By Christopher Worrall
Pellegrini chooses bad time to revert to type
Having long been saddled with a reputation for tactically naïve football, Manuel Pellegrini had begun to show signs of pragmatism and flexibility. Having abandoned the 4-4-2 of his first season, he had responded to games in which his 4-2-3-1’s midfield was overwhelmed with a 4-3-3 that worked wonders against strong opposition. In particular, the thumping 3-1 win away to Sevilla in the Champions League felt like he had finally silenced his doubters. Against Liverpool, he resupplied them with their ammunition.
Reverting back to an open formation with four advanced attackers, his Manchester City side were abysmal against a fluid, impressive Liverpool. The defence took most of the flak, but the real root of the failure came from a defensive midfield duo both too detached from the forward line and dismally inept when either shielding the back from attack or holding possession against Klopp’s midfield three. In his two-and-a-bit seasons so far, Pellegrini has a league and league cup to his name and has restored much of the squad calm and unity that was barren during Mancini’s final months. With more performances like this though, he can only expect further criticism of his idealism coming before the practicality of winning matches.
Vardy delighted to have chance to equal record against Magpies
If his injury had persisted from the international break, Jamie Vardy would have had the daunting task of trying to equal the Premier League consecutive goal-scoring record against the mean defence of Manchester United. Luckily for him and Leicester City, he came through and was fit enough to deliver against the much softer target of Newcastle United, whose bright blip against Norwich looks increasingly like the exception rather than the rule. Vardy claimed the headlines he has deserved, but his route to history was made far easier by Steve McClaren’s increasingly poor, desperate Magpies.
Chelsea win in relegation six-pointer
…Okay. That may be stretching it slightly, as Chelsea surely (surely?) cannot continue languishing near the bottom of the Premier League table. Such is the unusualness of their situation, whatever the result was against Norwich would have been attributed to either a narrative of continuing failure or one of the beginning of recovery. In reality, the 1-0 victory was neither. Sure, Costa finally scored, they kept a clean sheet and Hazard is getting closer to the player who dominated the league last year. However, the last time people tried to create a rescue narrative out of a frankly routine home win was against Tim Sherwood’s Aston Villa. What followed that was a chastening loss to Liverpool and further calls for the Special One’s head. That was last time. This time will be different, surely? What’s next for Chelsea, you say? A game against high-flying Spurs? …Oh right….
Everton beginning to click?
After a terrific first season, Roberto Martinez struggled to recapture that brilliant form in the subsequent campaign as well as struggling in the early parts of 2015/16. Although two high-scoring victories against the league’s bottom two (at time of fixtures) is not a definitive sign of improvement, what is encouraging to see is the fluidity and potency of Everton’s attack beginning to click to deadly effect. The consistent form of Ross Barkley, the direct power of Kone (whose good form has supplanted Kevin Miralles) and the silky skill of Deulofeu is working wonders behind the foreboding forward that is Lukaku. More so perhaps even than the Spaniard’s first season, his Toffees attack has particular individual skills that either combine brilliantly or carry enough on their own to pick a particularly hard defensive lock. Harder locks than Villa and Sunderland are to come, but things are looking better and better at Goodison Park.
Pardew’s Palace get Palaced
Two home wins all season speaks volumes when considering Crystal Palace’s decent start to the season. Pardew’s tactics have them as a dangerous counter-attacking side, but one that struggles to break down a deep-lying team when they are expected to be on the front foot. Nowhere was this more apparent than in their 1-0 loss to Sunderland on Monday night. What Palace are lauded at doing was itself done to them: their opponent sat back, surrendered nothing before hitting them effectively on the counter. They were helped by some poor defender/goalkeeper communication, but they took their chance like any effective team should do. If Pardew is to get his dream of the England job (something becoming increasingly more likely the more the inevitable hand of time moves), he will need to start showing that his teams can more than simply respond and react.