Predicting the 16/17 PL Season

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These predictions have mostly been done as a reference point for later in the season. I’m excited for the new season, but there’s a knowing that it won’t be the ‘dreamy clusterfuck’ of last season. At the same time, Leicester should still be fun to watch and fairly good, with Champions League football on the side. There’s the well-documented influx of managerial talent and several big clubs in interesting positions going into 16/17. Spurs and Arsenal coming off failed title challenges? Manchester United and Chelsea looking to work their way back into the top 4? It’s all a bit inverted.

Quick note: some of these predictions will look stupid in a couple of months, but I’d rather move away from the current retreads of opinions. Trying to forecast the new developments is way more entertaining than going with what standard logic would dictate! Also any shot/xG stuff comes from Michael Caley’s 15/16 table which can be found here. And generally any mention of ‘advanced numbers’ refers to stuff I’ve gleaned from other much smarter people.

1st – Manchester City

It’s now been 3 years since we saw a motivated, firing-on-all-cylinders Manchester City squad. That particular phenomenon is easy to forget after two wishy-washy seasons where title challenges failed to sustain and the spring months were spent meandering safely into the top 4, rather than the battling the heat of a title race. They can’t afford to go wandering mentally as they have often done of the last two campaigns. City need to hit the ground running and prove they have that top gear still.

Pep Guardiola’s arrival gives them the edge for me as title winners. It’s not been talked about a lot but City should score bucket-loads of goals and their juggernaut status at the Etihad will be restored. At the height of their powers, a trip to the blue half of Manchester was the hardest of the lot and gave City margin for error on their travels. Guardiola’s going to do crazy Guardiola stuff with this team and the Aguero-De Bruyne axis wasn’t exactly sterile last season. The tools are there for Guardiola to create a possession-holding, shot-creating monster of a team which will destroy lesser outfits and severely test their peers.

Doubts are easy to find as well though, which is what makes this still somewhat of an uncertain pick. This isn’t the polished array of talent Pep had at Bayern. City targeted younger but also riskier prospects in the transfer market with John Stones and Leroy Sane the most notable additions. Their defence will survive often on account of some ridiculous 70% possession rate but Pep won’t get away with stuff like Kolarov at centre back. That shit won’t fly. Aguero probably needs to play 32+ games as well which is no guarantee and City have other injury risks (Gundogan, Kompany) that they’ll need to survive the absence of at times. But the potential that their attacking output has just makes it hard for me to not have them winning the league. I think they’ll be the top scorers in the league and come out on top. But it’ll be close.

2nd – Arsenal

Rory Smith once said something along the lines of “It’s so hard to write about Arsenal. Everything’s already been said.” That was at least 2 years ago and everything is much the same. New striker, central defence, soft mentality etc etc…none of these need extensive detailing. The problem for Arsenal is that their season is essentially going to become relevant in February. We know they’ll be good. Everyone is just waiting to see them redeem past mistakes. You want to be in the title conversation? Don’t get bullied by Marcus Rashford and his friends and don’t lose to Swansea’s reserves.

Those endlessly rehashed issues are often outed as myths and rightly so. The advanced numbers really like Arsenal’s defence and Olivier Giroud. A similar campaign to 15/16 would put them in range of the title without the greatest sporting story (Yes.) getting in the way. Granit Xhaka looks like a good signing who fits well into Arsenal’s scheme and also brings a bit of fire to the team. (I know we often relegate the idea of mentality and such to ‘proper football men’, but Arsenal are soft at times and could do with Xhaka’s prickish-ness. It’s just true.) Ozil is settled as possibly the league’s best creative force and Sanchez, who’s underlying numbers were still great last year and never translated into goals, should rebound even after playing another international tournament. At some point, Arsenal will have a season free of injuries to key contributors.

Unfortunately any progression Arsenal make can only face judgement once 2017 is well underway – unless they implausibly pull away from the rest of the league early on. I see the xG darlings being really good again and good enough to rub shoulders in an actual title race for the first time in ages. It’s just instinctual for me to side with Manchester City over Arsenal when it gets down to the nitty gritty in May.

3rd – Manchester United

This was the one. I really, really, really wanted to go balls out and pick United to miss the top 4. My body was willing me to make it so. But, man, Mourinho. Jose fucking Mourinho. I can’t bet against him that much. If anyone else was at the helm I’d go for it but Mourinho is a man who wins lots of football matches. His presence plus Zlatan and Pogba’s brings a bit of the trepidation back for teams visiting Old Trafford. United have global stars again. Fuck. I’d enjoyed their hiatus.

There are so many reasons I wanted to doubt them. The strains of the Europa League, Zlatan being old (I saw him mask a terrible performance with a goal in the Community Shield firsthand), Rooney being shit. Many factors. I do wonder if Mourinho might just tank Europa League this year, I don’t think the United hierarchy places much importance on it and a swift exit opens the door for a serious knock at the title. Rooney is also definitely getting dropped before Christmas and the press will make a big deal of it even though it should have happened a while ago.

Ultimately, I think Mourinho fashions his typical winning team out of a Schneiderlin-?-Pogba midfield and plenty of athleticism around Zlatan. The battles with Guardiola’s City will be particularly fascinating. The title will be in play for sure. But Mourinho has to fashion an elite attack and after United were 14th in shots last year and 10th in xG, there’s a lot of ground to make up. They should be in the mix, but the meshing that’s required and it being Mourinho’s first season, I see them falling short this time around.

4th – Liverpool

The first big shout! Choosing Liverpool over Chelsea and Spurs – two teams that I see as being really good still – is brave, if I say so myself. While the managerial narrative is one I wanted to avoid, Klopp is easily the biggest factor in my confidence about them. I think Liverpool will be that side that gets absolutely rolling and it’ll seem so obvious that we’ll wonder how we missed them before the season. This is me trying to get ahead of the curve.

Sturridge’s health remains a huge question, but the array of attacking midfielders makes me optimistic for their prospects with or without him. After a full preseason of his tuition, this team is going to be fucking relentless. Mane and Firmino can press, Coutinho’s 13/14 peak came with him tackling and battling in midfield, Lallana is intense and Wijnaldum can get about. Even up front, Origi can do some stuff and Ings can soak up a few minutes. This crew is backed up by Jordan Henderson and an ever-improving Emre Can. Teams will get flustered when Liverpool get in their faces and the attacking talent they possess should see the excellent shot numbers (2nd in total shots and shots on target after Klopp’s arrival) continue.

That number is slightly inflated by Coutinho deciding to pull the trigger from anywhere inside 30 yards but the point remains: Liverpool are going to keep coming at you and at you until you break. The defence is gradually getting there too. While the pressing further up does a lot of the hard work, Lovren gradually improved and Clyne is as solid as solid comes. They’ll need some luck and to ride out Mignolet until they can give Karius his chance, but they also have a clear schedule with no Europa League. I’m all aboard the ‘Liverpool top 4’ train.

5th – Chelsea

I’ll admit, this positioning is mostly a product of me being committed to fitting Liverpool into the top 4. It’s more an indictment of the quality of competition than Chelsea’s own failings. At least 1 good team is missing out on the top 4 this season and probably more than that.

Conte and Kante. If Chelsea can stick to the tried-and-trusted defence+Hazard recipe that has served them well before, there will be no chance of the 15/16 shambles. It’s sounding like Conte’s first priority is to plug the gaps and it helps that they’ve signed the best defensive midfielder in the league. (Yep.) N’Golo Kante is really fucking good. I know that’s not groundbreaking analysis but I hope you can see it means more coming from me. I’m going to miss Kante. Long live his only ever Leicester goal, a scuffed attempt that crept through Heurelho Gomes’ legs.

Diego Costa and Michy Batshuayi seems like a perfectly fine striker rotation, even if Costa goes completely haywire with the new rules regarding on-pitch behaviour. The rest of Chelsea creative force worries me a little and is what led me to take United and Liverpool over them. I’ve never been a Willian guy and Oscar has done nothing over the last 18 months. That’s a lot of responsibility being shifted to a diminutive Belgian who has shown good form and fitness for only the last 3 months. They’ll be a difficult team to face, but I don’t see it all coming together in Conte’s first season.

6th – Spurs

Oh, Spurs. I don’t even mind Spurs. I detested them when they were bearing down on Leicester during March and April, but once Hazard curled that gorgeous equaliser in and pint after pint rained down where I was, the red mist lifted. They were Spurs again.

Nothing in their advanced numbers suggest this is a team that would regress so badly back into that familiar Europa League deadzone we call 6th place. This was the team that had shots flying from all over and were the best pressing team in the league. They’re young which suggests improvement and at the very least, no deterioration of performance. But a few factors and sheer default with 5 other top quality teams has them in 6th.

Firstly, I think they’ll start slowly. Mousa Dembele is irreplaceable. Go find yourself an uber-athletic, ball carrying midfielder that presses and defends the shit out of opposing attacks. You can’t. A Dier-Wanyama tandem to hold the fort will be solid but slightly plodding and Spurs already move the ball quite slowly at times. The other big issue is Kane. Sorry, set-piece maestro Harry Kane. Maybe I’m just a severely scarred England fan, but I don’t see Kane hitting quite the same heights this year. That’s not to say what he did in the last two seasons was flukey, Kane’s really good. I just feel like he’s really looking burnt out and will cool off a bit with Janssen taking some minutes from him as well.

Poor Spurs.

7th – Everton

This pick is provided with the condition that Romelu Lukaku stays with them throughout the season. More and more, I’m starting to think Koeman fits really well with Everton. His ultra-conservative approach was frustrating to witness from a distance when Tadic and Mane were sitting next to each other on the bench, but the results were indisputable.

Swapping out Stones for Williams is probably a net gain for Everton in the 16/17 season as well. Him and Jagielka gives them a solid base with James McCarthy being nasty just in front of them, although Gareth Barry needs to be shelved and exclusively brought out for League Cup outings. Everton were already average in xGA and any improvement there would turn the Toffees into a postively good defensive team.

Weirdly, Koeman may have his work cut out on the other end. Barkley makes for a frustrating watch at times but he posted good shot numbers and Koeman will hopefully stop the nonsense of putting Barkley in midfield which Martinez couldn’t get away from last season. Lukaku is Lukaku, a top 5 PL striker. Koeman needs to create some sort of attacking structure, even if it’s cross+cross+cross. I like the concept of Everton with a real identity and think they’ll surprise many this year.

8th – Southampton

Despite the continued hemorrhaging of players to the North-West and…China, Southampton are still in a good spot. Claude Puel looks likely to jazz things up a bit which will be a nice change of pace aesthetically. Saints also appear to be gambling on some lower-usage attacking players growing into new roles. Shane Long had as good a 15/16 season as he could have had really, but relying on him to be your main striker? I don’t know.

The low-usage gambles continue with Dusan Tadic sticking around to presumably become the focal point of the attack. You saw what Payet did last year when West Ham funneled everything into him, it’s not hard to envinsion something similar with Tadic. And finally, Nathan Redmond gets to play with a real team that isn’t using Cameron Jerome as its starting striker! I’m excited to see how he gets on and if he can really pick up consistent minutes as an out-and-out forward.

The backline looks solid again and Fraser Forster will again have two games this season where he stops 8 ridiculous shots and keeps a clean sheet. In the middle of the park it gets a bit shady and a bit reliant on younger talent. Jordy Clasie might be good, but no one really knows until he plays over 2000 Premier League minutes in a season. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is an economical pickup that will probably work out because it’s bloody Southampton and everything they touch turns into a good player. While an 8th place finish isn’t really eye-catching, the means with which they get there could be.

9th – Leicester

Hm. Hmmm, hmmm, hmmm. They could set a record low for points and I could live with it.

Leicester will face certain speed bumps this year. Teams will show them a lot more respect (although many seem to overlook that Leicester dealt with this for more than half of last season and won the title but, hey) especially at the King Power. Mahrez will depart in the New Year for AFCON. Kante is gone and a Drinkwater-King midfield will get shredded by any half-decent team. This puts a lot of onus on Mendy or possibly Amartey, which it’s unlikely they live up to. The defence came to be the foundation of their title-race triumphs but it’s on that end that I think we’ll get exposed more this season.

Vardy’s still here, Mahrez is just about still here and Ahmed Musa is exciting as fuck. Demarai Gray is fine as a part-time impact player. I love Jeff Schlupp. Leicester’s attack should be good once again, with that frightening quintet running at defences in turn. This season and probably the next few are free hits for Ranieri. I love him, Leicester loves him. No matter what any other team does, it just won’t quite be Leicester winning the title. Sorry about that.

10th – Bournemouth

Here’s where it gets fun. Bournemouth were a cute team that I was fond of but thought of as relegation probables until it came to the end of March and they were practically safe. Eddie Howe’s team pop the ball around really nicely and Wilson started out extremely hot before picking up an injury. Benik Afobe was a January addition who looked lively and Bournemouth even turned Josh King into a goalscorer, an understated feat. They can create chances.

Looking at the advanced stuff and there’s reason to be optimistic about their defence too. Bournemouth conceded 59 non-penalty goals last season, a whopping 13 more than their xGA. While there’s a good chance this improves, it might help if they play someone not named Artur Boruc as their starting goalkeeper.

£15M on Jordon Ibe is a gamble and they’ll also have Max Gradel returning to boost their already ample fleet of speedy attackers. Howe seems like a genuinely good manager. For the past half dozen or so seasons there has always been one second-year team that flourishes. Newcastle, Swansea, Southampton, Crystal Palace, Leicester…Bournemouth?

11th – Stoke

This is getting into the 4th year of Mark Hughes’ Stoke reign. What do we have? A super streaky team that is powered by some tempermental wingers and whatever Jon Walters is able to muster up on that particularly day. The defence is pretty unremarkable (15th in xGA) and last season saw some particularly torrid outings where they completely rolled over. Somehow I ended up watching a lot of Gianelli Imbula down the stretch of last season and wasn’t impressed in the slightest, but he’s young and should improve some. Joe Allen, is a low-risk, medium-reward signing that provides some much-needed consistency.

The good thing about Stoke is that once or twice a season they’ll smash a top side because Arnautovic will hit two in from outside the box. It’s that sort of crazy variance in their shots that makes them a bit of an unknown at times, yet it all came out even last season as their xG and xGA pretty much matched what they actually produced. Weird, weird team. Mid-table looks likely again.

12th – West Ham

Bit controversial. West Ham looked scary with Payet and a gang of athletic runners sprinting around him, but their underlying numbers were mediocre. I’m also sceptical about the chances of Payet replicating his set-piece proficiency. Remember Yaya in 13/14? Yeah, like we ever saw that again.

I’m not a fan of Andy Carroll and he’ll get hurt at some point anyway. Their team is super wide open at times as well in the middle of the park, but don’t mention that to the Mark Noble militia. This prediction is nothing against West Ham. Like everyone else, I love Slaven Bilic. But the amount of smart people saying that they outperformed their numbers last year sways me to believe they’ll sink in the bottom half. Making it into the Europa League groups should pose an interesting question regarding their squad depth too.

13th – Crystal Palace

Palace are a little bit like Stoke-ish with their reliance on hot n’ cold wingers. The inclusion of Yohan Cabaye in their team has become something of a headache, with the Frenchman’s defensive contribution approaching that of a nonplussed Fabregas at times. At this point in his career, Cabaye needs two actual midfielders behind him or alongside him, which leads Pardew to drop one of Puncheon, Zaha or Bolasie. It’s certainly a conundrum that wasn’t solved for long stretches of last season and will need a prompt resolution.

Palace also need a striker. Proposed deals for Berahino and Benteke are yet to fully materialise, if either of those were to rock up at Selhurst Park then I’d probably bump their prediction up a spot or two, especially for Berahino. All I know is that the flair of Zaha and Bolasie should not be leading to Connor Wickham getting a measly 1.5 shots a game off. Get Palace a striker or I can’t see past another mediocre season.

14th – Sunderland

It’s good to see Moyes back. Seriously.

Sunderland continue to be the dumpster fire that never dies out, but this time the apocalyptic starts to their past few seasons seems less likely to be repeated. Moyes is steady and knows the league well, unlike predecessors Advocaat, Poyet and Di Canio. Jermaine Defoe does very little but create goals for himself, which is just enough for a lower Premier League side. The potential of Sunderland’s attack starts and finishes with Defoe’s individual output though, which is a bit disheartening.

More rejected centre-halves have been shot through the pipeline from Manchester United right into the Stadium of Light and Moyes is good enough to craft a passable defence from all the big bodies Sunderland have. Maybe it’ll be good enough to not sweat out a relegation battle this time.

15th – Middlesborough

It’s nice to see Middlesborough back in the Premier League, a staple of my childhood. Also Sunderland would be extremely bored with no hint of a rivalry if Boro hadn’t got promoted, so that’s nice too. I like Middlesborough, but I’m a little bit worried too.

They’ve spent some money on names. Victor Valdes, Brad Guzan, Negredo. It all feels a bit…QPR. That’s never a good thing. Negredo is an interesting case. He had one season with Sevilla where he averaged 4.2 shots a game and notched 25 goals, but since then? Mixed. There was a brief but lethal mid-season partnership with Sergio Aguero in 13/14 but shoulder issues plagued him and he doesn’t seem to have re-captured that form since.

Middlesborough should be fine. They have a solid midfield by the looks of things and possessed the best defence in the Championship last season, although this has not always translated well. I want them to be fine. Please don’t be QPR North.

 

16th – Watford

The other candidate for the breakthrough team of the year is Watford, but I just don’t see it. Quique Sanchez Flores formed a sturdy core with good defensive midfielders in Etienne Capoue and Ben Watson that stonewalled the league for a lot of the season, giving up 40.4 xGA which was the 8th best mark in the league. Goals were somewhat of an afterthought in an attack that ran on Troy Deeney, Odion Ighalo and…fumes. But it was a structure, an identity and it worked.

Walter Mazzari has been brought in as the new manager, a self-confessed disciplinarian presiding over a squad which was rumoured to lack discipline. Hm, sounds like a risky mix to me? What really concerns me with Watford is that the amount of teams that have gone from defensive, long-ball philosophies then adapted to something different is very short. If Mazzari wants to implement anything more intricate at Watford, I could see it ending very badly.

17th – West Brom

The demise of Tony Pulis! The rumblings around West Brom with how Pulis operates make me think his departure might be in the works. Even if he sticks around, West Brom only need a couple of injuries and a fruitless run in front of goal for things to get tight. They’re not impassable as a defensive unit and they faced the 3rd most shots in the league last year. As a deep-lying team this is not unusual, but that’s still a high number and runs the risk of a few opponents converting on those chances.

The exiling of Berahino did no good for their attack. West Brom scored the fewest goals in the league last year outside of Aston Villa. If Pulis does depart, some manager is getting rushed in to try and either: keep up Pulis’ defensive structure (unlikely) or turn West Brom into something resembling an average attacking side (also unlikely).

I think they’ll be safe, but they’ll have to work for it.

18th – Burnley

Burnley have rolled it over again with the same economical plan but essentially with Andre Gray swapped in for Danny Ings. I like Gray as the possible breakout striker from the lower half of the table and Burnley’s goals will have to come from somewhere. As much as I dislike Dyche’s endless ‘market leaders’ rhetoric, he’s a pretty good coach and Burnley will make a good fight of it.

I just don’t think their talent is up for the task again. If they had one more creator, I could maybe get on board…but it’s not there. You know what you’re getting with Burnley. They work hard, they’ll never self-destruct and beat themselves. They just probably won’t beat many other teams either.

19th – Swansea

This one really does make me sad. Swansea were the rare team that came up from the Chamionship and succeeded by dominating the ball. They were full of Spaniards and Michu was there and it was just fun. Now? I don’t feel so good. Ashley Williams’ sale was slightly surprising too and leaves more than a hole in their defensive line.

Gylfi Sigurdsson might have to go nuts and grab like 20 goals for Swansea to sniff midtable – which isn’t happening.

Andre Ayew is gone and although Nathan Dyer scored one crucial goal for Leicester, he didn’t do a whole lot else and there’s little chance he can even remotely replace Ayew’s production. Who else is there? I mean, Jefferson Montero is a nice piece but he doesn’t score. Routledge? Llorente is washed up, according to multiple people who’ve watched more Llorente than me. Borja Baston is unproven but will need to hit the ground running or this could get ugly for Swansea.

20th – Hull

Why do I still think Hull pull off some bullshit result over Leicester before slipping to the bottom of the table? I don’t know. It was this fear psychology that allowed me to survive the title race last April. Leicester should smash them, but probably won’t. Hull are a complete mess as many now know with injuries, a poisonous owner situation and no manager. Very Sacramento Kings.

There’s reason to believe that Hull won’t be completely marooned at the bottom. Abel Hernandez is a nice option for a lower Premier League side and Curtis Davies is a solid centreback. If everyone comes back healthy and stays that way, Hull could make a go of it. But envisioning that requires lots of squinting. Toxic clubs hardly ever perform well. Toxic clubs with injury issues and a caretaker manager are…fucked.

Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com

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Sunderland and Norwich are scrapping to stay up, the top 4 looks all sealed off by now and then there were two in the title race; Leicester and Spurs. 5 things we learned from the weekend’s matches:

Hammers defence finally exposed

For the early fixture against Arsenal, Slaven Bilic went 3 at the back before switching things up again at half time. It was a clear change of system, but it didn’t look like they had much of a plan to stop this humming Arsenal attack still. The game had a weird pattern, with Arsenal racing into a 2 goal lead before Andy Carroll of all people pegged them back, eventually forcing a draw. Strangely West Ham were actually extremely positive (or risky, one could say) in their play rather than sitting and countering. Unless you’re organised and compact without the ball, which West Ham aren’t, that is not a strategy that will work against Arsenal.

If West Ham want to sustain their league postition for next season, they’ll need to develop something of an identity on the defensive end. Bilic might want to look at making the team press higher and with much more intensity. They have the tools to do so, their centre-halves are fairly quick and the squad has a fair few top-level athletes throughout. If a higher press isn’t implemented then something needs to be altered, because they’ve been riding their luck for much of the season in defence.

Watford show little signs of changing

Quique Sanchez Flores found a recipe he could consistently rely on early in the season: Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo will link up off of scraps for the goals while the rest of the team grafts defensively. It worked really well, although they’ve faded over the course of the season. Ighalo and Deeney are an interesting pair to look at. Deeney does a lot more defensive work and is probably the better overall player, but fantasy points make Ighalo look much better. The Nigerian is helped in this sense by the fact that he never, ever looks to pass the ball so his stats grow while Deeney is left to fume at him.

The Hornets will still need to tinker with a few things over the Summer. One-dimensional approaches will work for a season or so, but eventually teams will figure you out. It gradually happened to Burnley last year; once the opposition took Danny Ings out of the game there was little to worry about. We know that Watford’s strikeforce can do damage, it’ll just be difficult to replicate their output next season in exactly the same manner.

Gylfi Sigurdsson has decided someone’s mini-league somewhere

When Steven Naismith signed for Norwich, I touted him as a possible differential. That didn’t quite come off, but the tradition of one player coming alive for a poorer side and carrying them for a few matches. It was continued by Gylfi Sigurdsson who since 2015 ended has notched 9 goals and 2 assists for a blah Swansea side. In other words, he’s been absolutely on fire.

This run has taken him up in the fantasy rankings to the point where he’s the 7th highest scoring midfielder in the whole league after a slow start. Every midfielder ranked above him is at 14% ownership or higher. Sigurdsson’s ownership? Nearly half that, at 7.9%. In other Swansea news Jefferson Montero, who was tearing it up at the start of the season, has started getting minutes again after a long time out. This is welcome news to Swansea fans, because he’s good, and all neutral football fans, because he’s damn fun to watch.

Liverpool have potential to be a top 4 side

Thanks to a Premier League campaign that frequently found itself stalling combined with their prolonged Europa League involvement has lead to Liverpool playing a few dead-ish rubbers on quiet Sunday afternoon. With Leicester and Spurs vying for the title either side of their game with Stoke, Liverpool didn’t get much publicity for their excellent 4-1 win over Stoke. It doesn’t just look like a small Spring emergence either, Jurgen Klopp’s side might get good really soon. Top 4 kind of good.

The first team – stocked with the likes of Emre Can, Divock Origi and Alberto Moreno – has a lot of players who you know have talent and there’s something there but it hasn’t quite been coming together consistently. Now finally they look like they’re on the verge of becoming bona fide top level contributors. Can in particular is developing into quite the unit in midfield. Everyone is clearly better off when Sturridge is in the team and it’s been key to Liverpool’s little run down the stretch of the season. The England international has evolved from burning teams with his pace on the counter in 13/14 to a more deliberate, creative force up front. If, if, if they can keep him healthy next season, look out for Liverpool.

Martial needs to grow as a striker

A season that started with such a rush has devolved into something much less rewarding for Anthony Martial. Labeled a panic buy when arrived at Manchester United, the Frenchman kicked off his Old Trafford career with a decisive goal against Liverpool. This isn’t such a bad way to announce yourself as a Red Devil. Yet going into the penultimate month of the season, Martial’s goal tally stands at just 8 with 3 assists to go with it. Granted, he’s played as a wide forward for much of the season but there’s clear room for Martial to develop as a goalscorer.

The main issue is he just doesn’t shoot enough. There was a clear example where he worked it well all the way to the Spurs penalty area before allowing a speeding defender to come and intervene. That situation has to generate a shooting oppurtunity, if not for Martial then for someone else. He can glide by players and always looks a threat but that doesn’t materialise often enough into a shot or drawing a foul. Looking ahead to next season, I’m still pessimistic as to the fantasy prospects in United’s squad while they remain under Louis van Gaal’s tutelage. Rashford provided a brief injection of life into the attack but it’s still a real grind for United to score. Set to finish outside the top 4, we’ll watch closely to see if the Dutch boss survives.

Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com

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1-0 to the Leicester again, Aston Villa lose in the most depressing match of all time and Payet scored another gorgeous free kick. All becoming rather predictable this Premier League season, isn’t it? Here’s 5 things we learned:

Arsenal breezing past teams without pressure

It’s perhaps a little harsh to give Arsenal backhanded compliments when they dismantled Watford as thoroughly as they did. But if you fail against Swansea and then a severely short-handed United side, criticism will come from all angles. Saturday afternoon saw Arsenal at their very best, it’s just a shame that Arsenal at their very best means them turning over Watford in a quiet game at Vicarage Road. If they win enough games the end of the season might give them another chance to prove themselves under pressure.

In the meantime, buy lots of Arsenal stock right now in the shape of defenders and midfielders. Alexis Sanchez is due so many goals he might explode any second. It’s started already so it might be worth hopping on that bandwagon and seeing if it has any legs on it. Iwobi is the cheap option and his two recent goals will buy him time in the starting lineup, so he isn’t as risky as he might initially seem. Get your Arsenal players now, before the stakes ramp up to something meaningful.

Norwich pull out another crucial win

Well, well, well, here come the Canaries! And Cameron Jerome is nowhere to be found! How surprising. In all seriousness, Norwich are fighting to be better than Newcastle and Sunderland, with the reward being another Premier League season. Safe to say that the quality at the bottom this season seems even lower than usual and that’s without mentioning Aston Villa.

Norwich came out on top in a classic 6 pointer and their triumph left them 4 points clear of Sunderland. They’ve come on strong in the last few games and it’s all a bit out of nowhere. The addition of Stephen Naismith initially looked like it was going to transform Norwich’s attack into something effective but it didn’t transpire quite like that. In this game and their previous win over West Brom there’s been 4 different goalscorers which suggests there’s no really good candidate to transfer in for fantasy and the defence isn’t anything special either. Maybe admire Norwich’s resurgence from afar.

Southampton are crossing the ball way too much

I’ve moaned all season that Ronald Koeman has been playing overly cautious lineups without either Sadio Mane or Dusan Tadic or very occasionally absent of both players. It’s been a bizarre development given the successes the pair had last season but this weekend’s gripe doesn’t revolve around that. (This gripe isn’t much of a gripe at all, because I’m a Leicester City fan so Saints’ inepititude was fine by me.) The issue with Saints is that they cross the ball far, far too much.

It could be argued that Koeman is looking to play to the strengths of his squad, as Southampton do have one of the more imposing squads in the Premier League. The only thing was, it played right into Leicester’s strengths too. Facing Robert Huth and Wes Morgan, two man mountains, how are you going to fire in cross after cross in the hope that it’ll work? Crosses are an inefficient method of attack anyway but they were especially ineffective against Leicester. It’s turned into a nice season for Saints after an uncertain start but their attack could do with some fine tuning.

Tottenham don’t like the taste of their own medicine

There’s a team from the East Midlands that has the ‘unlikely title challenge’ story on lockdown, but we shouldn’t forget how unprecedented it is for Tottenham to be in this position either. Mauricio Pochettino has created another high-intensity, high-pressing team with this Spurs squad that has seen huge improvements at both ends of the field but especially in defence. They possess probably the best defence in the league while their attack is more of a functional affair than a beautiful one, their constant ball pressure being a huge reason they’re scoring more and conceding less.

The pressing that they unleash on everyone is exactly what hurt them in their game at Anfield however. They only mustered up chances off of Liverpool mistakes and the goal was a special piece of work by Harry Kane out of nothing. They consistently struggled to beat Liverpool’s pressing; Eric Dier and Christian Eriksen both excel when given enough time on the ball but the pair were shutdown for long stretches of the match. The attack has always been the less convincing aspect of Spurs this season and if teams want to beat Spurs, then these teams are going to have to go press Spurs.

Mahrez increasingly marginalised as Leicester grind

As is now well known Claudio Ranieri endured a brief yet disastrous time with Greece not long before returning to England. The extent of it: 4 games played resulting in one draw and three losses. It was a far cry from when Greece were at their best in Euro 2004, grinding out three 1-0 wins in the knockout stages to win an unlikely Championship. With his current employers, Ranieri has seen his side take up a similar style. Of course, Greece were far more defensively minded than Leicester but the results of Leicester’s previous 4 wins don’t suggest much difference. 1-0 (The Ulloa game). 1-0. 1-0 (The Okazaki game). Then today: 1-0 (The Morgan game).

There have been consequences however. Riyad Mahrez scored the winner in two of those fixtures but his influence continues to waver as teams load up on him. Southampton started off sacrificing any attacking output on the left by ordering Matt Targett to stick to Mahrez wherever he ventured and it worked. Later in the game when the Algerian did get loose, he wasn’t quite his incandescent self. This cuts both ways. You can either assume that he’s due a good performance or drop him if it seems like a consistent trend that will harm his fantasy performance. I’m leaning towards the latter.

 

 

 

Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com

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Manchester City look to have dropped out of the title race while Spurs maintain Leicester’s pace at the top of the table. In other news, Newcastle and Sunderland are as bad as each other. 5 things we learned:

Everton fully stocked with terrible defensive players

A hefty amount of criticism has been levelled at Roberto Martinez, rightly so, in recent weeks. When a team loses so many comfortable leads, it’s fair to look in the direction of the dugout and enquire as to why it keeps happening time after time. In the early Saturday kickoff Everton decided to be proactive and not give themselves a chance to let another advantage slip, instead conceding two first half goals in a thoroughly awful display. When you’re making Danny Welbeck look like a natural goalscorer, something is seriously wrong in your defence.

Martinez has played his part in their defensive woes yet a quick scan of the Everton team revealed an astonishing amount of bad defensive players. The Spaniard noted the absence of Gareth Barry after the game, but Barry can barely move around the pitch anymore. Muhamed Besic, who did play, is the polar opposite of Barry as he showcased his ‘headless chicken tendencies’ and ended up marking nobody in Arsenal colours. Leighton Baines was never a good defender to start and has had a torrid return from injury while Funes Mori’s goals have masked his deficiencies at actual defending. Baines and Coleman were terrors in fantasy football with their attacking prowess not so long ago, but there’s little point in selecting them when the Toffees are this leaky.

Leicester continue to bounce back from poor performances

Here are Leicester’s past 5 results (W) 1-0 vs Palace, (W) 1-0 vs Newcastle, (W) 1-0 vs Watford, 2-2 vs West Brom, (W) 1-0 vs Norwich. On the surface it looks like a model of consistency. The funny thing is, Leicester’s performances have varied fairly dramatically during this stretch. Against Norwich and Newcastle, Leicester created very little, taking the few chances they had. This weekend against Palace and their win over Watford saw them getting back to a healthy level of attacking, where they could afford to miss a couple of shots. Strangely their best performance by far was against West Brom but they could only come away with a point from that one. Football, eh.

The point is Leicester keep getting results when it looks like their performances are drying up, but then they kick it up a notch in the following game anyway. The defence has been praised as the driving force for the Foxes in recent weeks so there aren’t really any unsung heroes left in Leicester’s team now. Although Vardy’s goalscoring has slowed to a halt, he’s still playing well overall so I wouldn’t abandon him in fantasy. Despite their form, the international break is coming at a good time for Leicester and the likes of Marc Albrighton and Vardy who’ve looked gassed towards the end of games, although the latter will presumably play some minutes for England. Let’s all just hope that no injuries befall any of the squad while they’re away.

West Ham need to kick on for any top 4 push

The Hammers’ campaign to make Pep Guardiola sweat over Manchester City’s Champions League status for next season has been a fun sideshow. Everyone loves watching Dimitri Payet, everyone prefers Slaven Bilic to Sam Allardyce and the Boleyn Ground is generally getting a good send off this season. Happy days, all around! Unfortunately their top 4 push looks set to fizzle out soon unless they can find another gear for the home stretch. They counted themselves unlucky to draw 2-2 at Stamford Bridge courtesy of a contentious penalty, but West Ham are starting to run out of steam a little bit up front.

They found two routes to goal against Chelsea, one was from 25 yards and one came via the foot of Andy Carroll. Both are unsustainable methods, as are the Dimitri Payet free kicks that keep flying in from all over the place. If you find yourself getting desperate trying to make up ground, dropping Payet is one risk worth considering. West Ham are creating less and less as the weeks go by and they’re about to face a few decent teams, including Arsenal and Leicester. Differential season is here, take some risks!

Rafa’s Newcastle are…different.

First things first, Newcastle look marginally better under Rafa Benitez than Steve McClaren and Newcastle fans might readily accept a draw after 6 consecutive losses to their rivals. However, there are a couple of things to remember before we praise Rafa. Firstly, it couldn’t exactly not improve after McClaren. Secondly, Newcastle are still quite clearly a bad team. There’s a very good chance that their new manager will still have to exercise his opt-out clause in the summer. The two games Rafa has overseen have been nationally televised and Newcastle players are notorious for upping their game when Sky Sports come to town. The worst culprit is Moussa Sissoko, having been pining for PSG’s attention ever since he arrived on Tyneside.

The line-up choice from Benitez was alarming and it had predictably questionable results as Sunderland looked far the more decisive and threatening team for long stretches of the game. Playing Shelvey as the main central midfielder in front of an already iffy back 4 was nothing if not gutsy and continue to give Newcastle defenders an extremely wide berth if that’s a tactical decision that persists. Also, Jack Colback playing as a left back will surely not result in anything other than tears for all involved. With the rate their season is going, Newcastle would be happy if they could prolong the battle to the final weekend, let alone hope to stay up. It’s a strange, strange world with Rafa in charge of the Toon.

Demichelis must leave City this summer

Manuel Pellegrini has had a decent run with Manchester City. He’s brought more domestic success, overseen the arrival of younger talents such as Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne and generally maintained the high level of football that the Etihad Stadium is getting used to. It’s not exactly Ferguson-esque but the Chilean has done a solid job at the helm. However Pellegrini’s generosity handing out league starts for Martin Demichelis, of whom he worked with at Malaga, is a mistake that’s happened far too often.

The Argentine was so poor on Sunday afternoon he probably would have made even Everton’s defence worse. The 17 year disparity between him and Marcus Rashford couldn’t have been more evident when the young United attacker breezed away from his counterparts weary legs for the only goal. It could be excused if Demichelis had the defensive nous to handle his own responsibilities but this has proven beyond him also in the past year or so. It isn’t likely that the former Bayern Munich defender is still hanging around in Manchester come September time. Pep Guardiola is not coming to the Premier League to suffer fools.

 

Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com

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Leicester go five points clear, Arsenal and Spurs leave their contest feeling disappointed and Swansea virtually guarantee some Welsh representation in the Premier League next season. 5 things we learned from the weekend:

Another reminder to mostly avoid derby matches

You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who didn’t find the North London Derby gripping to watch. Everyone groans at the cliche of ‘form goes out the window’ for rivalry games and with the recent results for Spurs and Arsenal it was hard to tell if that cliche held true or not. With both teams coming off narrow defeats but pushing for the title, it was declared the most important fixture between the teams ever to be contested. Unfortunately, all of this excitement and entertainment made it nigh on impossible to pick a fantasy team suited to the occasion.

Michael Oliver came armed with a yellow card to White Hart Lane and he wasn’t afraid to use it, while the peculiar trend of Arsenal’s big games this season always involving a red card continued. This is the main reason to avoid selecting players participating in derby matches, the widespread dispersion of disciplinary cards of both colours.  Personally, I tend to steer clear of defences in particular for these games. Francois Coquelin isn’t a factor in fantasy football, but his rush-of-blood red card could have happened to anyone and Eric Dier probably should have gone for a slightly early bath. There aren’t many derbies left this season, but proceed with caution when 2016/17 rolls around.

Lukaku becoming a fully fledged star

Saturday eventually morphed into a day of doom and gloom for the Toffees, whose disappointing season has started to linger into ‘Roberto Martinez might actually get fired’ territory, especially given that new owners are in town. Regardless of yet another lead being let slip, Romelu Lukaku showcased his complete game – aside from penalty taking – against West Ham and it’s getting to the point where he’s making Everton’s attack deadly week in, week out. Firstly, he went about sending Reece Oxford back to the U21s in the process of scoring his first and then set up Aaron Lennon to create the two goal advantage that Everton’s non-existent defence would lose.

Lukaku at under £9.0M is really undervalued in FPL and this is in a season where Riyad Mahrez (£7.3M) and Jamie Vardy (£7.8M) are stamping their authority all over the league. The Belgian has 18 goals, second in the goalscoring charts to only Jamie Vardy, and he could have boosted that tally even more against West Ham only to let a couple of chances go. Many seem to always have the sense that Lukaku never quite lives up to his billing and it’s difficult to understand why. Lukaku should be enjoyed for what he is right now, which is a striker who’s clearly on the path to being world class. As fantasy managers, we should enjoy him before his price is set in double figures next season.

Newcastle and McClaren should have parted ways a while ago

It was fitting that Ayoze Perez was the one to score for Newcastle while they still came out second best against former relegation candidates Bournemouth. The Spaniard is a rare spark of life in this Newcastle team when he plays so, naturally, Steve McClaren left him on the bench for the games prior to this one. It’s not just Perez that has received this puzzling treatment. Seydou Doumbia, of CSKA Moscow and Roma fame, threatened Stoke City in midweek when he came off the bench. Who did McClaren choose to start vs Bournemouth? Emmanuel Rivière of course, of 1 goal in 23 appearances fame.

No one is saying this Newcastle squad should be challenging for anything serious. But looking at what McClaren is working with, they should at least be able to score goals freely. Starting Rivière feels like he wants to get sacked and truthfully it has never looked like his heart was really in it. In fantasy terms the club feel like a poor man’s version of Manchester United, where you know there’s good players in the squad but it’d be wasting transfers and money to go after them while they’re under the direction of van Gaal or McClaren. Clubs should always look to be patient with their managers, but McClaren was a poor hire from the start and it’s only getting worse.

Bertrand Traore will be a sleeper next summer

Chelsea’s conveyor belt of prospects, most of whom might make a couple of starts during the season then fade into obscurity, is hard to keep up with at the best of times. However Bertrand Traore looks like he might stick around a tad more permanently. In the Premier League he’s up to 2 goals and an assist in just 166 minutes, as well as his recent emergence being the only interesting thing about Chelsea right now. The question is: will we see him starting next season under the next Chelsea manager?

Presuming Hiddink departs over the summer and Chelsea look to recruit as they normally do, it isn’t such a simple path to the starting XI for Bertrand. For example, Chelsea opened 2013/14 with Kevin De Bruyne in their side and he looked like he might be part of a funky new look Chelsea attack. But Mourinho and Chelsea decided otherwise and moved him onto Wolfsburg in the following January, so you just never know. But if Bertrand Traore looks set to get minutes from the off next season, pick him up. Or you could always just get him in your teams now of course, why wait?

Manchester United are just like every other team now

In the last couple of seasons, as soon as United look like they’ve found something and get on a bit of a roll someone like Tony Pulis and his West Brom team turn up to ruin it. Louis van Gaal has to be frustrated with the result at The Hawthorns that brought about the abrupt end to their winning streak, yet the way it happened was simply bemusing. The notorious Juan Mata picking up 2 yellow cards in nearly as many minutes? Not only is this iteration of United less talented than squads we’ve seen before, it’s also less intelligent. We all grew up dealing with Sir Alex Ferugson’s monolithic team, so to watch them playing with 10 men against West Brom and not being able to scrap a result just isn’t very…United.

On the positive side, Anthony Martial looks really dangerous regardless of where he plays and that versatility makes him an enticing prospect for the foreseeable future in fantasy football. If he can switch almost seamlessly between the left wing and leading the line, he’ll get plenty of minutes which for obvious reasons is a good thing. We don’t really know what Marcus Rashford is yet and I imagine he might be a tad overpriced next season because of his reputation. One final piece of advice for the coming double gameweek frenzies, perhaps you should drop your United defenders if Michael Carrick really is going to continue starting over Morgan Schneiderlin. I thought we’d solved this issue before, van Gaal?

 

Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com

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The League Cup marks the home stretch of the football season, when everything’s going to get even more enthralling. It proved so this weekend with Arsenal disappointing, Leicester scoring late winners and Louis van Gaal chucking himself to the floor. Oh Premier League, how we missed you.

West Ham are embodying the Premier League

While Manchester City were busy with their Capital One Cup affair, whisperings of a race for the top 4 started over the weekend. Old Trafford hosted what was undoubtedly the biggest fixture, but it was in East London where another dramatic weekend kicked off. A visit from Sunderland was hardly a prospect to get pulses racing but West Ham made it so by taking the lead on the half hour mark before having to fend off an unprecedented surge from the Black Cats. The visitors were led by another solid outing from Wahbi Khazri that solidified his status as the main Sunderland player worth consideration in fantasy football.

Suddenly it became clear during this game that the team responsible for West Ham’s most successful season in recent times is representative of everything that English football is right now. It’s an athletic squad with one or two extremely talented and creative players creating for the rest and it all makes for attractive viewing at times. However the other side of the Premier League was showcased when they couldn’t control the game in the slightest and their defence looked increasingly permeable. It devolved into chaos in the latter stages, which wasn’t helped by the questionable decision from Slaven Bilić to replace Emmanuel Emenike with Andy Carroll. It left the Hammers struggling to find an outlet as attack after attack fizzled out with balls towards Carroll. They do indeed have a sniff of the top 4, but this defence looks set to run out of luck in its next few games.

Palace continue to get cooked defensively

If there’s one thing that a Premier League team should do, it’s not falling victim to a first half flurry of goals to a Tony Pulis managed team. A dire 2016 continued for the Eagles on Saturday night as a no longer moody Saido Berahino spearheaded West Brom’s attack, scoring 1 and hitting the post in a refreshing performance. Even so, the ease at which they got their trio of goals has to be alarming for Alan Pardew. His side are yet to keep a clean sheet in the league this year and they’ll still be looking for a Premier League level striker to start in the summer. The best news of the night for Palace fans was that it only took their manager 45 minutes in this game to decide that Adebayor is washed up. Nice signing, that one.

It’s been an exposing few months for Pardew. He continues to play Yohan Cabaye in midfield which is fine in some situations because he’s a nice player and he’s beneficial to an attack, but if there’s only one other central midfielder alongside him the backline are in for a rollercoaster ride. With James McArthur out, using both Mile Jedinak and Joe Ledley together with Cabaye might provide the protection Palace need to get out of this slump.

Koeman losing his mind a little

Recently, Southampton have had a enjoyable surge towards the places that can bring the dizzying heights of the Europa League and all the Thursday night glory it holds. It has come off the back of a renewed defensive effort with Fraser Forster back between the sticks, which has been Southampton’s main strength for 3 years now. Chelsea came to town this weekend and now that they’re back to a respectable level, some managerial caution would have been understandable. But managerial caution does not comprise of playing zero attacking midfielders and benching Sadio Mane, that’s just excessive. That’s Pulis-esque.

Who does Ronald Koeman think Chelsea are, Leicester? Saints won the reverse fixture 3-1, so it wasn’t as if there had been some previous thrashing that caused Koeman to think twice. Mane is having a down year with his goalscoring but he’s still deserving of a place in Southampton’s starting XI . Although the ‘Shane Long and chill’ plan gave them the lead, the 2 shots on target is indicative of how they fared going forward for most of the game. This rather unperturbed Chelsea team can be got at and it’s reasonable to think that a mildly more adventurous team selection would have seen Southampton take home a share of the points.

Throw away the Spurs stereotypes

It takes a good manager to improve a solid team into a title contender. It takes an even better one, a brilliant one to erase the embarrassments and failures welded deep into a team’s culture and establish a new order that showcases everything the previous one didn’t. Mauricio Pochettino is most certainly brilliant. If Leicester keep up their title contention to the final throes of the season then Claudio Ranieri will be the likeliest candidate to win Manager of the season and the Italian has had his shining moments this season tactically.

But no one has completed a steeper task than what Pochettino faced with this team’s identity and if it makes you feel better you can call them the Tottenham Pochettinos because there’s nothing ‘Spursy’ about them this season. In these games they’re just grinding away all the time . Perhaps unlike Arsenal, if Spurs don’t win the title this year it won’t be the fault of their manager. Coming from behind to beat Swansea was the manifestation of all his work to give this club an edge in which it’s lacked for so long.

Injury crisis may have been a blessing for United

Young players are a curious prospect. The inexperience is palpable sometimes and they hurt the team’s performance, as they get ran ragged by their footballing elders on the opposing teams. But in other cases, such as Manchester United this season, their lack of enlightenment serves them well. We’ve seen van Gaal anaesthetize this squad to the point where goals have been a genuine struggle despite the millions of pounds lavished on recruitment. It took a rash of injuries – and Wayne Rooney’s was especially important – and the resulting injection of youth for this United team to get going.

Marcus Rashford’s form is reminiscent of Anthony Martial’s prosperous beginnings in the Premier League. Safe to say that the ‘score with every touch’ plan doesn’t sustain for long, but he’s looked sharp. Memphis Depay decided to wake up and now that he has, he’s quickly become one of the more exciting players to watch with his unexpected touches of flair and Jesse Lingard’s continuing improvement is encouraging. He’s one more name to add into the mix for England’s Euro 2016 squad, which looks increasingly difficult to predict. All good news for United, but don’t anoint van Gaal as the savior just yet, let’s see what his team selections look like when United have more than half of their squad fully fit.

 

 

Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com

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Don’t rule out the appearance of spring Sunderland

Prior to their monochrome rivals and fellow relegation candidates surrendering in a 5-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge, spring Sunderland launched their annual bid to remain in the Premier League slightly early, discounting their draw against Liverpool last week. Every year, usually after a managerial change, Sunderland as we know them are replaced by ‘Spring Sunderland’ who thoroughly outplay sides at times and inexplicably pick up points against the big boys. If Spring Sunderland lasted an entire season, they would finish comfortably in mid-table.

In all honesty, Wahbi Khazri wasn’t on my radar of ‘active professional football players’ until he signed for Sam Allardyce in late January. Unlike most of Sunderland’s foreign imports – and there’s been enough of them – he’s noticeable on the pitch, fun to watch and pretty good! An albeit fortunate goal and an assist put away another mundane United effort. They still can’t defend, but if they can go forward like they did against United then yet another Mackem mess might be cleaned up.

Chelsea benefit from Newcastle capitulation

For whatever reason Chelsea, in what is undoubtedly a lost season now, have decided to play risk-free football. Guus Hiddink doesn’t care for fun and has chosen to stick it on autopilot with his mentally checked out squad. Goals will come of accidental consequence and to be fair the defence has looked a lot better when the midfield is only playing dead certain passes. Just ask Louis van Gaal and the ‘defence’ he built. Fortunately for the Blues, Newcastle look pretty checked out too, despite being firmly embroiled in another serious relegation fight.

Fabricio Coloccini wanted to leave Newcastle a couple of years ago for his native Argentina before Newcastle desperately kept him. Maybe there was a reason. The 34 year old looked well past his sell-by date chasing Diego Costa for the third goal and hasn’t impressed all season. Combine this with the sluggish dark side of Jonjo Shelvey showing up and it was no contest, even against this sleepy Chelsea team. Steve McClaren has to get more out of the attack and just hope to outscore some opponents down the stretch of the season.

Crystal Palace need to keep plugging away

2016 brought many new things into the world, but it hasn’t conjured up a win for the Eagles. They’ve missed Yannick Bolasie more than Alan Pardew surely would’ve expected and the signing of Emmanuel Adebayor is a medium-risk, medium-reward move that Palace didn’t really have to make. Sure, they’ve needed a striker all season, but shelling out for Adebayor is the exact move that the smarter clubs don’t bite on. I’m lukewarm on him in fantasy, but if he’s still starting when Bolasie comes back then maybe have a look, depending on other fixtures that gameweek.

They matched Watford in most departments, Yohan Cabaye hit the post and Joel Ward missed a late chance but, like many teams, Palace couldn’t seal the deal facing the Hornets. It’s a test of endurance for the South London club, who are now staring at a slowly dying season in mid-table but safely tucked away from the relegation scramble below them. Their next league game is against a Tottenham side that will have played in the Europa League just 3 days before. I quite like the sound of that.

This is why Tony Pulis doesn’t get relegated

5 years from now, wherever we all are, no one will remember a damn thing about this West Brom team. Not even Baggies fans. To be perfectly honest, I’m not entirely sure that people could recall details about the team right now. This is how Tony Pulis has never been relegated. He brainwashes everyone into forgetting about his crew of infinite centre-halves and Salomon Rondon and then BAM. You lose 1-0 on a dreary Saturday afternoon. The mightiest team in all of the West Midlands (er…sorry Villa) came back with a defensively stout thud this weekend.

Everton never saw it coming. Or perhaps they did see it coming, but just very, very slowly as it dawned upon them that the goal they seeked for so long would not arrive. It seemed likely right up until the moment a chirpy Pulis shook Roberto Martinez hand and left with 3 points in his back pocket. To the Welshman, the fruitless attacking football of the opposition is merely collateral damage. The full extent of it: 34 shots, 26 chances created for Everton. 1 shot on target for West Brom. A visibly shocked Martinez press conference after? Priceless.

Aston Villa make everyone else look good

Without even having a chance to let my emotional pain subside after that Welbeck goal, I forced myself to watch Liverpool take on Aston Villa. ‘Take on’ might be too strong a turn of phrase. Liverpool’s mere attendance was enough to strongly sway the outcome of this one and Jurgen Klopp’s comments after the 6-0 massacre summed it up: “This is not a day for us to sing songs”. The German clearly understands the level Villa are at right now.

Last week’s 2-0 win over Norwich shouldn’t have fooled anyone into thinking they might retain their Premier League status. But it did suggest that Remi Garde might have managed to morph his side into a merely ‘bad’ team, improving from ‘cataclysmically bad’. 10 minutes of this game was enough to show otherwise. The way Liverpool eased their way into a 6 – SIX – goal lead was painful for anyone who watched. More painful than losing 2-1 at the Emirates after holding on with 10 men for so long? That I couldn’t possibly say.