THE action keeps coming as we return for three more days of Premier League football.
To round off a week full of goals and incidents, PREMIER LEAGUE WEEKLY looks ahead to what may be in store in today’s programme as the big six all play on the same day for only the third time this season.
Are Chelsea’s title hopes in last chance saloon already?
FOR the second successive season, Chelsea welcome Manchester City to Stamford Bridge with their backs against the wall. Last year, it was only the end of September, but City’s 1-0 win sent the two teams in opposite directions. Kevin De Bruyne’s winner set down a marker as to how City were going to play and they were on the march to 100 points. That win put City six points ahead, a gap that would eventually end at 30 as Antonio Conte’s reign fizzled out.
The gap after 15 games this season is now at ten points, so defeat for Chelsea would surely end their challenge already. The worrying thing for them is that on October 7, after eight games, they were level with City and Liverpool. Since then, City have not dropped a point whereas Chelsea have only won three out of seven, including two losses in the last three. But it is the manner of how they lost from a winning position at Wolves on Wednesday night that has caused alarm.
Maurizio Sarri has certainly made Chelsea more entertaining to watch, but has it come at a cost? His faith in deep-lying midfielder Jorginho is so strong that the Italian has been prepared to move N’Golo Kante around and single out the Frenchman for criticism. Kante is not the finest player on the ball, but look at his CV. A Premier League winner with two different clubs and a World Champion with France. He is the ultimate footballing firefighter, able of nicking the ball and winning tackles against anyone. Just watch Chelsea’s first goal against Fulham last Sunday to get a true understanding of Kante’s worth as he pickpocketed Fulham’s Jean Michael Seri to perfection to start the move.
Perhaps Sarri is hitting the same stumbling block that his opposite number, Pep Guardiola, encountered in his first season in England. After a wonderful start, Guardiola endured a difficult winter as his tactics and team were stifled by opponents, who were beginning to get wise. The other factor is Eden Hazard. When Chelsea shared top spot in October, Hazard was the league’s top scorer with seven goals in his six starts. Since then, the little Belgian has struggled for 100% fitness, but he has not scored a goal. With that, it is no wonder that Chelsea’s form has fallen away as strikers Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud have not provided the goals to compensate for Hazard’s blip.
Chelsea desperately need Hazard to hit top form if they are to become the first team to defeat Manchester City in the league this season. If they lose, it will increase the pressure on Sarri ever so slightly, but it does not take long for that to build at Stamford Bridge. If by 7.30pm this evening, they are 13 points adrift of City, it will be confirmed that the target will be a top-four spot and avoiding a second straight year without Champions League football.
Player of the Day
IMAGINE being a striker for Manchester City under Pep Guardiola. It should be a dream. Strikers are desperate for goals, but what is more important is service. They need chances. That is not a problem at City where you have a cast of Riyad Mahrez, Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and the two Silva to provide the supply. The team have scored 45 times in 15 games, and at that rate, they will break last season’s record of 106 from 38 games. Yet, despite that glut, GABRIEL JESUS has scored once.
That goal came in the 6-1 thrashing of Huddersfield back in August. There was one in the Carabao Cup at Oxford, three against Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League and one for Brazil in a friendly, but no others in the Premier League. Sergio Aguero remains the top dog at City, but he missed the last two games. Jesus was chosen to lead the line, but he did not score in either match and missed good chances in both as five different midfielders found the net.
Thankfully Guardiola has amazing players at his disposal, so this lack of form from Jesus has been covered over. Whenever he has been asked publically about the young Brazilian, he has been unwavering in his support and has been quick to praise him. Still only 21, it is also natural for a player of that age to have a blip. This is almost a hangover from the summer when Jesus failed to score for Brazil at the World Cup and was one of the fall guys for their quarter-final exit. What is for certain is that for City to continue to challenge on all fronts, they cannot simply rely on one striker for goals. As we approach Christmas, there would be no better time for Jesus to remind people of the precocious ability that made City bring him to England in the first place.
Manchester United: Episode 22
SORRY for the repetition but there is no escaping the events at Manchester United. Here we are for episode 22 (that includes Champions League ties and their solitary Carabao Cup game) of an extraordinary season in which no one can be sure of what will happen next.
The bottom team, Fulham, visit Old Trafford today. I am predicting a home win with a degree of comfort but I say that with no confidence or certainty. It is based more on the law of averages than any real logic or footballing merit. There has been good spirit shown in the last two matches to come back and draw with Southampton and Arsenal, but the football continues to be a bit stodgy at best. They have gained nine points from losing positions this season which is commendable, but with only 23 from 15 games and already eight points outside the top four, they would be in the bottom half without those comebacks.
Mourinho made seven changes for the Arsenal game, taking the total to 46 in the league already. Who knows how many there will be today? Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku, the club’s two most expensive signings, were benched on Wednesday and it will be fascinating to see if the same fate awaits them again. Fulham, who have made small improvements since Claudio Ranieri took charge, have not kept a clean sheet all season. If that statistic alters today, then expect more criticism to be flying in Mourinho’s direction.
Stat of the Day
0.75 – In Jose Mourinho’s completed seasons as a manager, his teams concede an average of 0.75 goals per game. This season, United have conceded 25 in 15 games at an average of 1.66 per game to underline why they are struggling so much.
Adam’s Saturday Scores
Bournemouth 1 Liverpool 3
Arsenal 3 Huddersfield 0
Burnley 1 Brighton 0
Cardiff 2 Southampton 2
Manchester United 2 Fulham 0
West Ham 1 Crystal Palace 1
Chelsea 1 Manchester City 1
Leicester 2 Tottenham 1