London – José Mourinho has little to show from big away days, Vincent Kompany talks up the Pep Guardiola revolution, and Tony Pulis points to the bottom line:
1) Mourinho comes unstuck on road to top-four rivals
Manchester United’s run of 25 unbeaten league games came to an end at Arsenal where José Mourinho once again set up his team with the focus on nullifying the opposition. Asking Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Juan Mata to follow Arsenal’s wingbacks wherever they went meant sacrificing two of his most creative talents in an attempt to deny the Gunners control. This of course is the Mourinho way, to be reactive, to never make the first mistake, but against their direct rivals away from home it simply hasn’t worked: United have failed to score in 360 Premier League minutes at the Emirates, the Etihad, Stamford Bridge and Anfield this season. Next is a trip to White Hart Lane and given United’s league position it would hardly be a great risk to loosen up and go toe to toe with Tottenham, yet that kind of front-foot away performance seems no more likely now than it did under Mourinho’s predecessor.
2) Arsenal and the Champions League – the saga may continue
Arsenal have made a habit of finishing the season with a flourish under Arsène Wenger and with four games still left to salvage a Champions League spot, they may still fancy their chances. Victory against Southampton on Wednesday would move them above Manchester United into fifth and ensure they are in a strong position should either Manchester City or Liverpool slip up. With home games against Sunderland and Everton to finish, the trips to St. Mary’s and Wenger’s old favorite stamping ground of the Britannia Stadium to play Stoke look like being pivotal to their hopes given Arsenal’s recent struggles on the road. If not, a first season outside Europe’s elite competition since the Frenchman’s arrival in 1996 beckons.
3) Howe sets sights on top-10 finish at Bournemouth
Both teams were supposed to be distracted by thoughts of the beach, but Stoke’s draw at Bournemouth showed two sides determined to finish the season with a bang. They finished the weekend as they started it, a point apart, in mid-table and quietly going about their business. They also went home assured of their Premier League status for another season. Bournemouth, especially, are intent on reaching new, higher ground. They are unbeaten in three matches and with two games to go, at home to Burnley and then away at Leicester City, they are sitting rather pretty on 42 points – the same number they finished with in 16th place last year. Eddie Howe’s side are desperate to go one (or six) better. “We want to try and secure a top-10 finish if possible,” the Bournemouth manager said. “From our perspective, it is always trying to improve.”
4) Pulis tells critics to look at table – and club’s bottom line
A bit of criticism is like water off a duck’s back for Tony Pulis. Be it his style of play or his reluctance to sit down in press conferences, the West Bromwich Albion manager is quite happy doing things his way. But after his side’s 2-2 draw at Burnley – a team who deserve all the plaudits they should get for their achievements this season – the West Bromwich head coach took exception to those pointing the finger at the way his team have tailed off since securing Premier League safety. Despite the result on Saturday extending their winless run to six matches, this – let’s face it – unfashionable Albion team remain a hugely creditable eighth. “People who have been giving us stick don’t understand,” Pulis said. “We will make a massive profit at the end of the season, this club is run very professionally. We have to survive and we do that very well.”
5) Pickford shows excellence that was missing at Sunderland
Put people under pressure and their reactions are sometimes spellbinding. With the stress off David Moyes’s already relegated Sunderland side, the immense tension surrounding Marco Silva’s team undid Hull City, even if Jordan Pickford’s saves contributed to their downfall. Sunderland’s brilliant goalkeeper has consistently excelled but it should be remembered Moyes was initially unsure about him, making a concerted attempt to sign Joe Hart in August. Had that happened Pickford would have wasted the campaign warming the bench rather than being a rare Wearside overachiever. “The first thing I expect from team‑mates is trusting them to give their all every game,” Billy Jones, Sunderland’s right-back, said in a devastating critique. “At times this season, that’s been lacking. Players need to look at themselves in the mirror.”
6) May could prove Mazzarri’s downfall at Watford
The month of May has become particularly precarious for Watford managers in recent years and Walter Mazzarri must know his moment of truth is just around the corner. Their fifth successive defeat on the road without finding the net will not have helped the Italian’s cause with the club’s owner, Gino Pozzo, although the former Napoli and Internazionale manager has actually fared better in the second half of the season than his predecessor at Vicarage Road, Quique Sánchez Flores. With trips to Everton and Chelsea to come before they face Manchester City on the final day of the Premier League season, Mazzarri will do well to exceed Watford’s points total of 45 from last season, when they also reached the FA Cup semi-final.
7) Southampton’s good point at Anfield cannot hide weak points
Southampton’s point at Liverpool was hard-fought and deserved but it was a performance that hardly answered Claude Puel’s critics. His players dug deep to earn a draw at Anfield, especially Fraser Forster, who saved James Milner’s second‑half penalty, but the Liverpool goalkeeper, Simon Mignolet, left the field without breaking sweat. Saints may have defended stoutly but they did not have a shot on target and when they did threaten to attack they were subdued; Manolo Gabbiadini was again painfully isolated up front. Defensively the center-back partnership of Jack Stephens and Maya Yoshida seems to be growing stronger with each 90 minutes but when Southampton host Arsenal on Wednesday it would be dangerous for Saints to take too much inspiration from this dull stalemate.
8) Kompany believes City side could be best of Sheikh Mansour era
As the man who captained Manchester City to two league titles, Vincent Kompany should be listened to when he states Pep Guardiola’s team may prove to be the best of the Sheikh Mansour era. After City thrashed Crystal Palace 5-0 the Belgian said: “My opinion is simple. I’ve been part of teams here who have been able to win trophies but never a team that has been able to control a game and dominate a game like we do now. Unfortunately we lost a little bit of the edge we had [earlier in the season]. But that’s something we can recover, especially when I see the talent on the pitch. Gabriel Jesus, you can see he’s hungry to get goals. Leroy [Sané] and Raheem [Sterling] were trying to shoot and get goals. We don’t mind as long as people keep trying. I see us having advantages over any squad we’ve had before at this club. So I’m objectively positive about the future.”
9) Mawson underlines how little Williams is missed at Swansea
One of the many criticisms levelled at Swansea City at the start of this chaotic season was that they sold Ashley Williams, their captain, without signing a replacement. That argument no longer rings true. Alfie Mawson, who joined from Barnsley in late August, upstaged Everton’s Williams on his return to the Liberty Stadium with yet another hugely impressive performance at the heart of the Swansea defense. Mawson had to wait until 22 October to make his Premier League debut and was not helped in the early stages by Bob Bradley’s chopping and changing at the back, but he has emerged as a key player. Composed on the ball, defensively solid and a real threat in the opposition penalty area, Mawson has a big future ahead of him, so much so that few home fans would have left the Liberty Stadium on Saturday wishing that Williams was still Swansea’s No6.
10) Lanzini’s big-game qualities offer hope for West Ham revival
Manuel Lanzini’s winning goal on Friday gave West Ham United, with apologies to Andy Carroll, the first landmark moment at their new home. Lanzini’s opportunistic finish also bolstered a curious statistic: the Argentinian has now scored nine of his 14 league goals in London derbies. If nothing else, this perhaps reveals something of the big‑game player in Lanzini. It is a quality that has been lacking as West Ham have struggled to adjust to their new status and surroundings, with Slaven Bilic trying out a host of unconvincing options to fill the creative void left behind by Dimitri Payet. On Friday the front three of André Ayew, Jonathan Calleri and Lanzini appeared to provide as much optimism as any, and the system allowed Lanzini to shine. He drifted instinctively into key areas and scoring a poacher’s goal for the biggest win of West Ham’s season.
The Guardian Sport