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, Swansea and Crystal Palace’s nine goal thriller comes under the microscope, Leicester City’s relegation worries become more real and why Wayne Rooney could now be Manchester United’s best option.
Swansea vs Crystal Palace WASN’T a good advert for the Premier League
People were quick to suggest the 5-4 thriller between Bob Bradley’s inept Swansea City and Alan Pardew’s even more inept Crystal Palace was a superb advert for the Premier League, and drama-wise it certainly was.
But the defending – or lack of it – on show was quite staggering. Set piece after set piece found the back of the net which has been a common theme this season, especially for Pardew’s Palace. The funniest part was the goals actually got worse, the ball was either scrambled in, deflected in or trickled in off the post after a player tried his best to miss among the ensuing carnage.
While Bradley will be over the moon to get his first win – and you can’t question the character of his team to come back from 4-3 down at the death after leading 3-1 -both sides will be worried about their Premier League futures without defensive improvement.
Time to accept Leicester are in a relegation fight
On this day last year, Jamie Vardy broke the all-time record for scoring in consecutive matches as Leicester drew 1-1 at home to Manchester United. The Foxes had won their previous four matches, won the following three and we were still at a point of the season where everyone was quick to quip, “Well it won’t last, it can’t last”.
This year it’s a very different story, Leicester have won just three matches all season and haven’t won on the road at all. Where Claudio Ranieri’s side were so devastating on the road with their counter-attacking football last year, the stats show Vardy hasn’t managed a shot on target since September and his partnership with Riyad Mahrez has all but evaporated.
After 13 games, Leicester sit just two points above the relegation zone. “Well it won’t last, it can’t last”. It can, and it looks like it will.
Jip Jaap Stam
Eyebrows were raised when Championship side Reading hired Jaap Stam for his first managerial job in the summer. A new manager – with no experience of Championship football – screamed October headlines of his early dismissal and the early signs didn’t look good for the former Manchester United man.
Reading lost two of their first three games, but have only lost two since and have now won five matches on the bounce – conceding just one in the process. Early struggles were to be expected considering the amount of new faces coming in, three of them Dutch players, one Finn, one Ivorian and a Liechtenstein midfielder were among the players to join.
The Royals now sit third, four points behind Brighton and looking rather comfortable in the play-offs given their current form. Price on a Stam return to Old Trafford next season?
Wayne Rooney may now be United’s best option
Scoring his 248th goal for Manchester United on Thursday night, Wayne Rooney showed glimpses of the old Rooney when he cooly dispatched a neat finish over former Liverpool goalkeeper Brad Jones in the Europa League.
Starting and finishing the move himself, it was a sign Rooney hasn’t quite lost it just yet, and he emphasised that by superbly setting up Juan Mata for United’s second. While Zlatan Ibrahimovic had a hand in several goals, but his profligacy in front of goal has frustrated United fans and Mourinho’s men would certainly be higher up the league had the Swede been on top form.
Anthony Martial is struggling to even make the match day squad while Marcus Rashford is out of sorts as he showed with his performance against West Ham. Despite a good performance on Thursday, Rooney was dropped from the starting eleven for the match against the Hammers as his teammates continued to struggle to beat goalkeeper Darren Randolph – not the first time this season United have cried out for some composure.
Mark Hughes has quietly turned things around
There’s an assumption that eventually Stoke City will get found out and be relegated as they fast approach ten years in the country’s top division. Questions were asked about whether Stoke would survive the transition period between Tony Pulis and Mark Hughes, but the latter has gone about changing Stoke’s playing style with relative ease.
The early signs this season weren’t great, despite holding onto the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri, Bojan and Marko Arnautovic, the Potters only added one permanent signing to their ranks – Liverpool’s Joe Allen. Wilfried Bony and Bruno Martins Indi would follow on loan, but Stoke took just one point from their opening five matches.
However, the hard-fought 1-1 draw at Old Trafford seemed to change Stoke’s fortunes, their first win followed at home to Sunderland and the win at Watford on Sunday was their fourth in six matches. Hughes’ side have now moved up to 11th and sit five points clear of relegation – quite the turnaround.
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