Garry Monk and Jose Mourinho continue to feel the heat, as their sides lose further ground in the Premier League respectability race after another set of poor performances.
There are days when I think the Premier League is complete and utter pants. Not this weekend. This weekend it gave me that ‘Best League in the World’ feeling. It’s not about the entertainment for me. It’s about the unpredictability. It was back to its best this weekend.
Who will win the league?
Who will finish in the top four?
Who will be in the bottom three?
Nobody has a Scooby.
Normally, the only similarities between Stoke and Barcelona are they both play in stripes, and Mark Hughes has a connection with both clubs. This weekend Stoke played like them – from start to finish. Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic were like Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez. They were that good.
The league leaders didn’t have a sniff.
The aforementioned double act had put Stoke two goals to the good in the first 15-minutes, courtesy of an Arnautovic double. He could have had four. Man City has now failed to find the net in their last three away games. Both managers must have been scratching their head at the end of the match. Pellegrini wondering how a squad that cost a billion dollars to assemble can’t score a goal, and Hughes wondering why his team aren’t playing like Barcelona every weekend?
City’s defeat afforded Leicester the opportunity to go back on top of the league. They did so with another master class when it comes to hitting teams on the break, this time at the Liberty Stadium in South Wales. It was the game that ended my streak of writing ‘Jamie Vardy Goalscoring Record’ type headlines after he failed to hit the net. Fortunately, his striking partner Riyad Mahrez continued his excellent season with his first senior hat trick. He also became the first Algerian to score a hat-trick in Premier League history.
The Leicester roadshow continues. One loss all season means they top one of the toughest leagues in the world, they have scored more goals than any other team (32), and have the Premier League’s two top goal scorers in Vardy (14) and Mahrez (10). Stark contrast to the form of Swansea. There was a time when teams feared playing against Garry Monk’s well-drilled outfit. That time has passed. Swansea has now won only one of their previous 11 games. The Grim Reaper stands above him. David Moyes touted as his likely replacement, should the board shout “off with his head.”
Another manager with a scythe hanging over his head is Steve McClaren. The word on the street was he would have been out had he lost at home to Liverpool on Sunday. Jurgen Klopp’s team were on a roll. The Reds had won their last four games, scoring 13 goals and conceding only three. Newcastle had only won three of their last 25 games.
There were only two things known for certain. Liverpool would win. Newcastle would sack Steve McClaren.
But this is the Premier League. Anything can happen. It did. Giorginio Wijnaldum, the only player with quality in the Newcastle side popped up to score two goals (albeit the first flashing off Skrtel’s knee) to give Newcastle a much needed two-goal victory.
Garry Monk and Steve McClaren aren’t the only managers looking over their shoulders. Jose Mourinho, arguably the most sought-after manager in the world, is also staring into his rearview mirror hoping that he isn’t going to get shunting hard from behind.
Battling Bournemouth pulled off their greatest-ever victory at Stamford Bridge with a one-nil win. Glenn Murray was only on the pitch for 99 seconds when he gave Eddie Howe’s men an 82nd-minute lead that Chelsea could not pull back. It was a smash and grab victory. Chelsea dominated the game, and the usually unreliable Artur Boruc guarded the goal like Thing from the Fantastic Four.
The thoughts of the morning press were in unison: Chelsea were not going to finish in the top four. I’m surprised anyone thought they would even before losing.
Bournemouth’s victory enabled them to claw their way out of the bottom three after Sunderland failed to gather any points at The Emirates. Considering Sunderland’s horrid start to the season you wouldn’t expect them to get anything at Arsenal, but Big Sam has opened up the carcass and spooned in some guts. It was a sterling performance and had Fabio Borini done his job in front of goal; things could have been decidedly different.
Joel Campbell scored Arsenal’s opener after 33 mins. It was against the run of play. Campbell broke all sorts of health and safety laws when he pulled a dummy out from his underpants and started sucking on it. A Sunderland free kick in the 45th min resulted in Olivier Giroud hacking the ball into the back of his net to send the teams into the halftime break on an even keel. An edgy Arsenal side produced some moments of magic in the second half, and killed the game off thanks to goals from Giroud (this time in the right end), and the great Aaron Ramsey, who continues to be one of the most underrated midfield players in world football. Sunderland drops back into the danger zone but are showing under Allardyce that they have enough minerals to rise above the likes of Norwich and Swansea come the end of the season.
Arsenal’s victory moved them into second spot after another wasted opportunity at Old Trafford. United and West Ham playing out a goalless draw. It is United’s fourth of the season. They had 21 shots, and only one of them hit the target. West Ham hit the post twice. Louis Van Gaal told the waiting press that there was no cause for United’s faithful to be disgruntled.
If United had another game, they would rather forget, so did Spurs. Mauro Pochettino’s men were up against a West Brom side full of forbearance and fight. It was a wretched display from Spurs, but their ability to come away from the Hawthorns with a one-one draw, despite playing like the Muppets, is something new to the White Hart Lane faithful. Perhaps, this is the year where they finally turn expectation into something tangible? Dele Alli opened the scoring in the 15th minute before James McClean headed the equaliser in the 39th minute.
Another team showing some surprising fight was Aston Villa. Everybody’s favourite for the drop battled well and came away from St Mary’s with a well-earned point. Villa’s goalscorer Julian Lescott hit the nail on the head during his post-match interview when he said they didn’t perform well with the ball, but their drive and attitude was the best of the season. It had Remi Garde written all over it.
Southampton continues to stutter. It was another poor performance, following on from the midweek mauling they suffered at the hands of a resurgent Liverpool. It’s their fourth game without a win, in all competitions, and they have lost three of them.
Villa will be in that dogfight all season long. So will Newcastle. But three go down. If those two continue to head into the abyss, who will join them? At this rate, the smart money is on Norwich. The yo-yo club currently resembles a giant canary in a biological coal mine full of carbon monoxide. It won’t be long until we find them at the bottom of the cage. Dead. There was nothing between the two sides when they were both promoted last season. How things have changed. Troy Deeney scored in his fourth consecutive game, and Odion Ighalo continued to remind the big clubs why they must sign him at the end of the season with his 25th goal of 2015. No other player in all four divisions has a better record. Norwich has only won one of their last 10 matches in all competitions.
Week 15 Results
Stoke 2 v 0 Man City
Man Utd v 0 v 0 West Ham
Watford 2 v 0 Norwich
Southampton 1 v 1 Aston Villa
Arsenal 3 v 1 Sunderland
Swansea 0 v 3 Leicester
West Brom 1 v 1 Spurs
Chelsea 0 v 1 Bournemouth
Newcastle 2 v 0 Liverpool
Games to be Played
Everton v Crystal Palace (Mon 7 Dec)
Premier League Standings (After 15 Games)
1st. Leicester – 32 pts.
2nd. Arsenal – 30 pts.
3rd. Man City – 29 pts.
4th. Man Utd – 29 pts.
5th. Spurs – 26 pts.
6th. West Ham – 23 pts.
7th. Liverpool – 23 pts.
8th. Crystal Palace – 22 pts.
9th. Watford – 22 pts.
10th. Stoke – 22 pts.
11th. Everton – 21 pts.
12th. Southampton – 21 pts.
13th. West Brom- 19 pts.
14th. Chelsea – 15 pts.
15th. Swansea – 14 pts.
16th. Norwich – 13 pts.
17th. Bournemouth – 13 pts.
18th. Newcastle – 13 pts.
19th. Sunderland – 12 pts.
20th. Aston Villa – 6 pts.