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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Brilliant De Bruyne favourite for Premier League Player of the Year

Brilliant De Bruyne favourite for Premier League Player of the Year


Pep Guardiola has had phases in his, so far short, time at Manchester City when people have assumed he had cracked it. Premier League football is a new challenge for the Spanish manager and questions have been raised if the style of football he is adamant on playing would be successful in England. The start of last season saw a dominant start and it has been similar this year. A change in formation has lead City to play some truly great football, the results have not been bad either. Central to the success of the new system is Belgian attacker Kevin De Bruyne. The ex Chelsea man seems to be the early front runner for the Player of the Season in England’s top division.

De Bruyne has dropped deeper on the new system being put into place at the Etihad Stadium. The change in his position has confirmed what many football fans believed. He is a true all round footballer. He can dribble and get forward but his ability to pick a pass and keep the midfield ticking over is accentuated in his deeper role. He gives City something extra forcing the best out of his team mates. The Belgian international is in the process of negotiating a mega deal with Manchester club who are desperate to keep him.

Jose Mourinho was the Chelsea manager who let him leave England for Wolfsburg in Germany. At the time Chelsea had a wealth of talent in the attacking areas and De Bruyne was not at the standard of other youngsters at the club. This happens in football and it is not necessarily a Mourinho mistake, it was a brave decision from the play-maker. It is a nod to De Bruyne’s strong mentality. Plenty of players would be at a club like Chelsea and be willing to sit on the bench, collect wages and consider themselves a success. Not De Bruyne. He went to a less prestigious team and in turn he developed his game through first team football. It would be a scary decision for any professional player to risk their career in the pursuit of game time.

It worked for De Bruyne as he has immense class and grace on the football pitch. City fans will be over the (blue) moon that they are the ones who have the Belgian wonder in their team. His strength is getting the best out of the players in front of him. When he has stars like Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane who are of the highest quality without a player as slick as City’s number 17 behind them. Taking all this into account it is easy to see why Manchester City are amongst the favourites for the Premier League crown.

One thing is for sure – Manchester City are one of the best teams to watch in world football at this moment in time. Their recent run of scoring goals at stupendous rates means that opposition defences must be quaking in their boots at the thought of facing them. De Bruyne has 2 goals and 7 assists in 11 appearances so far this season and there are no signs of it slowing down any time soon. De Bruyne, if current form continues, will be hard to beat to the Premier League player of the year award. And if he does continue in this fashion he will have a Premier League winners medal to show for this seasons efforts. He is the key to Pep’s new City side.


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Pep putting City pieces together

PEP


The early headlines of the 2017/18 Premier League season were dominated by their Manchester rivals but a period of dominance has switched the attention back to Manchester City. It began with the 5-0 dismantling of 10 man Liverpool which sent Pep Guardiola’s men to the summit of the table, of only until Manchester United drew with Stoke City. A quality display away at Feyenoord in the Champions League and a 6-0 thrashing of Watford followed and reinstalled excitement at the Etihad. The three match spell has seen them score 15 goals without reply. Guardiola has made suitable changes to his system and we will take a look at what has helped them click.

Two up top

The signing of Gabriel Jesus, who arrived in January 2017, threatened to dethrone Sergio Aguero as the king of goals at City. The Man City boss even informed the press that Aguero could leave just a month after Jesus’ arrival. After Aguero struck a hat-trick against Watford Guardiola, who seems to have gone full circle on the Argentine striker, hailed him a club legend. He is now in position to take over as City’s all time top scorer needing just two goals to overtake Eric Brook.

Fitting both players in the team seemed impossible and it was suggested that Jesus may be shifted out wide. However, Guardiola has found a way to get both players playing centrally in his new system. The pair offer a constant threat and a thorough test for any defence. Reports suggest that the pair get on very well which shows on the pitch. Aguero’s movement and ability to find a yard to get a shot off with his acceleration coupled with Jesus’ direct running and sharp skills work well together.

Fernandinho

Vital to this system is the defensive midfielder. Holding down that position of late has been Fernandinho who plays a restricted role allowing the other midfield players to get forward and create chances for the dynamic front two. He drops back between the central defenders when needed and distributes the ball while holding his position. The role that the holding midfielder plays in this system is one of the most important for City as the discipline allows the more advanced players to focus on attacking.

Narrow Midfield

City are operating with three central midfielder in front of the holding midfield player. The three players are able to move into space and drift into channels because of the role the defensive midfielder plays. David Silva has been able to slot into this role with ease as his creative play and movement off the ball flourish when he does not have to think too much about going backwards.

The narrow midfield currently employed compliments the style of football Guardiola demanded at Barcelona. The freedom available in the middle of the park saw Raheem Sterling play in the central midfield area against Watford. Pass and move is key to the Pep way and with three players who are creative playmakers allow the team to play with sufficient flair and fluidity which will please the boss.

Attacking Full Backs

An area that has been heavily invested in at City is the full back area. Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy and Danilo all came in. The narrow midfield encourages the full backs to bomb on and the players Pep has brought in do not need much of an invitation to do so. Walker has done it for Tottenham in the Premier League before and is settling into life at his new club with minimum fuss. Fernandinho performing so well in his new role allows Walker and whoever plays on the opposite flank the freedom to go forward knowing the Brazilian and the central defenders are covering the counter attack.

Deeper De Bruyne

Kevin De Bruyne is one of the stand out players in the Premier League. His ability to pick a pass, beat his man and create chances single him out as one of the most dangerous midfielders playing in England today. Preferring to play as a 10 he has been forced to play out wide in the City team for sometime. This new system may not put him behind the strikers but at least he plays more centrally. Dropping deeper highlights his range of passing and understanding of the game. They system gives him the freedom to roam around the pitch, move into channels and get forward. He makes City play and the system suits him.

Potential Issues

The big question – will Pep stick to this in the big games? At Old Trafford, at Stamford Bridge, at Anfield? Even in the deeper stages of the Champions League. Or will he revert to his back three which he started the season with? It is hard to say at the moment. The system is unique and it is catching teams by surprise. There are holes in it and more disciplined teams with quick players of their own will be able to turn Man City around and hit them on the break.

With the formation being so reliant on individuals, particularly whoever holds the midfield, it only takes certain individuals to have a bad game for everything to go wrong. It will be interesting to see what happens when City are on the back foot. Will they continue with this system or go to something more conventional?

Conclusion

The excitement around Manchester City when Pep Guardiola arrived is finally being realised. Recent results push them to wrestle away the favourites tag in the Premier League from all their rivals. The system is working. The quality of football is of the highest order. Can they be stopped? Only time will tell.


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Players to watch 2017/18 – Pep’s Brazilian wonder


It was a great way to introduce yourself. Gabriel Jesus arrived with a bang after completing his switch to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City after it was confirmed in the summer. He started two games scoring three and creating one before being injured. City’s season could have been different if the new Brazilian superstar would have stayed fit. This year he will be crucial to whatever ‘the Sky Blue’s’ achieve. Just how good can he be?

At the age of 20 he is still very young in football terms. The way he came in in January you would have expected him to haven played at the top level for some time. His raw skilful style bamboozled defences in the Premier League. His debut came against Tottenham at the Etihad Stadium. While he did not influence the game in a major way by scoring or assisting he gave Tottenham headaches. He ran at players and was not afraid to get on the ball and try and influence proceedings.

If cameo against Spurs got City fans excited his first start against West Ham must have cemented their belief he would be a star in the Premier League. He stepped up and tore West Ham apart. Even though ‘the Hammers’ struggled last year his performance almost single handedly won City the three points. He scored once and teed up Kevin De Bruyne to finish. Again his movement and pace really made experienced defenders look foolish.

He picked up where he left off when Swansea visited Manchester. He scored both goals in a 2-1 win. He looked quick again and moved into channels to get the best out of his game. Another great performance and the title was back on the lips of City supporters. Then an injury came 15 minutes into City’s away game at Bournemouth. Imagine what would have happened to Pep’s City side if they did not lose their talented youngster for seven games? He would have improved their finishing place that is for sure.

Jesus came into a City side that were starting to advance in years. The earlier stages of the season were brilliant. They took off at some speed but it seemed to catch up to them and inconsistency crept in. The Brazilian magician breathed new life into the squad and it showed. He revolutionised the football being played by the blue side of Manchester.

It was similar business when he returned from injury. Five more starts, four more goals and three more assists meant that Jesus picked up where he left off. It took his tally of goals and assists to seven and four respectively. He has developed a reputation which could see the young Brazilian become one of the leagues best players this season.

He bring City something they have been lacking for a while. Sergio Aguero has been brilliant for the Manchester club but he does not fit the type of football Guardiola wishes to play. Aguero gets you goals but Pep wants more, he wants style. Jesus has great players around you. De Bruyne, David Silva and Raheem Sterling played with him last season and new play maker Bernardo Silva will look forward to linking up with Jesus. The 20 year old attacker must be a dream to play with for creative players like these.

Gabriel Jesus will play a lot of games for Manchester City. He will give City fans hope this season that they have a seriously special player who will flourish the more he plays. They should feel excited! He has the potential to be a superstar in world football and with the coach and the style of football he demands – the future looks bright for the Citizens’ Gabriel Jesus will be a star this season and for a long time to come. English football is in for a treat watching him.

Do England need Raheem Sterling to fire?

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It was the opening game at England’s 2014 World Cup. Italy were the opponents. In the first five minutes of the game Raheem Sterling picked up the ball just inside the Italians half and moved forward. An Italian player, as you would expect, closed him down. The Englishman easily skipped by him and carried on driving towards goal. He reached about 30 yards out and fired a shot just wide. I remember celebrating as it seriously looked as if he had beaten Gianluigi Buffon. As we all know it had not and England lost the game 2-1. At the time Sterling was only 19 years of age and seen as the future of our national team. After the game Italian star Andrea Pirlo revealed that Sterling was the only player on the pitch that caused him problems. He went on to voice his opinion on his opponent who he described as very talented. What has happened since the 2014 World Cup for Sterling? Has he fulfilled the expectation that was put on him?

Sterling returned to Liverpool after his time with the national team, Liverpool had just missed out on winning the league the season before. He had created a great understanding with Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez to pose a real threat on any defence in the league. Sterling started the season in fine form. He scored and provided an assist in Liverpool’s first game against Southampton. After the first five games of the campaign he had scored three goals and played in a variety of positions. He had played down both wings and as a central attacking midfielder. His electric speed posing a real threat in any area he could isolate his defender. After a bright start the young attacker failed to impress as Liverpool hit a poor run of form. They failed in Europe dropping into the Europa League after the group phases and only being playing in the one tie in Europa before being eliminated. They finished sixth in the league and reached the semi-finals of both English cups. Sterling as an individual performed steadily being involved in 52 games scoring 11 goals and creating 10. This attracted interest from other clubs.

Sterling handed in a transfer request in July 2015. His new destination was not too far away, just over the M62 to Manchester, the blue section. Sterling had wanted to leave Liverpool for a while and finally he got his move away. In City he arrived at a team that had just missed out on the title. Sterling’s first season with his new club was an average one for both parties. City finished fourth in the league, won the league cup and reached the semi finals in the Champions League. Sterling scored six goals in the league that season. But in certain games he sparked into life and showed why everybody expects so much from him. He scored a hat-trick against Bournemouth at the Etihad in a game where he was genuinely unplayable. He also inspired City to win in their home fixture against Borussia Monchengladbach. City won the game 4-2, Sterling created one and scored two. These flashes of brilliance that Sterling displays show what he could become given the right training and developing the correct mindset.

The next season saw the arrival of Pep Guardiola. Something changed in Sterling’s game when Pep arrived. While his goal scoring efforts remained similar to his previous returns his assists levels went through the roof. He scored ten goals in all competitions but achieved 21 assists. That kind of return is an achievement in itself. City’s season was one to forget but Sterling was definitely a shining star. From an English perspective having him work with Guardiola is something we should all be excited about. While he has struggled in his first year in English football, highlighting just how competitive the Premier League is, his influence on players cannot be denied. He has nurtured some of the top talent in football in his time at Barcelona and Bayern Munich. If he can help Sterling reach a new level it would certainly benefit the national side. However, the signing of Bernardo Silva signals competition for the England star. With City releasing Jesus Navas they have replaced him with a much more potent threat to Sterling’s first team place. They also welcome back Patrick Roberts after a successful loan spell at Celtic. Raheem has started 30 games plus a season in both campaigns as City. Now the blues have options in wide areas and competition for places is rife. Sterling has the ability to play in several positions, this could work in his favour or against him.

Sterling is a fantastic talent, nobody can deny that. His pace and agility make him a huge threat to any defence. It is his final product that lets him down. If he can add a few more goals to his game this season and continue to set up chances for his team mates at the rate he did last year he will be key to any success Manchester City achieve. He needs to be careful and make sure that Guardiola has a solid plan for him this term and that he will be starting games regularly. It is vital that Sterling improves this season as there is a World Cup at the end of the season. Another year with Pep and playing regular football at elite level may put him in a position to lead his country to glory in Russia.