Premier League Review: Cherries On Top
AFC Bournemouth appearing first on Match of the Day isn’t an especially common occurence, but their performance in putting six goals past Hull City in the Premier League at Dean Court yesterday certainly justified such star billing. After a slow start to the season, they’ve now won three and drawn one of their last five games, all of which was enough for Gary Lineker, after having watched their demolition of a Hull City side that is now starting to show the signs of fraying around the edges that were widely predicted before the start of the season, to mention manager Eddie Howe in connection with an England job that Howe has already ruled himself out of on account of not being ready for the position yet.
Of course, that might well just be what he’s telling us. It could well be that Eddie Howe looks at the England job, at the savaging that the managers get in the press, in the ever-diminishing returns in terms of playing resources, of a burden of expectation that flies in the face of any rational logic. Eddie Howe is probably the most higly rated young manager in England at the moment. Why on earth would he want to trash his reputation by taking on a job in which he almost certainly cannot succeed? Bournemouth is a place of relatively modest ambitions. Survival in the Premier League at the end of last season was more comfortable than many expected, and this season has seen the team defying the received wisdom of the “second difficult season”. That he should feel more at home at Dean Court than wearing a blazer with a three lions badge on the breast pocket probably shouldn’t surprise us that much.
Hull City finally put a ring on it last week, appointing Mike Phelan into the manager’s job on a full-time basis after two months of waiting. Phelan’s start at The Kcom Stadium couldn’t have been much more successful, with two straight wins to start the season including an opening day win against the champions, Leicester City. Since then, however, the wheels have started to come off the wagon. From whichever angle the spotlight shines on their recent performances, the numbers are dismal. They’ve now gone six matches without a win, and have lost four in a row. The twenty goals that they have conceded so far this season is comfortably the most in the Premier League, and seventeen of them have come in their last four matches. It looks like being a long, cold winter on Humberside.
At the other end of the Premier League, meanwhile, where expectations are somewhat higher, it has been a mixed weekend, so far. Maarten Stekelenburg, the Everton goalkeeper, probably has grounds to feel a little disappointed that his saving of penalty kicks from both Kevin de Bruyne and Sergio Aguero were only rewarded by a point against a Manchester City team that continues to falter after its flawless start to the season. Everton grabbed the lead through Romelo Lukaku nineteen minutes into the second half, only for Nolito to haul City level eight minutes later. This goal dropped Everton a place in the Premier League table after swatted Leicester City aside in the lunchtime match. One of the more curious stories of the end of last week was that betting had been suspended on Antonio Conte being the next Premier League manager to vacate his position. He’ll be feeling a little more secure in his position after a comfortable win against a Leicester team that is already looking a shadow of the team that surprised so many last season.
Manchester City’s failure to take all three points against Everton nudged a door open for Tottenham Hotspur, who would have gone to the top of the table had they managed to beat West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns. As things turned out, however, they were dependent on a goal two minutes from Delle Alli to rescue a point from their trip to the Black Country, after Nacer Chadli had given Albion the lead seven minutes earlier. This is the first time that Spurs have gone eight games unbeaten from the start of a season in more than a quarter of a century, but they finished the day in third place in the table after their dropped points allowed Arsenal to jump into secvond place following an enjoyably knockabout three-two win against Swansea City which included plentiful chances at both ends of the pitch, a highly questionable red card for Granit Xhaka – the first question in Arsene Wenger’s post-match interview confirmed that yes, Wenger did see this incident – two goals for Theo Walcott, who might on another day, have scored a hatful, and a decisive third goal scored by Mesut Ozil, who was celebrating his twenty-eighth birthday. Definitely a good day at the office for all concerned with Arsenal’s progress this season.
The last two games of this Premier League Saturday were both largely concerned with the relegation places at the other end of the table. Sunderland are starting to look adrift at the bottom after losing two-nil at Stoke City, who are starting to get themselves together and are now only separated from a place outside the bottom three by their goal difference. The brightest spot of Stoke’s season so far has been the form of new signing Joe Allen, and his recent scoring run continued with two first half goals. It’s difficult to avoid the feeling that time is running out already for David Moyes at the Stadium of Light. They have been here before, of course – Sunderland sacking a manager in the autumn now feels as much a part of this time of year as the feel of leaves under the feet or the sound of fireworks being let off at absurd times of the day – but is Moyes now a busted flush as a manager, or is Sunderland AFC now effectively unmanageable and in need of the clearout that only relegation would likely bring. The answer may well be, a little from column A and a little from column B.
The international break doesn’t seem to have done West Ham United any harm, at least. They might have been excused a little trepidation at the thought of travelling to Selhurst Park to play a Crystal Palace side that had gone its previous five matches unbeaten and lifted itself into the top half of the table in the process. A first half goal from Manuel Lanzini was enough to hand Slaven Bilic his first Premier League win since beating Bournemouth in August and lift his team out of the relegation places at the same time. Alan Pardew, meanwhile, continues to lead Palace on a journey that feels as though it should be more at home at Alton Towers than in the Premier League. When, Palace supporters may well wish to ask, is their team ever going to sink into a comforting rut of mid-table mediocrity?
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