#1.Leicester’s away struggles continue
Leicester away form struggles continued Saturday lunch time, as they faced a dominate Chelsea side. Betting had been suspended on Antonio Conte being sacked earlier in the week, however his team responded by outplaying Leicester across the pitch. Defeat leaves Claudio Ranieri’s side with eight points from their first eight games – the joint second lowest haul by a defending Premier League champion, along with Chelsea’s team of last season.
However Leicester’s form in the Champions League has been superb, and their struggling to find the balance between Premiership success and Champions League dreams.
The trick is balancing European football with the demands of the high-intensity Premier League. But it’s not a trick Ranieri – nor his team – is mastering right now with the club sitting in 13th position with just eight points. His players seem unable to switch between the two tournaments – they have won both Champions League group games and are top of the table. But is Ranieri sending out the right signals by leaving key players on the bench for league matches?
There was no hiding where the priority was on Saturday at Stamford Bridge as Ranieri’s side were well beaten 3-0 by Chelsea with Copenhagen – who visit the King Power on Tuesday – the bigger prize in the background. Ranieri left Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani on the bench until the last half hour by which time his team were two down and pretty much beaten.
Ranieri agreed his players were struggling to adapt to the two competitions but he made no apologies for resting players and was adamant it was necessary ahead of Tuesday’s match.
He was as keen to talk about Copenhagen as Chelsea after Saturday’s defeat. “The Premier League is so long,” he said after the loss in which his team were awful in the first half, slightly better in the second. “The Champions League is two months. You want to go in the knockout stages. To achieve this you need all your players fit. I prefer to preserve my players for Tuesday night.
“It’s normal that when a team goes to play for the first time in the Champions League the mentality is totally different. [Last season] we were used to having the same mentality each week. [Now] it is a transition. It’s not the energy of the power [that is difficult to get used to] but the energy of the mentality.”
Ranieri used some clever ploys to pull his team together last season: pizza nights and the like but there are no shortcuts to getting used to the bright lights of the Champions League. “It’s not pizza, it’s not beer,” said Ranieri. “You just have to be used to playing in the Champions League and then you make the transition more easily.
“We have a hangover from last season a little bit. Last season we were out of this world. And now we come back in the world and now we have to react. There is a lot of frustration. The body language is not good. I didn’t see this body language last season. Now we have to react in a positive manner. What happened last season was crazy. Now we are the normal Leicester who have to fight.”
And if Leicester don’t start to fight the unlikely champions, will find themselves in an unlikely relegation battle.
#2.The Goalkeepers union is alive and well part 1
Everton almost recorded the perfect smash-and-grab against league leaders Manchester City on Saturday. In the end, the away side left with a hard-earned point after the first managerial battle between Ronald Koeman and Pep Guardiola ended in an entertaining 1-1 draw.
This was completely down to the heroics of Everton goalkeeper Martin Stekelenburg, who had the game of his life at the Etihad.
City should have won their game with Everton. They were the much better team and dominated in terms of possession and had the better opportunities. They should have won this match, and would have done but for an outstanding performance from Stekelenburg, who saved two penalties and kept out two more goal-bound efforts from Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne.
Stekelenburg in his first season in the Premier League, may not have a better game during his time with Everton. Although City’s poor penalty form continued here, they have only scored 50% of their penalty’s they have been awarded this season, Stekelenburg saved well from both penalties. Stekelenburg made his first significant contribution to what would become a big afternoon when dived left to save Kevin de Bruyne’s right footed penalty.
In the second half Stekelenburg became only the eighth Premier League goalkeeper to save two penalties in the same game. Aguero, who won the penalty stepped up to take the second, the Argentine missed a penalty for his country in midweek and looked nervous as he stepped up. He decided to go the same way as De Bruyne and Stekelenburg guessed right again, pushing the ball to safety.
Stekelenburg had more heroics to perform as De Bruyne smashed an outrageous effort at goal from distance which looked set for the top corner but Stekelenburg flung himself to his right and flicked the ball onto the outside of the post. That was enough to help the Toffees to a share of the spoils.
Stekelenburg was being talked of as Edwin van der Sar’s successor at Manchester United five years ago but has drifted around the edges in the past three years, barely playing for Fulham, then hardly shining on loan at Southampton last season before joining Koeman on Merseyside.
Stekelenburg told Everton TV after the game that “I’ve never had an afternoon like it.” And Koeman will be glad that he did.
#3.The Goalkeepers union is alive and well part 2
Tottenham, the other in form team in the league, went to the Hawthorns expecting to continue their good form against a team that hadn’t won in the league since mid-September. However much like Martin Stekelenburg at Everton, Ben Foster enabled West Brom to gain a point with a string of fantastic saves.
In the 31st minute Erik Lamela’s shot from Kyle Walker’s cross was blocked to the feet of Alli. But the West Brom keeper rushed quickly to smother.
Foster then got down well to push a sharp drive from Ben Davies round the post and made an even better save when Alli was sent clear by a neat pass from Janssen. As Alli ran through, Foster came out and a very good stop followed.
His finest contribution arrived three minutes before the break. Tottenham worked play smartly with Janssen and Alli linking to present the ball to Christian Eriksen on the edge of the D. And he struck a shot that looked destined for the bottom corner until Foster clawed it wide.
Tottenham who dominated the game throughout, were unlucky to go 1-0 down, when former Spurs player Nacer Chadli scored in the 82nd minute. However Spurs dominance was rewarded when Dele Alli equalised from a loose ball to jab home his third goal of the season.
However Foster was called into action right at the death to ensure that they gained a point. Christian Eriksen nearly won it for Spurs in injury time with a deep free-kick that was heading for the top corner until Foster once again sprang into action.
In his post-match interview Tony Pulis was quick to praise his keeper, and expressed his thanks to Foster:
“Tottenham completely dominated the first half and Ben Foster made some fantastic saves that kept us in the game,”
Pulis will need Foster at the top of his form across West Brom’s next 3 fixtures, as West Brom’s next three fixtures are tough ones, against Liverpool (away), Manchester City (home) and Leicester City (away).
#4.Bournemouth hit Hull for 6
Mike Phelan was confirmed as the Hull City manager until the end of the season, however this is a result that he’ll be quick to forget, as Bournemouth recorded their record Premier League victory thrashing Hull City 6-1.
Charlie Daniels’ opener was cancelled out by Ryan Mason’s deflected strike inside the first half but Steve Cook’s header soon restored a lead Bournemouth would not relinquish again. Junior Stanislas’ penalty on the stroke of half-time gave Eddie Howe’s side a cushion before the winger scored his second after the break to kill off any lingering hopes of a City comeback. Callum Wilson’s header piled further misery on Phelan, whose grim afternoon was only complete when Dan Gosling stroked in a sixth late on.
Although previous defeats could be forgiven against formidable opposition, a feeble surrender against a host considered a rival in the fight against relegation set alarm bells ringing for a team that has now leaked 17 goals in just four games. The visit of Stoke City next weekend will demand a reaction.
Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe named an unchanged side for their third-successive Premier League game and his players appear to be reaping the rewards.
The Cherries’ main threat came at the feet of Stanislas, directly involved in four of his side’s six goals, and Jordan Ibe, a club-record signing from Liverpool in the summer. But it was Bournemouth’s build-up play that caught the eye, with a midfield trio of Jack Wilshere, Andrew Surman and Harry Arter all enjoying a passing accuracy well above 90%.
Wilshere again failed to complete 90 minutes for his new side, but replacing the England international with Gosling late on is a favourite change of Howe’s, with the substitute finding similar pockets of space and adding the hosts’ sixth goal.
Unsurprisingly Eddie Howe was delighted post-match, and is confident that Bournemouth have a bright future:
“Sometimes we are not clinical enough in the final third but we did that today. With the youthful nature of the side, the only way is up.”
#5.Southampton continue to move up the league
As Burnley’s defensive woes continued Southampton moved up to 8th in the league thanks to a 3-1 victory at St Mary’s. The three points were sealed for the hosts after a double from Charlie Austin and a cracking strike from Nathan Redmond, while Sam Vokes gained a consolation for the Clarets from the penalty spot. Charlie Austin continued his hot-streak against his old club as Southampton stretched their unbeaten run to seven games. Austin inspired Southampton to victory with a brace against Burnley to make it seven goals in his last six games.
All the goals came in the second half with Claude Puel’s men wrapping up the points with three goals in 13 minutes. Austin opened the scoring from close range in the 52rd minute before Nathan Redmond drilled in the second on the hour.
Austin grabbed his second from the spot after Premier League debutant Sam McQueen was tripped by Johann Gudmundsson six minutes later. Burnley striker Sam Vokes pulled back a late consolation against his boyhood club with another penalty with 18 minutes left. Austin has now hit seven in his last six games. If he keeps this form up and Charlie Austin might be in with a shout of an England recall. He last made the squad in May 2015 but has been unable to produce a sustained run of form to get himself back in the picture.
But it is now seven goals in his last six games for the 27 year-old after his double against Burnley.
Tom Heaton continued the theme of the weekend of top goal keeper performances and he really didn’t deserve to be on the losing side. He produced a stunning save as he dived full length to his left to fingertip behind Charlie Austin’s fifth-minute header.
By Rich Lee @RichLee2202