Our Monday morning quarterback Daniel Storey with a rundown:
Mourinho’s blame game an unhelpful sideshow
Having blamed Manchester City’s spending after a 2-2 home draw against Burnley, Jose Mourinho blamed the officials for not awarding his side a penalty after a 0-0 draw against Southampton.
Yet it is Manchester United’s own deficiencies that act as the biggest handbrake to their success.
The lack of attacking fluidity is a stark reminder of the struggles of Mourinho’s predecessor Louis van Gaal. Mourinho was supposed to be the one who changed all that.
The most passionate defenders of Mourinho have pointed out all season that only City’s unprecedented run of results stops their club being top of the league, but even that argument is weakening.
United are now third, with Liverpool and Tottenham in better form behind them. Things are getting worse, not better.
United took 40 points from their first 21 games last season, when they finished sixth. Having signed three first-team players over the summer, including the second-highest fee ever paid by a British club, United have 44 points from 21 games. The excuses are being used by Mourinho as a thin veil over his own inadequacies.
Watford stumbling back into trouble
Watford’s propensity to shoot themselves in one or both of their feet is impressive. In the space of a month, they have had a man sent off against Burnley and promptly lost 1-0, had a player sent off against Crystal Palace and then conceded twice in three minutes to lose 2-1 to Crystal Palace, had a man sent off against Huddersfield and lost 4-1 at home, and missed a string of chances before conceding twice in five minutes to lose 2-1 to Swansea.
The suspicion is that this downturn in form has coincided with Marco Silva being approached to manage Everton, but if that’s true then Silva must find a way to re-motivate his squad and instill some discipline into Watford’s team.
Hughes left hanging by a thread
Stoke City supporters that regularly travel to away games were not named in the New Year’s Honours List, but they can probably count themselves unfortunate.
Over the last two years, an exhaustive list of teams that Stoke have beaten away from home is as follows: Southampton, Doncaster, Watford, Sunderland, Stevenage, Hull, and Bournemouth.
Against Chelsea, Mark Hughes basically admitted he had thrown the game and accepted defeat before the match had begun.
“We knew Chelsea had the quality to hurt us, so I made decisions that I feel will help us with the game on Monday,” he said. “I rested players who will be fresh.”
It feels like an extraordinary risk for a manager who has taken 45 points from his last 45 games to be picking and choosing the matches in which his team will even try to avoid defeat. Does losing 5-0 cause a lingering psychological effect?
Christmas football: Quantity over quality
You will struggle to find any armchair fan complaining about the amount of football available to gorge on at Christmas, and I’m firmly part of that brigade.
The ability to switch on the TV on any one of 15-20 evenings and be confident of watching Premier League football is glorious.
Yet there is an impossible balance between quality and quantity. With many teams facing a schedule of three matches in seven days and with the top six enjoying near-total dominance, managers have chosen to make regular changes to their teams.
That has led to stunted, staccato performances.
It’s hardly a scientific study, but 29% of all the 0-0 draws in the Premier League this season occurred between December 23 and 31.
Plenty of managers are happy to take a point, survive unscathed, and take advantage of the rest when it comes.
No ceiling to Salah potential
Only four players have scored more Premier League goals in 2017 than Mohamed Salah: Harry Kane, Romelu Lukaku, Sergio Aguero, and Alexis Sanchez. Salah played his first Premier League game of 2017 on August 12.
No Liverpool player has had more shots on target in 2017. Salah arrived as a new member of Jurgen Klopp’s fluid front three and has become the leader of their attack. The only worry is when Real Madrid or Barcelona decide they want to start tapping him up.
Should Puncheon be charged for De Bruyne tackle?
There is a danger of reacting to the result of a challenge rather than its intention, and there will be an emotional reaction to the extended absence of the Premier League’s best player. Kevin de Bruyne was stretchered from the Selhurst Park pitch and looked in a great deal of discomfort.
But Puncheon can still have no complaints if a letter from the FA lands on his doormat. He may be able to claim he was merely intending to break up a counter attack, that there was no malice in his challenge, or that the adrenalin was flowing post-Crystal Palace penalty miss, but the tackle was wild and well above the shin.
It was not a natural technique to win the ball.
Pep Guardiola might argue that this has been coming, and that the governing bodies owe the Premier League’s star players greater protection from these sort of tackles. Puncheon finished off the job Dele Alli started. A serious injury has been in the post.
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