Premier League Review Round 15: Superb Silva, dominant De Gea and safe Sam

Prem 2017

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to December. Welcome to the feasts, festivities and the family feuds. Most importantly, welcome to the football. On this final month of 2017, the Premier League will delve into 6 rounds of tantalising drama. Apologies for the lack of PL Review for the previous match day; December can be one of the most busy as well as most wonderful times of the year. But fear not, this week we reflect on a round of fixtures which arguably produced the crowning battle of the season thus far…

Superb Silva

This was the weekend we look to the top of the tree. Manchester City were victorious (*systematically repeats) against David Moyes’ West Ham United. The Citizens have now recorded 13 straight victories in the league, matching the feat of Antonio Conte’s Chelsea last season, ironically who went on to lift the trophy in May. 8 points clear already going into December, they obtain a fantastic team-spirit, work-ethic and the resoluteness required to triumph in May. Another City comeback was required, quite the hallmark these days. Nicolas Otamendi equalised, but one player stood out amongst the talent.

Jamie Carragher on Sky Sports produced a bold statement. In spite of the magnificent Kevin De Bruyne and City’s prowling forward line, he singled out David Silva – the match winner – as the man for Pep’s side. Carragher claimed that Silva was Manchester City’s all-time greatest player. Frankly, no one can begrudge him of such accolade. There are an array of legends to choose from; Summerbee, Bell, Aguero, Toure, Goater. But Silva has been the linchpin in the most decorated era of City’s history. Since his arrival from Valencia in 2010, Silva has consistently showcased such a claim; look at his passing, his vision, the way he can weave between midfield and defence and how, on many an occasion, he has bamboozled opposition defences contributing goals and assists aplenty. His winner against West Ham, a sumptuous flick past a star-jumping Adrian after a superb burst onto a De Bruyne assist, demonstrates his willingness to work and synergy with fellow maestros. Carragher’s claim is a rightful one. Just look at Pep Guardiola’s reaction to Silva penning a new deal to 2020 this week, shaking his hand mid-signing. Guardiola like all of us see’s how vital Silva is to City’s interchanging fluidity, but also realises how lucky City and ultimately we are, to have him in the Premier League. The City faithful label him El Mago – the Magician. He is producing the spells that could lead City to the pinnacle, heights even Dumbledore himself dare dream of, a treble?

Some appreciation must be paid to West Ham and Moyes as well. They came to The Etihad and didn’t just park, they had a plan to prey on City’s chinks in armour. Dealing with balls into the box is becoming a bit of an issue for Guardiola, Southampton should have scored twice from corners in midweek and Angelo Ogbonna netted with a bullet header on the stroke of halftime. The energy of the side to get into Manchester City’s faces, plus better defensive organisation and counter attacking instinct can help Moyes to lift his side from a sombre defeat. Adrian was mesmeric between the sticks, providing a generous headache for Moyes on his goalkeeper selection for the upcoming London Derby against Chelsea. It was a display which hinted that The Hammers could have the iron to drag themselves away from trouble. However, as displayed at Everton, they can’t show a soft underbelly when falling behind, like they have on oh so many an occasion already.

Dominant De Gea

Arsenal versus Manchester United. Last season, it was fair to say this classic didn’t live up to the heights of the previous battles of old adversaries. But this season, oh my. An absolutely sensational game, the best of the season. The 3-1 defeat was unlucky on Arsene Wenger’s side. In attack they were slick and opened up Mourinho’s United rearguard on many an occasion. With 33 attempts on goal to United’s 8, Wenger can be right to feel aggrieved. He stated that United rode their luck at times, but acknowledged United’s counter-attacking ruthlessness, spearheaded by two goals from a rejuvenated Jesse Lingard, himself off the back of a mesmeric solo effort against Watford on Tuesday. There was one thing – for once – that Wenger and Mourinho could agree upon; the brilliance of David De Gea.

The Red Devils and Spanish Number 1 was bewilderingly excellent. He made a joint Premier League record of 14 saves in a game. The tagline ‘Dave saves’ could never be more appropriate. His performance in the view of his manager was ‘a world’s best’ and that’s hard to dispute. I’m unsure of De Gea’s ancestry, but with those reflexes a cat of some sort must be in there. There are too many masterpieces to select from, but his double save from the brilliant Alexandre Lacazette, palming away a firmly struck low effort with one strong wrist before sticking a foot out to deny Alexis Sanchez’s certain rebound was the pick of the best. He had no right to save the follow up, but De Gea simply has no regard for the norm. A truly awesome goalkeeper, worthy of being in the same ilk as Peter Schmeichel. It was vital for United to gain 3 points, it provides a glimmer of hope in their title aspirations. But their biggest test is to come, in a mouth-watering Manchester Derby at Old Trafford on Sunday. The dismissal of Paul Pogba was a dampener for Mourinho’s delight under the North London lights.

For Arsenal, Saturday’s defeat no matter how harsh was their 5th out of 15 league games. Despite the performance, they now have lost to Liverpool, United and City and drew at Stamford Bridge, taking 1 point against the current Top 4. For all attacking flair defensive frailties and – with dilly-dallying from Shkodran Mustafi which led to the second goal – arrogance was there for all to see. There was one example on Antonio Valencia’s opener in which 5 Arsenal defenders are drawn to the ball leaving Valencia in acres to drill home. I don’t understand how – with the defensive rock Steve Bould was in his playing days as Wenger’s assistant – Arsenal seem so unorganised. The form of Alexis Sanchez must also worry Gunners fans, his all round play wasn’t up to his exceptionally high standards and showcases a mind wondering elsewhere. The appreciation between Mesut Ozil and Jose Mourinho also reasserts being a matter of when, not if, the former Real player and manager will be reunited at United. A successful season for Arsenal must be either the Top 4 or Europa League and a Cup, the league even in December looks long gone.

Safe with Sam

Big Sam. Win on a Saturday, clean sheet, pint of vino, repeat. Did we expect anything different with Sam Allardyce returning to management? In the week he returned to Everton, The Toffees have scored 6 times and conceded no goals. An upturn in the form of Wayne Rooney – on the back of an inspired hattrick and an utterly stupendous halfway line effort against former gaffer Moyes – Gylfi Sigurdsson and Dominic Calvert-Lewin (both of whom netted against The Terriers) has helped to fill the supposed void left by Romelu Lukaku. At the back; in Jordan Pickford The Blues have an outstanding goalkeeping talent on their hands, one that should surely protect the English goal come the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Everton are still a way off where they want to be, considering the expenditure spent in the summer, but this is a start. Now in the Top 10 and looking upwards rather than below, they can go into Sunday’s Merseyside Derby with hope.

For David Wagner’s Huddersfield, it was another defeat on the road. I mentioned in the last review how in awe I was of the togetherness of the club and the energy and willingness displayed by the players, but ultimately they need to start showing ruthlessness in front of goal to prolong their Premier League fairytale. They have scored 9 times this season, nowhere near enough to survive, a lot of faith in The Terriers surviving will go on a stalwart defense. But if the opposition score first, Town haven’t shown much character or threat in getting back in the game, especially away from The John Smith’s Stadium. Huddersfield already have a ‘six-pointer’ coming up at home to Brighton on Saturday. Chris Hughton’s side also tasted a Merseyside masterclass from a ruthless Liverpool on Saturday, they like Town will be vying for revenge. If Wagner wins over Hughton, Huddersfield will be on 18 points, not a bad return approaching the halfway point. They need to capitalise, a defeat will leave Town fans feeling humbug rather than jolly coming into a packed festive calendar.

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Everton facing serious problems

Toffee Trouble

Everton’s 2-2 draw against struggling Crystal Palace was cited as a positive by stand in manager David Unsworth. Everton were behind twice in the game and the way the draw was achieved was in some ways impressive. However, Everton should be overcoming these challenges if they wish to get back to were they once were. Many problems are apparent at the club and the new manager that comes in, whoever that may be, faces a big challenge to turn the club around.

“It’s horrible for any coach to be sat there after one minute 1-0 down, but the lads were terrific and showed great fight and desire to come straight back and I’m very proud of them.” (David Unsworth)

Decline since 2014

While it is easy to look at recent issues the club is paying for a few seasons peppered with bad decisions. The 2013/14 saw manager Roberto Martinez finish 5th in the Premier League. Martinez improved the squad with 3 loan signings – Gareth Barry, Gerard Deulofeu and most importantly Romelu Lukaku. The on loan Belgian striker would prove vital for ‘the Toffees’ over a period of time. In his season on loan he top scored for Everton with 16 in all competitions.

Both Barry and Lukaku made their moves to Goodison Park permanent in the summer of 2014. Samuel Eto’o joined on a free and Brendan Galloway and Muhamed Besic made the move to the blue side of Merseyside that summer also. That took their summer spending to £36 million which is low for the quality of players they brought in.

Only 12 games were won in the Premier League for Everton in the 2014/15 season leaving them in 11th place. They were knocked out of the FA Cup and League Cup in the 3rd round and they reached the last 16 in the Europa League.

This represented a failure. No European football next season meant that Martinez was already under pressure going into the new season.

The same place finish, 11th, in the 2015/16 season saw Martinez’s employment with the club come to an end. Sub par recruitment and no sign of improvement were the reasons Martinez could not continue. While there was an improvement in the domestic cup competitions, Everton reached the semi finals in both, the lack of success in the league and failure to qualify for Europe was simply not good enough.

The new man coming in, Ronald Koeman, joined from Premier League rivals Southampton. Fortunes improved but certain problems were apparent. Lukaku had grown as a player, improved and was depended on highly by Everton to score goals. Koeman’s first season in charge saw Lukaku score 26 goals in all competitions. The closest rival he had in terms of goalscoring was Ross Barkley with 6 goals. Improvement in the league proved that the club were focusing on league objectives as they went out in both domestic cups in the 3rd round.

2017/2018 – A disaster so far

Interest in Lukaku was present for a long period of time. The summer transfer window saw him switch to Manchester United and Koeman had a serious problem. Money in the bank but teams knew they had it. Prices inflated and deals stalled. It was a tough time for the club and manager.

Big money was spent on Michael Keane, Davy Klaassen, Jordan Pickford and eventually Gylfi Sigurdsson. Wayne Rooney made a return to the club in an attempt to bring some star quality.

The biggest frustration during this period is the Ross Barkley situation. A real talent who was vital to Everton in recent times trying to force a move away and Koeman taking a hard stance. He made an example of Barkley and the situation was negative for the player, club and the manager, fatally, suffered from.

Now sitting 16th in the league and struggling for form David Unsworth is taking on managerial duties. Some time has gone by since the sacking of Koeman and still Everton have not replaced him with a permanent successor.

What went wrong?

A lot has to be said for the recruitment in the summer. There were some good signings in Koeman’s defence. Keane came in from Burnley. He is a good age and had been excelling at his previous club. Pickford is a superb goalkeeper and is only getting better. If Everton can build a solid defence in front of him they have the making of a solid unit at the back.

The big issue that ultimately found Koeman in trouble was the lack of income splashed out on a goalscorer. Lukaku had carried the team since his arrival. Without his goals the club would have found themselves in danger earlier. He scored goals and is a great hold up player. Holding it up brought players in deeper roles into the game and offered them space.

Rooney came in and given recent form it was clear he was not in a position to fill the void left by the Belgian. Sandro Ramirez came in from Malaga, but at 22 years of age and with little experience it would be too much to ask of him to start scoring regularly instantly. The signing of Olivier Giroud could have changed this, a move that Koeman said was close.

Creative players Klaassen and Sigurdsson have failed to make an impact. Klaassen has played 11 times in all competitions and failed to score and Sigurdsson has the single goal to show for his 16 games for his new club.

A major issue in the Everton side at the moment is the lack of pace. The front players are not the quickest and Rooney and Sigurdsson both drop deep and it can ease the pressure on the centre backs knowing that that space is vacant.

What does the future hold?

It will continue to be a difficult season for ‘the Toffees’. There is a real unbalance in the squad and goals will be difficult to come by.

Will they survive? Realistically there is far too much experience for the team to be relegated. The quality of the players at the club will lead them to a mid table finish and another season losing ground to the teams at the top of the table.

The new man coming in will have a job on his hands. It looks likely that Watford manager Marco Silva is the favourite, even though Watford are rejecting advances from Everton, but Unsworth is also fancied by the club. First choice for Everton was Sean Dyche but they have had no luck in luring him to Goodison.

It will not be a season to remember for Everton fans. This season will be a battle. If they can bring Silva to the club the future will be something to look forward to. The club has money and a decent foundation to build around. A manager of the calibre of Silva will bring fresh ideas and a stylish type of football. Whoever the new manager is their main priority will be bringing goals and pace to the side.

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Is Ross all Bark and no bite? 

Ross Barkley has finally cut the tension on his Everton future. Manager Ronald Koeman has announced that the midfielder, who came through the youth ranks at Everton in something of an explosion, wishes for a move away.

Is this wise? 

Koeman spoke of how Barkley made it clear he wanted a new challenge which Everton could not provide him.

But Barkley has failed to register that Everton have very much proved themselves a team in transition.

Since acquiring the services of Koeman amid a club takeover in June last year, Everton have hit heights the managed to reach under David Moyes.

Not content with simply qualifying for the Europa League for next season, Koeman has set about assembling a team of depth and talent. Already injecting £200m of fresh meat into his squad, he is preparing for an assault on the top four.

How this level of ambition has surpassed Barkley remains a mystery.

Is Barkley Worthy Of A Better Club? 

He was the heir to Wayne Rooney’s throne when he bounced onto the scene as a 19-year-old. His early performances suggested prodigious talent which needed to be nurtured gently.
As the seasons progressed, Barkley failed to live up to the early hype. Though his Premier League appearances suggest he is started more games, he is simply not performing.

Barkley’ stats in the Premier League over the last four seasons

Further to this, Everton value their number 8 at £50m. A frankly ludicrous sum of money only justified if Barkley had performed to expectation. It is anticipated that Everton will cash on him for considerably less rather than lose him for nothing in 12 months.

Where Does He Go Now?

Barkley has several options. His talents have not escaped the attentions of Spurs. But it is unlikely Barkley, on current form, could displace Dele Alli, a player with whom such comparison can be drawn to.

Arsenal are not out of the picture and appear a likelier option given the uncertainty surrounding several of their key men. The loss of European football will hurt their chances of buying heavyweight names. But Barkley may come out on top given the success of youngsters like Gael Clichy, Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie before him.

Can He Flourish?

Yes, of course. But he has a lot of hard work to put in wherever he goes.

 the table shows Ross Barkley’s output (above), next to Dele Alli’s efforts for Spurs (below)  

The fact that Alli has won back to back PFA Young Player Of The Year awards should be enough to kick Barkley into life.

He is like wildfire when he wants to be. He is rapid on the ball, intelligent with it, and has terrific positioning off it. But he has looked out of sorts of late. Consider then that he made the most appearances for Everton through the season, along with Romelu Lukaku and Ashley Williams, his side have succeeded with Lukaku and Idrissa Gueye at the forefront. Barkley meanwhile has been wasteful.

With Lukaku gone, Barkley could have provided a platform for his baptism of fire. But wherever he goes, he must still hope that his promise can be nurtured in the same way that Everton could have given him.

Can big signings make the Toffee’s sweet again?

Last season was a difficult one for Everton and new boss Ronald Koeman. Although they finished higher than the previous season, seventh place is not a good finish for the toffees and their new boss. Romelu Lukaku carried them all season scoring 25 goals in the league. Koeman is a quality manager and it’s only a matter of time before he has Everton firing again. He has certainly come out of the blocks this summer in terms of signing good quality players. If rumours are to be believed they are closing in on former player and teenage sensation Wayne Rooney as well as Olivier Giroud to replace Lukaku who it seems is almost certain to leave Goodison Park.

Everton first moved for English goalkeeper Jordan Pickford who had a wonderful season last year even though his team, Sunderland, were relegated to the Championship. A signing which immediately strengthens the Everton side. There is no doubt now that they have one of the best young goalkeepers in the world. Pickford perfrommed brilliantly in the under 21 Euro’s over the summer, where England reached the semi final stage. Pickford played in 29 of Sunderland’s largely ill fated premier league games and stood out making numerous saves in what seemed like every game. Even though he only kept four league clean sheets he finished second in the total saves statistics for the year. He made 135 saves, only six short of the top spot. Everton’s highest keeper on the list is Joel Robles who made only 54. Pickford is a huge upgrade on any goalkeeper Everton currently have and at 23 he has lots of time to improve.

They then swooped for Ajax star and captain Davy Klaassen soon after. They splashed out £24 million on the Dutch central midfielder. His preferred position is in an attacking midfield area however, he can play deeper though. The scary prospect here is that Klaassen often operates in a position similar to Ross Barkley, another player that is rumoured to be wanting a move away from Merseyside. Perhaps Klaassen will play deeper and Barkley will stay, that would be a fantastic outcome for fans of the Toffee’s. Klaassen performed well at Ajax who had a relatively good year. Reaching the Europa League final was a great achievement for the Dutch club and their captain was key in that success. All in all Klaassen played 50 times for his former club scoring 20 and creating 12 goals. If he can adapt to British football quickly he could make a flying start which would be important if Everton are hoping for a good year.

There was a little bit of time in-between the first two signings and the next two, but the second pair were like the first, in quick succession. Both Michael Keane and Sandro Ramirez joined in a hectic couple of days for Everton. Keane was heavily linked with rivals Liverpool as it became more and more apparent that the former Manchester United defender would leave Burnley. He had a great year at Burnley where he helped them achieve Premier League survival. He was key in doing so playing in 35 games in the Premier League for the Turf Moor team. In that time Keane helped Burnley to ten clean sheets, had a tackle success rate of 86% and made 260 clearances. He will bolster the Everton defence who have not recovered from the sale of John Stones to Manchester City. Keane, still only 24, will bring an experienced and dependable presence to Everton’s defence.

Sandro was heavily tipped to join Atletico Madrid this summer. However, the Spanish giants were hit with a transfer ban and the Spanish under 21 international was forced to look elsewhere for his move away from Malaga. His release clause meant that the ex Barcelona striker was an absolute bargain for anybody interested. Everton were clearly the most interested as they moved for the striker and have now confirmed him as a member of their squad. His preference is to play as a central striker but he can play on either flank. He scored an impressive 16 goals in 31 games for Malaga last season also offering 5 assists. At 21 he still has a lot to learn, especially coming to English football. The signs are all good at the moment though as he obviously has the ability. He may take some time to get used to the style of football here, but when he does he could score buckets of goals.

Everton have shown their intent with this flurry of signings. They have signed quality players who are still have a lot of years in-front of them. However, they all have experience at a high standard. It may take Koeman a little bit of time to gel the team together, but when it clicks Everton are going to be a tough team to stop. If rumours are true and they add experience and more goals to the squad the seventh place finish of last season can be improved upon.