It was another pulsating weekend of football in the Premier League, as Antonio Conte and Chelsea continued their charge toward the Premier League title with a late 2-1 victory at Stoke. Despite losing star striker Harry Kane to injury when on FA Cup duty, second-place Tottenham were able to keep pace with the leaders, with Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli handing them victory over Southampton.
Manchester United were comfortable winners on Teeside against Middlesbrough which saw them move up to fifth, leapfrogging a sorry Arsenal who slumped to a 3-1 defeat at the Hawthorns against West Brom. Manchester City and Liverpool remained third and fourth respectively after a fiery 1-1 stalemate at the Etihad.
Further down the table, Bournemouth were comfortable winners at home over Swansea, who remain in relegation trouble, as do Hull, who were humiliated on Merseyside in a 4-0 defeat by Everton. Crystal Palace earned a much-needed win at home to Watford, whilst Leicester City pulled clearer of trouble after winning a thriller 3-2 at London Stadium against West Ham.
But who stood out over the weekend’s match-ups to make it into our Pick of the Week for Gameweek 29 of the season?
Manager: Craig Shakespeare (Leicester City)
What a job this man has done since Claudio Ranieri’s controversial departure. Despite what may have been occurring behind the scenes at the club, the board’s decision that it was high-time for a change seems to have paid off. Their resurgence under Shakespeare is no longer so much of a surprise, but this week they got their first away win of the season, a 3-2 nail-biter at West Ham, with Shakespeare becoming the first manager in Premier League history to have his side score three-plus goals in his first three league games. He has also overseen victories in all four of his games in charge thus far, and seems to have re-ignited the fire within Riyad Mahrez, who looked something more akin to the player he was last season at London Stadium, netting the Foxes’ first, before combining with Marc Albrighton for the latter to craft the second for Robert Huth to score.
The reasons for Ranieri’s departure remain under dispute, but the transformation Leicester have undergone under Shakespeare since has been seamless. The former Number Two made history this week, and he is well worth his billing as Coach of the Week this time around.
Goalkeeper: Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester City)
Granted he may have shipped two goals, but equally, Kasper Schmeichel was a hero for Leicester in helping preserve the points, and the Foxes’ efforts would have come to little without him. He pulled out a superb stop to thwart Andy Carroll’s headed effort before a wonderful reaction save to keep him out later on, getting a strong hand to his volleyed effort after only parrying Robert Snodgrass’ free-kick in stoppage-time. He might’ve done better with Andre Ayew’s headed goal, but more than atoned for it later in the game, whilst Manuel Lanzini’s set-piece strike left him with no chance.
In a testing season for the defending champions, Schmeichel has been among their more consistent players and seems to have gone from strength-to-strength, like his team-mates, since Shakespeare has steadied the ship.
Right-Back: Craig Dawson (West Bromwich Albion)
Despite his role being more about preventing goals than scoring them, Craig Dawson saw fit to take advantage of Arsenal’s poor run of form at the Hawthorns, scoring two headers from almost identical set-piece situations to compound the Gunners’ misery and pile the pressure on beleaguered boss Arsene Wenger. Dawson also remained a cool head at the back for the Baggies, letting little get beyond him down the Arsenal left.
Centre-Back: John Stones (Manchester City)
A marked contrast to the game he had at Monaco during the week, John Stones looked back to his best in City’s home clash with Liverpool, putting in two crucial blocks and remaining a composed presence next to partner Nicolas Otamendi in increasingly testing conditions at a rain-swept Etihad Stadium.
Stones currently has the best average passing accuracy of any defender in the top-flight this season with 92%, which reflects his growing comfort in playing the ball out from the back. If he can stamp out taking risks within his own half across all competitions as well as just the Premier League, then City may be much closer to silverware and European success in the coming years.
Centre-Back: Mamadou Sakho (Crystal Palace)
Since Sakho’s arrival at Selhurst Park, a porous defence has hardened into an outfit ready to roll up its sleeves and do battle to keep the Eagles in the Premier League. The France international was indomitable in the air and made his presence felt on the ground as well against Watford, as Troy Deeney’s own goal secured the points and the South Londoners dug in for a clean sheet, so typical of Sam Allardyce’s teams. This latest clean sheet was their third in succession and moves them four points clear of danger.
Left-Back: Allan Nyom (West Bromwich Albion)
The Cameroon international not only did his defensive duties well in keeping Theo Walcott quiet but did a wonderful job going forward as the Baggies claimed a memorable Premier League scalp for the season by beating Arsenal. His work-rate going down the flank was exceptional, and he nearly got an assist to his name when he ventured down the flank and flashed a ball in towards Salomon Rondon, but the Venezuelan failed to react in time.
Right-Midfield: Antonio Valencia (Manchester United)
The Ecuadorian’s performance was one of chasing lost causes throughout, and it yielded all the rewards. His effort to put pressure on goalkeeper Victor Valdes completely ruffled the Spaniard’s feathers, and he subsequently slipped over to present Valencia an open goal to tap home for the visitors.
Such work rate made Valencia a tireless and potent force down the right-flank, a constant menace to Middlesbrough as he continually overlapped his midfielder and sought to provide balls into the box. The statistics also show that he has provided the most successful crosses of any United player this season, with a season total of 39 which found their target.
Centre-Midfield: Christian Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur)
For any worrying about the absence of Harry Kane, Sunday’s win over Southampton will have been of huge reassurance. Just as it was last time Kane spent time on the sidelines, Christian Eriksen was the man through whom everything good about Tottenham flowed, and he has remained one of the club’s most consistent players this season, creating a Premier League season best of 82 chances, including the assists he has registered.
His performance in the opening 45 minutes against Southampton was that of a player determined to prove a point in that Spurs did not need to rely on one player, and he broke the deadlock in fine fashion, with a well-taken strike that left Fraser Forster a mere spectator. Should Eriksen continue this form, Spurs may well seal a second-place finish, a first finish above their rivals Arsenal – who are a circus at the moment- for 22 years, and an FA Cup triumph may not be out of the question either.
Left-Midfield: David Silva (Manchester City)
It was a fast, frantic, and overall excellent encounter for the neutral as Manchester City ground out a home draw with Liverpool, and it was David Silva who once again was the beating heart behind City’s creative force, with Fernandinho pressing higher as the game went on to support him, and Kevin de Bruyne in creative mood alongside him as the three probed and passed through the Reds in midfield.
Since making his Premier League bow back in 2010, the Spaniard has registered 62 assists, the best return of any player in the top-flight, and he almost made it 63, after his chipped through-ball for Raheem Sterling found its target, but the youngster just couldn’t get the vital touch.
Right-Forward: Sadio Mané (Liverpool)
For all the good performances in the Manchester City camp during the 1-1 draw with Liverpool, the Reds themselves came up with a number of contenders for Team of the Week. The nod, however, must go to Sadio Mané, for when Liverpool did venture forward, it was the Senegalese who looked the most dangerous, interchanging between the flanks to give City’s full-backs a torrid time. He almost got on the scoresheet himself as well, when he found himself in on goal after his pace left Nicolas Otamendi for dead, only to dawdle when one-on-one with the goalkeeper, allowing Willy Caballero the time to fly off his line and claim the ball at his feet.
Centre-Forward: Romelu Lukaku (Everton)
It was a difficult game for the Belgian to settle into, possibly unsettled by the emergence of the news that he had refused to put pen to paper on a new deal with Everton, but he grew into the game following Tom Huddlestone’s bizarre sending off, laying on an assist and netting twice late on to kill the game.
His brace ensures that he becomes the first Everton player to net 20 or more goals in a season since one Gary Lineker managed it in 1985/86. The current Match of the Day presenter scored 30 goals that year, Lukaku is currently nine behind. Matching that record may not be at the forefront of his mind, but doing so would be some achievement. For now, though, Evertonians can appreciate the feat he has managed thus far, particularly so given that he may not be around those parts for much longer.
Left-Forward: Jesse Lingard (Manchester United)
When Jesse Lingard is in the mood, he looks to be some player, and that was certainly the case against Middlesbrough, as he netted his fifth Premier League goal for the Red Devils with a corker that left Victor Valdes with no chance.
The strike proved the winner, and such confidence in front of goal will need to be shown on a regular basis if United are to keep up their momentum amidst one or two injury troubles, but this display was good to be going on with, as Lingard and fellow youngster Marcus Rashford gave ‘Boro’s defenders a torrid time on Teeside.
Lingard is clearly a player with much potential, but all that he lacks is consistency. If he can incorporate that into his game, United will have created yet another young star.
Coach: Craig Shakespeare
Featured Image: All Rights Reserved by Mijss and Sir Thao and Phuc.
Has Leroy Sané been wrongfully dropped from Germany’s World Cup squad?
The 22-year-old will not be featuring in Russia.
It was today announced that the 22-year-old – who made Joachim Löw’s original 27-man provisional team – did not make the official 23-man tournament squad. This arguably comes as the biggest shock of the squad announcements so far.
Sané made 40 appearances this season in all competitions for City, scoring 14 goals and gaining 19 assists along the way in what was undoubtedly the best season of his career.
His performances and statistics were enough to gain him the Premier League’s ‘Young Player of the Year Award’ for the 2017/18 season, further adding to the surprise of his absence from Löw’s World Cup squad.
Germany’s record in recent tournaments is as unquestionable as the strength and depth they have within their squad. To make the final cut of Löw’s World Cup team is a feat within itself and Sané deserved that accolade this summer.
Making the squad at the expense of Sané; Mesut Özil (Arsenal), Sebastian Rudy (Bayern Munich), Julian Draxler (PSG), Mario Gomez (Stuttgart) and Timo Werner (RB Leipzig).
Sané has similar attributes to these five players which is why it is difficult to comprehend any argument for the City wingers absence.
With the exception of Leipzig’s Werner, all of the above scored fewer goals last season than Sané and, on top of that, every player also had far fewer assists than the City winger, with the next closest to him being Arsenal’s Özil with 12 (seven behind).
In fact, if you add Rudy, Draxler and Gomez’s assists together (13), you’d still have six fewer than Sane’s. Combine all of the major statistics relevant to an attacking midfielder/forward’s role, Sané is ahead of every name on this list.
It obviously isn’t all about the statistics, however, and when you consider the calibre of attacking teammates Sané had to work with this season, it is understandable why his personal statistics are so high.
However, a World Cup squad should be the 23 best men at that time to represent their country.
When you consider the jaw-dropping football Manchester City played in this record breaking Premier League season – and Sané’s significant impact in that – surely it is inconceivable to think that he is not within the best 23 players of his nation.
It is difficult to second guess an international manager with the record of Joachim Löw. However, compile all of the statistical evidence with the eye test and it is difficult to understand how Leroy Sané will not be representing Germany in Russia this month.
Manuel Pellegrini’s poor China record should give West Ham cause for concern
The Chilean international looks set to join the Hammers.
With spells at some of the world’s most successful clubs, the Chilean is certainly an impressive acquisition for the Hammers.
Yet Pellegrini’s most recent coaching assignment has been nothing short of mediocre, a sign that should slightly worry West Ham supporters.
Pellegrini officially left Chinese Super League side Hebei China Fortune on Saturday, after just under two years at the club.
The Chilean was appointed in August 2016 and registered an unspectacular record at the club.
Pellegrini’s first season ended with Hebei in fourth position, yet the club missed out on AFC Champions League qualification by one place.
This year, the team has taken a dramatic step back in the opening months of the season.
Under Pellegrini’s management, Hebei China Fortune currently sit eighth out of the 16-team Chinese Super League.
The side has only picked up just 15 points from 11 matches to date, a disappointing return considering Pellegrini has talents such as Ezequiel Lavezzi, Hernanes, and Gervinho at his disposal.
As the Chinese Super League is a far less important and internationally relevant league than La Liga or the Premier League, Pellegrini can perhaps be forgiven for not taking his job as seriously as his past assignments at Malaga, Real Madrid, and Manchester City.
Yet, his Chinese struggles are worrying nonetheless, as ideally West Ham supporters would like to be acquiring the services of a manager who enjoyed success at his most recent club.
In all, the ex-Manchester City manager still has a Premier League title to his name, a fact that makes his recent tough spell in Asia less concerning.
Nevertheless, Manuel Pellegrini’s underwhelming time at Hebei China Fortune reveals that the manager still possesses flaws and should not be expected to work immediate wonders at West Ham.
Record-breaking Manchester City show Pep Guardiola was right not to change his philosophy
The Spaniard won his first Premier League title in swashbuckling style.
When Pep Guardiola was appointed as manager of Manchester City in the summer of 2016 it is fair to say that his arrival was met with a mixed reaction throughout British football.
First, there was obvious excitement throughout the blue half of Manchester. Guardiola was widely regarded one of the best managers of his generation after trophy-laden spells with Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
He was renowned for the exciting, possession-based style of play that he implemented and the team that he built at the Nou Camp at the start of the twenty-first century produced some of the best football of the modern era.
Then there were the sceptics – and there were plenty of them. The comments were predictable and filled with clichés, unevidenced assumptions and meaningless jargon.
It was suggested that Guardiola had only won trophies with clubs where the race for the title was a two-horse race at best and that he had always inherited world-class players.
Furthermore, it was claimed that the Spaniard’s total-football philosophy would never work in the hustle and bustle of English football.
His technical style of play would come unstuck in the so-called ‘best league in the world’ and would not be effective on a cold, wet Tuesday night at places like Stoke City in front of a tribal, raucous home support.
In his debut season with Manchester City some of the negative predictions appeared to be coming true.
Despite winning all of their opening 10 games of the season under Guardiola, City experienced a poor run of form during the Christmas period that left them trailing their title rivals.
The team were unpredictable and inconsistent during the second half of the campaign and heavy defeats against Everton (4-0) and Leicester City (4-2) left many onlookers wondering if Guardiola had finally been sussed.
The Spaniard never shied away from the critics and he staunchly defended his philosophy despite some poor results and vowed that he would not change his style of play.
City finished the season without a trophy and the sceptics went into the summer proclaiming how they had correctly predicted Guardiola’s failure.
What a difference a year can make.
City’s last-gasp victory against Southampton on the final day of the season rounded off what has been a record-breaking campaign in which Guardiola’s team have swept aside all before them in the Premier League.
The list of achievements is remarkable.
City this season have set new records for most consecutive wins (18), most goals scored (105), most wins (32), most away points won (16), most points (100), the biggest goal difference (+79) and the biggest points gap (19).
Suddenly the sceptics are beginning to look incredibly foolish.
In truth, it is hard to remember a campaign in the modern era where one team has been dominant from start to finish in the way that City have been. Furthermore, not only have the won, but they have won with style.
Guardiola’s playing philosophy has clicked over the last twelve months, undoubtedly aided by effective recruitment during the summer, and the team have played with flair, energy, creativity, pace and innovation.
Opponents, barring perhaps Liverpool, have simply not found any way to combat City’s free-flowing football.
Critics will still point to an early exit in the FA Cup against Wigan Athletic, where City played most of the game with ten men, and defeat in the Champions League to Liverpool, where a poor first half at Anfield effectively ended the tie before it had begun, but the success of Guardiola’s style of play is undoubted.
No one is suggesting that the Spaniard needs to alter his philosophy to meet the demands of the English game anymore.
Instead, it is English football that will need to change in order to meet the challenge of Guardiola’s football revolution.
The concern for other Premier League clubs is that City are threatening to establish themselves as the new dominant force in the domestic game. There is nothing to indicate that Guardiola or the team that he has assembled will be loosening their grip on the Premier League trophy any time soon.
The future is bright. Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, John Stones, Leroy Sane, Benjamin Mendy, Bernardo Silva, Aymeric Laporte and Ederson are all under the age of 26. This is a group of players that is still improving and will be hitting the peak years of their career over the next half-a-decade.
Manchester City’s success this season is just the start of what could turn into a period of unrivaled dominance, further underlining that Guardiola was right not to change his philosophy.