Monday Morning Quarterback: Nerveless Kevin De Bruyne stands apart from his peers

Daniel Storey reviews the weekend’s Premier League action

Monday Morning Quarterback: Nerveless Kevin De Bruyne stands apart from his peers

De Bruyne is unsurpassed in the Premier League

There is a danger of drawing conclusions in November rather than May, but I can be confident on this one: Kevin de Bruyne is the best player in England. That may have been proven last season, were it not for niggling and frustrating injury. The Belgian is making up for lost time.

De Bruyne scored the opening goal at Chelsea with a one-two and unerringly accurate shot with his weaker foot, and he did exactly the same against Arsenal. His ability to perform at his peak even when under significant pressure is precisely the characteristic that Pep Guardiola admires in players, and separates the very best players in the world from the rest. When compared with Alex Iwobi and Mesut Ozil on Sunday, De Bruyne was playing a different sport.

Time for Pulis chief to hand in his badge

There are reasons to appoint Tony Pulis: Pragmatism, resilience, defensive solidity, and a virtual guarantee that your team will survive relegation. There are reasons to get sick of Tony Pulis: Pragmatism, unappealing football (aesthetically, at least), and the virtual guarantee that your team will stop trying after it has survived relegation. His tenures, even when moderately successful, eventually become an eternal battle between those two ideals.

When the reasons for appointing Pulis fade away amid a fog of underwhelming form, the goodwill he accrues quickly runs out. West Brom have won three of their last 23 league games and are without a win in ten. That second run includes fixtures against Stoke City, Brighton, Watford, West Ham United, Leicester City, Southampton, and now Huddersfield Town.

The football is dire, the away form wretched from the moment Pulis took over, the supporters disillusioned with their manager, and the team sleepwalking into a relegation battle. The argument for keeping Pulis is over. The Premier League’s ultimate firefighter has started his own fire.

Salah now the leader of Liverpool’s attack

It may prove to be the bargain of the summer. Liverpool’s decision to pay €40m for a former Chelsea flop in Mohamed Salah raised eyebrows on Merseyside and beyond, but at a time when squad players are moving for similar fees, Liverpool stole a march on their Premier League peers.

Salah has already scored 12 goals in all competitions this season, two less than top scorer Philippe Coutinho managed in 2016/17. He has had three times as many shots on target as any other Liverpool player in the Premier League this season, and against West Ham was again the game’s star.

Most impressive about Salah’s latest display is that he operated in a different position, picked as a second striker rather than wide forward in a 4-3-3. He hardly played as a typical No 10, sprinting more than scheming, but starting in a central position allowed Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to start and therefore required Salah to do less defensive work.

Effectively playing with four forwards would be a dangerous strategy for Jurgen Klopp to use against stronger teams, but it overpowered defensively unsound West Ham. Anything that pushed Salah into centre stage will have its merits. The Egyptian is the new leader of Liverpool’s attack.

Crouch is the Premier League’s Benjamin Button

Peter Crouch is the fourth oldest player to play in the Premier League this season, and the oldest striker by almost two years. These should be the fleeting substitute appearances that signal the end of his career.

And yet Crouch has never been more vital to Stoke City, despite their spending over the last three years. He was their top Premier League scorer in 2016/17 despite starting only 13 league games, and has now scored three league goals this season in 153

minutes. Those goals have been worth four points to Stoke.

Age is just a number; Crouch’s influence merits Premier League starts, not brief cameos.

Swansea are the league’s new crisis club

Having sacked two managers in 2016/17 and finally found their saviour in January, Swansea City’s owners banked on Paul Clement maintaining the morale that he established in April and May. By November, Swansea are running on fumes again. They have taken four points from their last eight games.

Paul Clement
Paul Clement

Clement only shares part of the blame. Swansea sold Gylfi Sigurdsson in the summer, and replaced their most creative player with three central midfielders, a former striker who had been out of form for two years, and a young loanee. They went into the season with one first-team left-back, and he then got injured.

Almost every signing is struggling. Roque Mesa is already making noises about returning to Spain, Renato Sanches has been the biggest individual disappointment in the Premier League this season, while Wilfried Bony has continued the form that saw Manchester City sell him to Stoke and Stoke give up on him too. Swansea’s season relies on the continued form and fitness of 20-year-old Tammy Abraham. It’s surely too much to ask.

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