No winners in Watford’s divorce from Silva
Watford were praised for keeping Marco Silva from the grasp of Everton, but simply holding onto your manager is only half the battle. Watford have lost the war.
Although Silva did not publicly reveal his desire to move to Goodison, Watford’s form since that saga speaks volumes. Not only did the manager have his head turned by the interest, a number of his key players had ambitions to make the same move. A team only has to drop its intensity by five or ten per cent and opposition sides will exploit their weaknesses.
Watford can hardly cry foul. Aidy Boothroyd was their last manager to survive 100 matches — he left in November, 2008 — and their last seven appointments have each failed to reach their one-year anniversary. Add in an ownership model that turns players into transients, between different arms of a club network, and Watford are defined by short-termism.
What is the point of it all for a middling Premier League club? Either you cycle through a succession of uninspiring managers in your quest for for Mr. Right, or you make a shrewd appointment and a bigger club comes to take him away within 12 months. That’s not much fun.
You will find no Manchester United supporter who is not pleased to have signed Alex Sanchez, as a swap for an attacking midfielder who had run out of second chances. Sanchez will add an attacking energy (particularly on the counterattack) that United have been missing. Energy is different to raw pace.
But the Chilean’s arrival inevitably means bad news for some. Juan Mata’s contract expires in the summer — although United retain a one-year extension option — and he may be entering the final throes of his time in Manchester. There will be doubts about Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s game time, too, and the decision to resign the Swede has not worked out yet.
And what of Marcus Rashford? His last Premier League start came on St Stephen’s Day, but most worrying is that Rashford has scored in only one Manchester United league win this season, against Leicester City in August.
Sanchez played predominantly from the left at Arsenal, and Romelu Lukaku’s place in the centre makes that same role at Old Trafford most likely. With Rashford and Anthony Martial currently dovetailing in that position, Sanchez’s arrival could restrict the former’s league minutes. That would be a huge shame, ahead of the World Cup.
Arsenal will struggle to find a more accommodating opponent than Crystal Palace on Saturday, but Arsene Wenger’s side made a necessary statement, after the departure of Sanchez. Most expected Palace to cause Arsenal further defensive headaches, but they were blown away in the first quarter of the game.
Sanchez’s departure will leave a hole, but this is no disaster. Henrikh Mkhitaryan has plenty of motivation to prove Jose Mourinho wrong, and combining him with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang would provide competition for the slightly underwhelming Alexandre Lacazette.
Furthermore, the jewel in Arsenal’s crown still remains. We are hardwired to see leadership only in those whose passion and drive are obvious, the image of a chest-beating, fist-pumping captain.
Yet Mesut Ozil is a leader in his own right, through example, rather than spirit.
Ozil was at his sumptuous best against Palace. Keep it up, and Arsenal will miss the departing Sanchez far less.
Promoted sides feeling the pinch.
Brighton have won two of their last 13 league matches. Huddersfield have won one of their last 13 league matches. Newcastle have won two of their last 15 league matches. The strong autumns enjoyed by each of the three promoted clubs have given way to the biting cold of winter. All three are in great danger.
The Premier League’s bottom half is packed with clubs who have changed their manager in a bid to ward off the looming threat of relegation: West Ham, Crystal Palace, Stoke, West Brom, Swansea.
The promoted trio are the exception, each with managers whose record demands faith. None of the three could reasonably hope to upgrade.
Morata should be worried.
If Alvaro Morata wasn’t already concerned, after seeing his club linked to a clutch of physically intimidating strikers, the Spaniard watched from the stands on Saturday, as Chelsea danced around Brighton’s defence in a manner that we have not seen in weeks.
Michy Batshuayi, given another chance after Morata’s suspension, was not perfect. He missed two presentable chances and continues to look unsurprisingly rusty. Yet his propensity to drift wide, and thus allow Eden Hazard and Willian to take his position, gives Chelsea’s front-three a fluidity that has been missing of late. Playing Hazard as a false nine had the same effect.
Conte has always been wedded to the idea of a Morata-type, a striker who acts as the focal point of the attack. Yet, there is an argument that Chelsea look better when the opposite strategy is used. Is Conte prepared to swallow his pride?
An extraordinary statistic…
All the credit must go to The Times journalist, Bill Edgar, who noticed that Manchester City’s David Silva has now played in 23 consecutive league wins, and calculated that this is a new record in English league history, a run stretching back to 1888. It is a fitting honour for City’s greatest-ever player.