20 October, 2015

Gameweek 9: You want goals? We'll give you goals...............

Okay, after the recent nuttiness of previous gameweeks the premier league shows no signs of abating and decided that it enjoyed the freak goal-fest of last week and followed it up with some more. We saw the arrival of one eagerly anticipated face in Klopp and one much less anticipated return in Big Sam. Yep, that's right, the herald of long ball is back. Prepare for the dawn (again) of the Jurassic era..........

Spurs Vs Liverpool: The akloppalypse begins................
A big sense of anticipation covered this meet up. Normally a high-scoring affair (Spurs have lost the last two fixtures 3-0 and 5-0) it was also the debut premier league game for Jurgen Klopp. And many would tune in just to see how he adapts Liverpool to his playing style and to early judgement on whether or not he can cut it in the premier league. On paper this was a face-off between two pressing teams and it promised to be an energetic game. It delivered, giving us a game that was mostly seeing who could lose possession more, it was all pressing, no real passing with both teams fielding stacked midfields behind their isolated strikers in an effort to protect their defences. This was not to be the goal-fest of yore. Plus both teams have lost quite number of players. Spurs are without one of their better defenders, Dier, through suspension (Already?! We're only eight fucking games in!) plus their new signing, Son, is injured and Kane has found the net only once in the last eight games and is running horribly low on confidence. Liverpool have had to stick Origi up front as, due to injuries, he is their only fit senior centre-forward. Coupled with the losses of Gomez and Ings to ACL injuries this promises to be an interesting few months for both teams.

The match started off brightly enough, even if it was in a more slapdash, hap-hazard manner than both sides would like. With most of the players running around like headless chickens, fighting for possession before immediately losing it again, the game started to take on a “Benny Hill” style. N'jie, in particular, didn't really seem to know what he was doing on the pitch and seemed like a full-kit wanker who had wandered onto the pitch. However, as the match wore on, Spurs started to grow into the match after the first twenty minutes and they put some thought into the effort. N'jie came closest with a great first-time effort that required a stunning save from Mignolet to keep out. It's obvious how Klopp wants this Liverpool team to play and it seems to suit quite a number of them, Sahko most of all. He was a beast today and really helped bail out his teammates when shit went south, the most poignant part being a follow-up block from Alli when Mignolet again made a fantastic save from Kane. Mignolet had one of those games which showed just how good he can be and it was in stark contrast to the increasingly error-filled performance going on in front of him. Milner was lucky not to be given his marching orders for a series of late challenges and the match petered out towards the end. Klopp hailed this performance as “a good start” and, while they performed pretty much as well as can be expected, it's difficult to see any real positives from this match, other than they weren't beaten. Spurs can, again, rue their lack of finishing and will look on this as two dropped point rather than one gained. Liverpool take on Southampton next week in what will surely be a far sterner test than they were given here and Spurs will hope to keep their loss-less streak (the longest in the league now) alive as they travel to Bournemouth next.

Chelsea Vs Aston Villa: Badly need a win?......Just call on Tim......
If United have perfected the art of winning by playing a bit less shit than their opponents then Villa have perfected the art of losing by a whole lot more shit than their opponents. They set up wrong with the wrong players and played wrong. Yet they weren't stuffed. They were never ever in with a shout, mind you, but were they playing a team that had its shit together in attack they'd have been murdered. Chelsea have realised that their back four need more screening and dropped their best player, Hazard, in order to shore up the porous backline. It really says something about this season for Chelsea that they improved considerably when shorn of their best player. Although it seriously blunted their attack (both goals came courtesy of some horrendous defending and some good fortune) they were never in any threat of conceding and can use this more stable performance to build on. Villa can only point to a litany of errors and abysmal performances from this game and who knows how they'll kick on from this one, they managed only one shot on target the entire game. It's clear the moneyball summer has gutted the team and left them with no clear identity and no notion of how to go about forging one. But it's clear the team need to galvanise and Sherwood needs to figure what he wants his team to do. He certainly cannot do what other teams, including Chelsea, can do and rely on the individual quality of his players because his players simply have none.

The first goal came from a (now) typical Villa implosion in the 34th minute. Guzan, who really needs to start training with the outfield players because his ball control is atrocious, was under some vague semblance of pressure from Pedro and he whacked it to Lescott. Lescott was somehow caught out by being passed the ball and mis-controlled it badly. This was read by Willian who picked his pocket, scorched past him and squared for Costa to tap home into an empty net. Things got no better in the second half when Chelsea won back possession in midfield with Ramires finding Fabregas, before being fouled, and his lofted pass for Costa was straight onto the strikers chest. He was too far wide, however, so he cut back and attempted to square it across the goal. Hutton ran onto the pass, it hit the back of his calf, and the ball looped inside the near post leaving Guzan stranded for another gifted goal. Villa were totally unable to deal with Costa or the energy of Willian. Chelsea always looked a threat despite not really clicking together but, then, they never needed to against a team so lacklustre. Chelsea face a sterner test in West Ham next weekend and it remains to be seen if Hazard will be left out in the cold again against a team that actually poses a threat going forward. Villa trudge onwards next week against a Swans team that will be savouring cutting them apart. Time is surely ticking for Tactics Tim.

Crystal Palace Vs West Ham: Ten man Eagles downed by the travelling Hammers......
A meeting between two of the more in-form teams so far this season promised goals and some excellent play. It did not disappoint and the Hammers scintillating away form shows no sign of wasting away. Which is just as well because their home form leaves a lot to be desired. Palace have made a name for themselves by shocking a number of sides that expected Pardew and co. to just put their heads down and bend over and were expecting to take the game to the Hammers. They did, but while they had the lions' share of possession it was West Ham who scored first. Payet, unlucky not to have opened the scoring in the first minute, passed to Moses on the edge of the box and his through-ball found Jenkinsons' run and the back post. He sprinted past his lazy marker and brilliantly finished into the far corner. Less than a minute later he was helping to level the score by stupidly charging through the back of Gayles' legs in the box. The idiocy was contagious however as Cabaye tucked away the resultant penalty, he was forced to re-take it as Gayle had encroached so far he was practically in line with the ball. Cabaye smashed the re-take top corner and blushes were spared. For a player having a such a great game, Gayle seemed determined to ruin it for himself. He picked up a yellow for a reckless lunge into the back of Payet and the writing really was on the wall for him. Palace still probed forward through their attacking trifecta of Bolasie, Puncheon and Zaha but could find no way through a stalwart Hammers defence and their job was made all the harder just before the break when Gayle went in late on Koyate, planting his studs right onto the midfielders' foot. Clattenberg did not hesitate to send him packing.

The second half started rather slower than the first, if only because Palace had to retreat quite a bit and try to hit West Ham on the counter. For most of the match this tactic seemed to work but, in the 88th minute, the sheer amount of effort they expended just to stay where they were was too much. Payet was given far too much time down the flank and his cross to the back post was headed down by Carroll to Jelavic who made a meal of the challenge. It broke to Lanzini who fired home. Palace heads went down and the Hammers nailed the coffin shut on the 93rd minute when Lanzini threaded through to Payet who expertly chipped Hennessey for the third and all three points. West Ham host Chelsea next and will want to keep this sense of teamwork for that match seen as how Chelsea are back to winning ways. Palace will travel to high-energy Leicester and will hope that they do not self-destruct again.

Everton Vs Man United: Sticky toffees come up short against the old enemy...........
This was match between two teams looking to put their last games behind them. Everton laboured to a 1-1 draw against Liverpool that ultimately helped get Rodgers sacked and United were looking to bury the memory of their humiliation by Arsenal. Only one team succeeded. That this was a fixture that didn't hold a lot of good tiding for United didn't show (they've lost the last three without scoring a single goal) and it's mildly unfortunate that talk will centre more on how awful Everton were than anything else. Oh, how awful Everton were, slow and lethargic, they had no sense of urgency about their play at any stage of the game and thoroughly deserved to lose. The only question was by how much. The sheer negativity in the way Everton played today was shocking and Martinez will surely be scrambling to get to the source of it before their next game. They play like this against Arsenal and it will be a slaughter. They horribly resembled the team that finished last season so badly, creating almost nothing the entire game. United rarely had to shift out of first gear and it was only a matter of time before they notched up the first goal in the 18th minute. Howard parried a strong Herrera shot over for a corner which was played short to Mata. His cross was helped to the back post by Smalling and found a totally unmarked Schneiderlin who just simply passed the ball across the goal and into the net.

If the first goal was simply careless then the second (fucking four minutes later) was downright negligent. Coleman abandoned his position to foul Martial meaning he was unable to stop Rojo waltzing into acres of space down the left flank. His cross found Herrera in the six yard box with absolutely no-one near him. His header was textbook and left Howard no chance. Everton should have been three down at half time when Rooney had the entire box to himself form a Darmien through-ball and squared for Martial who made an absolute bollocks of the shot and Howard was able to collect. The second half saw a brief Everton fightback, caused by the replacement of the useless Naismith for Kone, which resulted in Lukaku seeing an excellent shot saved by the legs of De Gea and culminated in a Barkley free-kick fooling everyone with its' arc and needing a fine save from De Gea to save it. Then, just as Everton seemed to be growing into the game, the door was slammed in their faces by none other than their (once) own player, Rooney. Although maybe that should be Jagielka as it was his insufferably bad pass, straight to Schneiderlin, that resulted in the move that led to the goal. Schneiderlin found Herrera running down the right and he slotted through for Rooney to blast home for his first away goal for eleven months. Everton will need to wake up and smell the coffee for their match with Arsenal next week and United will look to continue this form in the Manchester derby next week.

Man City Vs Bournemouth: The money team steamroll another victim........
City arrive off the back of a 6-1 thumping of Newcastle and looked to add Bournemouth to the list of untimely victims. Bournemouth were hoping that their raft of injuries to key personnel did not affect their pressing game too much as they seek to, while not win, at least not get trounced. Not that City did not have their own key injury worries. With Aguero out they've lost their primary attacking focal point and with Kompany gone they've lost their primary defending focal point. Coupled with the loss of Silva in midfield, City have lost quite a spine of a team. It did not matter, however, as the stand-ins proved themselves admirably against an unusually pliant Bournemouth team. It took them a little over seven minutes to score the first. Fernandihno finding Zabaleta at the far post with a long-range looping cross. It was headed back across the goal and, with defence ball-watching, Bony fumbled it to Sterling who dispatched it. Bony made no mistake five minutes later when Federici badly spilled a Sagna cross straight onto his bootlaces to help make it 2-0. While it seemed that City were going to completely run riot, they were tacked back on their heels when O'Kane found a huge amount of space in midfield and fed Murray on the edge of the box. Mangala stood off and allowed him plenty of time to tee up his shot with bobbled inside the right post from 25 yards. That the Bournemouth players barely celebrated was testament to how badly the match was going so far for them, even at 2-1. Before the half hour the fourth goal came. De Bruyne threaded a through-ball that cut out the entire Bournemouth midfield and most of their defence. Sterling easily out-paced his marker and cut the ball back onto his right foot. He dummied the first defender, dummied again and sold another defender before jinking again and selling the keeper before firing the ball home, low and hard to the right. It was an excellent, composed finish.

Sterling bagged his hat-trick injury-time in the first half when Hart thumped a long ball down the centre. Navas burned his marker and rounded the keeper but he went too far forward and was unable to finish. He cut back inside and fired but Federici saved his shot brilliantly. Unfortunately the re-bound only got as far as Sterling who teed up his right foot and blasted home through the poor keepers legs. Toure came off at half time to be replaced by the more defensive Fernando but it made little impact on the course of the game. Bournemouth were always on the back foot and never looked like getting a sniff. Then, in the 89th minute, Navas raced down the right flank and crossed for Bony who stopped the ball with his right foot, turned and finished with his left. Bournemouth host Spurs next and will hope that they do not crumble as they did here, even though they will facing an attack that has not exactly been razor sharp recently. City have a midweek Champs league game to play followed by a trip across Manchester for the first Manchester derby of the season.

Southampton Vs Leicester: The comeback kings do it again...........
Southampton arrive very much on the crest of a wave as the thumped Chelsea 3-1 in their last match, Leicester scraped a well-deserved 2-1 victory over Norwich. Both teams were looking for three points to help them escape the rat-pack now forming in the upper-mid portion of the table and while a draw is probably the fairest result, both teams will be looking back with different senses of disappointment. Leicester's admirable “never-say-die” attitude, coupled with a relentless attacker in Vardy, had rescued them again but they will surely look at the two awful conceded goals (both from set-pieces) and will rue their defensive frailties. There will come a time when they cannot rely on their spirit and attack to bail them out, as they grimly discovered against Arsenal. Southampton can look back on a solid, controlling, first half in which they totally nullified their opponents and looked dangerous on set-pieces; only to lapse into a dream world, blow a two goal lead, and be lucky to escape with a draw. A team with the aspirations of Southampton cannot look at being 2-0 up at home and be happy finishing with a point.

The first goal arrived after twenty minutes of unusually dull play from Leicester. They seemed to be unable to get off the mark thanks to the impressive play from Southampton. Wanyama, in particular, helped to curtail the Leicester midfield and allow his forwards some space to manoeuvre the ball down the flanks. It was from one of these attacks that a corner was won, Tadic slung in the ball and Fonte rose highest to glance the ball into the net. 16 minutes later Ward-Prowse from another corner, this one taken short, sent in a cross that went straight to Van Dijk at the back post. The ball bounced off the post, he kicked it, it bounced back off the post again and then he put the ball in the net. The half ended 2-0 with Leicester firmly in the driving seat. The break saw the introduction of Mahrez and Dyer to help counteract Wanyamas' influence in midfield. The two substitutions proved to be effective as both wound up providing an assist each. The first came on the 66th minute after Southampton began to wilt under the relentless pressure. Mahrez played a through-ball which left Vardy through one-on-one and he finished with aplomb. Mane came close to killing the game off close to the end but it was Vardy, again, who would have the last say in the match. One minute into stoppage time Dyer sent in a fantastic cross for Vardy to head home to rescue the point. Southampton will not be too fond of the way they cracked under pressure as they travel to Liverpool next who,while not playing their best, are all energy and buzz. Leicester will seek to not concede two and claim all three points as they host Palace next week.

West Brom Vs Sunderland: For once,Big Sam seems to have bitten off more than he can chew.
Big Sam the relegation man” or so his moniker should go. Allardyce has taken up the reigns of another troubled team with the usual premier league aspirations. Not that their recent displays merit them staying in the premier league. Sunderland have been turgid in almost every game so far this season and it remains to be seen if their new manager can turn the ship around. He can certainly plug up a few leaks by the looks of things. Sunderland have shipped eighteen goals in their last eight games and they lost to a fluke goal and held firm at the back for the entire game restricting West Brom to a scant two shots on target, one of them being the goal. That they had only the same number of shots on target themselves (even if one required an unbelievable save from Myhill) points to the other side of the problem. Allardyces' big conundrum is how to make use of Defoe and the rest of his squads attack. West Brom also arrive with pressure to attack with more flair especially following their “roll over and play dead” performance against Palace. West Brom, however, at least boast an in-form striker.

Despite this, it was Sunderland who started the brighter of the two. With their defence looking far more solid than in previous game and Kaboul discovering how to actually play his defensive role. The first half ended scoreless and to the sound of resounding boos from the stands. The second half started better for West Brom when they began to build up a head of steam thanks, primarily, to Sess├Ęgnon who was fielded to help refute the negativity shown in the last match. It paid off too as he was the best player on the pitch by far. The sole goal in the game came form a calamitous piece of defending and goalkeeping. Brunt's cross was miles too high for anyone bar Pantillimon. He fumbled the cross however and as the ball dribbled down Berahinos' back, with the keeper falling ont it, the striker threw out a hopeful back-heel. This spilled the ball again and Berahino pounced. The Sunderland players virtually surrounded the referee and even Allardyce laid the loss at the poor refs feet. The fact is, and they know this, is that Berahino should never have been allowed the opportunity to score that goal. A litany of errors led up to it and stopping his team conceding these stupid goals is priority one for Allardyce. He'll hope he has more of an opportunity when he hosts Newcastle (one of the many clubs he has bad history with) next week. West Brom will take any points they can get at the moment and will hope to do a similar job against Norwich.

Watford Vs Arsenal: Resilient Hornets get blown away by the Gunners..........
Against Watford, with their paucity of goals, most could be forgiven for thinking that Arsenals defence could take the game off today and prepare for Bayern midweek. While the stats bare this out (Watford have scored twice in the last six games), and they changed for the worst afterwards, the match did not pan out quite like that. In fact, for the first sixty minutes, Watfords' high-energy, pressing game did enough to halt Arsenal. This style took its toll and, as Watford ran out of gas, Arsenal shifted up a gear and put their game opponents to the sword in a stunning twelve minute blitz. The first half was essentially a symphony of frustration as Arsenal were given virtually no time on the ball at any stage. Arsenal responded by throwing a few too many forward which gave the game a decidedly top-heavy look to it. Arsenal looked vulnerable on the counter having committed so many forward but they really needn't have worried. Norwich were content to appear threatening on the break without actually doing too much even though they displayed most attacking nous in first half than they've done in the past eight weeks put together. Arsenal had most of the good chances, including an absolute sitter that Ramsey missed at the back post, and they were looking reasonably comfortable going to into the break, if a little impatient.

The second half starte dmuch like the first but the signs were beginning to show. Watfords' game was taking its toll. In the 62nd minute Capoue surged forward, away from the defence he'd been so expertly screening, and upon losing possession to a perfect Coquelin challenge, flung himself to the ground and appealed for a penalty. Arsenal saw the gap and pierced the Watford defence with ease. Cazorla getting the ball on the edge of the box and he fed in a delicious ball for Ozil who was clearly fouled by Ake. Had the ball not rolled to Alexis who thumped home form four yards the ref would have surely blown the whistle and awarded a penalty. Two minutes later Walcott was subbed off for Giroud and three minutes later he scored the second. Ramseys' shot form the edge of the box deflected only as far as Ozil on the right. He crossed low and Giroud, unmarked somehow, finished high into the net. Seven minutes later the goal whirlwind ended with Bellerin, who'd been torturing whatever poor sap had been assigned to mark him, sprinted into the box, skipped past two challenges, and set Ramsey on goal. His shot defelected in off Anya, wrong-footing the keeper, for his first of the season. Watfords' heads never went down but three rapid-fire goals had clearly taken something out of them and the rest of the game was academic. Arsenal now play a see-sawing Everton and it'll be interesting to see which team shows up at the Emirates. Watford will be hoping their energy levels don't give out again as they travel to Stoke next week.

Newcastle Vs Norwich: Eh........what the fuck??
Destined for a lucklustre timid 0-0 draw or 1-0 victory all the reports said. Both teams meet up desperate for a result. Norwich need one because they're beginning to flounder slightly and a premier league stalwart scalp (even if it is Newcastle) is always a good confidence booster. Newcastle need one to arrest the hideous form they've portrayed so far this season and to help them not to seem like such a forgettable irrelevancy. And did this match ever deliver. Hands down the most entertaining match (for someone not invested in either team) served up eight goals, five of them in the first half, and some of the most jaw-droppingly bad defending you will ever see. As Niall Quinn adroitly put it (yes, we're talking about the same Niall Quinn here) this was “Carry-on defending”. Another shock point was that the star performances came from two players who had been woeful so far all this season.The first goal arrived after fourteen minutes when Mitrovic, who has clearly learned how to sate his bloodlust prior to a match, received the ball and found his path into the Norwich box blocked. Sissoko ran in and rescued the ball and slid the ball to Wijnaldum to slot home.

Their celebrations were muted minutes later, however, when Brady crashed a thirty-yard volley off the post. Newcastle didn't take the hint and when Olssen crossed for the unmarked Mbokani ,on the 20th minute, his volley home was assured. While Newcastle wobbled a bit now they pulled ahead again six minutes later when Sissoko crossed in ,again, for Wijnaldum who was, again, unmarked. His header was only glancing but it had all it needed to steer past Ruddy. They made it three, eight minutes later, when Perez, taking advantage of a decoy run by Mitrovic that had the Norwich defence looking like circus clowns, fired goalwards. His initial shot was blocked by Olssen (the only Norwich defender with his head screwed on) but Perez gathered the re-bound and made no mistake the second time. Newcastle switched off and a neat passing move from Norwich saw Olssen cross for Redmond, left alone for reasons best left unknown, and Redmond smashed home the volley. Presumably sensing the absolute bollocking they were going to get at half time ,if they didn't wise the fuck up, Newcastle dropped hilariously deep and the scorleline remained unchanged at the end of the half. Then Newcastle raced out of the gates. In the 66th minute Sissoko chipped over a lovely ball for Mitrovic who chested the ball down and thumped the ball home. It was a pure Shearer goal. Two minutes later Janmaat crossed form Wijnaldum to head home and complete his hat-trick. But the show wasn't over yet. On the 85th minutes Wijnaldum picked up his fourth when he shot defelected in off Whittaker's shin, leaving Ruddy no chance, to end the game at 6-2. Newcastle will now hope to continue this form in the Tyne-Wear derby next week while Norwich will be picking up a great many pieces and will face West Brom.

Swansea Vs Stoke: Something, something, the walking dead,Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz......
Against a Stoke team that has yet to really click into gear and has some serious weaknesses, Swansea really choose the worst time to put in their worst performance to date. It's now painfully obvious to Monk that his honeymoon period is over and now he's going to have to get down to business. And business means mustering more than two shots on target against a team that could only muster one, and that was a fucking penalty. Gomis spent most of the game completely isolated and it's now clear that managers are onto the blinding pace of Montero and can actively plan to counter-act it. With Shelvey now, for some reason, sitting almost on top of his centre-backs the team has now resorted to the long-ball style of play that's had Allardyce run out of more than one football club. The key difference is that when Big Sam did it, he usually won. Swansea are now six without a win. It's no longer a “tough moment” , it's now an evolving trend.

Stoke, meanwhile, were solid not that they had a lot to deal with and would really have hated themselves had they lost this one. After they took the lead in the fourth minute from a Bojan penalty which was won by the man himself after a brilliant run into the box past Williams (who really had a game to forget) left the defender stupidly hauling him to ground. After the goal Stoke battened down the hatches and the only other point of note was how close they came to being down to ten men after Butland, confused by the ball, went studs up into Ayew. Somehow the ref not only didn't send the keeper off but also didn't even blow for a free kick. Swansea are in trouble and while there is time to get themselves out of this funk and salvage a good season, it has to be now. A league as erratic as this will not simply wait for them to discover how play football again. They have the fortune of quite pliable opponents in Villa next weekend, failure there would surely ring some alarm bells. Stoke will hope to extend their three match winning streak against a Watford team that has looked better in the past, it has to be said, coming off a 3-0 hammering at the hands of the Gunners.
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