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 3
One Kop faithful had it spot on when he tweeted that Liverpool are on course to win all 38 games this season if Sturridge continues his early season form and nets the winning goal for Liverpool in every game. The greatest compliment I can pay to the 24yr old is that no one is talking about Suarez’s absence from the team. Throw in the fact that his manager had his fitness level at 70% and his early strike against United is more impressive. Indeed, the win was a team effort with Gerrard and Agger also deserving of individual praise.
Given that Agger was so close to leaving Anfield because his form was so bad, I say he chose the right game to make his manager sit up and take notice of him. He had RVP in his back pocket and there are very few central defenders who can ever say that. Liverpool back in the UEFA Champions League? Only men braver than myself will place those bets, I chose to wait to see what the table looks like after the January winter break.
This column advised readers last week to keep an eye out for the 19yr old Englishman Nathan Redmond and the winger justified my faith in him the very next week. For those in fantasy football leagues, if you haven’t realized he is a steal by now, it is not too late to add him to your squad. The young midfielder was by far his team’s best player with 2 shots on target, 2 key passes and a pass success rate of 83% in Norwich’s home game against Southampton. He also scored the only goal of the game in the 68min and produced 4 shots on goal to boot.
Redmond’s fine solo effort which involved dribbling past two opponents before unleashing a low drive into the bottom left-hand corner of Boruc’s net was deserving of the goal that got the canaries their first 3-points of the season. Baring injuries or any unpredictable change in circumstances, expect Redmond to move to a top 4 club in the near future. Any fan of the sport that is on the lookout for young dynamic players, I recommend Nathan Redmond. He makes it worthwhile to tune in for a Norwich game.
As predicted last week, the Swans proved a tough opponent for West Brom and got their first win of the season in some style securing a 2-0 win away from home. Michu got in the thick of things and ended the game with a yellow card and an assist to his name. Bony is yet to play a full 90min as he was subbed in the 67min for Jonathan De Guzmán. He appears to be lacking match-fitness but he has so far impressed when on the field. He is a willing worker and seems to have bought into the Swans possession-based philosophy.
After winning a cup last season, the question of what should be the Swans league aspirations this season is a valid one. A top 10 finish should be non-negotiable and perhaps, their fans should expect them to target a Europa league position. The talent and determination is there and in Michael Laudrup, they have a young progressive coach capable of taking the team past its limits.
Mark Hughes aka Sparky
Hughes’ fall from grace was particularly concerning as many saw last season’s appointment at QPR as Sparky’s [a nickname from his playing days when he carried a fiery temper] last chance at redemption. Bear in mind, this was a former United player turned coach who was touted as a potential United manager should Fergie ever retire. His meltdown started at City and ended with his unceremonious departure as the manager for QPR. His appointment at Stoke is his last chance to save his EPL managerial career and by golly is he giving it all he’s got.
After losing to Liverpool in the opening game, Stoke have put together a 2-game unbeaten run and whisper this to a footie fan, they are playing quite well. With a 4-1-4-1 formation, Sparky looks to have combined the best elements of Stoke’s play last season—their attacking set pieces and long shot opportunities with a new sense of individual defensive responsibilities. Three games is too small a sample size to judge Hughes’ managerial effect on the team but this column feels confident predicting that not only will winning at the Britannia Stadium will be just as difficult as it has been since Stoke returned to the top flight but their arsenal of attack includes more than their famed long ball attack technique.
Anyone watching the post-match conference after Sunday’s game with Spurs could not have missed Wenger’s smug look as he answered questions fielded to him by journalists. Say what you will about the Frenchman but you have got to admit he put Spurs in their place this weekend. Despite spending over $100,000,000 on players this summer window, Spurs were unable to beat their London rivals for bragging rights. As to whether this threadbare Arsenal squad can compete in the EPL, Champions League and F.A. Cup, this column remains skeptical.
This might seem weird but Spurs are under more pressure to perform and win than Wenger’s boys. Giroud was exemplary as a target man and Wenger’s call for patience last season now seem justified yet—there are fans expecting his goal well to run dry soon. Spurs fans on the other hand have grandiose plans and a Champions league position is a minimum requirement. Gooners worry about finishing in the top 5. Just how well AVB manages expectations and utilizes his squad will determine the kind of season Spurs have. Wenger has been dealing with this kind of pressure for years and with the retirement of Fergie, he is the most experienced EPL manager out there. This is an advantage not to be scoffed at.
Want proof? The signing of Flamini has been met with indifference by most Gooners but this was a shrewd move by the Frenchman. Recognizing that his team was lacking a defensive midfield cover for Wilshere, Ramsey and Arteta, he signed a former player Flamini. His team did not need a world-class defensive midfielder—Wilshere and Ramsey have that position locked down with Arteta more than a suitable replacement. What they needed was an option off the bench to inject urgency into the team and he got that for free. Should this conclude his dealing in the transfer window? No. But if his past dealings are anything to go buy, expect Wenger to unveil a 17 year old midfielder on Monday night.
All summer long, football columns have been reminding us of how Mourinho’s Chelsea and Pellegrini’s Manchester City are examples of how a modern successful club should go about their summer spending. Swift, precise and as early as possible. Why bring this up? It is to highlight that even with foresight planning and signing players ahead of pre-season to acclimatize them to their new coach and teammates, there is no escaping the growing pains of adding new members to a squad. City is still trying to find their new starting-11 and The Happy One [formally ‘The Special One’] influx of new players has resulted in Chelsea’s best player last season, Juan Mata yet to start a game. Manchester United and their fans especially have to be weary of this fact. This warning goes for all the other teams that are concluding their transfer this Monday—signing your team’s most converted player is only half the battle.
Manchester United’s Gaping Midfield Hole
This was a no-brainer. And to be honest, there is not much else this column can add that hasn’t been said. Carrick and Cleverley were unable to compete against Liverpool’s constant pressure and despite United dominating possession during the game [57%], their lack of creativity showed in the final third. Should fans be worried that Moyes’ prefers to start a 39yr old who has won and seen it all on the wings when he has young, energetic players eager to prove themselves and create memories at the grounds of United’s greatest rivals? This column is not going to call for a nation-wide panic among United fans but it definitely merits concern.
I imagine this loss would have been easier to swallow if the team had youngsters such as Zaha and Januzaj playing. At least the argument then could have been it was a game to get the young one bloodied. There is a tennis court scene in the 2011 romantic comedy the Bridesmaid where Annie tells Carol [both major characters], “Get your s#*t together Carol!” Irrespective of the players United sign, Moyes’ needs to act with more urgency. I appreciate his calm and collected approach but his comments after that loss to Liverpool where he was praising the team for playing well will not fly. Rightfully or not, United fans are used to winning and whiles many fans are keen to respect Sir Alex’s last wish [i.e. support the new man in the dugouts], the new man also has a responsibility to assure the team and its fans that he is in control. Moyes does not look like he is control and the Manchester United empire that was carefully built during the Ferguson era is showing cracks—and the that is reason enough for concern.
This column is considering starting an online petition to have the newly minted Manchester United chief executive, Ed Woodward agree to a Q&A session, with questions supplied by fans. Granted Moyes is the manager and face of the team but there remains a sneaky suspicion that David Gill’s replacement has a lot to learn on the job—Just how the two most powerful positions in the club are filled by relative newbies with little or no experience dealing with the pressure of handling expectations at a club of United’s stature baffles me to no end. Regardless of the situation, to any United fan reading this, In Moyes We Trust. There is no other alternative really.
The Roberto Martinez revolution is taking a while to kick in eh? Three games and still no win—and it is not for the lack of trying. It is perhaps telling that the best players for Everton so far could very well not be there when this transfer season is over. Martinez has insisted that Felllaini and Baines are going nowhere. Rule of thumb, never believe anything said during silly season.
A key part of holding on to your best players is convincing them that their current team is at the very least competitive. Everton were expected to shed the defensive reputation gained under former manager Moyes and adopt a more attacking football philosophy. This could either be a case of trying to teach old dogs new tricks or having the patience to allow the squad to adopt and manifest the new philosophy. We have 35 games to find out.
Should Martinez lose either Fellaini [most likely than Baines] or/and Baines, how quickly he finds replacements will also determine if this is the season the Goodison diehards see their team move up from mid-table obscurity. 35yr old central defender, Sylvain Disitin has been playing like a man-posed turning in solid displays at the back. Seamus Coleman is making news for all the right reasons and this young right-back is threatening to rival Baines in terms of importance to the attack and defensive discipline. Throw in the exciting talent that is Barca-loanee Gerard Deulofeu and Everton are this season’s darkhorses. Will they win? Will they lose? If Martinez can somehow turn their unpredictability into a strength that could soften the blow of losing the aforementioned duo. Nervy times for the toffees.
14minutes after Steven Fletcher equalize for Sunderland in the 63rd minute, the veteran center-back’s ill-advised tackle not only resulted in him getting sent off but caused his team to surrender points as well. Dwight Gayle converted the resultant penalty and Sunderland went on to concede a third goal late in the dying minutes of extra time due to being 10-men down. This result was not needed and he really did his club a disservice.
After a season under Mancini where the Bosnian campaigned for a starting berth, he finally gets his chance to start under Pellegrini and after 3 games, he already has fans calling for Negredo to start in his place. Dzeko makes it to this week’s loser section not for his poor showing but for the lack of faith showed in him by his manager and fans. Yes Negredo has scored 2 goals in 3 games, all coming off the bench whiles Dzeko has scored a single goal despite starting all 3 games. With respect to the game in question, Aguero did not have a decent outing as if we are being honest. But there are hardly any calls for him to be replaced by any of City’s newer recruits.
Is Negredo a better alternative than Dzeko? This column does not have the required FIFA coaching licenses to make that call but my wild hunch says a better manger than myself will find some way to incorporate both strikers. After all, don’t managers always go on about how having quality players competing for positions is a wonderful situation to have?
Thanks for reading this week’s edition—As usual, leave your comments and thoughts. See you after game 4 rounds of game.