Saturday 22 July 2017

Guardiola starts to crack, 'losers' Liverpool and Man United on the charge: Five talking points from Premier League

Samuel Lovett

Guardiola starts to crack, United win ugly, Foxes miss Vardy's cutting edge, Liverpool's setback could prove costly, Tottenham find their form on the road.

Guardiola starts to crack

He’s been hailed as a managerial mastermind, renowned for his footballing success across Europe, but the trials and tribulations of the English Premier League are slowly grinding down Pep Guardiola – and it's starting to tell. After his team’s 2-1 victory over Burnley – by no means an easy feat for the home side – the Catalan appeared to lose it. Abrasive and sarcastic, Guardiola dodged the questions put to him in a truly bizarre and uncomfortably awkward interview with the BBC’s Damian Johnson.

When asked for his opinion on Fernandinho's red card, Guardiola snapped: “You are the journalist, not me. Ask the referee.” He even discussed his future retirement, admitting: “I am arriving at the end of my coaching career”. City may be sat in third after Monday’s victory, but with Guardiola slowly morphing into his old adversary Jose Mourinho, expect the waters at the Etihad Stadium to remain unsettled. If Guardiola cannot learn to adapt to the punishing, and often hostile, nature of the Premier League then City stand little chance of catching league leaders Chelsea.

Congested fixture schedule hinders United – but Mourinho’s men grind out result

Speaking before the match, Manchester United forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic admitted that he would likely struggle against West Ham. "I think it’s crazy,” he said. “Let’s be intelligent and realistic for the health of everyone that is in the game, you need rest.” True to his word, Ibrahimovic struggled – as did his whole team.

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United were sub-standard in their 2-0 victory, even with a one-man advantage following Sofiane Feghouli’s early dismissal. Zlatan and co looked ragged, off the pace and downright exhausted. Victory ultimately confirmed two things. Firstly, that United are turning a sizeable corner under Jose Mourinho.

They demonstrated their ability to win ugly at the London Stadium, a quality absent from Old Trafford in recent years. Secondly, the Premier League officials need a significant rethink of the Christmas schedule. While other European leagues take much-needed breaks, England’s leagues opt to cram as much football in as possible over the holidays – much to the detriment of the quality on offer.

Foxes miss Vardy's cutting edge

Jamie Vardy may not be enjoying the sort of form which saw him score 24 goals last season, but there's little doubt that the England international would have made the difference in Leicester's 0-0 draw against Middlesbrough. For a game that opened up in frantic fashion as the 90 minute-mark drew close, Vardy's nose for goals and artful finishing was sorely missed.

Leicester may have impressed with some eye-catching football at times, but the visitors repeatedly squandered their chances in front of goal and lacked that vital cutting edge which underpinned their historic title-winning season. Having served his three-game suspension, Vardy will be itching to return as Leicester continue to languish dangerously close to the relegation zone.

Tottenham find their form on the road

Spurs’ comfortable 4-1 victory at Watford on Sunday was the side’s fourth successive win and puts them in good stead for Wednesday’s clash with Chelsea. More significantly, it suggested that Mauricio Pochettino’s men have finally mastered the art of imposing themselves on lesser opponents on the road.

Prior to their 4-1 demolition of Southampton on December 28, Spurs had gone eight away matches without a win – but their last two results testify to the progress made by the side over the Christmas period. Pochettino has been saying all year that the last step for his Spurs teams to take is in their heads – and after the emotional upset of their Champions League exit, the north London club at long last appear to have taken it. If they can get a result against the Blues, Spurs will be in their strongest position yet this season.

‘Losers’ Liverpool?

Jurgen Klopp’s words in the wake of his side’s 2-2 against Sunderland may have been somewhat harsh, describing himself as ‘loser’, but there was no doubt that the Reds missed a trick at the Stadium of Light on Monday.  The visitors will undoubtedly see it as two points dropped after taking the lead on two separate occasions while recording 15 shots on target.

Liverpool hit the ground running but grew increasingly ponderous as the game wore on, with the absence of captain Jordan Henderson depriving Klopp’s side of a calm head under pressure. And as was the case throughout the league, tiredness also proved a factor but on this occasion it favoured the spirited Sunderland who dug deep for a precious point.

United may have been capable of grinding at a result at the London Stadium but that seemed beyond the Reds on Monday. Such a setback now leaves Liverpool potentially eight points behind Chelsea and the side will know that anymore results of this kind could spell the end for their title hopes. The Reds have blinked. They cannot afford to do so again.

(© Independent News Service)

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