Here is a look at this week’s Premier League’s Winners and Losers.
Over the last few weeks, there was a growing feeling that the destination of the Premier League title had already been decided. So dominant was Manchester City’s football that nobody could surely stop them.
The fly in that ointment was that in-game dominance had not produced a dominant points lead. After 15 matches of the Premier League season, the leaders had a two-point lead. Last season at the same stage, City had an eight-point cushion. In fact, the last time the Premier League leaders had a smaller points gap to second at the same stage of the season was in December 2008. By those standards, we already had the makings of a titanic title tussle.
Mohamed Salah and Liverpool
The ‘one-season wonder’ stuff was mainly nonsense. No reasonable supporter believed that Salah would go from Europe’s top goalscorer to a mediocre attacker over the course of one summer. But there were signs that Liverpool’s brilliant forward was not quite at the same level in 2018/19 as 2017/18. The goals still flowed, but Salah looked occasionally shonky in promising positions: misplaced passes, loose touches, shanked shots.
At the Vitality Stadium on Saturday, Salah blew away those doubts with a virtuoso performance that contained all the hallmarks of last season’s majesty. He was our early winner and for excellent reason.
Raheem Sterling and the courage to speak out
It would have been easier to say nothing. Stay quiet and the feelings of resentment and hurt won’t go away, but at least you get to process them in silence. Speak up, and suddenly you have created a story that you cannot choose to put back in a box and push to the back of a drawer. Raheem Sterling is now the footballer who called out elements of the British tabloid media for their racism. It will only invite more criticism from those members of the public who believe abhorrent racist chants to be acceptable.
So Sterling must be congratulated, saluted, for taking a stance. It is woeful that he feels the need, but then that reflects only upon those who are guilty of empowering racists by judging people differently based on the color of their skin.
Have that, those of us – *raises hand sheepishly* – who worried that Sarri was in danger of stymieing N’Golo Kante with the Frenchman’s new box-to-box role. Chelsea weathered the Manchester City storm with Kante dropping deeper than usual to assist Jorginho, and then he popped up in the opposition penalty area to score the opening goal.
Want a demonstration of Kante’s positional change in one statistic? He has already touched the ball 27 times in the opposition penalty area in the Premier League this season. That’s eight more than he did in the whole of last season.
In the space of eight days, Torreira has sealed victory in the north London derby after a terrier-like performance, helped his side to draw at Old Trafford with another large dose of tenacity and rescued three points with a late overhead kick goal. Is this a Truman Show-style experiment where he’s starring as the new Roy Race?
Hoo boy, that was needed. It may not have been particularly pretty, but you see if Sean Dyche gave a hoot as he settled down on the sofa on Saturday evening and opened a new packet of cherry Tunes. Had Burnley lost at home to an in-form Brighton on Saturday, Dyche’s own role in this Burnley decline would have merited some scrutiny. A first win in what feels like several long months keeps the wolf from the door.
One of the signings of the season, and proof that West Ham have not got everything wrong in the last two years. They may have paid a premium for a South American who arrived with no guarantee of consistency, but Anderson is already reaching Dimitri Payet levels of cult hero status. This is the Brazilian who broke onto the scene so spectacularly at Lazio. For £30m, Anderson already looks like a steal.
At 4.20pm on Saturday afternoon, Roy Hodgson was the 7/1 third favorite to be the next Premier League manager to be sacked.
Southampton and Fulham, the two most obvious candidates to make a change first this season, have already pulled the plug on their managers.
Hodgson, meanwhile, is floundering. He has been dealt a difficult hand at Selhurst Park, budgets tightened after expensive mistakes made before his appointment, but is playing it badly. The plan to play with wingers as strikers is no longer getting the best out of a visibly frustrated Wilfried Zaha, Hodgson’s mid-game substitutions and tactical changes often raise eyebrows amongst supporters and Palace are now on the sort of run that will cause boardroom panic.
Left on the bench in favor of the ‘false nine’ strategy. Even if the plan was not successful it paints Jesus as Guardiola’s attacking Plan C, particularly in the highest-profile matches. Which wasn’t exactly what he had in mind in August.
Having achieved notable success at his last three clubs, the appointment of Hasenhuettl as a replacement for Mark Hughes was rightly viewed as proof of the Premier League’s pulling power. But Hasenhuettl is a football manager not a magician, and Southampton are so predisposed towards defensive incompetence that he has a mighty task on his hands.
Every Southampton performance over the last 18 months, including the one at Cardiff on Saturday, is marred by at least one total breakdown in communication or aptitude in defense and the shooting has long been too bad to bail them out of trouble. It’s an unhappy formula. The Titanic left Southampton in 1912. In 2018, the iceberg is looming towards them while Hasenhuettl desperately attempts to spin the wheel.
It’s hard to shake the feeling that Puel is forever destined to drift at Leicester City, until he is finally sacked in a move that causes initial back-page alarm which settles down far too quickly to paint the departing manager in a good light.
Leicester are coasting in the middle lane of Premier League – win a couple, draw a couple, lose a couple. There’s nothing wrong with that, but coming so soon after their wonderful title triumph everything else feels dull in comparison.
And what of Leicester’s former manager Ranieri, who must now be convinced by those who warned him about Fulham’s shambolic defending. Fulham are the only team in the country not to keep a league clean sheet, and have conceded two or more goals in 13 of their 16 matches. Still, at least they’re only on course to concede 95 goals now.