Antonio decision epitomises West Ham’s malaise
One of the traits of an in-form footballer is the ability to make logical decisions under pressure. When Michail Antonio was given the opportunity to run down the clock and earn his team three vital league points and failed to take that chance, it summed up West Ham’s malaise. When Crystal Palace then went down the other end and scored a 97th-minute equaliser, it summed up West Ham’s season.
After coming from two goals down to beat Tottenham 3-2 in the EFL Cup in midweek, several West Ham players insisted that it was proof of the squad’s fight for Slaven Bilic to keep his job. Yet collapse at Selhurst Park in the league is far more instructive than EFL Cup victory. West Ham seem incapable of committing fully to disaster, but nor do they have the cohesion to pull away from danger. If it continues for much longer, Bilic cannot cry foul if he loses his job.
Mourinho right to point out supporter concerns
The boos around Old Trafford when Marcus Rashford was removed were surprising, not least because his substitution for Anthony Martial can hardly come as a shock to Manchester United supporters. The groans that
followed Romelu Lukaku when attacks broke down were equally harsh, given his
impact since joining.
Mourinho was proven right, with Lukaku’s expert flick on playing in Martial to score the winner. Anyone who expected Mourinho to miss the opportunity to point out his part in United’s victory does not know him at all. Mourinho used an interview with United’s in-house television channel to attack fans who he believes are undermining the team.
Mourinho is right, too. Manchester United are unbeaten in 37 home games, and he is an expert in game management. It is a little much to be subject to boos from supporters questioning his decision-making when the game is still level, and it is downright unhelpful to express frustration at a new signing.
Did Pochettino get midfield selection wrong?
Tottenham were hardly outclassed at Old Trafford, but they were certainly disappointing. Possession in midfield was given up far too readily in the first half, and Dele Alli fluffed their one clear chance to take the lead.
Yet there was a hint in Alli’s missed opportunity that Mauricio Pochettino may have made an error in team selection. The majestic pass to create the chance came, typically, from Christian Eriksen, but the Dane was subdued during the first 70 minutes of the match. With Moussa Sissoko pushing up, Eriksen was forced to play in a more reserved role and pass from deeper.
Had Pochettino started Dembele, who impressed after his introduction, in central midfield to support Winks, could Eriksen have operated further up the pitch and delighted in the spaces between central defence and midfield? The initial conclusion is that Dembele would have struggled to play worse than Sissoko.
Inefficiencies give Guardiola room for improvement
Manchester City’s league record hints that there is very little room for improvement, but Pep Guardiola will be aware of a creeping complacency in his team’s performances. Against West Brom, City conceded as many shots on target as they had in their previous five league matches combined.
That complacency extends to the attack as well as the defence. The improvement in City’s shooting has actually been one of the biggest positives of their 2017/18 season to date, but against West Brom they registered a shot accuracy of 38.5%. That’s their lowest in a Premier League game since April.
Where have all the early goals gone?
Last season in the Premier League, 12.4% of all the goals scored came in the first 15 minutes of matches. Over the course of one summer, that percentage has dropped to 9.4%.
At the Hawthorns on Saturday, there were three goals scored in the first quarter of an hour. That accounts for 13% of all the goals in the 15 minutes in the Premier League all season. Whether that reflects a conservatism in what is likely to be a tight bottom half or not, it’s hardly great for the neutrals. We have already reached a third of the total number of 0-0 Premier League draws from last season, and it’s still October.
Deeney will pay for his dimness
Troy Deeney is not a footballer who would pretend to have airs or graces, and it his
simplicity which makes him so effective as a Premier League striker. He will win headers, ruffle feathers, chase down lost causes and
generally cause mischief.
Yet there is a line that cannot be crossed. Having fought against plenty of competition within Watford’s squad to start against Stoke City, Deeney promptly demonstrated a side of his game that we could euphemistically label as
‘agricultural’. His refusal to return the ball to Stoke’s players after an injury was unsportsmanlike, but his subsequent aggression towards Joe Allen is likely to earn him a letter from the Football Association and possible ban. “Cojones” are only useful in acceptable levels.