Memphis Depay rightly shown the door by United, plus thoughts on Man City’s performance against Tottenham, Wayne Rooney’s record, Liverpool’s title hopes and the bouncing Baggies.
Man United right to get rid of self-obsessed Memphis
Jose Mourinho said that the January transfer window is there only “to solve problems” – and there was no bigger problem at Manchester United than Memphis Depay.
A star at the 2014 World Cup, a goal machine in his final season at PSV Eindhoven, and ultimately another over-hyped player to crumble under the sheer weight that comes with wearing the No.7 shirt at Old Trafford.
Louis van Gaal, who signed Depay for £22.3m barely 18 months ago, described his compatriot as a “highly-talented player who is full of confidence”, yet the only confidence we ever saw from him was in himself rather than his football ability.
Manchester United have an embarrassment of riches in attacking areas but Depay did nothing to try and stand out from the crowd and clearly did not have to desire to do so, either.
Restricted to just one start under Mourinho – a League Cup tie against Northampton Town where he was subbed after 55 minutes – and a mere 20 minutes of Premier League football this season, it was clear to see that the United boss had long made his mind up on the 22-year-old despite saying he wanted to help him through his tough spell.
But only a quick glance at his social media channels is needed to know that Depay was beyond help. His ego became far bigger than he would ever become at Manchester United and it was absolutely the right call to send him packing to Lyon.
While it came as no surprise to see a usually ruthless Mourinho get rid of another outcast, and one with such a questionable attitude, it was a shock to see that a buy-back clause had been included should Depay show strong signs of realising his potential in Ligue One.
For that to happen, though, he is going to have to show a serious change in attitude and put his priorities in order – but not many Manchester United fans will be holding their breath.
More of the same please, Pep
Many were fearing the worst for Manchester City as they came up against a formidable opponent in Tottenham just six days on from their horror show at Everton – but Pep Guardiola almost got the perfect response on Saturday evening.
It was the absolute polar opposite from what we thought we were going to see at the Etihad. Manchester City dictated the tempo with a ferocious high press that left Tottenham looking incredibly vulnerable at the back and it was Mauricio Pochettino tinkering between a back three and a back four rather than his Spanish counterpart.
Rather than draw attention on his leaky, creaking defence, Guardiola instead focused on his major strength which is the vast array of attacking talent he has at disposal.
David Silva, the wonderful Kevin de Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and Sergio Aguero provided a glorious mix of creativity, pace and power throughout – now between these five they must find that killer instinct.
But for all of their dominance they had to rely on two massive errors from Hugo Lloris and a handball from Sane to get anything out of the game. even though they were on the wrong end of a couple of key decisions themselves with a clear push on Sterling in the area going unpunished and Harry Kane marginally offside in the build-up to Spurs’ equaliser.
However, regardless of their ongoing troubles at both ends of the pitch, Manchester City have to use the Tottenham game as the benchmark for the remainder of the season. The intensity, the desire, the relentless pressure they showed in this tactical battle must now be replicated in the physical encounters they will face, too.
It would be unfair to end without mentioning Gabriel Jesus’ cameo for Manchester City. The offside flag cruelly (but rightly) denied him a dramatic late winner but in those brief eight minutes he embodied all the right characteristics which have the potential to take both him and Manchester City in the years to come.
Liverpool’s dreams all but over
Jurgen Klopp’s face at full time said just about told the story of Liverpool’s 3-2 defeat to Swansea on Saturday afternoon.
For the neutral, the Swans’ win at Anfield was a thoroughly entertaining spectacle. Five goals, numerous twists and turns and the story of two teams with such contrasting ambitions.
For Liverpool fans however, it must have been the kind of nightmare which they had feared: another indication that this team is not yet ready to take the next step.
Without being insulting to Swansea, no team vying for the title should concede three goals to the bottom side in the league.
The Welsh side had not won a league game at Anfield, while the Reds had a 17-match unbeaten run, so it was easy to see why the odds were stacked against the visitors.
Nonetheless, Fernando Llorente capitalised on some slack defending to push the visitors into a two-goal lead and stun the previously expectant crowd on Merseyside.
The doubts were ringing around Anfield almost as loudly as they will have been in Jurgen Klopp’s head.
The blistering manner in which Liverpool got themselves back into the game was indicative of a side with spirit and determination resembling the sides of the 80s, but their defence was one resembling a slice swiss cheese.
Klopp’s words after the game echoed those of a man who knows the big dream is over.
“We gave them the opportunities to win the game. The damage? I don’t know,” he said.
The 27-year wait may well go on for Liverpool.
READ MORE: Stats expose Liverpool’s leaky defence
Rooney is something special
How fitting that when landmark moment finally came for Wayne Rooney, it was pretty spectacular.
The 31-year-old on Saturday became Manchester United’s outright, all-time highest scorer with an incredible free-kick to salvage his side a 1-1 draw at Stoke.
What was his 250th United goal, moving him clear of Sir Bobby Charlton at the top of the list, demonstrated a recurring theme: his ability to fashion something out of absolutely nothing.
There is remarkable element of symmetry with the fact that Rooney announced himself to the world in 2002 with a wonderful late strike to hand the Toffees a 2-1 win over Arsenal.
And after his move to Old Trafford went through in 2004, the young forward marked his Red Devils debut against Fenerbahce in the Champions League with a brilliant hat-trick, wrapped up with a free-kick.
He went on to take the BBC’s Goal of the Season award for that campaign with a volley against Middlesbrough and claimed it again in 2006-07 thanks to a delicate finish against Bolton, before completing a treble in 2010-11 with an outrageous overhead kick that sealed a 2-1 derby win over Manchester City.
And who could forget his effort from just past the halfway line against West Ham in 2014?
Five Premier League titles, one FA Cup, two League Cups and a Champions League, plus countless memories created from his at times astounding play.
Yet, with all that, the captain has had a considerable amount of criticism to deal with, including from the Old Trafford faithful.
Rooney appears to have struggled to achieve the affection that Charlton once did, but please do not let that undermine the achievement of one of the Premier League’s greatest ever.
There are several reasons that Rooney has perhaps been under-appreciated. Perhaps it’s the fact he has been part of an England side that never lived up to expectation, or the fact he had a contract stand-off with the club back in 2010, or his inability to show up in big games for England.
At times this season, claims that Rooney is United ‘legend’ would have been dismissed out of hand. The 31-year-old has struggled to nail down a starting spot, and subsequently has been pushed down the pecking order by Jose Mourinho.
But then he stepped off the bench on Saturday and delivered such a wonderful reminder of the kind of player he has been. An important landmark, but also a crucial goal for the future of Wayne Rooney.
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Baggies bucking the trend
I am a firm believer in giving teams credit that somewhat slip under the radar. This season, there may be no better example of that than West Bromwich Albion.
Tony Pulis has a reputation for getting the best out of the team he is given, and there was a sense of normal service resumed at The Hawthorns as they comfortably beat Sunderland on Saturday.
Burnley, Watford, Swansea City and Hull City have all been previous victims to the Baggies, an indication of just how far they have come with the squad that has been so carefully assembled.
Pulis’ side now sit on 32 points, in eighth position, with a ten-day rest until their next Premier League fixture.
Jake Livermore arrived this week, a real Pulis signing, and the Black Country club have finally closed the door on the Saido Berahino saga.
Yes, they got a drubbing at White Hart Lane prior to their game against the Black Cats, but nobody is expecting them to go toe-to-toe with title challengers.
The Hawthorns is a fortress, and if anyone thought WBA’s current position is somewhat inflated, then they might not be so sure with games against Middlesbrough, Stoke, West Ham, Bournemouth and Crystal Palace all soon to come.
In 2013, the Baggies managed an eighth-placed finish under the impressive guidance of Steve Clarke, with 49 points amassed. Could they better that this year?
All the signs say yes; the team is scoring, the key players like Matty Phillips are performing, and the team is looking up rather than over their shoulders for once.