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Why Vincent Kompany is far from finished at Manchester City

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Two unfamiliar sights were witnessed by the crowd at St Mary’s on Saturday afternoon. Manchester City’s captain, Vincent Kompany, scored, and perhaps more remarkably, completed his second set of 90 minutes in as many weeks.

The Belgian international put in a man of the match display as the Citizens disposed of a frustrated Southampton side 3-0. But, as crucial as the three points were for City in their quest for Champions League football, another rare appearance of their skipper was even more significant.

Kompany has started just 21 of Manchester City’s last 102 games, and his influence has been severely missed. Prior to the Southampton game, City had kept just eight clean sheets in the league this season. Kompany’s commanding influence ensured that stat increased to nine, with a masterclass at both ends of the pitch.

The two-time Premier League champions have often looked frail at the back in their captain’s absence this season, and his commanding display showed glimpses of what might have been this season for Guardiola’s men. The centre-half’s performance oozed quality, leadership and determination. There can be no doubting the big Belgian’s class.

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The FA Cup may still be on the cards for the Sky Blues, but had Kompany been fit for the majority of this season who knows how well they might have fared in the league and in Europe.

Not only did the 31-year-old produce an imperious display at the back, but he also managed to net his first Premier League goal since he scored in the 3-0 win over Chelsea, back in August 2015.

The goal was trademark Kompany, forcing a header home from David Silva’s corner. But it was the celebration, which held a resemblance to the goal the captain scored against Manchester United on the way to City’s first Premier League triumph, that was perhaps most pertinent.

The skipper’s overwhelming jubilation was obvious as he ran, free from the shackles of injury, towards his adoring fans. However, this time it was a celebration of both his goal and his fitness.

A man described as “top quality” by his manager, shows no intention of giving up on his hopes of leading City to a third top-flight crown in the near future. Kompany and City fans alike will be hoping this is just the start of a long run of appearances, free of injury.

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Many Mancunians will have left St Mary’s in a jovial mood on Saturday, but Kompany’s complete defensive performance will have left many wondering whether their side would have experienced the same hardships this season with their captain present.

But, on a more positive note, Manchester City have taken another big step towards securing Champions League football for next season, and Guardiola will be buoyed by the performances of his players – especially his captain.

After Saturday’s excellent display, the footballing world will be eagerly awaiting to see if City’s convincing victory was a sign of Kompany re-igniting his stuttering career, and a demonstration of his enduring ability that may yet lead the Citizens to more silverware.

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West Bromwich Albion

Three reasons West Brom are facing the realistic possibility of relegation

With West Bromwich Albion languishing at the foot of the Premier League table, seven points from safety, Martyn Cooke investigates the three factors that are likely to lead to relegation for the Baggies this season.

Martyn Cooke

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Photo: Reuters

It is fair to say that the events of the past two weeks have signalled another low point for West Bromwich Albion in what has been an increasingly turbulent and chaotic season that, barring a repeat of the 2005 ‘great escape’, appears set to culminate in relegation.

On the pitch a heavy defeat against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge left the Baggies rooted to the foot of the Premier League table, seven points shy of safety, whilst any temporary relief that an FA Cup run may have provided was swiftly ended after Southampton’s victory at The Hawthorns.

The immediate future looks bleak and it will take a herculean effort from Alan Pardew and his players in the closing months of the season to preserve the club’s top-flight status.

However, West Brom appear determined to complicate matters for themselves by continuously shooting themselves in the foot through controversies, accusations and sackings off the pitch.

Owner Lai  Guochuan wielded the axe by sacking his two most senior executives last week, with chairman John Williams and chief executive Martin Goodman both paying the price for the Albion’s nightmare season.

On the same day it was revealed that four senior players had broken a club curfew during their warm weather training camp in Spain and were accused of stealing a taxi following a late-night drinking session, although none of them will face legal action due to a lack of evidence, reports BBC Sport.

The club now stands on the brink of relegation with uncertainty in the boardroom and off-field antics by senior players underpinning a campaign that has been characterised by poor performances on the pitch.

Here, The Boot Room highlights three reasons why the Baggies are facing a return to the Championship.

Managerial sackings, appointments and mistakes(?)

When Tony Pulis arrived at the Hawthorns in January 2015 he became the club’s fourth manager in the space of a year, yet the former Stoke City and Crystal Palace boss was able to achieve a moderate amount of success whilst in charge of the club.

The 60-year-old led The Baggies to 13th, 14th and 10th in the Premier League table during his first three seasons and the club also made a bright start to the current campaign.

However, Pulis will always remain a somewhat divisive figure for the style of play that he employs, which results in a team that is defensively solid but is reliant on long, direct balls into isolated forward players.

It is the kind of football that is unattractive and unappealing to supporters, yet there is a willingness to accept it as long as it generates results.

Therefore it came as little surprise that West Brom fans, and subsequently the club hierarchy, lost patience with Pulis after a run of 10 games without a win in the autumn.

The Welshman was sacked in November and was quickly replaced by former Newcastle United and Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew.

However, his arrival has failed to stimulate an upturn in results or performances at The Hawthorns and the 56-year-old has secured just one win from his first 13 Premier League contests.

There was an almost unanimous agreement around the club that it was the right decision to sack Pulis, but Pardew’s failure to transform the club’s fortunes has left many external onlookers questioning whether the Welshman would have been a better bet to guide the Baggies to safety.

A more pertinent question perhaps is why Pardew was seen as the best choice for the role in the first place?

It appears that the decision to appoint him combined with continuing poor results has cost chairman John Williams and chief executive Martin Goodman their jobs.

A lack of goals

The primary issue for West Bromwich Albion on the pitch this season has been their inability to find the back of the net.

The Baggies have scored just 21 goals in the Premier League this season and only one other team, Swansea City, have found the net less this campaign.

The club has been desperately short of quality in the final third and simply lack an out-and-out goal scorer to convert the handful of chances that are created by a relatively uninspiring midfield unit.

Salomon Rondon has led the forward line for much of the campaign but has been increasingly isolated, inconsistent and simply does not look confident in front of goal.

Meanwhile, Jay Rodriguez, who arrived in the summer form Southampton, missed a large chunk of the season through injury but has shown glimpses of returning to form.

The pair have scored just four Premier League goals each this term – a poor return from two players who have performed much better in previous years.

West Brom’s struggles are highlighted by the fact that Jonny Evans and Ahmed Hegazi, two central defenders, are the club’s next highest scorers.

The arrival of Daniel Sturridge on loan from Liverpool in January was supposed to solve Alan Pardew’s goal scoring dilemma, but the 28-year-old lasted only three minutes on his first start against Chelsea before limping off with a hamstring injury.

It is unclear how much direct involvement the striker will have for the remainder of the season and the club’s decision to place all of their eggs in one basket appears to have backfired badly.

Off-field issues

The poor performances on the pitch this season have been exacerbated by West Brom’s apparent determination to stumble from one controversy to the next off of it.

First, the club were left shocked after the FA charged striker Jay Rodriguez with ‘using abusive and/or insulting words, which included a reference to ethnic origin and/ or colour and/or race’ after an incident with Brighton and Hove Albion defender Gaetan Bong last month, as reported by the Birmingham Mail.

Both the club and the striker vehemently deny any allegations of wrong doing, but it simply adds to the feeling around the Hawthorns that nothing is going right this season.

It was then revealed that four senior players missed a club curfew during the Baggies’ warm weather training camp in Spain last week and that they had been accused of stealing a taxi.

Gareth Barry, Jonny Evans, Jake Livermore and Boaz Myhill were interviewed, but not arrested by police after the incident and are unlikely to be charged due to a lack of evidence.

The quartet have since publicly apologised for their behaviour, whilst Alan Pardew admitted that the actions of his players were “unacceptable” and that he “felt a bit let down”.

The constant deluge of issues on and off the field has left West Brom supporters just wondering what else can go wrong for them this season.

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Manchester City

Manchester City left rattled after Wigan defeat: Is there still hope for their rivals?

After Manchester City’s Monday night defeat to Wigan Athletic, Martyn Cooke questions whether there is still hope for their rivals in the race for silverware this season.

Martyn Cooke

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Photo: Reuters

For much of this season Manchester City have appeared almost unstoppable with Pep Guardiola’s side nonchalantly brushing aside both domestic and European opposition with apparent ease.

This is demonstrated by City’s sixteen-point lead at the top of the Premier League, their progress to the League Cup final and the knock-out stages of the Champions League – all of which have been achieved without breaking sweat.

Guardiola is undoubtedly building something special at the Etihad and the exciting, dynamic and extravagant attacking style of play that he has implemented is something that should rightly be applauded.

The Spaniard looks certain to begin re-filling City’s trophy cabinet this season, after his debut season in English football ended without silverware, and his team’s performance this campaign continues to enhance his reputation as one of the leading coaches in the modern game.

City have been the proverbial run-away train this season and a host of the most prominent club’s in England and Europe have so far been unable to so much as dent their armour.

However, where others have failed, League One side Wigan Athletic succeeded on Monday evening as Will Grigg’s late goal knocked City out of the FA Cup.

It was a night that City lost their composure both on and off the pitch.

Fabian Delph’s red card in first half stoppage time was debatable, although admittedly his challenge was reckless and could have easily have been avoided, but it set the tone for the evening.

On the pitch, City dominated possession despite their numerical disadvantage but were unable to break down their resilient hosts before Kyle Walker’s mistake gifted Grigg the opportunity to be Wigan’s hero for the evening.

Off the pitch Guardiola appeared to lose his composure on the touchline immediately after Delph’s sending off and was embroiled in a confrontation with Phil Cook that continued in the tunnel as the team’s headed for the dressing rooms at half-time.

The final whistle sparked a pitch invasion from the home supporters that saw Sergio Aguero confronted by a Wigan fan as he attempted to leave the field.

The Argentinian appeared to swing an arm in response and was clearly unhappy by whatever he had seen or heard, with the stewards and police nowhere to be seen.

Meanwhile, a small group of City supporters reacted to the pitch invasion by hurling bottles, coins and advertising hoardings.

It was all rather unsavoury, from all parties involved, and it will not go down as one of City’s most memorable evenings.

Clutching at straws?

On Monday evening, for arguably the first time this season, City looked rattled.

Credit will go to Wigan Athletic, who were organised, resilient and able to capitalise on the numerical advantage that they were handed, but this result will also provide City’s rivals with a timely boost.

This was a reminder that Pep Guardiola’s side are not an invincible force and that they can be beaten.

For the first time a chink has appeared in City’s armour.

Guardiola and his players will not have time to digest Monday’s defeat and now head into a challenging run of fixtures that will possibly determine their season.

On Sunday they have an opportunity to claim the first silverware of the season when they face Arsenal in the League Cup final before facing The Gunners at the Emirates Stadium five days later in the league.

Then there is Chelsea and the second leg of their Champions League tie against FC Basel at home, before potentially tricky back-to-back away games at Stoke City and Everton.

If City’s season is going to unravel then it will happen over the next month or so.

However, the upcoming run of fixtures also provides City with an opportunity to win silverware, further cement their position at the top of the Premier League and capitalise on a four-goal advantage from the first leg of their Champions League tie against Basel.

Even a handful of defeats would not necessarily totally derail their season.

In effect here, we are clutching at straws, but Wigan provided a glimmer of hope that City’s dominance can still be stopped.

It may seem unlikely, but the dent that the Latics made in the armour of Guardiola’s side is the first sign of weakness or frailty that we have seen all season.

Guardiola and his side may still romp to a treble by the end of the campaign, but a League One side had provided the Premier League and clubs in the Champions League that there is still plenty to play for this season.

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Newcastle United

Mohamed Diame becoming a fan favourite in Newcastle United’s Premier League turn around

Mohamed Diame has changed his fortunes at Newcastle United in recent weeks becoming a key player in the Magpies Premier League survival bid, writes Jake Jackman.

Jake Jackman

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Diame
Photo: Reuters

It has gone under the radar and received little publicity in the national press, but the turnaround of Mohamed Diame’s season has been sensational to watch.

The Senegalese international has been a regular for Newcastle United since their return to the Premier League and is often picked ahead of Mikel Merino and Jonjo Shelvey, both of whom are well liked by supporters.

That cannot be said of Diame, at least until very recently.

During the team’s nine-match losing run towards the end of 2017, the midfielder was a regular starter and was a main target for the fans’ anger.

Against Everton, he was booed off the pitch after being substituted and at that time, it became difficult to see a future for him in the team.

He was offering little and his languid running style made him appear lazy.

This was a player that had once been very good in the top-flight, but two seasons in the second tier had taken its toll.

The judgement was that he was no longer good enough to compete in the Premier League.

Despite arriving as an established Premier League player, Diame had struggled to make a good impression on the Newcastle supporters during his first season with the club.

It had been anticipated that he would stand out as one of the best players in the Championship and dominate matches from midfield.

However, he was in and out of the team, ultimately failing to become a regular fixture in the starting eleven.

The year prior to joining Newcastle, he had helped Hull City to promotion and his experience was a key reason why he was targeted by Rafa Benitez.

During the 2015/16 season, he contributed ten goals and four assists as the Tigers went straight back up to the top-flight.

It was a goal from range in the play-off final from the midfielder that clinched promotion and it was regarded a coup that the Magpies managed to sign him the following summer.

Diame clearly thought the long-term future at St James’ Park was brighter than the one on Humberside and nearly two years’ on, that has been confirmed.

Newcastle are now back in the Premier League, while Hull are fighting against relegation in the Championship.

Although he had to give up on a year of Premier League football, the Senegalese international is now benefiting from the decision.

It was thought that Diame would provide drive to the midfield and be able to contribute goals and assists.

During the Championship-winning season, the midfielder got only three goals and three assists.

He was predominantly played as a number ten with attacking license, so his poor return in the final third was somewhat a surprise, especially coming off the back of a great campaign in the same division.

There were some calls from supporters to sell the midfielder during the summer and if Benitez had been given a larger budget to spend, it may have led to the departure of Diame.

Due to his lack of impact in the Championship, there were doubts as to whether he could offer much at all in the Premier League.

Although his contributions on the ball weren’t great, the 30-year-old is a hard-working player and that goes a long way with his manager.

The Magpies’ boss knew that the former Hull City player was someone that he could rely on and that was a reason why he was kept for the current campaign.

Since the beginning of this season, Diame has featured prominently, but it was not until recently that he was a regular in the first eleven.

He has played 20 times for Newcastle in the Premier League and 12 of those appearances have come as a starter.

The midfielder made his first league start of the season against Burnley in October and this marked the start of an atrocious run for the Magpies.

They went on to take only one point from a possible 27 and Diame played in six of those matches, including starting against Watford and Everton.

These were regarded as two of the worst performance of the season and the 30-year-old was scapegoated as a result of coming into the team at the wrong time.

He will be the first to admit that he wasn’t at his best, but he wasn’t the only player at fault.

When he was substituted in the match against Everton, he was booed off by his own supporters and it became difficult to see a way back for him at St James’ Park.

However, his manager never lost faith in him and he was given the start against West Ham United days before Christmas.

Newcastle desperately needed a win, but few supporters expected one.

Diame was excellent at the London Stadium as he completed five ball recoveries and scored the second Magpies’ goal with a lovely finish.

That performance kickstarted the midfielder’s season and he has started seven of the eight Premier League matches since.

He has become one of the first names on Benitez’s team-sheet and few would have expected that after the Everton game.

During this spell, he has scored twice and consistently performed to a high level.

In the most recent match against Manchester United, Diame dominated the midfield area alongside Jonjo Shelvey.

The former made six ball recoveries, while his midfield partner made the same number.

However, the 30-year-old was as effective on the ball as he was off it, as shown by his three key passes during the match.

That was more than any other player on the pitch.

The resurgence of Diame at Newcastle has been mind-blowing and one of the key reasons for the turnaround has been Benitez moving him back into central midfield.

For the first 12-months of his Magpies’ career, he was played in a number ten role and the game often passed him by.

Now, he is in the thick of the action and thriving with the increased responsibility.

If he is able to continue his good form and help Newcastle retain their Premier League status, he will become a favourite on the terraces.

That seemed impossible two months ago.

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