football

Premier League fans’ half-term reports. Part two: Liverpool to Wolves


Liverpool

Always good to be top of the league, can’t get much higher than that. We dropped points in our last two games, but all things considered, I’m happy. The downside has been the injuries. To lose Van Dijk and Thiago away to Everton’s School of Science – or was it Dogs of War? – so early in the season was tough. But Thiago is back: I’m looking forward to seeing him on a regular basis. 9/10

Stars and flops The whole side have adapted brilliantly to so many changes due to injury, but particularly the young lads, Rhys Williams, Nat Phillips, Neco Williams and keeper Caoimhín Kelleher. Also a mention for Fabinho at centre-back and Curtis Jones, who has lost his “one for the future” moniker thanks to a string of good performances. And Mo Salah, obviously. We have no flops.

Happy with the manager? Course. Absolutely thrilled, chuffed, made up. There aren’t enough superlatives. Tactical genius, brilliant man-manager, gracious in victory, sore loser. And not afraid to call out this government. 10/10

We need to sign A centre-back or two. Ben White’s reputation is growing and he’d know what’s expected, but we’ve been linked with Schalke’s Ozan Kabak. If the boss thinks Kabak is the man, hopefully it’s a done deal soon – though talk is we won’t be signing anyone.

Moment that made me smile in 2020 When Chelsea beat Manchester City in June and we won the league. Another standout moment was Spirit of Shankly leading the national fans’ campaign against the disgraceful pay-per-view idea, forcing the broadcasters to rethink and drop it.

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Steph Jones

Caoimhín Kelleher
Caoimhín Kelleher: taking his chance. Photograph: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC/Getty Images

Manchester City

I’m relatively pleased. In the context of this absurd season and how everyone else is doing, we are well placed. We’ve had some particularly poor league performances, but our cup form has been outstanding. However, the recent Covid outbreaks at Newcastle, City and Fulham plus the worsening crisis across the country has got me questioning whether it’s all worth it. 7/10

Stars and flops Without doubt our stars have been our defenders. Rúben Dias has had a transformative effect: I’m not exaggerating when I say he’s been close to flawless. John Stones’ resurgence has been equally wonderful, and a tad unexpected. João Cancelo deserves a mention too. He’s been shunted around our backline but has been one of our most consistent performers and chance creators. Flops? I think the club have finally given up on Benjamin Mendy.

Happy with the manager? Again, relatively, yes. His work on the defence and with Stones in particular has been very impressive. But too many of our players (particularly our attackers) have been woefully out of form. There were signs we were clicking into gear against Newcastle, but I fear the Covid outbreak could have scuppered that. 7/10

We need to sign We won’t do anything this month but a left-back would be great. Álex Grimaldo possibly?

Moment that made me smile in 2020 City overturning the Cas appeal – what a day that was. And a mention too for Marcus Rashford for his incredible humanitarian work. That boy is a gem.

Lloyd Scragg NinetyThreeTwenty.com @lloyd_scragg

Rúben Dias
Rúben Dias: close to flawless. Photograph: Javier García/BPI/REX/Shutterstock

Manchester United

As this season gives with one hand it takes away with the other. A prime league position despite some alarming inconsistency at home, and an embarrassing group-stage exit in the Champions League despite beating PSG away and Leipzig 5-0 at home. So that’s the focus for the second half of the season: solving the inconsistency and the soft centre at the back. We tend to start games badly, giving away easy goals, but up top we are electric, with a front three to match any team. 6.5/10

Stars and flops When Bruno plays well United play well. Rashford has been superb and is maturing into a potential world-class forward. Lindelöf and Shaw are just not good enough, though: both prone to mistakes and getting dragged out of position.

Happy with the manager? Ole has become more ruthless, as shown by his handling of Pogba. He’s building a solid squad but probably needs another summer window to get where he wants to be. He’s still starting with two defensive midfielders as he clearly doesn’t have confidence in his centre-backs. This needs addressing. 7/10

We need to sign Feels like we will wait until the summer for big moves, but expect to see a fair few players going, such as Jones, Rojo and Lingard.

Moment that made me smile in 2020 The 2-0 win over our noisy neighbours back in March. Little did we know that would be our last chance in 2020 to see our team in person.

Shaun O’Donnell

Marcus Rashford
Marcus Rashford: world class. Photograph: Ash Donelon/Manchester United/Getty Images

Newcastle

We’ve had only a few bright spots in a generally disappointing, if not unexpected, first half of the season. We’re lucky to have the points tally we do, but that might just be a platform for staving off relegation – again. Our possession in games is abysmal, rarely topping 35%: it’s perhaps a blessing we can’t watch it live … 4/10

Stars and flops Karl Darlow has proved an excellent deputy for the injured Martin Dubravka and has kept us in games. Callum Wilson’s skill, tenacity and scoring touch have been a revelation, and Isaac Hayden has evolved from being so-so to so essential. But Jeff Hendrick has done little to improve the squad while Joelinton still struggles, typifying the “Ashley knows best” deadweight we’ve had to endure for 13 years.

Happy with the manager? No. Bruce’s rope-a-dope tactics are exasperating. After 17 months and no progress, his excuses about Rafa’s legacy are wearing thin. Fans are bemused by pundits telling us he’s doing a good job. With the talent at his disposal, we should be producing pacier, more incisive, attacking football. As a Geordie he cares about the club, but “Bruceball” is painful to watch and the manner of our League Cup exit was extremely worrying. With Rafa, it felt like there was a plan. With Bruce, it feels like we’re going nowhere. 4/10

We need to sign We’ll be in the bargain basement again, but we’re desperate for a midfielder who can grab hold of a game and drive it forward. And we’d love to see Dutch left back Jetro Willems return.

Favourite moment of 2020 Newcastle fans telling the Premier League to stick their £14.95 pay-per-view scheme and donating to a food bank instead.

David and Richard Holmes

Callum Wilson
Callum Wilson: a revelation. Photograph: Peter Powell/AFP/Getty Images

Sheffield United

After about three games I likened this season to a party where everyone’s having fun except us – now it’s like a party where we’ve passed out and people are drawing crude imagery on us and uploading it to Twitter. It’s been catastrophic. We’ve defended dreadfully and our finishing has been almost freakishly poor. We’ve even had nice guy Jürgen Klopp taking swings at us. 1/10, purely for the fact we haven’t lost every single game.

Stars and flops The effort is there but the sudden drop-off in quality has been alarming. Our star is probably Jack O’Connell, who is out for the season, because our decline underlines not only what an excellent player he is but how much we need him. None of our summer signings have impressed so far.

Happy with the manager? We could go down with one point and I’d still want Chris Wilder here next season. He’s the reason we got here in the first place and there’s no one better to lead us to future success. All the same, these are good players playing badly right now and not really any sign of it turning around. That has to fall on his shoulders. 7/10.

We need to sign It may not be wise to throw money at a probably-insurmountable problem, but we have to fix the left side of our defence if we’re to have any chance. We’ve cycled through four O’Connell replacements but it’s still a huge problem. We also lack creativity and I’d still love a player like Emi Buendía.

Moment that made me smile in 2020 The 3-0 win over Chelsea in July was such a perfect performance, capped by David McGoldrick finally getting his first Premier League goals. We moved up to sixth with three games to play. It was genuinely one of the best displays I’ve ever seen from a United team and made it look like we’d do just fine without fans in the ground. If only we knew.

Ben Meakin @BladesPod – the Sheffield United Podcast

Chris Wilder
Chris Wilder: still no one better. Photograph: Naomi Baker/Getty Images

Southampton

Difficult to find many faults overall, I think. An iffy start when we presented Son Heung-min with four identical goals in the space of half an hour, but otherwise it’s been excellent. It took us 25 games to get to our current points total the year we finished sixth. 9/10

Stars and flops The biggest surprise has been the emergence of Jannik Vestergaard as one of the best centre-backs in the league – I don’t think even he would have seen that coming. James Ward-Prowse, Oriol Romeu and Kyle Walker-Peters have been consistently good, and Danny Ings has, of course, led the line superbly when fit. Theo Walcott’s impact has surpassed most people’s expectations. There haven’t been any true flops so far, but Jack Stephens lost his place after the Spurs game.

Happy with the manager? Absolutely. The identity that we have as a team is down to him. There’s probably only two current managers in the division who he wouldn’t be an immediate upgrade for – we need to make the most of the time we have with him. 10/10

We need to sign Some backup at full-back would be handy as there’s not a lot behind Walker-Peters and Ryan Bertrand. Brandon Williams has been linked with a loan, but the new question is whether Manchester United would be happy to help out a direct rival …

Moment that made me smile in 2020 Che Adams’ duck-breaking goal from the centre circle against Manchester City was pretty special (and important, too). But more broadly, Marcus Rashford’s contribution to society has buried the notion that footballers don’t care about “normal” people. That criticism should be directed elsewhere.

Steve Grant SaintsWeb.co.uk @SteveGrant1983

Jannik Vestergaard
Jannik Vestergaard: one of the best. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

Tottenham

We’ve been top of the table, starting the season with the best defence and goal difference, a strike partnership close to breaking records and a belief resonating from the training field to the sofa and the stands. We’ve seen signs of an edge, a ruthless mentality and the capacity to sacrifice a little bit of style for a whole lot of substance. Now it’s time to find consistency, and prove we have mettle. 7/10

Stars and flops Son and Kane have been outstanding. Kane dropping deep to create and assist, and Son immense with clinical finishing. Both are essential to our counterattacking traits. Tanguy Ndombele has been a revelation and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg a leader of men. As for flops? I’m not sure we have any, but it pains me to see Dele Alli only making cameos in the Europa League.

Happy with the manager? He’s making all the pundits uncomfortable. Though in recent weeks he was making some fans uncomfortable too. 7/10

We need to sign The missing pieces came in the last window and with the influx of academy players, I’m content as it is. We have players still looking to find a groove (Lo Celso for example) but the squad has depth, we have options. Gareth Bale hasn’t even reached full fitness yet (and Dele might just return to the fold), while Joe Rodon is the future.

Favourite moment in 2020 The 2-0 league win over Arsenal last month, a proper mind-the-gap moment witnessed by the return of 2,000 Spurs fans. Spurs literally gave them all the possession and still slapped them twice on the counter.

Spooky DearMrLevy.com, patreon.com/SpookyInPurgatory, @Spooky23

José Mourinho
José Mourinho: ruthless. Photograph: Glyn Kirk/EPA

West Brom

It’s been horrendous but fully expected. We’re like a Ford Mondeo on an F1 racetrack. We don’t have the finances to compete or the backbone in the players to at least make a fight of it. 2/10

Stars and flops The stars column is a small list. Sam Johnstone has confused his army of critics by being consistently brilliant and Conor Gallagher has shamed players actually owned by the club with his effort and quality. Flops? I need more room. A lot of players need to look in the mirror and question their level of fitness and desire.

Happy with the manager? The Bilic sacking split opinion, but I think it was right. We haven’t looked fit or organised since March. The club didn’t back him financially but as a minimum when you have so little, you have to be fit and organised and we weren’t under Slav. 5/10 for him. As for Allardyce: a depressing but understandable appointment. He’s unlikely to keep us up but we have a slightly better chance than we had under Bilic.

We need to sign A backbone. A dominating centre-half, a defensive midfielder and a forward who understands how to play the lone striker role. It’s only been three or four years we’ve needed those now.

Moment that made me smile in 2020 This is tough. Not being at games has led to a real sense of detachment from football – but watching Albion get promoted at Old Hill Cricket Club in our bubble after thinking we’d messed it up was still a wonderful moment.

• Richard Jefferson @RichBaggie

Conor Gallagher
Conor Gallagher: effort and quality. Photograph: Rui Vieira/AFP/Getty Images

West Ham

It’s been better than expected, particularly as most pundits had us down to lose the first seven fixtures. Coming back from 3-0 down to draw 3-3 at Spurs sums up the new spirit in the side. If we keep hold of Declan Rice, and preserve Antonio’s hamstrings, then a top-10 finish is possible. 7/10

Stars and flops Rice has been outstanding, doing the ugly things well and earning the captaincy at 21. Soucek and Bowen will run all day. Coufal is looking a bargain at £5m, while Ogbonna has been consistent at the back. Biggest surprise has been Aaron Cresswell who, in a back five, has been busy making goals with his left-footed crosses. The closest to a flop has been Haller who, despite a couple of spectacular goals, still struggles to hold it up and just doesn’t have the energy of Antonio.

Happy with the manager? It’s pleasing to see Moyes doing well after the way he was treated in his first spell. He seems to get that West Ham fans will forgive a lot if they see a team putting in some effort. He’s made it difficult to get back in the side and hasn’t been afraid to drop big names. Yes, he’s very much a counterattacking manager, but it certainly makes a change to see a West Ham side that is organised and dangerous at set pieces. But he needs to guard against negative selections and give Benrahma a run in the side. 7/10

We need to sign Another back-up striker is essential, and left-back is also a worry now Masuaku is out injured.

Moment that made me smile in 2020 Manuel Lanzini’s last-minute screamer against Spurs followed by Moyes’ dad dance having just come back from Covid. To quote David Squires, Moyesy hadn’t looked so peng since his Dunfermline Athletic Panini sticker days.

Pete May Author of Goodbye to Boleyn, HammersInTheHeart.blogspot.co.uk

Vladimir Coufal with David Moyes
Vladimir Coufal: £5m bargain. Photograph: Alex Pantling/PA

Wolves

I suspected we were in for a transitional season and it’s looking like that’s what we’ll get. Nuno has been tinkering with systems and integrating new players, so the performances haven’t been as consistent as in recent times. The horror injury to Raúl Jiménez was a big setback but the team have already managed to see off Arsenal and Chelsea without him, which gives me hope we can avoid fading into bottom-half obscurity. 7/10

Stars and flops After selling Jota we needed Daniel Podence and Pedro Neto to fill the void, and they’ve done well. Without them firing, we’d be in trouble. But Nélson Semedo hasn’t done enough yet, and we could also do with a bit more from Adama Traoré.

Happy with the manager? After getting hammered for being too defensive he’s tried a flat back four at times and used another attacker. It’s good that he’s showing a willingness to adapt. We’ve lacked a Plan B for too long and it’s important to keep teams guessing. I haven’t agreed with all his choices, but he’s still very much the right man. 7/10

We need to sign A striker, given there’s no time frame on when Jiménez will return. We spent £35m on Fábio Silva but we paid a premium for potential and he’s far from the finished article. Salomón Rondón would fit the bill.

Favourite moment in 2020 Seeing Raúl back at the training ground this month. The seriousness of his injury put football into context – and potentially accelerated the arrival of concussion subs, which is a big positive.

Thomas Baugh wolvesblog.com @wolvesblog

Fábio Silva
Fábio Silva: not the finished article. Photograph: Sam Bagnall – AMA/Getty Images

Part one: Arsenal to Leicester





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