Everton fail to exploit lesser teams
The failure to close games out has haunted many a team and Everton were not to be spared of this anguish against Norwich on Saturday. Romelu Lukaku spurned a couple of golden chances as the Merseyside team failed to capatalise on an extremely potent attacking display. Gerard Deulofeu continued his sparkling form and looks to be the team’s lead creator now. The reason Roberto Martinez has shifted Ross Barkley back deeper is unclear and will definitely impact his fantasy value.
However despite many bemoaning Everton’s wasteful attack, the real reason Norwich stayed in the game is the defensive shape Everton have and their resilience at set-pieces, both of which are non-existent. Gareth Barry and Co. made Norwich look more than competent in attack, which takes some doing. Making a push for Champions League means Everton have to take 3 points from these opportunities, yet their league leading 8 draws show that they have failed to do this time and time again. Arsenal, to take one example, often have games where they could score 5 in one half. Yet when they only muster one goal, they’ve consistently shown the ability to close out games. Everton must learn this they want to progress as a team.
Koeman needs to fix Saints’ midfield
In the face of adversity managers show their true colours. For the majority this will lead to a ‘batten down the hatches’ mentality and this weekend Ronald Koeman proved he was very much in this majority. Away to Crystal Palace, the Dutchman started three centre-halves, flanked by a fullback on either side and then selected Victor Wanyama and Oriel Romeu to sit in midfield. Even George Graham would have called it unambitious.
It didn’t exactly work either. Palace’s goal came rather easily as Yannick Bolasie squared for Yohan Cabaye, who not one of the 7 defensive minded players decided to track, which rather negated the point of selecting the side Koeman did. The decision to not start Dusan Tadic was questionable, but the main issue Koeman must recognise and focus on is the balance of his midfield. With Morgan Schneiderlin gone, it is paramount that Southampton turn their attention towards scoring rather than attempting to re-create the solidity the once had.
Van Gaal missing the forest for the trees
Speaking of Schneiderlin, what on earth is he doing being left on Manchester United’s bench? In the desperation to generate some goals Van Gaal has dropped the player who was keeping their defence solid while still failing to ignite the attack. With Rooney out, Van Gaal has no excuse for what is a miserable attack, but if this is a long-term problem then the least he could do is play Schneiderlin who, at times, has made Chris Smalling and Daley Blind look better players than they really are.
Admittedly United’s backline is plagued with injuries. The only first choice defender left is Blind, who was easily evaded at a corner for Josh King’s goal, which proved to be the winner. The pressure Van Gaal has come under in recent weeks and the incessant ‘attack, attack, attack’ is clearly impacting his decisions for the worse. It is eerily similar to when Moyes began to second guess himself with the press breathing down his back, which does not bode well for the Dutchman’s future.
Manchester City are going to challenge for the title
After being thoroughly outplayed by Stoke, Manchester City decided to respond by closely imitating the performance at home. Normally so imperious in front of their fans, City looked determined to chuck this one way. Swansea City have looked hapless of late but were suddenly empowered by the home side’s floundering. It is worth wondering if Pellegrini and his squad are struggling to shake a sense of listlessness.
This group has won the title before and with seemingly daily reports of Guardiola agreeing to take over from next season, it could be possible that the entire mood around the club is one of lethargy. It’s certainly reflecting in their play this season. They’ve floated through many games, being crushed in games against Liverpool and Tottenham where they met real spirit and fight. City are just unfortunate that the top of the league is in such a mess that there will be a title challenge from them, whether they like it or not.
Watford look most likely candidate to regress
Every Premier League season sees some new faces rise into the top half of the table before Christmas and 2015/16 has been no different. Most notably Leicester City have ascended the pile after mistakenly being tipped for relegation, but they are joined in the top 10 by Crystal Palace and Watford. Annoyingly though, things seem to become a little bit more sensible and straighten themselves out over the winter.
The Hornets seem like the side who will be the most vulnerable to plummet into plain old mid-table. Newly-promoted sides, for whatever reason, often can’t sustain form as well as a team in their second year. They also face a tough stretch from now into the beginnings of January as they face Liverpool, Chelsea (Hm), Spurs and Manchester City. This will provide a stern test for Watford’s excellent defence while also probing at their attack. If teams can figure out how to take Ighalo and Deeney out of the game, there won’t be much help in the goals department from other areas.