EPL Review – December 26th

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Death stares, discontent fan base, team performances lacking the desire, organization and attitude required have being the hallmarks of Manchester United’s festive period. The 2-0 loss to Stoke at the Britannia Stadium was incredibly kind to Louis Van Gaal’s charges who were on the back foot as soon as Memphis Depay errand header back to De Gea was pounced upon by Bojan. Arnautovic’s emphatic strike after twenty-six minutes was sensational but questions on the lack of pressure applied to the Austrian in the lead-up to the strike was shambolic.

Memphis Depay has had a torrid start to his Manchester United career; struggling to make an impact offensively (more to this than the player) but his lack of defensive nous tracking back and putting his body on the line at set piece has irked Manchester United supporters this season. The player needs to up his game, otherwise Depay will be dispatched out of the club as soon as he arrived.

Stoke were comfortable for long periods, played the better football and with Bojan and Xheridi revelling in the open space afforded by Manchester United midfield tormented their opponents. Arnautovic in truth should have had a hat-trick such where the chances created particularly in that opening period. United looked forlorn. The omission of Wayne Rooney clearly not having the effect required. Rooney on his introduction tried hard and his setup for Fellaini should have yielded a goal only for an excellent save from Jack Butland.

Stoke’s bench looked far superior than Manchester United’s and this is where Manchester United’s problems lie. The current squad is not a top eight club in the league. The manager is getting the flak but the squad has yet again failed to deliver for a second manager in succession. Too many players in United jerseys are making numerous unforced errors. Michael Carrick appears to be the only player at the club capable of passing a ball forward to a colleague. The rest of the team are in fear mode, looking to pass the buck and not take on any responsibility.

LVG may walk before the end of the year. Yes, he is culpable for some questionable buys during this tenure but the buck stops with the players on the pitch and apart from De Gea, Smalling, Martial and at times of Schweinsteiger and Rooney have shown precious little. The rot has well and truly set in. It is like the club before Alex Ferguson joined the football club, devoid of ambition, hunger and discipline. Big changes are required and the role of Ed Woodward again in terms of securing managerial targets is yet again under the microscope.

Stoke’s brand of football is a joy to watch. Mark Hughes is building a football club with shrewd player purchases mixed with experience of the likes of Whelan, Shawcross (immense leadership). Jack Butland’s progression in Stoke means that Asmir Begovic’s exit from the club has not being felt. Their pace upfront means that the club will be challenging for a top eight berth. Stoke wish they played the Manchester clubs every day of the week. They have dismantled City and United in recent weeks and look well primed for a serious crack at Liverpool in the League Cup semi-final on January 5th.

The other result of note was Southampton’s excellent demolition of Arsenal at St Mary’s. The post League Cup hangover was well and truly put to bed as Southampton’s work rate, physicality were too much for an Arsenal team who were outgunned in the middle of park. Wanyama produced a man of the match performance nullifying the threat of Ozil and Ramsey. The game will be remembered for the splendid opener. Martina’s strike is a contender for goal of the season, sweet strike from outside the box to comprehensively beat Petr Cech.

The goal should have stoked Arsenal into life but Southampton then grew into the contest. Shane Long’s tussle with Laurent Koscielny catching the eye as both players gave as good as it got. Long feeling his head after an elbow from the French defender but the Tipperary man had the last laugh with a brace after the break. Both goals clinically taken but the second goal lead-up was cheeky to the extreme (Long’s trip on Koscielny not picked up by the match officials). Fonte concluded the scoring from a corner which exposed Arsenal’s set piece marking which was loose during their MNF win over Manchester City.

Arsenal simply had no response to Southampton’s work rate and the hosts desire to support Mane and Long upfront. A win which will be tonic required for Southampton to climb up the table. Arsenal’s MNF win over City is a long in the past; the reality check was received and it will be interesting to see how Wenger reacts to the loss. Ramsey struck an anonymous figure throughout and Flamini struggled to contain the threat of Mane from deep positions. The EPL season takes another interesting twist.

Arsenal’s collapse at Southampton means that Manchester City recover the ground lost from their MNF loss to Arsenal. City’s 4-1 win over a Sunderland side who defensively were all at sea was as routine a win that the City fans will see at the Etihad all season. Bony should have had a hat-trick. De Bruyne revelled in the space afforded and struck his tenth goal of the league season. The Belgian has suddenly become one of the key players of the side, sharp and incisive with the ball and his goals are now a frequent feature on the back pages. Kompany’s injury recurrence is a massive concern for City. Will Pellegrini buy in January as an insurance cover for Kompany? With Aguero and Silva yet to gain full fitness, the league has being warned. City are in prime position to launch a title race push come the New Year. Sunderland look extremely vulnerable. They have capitulated in recent trips on the road. Their defensive record is the stuff of nightmares, their lack of pace and organization is shambolic at times. The lack of players tracking runs has being evident throughout. Big Sam has a job on his hands and I suspect that he will plunge into the transfer market to arrest the slide. Borini chipped in with his now customary consolation goal but Sunderland need more from their attacking players. A pivotal end of season awaits.

Tottenham continue to impress under the radar. Harry Kane helped himself to a brace as Tottenham eased their way past a Norwich City team who struggled for long periods. If it was not for Norwich keeper Declan Rudd, the three nil score would have being more. Dele Ali again had a man of the match performance. The midfield youngster is playing like an EPL veteran. Ali has it all; pace, power, ability to pass and eye for a goal. Kane’s upturn in form has a lot to do with the emergence of Dele Ali. Lloris in goal continues to catch the eye with a magnificent double save in the second half. Tottenham are now in the top four, a position which they duly deserve but can the North London club eye further up the table? A dark horse for the title race shakeup.

Villa secure a point at home to West Ham United but lose further ground on the likes of Swansea. Villa will rue the fact that they did not secure full points from this encounter. Their second half performance was full of work rate and desire but the distinct lack of quality in the final third was their undoing. It is amazing that Remi Garde is considering offloading Gabby Agbonlahor considering the lack of quality upfront yesterday. Villa must now seriously consider life in the Championship. Unless they buy several shrewd attacking and defensive options next month, they are destined for relegation. West Ham United cannot wait for January to arrive, the injury crisis has depleted the team and Bilic will look to bolster the ranks in the weeks to come. Aaron Cresswell is back to form, excellent performance yesterday.

Newcastle’s efforts were all undone with a late goal from Tom Cleverley. The Toon Army will wonder how they did not come out of the game with at least a share of the spoils. Mitrovic’s header midway through the second half was a pivotal moment, looked harder to miss. Ayoze was bright throughout and Newcastle showed everyone the improvement of recent weeks, work rate, pace on the flanks, creating chances. This was a lively encounter and Everton had their chances too. Lukaku again a constant threat and was unlucky just prior to the winning goal denied by a last ditch block. The goal was harsh on Newcastle. Cleverley’s looping header from an Elliott punched clearance from a corner saw no Newcastle outfield player react and get back on the line to clear the second ball. The lack of concentration proved fatal and with it the game.

Swansea receive a much needed victory over WBA. Ki’s first goal of the season could be the springboard required for the Swans to move up the table. Watford’s resurgence shows no sign of abating, thoroughly deserved their 2-2 draw against Chelsea who yet again showed vulnerabilities defensively. Diego Costa’s brace indicates that the Spanish International is coming back into form but old habits die hard and yet another booking means that Costa is out of Chelsea’s side for the trip to Old Trafford. Cesc Fabregas benched issued a big statement from Guus Hiddink; players who fail to perform will be dropped. Watford’s Ighalo scores yet again and is one of the signings of the season. Oscar’s penalty miss, video blooper reel. Hazard’s cameo suggests that the Belgian is back in top form.

Liverpool again lift it against a top four side and dispatch Leicester City by the solitary goal. Benteke’s goal with eighteen minutes left was full value for Liverpool’s dominance throughout. Leicester were dangerous on the counter attack but Liverpool were well aware of the threat posed by Leicester’s counter attack style. Klopp nullified Vardy and Mahrez to the extent that both marquee players were called ashore well before the final whistle. Leicester will look to bounce back against City but is the title tilt over before it starts? A pivotal couple of days awaits Claudio Rainieri’s men. Liverpool now need to perform at a consistent level, not far off top four and their end of season run indicates that they could come late with a title run. The league has being incredibly unpredictable but there are plenty of twists and turns yet to go.