The international break swept through the football calendar like a tornado and in it’s path left a trail of destruction. Between injuries and positive Covid-19 tests there was a massive group of players who were perfectly healthy the last time their clubs saw them who returned unable to play in at least one game, and in some cases unable to play again this season.
What the logic was in forcing players to play so many games in a short space of time, during a season that already features the most condensed schedule anyone has ever seen, has yet to be explained. One can only assume it has to do with TV obligations and the greed of FA’s not wanting to give any money back to broadcasters.
Even at that, it doesn’t explain the idiocy of managers who ran players into the ground in meaningless friendlies by playing them every minute of every game during the break. Clubs need to have more power in deciding what’s acceptable and what isn’t when players are away with their national teams. Clubs do, after all, pay the players wages and do own the asset value of those players. Injuries caused on international duty can have a massive effect on the fortunes of a club, in a number of different ways.
Thankfully the international nonsense is now over for five months so we can focus on the real business at hand, the Premier League. Matchweek 9 gave us plenty to talk about. Some old, some new and some which involved teams in blue. Without wasting any more dynamite lines like that, here’s the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Matchweek 9.
No Virgil Van Dijk, no Mohamed Salah, no Thiago Alcantara, no Trent Alexander-Arnold, no problem. Liverpool have a crippling injury crisis, with four world class players currently out and another, Fabinho, forced to play out of position. Add Jordan Henderson, Joe Gomez, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Xherdan Shaqiri and you see the extent of the damage that has been caused to Liverpool’s efforts to repeat as Champions by this chaotic season.
Leicester arrived at Anfield as league leaders, in good form and full of confidence. They had their own injuries of course, with Wilf Ndidi, Caglar Soyucnu, Timothy Castagne and Ricardo Pereira out but they still had reason to believe that this game was their for them to win. Liverpool had not looked good in domestic football prior to the international break and with even more players missing coming out of it, the Reds could be seen as vulnerable.
Jurgen Klopp was having none of it though, plugging in James Milner, Curtis Jones and Naby Keita to fill the gaps, and being rewarded by excellent performances from all three. Liverpool played like Champions, dominating Leicester in every aspect of the game, creating chances and knocking three goals past Kasper Schmeichel who did well just to keep the score down.
This Liverpool team seem unflappable, no matter the challenge they will rise to meet it. It’s something we became used to seeing from Manchester United when Alex Ferguson’s men ruled the roost and while Liverpool will likely never dominate in that manner, they share a lot of similar traits with Fergie’s machine, chief among them are ruthlessness and a never say die attitude. The injuries to Van Dijk and Gomez, the starting central defensive pairing, would have been enough to end most teams title aspirations. Not Liverpool, they just take it in stride.
The Kane and Son Show.
There is surely no better tandem in European football right now than Harry Kane, he of the seven goals and nine assists in the Premier League this season, and Son Heung-Min, scoring of nine goals himself. Kane is arguably the front runner for Footballer of the Year right now and turned in another outstanding performance in Tottenham’s 2-0 victory over Manchester City on Saturday.
Son put Spurs ahead, latching onto to a lovely lobbed pass by Tanguy Ndombele to slot past Ederson, before Mourinho’s masterplan kicked in and Spurs invited pressure before using the tandem, along with Steven Bergwijn, to torment City on the counter attack. Kane created the second goal, taking Toby Alderweireld’s clearance under his spell inside his own half, turning and driving at a back peddling City defense before slipping the perfect pass to an overlapping Giovani LoCelso who beat Ederson with a smart finish to wrap up the points.
Son and Kane had kept City honest all game long, with their clever moment and link up play as well as their willingness to run in behind. It wasn’t just on the ball that they impressed though, turning in fantastic performances from a defensive standpoint as well. Son, in particular, didn’t give the City backline any time to dwell on the ball, constantly nipping at their heels and blocking their passing angles.
If these two can stay fit, there’s very few in world football who can match them. Individually they are brilliant but their understanding and chemistry is what makes them stand out. If they stay healthy, they will keep Spurs in the title mix all season long.
Burnley did a win!!
For the first time since the 18th of July, when they overcame relegated Norwich 2-0 at Carrow Road, Burnley Football Club won a Premier League game. It was their first home win since the 25th of July when the beat Watford at home. It marked the end of a terrible run of eight games without a win stretching back to last season, and lifts Burnley out of the bottom three.
A game that had 0-0 written all over it pre-kickoff turned out to be a decent game of football, and while Palace can definitely argue that they deserved something from the game having had more of the play, more possession and more shots, nobody can begrudge Sean Dyche’s men their win. Chris Woods’ early goal was the difference between two pretty well matched teams.
Burnley, having spent next to nothing in the summer, had been hampered by injuries to key players this season and this was the first game of the season where you could argue they were almost at full strength, with only Jack Cork missing from their nominal best 11. Dyche will hope that this is the beginning of Burnley’s season and will want to write off the previous eight games as something of a pre-season with this being game one of a shortened 30 game season in which the only goal is Premier League safety.
Wolves, a cure for insomnia.
How can a team with Ruben Neves, Adama Traore and Raul Jimenez be so boring? The only teams who’ve scored less than them are Burnley, West Brom and Sheffield United. They’ve scored two goals in a game only twice, and haven’t scored more than that. And it’s not just the lack of goals, it’s the lack of shots, the lack of chances, the lack of dynamism.
They’re horribly one paced, and while that is understandable when Adama isn’t on the pitch, it’s such a change from what we’ve become used to from Nuno’s men. They’re clearly missing Matt Doherty and what he offered from right wing-back and while Nelson Semedo is a better player than Doherty, he isn’t suited to being a fulcrum of the attack the way Doherty was.
Wolves spent quite a bit of money in the summer, somewhere in the region of £80mil on Semedo, Fabio Silva, Marcal and Ki-Jana Hoever, as well as committing another £35mil to potential future signings of Vitinha and Rayan Ait-Nouri. All of them, individually, are good signings. There’s not a bad player among the group. Fabio Silva, Hoever, Vitinha and Ait-Nouri are all superbly talented young players, Semedo is a quality player in his prime and Marcal is an experienced veteran. But how many are starters? For now, Semedo and Ait-Nouri, replacing Doherty and the injured Jonny Otto, but neither are as good *in their assigned role* as the players they’ve replaced. Not yet anyway. In 6 months? Maybe. In 12 month? Almost certainly. But not now. Wolves spent a lot of money to get worse.
They also lost Diogo Jota in the summer, and while Daniel Podence and Pedro Neto are very talented, neither are on the level of the new Liverpool attacker, neither fit as well with Jimenez and both change the dynamic of the team. Wolves fans may well argue that their 20 shots, 9 on target, against Southampton is evidence that their not boring but their xG of 1.57, per Understat, shows a reliance on long range shots and headers from set-pieces with only Neto’s equalizer and Dendoncker’s chance representing “big chances”. The rest were no more than half chances and pot shots.
They did bring in a hefty chunk of money for Doherty and Jota but the fact is they spent a lot of money, and are worse off. They didn’t address their central defensive needs and have become boring by blunting their own attacking ability in an attempt to protect that back three.
Fulham, and the lost art of scoring penalties.
Fulham sit in 18th position with four points from nine games and the axe looming over Scott Parker’s head, but it didn’t need to be like this. They could so easily have eight points, and while it would only mean being one spot higher in the league it would put in closer contact with the group above them.
They should have beaten Sheffield United, and would have if Aleksandar Mitrovic hadn’t tried to kick the leather off the ball and ended putting it on the roof of Bramall Lane. Instead, they had to settle for a draw.
They should have gotten a draw against West Ham, and would have if Ademola Lookman hadn’t outsmarted everyone, including himself, and fluffed his lines. Instead, they came away with a painful defeat.
And on Sunday, they could have taken a draw against Everton if Ivan Cavaleiro hadn’t had the misfortune of slipping as he struck the ball and sent his penalty looping over the bar. Again, they ended up with a painful defeat.
Scott Parker needs to pick a designated penalty taker and stick with them, even if they miss one. Someone needs to step up.
David Coote’s incompetence.
The man is not fit to officiate a Premier League football match. In any role. Not as a referee, not as a fourth official and not as a VAR.
The man who let Giovani Lo Celso away with a potential leg breaking tackle on Cesar Azpilicueta last season had already made news this season. His shameful performance as VAR in the Merseyside derby was followed up with a terrible display as referee in the Leeds-Wolves match. That he was still allowed to officiate games was baffling.
Surely after his antics on Saturday, he can no longer be trusted to oversee games. First, he overturned a stone wall penalty that had been awarded to West Brom after Bruno Fernandes missed the pal and chopped down Conor Gallagher. As Coote watched the replay, he could be seen mouthing “I think he got the ball”. He didn’t. And unless you’re sure, you can’t overturn the decision.
Then he awarded United a penalty, correctly, for a handball by a West Brom defender. However, he ignored the clear foul committed by Fred as he “won” the ball back deep in West Brom territory. The penalty should have been overturned but it appears that Coote made a decision not to have the challenge reviewed.
David Coote cost West Brom a point they deserved, maybe three points, with his incompetence. Incompetence is the polite way to put it. A cynic might look at his history of favourable decisions towards United and the consider his previous job working for the FA in Manchester and the fact that his Facebook header was, until he deleted his account, a picture of Old Trafford. The header picture is, at the very least, unprofessional. It may well point to a more serious bias.
The reaction to Pepe and Alioski.
Should Nicolas Pepe being apologising to his manager, teammates and fans for being an idiot? Yes he should.
Should Ezgjan Alioski be attending classes at the Yorkshire Academy of Film and Television Acting? Yes he should.
Do either deserve the disgusting comments sent their way in the aftermath of the draw between Leeds and Arsenal on Sunday. Absolutely not.
Pepe did a stupid thing. He reacted to needling and put his forehead into Alioski’s face. Alioski went down like he’d been shot by a sniper on the roof of Elland Road. Pepe was rightly sent out. Alioski rolled around a little bit more. It was an embarrassment moment for both, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. It’s something we’d all like not to see. The reaction on social media was nothing we haven’t seen before either, and that’s something we should never see.
For the pathetic fringe pondscum to rear their mutant heads and hurl racial abuse, threats of violence and slanderous comments about the family of both men is just not something that should still be in existence. Let’s be clear, it’s never been ok. It’s always been disgusting, but surely in this day and age people can no longer deem it ok to go into any avenue of life and spew that disgusting nonsense is just incomprehensible.