All rise for the “Greatest Team in the World!” That’s Tottenham Hotspur by the way, who having beaten Real Madrid in the week were handed their crown by various media outlets in the forthcoming days. So, Roy Hodgson must have been quite happy come the final whistle at Wembley on Sunday afternoon.
There was a great post-match interview with Ron Atkinson back in the day.
“Who was their man of the match?”
“Their goalkeeper, Ron”
“Well, we can’t be that rubbish then”.
Flip that around with the question, “who are the greatest team in the world” and you can assume that Roy has gone home to Croydon fully believing that Palace could well stay up this season (especially when you start to consider how bad some of the other teams are, and we will get on to West Ham in a bit). Tottenham’s stand-in goalkeeper, Paulo Gazzaniga, was also their man-of-the-match and if Wilf Zaha had rolled the ball into the open net having rounded the most Spursy named footballer ever, the story could have been different. Spurs to do the Champions League/Premier League double? Of course not, but they would have lost this match in the past.
There is, of course, no real reason that the 3 PM Premier League matches on a Saturday are not shown live in the UK (legally). However, the 3 PM Premier League matches from Saturday were a very, very good reason not to show any more live football than we already have to suffer.
Four matches kicked off in the traditional slot and four goals were mustered by the collective might of Huddersfield Town, West Bromwich Albion, Newcastle United, AFC Bournemouth, Southampton, Burnley, Swansea City and Brighton & Hove Albion. Four! And one of those went in off Glenn Murray’s midriff.
Credit to the guys at Sky Sports though, they might have finally sussed that Sunday’s need to be Super and that the 12:30 slot on a Saturday normally kills any hope of two decent teams putting on a decent show. So the decision to whack Stoke City and Leicester City into the graveyard shift was wise as a match that would have been dull as dishwater later in the day actually provided a bit of entertainment. Would it be wrong to take Peter Crouch to Russia next summer? England are bound to be struggling at some point in the group stages, and who do you think might make more of an impact off the bench – Crouchy or Danny Welbeck? Book the big man a seat now with some extra legroom. He might only need to play 15 minutes in the whole tournament, but what a 15 minutes they could be as England sneak past Iceland in the groups. Crouch scored a fine header against Leicester to make this a realistic proposal in my eyes. My eyes also finally cottoned on the fact that Shaqiri is clearly playing football in the wrong era. He looks like a throwback from the Hungary side of the 1950’s.
Bookending Saturday’s action was the feast down at the Olympic Stadium, and boy did Liverpool help themselves at the all you can eat buffet served up by the ever hospitable Hammers. As I mentioned in my Saturday preview, Liverpool struggle against teams that can sit deep and defend well, therefore this match was the biggest away banker going on everybody’s betting slips. West Ham’s first mistake was sending people up for that corner, as 10 seconds later it was in the back of their own net. Slaven Bilic, as I have mentioned quite a lot recently, came across very well in his post-match presser, talking about “always being strong and facing the consequences” and “believing in himself and his team”. Slaven mate, the jig has been jigged. If you still have a job by the end of the international break then I will be amazed, even by the West Ham board’s standards. The chat coming out of the ground after the match was that Slav was on his way out and David Moyes was on his way in. Moyes? That makes a lot of sense actually if we are all living in “let’s get West Ham relegated as quickly as we possibly can” world. If Sullivan and Gold pull that stunt then I think the Hammers fans may as well start waving goodbye to the Premier League now. And, I did suggest a couple of weeks back that they were going down. If the board wanted to appoint a manager that plays awful football every week, why on earth did they sack Sam Allardyce in the first place?
As for Liverpool, there were a few fans that labelled Mo Salah “just another Juan Cuadrado” ahead of his move to Anfield. By that, I can only assume they mean “another ridiculously talented footballer that Jose Mourinho cast aside for no real reason”.
I have to hand it to Arsene Wenger. Every week he finds new and different ways to baffle the Arsenal fans. This week it was going to Manchester City with Alexandre Lacazette on the bench and Francis Coquelin at centre-back. I know, right! It’s almost as if he is actually trying to get sacked. I grew up very used to seeing an Arsenal back four standing there, arm aloft, waiting for the flag to go up. This lot attempted to recreate the 1989 magic, the only problem being that the flag did not go up. Eight-year-old kids all over the land turned to their parents in unison and said, “is that why you always say play to the whistle?” Yes, my child. Yes. In fairness, that was the first time the Arsenal defence had worked as a cohesive unit all afternoon, as they looked longingly at the lino hoping to see an offside given. Manchester City, as expected, won and were pretty decent. Don’t panic though, Arsene knew the real reason Arsenal had lost at a rival once more – in fact, can we even still call them rivals? Wenger said after the match “we all know he dives very well” in reference to Raheem Sterling winning a penalty. All I can say to that Arsene is Robert Pires, and what would you have left if you hadn’t been Invincible? Not a lot, so be grateful for the odd little dive in the area, huh?
It was nice to see that Jose Mourinho and Eden Hazard have cleared up their differences. Chelsea and Manchester United surprised the world with both teams starting the match as if they were trying to win, rather than avoiding losing. There is a lot not right at Stamford Bridge currently, but one thing that is working beautifully is Cesar Azpilicueta’s sixth sense when it comes to landing a cross on Alvaro Morata’s head. It was a fine, fine goal that led to Mourinho move swiftly to his Plan B, C, and D – Marouane Fellaini, who must surely know Jose’s tactical plan for him verbatim by now. It almost certainly includes “and don’t forget to drop an elbow on one of their best players”. I give Gareth Southgate a fair bit of stick from time to time, but I thought it was decent of him to say he’d dropped Chris Smalling from the England squad due to the United defender’s “passing ability” rather than just saying what we can all see – the fact he is fast becoming a very, very bad centre-back option. Yes, even worse than Francis Coquelin. I’ve decided that if I ever needed a manager to fight for my life, it would be Antonio Conte. Of course, he is off to AC Milan very soon, but he is at his best in matches like we saw on Sunday. Barking, screaming, bossing everything from the touchline he makes it look like he actually cares about Chelsea. Anyway, the real winners at the Bridge were Manchester City who now lead the table by eight points. Eight! After eleven games.
Before the game against Watford, Everton’s caretaker manager insisted that “insults did not hurt” and “only defeats hurt”. Well, David Unsworth must have been more black than Blue following his first fortnight in the job. Admittedly, he doesn’t look like a guy that would let a few insults hurt him, like many a nightclub bouncer before him. Many sensible people, not Phil Thompson, Paul Merson, Richard Keys or Andy Gray, for example, have suggested Everton could do worse than invite Marco Silva to take over (which would remove any chance of them embarrassing themselves in coming second in a race for David Moyes). Considering the Portuguese manager is on to quite a good thing at Watford, despite his team throwing away a two-goal lead at Goodison Park, I’d suggest he looks after his reputation and stays where he is. Englishmen and penalties under pressure, that never works out well. Tom Cleverly missed the chance for Watford to grab a point after all the drama by missing a penalty in the TENTH minute of injury time. That doesn’t happen every week. Who would have backed Everton to come back from two behind? Not many, but surely that cannot be enough for Everton to offer Unsworth the kind of deal that means he can give up the sideline evening work of debt collecting? To be fair though, that could be a turning point and it’s certainly one for the #RIPBritishCoaching brigade to chalk up.
As for managers also looking over their shoulders whilst most of their failing players head off to the refuge that is international football, Tony Pulis, and Manuel Pellegrino could well be next. WBA haven’t won in a very long time now, and playing a back five protected by three holding midfielders and then losing isn’t really what the Baggies fans want to see. As for Southampton, how much longer will they accept that their plan to bring in a more attractive style of football is pretty much on life support? Southampton are dreadful to watch, which makes me smile when I think back to how their fans moaned about last season. Wembley eh. Must feel like a long time ago now.
So as we head into another international break everything could look very different in ten days time. Bilic may well have gone by the time you read this, David Moyes might have a job and Antonio Conte might still be screaming “come on” at the Chelsea fans. Will he do the same at Milan?