession, although a lot of it was ineffectual Leon Britton dallying in his own half. Swansea are not like Crystal Palace waiting to pounce on the counter. They can do that, as they showed in their 2-1 win against Manchester United back in August. When teams need to bounce back, they’ll always revert to their core identity, which in this case for the Swans would be dominating possession to an even greater extent.
For all the criticism spun Van Gaal’s way at United, his style has led to the best defensive record in the league. With Ashley Williams not looking as infallible as usual, Garry Monk would be best served overloading the opposition half and playing some safe, possession style football as they enter an important stretch of games over Christmas.