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10 Talking Points from the Weekend’s Upcoming Premier League Games | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea. (AFP)

London – Bournemouth may struggle to hold on to Joshua King, Leicester got no help from the broadcasters, but Daniel Levy deserves his due for Spurs’ fine season:

King could attract interest from high-profile suitors

Once the fight for Premier League survival is over, Bournemouth might have another battle on their hands: retaining the services of Joshua King. The striker, signed by Eddie Howe for a snip at £1m from Blackburn Rovers in the summer of 2015, scored his 13th goal of the season against Chelsea on Saturday evening. Despite winning several admirers since gaining passage to the top flight, Bournemouth are yet to be scavenged for players by bigger clubs. Matt Ritchie was sold to Newcastle United last year but they have not had to regularly bat away interest in key players. Until now, perhaps, with King, the 25-year-old Norway striker who signed a new four-year deal in August, enhancing his reputation week-on-week. “When we started to work together, I found him a great lad, really wanting to achieve, and we’ve just given him the opportunity to do that,” Howe said.

No help from the money-men for champions’ European push

Leicester City lost their winning momentum in a hugely entertaining contest at Everton but fortunately no more players to injury before their first appearance in a Champions League quarter-final at Atlético Madrid on Wednesday. The club’s interim manager Craig Shakespeare did all he could to utilize his resources ahead of the showpiece European occasion, shifting Riyad Mahrez and Danny Simpson to the bench at Goodison Park, withdrawing Jamie Vardy after 61 minutes and giving Christian Fuchs, Shinji Okazaki and Wilfred Ndidi the day off. But where was the help from the broadcasters and Premier League for the country’s last representative on the Champions League stage? Being forced to kick off at 4pm on the Sunday before the quarter-final, with alternative TV slots available, showed a dereliction of duty towards the Premier League champions. If Leicester do continue their outstanding run in Europe it will be despite the influence of the money-men.

Bravo’s failings remain overlooked by blinkered Guardiola

David Silva played his 300th game for Manchester City and Pep Guardiola, who revealed he was once urged to sign him for Barcelona but considered him too expensive, said he was in the same bracket as Xavi and Andrés Iniesta. Few would disagree, but when Guardiola went on to list Claudio Bravo alongside Marc‑André Ter Stegen and Manuel Neuer as the best goalkeepers in the world at joining in buildup play, he was going out on a much less sturdy limb. It is debatable whether the Chilean belongs in that company for his footwork, while he was involved in the intricate passing move that led to City’s second goal his contribution was nothing out of the ordinary. What is not up for discussion is that his shot-stopping is feeble. The recalled Bravo had only one attempt on target to deal with all day, a weak effort from Andrea Ranocchia, and it went right through him. Anyone can make a mistake, but it must concern Guardiola that the last seven shots on target Bravo has faced have all resulted in goals. It is a fairly safe bet that neither Barcelona’s Ter Stegen nor Bayern Munich’s Neuer have ever been likened to a hologram.

Dismal decision-making has destroyed Boro’s season

Middlesbrough have won only four Premier League games all season. There have been 16 matches this term in which they have failed to score and their last game was their seventh 0-0 draw. This is why the Teesside club are destined for a swift return to the Championship and shows Steve Gibson, the owner, should surely have sacked the ultra-defensive-minded Aitor Karanka much, much earlier. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but there is also a strong case for arguing that the former manager’s decision to swap his popular, incisive, winger Albert Adomah for Aston Villa’s rather more erratic Adama Traoré last August probably forfeited the club vital points. The same can be said about Karanka’s sidelining of Jordan Rhodes – whose specialty is goalscoring – before loaning him to Sheffield Wednesday in January and Stewart Downing – Boro’s best crosser – from the first XI for so long. Loyalty can sometimes be misplaced.

Stoke need to plunder results to fend off relegation battle

Are Stoke City in trouble? They are eight points clear of the relegation zone, which feels like a healthy cushion at this stage of the season, but their form is woeful. Mark Hughes’s side have lost their past four league matches and won only four out of the past 18. The alarm bells will be ringing if that run continues in their next two games, which are against Hull City and Swansea City – two of the clubs fighting for their lives at the bottom. Either way, something is not quite right at a club who seem to be drifting, caught between trying to become more expansive and playing with the grit and tenacity that made them such awkward opponents in the past. Perhaps more than anything Stoke need a prolific striker. The jury is out as to whether Saido Berahino, who is still looking for his first Stoke goal since his January move, can be that man.

Brazilians change Klopp’s fortunes after squad gets exposed

Most teams would expect a drop in performance if you removed four of their best players, but Liverpool’s manager Jürgen Klopp now knows just how heavily his team leans on the quartet of Sadio Mané, Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino. With the first two injured and the Brazilian pair only deemed fit enough for bench duty, a youthful XI were all over the place in the first half against Stoke and looked little better than mid-table jobbers. At 1-0 down, Klopp sent for Coutinho and Firmino and saw an immediate uptick that led to victory. To achieve their goals, Liverpool need more top-tier performers for their elite quartet.

Has De Gea’s suspect season finally caught up with him?

In his pre-match interview at Sunderland, José Mourinho was asked about the absence of David de Gea. “A small problem,” he said, his lack of specificity enough to get people wondering what was going on. Probably, the most obvious explanation is the correct one: De Gea has a minor injury and Mourinho felt he’d be more gnomic and irritating if he neglected to supply full details. Yet even the suspicion of something more was telling. De Gea, brilliant though he is, has not been especially good this season, making fewer astounding saves and several more goal-costing errors – most recently against Everton, last week. It is true Sergio Romero has been playing in the Europa League, so it made sense to give him a game before the trip to Anderlecht on Thursday, but that explanation also contained an undertone of suss: given the competition is now United’s priority, would Mourinho really pick his team based on anything other than merit? Either way, the point remains: in any of the four previous years, such a thought would have been inconceivable – De Gea must improve.

Levy deserves his due for another fine Spurs season

Another excellent season for Tottenham Hotspur has rightly led to praise for a number of individuals at the club. One person whose contribution has gone practically unmentioned, however, is the chairman, Daniel Levy. Renowned as someone who drives a hard bargain and is not afraid to sack a manager, it is worth remembering he is the person who brought in Mauricio Pochettino and is overseeing the club’s move to a shiny new home. Credit for Levy feels due and after Spurs’ win against Watford, Pochettino for one was happy to oblige. “If I am doing well, it’s because he believes in me,” the manager said. “He deserves full credit for all that’s happening in the team. And the club’s financial side is one of the most healthy in the world. We had a difficult relationship at the beginning but we built a very strong relationship. I trust in him and I hope he trusts in me, too.”

The curious case of Pulis and the 40-point barrier

It’s happening again. Tony Pulis teams are predictable beasts: in general, they will always reach the magical figure of 40 points and, in general, they will not get too many more. Last season, West Bromwich Albion achieved that number with seven games remaining, but only managed three further draws as the season wound down. Indeed, in the six full Premier League seasons Pulis has managed, his points totals have been 45, 47, 46, 45, 42 and 43. It looks to be the same this term: they reached the magic number with a win against Bournemouth in February, but have won only one of their subsequent six games (admittedly against Arsenal), their defeat against Southampton on Saturday the latest in a long-established trend. While West Brom’s league position of eighth is excellent, the Pulis habit of doing enough to survive but little more is frustrating, to say the least.

Swansea hope low-wattage encounters can arrest latest slump

Life looked rosy for Swansea City a few weeks ago. The home win against Burnley in early March put them in 16th, five points clear of the bottom three and six ahead of Hull City, second-bottom at the time. Now, having taken just a point from their past five games, they are in the relegation zone and two points behind Hull. “The players’ ability to do the things we normally do wasn’t there,” Paul Clement said after defeat against West Ham. “It was a combination of fatigue from the other night [the late defeat against Tottenham], and anxiety.” One is not exactly filled with optimism about their survival chances if their manager admits they cannot deal with a high-pressured game, although their upcoming fixtures may not be so tense. At least four of their remaining six opponents will probably have nothing to play for in the league, so perhaps some low-wattage encounters will give them hope.

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