Premier League Takeaways – GW 33+
An action-packed gameweek saw City lose to Southampton in shocking fashion. Chelsea and Leicester bounced back, while United ran riot against Bournemouth. Arsenal recorded a big win over Wolves, while West Ham earned a priceless point against Newcastle. Our writers pick out their biggest talking points of the weekend’s action.
Jamie Braidwood – Origi’s time at Anfield is coming to an end
Divock Origi is a Liverpool legend, and is revered around Anfield because of the number of iconic and important goals he has scored during his time at the club. But the drop off in quality between manager Jurgen Klopp’s first-choice front three of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino and the Belgian striker was further underlined in Liverpool’s flat performance in the 2-0 win over Aston Villa on Sunday.
Origi took the place of Firmino in Liverpool’s starting line-up, and the lack of attacking spark and cohesion was evident until he was substituted for the Brazillian midway through the second half, after which Liverpool looked much better and scored their two goals.
Liverpool have rather gotten away with the lack of depth in their attacking positions over the past couple of seasons – with Mane, Salah and Firmino’s consistent availability and form being a massive boost to their Premier League title winning campaign – but it is no secret that it is an area that Liverpool’s recruitment team have looked to strengthen. The reported interest in German forward Timo Werner looked certain to result in a switch to Anfield, until the impact of the coronavirus pandemic caused Liverpool to drop their pursuit, with Chelsea swooping in to sign the 24-year-old. Liverpool must be looking at alternatives, and it is clear that Origi isn’t the long-term solution.
Jack Donnelly – Vardy’s goals provide lifeline to freefalling Leicester
It’s telling of Jamie Vardy’s natural ability that when Brendan Rodgers first arrived at the club, he decided to build his Leicester team around the talismanic forward. He broke the record for the longest scoring run in consecutive league matches in Leicester’s title winning season and is currently on course to win this season’s Golden Boot, leading the way with 21 goals. Despite this, Vardy has been under scrutiny as Leicester’s form took a nosedive after the Premier League returned. The striker barely had a touch in all four of Leicester’s post-lockdown fixtures as Leicester were still searching for a win. Many spectators began to speculate that Vardy was finished and with a lack of goals elsewhere in the team, Leicester would quickly drop out of the top four.
Having been chasing his 100th league goal since Leicester’s 4-0 thrashing of Aston Villa before lockdown, Vardy arrived at the King Power Stadium hungry. Knocking on Crystal Palace’s door for the entire match, Vardy positioned himself well as Harvey Barnes drew Vicente Guaita across before squaring it to the striker, allowing him to tap his 100th goal into an empty net. While it wasn’t the most impressive of goals, it brought Vardy some much-needed confidence and relieved the burden of having to chase down the 100th goal. The newly-crowned centurion would go on to double his tally in more typical fashion – Barnes threaded a pass down the left to Vardy, who had raced clear of the high-pressing Palace backline. With no one in sight, he bore down on Guaita’s goal and, after the keeper went to ground a moment too early, Vardy lifted the ball over his adversary to wrap the game up for Leicester in a 3-0 victory.
A landmark occasion for Vardy also brings about a breath of relief for the Leicester fans watching from home. Their main man has eventually found his shooting boots and Leicester look much better off as a result. It’s come at the perfect time if the club want to secure Champions League football for next season, as clashes with fellow chasers Arsenal, Sheffield United, Spurs and Manchester United loom. Vardy’s entire Premier League career could be summarised by the phrase “expect the unexpected” – all those hoping for the 33-year-old to fluff his lines in the run in should be careful what they wish for.
Graeme Sinclar – Arteta’s Arsenal ascending
When Arsenal appointed Mikel Arteta in December, a poor first half of the season meant the Gunners hopes for success in the 2019/20 Premier League campaign had already been wiped out. As such, while there’s always a craving for an upturn in results, it was an absolute necessity.
It allowed the start of the Arteta era to be one where the manager was able to take his time, to embed his vision on the club patiently and give Arsenal an identity that has been lacking for many years.
It’s certainly taken a while, and the three month break probably benefitted Arsenal more than any other club, but after recording their fourth victory on the bounce with a 2-0 win over Wolves on Saturday evening, it’s become clear what areas Arteta has been able to improve in such a short time span.
One of the first key changes of the Arteta reign was an improvement in the defence. Arsenal conceded 31 shots to Watford in September. Since Arteta took charge, only Manchester City have put more than two past a defence which still has players in David Luiz & Shkodran Mustafi that enjoy a mistake.
The other reason to be excited is Arteta’s willingness to give his young players a start. Bukayo Saka looks a tremendous talent, and has been a standout player, but Eddie Nkeitah, Joe Willock & Gabriel Martinelli have also contributed effectively when they have been given opportunities.
New young signings Nicolas Pepe & Kieran Tierney, both of whom had inauspicious starts to their Arsenal careers, have also grown in the last month. Tierney in particular, looks to have shaken off the injury bug and has been able to shine in all phases of play.
There’s still a ways to go for Arsenal, but the early returns for the Mikel Arteta era are promising & exciting, and it still feels like we’re scratching the surface of what the Spaniard is going to do for the Gunners.
Jamie Mcintosh – Watford’s “new manager bounce” is well and truly over
22nd December, Vicarage Road 3:45PM – the full-time scoreline read Watford 2-0 Manchester United. This was Nigel Pearson’s first league win in charge of Watford and it kickstarted a six game unbeaten run in the league as the Hornets tried to save their season. Pearson’s appointment did raise a few eyebrows at the time, but around the festive period and into the first half of January, he could do no wrong!
However, barring the miraculous 3-0 win over Liverpool in February, Watford have been very poor since the middle of January. They’re still embroiled in a relegation battle and face fellow strugglers Norwich this evening in what can only be described as the classic cliche that is a relegation 6 pointer. A draw is no good for either team, a Norwich win could be the beginning of the greatest of great escapes, putting them only four points behind Watford.
Whereas a win for Watford would move them four points clear of Aston Villa and Bournemouth and surely kill off any Norwich survival hopes. There is no doubt that Pearson changed something when he first arrived at Watford but since the resumption of football, Watford have started to drift back into their old bad habits again and look a side low in confidence. They need to rediscover some form and quickly, or else they could still easily be playing Championship football next season.
Taylor Murray – The Theatre of Dreams is back open, and Bruno Fernandes is lifting the curtain.
Ever since Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down as Manchester United manager, the club has been in turmoil, with the days of trophy-laden seasons seeming like a distant memory. However, after several managers and many “big-name” players later, have the Red Devils finally got a bit of that golden glow back?
It may be a premature suggestion, considering they have won a mere four trophies in the span of seven years since Ferguson’s departure, whilst they currently sit in 5th in the Premier League. To put it in perspective, Ferguson won six trophies in his first seven seasons at the club – only two more than the last seven years, but all under one man, without modern spending. This was all in yesteryear – what’s the difference now?
United under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been like a rollercoaster for the most parts – from the highs of beating PSG in Paris and going 13 games unbeaten, to the lows of struggling to get wins away to Burnley and losing to bottom Premier League sides. The team Solskjaer has at his disposal this season isn’t too different to what he had when he took over – an underwhelming squad which, at times, has performed above their own standards. As a pupil of Ferguson’s, it is said that Solskjaer keeps in touch with his former manager and has attempted to adapt his own managerial style to that of Ferguson’s.
The reason that I believe that Solskjaer’s team has stepped up this season is down to one man – Bruno Fernandes. United were chasing after the midfielder’s signature last summer, but were unable to secure his services until January. Since he arrived in England, United have looked like a completely different team, with Fernandes bringing the creative spark that Paul Pogba was supposed to be providing for the team.
Speaking of Pogba, it would be fair to say that it hasn’t been plain sailing between him and the club. Mysterious “injuries” have kept him sidelined for a large chunk of the season, although many pundits and fans have accused him of keeping himself away from the team to try and force a move. Many have called his actions petulant and disrespectful, although with the immense pressure of having to turn the fortunes of one of the world’s biggest clubs around on his own, I can see why he would want an escape. However, since Fernandes’ arrival, Pogba has been eased of the burden and can enjoy his football again. Fernandes’ performances have also relieved players like Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and David de Gea of pressue, although the latter has still been called into question for his goalkeeping performances.
The saying “One player doesn’t make a team” is often used when the team in question is struggling, conveying the message that the fortunes of the club cannot rest on one man’s shoulders. Bruno Fernandes has laughed in the face of that saying. In the space of just a few months, the Portuguese playmaker has instilled a belief in United fans that they could challenge the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City sooner rather than later. As long as United build around their key men, the sky can be the limit.
The saying of “one player doesn’t make a team” is often used when a team is struggling, and it is true to a certain extent but Fernandes has proved that it can take one player, the right player, to make a huge difference to a team and its moral. In the space of 5/6 months the Red Devils have a new belief that they aren’t too far away from challenging with the Liverpool’s and City’s of this world. As long as United build around their key players, with the addition of Bruno Fernandes, the sky can be the limit.