Antonio makes history and strengthens national claim
Scoring the last goal at an iconic English stadium would be plenty enough for most English players to retire on. Not content however, West Ham’s Michail Antonio then proceeded to score the first league goal at the new London Stadium, and in the process bagged his side a win in their dour match with Bournemouth. While the game was one the Premier League will want to bury far from its ‘best league in the world’ reputation, the Hammers’ versatile midfielder – a signing from lower in the English leagues – continued to impress. He is the blend of muscular, composed and direct play that fans across the country love, and has showcased decent flexibility in a West Ham career that has often had him playing away from his preferred wide-right position. The arrival of ‘Big Sam’ to the England job has many clamouring for more ‘common sense’ squad inclusions to counter the supposed past generations of pampered ‘softies’. Both on his skill set and tactical flexibility, few deserve a ‘common-sense’ call-up more than this man.
Klopp already dividing Kop?
In all honesty, the reaction of that Liverpool fan in the wake of his side’s loss to Burnley was a hilariously knee-jerk reaction that probably speaks little of wider fan opinion of the much-adored German’s time so far at Anfield. However, lurking under the silliness was the semblance of a decent point. It would be easy to sweep away their loss at Turf Moor as a freak one-off: Liverpool dominated possession and peppered the Burnley goal with shots but just didn’t score. However, these sorts of ‘freak’ results have happened rather a lot during Klopp’s time in charge. At their best, his Liverpool are destructive entertainers. Their win against Arsenal was one of several impressive, break-neck wins against big opponents. However, for every one of these great wins there is a loss defined by tepid passing and wasteful attacking, this weekend being the most recent example. The phone in fan may have been a joke, but there was something serious behind it.
Conte’s changes a sign of the future?
For the second week in a row, Antonio Conte dragged a victory from a goal down thanks to some expansive substitutions and tactical changes. Successive tweaks to a 4-2-4 bagged points from losing positions, and there was a key part to both games that speaks of where his Chelsea team may head into the future. His Juventus career was largely defined by playing a strike partnership: Tevez and Llorente were the highest-profile example of this. While he has struggled to bring over his back-three since moving to West London, the switches to two up top may well become Plan A after its obvious success as a current Plan B and C. Its only draw back? It would rely on Diego Costa needing more than refereeing leniency to stay on the pitch.
Shawcross suffers in continuing slump
Not too long ago, Ryan Shawcross was touted for an England place and a move to a big English club. He was a tough tackling leader who stopped almost anything that threatened his teams goal, sometimes with horrific leg-breaking results. Fast forward to now, and only refereeing decisions on penalties saved him being the first focus of critique. Whether it be personal loss of form or him struggling under Hughes’s insistence on a higher line than his Pulis heyday, he has been poor and this weekend he was awful. Guilty for the penalty, marked poorly for the second and – perhaps worst of all – slow and out of position for the third and fourth. At one point, he stopped and slumped as the ball was squared for Nolito to tap in his first. For a player once so defined by his ferocious determination, seeing him in his recent listless rut is truly surprising.