In a new addition to the site, Rich Laverty takes a weekly look at five areas of the weekend’s football and explores the key issues behind teams in form, out of form and why. This week, Chelsea’s form comes under the microscope whilst is there finally some hope for long suffering Leeds United fans?
Alan Pardew’s defensive deficiencies continue to bite
Crystal Palace have scored more goals in the Premier League this season than any other side outside the top four. An impressive feat for a team sitting in 15th position, you might say. Unfortunately despite their 16 goals, Palace have a minus-three goal difference and allowed Burnley to score three goals at home in the Premier League, for the first time since New Year’s Day 2015.
After only adding James Tomkins from West Ham in defence over the summer, it’s no surprise Pardew hasn’t been able to iron out defensive issues that dogged him at Newcastle too. The Magpies conceded 10 goals in their last four games before Pardew left for Palace, and their inability to defend is a hindrance, especially as they’re more than capable of outscoring teams around them.
Chelsea’s 12th man continue to be a key factor
No, not the Stamford Bridge faithful. Not that they haven’t been very supportive of their enthusiastic, touchline-hugging new boss in recent weeks. Chelsea’s 12th man is the happiness and confidence flowing through a side that were brushed aside by Arsenal at the Emirates.
It would be cruelly ironic if Arsene Wenger were to be denied a title in potentially his last year, as he was the man who forced Antonio Conte into a radical change of system. Whilst not many would have had Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso down as title-winning wing-backs, or David Luiz as part of a solid back three, Conte has found a system which is working superbly.
But the smiles are back on faces, even Diego Costa may show his teeth if things continue as well as they are now. The return to form of Eden Hazard and Nemanja Matic has also been crucial to Chelsea’s return as top dogs.Embed from Getty Images
Leeds United can go all the way
It was only two games into the new season when Garry Monk appeared to be on his way out of Elland Road. With two league defeats either side of a close penalty shootout win over Fleetwood Town, one wonders whether Monk would still be in charge had the shootout flipped the other way.
But seven wins from their last 10 and a run to the EFL Cup quarter-finals sees Leeds sit in the play-off spots for the first time since Boxing Day 2013. Monk’s faith in youth and the once unpopular Chris Wood has benefitted and rejuvenated Leeds. You also cannot ignore the impact of Pontus Jansson on what was once a comedic defence capable of incredible self-destruction when it was lined with unknown Italians.
Whilst a sense of ‘catastrophe is just around the corner’ always lingers at Elland Road, this season may FINALLY be a new dawn.
European commitments – or lack of them – may sway the title race
This season we have the unusual prospect of several top sides not competing in Europe’s premier competition – or Europe at all! Chelsea and Liverpool are neck and neck with Arsenal and Manchester City at the top of the Premier League and the long weeks off for the former may prove vital as the season goes on.
Despite Jose Mourinho’s apparent best efforts to get Manchester United out of the Europa League, the Reds sit further away from the top of the league. However, Manchester City’s fatigue was evident in the final moments against Middlesbrough on Saturday. Despite playing Barcelona off the park midweek, Pep Guardiola’s side couldn’t hold on against Boro and looked leggy the more the game wore on.
With Arsenal probably ready to bow out of the Champions League in the second round once again, Chelsea and Liverpool’s form and scintillating football will be a concern for their rivals as the games pile up into 2017.
Steve Sidwell’s goal was good, but it wasn’t even the best in the league on Saturday
There’s something glorious about the way Steve Sidwell lobbed Frank Fielding from the centre circle on Saturday night and there was something even more glorious about the poignant celebration that followed.
What was most impressive was Sidwell didn’t even put much power behind the effort – it sort of just floated over Fielding in slow motion – but in my opinion it was upstaged by Derby’s second at Molineux earlier in the day.
Will Hughes’s delightful chipped ball over the top of the Wolves defence was good enough in itself, it certainly deserved a goal. The fact former England striker Darren Bent watched the ball drop over his shoulder before hammering it into the roof of the net was just the icing on the cake. Goal of the season? Maybe. There were two or three top contenders this weekend alone.
You can follow Rich Laverty on Twitter @RichJLaverty
You can read more from Rich here