•As I write this column 19 managers from the Premier League are meeting to analyse what is going wrong with the video system.
• This will be followed up by the club owners and CEO’s meeting with the Premier League to decide a course of action
I told you last week that the Premier League is taking a review of VAR very seriously. As I write this column 19 managers from the Premier League are meeting to analyse what is going wrong with the video system. Following that, the club owners and CEO’s will meet with the Premier League to decide a course of action. VAR is now used in 28 countries. The horrendous accident to Andre Gomes in Everton’s match against Tottenham, when Hueng Son-min mistimed a tackle, was an incident which needed to be studied very carefully. I can assure you that Son is not a dirty player. In fact, he is one of the cleanest and most careful players. He is one of the nicest young men you could ever wish to meet. He was horrified at what happened and was distraught and in tears. It seemed to me that the tackle was a poor one but Gomes also caught his foot in the grass as he fell and twisted it after colliding with Serge Aurier. That was my view and others might see it differently but my point is that the referee did not go over to the pitchside VAR monitor to see for himself at close range what had happened…He simply got out his yellow card and then with all the chaos and player pressure, he seemed to panic and produced a red card.
That is my view was poor refereeing and the VAR team could have helped clarify the situation. Fortunately, the red card was overturned on appeal and Son will not miss three matches which is the usual punishment. I have watched the incident a dozen times and remain convinced that the tackle was poor but not in any way deliberate or malicious or even dangerous. I am sure we all wish the talented Andre Gomes the very best to recover quickly from his broken ankle and Hueng Son-min will be first in that queue.
Pep begins mind games for Sunday
Pep Guardiola began his mind games this week against Liverpool prior to the weekend’s clash of the two title runners meeting on Sunday. He accused Liverpool striker Sadio Mane of being a diver. He pointed at Mane’s booking for diving at Villa Park when he was challenged by defender Frederic Guilbert in the penalty area. Pep reminded us that Mane has also been accused of diving against Leicester and Crystal Palace and he will be watching for every Sadio’s movement inside the penalty this Sunday. However, when challenged by Jurgen Klopp, who immediately defended Sadio’s reputation, Pep appeared to take a backward step and said he admired both Liverpool and Sadio and appreciated that Klopp knows Sadio better than he does. It all makes for a thrilling competitive match on Sunday.
Guardiola jokes about Liverpool’s home record
This weekend’s big game is undoubtedly Liverpool v Manchester City. Both teams are keyed up for a title clash. However, City’s Pep Guardiola is also displaying humour by making a joke about Liverpool. He said: “How many centuries have Liverpool not lost at Anfield? We will see.” Liverpool look unstoppable and City might not have David Silva available because of a muscle injury.
Watford and firework night
Last Sunday’s match in which Watford lost to Chelsea was memorable for two reasons. Every year in the UK, we have Guy Fawkes night where bonfires and fireworks light up the sky and we celebrate the failed attempt to blow up Parliament in 1605. Around the Watford, Stadium fireworks were lighting up the sky. It mirrored what was happening inside the Vicarage Road Stadium as Watford suffered another defeat to Frank Lampard’s young Blues. This time, the explosions were coming from the crowd and aimed at Watford coach Quique Sanchez Flores. “You don’t know what you’re doing” chanted the crowd as they demanded more creativity, more passion and more skill from a poor Watford side who are firmly cemented to bottom spot in the Premier League. Sanchez Flores has won only four points from a possible 21 with only six goals in 11 games. Javi Gracia and Marco Silva, who preceded Sanchez Flores, were kicked out after disastrous runs which gave Watford five points from a possible 30 and 33 points respectively. Referring to those statistics my contact told me that Watford will be looking for another new manager very soon.
Arsenal boss Emery under attack
Meanwhile, back at the Emirates Stadium Unai Emery was again the target of unhappy fans as his team was booed off after securing only a 1-1 draw with Wolves. Emery played a diamond formation which soon became a complete mess as players ran in every direction as things fell apart. I was amused to hear that former Gunner legend Robin van Persie watched a video of Unai Emery taking a training session with his players and concluded that he could not understand a word the Frenchman was talking about! Neither it seems can the current players as Arsenal limp from match to match without any shape or purpose.
A tricky trip to Leicester this weekend will not help Emery if they lose again. Rumours are strong that Arsenal have drawn up a list of possible managers to replace Emery and among the coaching hopefuls, it is Mikel Arteta’s name which keeps cropping up.
However, I have also heard that Jose Mourinho would be very willing to talk to the Gunners and he has a point to prove in the Premier League after being sacked by Manchester United.
Mourinho’s problem is that in the past he has been particularly nasty about Arsenal and fans might not be forgiving. Two other possibles are Patrick Vieira, a Gunners legend in every sense but he is struggling as manager of French club Nice and ex-Juventus boss Max Allegri who originally turned down Arsenal before Emery was appointed.
Chelsea’s Pulisic has arrived!
At last, we are witnessing why Chelsea paid £58million for American star player Christian Pulisic. He began his career for the Blues rather slowly and Frank Lampard protected him while he adjusted to the far superior Premier League after his transfer from Borussia Dortmund. Now Pulisic has arrived in style with pulsating performances which have seen himassist in wins over Newcastle and Ajax and followed that up with a hat-trick against Burnley. On the training field, he is very popular with other players and Lampard is clearly impressed with his work rate and mental approach. Last weekend’s win against lowly Watford again saw Christian hitting the back of the net and he is in the first position to start against Crystal Palace this weekend in the lunchtime kick-off.
Egan superb performances for the Blades
Many people thought Sheffield United would be main relegation contenders this season. How wrong they were! United have the best joint defensive record in the league with five clean sheets. John Egan, at the heart of the defence, can claim much of the credit for the Blades successful run of form and the Irishman thanks his father every day of his life for his inspiration and guidance. John Egan Snr was a Gaelic football legend and there is a statue of him in their hometown of Sneem, County Kerry, Ireland. Egan Jnr has become a rock in defence for Sheffield and is a leader in the dressing room and much of their success this season begins with him.
Vardy shorter runs paying dividends
Leicester’s manager Brendan Rodgers has been praising his striker Jamie Vardy as he rockets to the top of the goal scorers table with one more than Chelsea’s Tammy Abraham and Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero. Rodgers said this week, “He’s not having to press the whole back four this season and although he would run all day he is now doing shorter bursts and it is working extremely well. He’s also playing more central and staying on the last man because he is such a threat to opposition defenders.” Leicester are six points clear of fifth-placed Arsenal who they play at home this weekend. By the way, that is one more point at this stage of the season than they had earned when they won the League in 2015/16!
Brighton playing to win at United
This week, I was down at the Amex Stadium which is home to Brighton & Hove Albion and manager Graham Potter and his training staff are very confident of playing to win at Man United this Sunday. Gone are the days when clubs in the lower and middle of the league table played to keep United’s score down and these days clubs arrive with confidence and a winning mentality. With a 3-0 win against Tottenham and a 3-2 victory against Everton no wonder Brighton feel they are a rising club. Last weekend’s win against Norwich has seen them move up to 9th in the table and one place above United. Brighton’s summer recruit Leandro Trossard is fit again and aims to start the match instead of becoming the super-sub as he has done just recently with match-winning cameo performances.
Wolves are progressing well
Wolves manager Nuno Espirito does not always get the credit he deserves. I have watched them four times this season so far and there is no doubt they are one of the best-coached teams in the Premier League and unbeaten since mid-September and that includes away fixtures to Manchester City and Arsenal. Nuno says, “Perfection does not exist but we are always chasing it.” His current side are tactically well trained and technically very good indeed. They are not the most exciting team to watch but their mid-table position, without spending big money, is testament to good training sessions and clever management.