This week’s Monday Verdict labels Romelu Lukaku not good enough for Manchester United, discusses Man City’s dominance and looks at a huge gaffe by Jurgen Klopp.
KLOPP SHOULD KOP IT FOR RESTING KEY LIVERPOOL DUO
It’s blatantly obvious that Jurgen Klopp trusts his squad, after all no Premier League manager has made more changes to his starting XI this season than the German, but there are some games when you just have to pick your best team to get the job done and a Merseyside derby has to be one of them.
This was not Ronald Koeman’s fragile Everton from earlier in the season turning up, this was a Sam Allardyce ‘don’t give a stuff about possession’, well organised and disciplined Everton.
Yes you can look at the stats and say that Liverpool had all the play and 23 shots to their name, but a lot of those were from outside the area as Big Sam’s Toffees defended ‘so deep they were almost in Stanley Park’, as Jamie Carragher put it.
They needed a player that can pick a lock, slide clever balls through the massed ranks to the likes of Sadio Mane and Mo Salah coming from out to in as they do so well, but Philippe Coutinho was wrapped up nice and warm on the bench as the snow fell on the hallowed Anfield turf.
Instead it was the more workmanlike James Milner, Jordan Henderson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who were left to provide the ammunition for Roberto Firmino – oh no wait he didn’t start either as Klopp gave Dominic Solanke just his second ever Premier League start.
Allardyce must have seen that line-up at 1.15pm, looked to the heavens and said a little thank you.
Now it’s fair to say that with better decision-making Liverpool could have been clear at half time after dominating, but they weren’t and that obviously gave the Toffees a bit of a lift – that and rollicking from Allardyce and a double half-time change to sure things up and stem that Reds’ tide.
Ever so slowly it looked as if a mini smash-and-grab might just be on the cards and once again it was a player who has the concentration levels of a kid in a toy shop who cost them.
Dejan Lovren was having a decent game until he decided to put his hands on Dominic Calvert-Lewin in the area. It was minimal contact but it gave referee Craig Pawson a decision to make and he made a brave one.
But it should never have come to that.
Leading up to this game Liverpool had scored an incredible 15 goals in their last three games and Coutinho himself was coming off the back of a hat-trick in the Champions League, while Firmino was looking back to his best after an iffy start to the season.
Surely you have to play the hot hands in a battle like this, but therein lies the problem.
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Klopp picked a team for a battle in the English snow when he should have let his Brazilian offensive juggernaut just keep on rolling and not messed with the cohesion – particularly when he could have changed things up this coming Wednesday when an impotent West Brom side visit Anfield.
In such a tight race for the top four (let’s just forget about the title shall we!) this could end up being a massive two points dropped and Klopp really has to shoulder the blame for this one.
MANCHESTER CITY 2017/18: THE BEST PREMIER LEAGUE SIDE EVER?
“This win means a lot in the way we played for our confidence but in three days we go to Swansea in the winter time. We are going to face a lot of difficulties. In December it’s impossible to be champions but it’s good for us.”
Those were the words of Pep Guardiola after Manchester City extended their Premier League winning run to 14 games with a 2-1 victory at rivals Manchester United; their first home loss in 40.
The 2017/18 Premier League title ‘race’ is at risk of becoming one of the most boring in recent memory. The biggest title-winning margin in the history of the competition was ironically set by Manchester United (91 points) when they finished 18 points above Arsenal (73 points) in 1999/00.
It’s already at 11 points now; and looking at what is to come for City in terms of fixtures, it could be even wider come the new year. Their next five league games are Swansea (A), Spurs (H), Bournemouth (H), Newcastle (A) and Palace (A).
It may be arrogance, ignorance or both, but there is absolutely no reason to expect that Pep’s machine won’t take 15 from 15. Tottenham at home obviously presents the trickiest of those five assignments, but based on what we have seen from City recently, they have to go into every game believing they can take the three points – and look fantastic while doing so.
Looking at Manchester United’s next five fixtures (Bournemouth, West Brom, Leicester, Burnley, Southampton) you could also make a case for them taking 15 out of their next 15 available league points, but if they slip up the gap will surely only get wider. It’s worth remembering that they have dropped points against Stoke, Huddersfield, Chelsea and Liverpool.
At the end of the game, as noted by the Sky studio, a section of the Manchester United support actually clapped Pep Guardiola as he walked off the field. A recognition of brilliance.
Those fans know that they are witnessing something brilliant; one of the most dominant teams in Premier League history. They may be rivals, but it’s hard not to show respect and admiration for a team that has just walked into the Theatre of Dreams and dictated the game. As Gary Neville pointed out, that has very rarely happened, ever.
“The personality to play here is what I want. We can play this way in England. People said we couldn’t play the way we did in Barcelona in England but it is possible and we did it,” Guardiola told Sky Sports after the win over United.
If there were questions about whether Guardiola’s possession-based, pass-and-move, patient style of attacking football could manifest itself in the Premier League and thrive, the answer has been emphatic this season.
City have now set a record for consecutive Premier League wins in a single season, and they did it while racking up more shots on target, total shots and possession (65%) than United. Tiki-taka is officially working in England.
— The Sportsman (@TheSportsman) December 10, 2017
It would have been easy to overlook the fact that – due to a number of interesting subs from Guardiola – City ended the game with a back line of Kyle Walker, Nicolas Otamendi, Eliaquim Mangala and Fabian Delph. That’s because instead of trying to hold their one-goal advantage, they were going for the jugular at the other end.
It’s easy to gush over a team that has been as dominant as the Sky Blues have been this season. The fact is, we were expecting to see a title race; instead we are seeing a version of the Tortoise and the Hare where the hare never goes to sleep.
We should simply sit back, admire, even applaud if you want. It might be a while before we witness a side this good grace our screens week-in week-out.
LUKAKU PREM CLASS – BUT FAR FROM MANCHESTER UNITED CLASS
A note about Romelu Lukaku, who now looks to be badly struggling with the weight of expectation of playing for Manchester United. A talented goal grabber, yes, but that’s when he’s on a purple patch – and when the goals aren’t coming, you do wonder what he contributes.
His performance against Man City on Sunday beguiled a man low on confidence. True, he may have been denied an equaliser thanks to astonishing Ederson save – but did that owe to luck from the keeper as much as ability? An argument says perhaps, and while you give the keeper the benefit of the doubt, there’s no mistaking RomRom should have buried the chance.
Quite simply, while Lukaku might be one of the best strikers in the Premier League (his spells at Everton and before that West Brom prove that point), he’s not Manchester United class and if the club wants to catapult themselves back among the very elite, they’re not going to do it with Lukaku in their side.
COMEDY PUNCHBAG MOYES SHOWS HIS TEETH
David Moyes has become an all-too-easy-to-beat comedy punchbag in the Premier League – but the Scot has served the perfect time to remind us both he and West Ham aren’t done yet.
We write the headline at the top of the page with a slight grain of remorse and more than a heavy dose of slapstick. But there’s no mistaking West Ham have become something of a Premier League laughing stock this season. Their decision to sack Slaven Bilic was greeted with bewilderment by many, but that was nothing compared to the catcalls they got following the decision to appoint David Moyes.
Following his failures in his last three managerial posts, Moyes has become something of a comedy character in the game – a 2017 Steve McClaren if you will…
And the early indications were that West Ham had done themselves absolutely no favours with the appointment of the Scot after his first four matches in charge yielded three defeats and just one meager point. A relegation battle looked nailed on….
41 – This will be the 41st consecutive Premier League matchday in which David Moyes has started in charge of a team in the relegation zone, breaking the Premier League record. Rooted. #WHUCHE pic.twitter.com/QOMFJsLRa2
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 9, 2017
However, there had been green shoots of recovery in last weekend’s narrow 2-1 defeat at Manchester City, before the Hammers put in easily their best performance of the season as Chelsea were seen off 1-0.
The tone was set from the first minute with the Hammers playing with the intensity and desire you expect as absolute basics from a West Ham side.
And their reward came after just six minutes when Marko Arnautovic finally showed why West Ham parted with a club-record £20million to bring him to the London Stadium.
The Austrian has cut a frustrating figure since arriving in east London; his abject performances synonymous with the club’s struggles so far this season.
But when the Austrian is at his best, there’s not many defenders who can live with his pace, power and movement. Finding this kind of display will be key for Moyes if West Ham are to avoid the drop this season, but at least he has now served reminder that the talent is still there.
As for Moyes, this was exactly the kind of result and performance he’d have been looking for. In the first half, West Ham were excellent, taking the game to Chelsea and asking questions of their defence. In the second half, the boot was on the other foot, but when West Ham needed to show their teeth, they did exactly that…
Something for which to build on; something for which to deliver hope; something which to remind – perhaps even himself – that he can still mix it with the best in the Premier League.
DECISION TO STAND BY ADRIAN VINDICATED – BUT WHAT NOW FOR JOE HART?
All the talk before kick-off surrounded Moyes’ decision to stand by Spanish custodian Adrian in the West Ham goal, and with it, leave England man Joe Hart benched.
The former Man City was ineligible to face his parent club last weekend and Moyes opted to stand by Adrian for the visit of Antonio Conte’s men.
Hart’s form has come under scrutiny after some seriously indifferent displays this season; the England keeper conceding 30 goals in 14 Premier League matches he’s played in so far.
And Adrian’s display against the Blues fully vindicated Moyes’ choice; the Spaniard making smart saves to deny N’Golo Kante and Davide Zappacosta as Chelsea looked to find a route back into the game.
It’s hypothetical to theorise whether Hart would have saved either of those shots, but the cold light of day means that if he isn’t starting for West Ham, he sure as hell can’t start for England. With a World Cup now just a matter of six months away, Gareth Southgate has a serious decision to make – and the sooner he realises that Hart can no longer be considered England’s No 1, the better for everyone.