Watford may have thwarted the attempts of Everton to poach Marco Silva, but the advice for supporters delighted by that news would be to enjoy him while you can. Silva is clearly ambitious and is improving his reputation by the week. Come next summer, there may be bigger clubs than Everton knocking on chairman Scott Duxbury’s door.
Victory at Newcastle means that only Manchester City and Chelsea have more away wins than Watford in the Premier League. The most striking thing is just how organised Silva has his team. It is obvious that every player understands what is expected of them in each game scenario, be it counter-attack or defensive set-piece. That only comes from the squad buying into their manager’s methods, and the manager inspiring them to do so.
Watford are not a perfect team, but this is a group of players made far greater than the sum of its individual parts. There will be owners across Europe making unflattering comparisons between their current coaches and Silva.
On the face of it, Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace record is hardly worth shouting about. They conceded 10 goals in his first three league matches without scoring, have still not taken more than a point per game under his tenure and were thrashed 4-1 in the EFL Cup by Bristol City.
Yet Hodgson has changed the mood. Performances against Everton, West Ham, and Tottenham hinted that even if the corner hadn’t yet been turned, it was at least finally in sight. A month ago they would never have had the belief and strength of character to turn around a deficit and win the match in stoppage time.
Palace need plenty more victories if they are to survive relegation. They remain bottom of the Premier League and are still the second favourites to go down. But there are finally signs of recovery at Selhurst Park where once there was only gloom. This was the first time they have come from behind to win a home game since May 2016. Even more ridiculously, it was their first 90th-minute winner in a Premier League home game since 1998.
On the final day of the 2014/15 season, as Chelsea celebrated their league title, Cesar Azpilicueta started after being rested for the previous two league games.
Since then, Azpilicueta has started 85 of Chelsea’s 87 league games and missed just 219 minutes in total over that period. There is no more consistent defender in terms of availability and fitness, and very few more consistent defenders in terms of performance level either. Azpilicueta is the Premier League’s Mr Dependable.
If Paul Pogba was the best player in the Premier League last weekend, instantly transforming Manchester United’s midfield dynamism upon his return, the two games since suggest that he is not an instant fix to United’s stodginess. The 1-0 win over Brighton was a victory in name alone, requiring good fortune to dispose of a side created for a fraction of United’s budget.
Jose Mourinho is right that his forwards should have sealed victory against Basel before half-time on Wednesday, but against Brighton the midfield lethargy had returned to suffocate United’s attack. United may have had 15 shots, but only seven of those were from inside the penalty area. Their opponents managed four; this was not total domination.
“Today our creation was poor,” admitted Mourinho after the match. “The three players who played with [Romelu] Lukaku didn’t get the ball, and they were not successful one against one. Marcus [Rashford] didn’t have a happy match at all so we didn’t have creation.”
United do have the players to dazzle, that much is clear. Lukaku, Rashford, Anthony Martial, Juan Mata, Paul Pogba, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic should be plenty enough to create a vibrant, exciting attacking unit. Mourinho’s task is to identify and solve their current funk and United’s season depends on it.
The most worrying aspect of Swansea’s season is that they are second bottom in the Premier League with a defence that has actually been largely competent. On Saturday they kept their fifth league clean sheet of the season. That’s more than 10 other Premier League clubs.
The problem lies in attack and midfield, where Swansea lack any obvious strategy other than crossing the ball into Tammy Abraham and asking a 20-year-old loanee to spearhead a survival bid.
It isn’t working, and that’s intended as no slight on Abraham.
Swansea have had four shots on target in their last three league games, against Burnley, Brighton, and Bournemouth. Not only do they average comfortably the lowest number of shots on target per game in the division this season, Paul Clement’s team would also rank bottom in 2016/17 and 2015/16 with that figure too.
The departure of Gylfi Sigurdsson has crippled Swansea’s attacking invention, and their lack of direct replacement has only compounded the problem. Clement can be blamed for neither of those issues, yet he will be the scapegoat if Swansea’s form doesn’t improve soon. This is a team in danger of being relegated without even a whimper.