Sanchez or Hazard ?

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Newcastle and Blackburn legend Alan Shearer has recently come out and said that in his eyes, the only player who can be labelled world-class in the Premier League is Manchester City striker Sergio Agüero. Many would agree that he is correct is his assessment of the striker but to say he is the only ‘world-class player in England’ hasn’t gone down all that well. Some would say that fellow City team-mate Kevin De Bryune falls under that label whilst United fans may say the same about goalkeeper David De Gea. However, when it comes to producing sheer moments of brilliance on the football pitch, you can look no further than Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez. The question is, who’s better ?

Following Sanchez’s majestic hat-trick against West Ham on Saturday, and Hazard’s recent return to form, there has been an ongoing debate over who is the better player. Whilst the two  both struggled last season, following brilliant campaigns back in the 2014/15 season, there is little doubting the fact that both would be in everyone’s first choice Premier League 11. The two have managed 19 league goals between them already this season and have proved pivotal in firing their respective teams to 1st (Chelsea) and 2nd (Arsenal) in the league.

Eden Hazard was the biggest flop of the season during the 2015/16 campaign following the dizzy heights he hit in the previous season but it seems at last he is back at his best. It remains to be seen whether he can maintain this form and perhaps power Chelsea to their 5th Premier League title but the early signs are promising. After already doubling his entire goals tally for last season, the Belgian has looked deadly at times putting in some fine individual performances. I doubt we will ever discover the reason behind his dramatic drop in form last year but Conte has got him back doing what he does best and he and Chelsea are certainly reeking the awards.

The story is similar at the Emirates for the Chilean beast Alexis Sanchez. After a stellar first season for the Gunners, he struggled to replicate that form consistently last year following a injury-hit campaign. However, like Hazard, he has looked back to his best this season. With 11 goals already this season, he sits joint top of the Premier League scoring charts and if his hat-trick against West Ham was anything to go by, he could  well be there come the end of the season. Ever since Wenger’s decision to move Sanchez to the number 9 position, he has looked rejuvenated. He has been a menace for defences game after game and has been one if not the star performer of the season. The only concern for Arsenal fans is whether they can keep hold of him. Following question marks over his future, rumours have risen linking him with a switch to Conte’s Chelsea. It remains to be seen whether these rumours will become reality but the sooner the club gets him to sign a new deal, the better.

The two are certainly exceptional players and without them, both their respective sides would look short of individual talent. When it comes to picking between the two, a solution seems hard to come by. Both have attributes that they excel in and both have been integral to their teams recent success. It seems unfair to try to separate such great players so I will leave the decision, to you.

 

 

 

Are United’s title dreams already over ?

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Simply put, yes. That perhaps seems harsh considering we are only 13 games into the season but with the four teams above them all winning over the weekend, City,Chelsea,Liverpool and Arsenal, United are in danger of being left behind .

Sunday’s draw with West Ham was their 4th in four home league games and their inability to win games is meaning that they remain struggling to keep up with those above them. With results going the way they did over the weekend, Mourinho’s team now lie 11 points behind table-toppers Chelsea. Jose was left rueing his team’s luck following more dropped points against the Hammers but in all honesty, they simply haven’t been good enough.

Since their defeat to bitter rivals City back at the beginning of September, United have struggled for any sort of form. Without back to back league wins since August, Mourinho’s side have become the masters of inconsistency and now whilst they may have stopped the rot in terms of defeats, they are struggling to pick up 3 points in games where they should really be winning. Stoke, Burnley, Arsenal and now West Ham have all come to Old Trafford and come away with a point to their name. However, United have come away from all four of those games rueing missed opportunities. During Sunday’s encounter with West Ham they had numerous chances to put themselves in front but due to poor finishing, and the inspired form of Darren Randolph between the sticks , they were left feeling sorry for themselves and not for the first time this season.

It’s safe to say that things aren’t going the way that Jose would of hoped when he inherited this United squad. It’s clear he is still licking his wounds following his dismissal from Chelsea last December and it remains to be seen how much patience he will get from the United hierarchy. He was provided with the funds he believed to be necessary to improve this team  but the players he has brought have failed to make any real impact. Eric Bailly’s strong start to life in England has been halted by injury, Ibrahimovic looks a shadow of his former self, Pogba has been ineffective and Mkhitaryan can’t even get a game. Of course the blame doesn’t all lie with Mourinho, his players haven’t helped him in the slightest but as the manager, is it not his job to get them motivated and playing to their full potential ?

Many believed that when Jose arrived in Manchester, he would return United to their former glory but it has become apparent to all that the re-building job at the club is a lot bigger than he and everyone associated with the club thought. The performances at times this season have been embarrassing and whilst they have improved slightly over recent weeks, they still aren’t picking up the necessary points needed to make them genuine title contenders.

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Mourinho’s (right) frustration was apparent during his dismissal by John Moss (left)  on Sunday

I’m sure Jose will come out this week saying he isn’t at all worried by his team’s form and will reassure the media that the results will start to come for his team. This may well be the case but time is ticking and it seems safe to say that the title is all but gone but with the 4 teams above them all looking good at the moment, you have to question whether they can even make the top four. If United don’t make the top 4 then you would have to say that Mourinho would have failed dramatically especially considering the fact that many experts believed he had the squad capable of winning this league. If he is to turn this around then he needs time and plenty of it. If things don’t start to pick up then his United career could well go the way of his Chelsea one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not happening for Negredo and Middlesbrough

Whilst the big story from Sunday’s premier league action was that Conte’s Chelsea had leapfrogged Liverpool into top spot, it must be remembered that Middlesbrough now lie only 3 points above the rejuvenated Sunderland in 19th and have only 1 win to their name in their last 10 league games. Whilst they have picked up respectable draws at City and Arsenal over recent weeks, there are growing concerns over whether Karanka’s men have the fire power to avoid the drop.

During yesterdays defeat to the Blue’s whilst they were defensively solid for the majority of the match, bar the crucial Diego Costa goal, they offered very little in terms of an attacking sense. Main striker Alvaro Negredo, like he has done over recent weeks, cut a lonesome figure up front. Other than his late chance which was denied by Courtois, the Spaniard barely had a sniff spending the evening cut-off from his team-mates. However, despite his lack of service, Negredo does his self no favours. Whilst he may complain that he is restricted to one or two chances a game, when it comes to converting these chances into goals, he rarely succeeds. You only have to look at his opposite number during yesterday’s match. Costa was equally if not more frustrated than Negredo during the first 30 minutes but when he got his one chance on the 42nd minute, he made no mistake. Whereas when it came to Negredo in the 78th, some may say it was a harder chance, he saw his shot cannon back out off the hands of Courtois. With only one league goal to his name this season, that coming on the opening day, it’s clear that he hasn’t had the impact he and those associated with the club had hoped.

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Negredo has only managed 1 league goal since the opening day of the season

On the other hand, even though Negredo has struggled to hit the ground running in his maiden season with the club, he isn’t helped by his teams inability to support him. Middlesbrough’s record is as good as any when it comes to keeping teams out with only 13 goals conceded since the start of the season. However, this record is stifled by the fact that along with Hull they are the lowest scorers in the league with only 10 netted so far. During their meeting with Chelsea, even after going a goal down, there seemed a reluctance throughout the team to attack. Their first meaningful attack didn’t arrive till the 78th minute with the Negredo shot but other than that there was little to excite their fans. The fans certainly couldn’t fault the application and determination of the players but as the game went on you could feel the frustration growing with each passing minute.

Of course Middlesbrough’s fate this season will not be decided in games against teams like Chelsea. One thing you can say is that Karanka’s team always give themselves a chance as they are so tough to break-down. We saw that against City and even though it didn’t happen for them yesterday, they remained in the game till the last minute. If they can keep it this tight at the back and add goals up the other end, they will begin to rocket up the league. However, until that day happens they will continue to remain near to the relegation zone.

 

 

 

 

Lift off for the Cat’s and Moyes

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Jermain Defoe (left) and Lynden Gooch (right) celebrate following 2-1 win at Bournemouth on Saturday

It had been a long time coming for Sunderland football club, but after 10 games without a win in the league, the Black Cats finally picked up their first 3 points of the season. It was hardly a vintage display and they certainly rode their luck at times, but they finally have a win to their name. They still remain the bottom of the league and 6 points off safety, but its a starting pointing for Moyes and his team and the question is can they now push on ?

The experts would say no. Sunderland are still in a heap of trouble and although the 3 points at Bournemouth has provided some light relief, they still have a long way to go if they are to beat the drop like they have done over previous years. Yet, during their win over Bournemouth, there were signs that Black Cats haven’t given up just yet. Following their 4-1 defeat to Arsenal the previous week, there were questions over whether the players were actually  playing for the manager. There looked a lack of desire and hunger to win the ball back against the Gunners and many looked disinterested. When the players stop putting the work in week and week out then that’s the time to worry and due to the fact that the team is lacking quality in key areas, if they don’t try then there isn’t much chance of them getting anything out of games. However, last week against Bournemouth, you couldn’t pick a single individual out and say that they didn’t give their all on that pitch. Every single one got stuck in and put their bodies on the line in a desperate attempt to preserve their narrow lead in the final few minutes of the match. This was typified by the performance of Duncan Watmore on the wing who simply didn’t stop running making 84 sprints in total throughout the match.

Whilst every player did give their all on Saturday, many will say that Bournemouth were unlucky to lose. They created numerous chances but seemed un-able to find the necessary goals. The reason for this was poor finishing at times but they weren’t helped by the inspired form of Jordan Pickford in-goal. This kid has been a revelation in between the sticks for Sunderland this season and without him they would have been on the end of far worse results than they have been which seems hard to believe considering their position in the league. Without any clean sheets this season, you would think that his impact has been minimal but with 41 saves in the league this season, behind only Tom Heaton (62), he has been pivotal in giving  his team a chance in every game. His performances in goal have certainly not been met with the results they deserve but against Bournemouth he was the difference. Some of the saves he made, especially against Josh King late on, were world-class and without him Sunderland wouldn’t have come away with anything.

We all know that in Jermain Defoe Sunderland have a man who can get them the goals they need to stay in the division but he needs the ball to do it. At times this season he has looked low on confidence and he certainly hasn’t helped by the lack of support from his team mates. However, against Bournemouth on the weekend he had the support he has been crying out for in the form of Victor Anichebe. The Nigerian put in a dominant display over the weekend and played key roles in both Sunderland goals. Anichebe has struggled to make an impact wherever he’s been but the one thing you get with him is someone who knows how to hold the ball up. The man is a beast, a unit, attempting to take the ball off him is like trying to take candy from a baby, it simply won’t happen. While his game to goal ratio isn’t nearly has good as Defoe, he does act as outlet for his team and that perhaps is the one criticism you would have of Defoe. Taking this in to account you would say that the two are the perfect partnership up front and this was proved correct against Bournemouth where the two both got on the scoresheet. Of course it’s only one game but with the two in the team, Sunderland carry a threat and when you carry a threat going forward, you always stand a chance.

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Anichebe (left) celebrates scoring Sunderland’s equaliser with Defoe (right)

Whether or not Sunderland can build on their 3 points over the weekend remains to be seen but they will go into their home fixture with Hull after the international break with renewed confidence and the belief that they can pick up their first home win of the season. It would be naïve too say that Sunderland can now go on a terrific run but then it would be the same to write them off after only 10 games. They are, after all ,the masters of survival.

 

 

Déjà vu for Liverpool ?

Only 3 seasons ago, Liverpool came the closest they had come to winning a league title in some time. Arguably one of the best teams ever when it came to scoring goals and playing beautiful football, few would have objected to the reds lifting their first  Premier League title. They obliterated teams at times including the likes of Arsenal and Everton scoring 5-6 goals on average per game. When it came to the final few games of the season it looked like they might just keep their nerve and finally return to the summit of English football. Yet, amidst all their attacking flair and creativity, the reds completely forgot that in football, you are supposed to stop the opposition scoring as-well. Following their 2-0 defeat to Chelsea the reds went to Crystal Palace desperately needing a win. It wasn’t long till they fired themselves to a 3-0 lead and put themselves on the verge of retaining their position at the top of the league. However, what happened next will live long in the memories of everyone who witnessed the match. In search of more goals the reds throw men forward and ultimately that cost them dear as they were succumbed to 3 palace goals. The game finished 3-3 leaving Liverpool still top but with knowledge that if City win their two remaining fixtures then the league is theirs. Here we are 3 seasons later and the story is much the same.

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Former striker Luis Suarez (right) couldn’t hide his emotions following Liverpool’s capitulation vs Palace back in 2014

Klopp’s men are playing some of the best attacking football you could hope to see. They are scoring goals for fun and look unstoppable when the whole team is on song. During their 6-1 win over Watford yesterday, their play at times was mesmeric and the goals they scored were simply world-class. On the other hand, despite all their attacking capabilities, they just can’t keep clean sheets. Yesterday, they were plain sailing but a lack of concentration meant that they lost the chance to get only their second league clean sheet of the season. The alarmingly thing is the nature of the goals they are conceding. Against Palace a couple of weeks ago, they were easily the best team on the night but they allowed the Eagles a way back into the game with it has to be said horrifying defending.

Many Liverpool fans may argue that when you are scoring 5-6 goals a game, conceding the odd goal here and there doesn’t really matter. That may be so against the likes of Watford, Hull and Palace but there is no way they will find it that easy against those also in the title race. We have already seen that against United, when a team sits back against them then they can find it a struggle to break them down . Furthermore, United on the night had a series of good chances to score and if not for poor finishing, then they would have come away with all 3 points.

Liverpool fans may then further their argument by saying that they have already overcome the challenges of Spurs, Chelsea, and Arsenal away. Whilst this is true and Liverpool were brilliant at times in those games, Arsenal haven’t lost since then and Chelsea have looked like the team they were when Mourinho first arrived scoring goals but also keeping clean sheets week in week out.

It may seem that I’m trying to put a downer on Liverpool’s start to the season but I’m merely suggesting to those on the red half of Merseyside that they don’t get too carried away with their teams start to the season. Yes they are top of the league and yes they  have been a delight to watch, but we are only in November. This title race has the makings of being one of the most exciting ever and I’m confident Liverpool will be there or thereabouts come the end of the season. However, the key for Liverpool is that they don’t become complacent. We saw that during the 2013/14 season and that ultimately cost them the league.

They have an amazing manager in Klopp and he clearly has the support of the whole club, so it’s down to him to keep his players focused and not allow them to get caught up in the ‘potential champions’ talk that is surronding Merseyside. If he can do that and Liverpool continue in the vein of form they are at the momment, they have one hell of a chance, provided they stop conceding as-well of course.

Guess who’s back !

Last season was a horror show for Chelsea, there are is no getting away from it. Their attempt at holding onto their title was nothing short of pathetic and that ultimately cost Mourinho his job only 6 months after leading the Blues to their 4th Premier League title. Many of Chelsea’s big name players failed to perform last year and at times looking ids-interested throughout the campaign. This applied to no more so than Eden Hazard. The Belgian, voted PFA Players Player of the Year the previous season, flopped following a season where he was the league’s stand out performer. From minute 1 against Swansea on the opening day he looked sluggish, lethargic  and most worryingly, bored. Ineffective in nearly every performance the Belgian had arguably hit rock bottom and didn’t register a single league goal till April when their Premier League crown had all but be taken from them.

However, there were signs at the end of last season and during the Euro’s that he might slowly be re-discovering his form. Furthermore, under Conte, he had a fresh start and an opportunity to prove to the world that he is still one of Europe’s brightest talents. During the opening couple games of the season he did start to look like the player that teams around the country had come to fear. There was a confidence back in his game and he was once again drifting past defenders like they weren’t even there. On the other hand, at times, like for much of his Chelsea career, he still showed that tendency to drift in and out of games. For example, against West Ham, once he netted the penalty to give his side the lead, he became anonymous and barely influenced the game ultimately resulting his substitution. Gary Neville later pointed this out saying if Hazard wants to be a ‘top player’ then he needs to become more ruthless in his performances.

Following their drubbing at the hands of Arsenal, Chelsea switched to the infamous 3 at the back-formation that Conte has deployed at nearly every club he has managed. Since then they haven’t conceded a single league goal and have netted 11 in the process in 4 games. Every player has seemed to have brought into this new style of play including the little Belgian himself. Hazard has now scored in three consecutive league games for the first time in his Chelsea career and has now already surpassed his total of 4 league goals from last year. The smile is back on his face and he and his team are reeking the awards.

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Hazard has managed 5 league goals in 10 game this season following 4 in 31 last year

So what has changed ? It’s clear to all that Hazard is now enjoying his football a lot more than he was under the guidance of Mourinho. A lot of that is due to the fact that Conte has given him the license to roam free and express himself. The new formation also means that a lot of his defensive duties have been taken away with the presence of Alonso behind him at wing-back meaning that he can focus on what he does best. At times during Chelsea’s 2-0 win at Southampton yesterday, Hazard was un-playable. The Southampton midfield were given the run around not knowing when to follow him or stay in their position and he simply spent the evening toying with them. The confidence Hazard is now playing with was typified by his pass to Moses towards the end of the game where he managed to find his team-mate in the box when it seemed impossible that he even knew he was there. It was a fantastic team performance by the Blues yesterday but there is no doubt that he made the difference in the final third.

I’m not sure we will ever truly understand what happened to Hazard last season. It is a mystery to all how he went from the league’s best player to its worst in a year. However, I’m sure that Conte and Hazard himself have focused on putting that season behind them so that the Belgian can focus on fulfilling his full potential. There is no doubt that on his day, he is one of if not the best player in the league. He is the difference in the big games and is a magician with the ball at his feet. Mourinho once said that Hazard is as good as Messi and Ronaldo. Based on last season you would have called him mad but if he continues in this vein of form, he will not be far off .

Zlatan’s Barren Run Goes On

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has won all there is to win in the game. He has endured successful spells at Europe’s biggest clubs including PSG, AC Milan and Barcelona scoring goals throughout his career. Now he has tried his hand in the arguably the hardest league in the world, the Premier League, with Manchester United. The questions surrounding his move to England were predominately whether or not he could still produce on the big stage. With 5 goals in his first 5 games including the winner in the community shield, it seemed as if the Big Swede was still as deadly as ever. However, with only 1 in his previous 9, things aren’t quite turning out the way he and United hoped following his arrival.

At the age of 35, it was perhaps naive to think that Ibrahimovic could maintain the high standards he has set himself over the years, especially in a league far more competitive than that of France. Yet many believed he could still produce when his team needed him the most. Based on his performances early on it appeared that the faith that the club had vested in him had paid off. It wasn’t just his goals that helped the team but that ego that follows him wherever he goes was starting to bring the fear factor back to United. Recently on the other hand, things have started to go downhill, not just for Ibrahimovic but United as a whole. Following Mourinho’s humiliation by former club Chelsea on Sunday, the Red’s now trail the top 5 by 5 points. Whilst yesterdays derby win did provide some light relief for Mourinho and his team, it still didn’t mask the fact that there is still a lot of work to do. The worrying thing for Mourinho recently has been the anonymity of some his players in the big game’s. One of the players top of the list, it has to be said, is their new number 9.

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Ibrahimovic has struggled over recent games

During yesterday’s win over City, Ibra looked sluggish and lethargic throughout the course of the game. A lack of influence on proceedings accompanied by the in-ability to retain the ball meant that the 35 year-old had a tough time of it. The main worry over recent weeks has been his failure to convert chances during key periods of games. Against Liverpool he had a clear sight of goal early in the second half but completely miscued his header and the chance was gone. 6 days later he then had a similar chance against Chelsea but once again failed to get his header on target. This came at a time when the Blues were only 1 goal to the good and if that the chance is converted, than the final outcome could of been very different indeed.

Ibrahimovic is of course not the only player at United currently struggling to find any form. £89 million man Paul Pogba has had his fair share of critics since his return to the club whilst Wayne Rooney has been omitted from the starting 11. However, Ibrahimovic is the leading striker now and the more games he goes without scoring , the harder it gets for United to pick up points. Many have called for him to be removed from the firing line so that he can get a rest that many believe he sorely needs. The question then is who replaces him ? Rooney could always be restored to his former position or they could deploy someone like Memphis or Martial in that role. Despite these high profile names, I think we all know the man they would like to see leading the line…

Rashford has proved countless times that he can score the goals this united team has been missing over recent years and even if it was just for a few games, I’m sure that United fans everywhere would have no objection to his inclusion in the side as the main man upfront. If Mourinho does decide to give Ibrahimovic the rest he clearly needs and they look a better side without out him, this doesn’t mean that his united career will end a failure, Whatever his position in the club, he is still a fantastic pro to have in that dressing room and the club is lucky to have him. His legacy will not be decided by his United career because he is a true legend of the game and will be for years to come.