In this week’s Premier League Review, we analyse how the newly-promoted sides are fairing amongst English football’s elite. Despite a weekend where all three lost, is there reason for optimism running into the Christmas calendar, or is this year’s festivities already looking a lost cause?
A Silva-lining for the Toon?
On Saturday, Newcastle United welcomed Marco Silva’s Watford to St. James’ Park. Described by the Newcastle Evening Chronicle as ‘Pygmies in a land of Giants’, Watford were looking to inflict a detrimental defeat against Rafael Benitez’s Magpies. This fixture stuck strictly to the form book; Watford have now won four consecutive games in the league on the bounce; whilst the Geordies are now firmly overlooking their shoulders, precarious of being sucked into the mire of the relegation zone.
Watford possess a setup that Newcastle fans must envy. Fluid, attacking vigour coupled with astute signings and an aspirational young coach. Will Hughes is seemingly starting to fulfill his prodigy status in the midfield, scoring in back-to-back games for the first time in his career. Through watching the game, you see in Richarlison and Marvin Zeegelaar that the Hornets now have the quality and pace up top to sting sides at their will; netting 22 times, the 6th highest total and only 18 off last season’s entire tally. They look like a side only likely to improve, given the youthful acquisitions and finally, a sense of stability at the club. They deserve the plaudits.
For Newcastle the return of captain Jamaal Lascelles and the mesmeric Mikel Merino is essential. Rafa is a coach with the nous to drag them away from trouble, but he needs the support from the boardroom. With a bid of £300m being tabled to Mike Ashley this week from PCP Capital Partners (headed by Amanda Staveley, who also helped ADUG to purchase Manchester City in 2008), a solution to the ownership requires a solution promptly. The side in front of goal obviously lacks Premier League quality. Transfers are a necessity, for the gates Newcastle receive, being the 5th lowest spenders before the season seemed bemusing. The determination to complete the takeover is the only merry news in a sobering month for Newcastle.
When City came to Town
When you looked at this fixture before Sunday, only one outcome was possible. Huddersfield were coming off the back of a 4-0 annihilation at the hands of a resurgent Bournemouth, whilst Manchester City were on a run of 10 consecutive league wins. It seemed a case of how many, rather than the result.
However, with that fanbase, David Wagner’s Terriers are always going to pose a threat at the John Smith’s Stadium. Town have only lost twice at home this season, to last year’s runners-up Tottenham and to City on Sunday. Two things impressed me; firstly the raucous atmosphere engineered by the Huddersfield faithful. With that intensity from the stands it is always likely to be reciprocated by the players on the pitch, producing shocks like the famous win over Mourinho’s United last month. The second asset to catch the eye is the defensive set up; organised and assured, they certainly at the back look stable, keeping five clean sheets in the process. Such exploits have even lead to muted calls for an international call-up for German and last year’s Championship Play-Off hero Christopher Schindler. I hope Town survive, it’s a spectacle to see how united the club is; from the chairman to the fans. The club’s tag is ‘The Pride of Yorkshire’, they are certainly endearing themselves to such a claim.
For Manchester City, in the words of Benjamin Mendy, ‘they keep eating’. They are the first side to win 11 consecutive matches in the league, but Sunday’s triumph could be a defining moment in the Citizen’s season. It was the first occasion since 1995 in which City came behind from a Premier League match at half-time to claim victory. Raheem Sterling produced another remarkable display; his work with Pep Guardiola over the summer is reaping rewards. With 12 goals in all competitions he has already usurped his career-best tally and on Sunday, he ran the Terriers ragged, winning a penalty before a fluky but deserved goal in the dying embers. City are not the full package yet, tests will surface over the packed Christmas fixture list and when injuries start to accumulate. But if it was Christmas Day with people dwelling on the feast, Manchester City would be the turkey, the showpiece with various combinations and an audience vying for more. They keep eating.
A Bright result to take forward
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho reserved significant praise for Chris Hughton’s Brighton and Hove Albion in his post-match interview. He claimed that Albion were United’s ‘hardest match’ of the season thus far; and that they ‘probably’ deserved more than the result they were inflicted. The press unanimously supported Mourinho’s interpretation, with good reason. Brighton were organised but were intent on causing the Red Devils food for thought, with Anthony Knockaert being unlucky in flashing an effort across the face of David De Gea’s goal. Summer signing Pascal Gross was a constant threat. Hughton’s Brighton side, unlike his former employers Newcastle, have defensive stability and an attacking threat to boot. Out of the three promoted sides, to me Brighton look like they have jelled the most within the Premier League, I don’t expect to see the Seagulls sinking come May.
For United, it took a deflected Ashley Young effort to produce a nervous three points. The goal was eventually credited to the unfortunate Lewis Dunk, a player who has scored own goals versus both Manchester side’s this season. Romelu Lukaku seems bereft of confidence and they attacking impetus, like in Basel, seemed limited. But it is another victory, to keep a waning title race alive, for now. United welcome City in a mouthwatering proposition at Old Trafford on December 10th. With 11 straight wins at home, coupled with only letting in 6 goals this term, they stand a chance of narrowing the 8 point gap. But a return to potency up front is a must, otherwise the moon over Mancunia will be beaming blue come the holiday’s.
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