Abraham out in the Chelsea cold
Tammy Abraham has enjoyed unexpected success during his first season leading the line for Chelsea. He scored 12 league goals before the turn of the year, putting him in the frame to make England’s Euro 2020 squad and justifying Frank Lampard’s considerable faith in him.
Six months later, Abraham’s season has soured. His unsigned contract remains a frustration at Stamford Bridge, while Chelsea’s signing of Timo Werner and reported pursuit of Kai Havertz will make competition for places more fierce next season.
And then there’s Olivier Giroud, a Chelsea striker who has signed a new contract. Giroud scored against Everton before the Premier League’s suspension and has continued that form after the restart.
He has scored more league goals in his last five appearances than Abraham has in his last 15. There is also an argument that Giroud’s knowhow allows him to better link play with Chelsea’s prodigious range of attacking midfielders.
Which all leaves Abraham in a difficult position. He is likely to get regular minutes next season given Werner’s preference to drift left from a central striking role, but will turn 23 a month into 2020/21.
If the right offer comes in from another Premier League club, might he be best becoming the frontline centre forward elsewhere?
Liverpool’s fringe players fluff chance to impress
It is hardly surprising that Liverpool’s intensity has dropped since confirming their maiden Premier League title. They are playing in front of empty stands with no necessity to win, and a truncated season break will leave key players hesitant to play at full pelt.
But there are Liverpool players who really should be hungry to impress Jurgen Klopp. Divock Origi and Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain had started a combined 16 league games before this weekend.
With a crop of academy graduates desperate to make the grade at Anfield and the first-choice starting XI virtually set in stone, that pair must use the next few weeks to stake their own claims.
It didn’t go well. Origi too often holds onto the ball before being dispossessed and fails to take on and beat his defender, while Oxlade-Chamberlain’s passing was poor and he committed five fouls through frustration at his inability to dictate the tempo of the game.
It is no coincidence that Liverpool scored their goals after Origi and Oxlade-Chamberlain were substituted for first-team regulars. Opportunity missed.
Vardy finally reaches extraordinary milestone
Jamie Vardy has cut a frustrated figure during Leicester’s run of patchy form and performance. Before Saturday, Vardy had scored in one of his last 14 games. More importantly, teams seemed to have learned to sit deep and removed the space in behind the defence that Vardy craves.
Those problems are not solved by one comfortable home win over Crystal Palace, but the victory marked an extraordinary milestone in Vardy’s career. Having had to wait until the age of 26 for his top-flight debut, Vardy has now joined the Premier League’s 100-goal club.
To put that record into some context, Vardy reached triple figures quicker than Didier Drogba, Wayne Rooney, Romelu Lukaku, Jermain Defoe, Nicolas Anelka, Darren Bent and several others too without ever playing for a Big Six club. There is life in the old legs yet.
Manchester United must stick with attacking groove
When Paul Pogba returned from injury, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had a decision to make. The central midfield pairing of Fred and Scott McTominay was arguably the highest-performing part of Manchester United’s team, allowing new signing Bruno Fernandes the creative freedom to operate high up the pitch.
Did Solskjaer rotate Pogba and Fernandes and stick with his plan, or try to turn United into an attacking force and risk leaving the defence a little more exposed?
The answer has been emphatic. Solskjaer’s team have conceded four goals in their five matches since the restart, double the number as they conceded in their 11 matches prior to it. But in picking both Pogba and Fernandes behind a pacy, direct front three, he has taken off the handbrake. United have scored 14 goals in their last 370 minutes of football.
This must now be the blueprint to take them back into the Champions League. The rise of Mason Greenwood and form of Fernandes and Martial gives United an attacking platform to blow teams away in the first 60 minutes before Solskjaer makes changes to rest and rotate. With a kind fixture list, a top-four place should not be beyond them.
Bowen the key to West Ham’s survival
Michail Antonio will probably take the headlines after West Ham edged a further point closer to survival with their 2-2 draw at St. James’ Park. Asked to lead the line in the absence of Sebastien Haller, Antonio works his hardest to squeeze everything out of his game and scored against Newcastle and Chelsea to ease David Moyes’ relegation migraine.
But do not overlook the difference Jarrod Bowen has made since joining from Hull City. West Ham’s transfer policy has often turned to big-name, big-money signings from abroad or those coming towards the end of their careers. Bowen is something different.
It isn’t just Bowen’s chance creation (seven in his last three games) that has transformed West Ham, but his courage with the ball. He demands possession, runs at defenders and manages to find space in between the lines that stands out in a team that often looks a little formulaic when going forward.
If he represents a new way of operating in the transfer market, West Ham must continue with the strategy if they are to lift the malaise that hangs over the club.