Another weekend of Premier League action has come and gone, and with it cane a subtle shift. The leader hasn’t changed, and presumably won’t for a while, but that doesn’t mean there’s little to talk about. What of last year’s champions? And, how about that 35-year-old striker? No, not the one in Manchester. Okay, him too.
From Champions to Championship?
While Riyad Mahrez is away, the Foxes are unable to play. Play well, at least. Jamie Vardy is a shell of his 2015 self, and last year’s champions are on just 21 points following 21 matches. A 0-3 loss to league-leaders Chelsea is just the latest setback. Fortunately for them, Crystal Palace, Hull, Sunderland and Swansea are very bad. Unfortunately, they have something else to worry about: the Champions League.
From a common sense standpoint, the decision should be easy: focus on the league. Making a run in the UCL means nothing if they fall into the Championship. But right now, positive league results are far from a guarantee. Their next three PL matches include a trip to St. Mary’s to take on a struggling Southampton, visiting a scrappy Burnley side, and hosting an in-form Manchester United. How many points can we reasonably expect?
Tottenham Doesn’t Skip a Beat
It’s not rare for a club to stumble after reaching a memorable high. On January 4th, Tottenham would end Chelsea’s near-historic win streak. Then they would ride their B-team for as long as they could en route to progressing in the FA Cup over Aston Villa. So when Tony Pulis’ West Brom ventured to White Hart Lane on Saturday, it would have been reasonable to expect a certain flatness.
Not so. Tottenham scored quickly and were all over West Brom throughout save for a three-minute stretch to start the second half. If not for goalkeeper Ben Foster, the Lilywhites could have been 8-0 up by the time the match concluded. Instead they had to settle for a 4-0 thumping, highlighted by Harry Kane’s hat-trick. Oh, he has 62 goals in 99 Premier League appearances. Is that good?
New Coach, Same Swans
Tottenham’s arch-rival, Arsenal, would travel to Swansea on Saturday with only one thing on their mind: domination. And domination it would be, at the expense of new Swansea manager Paul Clement, no less. This result would essentially solidify each side of the table. The Swans stayed at the bottom while the Gunners maintained their spot in the top-four.
With Spurs and Arsenal doing their job, anything else would end up being a bonus. Chelsea decided not to oblige, but Manchester United would help them out. Of course, we can safely assume that wasn’t their sole intention this weekend. Oh, and let’s not forget about Everton.
A Race Towards Relegation
This is all I’ll say about the relegation race: If not for Jermaine Defoe, Sunderland would probably be on single-digits. But even he couldn’t single-handedly take down Stoke City on Saturday as the Potters cruised to a 1-3 victory. This leaves David Moyes’ boys with only seven points from their last eight matches.
But again, Hull and Swansea are very bad. And it looks like Crystal Palace is hell-bent on joining the group. Can the Black Cats keep their magical survival streak alive? I believe it can’t (and won’t) last forever. So start placing your bets for a new manager now; we know how the story goes.
Don’t Doubt Zlatan
14 goals and three assists in 20 Premier League matches. 10 goals in Manchester United’s last 10. He’s 35 years old. But he never played in the Premier League before, remember? He’s not a real player until he plays in England, remember? He avoided England forever because he was afraid of being exposed, remember?
As it stands, Zlatan is the joint-leading scorer in the Premier League with 14 goals. That puts him level with Alexis Sánchez and Diego Costa, who both came to England ahead of 2014 from Barcelona and Atlético Madrid, respectively. Remember when they were going to struggle, too? Oh, and right behind them is one-year wonder Harry Kane sitting on 13, en route to his third consecutive 20-goal season.
Truth be told, there might not be one good player in the Premier League. Wild.
And while United would have liked nothing more than to beat Liverpool on Sunday, Zlatan’s 14th goal salvaged a point and kept them four off the top-four.
Peter Crouch Turns Back Time
Time to talk about another 35-year-old striker, but this one’s English. There is nothing graceful about Peter Crouch, for starters. He stands 6’7” and weighs roughly 170 pounds. He’s lanky and awkward. And outside of a loan spell in Sweden (2000), he’s spent the entirety of his career in England. Turns out, he’s not done yet.
Over the last four matches, he’s rediscovered those old legs at Stoke. A goal at Stamford Bridge. Another at home against Watford. Then a goal and assist en route to burying Sunderland. One more means 100 in the Premier League. Who’s to say that’s not worth an extension?
Pep Needs to Change, if Only a Little
A less than lively 1-0 defeat to Liverpool. A scrappy, less than impressive 2-1 victory over Burnley. And a resounding 4-0 defeat away to Everton. These are the last three matches for Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, and the trouble doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon.
Everton would possess the ball for 29 percent of the match Sunday morning. 29 percent. I understand that possession means very little when you’re doing nothing with it, but rarely do I see four goals scored from the club on the other side. So here’s the thing… Well, three things:
- Manchester City’s defense is a bad joke.
- Claudio Bravo has the second-worst save rate in the Premier League.
- Pep Guardiola is a good manager, but he needs to adjust.
A lot of this comes down to Pep’s stubbornness (Bravo, forcing his style, etc…) but these fixes aren’t difficult. Spend some money on the defense. Adjust to the players in the team. This squad has plenty of individual ability, but a lot of them are aging. A good manager gets the best out of what they have, even if it means adjusting. Especially if it means adjusting.
Pep should be more than capable of that; he just needs to show it before it’s too late. With 17 matches remaining, they’re 10 points off Chelsea’s league-leading pace and don’t look like catching them anytime soon. Plus, they welcome white-hot Tottenham Hotspur to town next weekend. Suffice to say, it’s a must-win.