My Liverpool+Manchester City 11

I’ve gone for a 4-3-3 as both teams know how to play this system. Hart is still a better, safer choice of keeper than Bravo or Mignolet/Karius, Milner, although not a natural left back has done enough to get ahead of Clichy as has Clyne due to his work rate on the other flank Fernandinho will hold as well as being able to get forward but also allowing Henderson and Lallana to get forward aswell. Matip has already shown he is a class act and with Stones it’s a risky partnership but should be good enough. The pace of Sterling and Mane upfront is frightening and complimented with Aguero’s finishing. This is a solid and flexible line up.

Everton: Two halves, Two formations

Two things happened at the KCOM stadium last night. Hull were unlucky not to win the game and Everton, thanks to their manager did well to earn a draw. Despite having the better of the play Everton  were still quite lucky to go in at halftime level thanks to Hull’s keeper David Marshall punching into his own net from an added time Kevin Mirallas corner. The now ever popular 4-3-2-1 which has worked well for the Toffees of late, didn’t quite click into gear against a resilient 3-5-2 Hull City side in the first half.

Everton’s set up in the first half


Barry and Gueye playing in there normal defensive roles were almost over run by the five in midfield from Hull and in turn Everton’s attacking threat never amounted to much at  all. Coleman and Baines got up and down the flanks as they always do but were kept busy by El Mohamady, Robertson, Snodgrass going the other way.

In the 2nd half Koeman had to change the set up slightly by bringing on lively midfielder Tom Davies after Snodgrass had curled in a wonderful free kick, Koeman changed the system to a three at the back with either Coleman or Baines dropping in when needed and putting Davies as the extra man in midfield. This allowed more attacking impetus  and allowed Valencia, Davies, Mirallas and Barkley to really get in and around Romelu Lukaku.

Everton after the introduction of Tom Davies in the 66th minute.


After the change in formation, Everton were a more attacking threat and eventually scraped a draw with a Ross Barkley header after Leighton Baines provided a pin point cross. Koeman should look at using the system more as it plays to Everton’s strengths and should they start games in this way they surely wouldn’t be having to play catch up in matches. With Morgan Schneiderlin possibly on his way into Goodison as another defensive midfielder, Everton need more attacking options.

Living without Kante

Leicester City, in what looks like a precarious position in 16th in the Premier League and just 3 points off the relegation places, are suffering and with pretty much the same set of players. So how come? The Foxes are comfortably through to the last 16 of the champions league and have seemingly prioritised the competition ahead of the league campaign. Now whether this is right or wrong is a discussion for another day but the point I am going to make is to some an obvious one.

N’golo Kanté was pivotal in Leicester winning their first and only Premier League title, the defensive midfielder arrived from French side Caen in early 2015 and got off to an unsteady start before earning rave reviews every week for shutting out the opposition and disrupting  attacks . His breaking up of play became a massive part of what Leicester were doing and with Danny Drinkwater beside him the pair were invaluable. Kante played most of that season in a 4-2-2-2 see below 
Or a 4-2-3-1 and as it showed, worked very well and now since his summer transfer to Chelsea for £38 million he looks like a common day Claude Makele, tackling, breaking up play as he did at Leicester and also has become a better passer of the ball and even getting himself into goal scoring positions as part of Antonio Conte’s favoured 3-4-3.

Chelsea’s lineup with Kanté 


With the 3-4-3 at Chelsea, Kanté has that bit more freedom due to Matic who prefers to defend, and also because Moses and Fabregas or more commonly Marcos Alonso are more than able to get up and down the flanks for covering duties if Kanté or Matic are upfield. This has opened up more parts to Kantés footballing prowess and will surely see Chelsea be even harder to break down. As for Leicester, in my view this is a major reason why they are conceding to many goals. In the title winning season they lost (in the premier league) only 3 games conceding 35 goals. But in this season so far they have already lost 9 games conceding 31 goals, a massive turn around. Is this all down to the departure of Kanté? Probably not but it is a massive factor and although Ranieri has tried to replace him with Daniel Amartey it doesn’t look like the Ghanian can produce the kind of form that has seen Kanté make it into the French national team. 

The Palace of Sam 

Another day and another manager seemingly tapped up before the other had been given his marching orders. Is this becoming a trend or is it normal practice? No sooner had the the man known as the Grandad Dancer, oh alright sorry Alan Pardew, lost his job than Big Sam had cemented himself as the bookies favorite before Pardew’s name plate had been taken off his office at the Beckenham training ground. 

Whatever your opinion of Pardew lets not forget he walked out on Newcastle when they were 9th in the Premier League and they eventually ended up getting relegated. Obviously many issues combined, fan unrest, the infamous cockney mafia influencing an already volatile atmosphere, didnt help Pardew’s cause and maybe he jumped before he was pushed? Pardew is a streaky manager at best and when the Palace chairman Steve Parish met Pardew’s release clause he licked his lips knowing that he would be welcomed with open arms to a club he used to play for.

Sporadic periods of  winning games coupled with periods of not winning games eventually would cathch up with Pardew especially after the dreaded vote of confidence from Parish in a Talksport interview last week with Jim White in which Parish simply stated “Alan’s job is totally safe and he has the clubs full backing”
So my guessing is a Championship job next if Swansea don’t come calling first and don’t be surprised to see him back in another job sooner rather than later, he has been mentioned in part when the England managers job has been up for grabs the last two occasions after all?!

Big Sam should keep the eagles up, should, and with the American owners willing to hand over some hard earned dollars in the near future, exciting times could be heading to Selhurst Park. Will they be able to soar up the Premier League under Sam’s guidance?

Manchester City’s defensive quandary 

It’s fair to say of late that defensively Manchester City’s defender’s have had a pretty rough ride and haven’t been at there best. The obvious answer is that they miss the leadership of Vincent Kompany. The commanding Belgian centre back was pivotal in the two title winning campaigns but his well documented injuries and subsequent absence from the team has highlighted the issues when they are without him. I also think that they haven’t been helped by the suspension of Fernandinho due to his red card in the game with Chelsea. His ability to be firm in the tackle and mop up in front of the defence has been missed there’s no doubt as Fernando, his replacement in the team, is not at the same level as his Brazilian colleague and leaves the central area on the pitch far to open at times. Nicholas Otamendi is improving slightly the more he plays but I always fear that he has to many mistakes in him and at times his decision making is questionable. John Stones should be Guardiola’s focal point and the defence should be built around him but he needs guidance in a game and Otamedi is not that man.

When City play with three at the back it’s usually Kolorov and Otamendi either side of Stones, or Sagna and Kolorov either side of Stones when Otamendi has been suspended. Kolorov spends far too much time going forward usually ending up with a wild left footed shot on goal (or not) leaving a central midfielder to cover back which as I’ve said above could be Fernando, not what Pep wants I should imagine. Sagna is now a bit part player when either full back is suspended or injured and although Zabaleta has been a great servant to the club and still a committed player, can he get through all the football City will be playing? So is new blood needed or will Pep persevere until the summer?

So what are City’s options going forward? Let’s look at some possible signings whether they may happen or not.

After the European Championship’s in the summer Chelsea made an enquiry about Leonardo Bonnuci of Juventus, he would be the type of defender Pep would love in his side but just last week he signed a new five year deal with the Turin giants so this is a non-starter. The same applies to Dani Alves, Pep knows Alves very well from their time together at Barcelona and would have been a more than capable replacement/challenge for Zabaleta. Although in reality Alves signed for Juventus right at the end of June and Pep was employed in the July but could City have made a move sooner? Diego Godin of Atletico Madrid is a strong option and Manchester United have reportedly made enquirers with a fee of around £30 million being talked about. Could City tempt the Uruguayan to the blue half of Manchester? Mikel Balenziaga of Athletic Bilbao is 28 and is a very reliable left back and highly though if in Spain as is his club colleague and French international  Aymeric Laporte who the Citizens did try to sign early last summer only for the player to sign a contract with the Basque outfit until 2020 with a buyout clause of €65 million but would Bilbao be tempted if City were to make an offer? Raphael Varane of Real Madrid, Mats Hummels of Bayern Munich are top class central defenders but neither clubs would be entertaining offers for them.

So who does it leave as a viable, safe, and attainable option? Step forward Thiago Emiliano da Silva, better known as Thiago Silva. The Paris Saint-Germain and Brazilian international is available on a free transfer at the end of this season and in my opinion City should look no further than the centre back who is a composed, ball playing defender who’s experience would aide John Stone’s development. The downside? He is 32, however he has shown no signs of not being able to still perform at the top level.

Whatever Guardiola’s decides, he will need to invest sooner rather than later in that Manchester City back line if they are to start winning more honours.

 

Manchester City 2-1 Arsenal (Anybody seen Mesut,again?)

So did it all pan out the way we thought it might at the Etihad? Overall the majority of us probably would agree that it did. As per the norm City, even against an excellent and in form Arsenal had the majority of the ball but the away side were the better side, City creating chances with Kevin de Bruyne at the forefront of all that was good for the Citizens. But missing Aguero as he serves the remainder of his domestic suspension, you always get the feeling that City miss that clinical edge right at the last moment when it’s needed. It was Arsenal who went in at halftime ahead after sweet reverse pass by Sanchez into Walcott who duly scored his 11th of the season, shortly after City could have drew level when Sterling headed wide.

Almost immediately after the interval City drew level with a superb finish from Leroy Sane after Silva had slipped a slide rule pass into him. The goal changed the game with City, tails up, dominant, and leaving Arsenal looking very shaky, City were winning everything on the ground and in the air flowing forward with ease. Then came the winner. Sterling cutting inside to drive a right footed shot past Cech who couldn’t have seen the ball when it flashed through several players.

But one again we were all left asking the question of Arsenal’s big name and big game players. Alexis Sanchez looked a tad out of sorts as supply wasn’t forthcoming and due to a tight City midfield and back five, he struggled to collect the ball from his usual pockets of space and be able to create anything of any worth. Ozil, no better also struggled as he has in some other big games this season, producing very little and didn’t look like he was interested at times. Tiredness from a Euro hangover? Too many games played? Or are these two world class heads being turned by the ongoing contractual issues? What ever the reason Wenger needs to get it sorted or else Arsenal’s two biggest assets will be down the road without a second look back at the Emirates. Or does loyalty really exist in football these days?

 

 

QPR v Aston Villa

Loftus Road was the venue for a game in which both teams of late had struggled to fine consistency. Ian Holloway had taken over at QPR in November but his side had only won 1 in 6 and were struggling to find there form home or away. As for Steve Bruce at Aston Villa things had started rather better for his team having won 4 out of 5 at home but a recent dip had seen them win 2 in 5.

The game started at a slow tempo with Qpr making the early running, with Conor Washington going down under a clumsy challenge from Villa’s left back Jordan Amavi but no spot kick was awarded from referee Geoff Eltringham who incidentally had awarded a remarkable 8 penalties in his last 8 games. However he was true to form in the 33rd minute when he pointed to the spot as Jonathan Kodja was fouled in the Rangers penalty area under a pull of his shirt form James Bidwell. Kodja chose his normal right bottom corner but Alex Smithies in goal for the Hoops was equal to it and  saved and the rebound when went wide of the Rangers goal.

One change for Rangers at the start of the 2nd half saw Conor Washington replaced by Idrissa Sylla. The second half started very disjointed from both sides with misplaced passes and frequent games of head tennis quietening both sets of supporters to a groan or two. An over hit free kick on the edge of the Villa box by Chery didn’t help either. QPR, as in the main in the first half, made most of the running but as with there opponents today were guilty of awful decisions in the final third leaving everyone frustrated. Kodja then with Villas real first chance saw his right foot low shot saved by Smithies, two corners then followed resulting in another save by Smithies forcing another corner in which Hall nearly took Jedinak’s shirt from his back as the ball came in but nothing doing from the referee’s point of view. Numerous offside decisions saw all of Villa’s attacks falter and a Kodja volley from a Jordan Amavi cross-shot went high and wide.

Ross McCormack’s lack lustre display was duly ended when he was replaced by Agbonlahor in the 71st minute with a view from Steve Bruce of adding a little more pace and intent into Villa’s attacks. In the 75th minute the game changed for Villa when Kodja’s tireless work paid off when he wriggled free of the Ranges defender and smashed home a right footed bullet which went through Smithies and into the net to put Villa ahead. Kodja was then replaced with his work done in the 83rd by Rudy Gestede. A good performance from the Villa striker doing everything you need your striker to do in a game and Villa will be relying on him to keep scoring throughout the remainder of the season.

So a 0-1 scoreline was to be enough for Aston Villa which lifts them up to 13th in the Championship just 6 points off the Play-Off’s going into the Christmas fixtures. QPR are an improving side but drop to 19th.