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Monday, 30 November 2015

Weekend Football Thoughts 2015 (November 28-29)

The last month has been very busy with some big changes coming up in my personal life which had taken away some of my focus and time to put up the posts I have wanted to.

Things are settling down somewhat at the moment and that should present more opportunities for me especially with the College Football season winding down and the tennis Tour on a break until the new calendar year.

Another round of Premier League fixtures are in the books in November and now the teams will be looking 'forward' to the big December and January schedule which means a lot of games are going to be played over the next six weeks. There are final European matches for the 2015 year to be completed as well as League Cup Quarter Finals, a number of quick rounds in the League before the FA Cup Third Round in the first week of the New Year.

Busy times ahead, but here is a quick look back at the action that took place this weekend.

Have Aston Villa Already Left Themselves With Too Much to Do to Avoid Relegation?
After going down to a 2-3 home loss to Watford, the Premier League table doesn't make for good reading for Aston Villa fans. The side have managed to earn just five points all season and that leaves them seven points behind Sunderland in 17th place and some of the fans must be looking at The Black Cats with some envious eyes.

I was not convinced of the Remi Garde appointment as manager simply because he has had no Coaching experiences in England. Yes he is a former Arsenal player, but that doesn't mean he understands the inner workings of the Premier League and I think most Aston Villa fans would have preferred someone like Sam Allardyce who has experience and the resume to back up his ability to keep teams in the top flight.

Allardyce might not be to everyone's liking, but his performance at Sunderland would just have underlined what he can do with limited squads who look completely out of the required quality to stay in this League. Most thought Sunderland were doomed when Allardyce took over but the manager has guided them out of the bottom three while Aston Villa have remained as terrible as they were before Garde took over.

A 4-0 loss at Everton followed by a 2-3 defeat at home against Watford has left Aston Villa in a very difficult spot in the League table and there are little signs their new manager is going to help them turn things around.

The next few weeks are crucial for Aston Villa and perhaps already for their manager- they play at Southampton, Newcastle United, Norwich City and Sunderland in that time with home games against Arsenal and West Ham United. Anything less than 8 points from those games might not be good enough and see teams moving too far in front of Aston Villa.

A lack of experience in the squad, which was pointed out by Micah Richards this week too, doesn't suggest Aston Villa have the characters to get out of their current predicament and this could be a club that becomes one of a host of 'sleeping giants' struggling to get out of the Championship.

Is Steve McClaren's Position as Manager of Newcastle United Untenable?
Last week we heard reports that Steve McClaren had got into the faces of a number of the Newcastle United squad after the 0-3 home loss to Leicester City. Most notable of the names was the Captain Fabricio Coloccini and McClaren didn't dispute the reports later in the week.

The former England manager would have been hoping for a big reaction and must have been pleased to see his side take a 0-1 lead at Crystal Palace this weekend.

That was as good as it got for McClaren though as Newcastle United slumped to a 5-1 defeat, the second time they had led an away game only to lose by at least four goals this season.

The former much maligned manager of Newcastle United sat in the opposition dugout and must have felt a huge amount of sympathy for McClaren after hearing the fans turn on him during this loss. It was the same fans that effectively made it easy for Alan Pardew to return to Selhurst Park, this time as manager of Crystal Palace, and I am not sure how long McClaren is going to get.

I do believe he is a capable manager, but the last few months have been difficult for him first at Derby County and now at Newcastle United. Falling out with the players might mean they have given up playing for McClaren and the fans have certainly turned against him now with a number of heavy losses behind him.

You have to feel another home defeat this weekend to Liverpool might see Mike Ashley make the move at manager having seen Sunderland respond impressively to their new manager, but I have no idea who would want to take this job. There is no investment being made to further the club on the pitch and it is all about the bottom line off it which is resulting in another relegation scrap.

It isn't good enough for the fans and relegation would be a huge blow from a financial standpoint for Ashley which may result in McClaren being the fall guy.

Wayne Rooney's Position in the Manchester United Team Finally Under Threat
There has been a clear downward trend in the Wayne Rooney performances over the last couple of years to the point that David Moyes' biggest mistake as manager of Manchester United might have been to ignore Sir Alex Ferguson and offer England's leading goalscorer a new contract.

Perhaps Sir Alex saw this downward spiral coming and he recognised that Rooney's best days were behind him, or perhaps he was settling an old score, but it has reached this point where Rooney's position in the team has been openly questioned by many.

Anyone who has watched Manchester United play will recognise that there have ben problems.

Forget all the media who make excuses that he is not a Number 8, 9, 10, 11, and forget others who want to blame Louis Van Gaal for all of Rooney's problems and just look at the basic attributes of the player.

The first touch has never been great, but it looks a lot worse when the pace has disintegrated to the point that he can't recover those mistakes. The passing in the final third to create chances have been wayward on too many occasions and Rooney is struggling to find the space in the box to try and fashion any chances.

That has resulted on him getting deeper and deeper, but so many attacks have come to an end with the ball at his feet- either a misplaced pass to no one or losing the ball to the opponent has become a far too common feature of his play and he is clearly not a top class footballer any more.

When the best argument people have for Rooney is 'how effective he was five years ago', you know those same people are recognising a spent force but are unable to separate their emotions from the performances they see.

So the result at Leicester City wasn't the best, but for the first time Louis Van Gaal yanked an ineffective Wayne Rooney from the field of play at a point in the game where Manchester United didn't have the game won.

It has been a long time coming to put it bluntly.

Too often it has felt his Captain privileges meant his poor performances were being overlooked while the likes of Anthony Martial and Ander Herrera were being forced to play in unfamiliar positions or left on the substitute bench.

Van Gaal spoke of a small injury being carried by Rooney, but I am hoping he has seen the problems being caused by a player who has been far below average for far too long. Maybe having some time spent out of the first eleven would help Rooney rediscover some of the energy that has been sorely lacking in his play even if I personally think he is finished at this level and needs to be moved on in the summer if that is possible.

Maybe Rooney goes on a big run over Christmas and silences some of his doubters? Personally I think it is more likely he will continue struggling to influence the play while being a chief culprit in the poor Manchester United performances in the final third, but hopefully Saturday has proved to be the point when Van Gaal has said enough is enough and EVERYONE should be responsible for their performances, Captain or not.

Has the Diego Costa-Jose Mourinho Relationship Broken Down Irretrievably?
I am using words you may find more common when you read of reasons for a divorce, but that might be where Diego Costa and Jose Mourinho are effectively heading too.

After being left off the bench through the entirety of a goalless draw at White Hart Lane, Diego Costa was caught on camera at what looked like an attempt to throw his bib at Jose Mourinho.

That comes just days after Mourinho admitted they had a half time 'kiss and cuddle' following an argument coming off against Norwich City.

It is clear that Mourinho has tried his best to get his players to rally in what has been a poor campaign for them to date and one that leaves them looking unlikely to get back into the Champions League through their League position. Diego Costa has been a figure that has taken a lot of criticism because he is no longer scoring the goals that had people forget his tendency to wind up opponents and get into the greyer areas of what you can do on a football pitch.

Without the goals Costa is nothing more than a wind up merchant and that isn't going to be enough for Chelsea.

Perhaps now that attitude is beginning to rub Mourinho up the wrong way and what looks like a falling out between two stubborn characters is unlikely to be resolved quickly. Diego Costa showed last year he can be a very good player, but he has been set back by a niggling injury which never seems to be fully healed and I am not surprised Chelsea are being linked with bring in replacements.

It wouldn't surprise me to see Costa heading back to Spain at the end of the season too as he has become a player that is more of a problem for his own team than he has been to opponents.

Who is the Premier League Title Favourite Heading into December?
Some people might think it is disrespectful I have an image that doesn't include Leicester City but does include Chelsea.

To be fair Chelsea would only be in as the current Champions, but it would take something special for them to win the title from the position they are in.

In terms of Leicester City, if they are still within touching distance going into the New Year, I will change my mind about a team who have overachieved but have big challenges ahead.

Both Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur would perhaps take a top four berth ahead of a title challenge this season but there is only 6 points between Liverpool in 6th and Manchester City leading the Division as teams fail to put a consistent run together.

Despite my questions about Wayne Rooney, Manchester United have a set of fixtures prior to Christmas that can see them lead the way as long as they take the points expected. If there is a genuine title challenge brewing at Old Trafford, Manchester United have to win home games against West Ham United and Norwich City and also win at Bournemouth before tougher tests on Boxing Day and December 28th.

However, I am not sensing United will have enough goals and I truly can't look beyond Manchester City to reclaim the title at this point of time.

Manchester City have the deepest squad and they might be getting healthier now at a time when the whole squad is going to need to be utilised. I place them above the rest of the League in terms of quality at their disposal, while they seemingly have more character than Arsenal who are fighting through injuries and dropping points they shouldn't be.

There are only 2 points between Manchester City and Arsenal and they do have a big game days before Christmas at The Emirates Stadium, but the latter have just slipped up of late.

I have had a look at what the League table may look like when the FA Cup Third Round weekend is played and I think there is a chance that things are as tight as they are the moment in terms of points differential. I have Leicester City slipping down the table from their current heady heights of 2nd and have the side down in 7th place, and have the top of the table in the same positions other than Leicester moving out.

With the quick turnaround of fixtures during December and the turn of the year, it is easy for things to change through injuries, suspensions or simply tiredness, but it does set the Premier League up to be an exciting five months to decide the title.

It is just still hard to look past Manchester City as being the team to beat.

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