Monday Verdict: Foxes heroics may end in tears; Rooney swap

Date published: Monday 25th April 2016 12:25

Shinji Okazaki: Second Japanese to win PL title

Leicester may have rolled Swansea over but their season could yet have a nasty sting in the tail, while Wayne Rooney’s positional change and Rafa Benitez’s blossoming relationship at Newcastle are also discussed.

Leicester don’t deserve to win the title just yet

Leicester showed no signs of nerves as they edged closer to an unlikely Premier League title with a thumping 4-0 win over Swansea on Sunday.

I thought they might struggle with the finish line in sight and with the nerves getting the better of them, but they got the job done in emphatic fashion, but Swansea really did lie down and have their bellies tickled.

I did have them down as victors against the Swans, but only by the odd goal in our recent title race debate, but looking back at that fixture, Swansea were the perfect home opposition for the Foxes.

They dominated the ball (62% possession) and did very little with it in Leicester’s final third, so much so they produced only one shot on target. That left Leicester to roll out, as they have done all season, their gameplan of playing on the counter-attack and they executed it with aplomb. Allowing Swansea to have the ball in their own half before turning possession over quickly and hitting the ponderous visitors right where it hurts.


The victory was Leicester’s 22nd of the season and just to put that into some sort of context, Aston Villa have managed just 13 Premier League wins in their last two seasons. So Leicester have now collected their biggest haul of wins ever in a top-flight season and former Leicester player and ‘football personality’ Robbie Savage “cannot believe it”.

Savage tried to put Leicester’s potential triumph into context, but he failed miserably, although we do know now that the “people that hold the doors open” are the same doormen that were around when Savage was darting around at Filbert Street earlier this century.

Savage told BBC Radio 5: “Leicester winning the league would have to be the best achievement in domestic sport. Ever. It is that incredible. And I don’t think we’ll see anything like this ever again.

“I just can’t believe it. Everybody here is the same from when I was around; the kitman, the people holding the doors open. But on the pitch they are transformed. It’s one of those moments when you think: I was there.”

If Leicester go on to do it, and I still think they might get nailed by Tottenham, the bookies have already stated that at 5000/1 it will be the longest odds on any successful single event (not accumulator), of any genre, not just sport, ever.

So Robbie thanks, but forget “domestic sport”, forget sport, they will in fact become the biggest outsider to triumph in any single event ever.

Swansea boss Francesco Guidolin claimed his men “fought” for 90 minutes and afterwards admitted he wanted his “friend” Claudio Ranieri to win the title.

Shame he didn’t let us in on that beforehand; I could have had the re-mortgage in place by Sunday.

“We began really well, but then we conceded the first goal and we had to change our mentality and the way we played,” said Guidolin.

“We fought for 90 minutes. Claudio is my friend and now I can say it, I hope Leicester go on and win the title because they deserve it. Leicester are a really strong team and they deserve to win the Premier League.”

Guidolin was the latest man to then state that “Leicester deserve to win it”.

But do they deserve it?

I don’t think so, not yet anyway. Could we say that Leicester deserve it if Tottenham win all their remaining games and win it by an odd point? No is the answer.

The team that finishes with the highest points or the team with the best goal difference after finishing level on points, will deserve to win the league. That’s how it works, and that’s how it has always worked.

Leicester, have been a phenomenal story this season, but they shouldn’t take all the glory if Spurs duck for the line ahead of them.

Mauricio Pochettino’s men might need to win all four of their remaining games, but they’re capable of doing that and if they can time their charge to perfection, like they are threatening to do, then they will deserve the title and their first since 1961.


Benitez should stay at Newcastle regardless

Rafa Benitez: Praised the efforts of his players.

“Yes, I love Liverpool, but I love Newcastle at the moment. Hopefully it’ll be the same for years.”

Quite the love affair is developing on Tyneside between Rafael Benitez and Newcastle, but it does not have to end in tragedy at the end of the season with the two parting ways.

The Spaniard hailed Newcastle’s “passion” after they fought back against his former club Liverpool to claim their first Premier League point on the road since November, yet, as valiant as that was, it is still hard to see Benitez having enough time to fully rectify the Toon Army’s desperate situation.

Unless, he ignores the clause in his contract that allows him to leave at the end of season should Newcastle drop down to Championship. I understand that the decision would threaten to harm his stellar reputation – going from managing Real Madrid to planning a Friday night trip to Bristol City would be enough to dent anyone’s confidence – but with him and his family settled in the UK, he will struggle to find a better club to manage.

There seems to be three Premier League clubs that could be employing a new manager in the summer: Everton, Swansea and Watford. He won’t end up at the former given his strong connection with Liverpool and the digs he used to dish out to them, whilst the latter two clubs will probably not hold a strong enough appeal for Benitez who values the importance of a big fanbase behind him.

Relegation provokes agonising memories as fans reflect on where it all went wrong but it also provides an opportunity to start again and build for a better future, with the sole focus of getting back to where you think you belong uniting everyone.

Newcastle fans will know all about this having seen their team return to the Premier League at the first time of asking in 2010. European football then returned to St James’ Park two years later after a five-year absence and just look at what the likes of Leicester and Southampton have achieved despite dropping into the third-tier.

Admittedly, it did turn ugly for Newcastle with Alan Pardew’s rocky reign ending with him leaving for Crystal Palace and scraping by with the limited ability of John Carver as manager before the speculative punt was taken on Steve McClaren.

However, with the comfort that comes with knowing that Benitez is undoubtedly the right man for the job, it would create a much more settled environment for the Magpies to easily make a relatively quick return to the top-half of the Premier League table.

There are not many clubs where you are given time to build your own team and implement a philosophy, but Mike Ashley, the Newcastle board and fans would give Benitez all the time in the world if he does decide to stay.

Should Newcastle get relegated, they would still be able to attract good players despite not having Premier League status and one short-term decision from Benitez has the potential to create a lasting legacy similar to one he left Liverpool with.

Many said when Benitez was appointed that he would regret taking over at Newcastle, but it could be him having regrets if he decides to leave at the end of the season.

Hodgson’s Rooney puzzle solved

Wayne Rooney: Returned to midfield role at Wembley

Wayne Rooney’s emergence in central midfield over the weekend will surely have had England coach Roy Hodgson cock-a-hoop?

“Problem solved, job done.” Roy must have thought to himself on Saturday night as he kicked off his slippers and tucked himself up with a copy of John Updike’s 1960s paperback Rabbit, Run.

Documented as one of Hodgson favourites, the novel focuses on faded sporting dreams and how to cope with being good, but never quite making it.

Forget that now though, because all thoughts of a repeat of Brazil 2014 and failure this summer will be firmly cast aside as Hodgson has one less problem to solve. His skipper, who has had a average season by his own high standards, has done what he claimed he always knew would happen – he’s stepped back 10 yards and moved into midfield and nailed down his place in the England XI with it.

He’s played in that role for Manchester United before, but he started the FA Cup semi-final in that slot on Saturday and he was man of the match, having one shot on target and creating two chances as he bossed proceedings from a deep-lying position.

Having claimed he has watched Paul Scholes in that position for years, his display was certainly reminiscent of Scholes and Hodgson could well be tempted to play Rooney in the quarter-back role in France – let’s face it he couldn’t pick him as a striker.

That would leave Hodgson able to play two strikers with Jamie Vardy, Harry Kane, Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck all hoping to get the nod against Russia on Saturday, June 11.

As far as England are concerned it’s the timing which is perfect. United fans will argue that the change has come 30 games too late this season, but Rooney’s ability in the centre circle might just become key in the summer. As long as he has a one or maybe two ‘runners’ in there for him, then Hodgson may well have had his biggest decision made for him.

By Matt Briggs and Mark Scott

Related Articles