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English Premier League

Appointing David Moyes would be another error made by West Ham

Jake Jackman

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Moyes

Slaven Bilic became the fourth Premier League manager to lost his job this season after West Ham made the decision to sack him after the 4-1 home defeat to Liverpool and David Moyes looks set to replace him. This has been a long time coming for the Croatian manager, as the team have been uninspiring since the beginning of last season. However, he will argue that he did a good job with the Hammers, with his Premier League points per game (1.33) the best of any manager that has been in charge of the club.

His overall Premier League record isn’t bad, as he won 30 of his 87 matches in charge, leaving him with a win rate of 34%. For a team operating outside of the top-six, this isn’t bad, but the big disappointment was his failure to kick on after an excellent first season in charge. He led the team to a 7th place finish and it was in this campaign that 16 of his 30 wins came. They were full of confidence during their final year at Upton Park and managed to qualify for the Europa League, which was a great achievement for the club.

Only three teams lost fewer matches than West Ham during that season and foundations were build that made supporters believe that they could become a force in the Premier League, especially with the move to the Olympic Stadium. It was important to retain that momentum, but a disappointing summer of recruitment followed. The likes of Simone Zaza, Gokhan Tore, Sofiane Feghouli and Alvaro Arbeloa can all be regarded as failures, while Andre Ayew has not done enough to justify a £21.7 million spend.

The unhappiness of star player Dimitri Payet didn’t help as he looked unmotivated and that attitude seeped into the rest of the squad and the supporters. A quick Europa League exit and a mediocre Premier League campaign saw the club disappear into mediocrity again. That summer was an opportunity missed and Bilic never fully recovered from that. There were some good results, such as the home win over Tottenham in May, but it was clear that the Croatian was unlikely to take the club forward.

It was clear to supporters and the wider public that a managerial change was needed at the club, but Bilic always managed to eke out results when the pressure was at its highest. The win over Tottenham was one example of that as it arguably led to the board keeping him in position during the summer. The end of last season presented the perfect opportunity to make a change, but they refused to do it and they are now suffering for that this season.

This summer represented another series of poor decisions made by the club that started with keeping the manager. Their recruitment was poor for the second successive close season, as they brought in Marko Arnautovic, Javier Hernandez, Joe Hart and Pablo Zabaleta. There was little squad planning that went into these acquisitions. The motivation for signing all four was based on their reputations rather than how they would fit into the team.

Zabaleta was brought in to start at right-back in what was already a slow and ageing defence. Joe Hart has been on the decline for a number of seasons and isn’t an upgrade on Adrian. The other two players have proven themselves to be good Premier League attackers, but there is no defined system at West Ham and they have struggled to make an impact. These followed the January additions of Jose Fonte and Robert Snodgrass, who were signed based on their recent good form rather than being the right fit for West Ham.

The continual errors in judgement and lack of squad planning in recruitment have left West Ham with a problematic squad. Bilic has been criticised for being a poor tactician and this season looked like it was set up for disaster from the opening weekend. That is exactly what has followed.

At the time of the sacking, West Ham are positioned in the bottom three after taking only nine points from their opening ten matches. The most concerning statistic is their 23 goals conceded, which ranks them as the worst defence in the Premier League. Considering their lack of pace in the back four, this isn’t a surprise. Five of their losses have been by two goals or more. It is relegation form and they needed to make the change sooner rather than later.

What is next for West Ham?

For the reasons listed above, the West Ham job is not an attractive one for an incoming manager. The lure of the Premier League will always be enough to make it appealing for some, but they are unlikely to attract a top manager. A number of sources, including the Guardian, are reporting that David Moyes is set to take over on a six-month deal.

His Premier League experience is the only thing in his favour and that is overrated, as underlined by Marco Silva since he arrived in England. Moyes has failed in every post he has held since leaving Everton and there is little reason to believe he could replicate that with West Ham.

Last season, he oversaw a terrible campaign as Sunderland manager, as his side were in the relegation zone for the majority of the season and were condemned to the drop in April. For a manager that is portrayed as a good coach and an effective organiser of a defence, Moyes was awful at the Stadium of Light. There was little sign of fight from his players and his negativity in press-conferences was a major reason for that.

Within weeks of the season starting, Moyes admitted to Sky Sports that the club were going to face another relegation fight, which immediately set the agenda for the campaign ahead.

“Well, they would probably be right because that’s where they’ve been every other year for the last four years, so why would it suddenly change?

“I think it will be, I don’t think you can hide the facts, that will be the case, yes. People will be flat because they are hoping that something is going to dramatically change – it can’t dramatically change, it can’t.”

These are remarkable quotes from a manager of a Premier League and his lack of enthusiasm and defeatist attitude would have shattered any belief the playing squad had in their ability to avoid a relegation fight. It is acceptable to aim to avoid relegation, but there are ways to portray that message. This wasn’t it and it was an incredible piece of bad management that somebody with Moyes’ experience shouldn’t have made.

Considering West Ham’s current position and lack of confidence, it would be optimistic to think Moyes is the right man to turn things around. Bilic was often criticised for the way he carried himself, but the former Everton and Manchester United manager is unlikely to be any different in this regard.

According to Jason Burt of the Telegraph, the owners are having doubts about the appointment and that will not do much to inject positivity into the squad or supporters. If they do make this appointment, it would be another bad decision from the board and a string of bad decisions in the Premier League only lead to one thing, relegation.

Jake is a student based in the South East. He is a Newcastle fan and has a keen interest in Dutch football. Jake can be found on Twitter here - @jakejackmann.

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FA Cup

Rochdale 2-2 Tottenham – Lucas Moura shines despite disappointing day for Spurs

Jake Jackman

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Tottenham

Tottenham are going to have to rely on a replay for the second successive round as they conceded a dramatic late equaliser to Rochdale. It was a reminder of the magic that the FA Cup still possesses and it will provide a useful cash injection for the League One club. Spurs opted to make several changes and rest key players, but they selected a team that should have progressed on the day.

Ian Henderson scored in the first-half to give Dale a first-half lead and it was deserved. Keith Hill’s team played good football and went toe-to-toe against their more illustrious opposition.

Lucas Moura and Harry Kane scored to put Tottenham into a 2-1 lead, but that wasn’t the end of the goal-scoring as Steve Davies scored to take the tie to a replay. Here are three talking points from Spotland:

Lucas Moura’s performance showed why Tottenham signed him

It was a signing that came out of left-field, as Tottenham prefer to do their transfer business in the summer. However, this opportunity was too good to turn down as they were given the chance to sign a proven Brazilian international. He had fallen on tough times at PSG and rarely featured this season, but he proved why the club signed him on Sunday.

The Brazilian wasn’t afraid of the fight and was up for the test offered by League One opposition. Every time he got on the ball, it looked like he could make something happen, as shown by his seven dribbles completed.

He had a touch of class that allowed him to stand out from the rest of the players on the pitch and if he can consistently perform at that level, he will turn out to be a great signing.

His movement was superb, as he regularly found pockets of space to exploit. Interestingly, he won five aerial duels and that shows that he has quickly adjusted to English football. It was Lucas that scored the equaliser mid-way through the second half with a confident finish. He will have played himself into Mauricio Pochettino’s plans for the coming weeks.

Rochdale impressed on their day in the spotlight

They were written off before a ball was kicked as they were facing one of the best teams in the country. Rochdale are currently rock-bottom of League One and 11 points from safety, albeit with four matches in hand. They laid a new pitch ahead of this match and the players adapted to it well, showing that they can play good football.

Callum Camps and Andrew Cannon impressed in the centre of the park, while their two wily experienced strikers got the goals. Ian Henderson was a tireless worker in the final third and put the Tottenham defenders under pressure.

He snatched at a couple of chances in the first-half, but he remained cool when another chance came his way and scored the opening goal.

It will be a tough ask for them to go to Wembley, but they can go there with no fear as they have nothing to lose. The tie will give them an injection of money that the club needs, especially if they are to suffer relegation this season.

Toby Alderweireld looks a long way from his best

The Tottenham defence didn’t look as assured as they usually do and both of their centre-backs struggled at times during the match.

Alderweireld was left out of the trip to Juventus and there were some supporters that questioned that decision. However, he looked short of match fitness against Rochdale and was arguably at fault for the late equaliser.

The Belgian international looked rusty and his decision making was not great. He picked up a yellow card for a rash tackle and that is one example of that. Juan Foyth played alongside Alderweireld and his inexperience showed when Rochdale did attack.

For Alderweireld, he wants to be back in the first-team and that is eventually where he will be, but he isn’t at the level required to be starting right now. Tottenham are fighting on multiple fronts and they can’t afford to have any players that aren’t at 100%. He is returning from a serious injury and he will need time to get back to his best.

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Liverpool

Roberto Firmino: His performances will shape the end to Liverpool’s season

Martyn Cooke

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On Sunday afternoon at St Mary’s Stadium the returning Virgil Van Dijk took centre stage and assumed the role of pantomime villain for the day.

However, whilst much of the pre-game build up was centred on the former Southampton defender, who was making his first return to the club since signing for Liverpool in January, the post-match conversations were focused on the brilliance of the Dutchman’s attacking teammate.

Roberto Firmino is one of the most under-rated players in the Premier League and his performance last weekend reaffirmed that he is one of the most effective forward players in the top-flight of English football.

The Brazilian has rarely been the centre of attention since arriving at Anfield in the summer of 2015 for £29 million and the media have often overlooked his significant contributions on the pitch.

Roberto Firmino

At Liverpool he has been forced to be content playing in the shadow of Philippe Coutinho, prior to his move to Barcelona, and Mohamed Salah, who has been a revelation since joining the club in the summer.

But Firmino is now emerging as one of the most creative, innovative and exciting forwards in the Premier League and he is undoubtedly one of the most improved players of the season.

The 26-year-old is both a creator and a goal scorer, as Southampton discovered to their cost at the weekend, when he opened the scoring with a neat finish within the opening six minutes before providing the assist for Salah’s goal with an ingenious flick.

The goal was his 20th of the campaign, which was shortly followed by his 21st of the season against Porto in the Reds’ midweek Champions League fixture, and he is now only nine short of becoming the Premier League’s all-time highest Brazilian goal scorer.

Firmino is a unique mixture of technical brilliance, creativity, innovation and an intelligence that makes him unpredictable, difficult to mark and a constant threat, regardless of where he pops up on the pitch.

However, whilst his Brazilian flair may catch the eye it is his willingness to pressurise opponents and work hard off the ball that is genuinely impressive.

He is certainly a favourite of Jurgen Klopp, who admires his hard running, work rate and pressing that often sets the tone for the rest of the team.

The 26-year-old has still gone somewhat unnoticed this campaign despite his consistency and performances on the pitch and the fact that he has missed only one league game all season.

But that is set to change.

Firmino’s performances and form have proven that there is still a bright future at Anfield despite the departure of Coutinho in January.

Deployed as an unconventional number nine, the Brazilian is the centre of a dynamic attacking forward line that sees him flanked by Salah on one side and Sadio Mane on the other.

The trio possess the pace, intelligence and creativity to threaten any team in Europe, as demonstrated by the mid-week five-goal demolition of Porto in the Champions League, and central to their effectiveness is the link up play of Firmino.

Still only 26, the Brazilian is about to reach the peak of his prowess and his continued development under Klopp poses the exciting question of how much better the forward might become in the forthcoming two or three years.

He certainly possesses all of the characteristics to become a legend at the club, should he choose to remain at Anfield long term, and he now has the opportunity to step out of Coutinho’s shadow and enjoy the limelight for himself.

Liverpool supporters will be hoping that Firmino can maintain his current run of form over the coming months and his performances will shape the club’s season.

His creativity and knack for scoring goals will be an invaluable commodity as Klopp goes in search of a top four place and potential silverware.

Firmino my have been underrated in the past, but he is now taking centre stage as the focal point of Liverpool’s attack.

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Huddersfield Town

Huddersfield Town 0-2 Manchester United: Three talking points from the John Smith’s Stadium

Rob Meech brings us three talking points from the John Smith’s Stadium as Manchester United overcame Huddersfield Town in their FA Cup 5th Round contest.

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

A brace from sharpshooter Romelu Lukaku fired Manchester United into the quarter-finals of the FA Cup at the expense of Huddersfield Town.

Lukaku opened his account in the third minute before netting his second of the evening shortly after the second-half resumption.

Victory was not as straightforward as the scoreline suggested. However, as the Terriers produced a spirited display after the early setback.

There was also controversy involving the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system.

Juan Mata saw an effort ruled out for offside after a review, but confusion abounded about whether it had been the correct decision.

Here are three talking points from an eventful encounter, as United set up a last-eight tie with Brighton & Hove Albion…

Lukaku’s goals are a fillip for Jose Mourinho

The Belgian has come in for criticism from some quarters for his goal return since last summer’s big-money transfer from Everton.

While he may not have reached the levels of Harry Kane or Mohamed Salah, Lukaku has now scored 21 times in all competitions for United this season.

That tally was boosted by his double against Huddersfield, which showed off his best attributes.

Lukaku was too strong and clever for Huddersfield’s defence as he latched on to Mata’s through ball for the first, before putting the finishing touch to an Alexis Sanchez pass for his second.

The former Chelsea man’s performance will be the biggest plus for United boss Jose Mourinho, who is relying on him to spearhead the attack for the remainder of the campaign.

Lukaku is a confidence player, so this was a timely boost ahead of a crucial run of fixtures both domestically and in Europe.

VAR under the microscope yet again

The introduction of technology to any sport usually results in teething problems.

It is fair to say VAR has experienced more than its fair share in football this season.

Employed in some FA and League Cup matches, controversy has never been far away. This was again the case at Huddersfield.

Mata appeared to have doubled United’s lead just before half-time, but referee Kevin Friend waited for confirmation from VAR that he had been onside.

After about a minute, Friend disallowed the goal when it was judged that Mata had been fractionally offside as the ball was played.

Contention emerged when viewers saw the incident on TV, where the guidelines were clearly not straight.

In fact, they were embarrassingly wonky.

Further replays suggested – with parallel lines correctly in place – that Mata’s knee had indeed been offside, but it was a very close call and certainly not an obvious mistake by the referee’s assistant.

These technical hitches will need to be ironed out before VAR is brought in universally.

Huddersfield can be positive despite FA Cup exit

With their Premier League status hanging in the balance, it would have been understandable if Huddersfield manager David Wagner had seen this fixture as an unwanted distraction.

But there was absolutely no suggestion that they were trying not to win the match, or prepared to exit the competition without a fight.

The Terriers, who famously beat United at home in the Premier League last October, carried on from where they left off last weekend in the impressive 4-1 victory over Bournemouth.

Conceding so early to United had not been in the script, but the hosts regrouped quickly and caused their opponents plenty of problems.

Ultimately, the difference between the two sides was the quality of finishing.

Whereas the visitors scored with their only two shots on target, Huddersfield wasted numerous openings as they slipped to defeat.

Nevertheless, attention can be turned back to their bid for survival, without their confidence dented.

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