Premier League Review Round 13: Hornet’s sting, Terrier torment and Hughton’s (near) Heroics

Prem 2017


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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Newcastle United – Good Tyne’s are coming

TOON


Newcastle United. The crisis club. The epitome of footballing soap opera. The ol’ institution is often easy bait for the national media; unfathomable friction between owner and manager, owner and fan’s, owner and splashing the cash. Consecutive defeats, including a demoralising effort against the fellow newly promoted Huddersfield Town. This season, the 125th of the Toon Army, seemed destined for demise.

So on a weekend, mid-way through September, what are they doing four points off the Premier League summit? Champions League football, howay then.

I spent my university years on the city by the Tyne. It’s a magical place, Georgian stoned, bridges floating effortlessly yet so striking above its former trade artery. It’s cliché to think of Geordie’s as a rowdy bunch, especially looking at incidents like horse gate, but they are by and large the most welcoming folk across the Isles. They’re gritty, hearty and live, breathe and die Newcastle and in particular, United. The team in essence represents the city where Westminster and politicians have failed it. The fans are proper people, generations of grafters gone by. As much as they are questioned and jeopardised, they should be admired for unfathomable loyalty.

Signings were added over the summer. The likes of Jacob Murphy and Florian Lejeune costing a combined £20 million, Joselu added for Premier League experience, Manquillo for defensive cover, Atsu’s loan converted into a permanent contract. Still, this is not enough. Huddersfield and Brighton, despite a much smaller fan base and gate receipts, broke transfer records month on month. Newcastle’s is still – by modern standards – a paltry £16 million for Michael Owen, over a decade ago. Most Premier League sides have broken the bank during the extortionate TV deal offered by Sky and BT.

Many, including myself, simply cannot trust Mike Ashley or any accomplice. Newcastle are in a much sterner financial position to when he arrived in 2007, but literally, at what cost? Two relegations, simply unacceptable for a club who I remember more for title run-ins and famous European nights growing up. More Alan Shearer rather than Emmanuel Riviere. The dominance of the top four – United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool – put paid to such dreams. The addition of a rejuvenated Spurs and Everton as well as the monetary machine of Manchester City, set realistic expectations for the Magpies faithful.

The supporters are rightfully miffed at Ashley. His treatment of Jonas Gutierrez put paid to any redemption. Rafael Benitez is the new Angel of the North, a master tactician, a Champions League and La Liga winner, a person who arguably deserves a higher mantle. But then he stood in front of the cauldron of St James’ – the stadium on a hill. A venue that like Newcastle’s bridges casts an idyllic figure on the skyline. Geordies love Rafa, and Rafa loves them even more. Stayed through the thick and thin, he deserves more than Ashley’s patronising torment.

It is Rafa, the team and the fanbase togetherness that have propelled Newcastle to new heights. A team that is resilient and never says die – just look at the two goals in added time to defeat Norwich last year. Mikel Merino, an unknown commodity, looks like an apt replacement alas for Yohann Cabaye. He’s got Spanish swag, a nifty player who can jolt in and out of dangly legs, dictating play with swift and accurate passing and surges forward. Coupled with an anchorman like Isaac Hayden, a chap who cost £6 million looks immediately like a new Gallowgate hero. Merino already has one accolade in the bag, being Newcastle’s player of the month in his maiden month. He is one to look out for throughout the campaign.

I would also say this for Matt Ritchie and Jamaal Lascelles. Ritchie has a wand of a left foot, labelled a magician by the Geordies, he assisted twice in the victory against Stoke. Again committed to the cause, he is a player who when looking down the team sheet looks a Premier League player. His experience with Bournemouth at this level will be the difference in measuring the success of Newcastle’s season. Lascelles is captain fantastic, two goals in two games and played the remainder of last season with a hip injury. Rumours are circulating of an England call up, unsurprising. Ciaran Clark, deemed surplus to requirements at Aston Villa, has had a rebirth, anchoring alongside Lascelles. 4 goals in 4 games shows the traits of a difficult to break down outfit, something which will align to Benitez’s ethic and philosophy.

At the time of writing, Newcastle are fourth, FOURTH! Not bad for the crisis club. It’s not easy to see what path this campaign will go down, but with the togetherness and Rafa at the helm, it’s a going to be arguably a darn sight better than what McClaren, Carver and Pardew produced. This team – the youngest on average in the Premier League – will have greater tests to come, but for this bonny weekend in September, the Toon will be gannin’ for the dream to continue.

Geordie dictionaries are available for those unfamiliar to the dialect.


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