On the Rebound – GW14

Two quick rounds of Premiership football is just behind us. We’ve seen late winners, losing streaks coming to an end, losing streaks getting even longer, red cards and a manager with temper issues. This is way of recapping some of the latest events from the Home of Football. This is On the Rebound.

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1. Stay calm (and give it to Agüero)

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A poor start to the domestic league and some disastrous displays in Europe made Manchester City-manager Manuel Pellegrini an easy target for both the press and raging city-fans. His unwillingness to change tactics, and always sticking to his romantic possession-based offensive play, gave several critics ammunition to their claims about Pellegrini being an out-of-date idealist, not suited for the modern game. After the 1-2 home defeat against Moscow in the Champions League, he found himself yet again in the pillory and the frothing press was screaming for his resignation. 

Nevertheless, “the engineer” always kept his cool, stating that results would come if the team did the same. 5 games later City have 4 wins and 1 draw, and more importantly: the team is playing splendid football again! After a lucky victory at home against a 10-men Bayern Munich, self-confidence was ultimately restored by hammering Southampton 3-0 at St.Mary’s and City followed up with yesterday’s 4-1 bashing away against Sunderland.

Pellegrini’s calmness seems to be paying off, but it’s perhaps easy to remain stoic when you have Sergio Agüero in your squad. The brilliant Argentine is playing the football of his life at the moment, bagging 7 goals in these last 5 matches. When he had a “bad day at the office” and couldn’t find the net against Southampton, he added two assists to his name instead.

If City manage to keep this momentum going into their next games against Everton (H) and A.S Roma (A), they have every chance to take full advantage of a favourable fixture list heading into Christmas: Leicester (A), Crystal Palace (H), WBA (A), Burnley (H) and Sunderland (H). Their biggest problem now is that Chelsea looks very unwilling to drop any points, even without Costa.

2. Van Gaal’s Christmas celebration

There will always be strong opinions about a massive club such as Manchester United, and this season certainly has been no exception. Regular fans to former players, all seem to have the quick fix for United’s problems: “We don’t’ play good enough”, “our defensive-work has been neglected” and “the transfers has been poorly-balanced”, are all typical statements from know-it-alls on the outside.

A quick glance at the league table and United’s record for the last 4 matches should be enough to silence these “experts”:  Van Gaal’s men find themselves in 4th place, after notching up 4 wins in a row. This is nothing short of a very impressive accomplishment, considering The Reds growing injury worries. If you look at some of the other top 4 contenders, you’ll find Arsenal in 5th, Liverpool in 8th and Tottenham in a very disappointing 10th place.

After the failure with David Moyes it was evident that United needed a strong leader, and right now Van Gaal looks like a very good fit for the troubled Manchester-club. He stood tall when they struggled in the beginning of the season, and when things didn’t work out as planned he showed the pragmatic side of his managerial talents and made the necessary changes. Before their last match against Stoke he also came with some hard-hitting words about the beloved English Christmas-program, a clear evidence of the Dutchman’s boldness and integrity. Knowing that he will have key players returning from injuries shortly, we still think Van Gaal is looking forward to the upcoming Christmas-challenge. During United’s traditional Christmas-party there was at least no signs of Van Gaal being a Grinch:

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3. Christian Benteke – Aston Villa’s messiah?

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What a player the big Belgian is! And what a goal he scored! He had just returned from a three-match suspension after being sent off against Tottenham, and almost in a messiah-like fashion he gave Villa the most important win of the season. All of a sudden, the Villains now find themselves in 12th position – only two points behind Top four contenders Everton!

Following their unreal start to the league campaign, with 10 out of 12 points from the first four matches, reality hit them hard and the Claret and Blue has been looking like a relegation-candidate for most parts of this season. With Benteke back from injury and suspension this can now change. This is obviously good news for the least popular manager in the league, Paul Lambert, but one good match is not enough to stop the unrest among Villa-supporters.

The next two matches against Leicester (H) and WBA (A) are both must-win-features. With Benteke firing on all cylinders they have an excellent chance. Could this be another turning point for Aston Villa this season?

ROW Z!

1. There’s no place like home

After yet another defeat, Harry’s disciples are now finding themselves second to last, and both feet firmly stuck in the relegation mud. Only eleven points from the first 14 matches, all of them collected at Loftus Road. 7 straight defeats away from home is the answer, and Harry admits that they’ve struggled so far. QPR just can’t seem to find the right system to get the results they need when on the road, even though they’ve “tried every system in the book”.  Redknapp insists, however, that much of it is down to quality of their “fantastic” opponents they’ve played so far.

You better keep trying, Harry, but the next two away matches are against Everton and Arsenal, which does not immediately sound like good news for QPR.

2. Next stop: Anger management?

The Leicester fans have had little to cheer for since they beat Manchester United 5-3 in a remarkable match at King Power Stadium in September. Liverpool won their second match in a row during the mid-week, and made it 9 matches without victory for the Foxes, who find themselves at the very bottom of the table when we are closing in on putting half of the season behind us.

It’s not hard to realise the gravity of this situation for the newly promoted. One fan in particular made his feelings clear after the latest defeat. He allegedly shouted things like “You’re all out of your jobs, and you know it”, and “It’s our club, not yours”, which in turn made Leicester manager Nigel Pearson’s lose his temper. The former Sheffield Wednesday captain allegedly responded by telling the fans to “f**k off and die” (!). In an interview after the match, he followed up by saying If they [the fans] cannot see the players are having a proper go maybe they need to stay at home.”

We realize the job of a Premier League manager can be tough at times, especially when failing to produce results, but we also believe they should be professional enough to control their emotions in situations like this. This opinion is shared by Leicester City Supporters Club chairman, Cliff Ginetta:

“He’s the manager and should be above it. You should take the plaudits and praise when it comes, and when the brown stuff hits the fan you need to take it too. That’s what you get paid a lot of money for. Sometimes it is not nice. It is not nice to be sworn at, but you have to live with it.”

Maybe an anger management class could be appropriate reaction from the Leicester City board, because who know what might happen if this is the guy who confronts Pearson next time:

3. Everton’s lack of killer instinct

Last season was Everton’s best league campaign in their Premier League-history, finishing 5th with 72 points. Naturally, expectations to the new season were high, and Roberto Martinez early on stated that they were aiming for that magical top 4 position. Right now that looks quite distant. 14 matches into the season The Toffees are placed in no man’s land, and the last match against Hull didn’t help their cause. The home draw vs The Tigers illustrates one of the main problems for Everton this year: the inability to finish off matches after going one up. Up to now they have dropped 12 points from winning positions already- the same as they did during the whole of last season.

Another interesting fact, highly related to the first one, is how much better the team performs in the first half. So far this season they have scored 19 goals and conceded 10 in the first 45 minutes, while their second half-stats are the exact opposite: 10 goals scored and 19 goals conceded. If Martinez’ boys had the privilege to play only first half matches, they would have been only five points behind Chelsea! Much improvement is needed if Everton is going to challenge for a top 4 position. Unfortunately, killer instinct isn’t something you usually find under the Christmas tree (unless it’s the video game – which won’t help Martinez much unless he all of a sudden find himself with too much spare time this Christmas…).


Eirik Henriksen

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