The EPL season continues to enthrall with several shock results. Stoke City kicked off the weekend with an emphatic victory over a Manchester City side who were shambolic from start to finish. Vincent Kompany is the pivotal defensive lynchpin of Manuel Pellegrini’s side; when he is out of the starting lineup, the back four is at sixes and sevens. Arnautovic could not believe how much room and space he was afforded by City and his brace should have easily being three or four. Manchester City should be walking away with this league title; they have on paper the best squad, when they are in the mood, they will hit five or six past an opponent. However, there are questions on consistency but also leadership in the ranks. The players on duty for Manchester City at the Britannia Stadium were quite frankly missing in action and one wonders if Pellegrini will be still at the helm at the Etihad. Stoke will be chasing European football on the back of this performance. Mark Hughes has taken the side inherited from Tony Pulis and added genuine flair and talent in the final third which will pose problems for any team playing Stoke for the rest of the season. Bojan, Arnautovic, Xheridi are all players whose skill and pace complements the defensive values of the side. Shawcross continues to marshal his back four with authority and with Jack Butland growing in confidence and stature with each game, Stoke are a good bet to secure European football next season. A sweet, sweet victory for Sparky Hughes after being unceremoniously dumped by Manchester City.
All that talk of Liverpool as genuine title contenders can be put aside for another couple of weeks. This result is what Klopp needs to rectify at the football club; consistency of performance is the core issue. After that emphatic 6-1 win over Southampton in midweek, Liverpool struggled today at Newcastle who were dogged throughout and when presented with some much needed good fortune clinched victory with Wijnaldum’s clever flick deep into injury time. Benteke’s role was limited albeit should have put Liverpool one nil up with a close range miss in the opening half. Coutinho’s absence looked glaring today. Firminho was a different player to the one that excelled against Manchester City. Coutinho’s link up play was badly missed. Liverpool certainly not out of the title race but Klopp and Liverpool fans have received a reality check today. The lack of performance consistency which plighted Brendon Rodger’s tenure as manager is being seen under Klopp. Interesting times to see how Klopp addresses the issues seen today. Newcastle win but will they work as hard as this for the rest of the season? I have my doubts.
Bournemouth are a joy to watch. Eddie Howe plays the game the right way and his side yesterday deserved this win at Stamford Bridge. Bournemouth were guilty of two glaring first half misses. Yes, they were lucky not to concede a penalty in the second half but Chelsea yet again showed a lack of creativity to breakdown a resolute Cherries defense. Francis was immense. Fabregas is having a nightmare of a season, not influential in any recent games and he is picked off in his passing. Costa situation looks like another Harchester United episode in the making. Headbanger central at Stamford Bridge if Chelsea do not progress in UEFA Champions League this week. Bournemouth’s win could be a defining one come the end of the season. Their work ethic is beyond reproach and they are in the mix to stave off relegation. Howe has January to add quality to the squad due to several cruciate knee injury casualties. Glenn Murray is the man to save Bournemouth.
With Bournemouth winning and gaining confidence, Swansea are heading in the opposite direction. What has happened at the Liberty Stadium since September? The 2-1 win over Manchester United has then led to several poor results leaving Gary Monk increasingly beleaguered. Leicester’s pace put Swansea to the sword yesterday with Mahrez scoring a hat-trick. Jamie Vardy’s scoring run comes to an end but his work rate and threat allowed Mahrez to pounce yesterday as Williams focused his attentions on Vardy. Leicester continue to play with pace and attacking flair that a Manchester United fan would crave for right now. Raineri has built on the solid foundations left by Nigel Pearson. Drinkwater in the middle of park has being a revelation. Schmeichel in goals. Morgan at the back. All Leicester players buy into the work and team ethos. Leicester hopefully to stay around in this title race for several months to come. Gary Monk is a condemned man, expect a change (director / first team head coach) in days. Harsh for Monk who lives and breathes Swansea Football Club but there needs to be a new voice in the management setup. Huw Jenkins loyalty will be tested. Does he panic and sack Monk or does he bring an experienced football man into help Monk in the short-term?
West Ham United should have won yesterday. De Gea was superb in that first half as Manchester United conservative, risk free attacking football continues to frustrate. The boredom level at Old Trafford is at historically highs. Defensive clean sheet aside, precious little to joy about. 24 efforts on goal and only one shot on target, enough said. West Ham United with Payet would have easily beat Manchester United on the basis of that performance. Wayne Rooney cannot be blamed for this team cameo? January signings do not look like solving the philosophical differences seen between LVG, Giggs and the United supporters for that matter. Wolfsburg borefest beckons but United actually could win that contest given their defensive counter attack style. Mata needs to play at ten.
Tottenham and WBA share the spoils. Quality goal from McClean who then produced the X-Rated tackle of the year without getting sent off. James McClean, the enigma continues to grow. Villa draw at Southampton, good recent record at St Mary’s. Southampton were flat for long periods but did salvage a point. No Richards, No Clark but Villa defensively with Lescott organizing well means that Remi Garde needs to build his defense around the England International. Jack Grealish spends another weekend doing Christmas shopping around the Bull Market. What a waste? Grealish destined to play Championship football in January such is his unsettling behavior in Heath Moor currently.
MNF will not be the same without Gary Neville. Jamie Carragher, no pressure tomorrow night. Everton vs. Palace has the potential to be an excellent contest.