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.

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Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com

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Leicester hit a Jonathan Moss sized bump and Tottenham subsequently close the gap at the top to 5 points. We know for sure now that Villa are down, but which North-East side is joining them and will Norwich be there to follow them? 5 lessons learnt from a tumultuous Premier League weekend.

Sunderland prolong the relegation battle

The scrap for survival could have been settled this weekend, but Sunderland have given it a new lease of life. Combined with Newcastle’s win the tussling could continue right down to the final weekend. After looking sharp at times against Leicester last weekend, the Black Cats secured their first win in 7 emphatically. It felt a fair victory as Sunderland have clearly improved since their January additions. In comparison, Norwich have sort of been the opposite: scraping wins here and there despite looking just as poor as they have done all season.

Jermaine Defoe, as said before in this space, does very little to help his team win in his overall performances. But the fact of the matter is he gets shots off at a good clip and scores a decent amount of them and he’s probably been a net positive for Sam Allardyce’s side. After hosting Arsenal, they’ll face three iffy defences in Stoke, this weird iteration of Chelsea and Everton. For his price, Defoe looks a nice budget shout in those gameweeks.

Newcastle finally perform

Frankly it feels like Newcastle have won about 3 times all season. The league table tells us this is a lie and that at the Magpies have actually had 7 victories. Their most recent one over Swansea was crucial. Anything other than 3 points would have essentially sent them down but capitalising on a flagging Swansea squad and Sunderland’s win, Newcastle will now have the smallest of chances to escape. The gap to safety is only 3 points (with a game in hand) but it looks all the more gaping when seeing 3 of Newcastle’s final 5 fixtures are against some of the form sides of the division – Manchester City, Liverpool and then Spurs on the final day.

Andros Townsend made his presence felt on the scoresheet for the second time in as many games, which basically constitutes a blazing hot streak of form for a Newcastle player. The defence notched a clean sheet and it was well deserved after limiting Swansea to purely half chances. On the other end 3 goals probably flattered them as a couple of scrappy efforts found their way into the back of the net. All in all, I don’t feel so hot about picking up any Newcastle players, more because of their death row of fixtures than anything else. The overriding feeling is that it’s a shame we didn’t see a well-coached Newcastle team all season rather than their McClaren mess that last far too long.

Rashford an enigma going into next season

What with their cross-town rivals picking up speed again, the Champions League looks well beyond Manchester United now. It’s mostly just van Gaal trying to provide the illusion of competence now or, failing that, the sign that he’s building for the future. One example is his usage of Marcus Rashford, but evaluating the 18 year old’s true impact is difficult.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with Rashford’s performances to the naked eye. He’s quick and his finishes against West Ham in midweek and then Aston Villa looked clinical. The only issue is that he’s been so clinical, that it’s not quite representative of his attacking output. Many people pointed this out over the weekend but in the league Rashford is currently converting 50% of his shots into goals. That is an absurd percentage and clearly unsustainable. So while his price might look tempting next season, it might be best to wait until his finishing rates come back down to Earth.

Manchester City will be a problem next season

Remember how the confirmation of Manuel Pellegrini being replaced by Pep Guardiola threw off the whole Manchester City side? And how De Bruyne got injured around that time too and now he’s back City’s attack is humming again? Funny that. That swoon put them out of the title race and it the killer blow was probably the Leicester game where the winner would go to the top of the table. But Robert Huth and that Mahrez goal happened so now City will have to settle for duking it out with Arsenal to avoid playing a Champions League qualifier.

While Otamendi and Mangala’s developing partnership is promising the potential of City’s attack has returned to the mindblowing level it was at a couple of seasons ago. Although City are understandably not given many opportunities to showcase it they are absolutely lethal on the counter as Aguero’s second goal showed, which included some guy called Samir Nasri! Chelsea a bit of a joke right now but City have done and will do this to a lot of teams next season. Aguero and De Bruyne look like must haves for fantasy teams, regardless of the price.

Spurs are blowing past average teams

Stoke have had a nice season and will be very happy with another top ten finish under the management of Mark Hughes. Marko Arnautovic has been converted from talented headcase to regular contributor and Stoke also possess intriguing players who aren’t quite there yet like Giannelli Imbula. They’ve over-performed a little this year and will struggle to break into the Europa League in the coming seasons, but they’re a nice team who have their moments.

Tottenham ate them alive.

It’s stunning how Spurs have gone from a stale team going forward to this sudden onrush of incisive threat that comes at you for 90 minutes and won’t stop until it is satiated. Just as impressive is Dele Alli fitting into such a quality side in his ‘rookie’ season in the Premier League. Stoke had no shot of stopping them and it’ll take an otherworldly vintage Tony Pulis masterplan to stop them next weekend. If that doesn’t materialise, Spurs will overwhelm them just as they have to a bunch of oblivious midtable clubs.

Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com

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By the time Spring comes in the Premier League, there’s dead rubbers all over the place and certain teams looking to book holidays. So, focusing on the games that mattered at either end of the table – 5 things we learned from the weekend:

Leicester can rout teams too

No Vardy, no problem. Leonardo Ulloa scored twice in a charged Leicester performance that blew past Swansea and put them eight points clear at the top of the table in April. (Read that sentence again). The very same Leonardo Ulloa who was so awful before Christmas has come back to play a crucial part in the title challenge. Sunday was his best showing yet. Even if Vardy returns from suspension, Ulloa may be in with an outside chance of starting but Ranieri will surely recognise that his best team includes Okazaki and Vardy up front. The Argentine also suffered a minor back injury which could harm his chances.

There were new contributors that made their mark too. Schlupp did begin the season as the starting left back but was an absolute livewire in his first start in 2016. Listed as a defender in fantasy, he’s worth a look in as Leicester’s defence will to keep securing clean sheet after clean sheet. Demarai Gray continues to improve after looking completely out of his depth, his blistering run down the right flank eventually culminating in Leicester’s fourth goal. A game to prove that Leicester aren’t a one man team and a game to prove that they don’t just scrape by in these games.

Riyad Mahrez stepping up in a huge way

It’s been an interesting period for Mahrez and one that’s difficult to fairly evaluate. He’s been having less of the ball, marked much more diligently and then as a result put in a couple of torrid performances. Yet at the same time he managed to concentrate his impact into singular, pivotal events. In that well-documented series of 1-0 wins – Leicester’s impersonation of Euro 2004 Greece – Mahrez came up with two winning goals in games against feisty physical opponents.

If ever there was a time for the return of the gliding, free-flowing and PFA Player of the Year award winning Algerian – it was now. Vardy’s absence meant Leicester couldn’t stretch Swansea across the length of the pitch so easily, requiring more patient building of attacks. Mahrez responded to his increased responsibility resoundingly. Neil Taylor had no chance of covering him and the finish after Ashley Williams’ error was never in doubt. If Vardy’s absence is prolonged, Mahrez showed that he can turn it up when the stakes are highest.

Allardyce has finally made Sunderland defend some

After looking like the softest team since Fulham in their relegation season, Sam Allardyce has managed to drill some defensive resilience into this tepid squad, helped by his January signings. They still look favourites to claim that final spot outside of the bottom 3 as Norwich are floundering and Newcastle’s mini-revival under Rafa Benitez might be coming too late.

Jan Kirchoff has been a steady, if not completely mobile, presence directly in front of that shaky back 4. Just as important, perhaps more so, has been the uptick in general intensity and tempo from Sunderland’s forwards without the ball. Jermaine Defoe still won’t do much, but Wahbi Kazhri’s quality is matched by a tenacity that showed against Arsenal. Fabio Borini’s only virtue is putting himself about a bit. Despite all this, no-one should be too eager to make a late-season play for Sunderland defenders in fantasy.

Spurs will make deep lying teams pay more often than they won’t

In what became a deflating night for Spurs it’d be easy to forget that for 45 minutes this was another blitzing performance from Mauricio Pochettino’s men. West Brom lined up in their typical 9-0-1 formation with faux wingers but it did little to stop the home side from breaking through and creating chances at a high frequency. Boaz Myhill did well to push Harry Kane’s shot onto the post and Christian Eriksen threatened with a long range free kick. When the goal did come it was in ugly fashion but well deserved. One simple set piece forcing Craig Dawson to put into his own net. Alas, this would not be the defender’s last involvement in the match.

Even in the early stages of the second half when West Brom finally made their presence felt, Erik Lamela hit the post after another flowing move. It was a stark reminder of how drastically this team has improved and at the very thing that the team struggled to do for so long. Since Harry Redknapp’s iteration, Spurs haven’t been a team that flowed as such. Now, they’re cutting teams open with a movement and a flair that has led them very nearly to a title. The only issue in the short-term is…

Dele Alli may be missed

Referee Mike Jones missed this little incident but the rest of the viewing masses didn’t. As Spurs held on to their 1-0 lead, the recently named PFA Young Player of the Year concluded another one of his off-ball runs he span on the spot and landed an iffy punch into Claudio Yacob’s midriff. It wasn’t anything to compare to Anthony Joshua but it still didn’t look good on tape. Provocation was unclear but the pair had a previous coming together in the first half.

It seemed set to hang over the events of the night, marring another Spurs win until Dawson did that for them. If Alli is indeed banned, it’s a huge blow for this team which relies on him heavily to make the incisive cuts around Kane. Eriksen is a key cog in the attack but getting in behind isn’t his game at all and Lamela just doesn’t do it as well. Heung-Son Min will likely come into the side – this is by no means the level of drop-off that Leicester experienced going from Vardy to Ulloa – but the loss of Alli, who’s breakthrough season was wholly unprecedented, is one that might just crumple Spurs’ title challenge once and for all.

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 hold their ground at the top, Tottenham solidify their title contention status and, hey, Aston Villa won! What a season. Here’s 5 things we learned:

Ranieri’s defence fueling 2016 surge

After Robert Huth scuffed in a goal 2 minutes in, Manchester City reluctantly started their barrage on the Leicester penalty area. Raheem Sterling got loose several times and there must have been roughly half a dozen occasions when pullbacks flashed towards the 6 yard box. No matter. Wes Morgan has some meaty thighs that were made to block shots. Leicester’s attack has been nearly as blistering as it was before the turn of the New Year but the defensive showings that Ranieri has eked out, the ones Nigel Pearson never could, have been the difference. By the way, the thinking that Ranieri has changed nothing after Pearson’s departure is completely wrong.

When defenders have to block endless amounts of attempts on goal, it’s usually not a sign of a good defence. Saturday’s matinee in Manchester didn’t see one of Leicester’s better defensive performances by any means. But they did enough. That should really be the motto of Leicester’s back 4, they do enough. Not many teams will hold Manchester City to one consolation goal at the Etihad. 5 clean sheets in 7 games now, and Huth’s brace led Leicester to be 6 points clear at the top. What a sentence that is!

Stoke looking softer as season progresses

Teams do have identities and look a certain way when playing well. When the Potters are firing on all cylinders, their attack is fast and vicious, then backed up by a robust defence. Mark Hughes watched his team look the exact opposite of that against Everton. Cold, wet, windy cliches are nice and all but they mean nothing when the home team fails to perform in the same conditions. Suddenly, Stoke have morphed into a team that doesn’t truly thrive in their natural habitat.

Stoke signed 23 year old Giannelli Imbula in the transfer window and he might develop into a nice piece some day, but as of right now he’s not a good defensive midfielder for a Premier League club. He also looked absolutely freezing cold. Giving Lukaku and his friends a lot of space is football suicide and it happened over and over again. Ryan Shawcross has a slightly inflated reputation but his absence in recent weeks has been marked. The main fantasy implication from all this is Jack Butland continuing to fall behind in my fictional budget keeper rankings.

Chadli maintains his infuriating ways

Last season Nacer Chadli would float through a game and do nothing really of note in a comfortable Spurs win. Then the full-time whistle would blow, you’d look up and oh. Chadli would have notched a goal or an assist, somehow you noticing. This season’s been much of the same, except without any of those goal things. Even for a neutral, watching Chadli is a tantalizing yet thoroughly unsatisfying experience.

He missed a couple of chances against Watford in a game Spurs dominated from the off. The main flaw for Pochettino’s men is that they have games where they can’t create anything but this wasn’t one of those times, as 8 shots on target would attest to. Still it was only after Chadli came off that Spurs were able to break the deadlock and it was the Belgian’s replacement Dele Alli who provided the pass. It was an extremely impressive win for Spurs going up against a packed defence and sets them up nicely for next weekend’s clash with Manchester City. Don’t expect to see Chadli start though.

Watford lacking firepower outside of Ighalo, Deeney

For their trip to White Hart Lane, Quique Sánchez Flores left all his attacking players outside of his reputed front two at home. Deeney didn’t even make the starting line-up as Watford tried to clog up the game up and, if we’re being cynical: played for a draw. It’s not an awful strategy against this Spurs team, but unfortunately for Watford, their hosts have just started to hit their stride in front of goal.

As they were getting torn apart in front of their own goal, it was no prettier at the other end. It was a tale of 3 defensive midfielders and Ighalo battling a very good defence, with predictable results. Considering their reliance on two players to score and direct style, Watford are sort of like a more extreme but less talented version of Leicester. They’ll be just fine for the rest of the season, but they might want to look at inserting some creativity into the side during the summer.

Arsenal need to prove their mettle – but they’ve done it before

It’s been another turbulent week at the Emirates. Fraser Forster’s palms held the North London club to a goalless draw on Tuesday night while Leicester and Manchester City picked up 3 points elsewhere. This was only a minor setback, but a setback nonetheless which only meant one thing: crisis. Arsenal apparently only deal in crises and surefire glory, even though they’ve had neither for years. Looking ahead, yet another vital spring period beckons. Sandwiched between fixtures against some Spanish side called Barcelona, they’ll face Man Utd (A), Swansea (H), Tottenham (A) and West Brom (H).

The narrative is that Arsenal suddenly transform into a wet blanket for games at this point in the season. But Arsenal historically have performed very well. Over the past 5 seasons in Premier League fixtures played between Champions League ties, Arsenal’s record is 9W-1D-2L. In other words, they perform a little above what they normally do during the season. Promisingly for all involved with the club, Alexis Sanchez is slowly resembling the same person who racked up points last year. Arsenal will face another chance to prove they’ve changed, now is not the time to desert your Arsenal representatives in your fantasy teams.

Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com

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As it often does, the crammed festive period brought around some interesting results, plenty of goals and pretty much everything except an Aston Villa win. Here’s 5 things we learned:

Arsenal will keep bouncing back

There was a lot of talk about how Arsenal suffer under the pressure of being true title contenders, after a 4-0 hiding at the hands of Shane Long and Southampton. While a home game against Bournemouth was a pleasant opportunity to respond, Arsenal do tend to respond to their domestic calamities quite well. They opened the 13/14 season and then this season with home losses to Aston Villa and West Ham. Both losses were followed by several wins, most coming in the comfortable fashion we’re accustomed to seeing Arsenal win in.

The main issue with Arsenal is that their defeats are never all that quiet. A tough, usually televised game suddenly becomes a disastrous flaming inferno fueled by Arsenal fans screaming #WengerOut. This time however, it might have worked in their favour. The pressure was definitely lifted from Arsenal a bit after the two results this week and now they’re free to tackle what looks a soft-ish schedule in January. Barring any complete slump in form, the Gooners next big test will be when Bayern Munich come to visit in February and potentially distract them from their league opponents too.

Aston Villa are going down

Remi Garde’s reign has been very quietly documented but that’s because essentially very little has changed. Villa are awful. That is not up for debate, and the comparisons to Leicester’s grave situation last year and the possible escape are a little off the mark. At this point in the season last year, yes, Leicester were bottom but they had 13 points and were only 3 points from safety. For comparison, Villa are sitting on 8 points and are 11 points shy of climbing out of the danger zone. As well as this, Leicester were playing good football just without the results to show for it, which is a far cry from the product Tim Sherwood and Garde have trotted out this season.

Is there anything to salvage from this season, surely lost now to the waiting arms of relegation? Jordan Ayew has looked lively under the new manager, and will provide a different option all season in the sub-6.0 range. But Ayew, the small bright spot is now suspended for 1 game which sums it all up really. Rudy Gestede…maybe? That’s really starting to scrape the barrel there and shows just how devoid of quality Villa’s squad is right now. Maybe the Championship will be good for them.

Stoke reaping rewards of Shaqiri investment

Everton’s defensive faults manifested themselves at home once again, but sometimes things happen. Sometimes, those things are sweet, sweet strikes from a certain Swiss right boot. Xherdan Shaqiri’s half-volley was a gorgeous strike but Mark Hughes will have been equally pleased by the way his side is now creating and converting chances. The Potters are starting to harness the potential of summer signing Shaqiri while getting consistent contributions from Marko Arnautovic. The bulky Austrian with a spiky temperant is often a handful but his talent was often seen in flashes.

Stoke have a very similar makeup to Crystal Palace, given that both attacks are largely reliant on good performances by their wingers. Hughes in recent weeks has mirrored their South London counterparts by playing 4 winger-type players with Bojan as the main forward. It seems to have unlocked the space for Shaqiri and Co. to attack from behind but I’m sure Mame Biram Diouf still has an influential part to play this season. Peter Crouch continues to look on in lanky bemusement.

Spurs will go as far as Kane and late, late goals will take them

While their North London rivals had a more dramatic week with opponents from the South Coast, Tottenham are creeping up on the title race. Spurs scored freely in the win over Norwich before pulling out a tight one against an ever-stern Watford outfit. Late goals, often from Christian Eriksen, were a huge feature of their wins last season but their wins this season appear a lot more sustainable.

It’s easy to forget that Spurs have only lost twice this season. One of those came courtesy of a Kyle Walker OG in a stodgy season opener at Old Trafford. The second was at home to Newcastle, which has proven to be something of a bogey fixture for Spurs in recent years. Their defence has conceded the fewest goals in the league and that level of performance should be maintained during the season. But to seriously entertain title chances, they will need Kane to continue excelling. Perhaps involving Son Heung-Min more would help, as the Korean often provides another outlet up front and allows Kane to drop deep where he is most effective.

Morgan Schneiderlin could prolong Louis van Gaal’s reign

For most of the season, the main gripe with what the Dutchman was doing with Manchester United was that they were boring. Stout, solid and extremely difficult to beat – but judged by most as dull. Their defensive prowess led to many raving about Chris Smalling, but the man who really deserved credit was Schneiderlin. It was he who was dropped by LVG looking for some more inspired play going forward, but the stagnant attack remained and United had sacrificed their one redeeming quality – a suffocating defence.

Although injuries did play their part in United’s recent swoon, Chris Smalling was present while United shipped goals to below par teams. It’s clear that Schneiderlin is United’s best defensive midfielder and if Louis van Gaal wants to remain at the helm he will have to keep playing the Frenchman.  United arrested their slide with a sober draw against Chelsea, keeping a clean sheet on Schneiderlin’s first start since the 0-0 draw at home to West Ham. If he’s getting a run in the team again then picking up United defenders would be highly recommended.

 

 

 

Weekend Review – from fantasybet.com

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Sell high with Leicester?

It hurts to write this, it really does. A deep blazing pain strikes me, but I must say it: Jamie Vardy’s streak will end very soon. There are a few factors that feel destined to collide, ruining all the fun everyone’s had during Vardy’s incandescent Autumn.

For starters the next fixture in question seems slightly too good to be true. Swansea are in middling form this year and their defence offers less resistance than Manchester United, Watford and West Brom’s backlines, all of which Vardy scored against. Secondly, there’s just a disappointing inevitability to the streak ending in some 3:00 December game away to Swansea. It’s natural that the burning motivation will die off a bit after the charged evening at the King Power stadium last weekend.

Leicester will deservedly go to Wales as the favourites but dropping Vardy might be a sneaky way to gain an advantage over Fantasy rivals.

Manchester United’s attack isn’t even mediocre

Louis van Gaal’s side has given stilted efforts to break down the opposition all season. But this weekend was the most damning condemnation of United’s attack as they toiled without much urgency against a Leicester outfit that at the back is, quite honestly, soft. The visitors’ equaliser came courtesy of a Bastian Schweinsteiger header, unmarked after losing Shinji Okazaki at a corner. Leicester aren’t strong in this area but this was no strategic breakthrough – United simply took what they could get.

It’s been well documented, but the black hole Wayne Rooney is for this team is quite alarming. As a Leicester fan, the danger bells sounded quietly still from the stands – we know the name, the reputation, the history all stands – but the current product is tame. When facing Christian Fuchs on a breakway, all Rooney could do was flail and fail to win a free kick. Trying times.

Crystal Palace are bigger, better with Wickham

While Crystal Palace’s lineup with four wingers – Zaha, Puncheon, Bolasie and Sako – is fun to watch at times. They fly down from all angles, forcing many one-on-ones with fullbacks that have wildly varying results. It hasn’t been all that great though. This lineup, so heavy on individualistic wingers, has led to Palace having the fewest attempted passes per game in the league at 314, 50 less than the next ranked team. In other words, the ball is not pinging around the pitch at Selhurst Park.

To call Wickham a focal point for the Eagles would be overstating things. He’s an average striker, but his natural inclination to play like the big frontman he is should aid Palace’s attack. Zaha and Bolasie create plenty from the wide areas while Puncheon keeps things ticking over in a slightly calmer, less chaotic manner. In other words, they’re going to be dangerous all season.

Palace still seem to need some motivating for their best performances. Following a win at Anfield, Alan Pardew watched his team drop 3 points to Sunderland in a game you’ve already forgotten about. The latest installment was their best attempt to finally kill off Steve McClaren’s Premier League return. In some final other words, Crystal Palace are the most unpredictable side in the league.

Southampton disappoint with ambition

It seemed likely that the defence would take a knock given Morgan Schneiderlin’s departure this summer. The tireless Frenchman gave elite protection for the defence and a mostly diligent attack would do their part too. This much we knew. To counteract this the hope was that they could maintain or slightly improve what was a mediocre attack so they could once again threaten the Europa League spots.

In this regard, Ronald Koeman has been a disappointment. When managers begin to make decisions like putting Maya Yoshida at right-back, it whiffs of a slight lack of ambition. Manchester City away is essentially a free shot for managers and players outside of the top 6 or 7. There’s no expectations for any points. But it seems odd that Yoshida was selected at right-back tasked with going against Manchester City’s fluency with the ball.

It would be some stretch to say Southampton have truly regressed. Before the last fortnight, the Saints’ were unbeaten in 6 and are look on track for a top half finish. There’s just the tiniest sense of being underwhelmed when you watch them, perhaps the effect of having promising seasons consistently capped by selling multiple players to richer teams.

Tottenham have jacks of all trades, masters of none

We all know that Mourinho’s Chelsea could get a 0-0 draw against anyone from any era, 2015 Tottenham, 2009 Barca, heck 1970 Brazil would be stymied by this bunch if Terry and Co. fancied it enough. But it would be a fair assessment to say Spurs are a ‘good’ side that don’t excel in any one area. The question many would find difficult to answer is ‘Who is Tottenham’s best player?’

Is it Eriksen the main creator, or perhaps Kane who is proving he’s here to stay as a top-level striker? Is Lloris perhaps worthy of that title? Maybe Dembele’s underrated play from midfield that extends to all corners of the pitch is just as invaluable to the team as anything his teammates provide. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this. They have slowly carved out a team identity under Pochettino and the balanced approach means defences have no single player to key in on. However, and this is a nitpicky, aesthetic criticism for a side that’s lost just once all season, not having that star really seems to mainfest itself in these grinding games against stodgier teams. Spurs will hope that their democracy can lead them back into the Champions League for the first time since Harry Redknapp patrolled the White Hart Lane home dugout.