It was not until you saw Hazard beaming in his post-match interview that you realise how rare it is to see him really smile. There was no hiding his delight after his virtuoso performance – assisted by some shonky defending – allowed Chelsea to destroy the mood of his former manager. Having been hung out to dry by Jose Mourinho and jeered by supporters last season, Hazard was given a standing ovation at Stamford Bridge. How could he not let himself grin from ear to ear?
Hazard is a footballer who very easily gets frustrated in his own travails, but is flourishing in the position of leader of Conte’s new Chelsea attack. Moved into a No.10 role after the change in shape, Hazard is playing with the joie de vivre of the 2014/15 version that became the best player in the country. In Chelsea’s title-winning campaign he completed more dribbles than any other player, but last season dropped in that list. He’s back up to No. 1 again.
This season Hazard has already scored 100% of his league goals total from last season and completed 44% of the number of dribbles. Most astonishingly, he has already reached 79% of his shots on target total from the whole of last season.
Diego Costa scores the goals and Hazard creates the chances; two ‘rats’ from Mourinho’s sinking ship are doing just fine under a new captain. Harness Hazard’s immense talent, and Conte really might be able to create something special.
No player in the match made more interceptions. No Chelsea player made more clearances. One Chelsea player made more tackles. No Chelsea player made more crosses. This is the biggest redemption involving Moses since the Book of Exodus.
Antonio Conte and Chelsea
Just go and read 16 Conclusions, okay?
Only our early winner. Klopp’s Liverpool are level on points with first place having played four of last season’s top five.
Their next seven league opponents are as follows: Crystal Palace, Watford, Southampton, Sunderland, Bournemouth, West Ham and Middlesbrough. Is this the start of something special?
Clearances vs West Brom:
Matip – 12
Everyone else – 13
Tackles vs West Brom:
Matip – 5
Everyone else – 11
He really is the all-action central defender Liverpool have been missing, and he was bloody free.
No player created more chances or had more shots for Liverpool, no player had more touches in the penalty area in the entire Premier League. Firmino is a wonderful player capable of playing in three different positions, but that false nine role certainly gets the best out of him. Sorry Daniel.
An immediate answer to some difficult questions this week. Karanka will be disappointed that Middlesbrough couldn’t take one of the chances that would have given them three deserved points, but the improvement in the defence was obvious. Next weekend’s home game against Bournemouth is something approaching a must-win, with Manchester City and Chelsea to follow.
On Match of the Day, Danny Murphy described Traore as a “real find” by Middlesbrough, but it’s taken two months of supporters asking why the winger couldn’t be given a chance for Karanka to listen. The Spaniard has looked bright in his brief substitute appearances, and against Arsenal was the best player on the pitch.
The tendency for promoted clubs is to focus on resilience away from home against bigger sides, but having an outlet with the pace and trickery of Traore actually gives the defence a much-needed rest. He may have only completed four passes in 90 minutes, but Traore’s running with the ball pinned back Nacho Monreal and significantly tested Arsenal’s defence. He earned post-match praise not just from Karanka, but Arsene Wenger too.
At 20, Traore is still raw. He reportedly dropped out of the picture at Aston Villa for regular indiscipline, but now has a second chance in the Premier League. Having watched Stewart Downing and Gaston Ramirez for most of this season, Middlesbrough fans are prepared to accept the inconsistencies for the moments of quality.
Four points behind Manchester United, if you’re asking. Burnley barely deserved a point against Everton let alone three, but Sean Dyche won’t be complaining in his gravelly voice. Winning games through adversity is a distinctly un-promoted club thing to do.
Consecutive league wins for the first time since March, and consecutive clean sheets for the first time since December 2015. It might only be Sunderland and Hull – surely the worst two teams in the league – but Hughes will not care a jot.
Stoke’s improvement may well be set to continue, too. Their next three home league opponents are Swansea, Bournemouth and Burnley. They don’t face a current top-six team at home until February.
Consecutive league wins for the first time since April, and consecutive clean sheets for the first time since March. Is this just the Mark Hughes section all over again?
Slaven Bilic’s 3-4-2-1
The attacking proficiency may not return until Simone Zaza is replaced by Andre Ayew, but Bilic’s change in formation has at least shored up a rickety defence. West ham have allowed only six shots on target in 180 minutes since switching to a back three.
Has taken to life in defence as if it were his natural home. Last season, Kouyate made 57 clearances in 34 league games. He’s made 26 in his last two matches.
At least two more shots than any other Premier League player this weekend. Which is weird.
Completed 11 dribbles, four more than any other Premier League player. Created five chances, beaten only by Dimitri Payet. Zaha is permitted to walk around the changing room asking his teammates what went wrong. I just hope he isn’t wearing *those* shorts.
Any team that matches Tottenham before Christmas (and the fatigue really kicks in) for intensity, stamina and defensive composure deserves a standing applause, and Bournemouth have done it better than anyone. If last week demonstrated Eddie Howe’s ability to make his side free-scoring, this was evidence for the other side of Bournemouth’s game. Get you a manager that can do both, as several big clubs might well be thinking.
It’s a bold statement given the performances of Riyad Mahrez, N’Golo Kante, Danny Drinkwater and N’Golo Kante in 2016, but there is an argument that nobody makes Leicester tick quite like Okazaki.
The maths certainly backs up the point. Since the beginning of the year, Okazaki has started 21 league games, in which Leicester have taken 47 points at a rate of 2.23 points per game. Their record in the (admittedly small sample size of) seven league games without him is a return of 0.86 points per game.
The argument for Okazaki’s inclusion is that he is a selfless forward, happy to chase down the ball and drop deep and wide in order to link the play between midfield and attack. Against Crystal Palace, Okazaki had fives times as many touches of the ball in his own half as in the opposition penalty area. No Leicester player had a better pass completion rate, remarkable for a striker.
He plays as a No. 10 but still scores goals. He scores goals but constantly drops deep to link up play. He creates chances but only one teammates made more tackles. He is Leicester’s man that can do it all, the quiet star. Claudio Ranieri will surely now give Okazaki an extended run in his team.
One of only two English players to score in the Premier League this weekend (Gary Cahill the other), and one deserving of his first senior call-up.
More tackles than any other player over the course of the weekend, and evidence that another Chelsea reject is truly kicking on after taking time to overcome the disappointment of Stamford Bridge failure.
2 – Sam Vokes has scored in consecutive PL appearances after netting just one goal in his previous 33 in the competition. Flourish.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 22, 2016
Birthday on Friday, this on Saturday. Better than the end of Craig David’s week, that.
Scored his 11th Premier League goal with his 17th shot. Some record.
A first Premier League start since April. Of course Kompany was booked for steaming into a challenge from behind that he had no hope of winning, but at least he didn’t limp off holding the back of his leg. You’d be a lot more confident of John Stones improving alongside Kompany than Nicolas Otamendi or… wait for it… Aleksandar Kolarov.
“You always miss Cazorla at home. From deep midfield into the final third his pass is always quick, accurate,” said Wenger after the draw at home to Middlesbrough.
Asking Wenger how different last season might have been were it not for Cazorla’s lengthy injury might make his eyes go a little watery.
Steve Cook’s game by number’s vs. Spurs:
100% tackles won
100% aerial duels won
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 22, 2016
Included mainly to make Sarah Winterburn’s eyes roll when subbing my shoddy typing. Gareth Southgate was at Bournemouth vs Tottenham on Saturday. Was he there to watch Kyle Walker, Danny Rose and Dele Alli? Yeah, probably.
You can find plenty on Mr Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge in 16 Conclusions, but it is worth reiterating just how bad an afternoon this was for Manchester United’s new manager.
First you have the losers, a United that showed so little defensive composure that they fell behind after 30 seconds and so little stomach for the fight that the game was effectively over after 30 minutes. Having failed to inspire a defensive performance above abysmal, Mourinho’s answer was to throw on attacking players and then watch as that plan also fell flat on its face.
Then you have the winners, for this was a double-edged defeat for Mourinho. The players that he castigated so readily during and after his last days in charge produced a display of attacking impetus and defensive solidity. Diego Costa was busy and well-behaved, Hazard was magnificent and Nemanja Matic four or five times better than last season. The players Mourinho stuck by (Cesc Fabregas and Branislav Ivanovic) are nowhere to be seen. ‘Mourinho still has the power to get a performance out of Chelsea,’ or so the joke went.
Do not underestimate the problems Mourinho now faces. If United appointed him for his big-game performance, they should realise that he last beat current top-six opposition in September 2015. If they appointed him for an instant improvement, they are doing worse than last season. If they appointed him for his defensive resilience, you’ve probably only just stopped laughing at that first goal.
Or, as is most likely, they appointed Mourinho for a long-term improvement that is clearly not yet out of the question. There are difficult decisions to make over several of this United squad, and Mourinho will consider himself the ideal man to make them. It’s just that finishing in the top four is a necessity, not an option. United are five points behind fifth place with only a quarter of the season gone.
Manchester United’s central defence
Chris Smalling looked all at sea, Eric Bailly may have suffered a serious knee injury, Marcos Rojo is as reliable as you’d expect for man who can’t make toast and I’m not even sure if Phil Jones exists anymore.
Mourinho has some tough decisions to make with his central defence. Wayne Rooney’s going to play there, isn’t he?
A player who should no longer be considered as Liverpool’s first-choice striker. Sturridge’s injuries used to be the caveat that prevented him from starting Premier League games regularly, but no longer. Now fit, it’s Sturridge’s form that his letting him down. Or, more exactly, the form of his teammates.
Sturridge’s selection has actually coincided with some of Liverpool’s most positive results this season: 4-1 vs Leicester, 2-1 vs Chelsea, 0-0 vs Manchester United. Yet their attacking prowess is as a result of their positional fluidity. Having a central striker makes them easier to defend against, not harder.
Just ask Tony Pulis, who referenced the movement of Liverpool’s forward line: “Liverpool are as good as anything we have played against. Their movement is outstanding. Their rotation around the ball, and around those forward players is excellent, and their inter-changing is impressive. They are a very good side and they have got a chance this year.”
Unfortunately for Sturridge, he just doesn’t match up to Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino or Sadio Mane on current form. Liverpool’s rarely-available Plan A has become their Plan B even when raring to play.
By no means a disaster after Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham all failed to win, but an emphatic mood of disappointment surrounded Arsenal after a superb run of victories. If Swansea provided the warning at the Emirates last weekend, Arsenal ignored the beeping alarm. Middlesbrough didn’t just earn their draw, they should have won. Enter FanTV stage left, to sighs from the audience.
Arsene Wenger was keen to paint the positives of the draw: “At least we didn’t lose the game. We have lost games like that. We didn’t win today but at least before maybe we would have panicked a little bit and lost the game.”
His point is valid at a time when every backwards step is treated as a state of emergency, but there is a small point to make regarding Arsenal’s front four. So far this season, either all of the players in that unit perform well, or none of them do. The symbiosis between Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott is of huge benefit to Arsenal when on form, as against Ludogorets in midweek, but against Middlesbrough their imprecision seemed to be catching. This was a return to the Arsenal of all possession but little potency, the one that used a ‘get out of jail free’ card at Burnley.
Still, if this is the setback then Wenger will take it in his stride. Arsenal are one goal away from top spot with Sunderland to come next week.
Tottenham and fatigue
“Bournemouth pushed us a lot and we felt not fresh from the beginning of the game,” Mauricio Pochettino said after the 0-0 draw on Saturday lunchtime.
“Our start was a bit sloppy and you can feel the team wasn’t fresh. After 15 minutes we started to manage the game and it was under control. I am very pleased after playing Champions League in Leverkusen and before at West Brom, two very tough games, and to play a third game here, I am very pleased with the effort. It was because we felt a little bit tired from the beginning.”
Two “not fresh”, one “tough games” and a “little bit tired” in four lines; there is no doubt of Pochettino’s excuse for a seriously under-par performance. Aside from a 15-minute spell in the second half, Tottenham just weren’t at the races.
A draw at Bournemouth is no cause for panic, but Pochettino must be worried about the energy levels in his squad. Tottenham had to cope with Thursday-Sunday football last season, but the intensity of the Champions League – and the competitive nature of their group – is demanding far more from a squad of players who, unlike last season, were on international duty throughout the summer. Four of Tottenham’s four most-used players this season went to Euro 2016.
The issue for Pochettino is that things aren’t about to get any easier. There may be an international break coming up, but that only means the manager will lose his squad to all four corners of the globe. Tottenham’s next seven games could not be more daunting: Liverpool (a), Leicester (h), Leverkusen (h), Arsenal (a), West Ham (h), Monaco (a), Chelsea (a).
A League Cup tie at Anfield, last season’s champions in the league, three London derbies and the denouement of their Champions League group. It’s a bad time for those energy reserves to dip.
There was a moment in the second half against Southampton when Stones looked to be in a spot of bother, pressure on him and no pass available. Rather than panic, Stones turned with the style of an attacking midfielder, slipped his man and drove into the opposition half. Even sat at a desk, it was hard not to applaud.
And there’s the conundrum. It’s inappropriate to criticise Stones too strongly, for we know that he has the ability to be truly excellent. It’s inappropriate to praise him too highly, for the flaws are there for all to see.
Pep Guardiola is undoubtedly going to keep faith with the most expensive defender in the history of the game. Yet Stones must also meet his manager halfway; these stupid mistakes really do have to stop soon. The composure and strides out of defence count for nought if you fail to look where the opposition attackers are before attempting a simple backpass.
Four games without a goal for Aguero, and you can see why Pep Guardiola chose not to start him against Barcelona. The Argentinian looked badly off the pace.
Most worrying was the lack of impact Aguero had in dangerous areas. Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and Kelechi Iheanacho all had more touches in the penalty area; Iheanacho only played in the second half.
Alan Pardew’s pride before a fall
“When people ask me about England… well, if I was still at Newcastle, I’d be pretty keen on that England job,” said Pardew last week in an excellent interview with Dominic Fifield of the Guardian. “But, with all this here, I’m left thinking: ‘Why would I really want to leave this club now?’”
The problem is that nobody really was asking about England, Alan. I’ve spoken to a few people who claim that Pardew was furious not be considered in the discussion when Sam Allardyce was appointed, and Pardew again missed out when Allardyce fell on a sword created entirely of greed.
The accusation labelled at Pardew is now ingrained. He is a sunshine manager, capable of taking his teams on fine runs of form but ineffective when the grey clouds gather. For all his talk of “a ship steaming in the right direction”, Pardew is capable too of clipping the icebergs. Elsewhere in that interview, Pardew talked of European qualification, a mistake he made at around the same time last season when touting Palace for a top-six place. Does he just get carried away and take his eye off the ball?
Pardew was permitted to spend over £50m this summer, more than double the club’s record spend in any transfer window. The arrival of Christian Benteke (and investment in fees and wages on James Tomkins, Andros Townsend and Steve Mandanda) should provide enough quality to see a mid-table finish as the minimum expectation.
Yet Palace’s run of form simply doesn’t stack up to Pardew’s loftier ambitions. Their last 30 league games under his management have returned a measly 24 points, ten months of significant underachievement. Over the last 38 games, they sit bottom of the ever-present Premier League clubs. Yes, below Sunderland.
The list of clubs Palace have beaten in that miserable run is its most alarming feature: Stoke (2), Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Norwich. The last time Pardew won a league game against a club currently in the Premier League’s top 15 was on December 12, 2015. That’s really not something he should be shouting about.
’You have to feel sorry for David Moyes,’ began the BBC Sport tweet on Sunday afternoon.
No, you don’t. And here’s why.
Every time I see Sissoko coming off the bench for Tottenham I think to myself ‘Oh yes, that’s the most expensive player that club have ever bought in their history’, and do a confused face as if I’ve been asked why we wait until night to ‘call it a day’.
A second straight defeat under Mike Phelan’s permanent tenure, and still no goal. Such has been the gap between Hull and their opponents over their last five games that even if every single one of their shots on target had resulted in a goal, they would have only gained one point. A long, hard winter awaits.
Jamie Vardy and Marc Albrighton
A front four of Islam Slimani, Shinji Okazaki, Riyad Mahrez and Ahmed Musa looked very good indeed. Nobody’s place is certain.
— Chris Taylor (@the_itch1980) October 23, 2016
The best thing he’s done in the last five years, by an absolute mile.
Managed to blame Claudio Bravo for Manchester City conceding that goal against Southampton. Do you think some pundits might just have decided that they don’t rate him?
He’s started 32 league matches for Sunderland, and they haven’t won a single one. It might have worked out okay for Gareth Bale after a similar start at Tottenham, but I’m quickly losing faith in a repeat.
Nineteen goals in ten matches; the last time fewer goals were scored in a full round of Premier League matches was November 2015. Yes, I like counting.