It’s almost Christmas, and the Premier League season is racing by at a rate of knots. Some Premier League teams have just had their first midweek game of the season and will now find out what they’re really made of with another round of games this weekend. It’s all well and good playing well every weekend, but can teams with thin squads cope with games every 3-4 days as they will experience over the next three weeks or so?
This round of games brought us plenty of goals, plenty of drama but thankfully not too much in the way of VAR controversy. In this odd, compressed season being played without full stadiums we are getting performances and results that likely wouldn’t happen in a normal season. The league table makes interesting reading and will likely change drastically multiple times over the coming months given how bunched the majority of teams are with only eight points separating 2nd placed Spurs and 14th placed Newcastle. Points are at a premium and teams can’t really afford any slip-ups at the moment.
With that in mind, here’s the good, the bad and the ugly of Matchweek 13.
Watching Leeds United play football
The just don’t involve themselves in boring games, do they? Even in their low scoring games this season, they’ve been pure entertainment. They aren’t particularly good defensively, they’re as bad as it gets defending set pieces but they’re absolute dynamite when they attack. Filled with creative, pacey players like Rodrigo, Harrison and Raphinha as well as an in-form striker in Patrick Bamford, Leeds are always capable scoring a lot of goals. They smashed five past Newcastle, using constant overloads and committing men forward in numbers. Key to it all is the excellent Kalvin Phillips who is the key to everything Leeds do.
If they can sort out their defensive issues, injuries to Diego Llorente and Robin Koch are hurting them as one could assume that those two are intended to be the starting central defensive pairing are big outlays on both during the summer, but they could also do with a defensive upgrade at leftback as their current options there are midfielders playing out of position.
Regardless of who they play, Leeds are fun to watch. Their performance against Newcastle was everything they want to be in attacking terms, but also showed their flaws defensively.
Fabinho Taveres, World Class in two positions.
Liverpool’s ambitions of retaining their Premier League crown suffered major blows when Virgil Van Dijk and Joe Gomez were ruled out with season ending injuries. Van Dijk, unquestionably the best central defender in the league, was a massive blow. He’s Liverpool’s leader and organiser in the back line. Joel Matip was left as the only senior central defender left, and he has a terrible injury track record. Even the most staunch Liverpool fan had to be worried.
Fear not, Fabinho Taveres has stepped back from his holding midfield role and solved the problem. Having established himself as a world class defensive midfielder over his two seasons with Liverpool, and played an enormous role in the Champions League and Premier League successes, Fabinho has quickly turned himself into one of the best, if not the outright best, central defender in the Premier League with a string of world class performances.
Partnered by Premier League debutant Rhys Williams, Fabinho put Harry Kane in his pocket last night and talked Williams through the game. Kane’s only sniff of goal came from a corner, when Jordan Henderson was assigned to mark him rather than Fabinho. Fabinho’s mastery of his new position has lead to a potential dilemma for the Reds. It’s clear they need to add more depth at central defence but most assumed the would also look to add a starter to partner Van Dijk come next summer. With Fabinho performing at this level, would they be better to add a depth option at the back and go for a top class, or potentially top class, holding midfield, rather than a depth option and a top class central defender? The idea of a Fabinho-Van Dijk central defensive pairing would be terrifying for Premier League opposition.
Sebastian Haller’s bicycle kick
What. A. Goal. There’s not really a whole lot else to say about it. The goal speaks for itself. His movement in the build up, and then the way he turns and contorts his body to enable the overhead kick. It’s sensational. Watch for yourself at 1.35 of this video.
West Brom’s timing
There’s no denying that Sam Allardyce is very good at the job West Brom have hired them to do. When you need a manager to keep a relegation threatened team in the Premier League, Big Sam is as good as they come. This is the fifth time he’s been appointed by a Premier League team in mid-season, and the fourth time he’s joined a club fighting against relegation from the Premier League. Include the time he took over at Bolton when they were threatened with relegation from the then First Division, now Championship, and it’s his fifth time walking into a relegation fight.
Sam will tell you it’s his sixth time walking into a relegation battle, but Everton weren’t in any real danger when he took over so let’s forget about that. Bolton, Blackburn, Sunderland and Crystal Palace were all very much staring down the barrel of relegation when Sam took the job, and each and every time he kept them up. At Bolton and Blackburn, he would stay long term and prove himself as a good manager. At Sunderland and Palace, his stay was merely short term and his accomplished the stated goal of safety. He’ll want to spend money in January, and West Brom are desperately in need of defensive help, but his track record dictates that money spent in a January under Sam is money well spent.
The issue here isn’t that West Brom have fired Slaven Bilic and hired Sam. From a footballing, and economic, point of view, it’s the right decision. The issue is the timing of the move. West Brom had just managed their best result of the season, a 1-1 draw away to Manchester City. To turn around and sack a manager after a good result is bad optics, even if it’s the right decision. Was there decision pushed forward by the possibility that Sam could get snapped up by another relegation threatened team, like Fulham for example?
Chelsea vs good teams
In six games against teams placed 11th or higher this season, Chelsea are yet to win. Three draws, three defeats and only four goals scored – three of them in one game, is not a good return for a team with title ambitions. Chelsea have comfortably beaten the teams in the lower regions of the Premier League, bar West Brom, but have struggled badly against the better teams. They have become flat track bullies who don’t seem to have a cohesive plan for playing other good teams.
Often in those games against the teams at the bottom of the table, Chelsea’s individual talent has been enough to see them create chances and score goals but they’ve rarely displayed established patterns of play. Frank Lampard doesn’t seem to know what his best team is yet and that is a bit of a concern. He seems to have settled on his goalkeeper and back four, but other than Kante, Mount and Werner, he hasn’t figured out what he wants in front of them.
His failure to get the best out of Timo Werner and Kai Havertz is a concern but not entirely surprising as both adapt to new surroundings and new roles but Lampard will want them both to find better form in the coming weeks as Chelsea’s schedule gets more difficult.
There’s a lot of issues at Arsenal right now, on and off the pitch. There’s a lack of leadership at the very top, a hint of making it up as they go along in middle management and terrible football resulting in terrible results on the pitch. Mikel Arteta appears in over his head and recent reports suggest that there’s been something of a minor dressing mutiny as David Luiz no longer speaks to the manager and the influence of Sokratis and Mesut Ozil has led to doubts in the manager over his treatment of the pair.
The football is the main problem from the fans perspective. Arsenal are not playing well. They don’t defend particularly well, and they are woeful in attack. There’s no creativity, no drive, no cutting edge. This shouldn’t be a problem for a team that owns the calibre of players Arsenal possess but the decision to leave Mesut Ozil out of the registered squad, and the equally strange decision to ignore the obvious talents of Emile Smith-Rowe, have blunted the fine attacking players Arsenal have at their disposal.
Willian has been an unmitigated failure thus far, and has done little bar take minutes from Pepe, Nelson and Smith-Rowe, all of whom Arsenal should be far more invested in.
The other big problem on the pitch has been their discipline. Three red cards in their last five games is unacceptable, even if Gabriel’s was for two yellow cards. The foolishness of committing that second foul so soon after receiving his first yellow card is not far below the foolish acts of Pepe and Xhaka in recent weeks. It suggests a group of players who aren’t in the right space mentally, and that falls on the manager. The big cost of the red cards is obviously suspensions and Gabriel, easily Arsenal’s best central defender and their most dominant aerial force, will miss this weekend’s clash with Everton who boast an in-form Dominic Calvert-Lewin who might be the best striker in the league when it comes to aerial duels.
1 point from 39
Sheffield United were better for spells against Manchester United than they have been in most games this season but they still crumbled as soon as United pressurized that defensive line. The decision to bring Phil Jagielka on and move Chris Basham into midfield when Sander Berge was forced off was strange for multiple reasons. Firstly they had multiple midfield options on the bench who could have come one, leaving Basham in defense, and more secondly Phil Jagielka is finished. He’s been finished for years. Never placed with great pace, the wheels fell off the wagon for him in early 2017. Almost four years later and Sheffield United are turning to him in a Premier League game to come on and face Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, two of the quickest attackers in the league.
Another major issue is Aaron Ramsdale, who may well rank as the worst signing made by a Premier League team in the summer transfer window based on performance this season. The Blades gambled on brilliant goalkeeping coach Darren Ward being able to work his magic on Ramsdale as he had on Dean Henderson. Under Ward, Henderson developed from a decent prospect into arguably England’s finest goalkeeper. Ramsdale had come through the academy at Sheffield United so they had no doubts about his character and felt he had the talent to be developed into a suitable replacement for Henderson. So far, it hasn’t come close to working and surely Wilder must start considering whether it’s time to make a change at the position.
Speaking of Wilder, is there a breaking point for the Blades board? After a net spend north of £60mil in the summer, and disastrous returns thus far, alongside the horrendous performance and looming likelihood of relegation will they decide to move on from the man who worked such magic to get them from League 1 to the Premier League in short order? A neutral would hope that they stick with Wilder and bank on him being able to bring them straight back up if they do go down. Other than Sander Berge it’s unlikely any of the squad would attract big money bids so they’d be well positioned for an immediate promotion challenge.
That’s in the future though, the present is 1 point from 39. A truly appalling return. One would hope the players do some real soul searching over the coming days because their performances have simply not been good enough. To their credit, they did mount a spirited late game comeback and only a good stop from Henderson stopped an equalizer but they need to play the way the did for the first 20, and last 10, across the entire 90.