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Three talking points as Watford’s new boys come up trumps against Swansea

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Watford bounced back from their heavy defeat against Manchester City last weekend as Richarlison’s dramatic late winner secured all three points against Swansea City on Saturday.

Marco Silva’s side arrived in Wales on the back of a 6-0 drubbing but they showed little sign of a hangover from that defeat, with club-record signing Andre Gray putting the visitors ahead early on.

The introduction of Tammy Abraham at half-time turned the tides though, and it was the England Under-21 international who tapped home an equaliser after Wilfried Bony’s initial shot was parried.

It seemed like Paul Clement’s side had done enough to earn a sixth point of the season but the visitors had other ideas, and Richarlison’s thumping effort at the death earnt the Hornets a late win.

Watford move up to fifth in the Premier League table following their third victory of the season, whilst Swansea drop a place to 14th, sitting just a point above West Ham and the relegation places.

Silva’s summer signings steal the limelight

It’s arguably been a long-time overdue this season but, at the sixth time of asking, club-record signing Andre Gray opened his account for Watford following his £18.5million switch this summer.

It had been 510 minutes of Premier League action without a goal when he emphatically found the top corner and you could almost hear his – and Marco Silva’s – sigh of relief after breaking his duck.

The match certainly transpired into a tale of two new additions as Richarlison smashed into the net off the underside of the crossbar to steal a win, cementing his great start to the season with a second goal.

However, it wasn’t just the goal-scorers who made an impact on the match, with on-loan Benfica winger Andre Carrillo settling down into Watford life excellently in recent weeks, and he was arguably the visitor’s most potent threat all afternoon, putting in a determined run in the build-up to Gray’s goal.

Whatever way you look at it it’s clear to see that Silva used his summer wisely to make remarkable improvements to a Watford squad full of deadwood, and it’s proved a catalyst for their superb start.

Swansea face late defeat once again

There’s a worrying pattern developing over in Wales as Watford’s late winner means that five of the seven Premier League goals the Swans have conceded this season have come in the final 15 minutes.

Against Manchester United they were firmly in the game until a three-goal blitz at the death, whilst defeat against Newcastle United came courtesy of a late goal and cost them a much-deserved point.

With yet another side snatching the spoils late on question marks have to be raised over the ability of Paul Clement’s side to see a game out and keep disciplined, and he needs to address these all-too frequent lapses in concentration before they lose any more points in their battle to avoid the drop.

The worst thing on Saturday was that Swansea were their own worst enemy, with both of Watford’s goals coming courtesy of mistakes from the hosts, and the over-riding feeling will be frustration right now.

Perhaps even more concerning is the fact that these results have been coming in front of a home crowd at the Liberty Stadium, and Clement will want to stop the rot when Huddersfield come calling.

Clement’s side lack a creative spark in attack

Whilst Swansea’s defensive record hasn’t been too shabby in recent weeks, keeping successive away clean sheets at Southampton, Crystal Palace and Tottenham, their attacking intent has been woeful.

Wilfried Bony was awarded his first Premier League start since returning over the summer as the Swans looked for a bit of inspiration in attack but it made little difference, with the hosts misfiring.

Tammy Abraham’s introduction at half-time, as well as Roque Mesa in the midfield, did eventually reap rewards but despite their perceived dominance of Watford they simply couldn’t make it count.

The void left by Gylfi Sigurdsson’s exit was always going to be heavily noticeable but the lack of innovative play and a genuine spark in the opposition third is becoming an increasing area of concern, and Swansea fans will hope and pray that Renato Sanches can quickly turn his underwhelming start around.

Will is a Multimedia Journalism graduate from the University of Salford, specialising in the art of sports. Long-time suffering Northampton Town fan who once saw us win a league title. Find him on Twitter - @willypearson.

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Manchester United

Manchester United 3-0 Stoke City: Three talking points from Old Trafford

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Manchester United
Photo: Reuters

Newly-announced Stoke City manager Paul Lambert watched on from the stands as two stunning first-half strikes helped Manchester United condemn the Potters to defeat at Old Trafford on Monday night.

The former Norwich and Aston Villa manager was named as Mark Hughes’ successor in charge after his sacking following the Potters’ FA Cup defeat to League Two Coventry City last weekend and he was at Old Trafford to see his new team in action for the first time ahead of taking over officially on Tuesday.

But it wasn’t to be a winning start for Lambert, who watched his side go behind early on when the returning Antonio Valencia fired a thunderous left-foot strike high into the net to put United ahead.

The visitors had chances to get themselves back into the game, with Stephen Ireland – making his first Premier League start since April 2015 – twice spurning clear-cut chances from inside the penalty box.

Stoke’s wastefulness came back to haunt them when Anthony Martial doubled the hosts’ lead before the break in fine fashion, meeting Paul Pogba’s pass with a first-time finish high into the net.

David de Gea was forced into a fine reaction right save on the brink of half-time to push Xherdan Shaqiri’s effort away and keep United’s two-goal lead in tact and from that point on United completely turned the screw and dominated, with Romelu Lukaku’s shot saved at the front post.

The Belgian got his rewards shortly after though when he held the ball up and fired low past Jack Butland, before Marcus Rashford came close to a fourth when his deft heel-flick was held.

The hosts then comfortably saw out the remainder of the game to close the gap on leaders Manchester City to 12 points, whilst Stoke City remain a point adrift of safety down in 18th.

Lambert watches on as Stoke fall to defeat

There are no illusions that this job will be easy.

Paul Lambert – arguably Stoke’s third or fourth choice of manager in their pursuit of a replacement for Mark Hughes over the past week – was well and truly thrown in at the deep end on Monday evening as he travelled to Manchester with the Potters to see his new side in action for the first time as manager.

Earlier in the day Lambert’s arrival on a two-and-a-half-year deal was announced to a somewhat muted reception from Stoke fans, with his managerial CV not one containing too much Premier League pedigree other than respective spells at Norwich City and Aston Villa.

It may not be the most eye-catching move from Stoke’s board of directors but the same has been said this season about David Moyes and Roy Hodgson – and those two have started in fine fashion and completely turned the tides for their respective sides.

The sole objective for Lambert will be to haul Stoke away from any relegation trouble, and he’ll know the magnitude of the job at hand with the Potters sitting in the relegation zone in 18th place.

In truth, there’s not a lot he would have learnt in defeat to Manchester United.

It was never the sort of game that Stoke were expected to get anything from considering their current predicament and neither will it be the sort of game that will help them avoid relegation.

Instead, it’s the upcoming run of games against Huddersfield, Watford, Bournemouth, Brighton and rivals at the bottom Southampton – all of which take place in the next six league games – that may well define Stoke’s season and Lambert’ll know the job really begins when 15:00 comes on Saturday.

Potters defence in need of tightening up

That said, he’ll be fully aware that it’s the defence that’s in dire need of tightening up.

In conceding another three goals on Monday night Stoke have the unwanted title of having the Premier League’s worst defence – and by a long margin – after conceding 50 goals in 23 matches.

It may have been two fine strikes in the first-half that got United up and running but the defending leading up to the goals was questionable at best. For the first, Antonio Valencia was allowed the time to shift the ball onto his left-foot before putting an unstoppable effort into the top corner, whilst for the second nobody in a Stoke jersey tracked the run of Anthony Martial to the edge of the area before he fired home.

And after the break they were fortunate to keep it to just three – largely indebted to Butland for making some smart stops – as Pogba, Lukaku and Martial found regular space far too easily.

Their attacking play showed signs of positives during the first-half in a much-changed side under caretaker boss Eddie Niedzwiecki, and they arguably should have scored at least one before half-time had both Stephen Ireland and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting found the back of the net.

There are more than enough attacking options in the squad, who have enough proven prowess in front of goal, to avoid the drop this year, but they need help from their worryingly leaky back-line before things start to get truly ugly for the Potters.

Mkhitaryan left out as Sanchez waits in the wings

What a roller-coaster week it’s been for Manchester United.

For a side that rarely does its business in the mid-season transfer window shockwaves were sent through the Premier League when their interest in Arsenal’s talisman Alexis Sanchez was first reported by Sky Sports Italia, and it seems increasingly likely that they’ve hijacked Manchester City’s proposed move for the Chilean.

In fact, as Monday’s match was going on against the Potters fresh reports suggested that Pep Guardiola is out of the race for Sanchez – leaving the door wide open for an Old Trafford switch.

And, despite comfortably winning on the night, it was clear to see where he will slot in.

Juan Mata and Anthony Martial were the designated wide outlets for Monday’s clash but neither pride themselves on being out-and-out wingers, and at times United were crying out for an attacking player that can hug the touchline and deliver consistent balls into the box.

At times Romelu Lukaku went out onto the right-wing himself to try and get in the game such was United’s lack of crosses into the area, and as a striker he shouldn’t be the one forced into delivering.

Ultimately it mattered little as a result of two top-class individual strikes but, going forward, the looming arrival of Sanchez could not only add quality on the flanks but improve Lukaku’s play too and enable him to rekindle the sort of prolific form he showed at Everton last season.

But whilst one player looks to be moving ever closer to arriving, one looks equally close to an imminent exit as Henrikh Mkhitaryan was once again left out of Jose Mourinho’s matchday squad.

The Armenian’s fall from grace has been well-documented this season – despite starting the year firing – and reports claiming that he could be included as part of the deal to bring Sanchez to Manchester will only gain traction after comments made by the United manager prior to kick-off.

Asked about Mkhitaryan’s omission on Monday, he told Sky Sports:

“I would lie if I said it was just a tactical decision. Just a choice of the players that we know in this moment they have 100% their heads in Manchester United and no doubts about the future.”

Should Sanchez indeed arrive before the end of the month then there’s a very high probability that Mkhitaryan won’t be a United player come February, and he’ll be hoping that his next career move will help re-ignite the form that attracted Mourinho in the first place back in 2016.

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Liverpool

Liverpool 4-3 Manchester City: Three talking points from Anfield

Rob Meech

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Liverpool
Photo: Reuters

Liverpool ended Manchester City’s unbeaten Premier League record and climbed to third spot after breathtaking encounter at Anfield.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s fabulous early strike was cancelled out by Leroy Sane as the two teams went into the half-time break level-pegging. Three goals in nine second-half minutes looked to have given Liverpool an insurmountable advantage, with Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah all striking.

However, City mounted a late comeback and set up a grandstand finish thanks to goals from Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan. Liverpool, though, held on for a deserved victory as Pep Guardiola’s men suffered their first defeat of the campaign. Here are three talking points…

Rampant Liverpool turn on the style

If any fixture was going to prove City’s undoing, it was this one. Liverpool are unpredictable but when on top of their game, few teams can live with them. They were respectful of City but undaunted by the challenge they faced, taking the game to their opponents right from the kick-off.

In their first match since Philippe Coutinho’s departure to Barcelona, Liverpool showed the Brazilian is not irreplaceable. The Fab Four may have been reduced to three, but each of Mane, Salah and Firmino found the net. The movement and pace with which they attack is frightening, as City found to their cost.

Record signing Virgil van Dijk was ruled out of the clash and Liverpool’s defensive deficiencies were magnified in his absence, with recalled goalkeeper Loris Karius also unconvincing. The Reds are still a work in progress in that regard, but under manager Jurgen Klopp they are fast becoming a force to be reckoned with.

City succumb but remain in the driving seat

Many believed it was City’s destiny to become only the second Premier League team to go through a season undefeated, following Arsenal’s Invincibles of 2003/04. But such talk can now be consigned to the rubbish bin. Despite their sensational form, it would have been a monumental achievement not to lose a single fixture.

In one respect, Guardiola will be glad it has happened. Their advantage at the top of the table remains 15 points, albeit perhaps only for 24 hours, and there is no indication this result will spark a poor run of form. City fought back valiantly after the shock of conceding three times in quick succession, which will please the Spaniard greatly.

Guardiola was philosophical in defeat and recognised his side had played their part in a magnificent contest. Sometimes, a reality check is a good thing. City may no longer be invincible, but they are still the overwhelming favourites to be crowned Premier League champions in May.

Oxlade-Chamberlain is proving his worth

His Liverpool career did not start the way he would have imagined after completing a summer switch from Arsenal. In a quest to play regular football, Oxlade-Chamberlain moved to pastures new and hoped he would be rejuvenated. Initially, he struggled for game-time and his brief performance were often derided. As a result, he lost his place in the England squad.

However, Oxlade-Chamberlain is growing in stature and produced arguably his best display in a Liverpool shirt against the runaway Premier League leaders. Nothing builds confidence like a goal and his long-range strike that gave the Reds a ninth-minute lead did just that.

Playing in the central role he had coveted, Oxlade-Chamberlain was a dominant figure, using his strength and pace to great effect. His transfer to Liverpool was greeted with scepticism, but it’s clear to see that working under Klopp is having a positive impact. The former Southampton man will hope it’s enough to help him regain his place in the national team.

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Chelsea

Chelsea 0-0 Leicester City: Three talking points from Stamford Bridge

Rob Meech

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Chelsea
Photo: Reuters

Chelsea remain winless in 2018 after Antonio Conte’s misfiring charges recorded their third successive goalless draw.

Despite having a numerical advantage for the final 20 minutes following Ben Chilwell’s red card, the Blues could not find a winning goal against a Leicester City side that enjoyed prolonged spells of dominance.

Chelsea have now played more than 270 minutes of football in all competitions without scoring and have dropped to fourth place in the Premier League table as a result of Liverpool’s victory over Manchester City. Leicester remain eighth and continue their good form since Claude Puel’s appointment as manager.

Here are three talking points…

Chelsea’s goal scoring problems are mounting

Much has been written about Alvaro Morata’s goalscoring drought, which extended to five matches after he failed to register a single effort in this clash, but Chelsea’s goalscoring issues go much deeper.

Since the 2-2 draw against Arsenal on January 3, the Blues have failed to find the back of the net. None of the top six clubs have scored fewer than Chelsea’s current tally of 41 Premier League goals for the season.

There is no doubt the burden has rested heavily on Morata and when he was in fine form during the first few months of the campaign, Chelsea were often rampant. But the Spaniard’s barren spell has coincided with a downturn in the Blues’ effectiveness.

The problem for Conte is he has little faith in back-up striker Michy Batshuayi. There is no other obvious candidate to act as the focal point, although the Italian has previously experimented with a false number nine.

Defensively, Chelsea are very solid, but that counts for little when they fail to score.

Leicester grab a point despite Chilwell’s red

It’s not often a player receives two yellow cards in a matter of minutes, but that’s exactly the fate that befell Leicester’s Ben Chilwell.

After being cautioned for a foul on Willian, the Leicester man then received a second booking only five minutes later for bringing down Victor Moses.

Both fouls were fairly innocuous and Chilwell’s dismissal disrupted the Foxes’ performance, which had threatened to claim all three points at Stamford Bridge.

Leicester boss Puel was critical of Mike Jones’ decision to send off Chilwell, which may have come under more scrutiny had Chelsea gone on to win the game.

As it was, the visitors held out for a point, which was the least they deserved. Jamie Vardy twice went close to breaking the deadlock and Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois had to be alert throughout.

This was definitely not a rearguard display – Leicester created numerous chances and were keen to take the game to their high-flying opponents.

Tiredness to blame – Conte

Chelsea boss Conte blamed tiredness for his side’s failure to win for the fourth game in a row. This fixture came just three days after their Carabao Cup semi-final first leg against Arsenal, amid a run of seven games in 21 days.

The Blues return to action again against Norwich City for an FA Cup third round replay on Wednesday night. In total, Chelsea will play eight games in January after playing nine in December.

There’s no doubt it is a punishing schedule, but Chelsea are not alone in that regard. A club with their squad depth should be able to cope. Conte has rotated his squad, particularly for the cup games, and is sure to field a much-changed side for the Norwich replay.

Of course, if the Blues were winning matches there would be no need to raise the fatigue element as an excuse.

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