Hello and welcome to the winners and losers column where we go over this week’s round of games and discuss the teams, players and coaches that should either pat themselves on the back for a job well done or take a hard long look at their recent actions and should perhaps start making drastic life changes.
This column is in the spirit of good fun and as usual, your comments and opinions are welcomed.
Winners and Losers Week 5
Half of a coach’s job is finding the right formation to counter your opponent’s. Pellegrini’s selection and high-tempo game plan took United by surprise and it wasn’t till after the 4th goal when he seemed content to let them see more of the ball did United ever look threatening and that was around the 65min mark. The other half is making tactical or personnel changes to the team based on how the game is going. Suffice to say, The Chilean never needed to switch things up and as he read Moyes perfectly. Tactically, he was playing at a level that Moyes’ was unable to comprehend. This is the most clinical attacking performance from any team this season and there’s 4 goals to show for it. He seems to have solved his striker dilemma by dividing Champions League and domestic duties among his frontmen. The title race is wide open and the Engineer is finally getting his vital clogs grinding. To the other EPL contenders, be afraid, be very afraid.
During the post-match interview, Captain Vincent Kompany couldn’t stop himself from smiling. The whole point of a derby game when it comes so early in the season is to earn bragging rights. It is the male equivalent of ‘I can pee further than you’. City were simply unstoppable and the only player that had a bad night was a certain Joe Hart and only because he failed to keep a clean sheet. Zabaleta gave a fullback performance that should be studied in football academies and Kompany was the very definition of a center-back. Instinctive, calm and just unplayable. Yaya Toure is proving this season that he has more to his game than just brute strength and even Nasri who couldn’t put together a decent string of performances under previous coach Mancini is showing the sort of form that made both Manchester club chase for his signature when he decided to leave the Emirates.
It is unlikely City will play with such a high-tempo game in and game out but this win shows that when called on, they do have different strategies in their repertoire. So far, none of the big 6 [that is the big 4 + Liverpool & Spurs. Sorry Toffee fans] have registered big wins when they have played each other. I hesitate to give betting advice but look to City being in the mix until the final game day. This season might just end up being decided by head-to-head results. The noisy neighbors just turned the volume up.
Wenger & His Boys
There is something annoying about Wenger when he is proved right. His smug look over the last couple of weeks since signing Özil just scream ‘This was my plan all along’. Okay, I might have exaggerated that but if he were to say that, there aren’t many that will challenge him openly. Last week, this column wondered if Ramsey was playing above his level and his form will eventually decline as the season progresses, after all, everything regresses back to the mean right? The only way this reasoning ends up being flawed is if Ramsey has indeed improved his all-round game.
For the video game enthusiasts among you, that is to say he has essentially levelled-up. He has scored 7 goals this season for Arsenal from 8 shots on target. He is also doing the business for Arsenal in the defensive end. He is the most essential player on the team right now. In Özil, Arsenal have a player determined to continue his assist onslaught and was credited with 2 goals during game day. Madrid probably have enough talent to make up for losing him but you have to wonder if they will end up paying for this somehow. Surely there must be a cosmic God that punishes people who mistreats his children. Just to be clear, this analogy is saying that if there was a God of football, Özil will be one of his children.
Arsenal have always won the unofficial title for the most entertaining team in the EPL. Özil’s arrival is making them the most dangerous. Suddenly, all the possession Wenger’s team has is actually counting for something –GOALS! The only fears Gooners should have if any are the following:
1. What to Do with Wilshere? Jack the lad is proving to be a problem. Until the arrival of the German playmaker, he was one with license to roam, pick up the ball from deep and play just off the forward. As his play showed this weekend he is quite ineffective when played out wide but he is not talented enough to displace Özil. Will he accept a back-up role and be the de facto #2 when the German needs a rest or can he, like Ramsey re-invent himself? Gooner’s are praying it’s the latter.
2. Is The Squad To Thin? This is more a criticism by analysts and commentators such as myself but you do worry for a team whose only other striker is the Great Dane, Nicklas Bendtner. Barring injuries to key players [which have already happen] or a sudden drop of form, Wenger could easily address his squad issues in the January transfer window and he does have players due to make a return to the first team after a long injury layoff. It really isn’t that bad.
3. Is It Safe To Dream? This EPL title is as open as its going to be for the next 5years. Why? Wenger’s team is the only top 6 team that has some sort of stability. Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United are dealing with new men in charge and it’s having a telling effect on the team and individual players. Liverpool and Spurs have players and managers untested when it comes to handling the pressure [to varying degrees]. If you had to make a bet based on pure logic, current form and include experience of the coach and his team, you can do no better than Arsenal.
A rare sight in football is to see the opposition supporters give a team a standing ovation. But that was exactly what happened when the Swans took on Valencia during their mid-week European adventure. Swansea got a win against Crystal Palace and that was the best result as their next EPL match sees them welcome Arsenal. Unfortunately, this match might not get the same level of hype as the Manchester Derby got but if there is a must-watch game during next week round of games, it is this. Laudrup has already achieved the unthinkable at Swansea, win a trophy. At this point, it is about maintaining a top 10 finish, trying to break into the top 6 and go on another thrilling cup run. Many people in England forget that he is a big deal. He was the overwhelming fan favorite to succeed the Happy One when he left Real Madrid. The expectation is that he is either going to be the next Barca or Real Madrid coach. Not a bad set of options to have, and so far, he looks the real deal. He is proving to have an eye for talent and capable of squeezing every available ounce of performance from his players. If ever Soccersouls does a ‘Coaches on the Horizon’ piece, expect the retired Dane turned coach to head the list.
Watching Baines start everything that was good about Everton’s attack when they played West Ham had this column wondering just what he must think of himself. By all accounts, he is down to earth and a consummate professional. The question this column is asking is does he have individual ambitions as a player? Maybe raised in era where footballers seek out trophies and titles to ensure their legacy lives on, watching a genuine world talent refuse to make a move is confusing to say the very least. Ashley Cole will continue to be England’s #1 for quite a while and Everton are years away from challenging for the EPL title—if that will ever happen in the near future. It is also curious that it was only Manchester United [read: his former manager] that ever made a move for him. His stats scream ‘the most consistent LB in the world’ AND ‘one of Europe’s most creative players’ in terms of goal-scoring opportunities created. Seriously, what gives?
Everton are finally getting some sort of form going and whiles Lukaku’s capture on loan proved to decisive in securing all 3points against West Ham, Gareth Barry’s move to Merseyside has thus far had the most immediate effect on the team. Everton will not win the EPL title this season but by God they will make any team that play them work for any point they get.
Seasums Coleman – 5 appearances | 1 goal | 1 assist. Keep an eye on this 24yr old Irish international, his offensive output is dwarfed by Baines but he is exhibiting similar characteristics. If he ends up being half as good as Baines, Everton will have the best full-back pairing in the EPL without a doubt.
The only United player to cover himself in glory.
Yes they won against Fulham with Obi Mikel scoring a rare goal but Mourinho’s comment about Juan Mata left a bitter taste in the mouth of all Chelsea supporters. And indeed for neutrals everywhere. Mata is perhaps the only Chelsea player other rival fans will admit to liking just because his style of play is mesmerizing—I imagine this what Abramovich thought he was getting when he paid a boatload of cash for Torres. Chelsea have proved that they can play attractive, attacking football AND win major titles. The Happy One’s statement seems to indicate a return to the dark days when Chelsea won games by sheer force of will and forced opposition players into submission. It was never pretty all those 1-0 wins but to paraphrase the Happy One, ‘it’s all about who ends up with 3points when the game ends’.
I am bemused by the reaction of most Chelsea fans, had Benitez pulled such a move, he would have needed police escort during training, at games and anytime he is in London. Can Mourinho win the title without Juan Mata in the team? Yes. But why should you relegate your star player from last season to bench duties? Is this all some mind games to divert attention to the fact that the team is lacking options upfront? Only the Happy One knows the answer to that.
There is a fine line between sounding confident and getting full of yourself. Brenden Rodgers’ statements before the Liverpool game when he suggested that his team was finally playing at a top level and could challenge for the EPL title was him starting to believe his own hype. The only game they dominated was their opener against Stoke and even then, they had shaky moments. The argument is that good teams know how to win ugly but all Liverpool’s wins have been ugly and you cannot plan to win an EPL title on a decent 45min showing. This defeat should serve to humble Rodgers and force him to accept that his team is far from the finished article. They do welcome back Suarez so there’s no need for doom and gloom at Anfield just yet. The aim should be a complete team performance and Rodgers has assembled the cast, now to get them to each play their role.
It is worth nothing that Liverpool ended the match against Southampton with the team they should have started with. Enrique should have played instead of fielding a back four of center backs and Sterling’s performance eclipsed Aspas who failed to match the injured Coutinho in terms of creativity and starting attacks.
As a friend mentioned to me after the game, United with Moyes in charge is just a regular team. Without Ferguson, they have lost that special something. As much as I want to disagree, based on Sunday’s performance against City, United certainly looked like a team that should be 8th in the EPL table. I mentioned earlier in the winners section that half of a coach’s job is finding the right formation to counter your opponent’s. Moyes clearly lost that round of tactical battle. The other half is making tactical or personnel changes to the team based on how the game is going. During the mid-week win over Bayer, Moyes’ talked about how he liked to field his strongest 11 for as long as possible barring injury and fatigue. Is that to say that he will not make changes to his team when a match begins? Because if there was ever a game this weekend that required the manager to salvage the game from the bench, this was it. Below are some issues that should be of concerns to United fans:
1. Moyes’ Stubbornness: I was inclined to call it his ‘tactical inflexibility’ but I am all for giving him the benefit of the doubt. Just how he reasoned failing to make a player change after going down 2 goals in the 1st half and 2 more when the 2nd half started is beyond this humble writer’s comprehension. Yes, he switched to a 4-3-3 and moved Welbeck to the left where he proved a much better attacking alternative than Young but that was too little too late. Is this him sticking by his players? If so, I guess their manager’s confidence should do them some good but just how much good when the team has suffered such a demoralizing loss?
2. United Lack of Creative Spark: Rooney was the only bright spark for United. Smalling did little to justify his selection over Fabio as his height advantage counted for little [he was culpable for the defensive mix-up leading to Yaya’s goal]. Up front, Young was ineffective at best and Valencia found an amped up Zabaleta willing to match him for pace. It is unfortunate that with a bench containing Nani and Kagawa, the manager opted to bring on Cleverley. Moyes has spoken of not having the opportunity to assess Kagawa and Hernandez—He is running out of excuses as to why that is the case as he has had 5 games. 5 games which translates to 5 opportunities to give these players a chance prove themselves.
The huge elephant in the room after this loss is does Moyes have what it takes to lead a team like United? Again, it is too early to tell but if ever he wanted an easy trophy, it is this season. All the other top 6 teams minus Arsenal are still tinkering with the squad and/or have new managers still settling in. He is on a 6yr contract so let’s assume the expectations for year 1 is to win some domestic trophy and qualify for the Champions League. Repeating this weekend’s performance including the transfer market fiasco will see his tenure cut short. Ferguson had the backing of the club, players and fans. It is safe to say Moyes has lost the fans or to be generous, they are yet to be convinced. The #FreeKagawa Movement might have failed but he shouldn’t take his chances with the #MoyesOut movement.
Ashley Young made only eight successful passes in the first half against City. At this point, United fans will prefer a crocked Darren Fletcher on the field than Ashely Young. One of Ferguson’s stranger acquisitions. He must be really good during training because despite his diving antics and general all round poor performances, he appears to be one of Moyes’ guaranteed starters – Mindblown.
Just how they conspired to throw away a 1 goal first half lead and lose to Hull by 3 goals to 2 is indicative of the general state of affairs for Alan Pardew and his Toon army. It is one step forward and two steps back. The rest of the season is damage limitation and the Magpies should hope to avoid a relegation battle. A mid-table finish will be a successful season. In some positive news, Loïc Remy looked sharp against Hull and helped himself to a brace.
Sam Allardyce must be counting the days to the January transfer window. Losing Carroll all season was a blow and he needs to either find a stop-gap replacement or plan for the long-term by signing a player that can complement Carroll when he returns from injury.
They really should have gotten a point against Aston Villa. Their next game is against Stoke. Then they face off with Chelsea at home and then the Gunners at the Emirates. Already 17th in the table, the Canaries need to win or at the very least get a point against mid-table teams. Relegation battle is never fun and this column would hate to have Nathan Redmond leave the EPL.
Thanks for reading this week’s edition—As usual, leave your comments and thoughts. See you after match week 6