Alan Pardew has been keen to regularly point out that West Brom’s performances have improved under his stewardship, even if results have not. The Baggies are creating more chances and allowing fewer than they were under Tony Pulis. Pardew’s hope was that his team would eventually click into gear, and the goals would inevitably flow. It’s not always that simple.
On Saturday, a significant step backwards. Huddersfield had lost nine of their last 12 away league games and failed to score in ten of those. Yet at the Hawthorns, David Wagner’s team had more than double West Brom’s number of shots on target, and fully merited their victory. Pardew had no option but to fall on his sword, abandoning the positivity that is so typical of his personality.
“There’s no point me defending myself or defending players,” he said. “I have to stand up and manage the team and they have to stand up and give us performances where we get seven, eight, nine out of 10 performances. We are not getting those at the moment.”
The immediate question is whether Pardew will get another chance to squeeze more out of these underperforming players. Having already sacked the chairman and chief executive, West Brom’s owners may consider they have little to lose by rolling the dice again. Under their current manager, the Championship is their likely destination.
Sam Allardyce had a prepared excuse for his early struggles as Everton manager and their lack of attacking ambition.
“I have to say it is a priority. If we achieve anything going forward to get into the top half, we need at least two players to score 10 goals or more,” Allardyce said on December 2 on the subject of a new striker.
“We will be actively looking for a frontman in this window,” he said on December 29, repeating the message three days later.
“Our attacking powers are limited — that’s why I’ve worked so hard on keeping clean sheets. We need to strengthen the front line.”
Allardyce is not a man to whom subtlety comes naturally. But he did get his man, Everton paying £27m (€30.6m) for Cenk Tosun. The Turkish international scored four times in the Champions League this season before arriving in England, but has started only two Premier League games and is yet to score for Everton. Suddenly, the excuses are back.
“We don’t have a finisher to put the ball in the back of the net and if you squander opportunities in the Premier League, you pay the price,” said Allardyce after a fifth consecutive away defeat at Vicarage Road. That says plenty about the manager’s opinion of his big-money signing. If Tosun has underwhelmed at Goodison, so too has his manager.
In Liverpool’s extraordinary 2013/14 campaign under Brendan Rodgers, their sumptuous attack of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, and Philippe Coutinho helped them score four or more goals in a game on 12 occasions in all competitions.
Against West Ham on Saturday, Liverpool scored four or more goals for the 11th time this season, with three months still to go. West Ham frustrated Liverpool for the first 40 minutes at Anfield, but Jurgen Klopp’s team create too many moments of danger to be stymied for long. Like Rodgers’ team, they also have the knack of scoring in bursts.
Inevitably, it is Salah who will grab the headlines again. He scored his 31st goal of the season against West Ham. In another link to 2013/14, that equals Suarez’s total from that season. For Salah to have matched the Uruguayan’s most prolific campaign by February is the standout individual achievement of this Premier League season.
Romelu Lukaku knows as well as anyone that his record against the best clubs in the Premier League has been below par.
Throughout his time at Everton there was a reasonable excuse, as his teammates struggled to service their striker against high-profile, higher quality teams.
At Manchester United, that excuse is no longer valid.
And yet when United and Jose Mourinho needed a hero, Lukaku stepped up. His finish against Chelsea yesterday was cool and calculated, his hold-up play exemplary, and his quick feet and cross for Jesse Lingard’s winner the crucial moment of the match.
The assumption that Lukaku does little for the team is a nonsense — only Paul Pogba has more assists for Manchester United in the league. There could be no better time, and against
no better club, to produce a man-of- the-match performance.