Hawkeye Sidekick

EPL Review: Round 15 Reflections

United and City win to setup derby clash

Let us be quite frank. If Manchester United give Manchester City thirteen shots on target and seventy-five percent ball possession, the noisy neighbors will be well on their way to securing a decisive fatal blow in the league title race.

David De Gea was immense; his saves were world class and that double save was extraordinary. The goalkeeping exploits frustrated an Arsenal side who were yet again attractive on the eye but defensively exposed.

United’s counter attack like in midweek against Watford was on point. Martial and Pogba were excellent. Martial is on an excellent run of form, his touch for Lingard’s first goal was superb.

Lingard’s brace also continues a good run of form from the player. His second goal was reward for tracking into the Arsenal box as Pogba picked the midfielder with an excellent pass.

The Pogba red card had no arguments from this blog. Dangerous and his absence will be a loss for United but given his recent performances against City, it might not be as traumatic as anticipated.

Jose’s game plan will be fascinating for the derby contest. 4-5-1 or does he persist with the back three that has served the side well in recent weeks. Lukaku will have to forage at times on his own given City’s ability to control tempo and possession.

Manchester City left it late again against West Ham United but the winner was superbly created. The vision of De Bruyne to pick out David Silva was world class; the finish was incisive and the three points secured.

It was a baptism of fire for debutante Rice in the central defense but his pace and game reading was on point for long periods albeit he will have learned plenty from the Otamendi and Silva goals in terms of concentration and decision making.

West Ham United were a far better outfit at Eastlands than they were at Goodison Park. The side worked hard and could have nicked a draw if Sakho had not squandered a gilt-edged chance late on.

There are question marks defensively for City to rectify ahead of the derby. Their ability to defend corners exposed again with the Ogbonna header. However, the question is whether United get enough possession to expose this facet of play. Intriguing derby fixture beckons.

Relegation candidates come on down!

The quick succession of league fixtures in the past week has really exposed squad depth issues on a number of team. Huddersfield Town are now in a relegation battle and their home fixture against Brighton & Hove Albion this weekend is a perennial six pointer for both teams.

David Wagner has tried to rotate the squad over the last seven days. A grueling week with a home visit from Manchester City and road trips to Arsenal and Everton. The City performance aside, it has being pretty abject stuff. The squad depth has being exposed and January cannot come quick enough.

The lack of goals on the road is crippling Huddersfield at present and puts more pressure on their home games to win. A key month awaits but January will require shrewd signings to address clear striker issues and freshen up the central midfield area.

Brighton as well have to evaluate their squad depth as well. A mixed week for them with a narrow loss to Manchester United, a dour draw against derby rivals Crystal Palace and a comprehensive beat down to Liverpool (1-5). The lack of creativity and scoring prowess are the issues for Chris Hughton’s men. The fixture this weekend will be crucial in how these two sides are set for the busy festive period.

Palace slowly but surely are climbing out of trouble. A nil all road trip stalemate. A Roy Hodgson special when he was in charge at Fulham was on show last weekend at the Hawthorns and if they can get more from the likes of Zaha and Benteke, then it is mission possible for league safety. Defensive and midfield improvement still required but a clean sheet is much appreciated. Cabaye and Loftus Cheek in midfield will need to continue in an upward curve.

WBA under the stewardship of Alan Pardew should climb up the table in the next couple of weeks. Pardew is such a streaky manager, depending on the month can win or lose four on the bounce. Pardew was quick to proclaim to the WBA masses that he likes to play on the front foot but he is well aware that clean sheets and defensive solidity is the key aim. Rondon and Rodriguez need to step up to the scoring plate as well.

Swansea personally look doomed. Sanchez loan move has not worked out, the player taken out of the firing line. Paul Clements could be given his marching orders by the weekend. The club’s long term direction is uncertain. Do the club do the unthinkable and look to Tony Pulis? The side started well but quite honestly, the defensive work at the end of the opening half against Stoke City (who themselves are underwhelming at present) summed up their season. Weak and inept after such a great start. Bony and Abrahams goals are even more of a priority now. Uncertain times in South Wales and there looks like no quick fix this time.

Newcastle United have also endured a difficult week of fixtures. Two losses in between a road trip draw at the Hawthorns will do little to stem relegation concerns. Watford and Chelsea losses were no disgrace but defensively were exposed for pace with a couple of lapses defensively on the flanks. Dwight Gayle goals are encouraging but the side needs more potency in front of goal. Shelvey’s form has being patchy in recent weeks too. In Rafa, Newcastle trust. Chelsea were excellent and Hazard oozed class throughout in their 3-1 win at the Bridge.

South Coast Derby Stalemate

Bournemouth and Southampton had to settle for a share of the spoils. Both sides will be fine when it comes to the relegation battle. It was an enjoyable derby from the neutral; feisty challenges, contentious penalty calls not given and goals on target.

The home record of the Cherries is a concern but given the number of chances that Eddie Howe’s charges created yesterday, it is only a matter of time when they translate draws into wins. King prominent yesterday in attacking duties and with the likes of Defoe and Afobe in the ranks, pace upfront will pose opponents issues.

Southampton have started to play with more confidence. Virgil van Djik prominent in both facets of play. Charlie Austin’s form has caught the eye in recent weeks and his clinical finishing will be key for Southampton to consolidate in mid-table. Tadic showed promising moments yesterday as well. Forster in goals has steadied the ship after a shaky November. All points to a reasonable second half of the season for Southampton provided Virgil stays (big big if).

Puel’s Leicester beat Burnley

A new season and Leicester City’s decision to dispense with Craig Shakespeare has yielded short term gain but whether this translates to long term success is another story.

This was a key win for Leicester City over an in-form Burnley outfit. Gray’s early strike enough to secure three points. The recent run of form has seen Mahrez and Vardy in good form and it continued last weekend.

Defensively solid as well, work rate was on point. Leicester City on twenty points in the league, no fears of relegation as they look to push for a top eight spot.

Burnley were not disgraced in this loss. They had chances at the death to earn a draw but lack of quality in front of goal proved crucial. Brady’s injury will be closely monitored who has being in a good run of form. Top eight looks realistic.

Tottenham out of the title race

Watford and Tottenham’s entertaining draw means little for the league table and it probably eliminates Tottenham as a genuine title contender now.

Tottenham looked lethargic defensively and were lucky to not concede only one goal in this encounter as Watford’s attacking pace posed serious issues throughout as well as a good penalty shout.

What has happened at Tottenham? Wembley factor and the pitch is a key reason. I recall Sir Alex Ferguson mentioning the after effects of playing at Wembley and players not being right for a week or two after. Legs are weary at Tottenham at this time.

Watford continue to impress against the top teams in the league. Their speed and movement in midfield and attacking areas are superb. Richarlison is a shrewd piece of business. Gray and Deeney are coming back to form. Kapoue is such an undervalued midfielder in this league; distance traveled and pass completion are impressive. Hughes as well is a good midfield acquistion and Silva’s managerial stewardship has being on point.