Pub Chatter: Best of the Rest XI

Not for the first time, I have found myself taking a typical pub conversation a little too far. On this occasion, the topic of discussion over a bag of nuts was: pick a team choosing only Premier League players playing for clubs outside the Big 6. The “Big 6” being of course – Man Utd, Man City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs. Being the way I am, I took this home with me and after far too much thought, this is what I came up with!

best of rest XI

Honary mentions: Xherdan Shaqiri, Jermain Defoe, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Salomon Rondon, Winston Reid, Nathan Redmond, Manuel Lanzini, Grzegorz Krychowiak, Jonny Evans

Goalkeeper: Kasper Schmeichel

This was probably the easiest decision I had to make in the whole process. The stand out keeper from those available, especially given Forster’s poor form and the decline of Joe Hart. Jack Butland (for me, England’s no.1) is still someway off Schmeichel’s level despite his obvious potential. Begovic could maybe be inserted in to this conversation but he’s not quite on the level. Schmeichel could quite easily be playing for one of the top 6 clubs, Liverpool stands out as a great fit.

Defence: Matt Lowton, Harry Maguire, Virgil van Diijk, Ryan Betrand

From the easiest decision to what was certainly the hardest; right back. It was noticeable how top heavy the league is at the position. Seamus Coleman was the probable favourite for the position, but after not playing due to injury this term and coming off a down year last season, it was hard to justify. Matt Lowton has had a solid season in a solid defence, and represents what is currently the highest placed side outside the Big 6.

Virgil Van Diijk was an easy pick, not many centre halves in the league get quoted £50million plus. After picking up plenty of caps and forcing his way in as an England regular, Betrand beat out the competition at what is a very deep position.

The second centre back position was a more difficult choice. In the end, it was between Harry Maguire and Jonny Evans. I could be accused of slight bias here, after predicting Maguire would play for England when watching him play reserve football years ago, I have a slight affinity towards him. Whilst he probably has a mistake or two more in him than the more experienced Evans, I feel like he also offers more upside in terms of positive impact on a game. This one could have gone either way though. I’ve arguably missed out Mamadou Sahko here, but from a personal point of view he’s a player I struggle to really define.

Midfield: Wilfried Zaha, Yohan Cabaye, Morgan Schneiderlin, Riyad Mahrez, 

This is certainly the deepest position area outside the top six. Mahrez is far and away the best player in this side, but the other wing required a lot more deliberation. In the end I opted for Zaha, with his goal return fending off the likes of Nathan Redmond and the elusive Xherdan Shaqiri.

In the middle, there really were a lot of ways this could have gone. There seemed to be an abundance of solid but not spectacular players to choose from. Harry Arter came to mind, along with consistent Premier League stalwarts such as Darren Fletcher, but West Brom’s Grzegorz Krychowiak felt like the biggest snub here after impressing for his new club despite their poor season. Ive probably leant towards reputation slightly with these picks, going for two players with impressive bodies of work but not so impressive recent form. However, Cabaye and Schneiderlin, feel like apt players to anchor a Best of the Rest XI after both earning moves to bigger clubs, only to return due to not living up to the standard.

Forwards: Wayne Rooney, Jamie Vardy

It would have been easy to over-complicate this one and I very nearly did. It was difficult to leave Lanzini out the side, a really aesthetically pleasing attacking player who is consistently having an impact on games. I initially had Sigurdsson ahead of Rooney, but a quick look at the leading league scorers and this debate was over. Rooney has had a mini-resurgence in recent weeks and reminded us all of his quality. Whilst Vardy is not at his record setting pace of a couple of years ago, he’s still consistently the biggest goal threat outside of the top echelon.

  • It was noticeable how many Leicester players I picked. That said, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise given their league position, 8th.
  • I only picked one Burnley player and that came at a stretch, which is testament to the job Sean Dyche has done. Regression to the mean is to be expected but this side consistently overachieves. His uncompromising manner and rigid, high tempo style of play may not win him too many suitors, but the results are unquestionable.
  • I had a hard time picking any Everton players. Whilst of course being a completely subjective exercise, the lack of stand out obvious picks should be a concern for a team with their net outlay and supposed ambitions.

Feel free to respond with your own XI’s or argue against my picks!

Derby Day

Bragging rights up for grabs in the North West.

It was derby day in the North West of England this weekend. United played host to Manchester City, but first Everton had to go to Anfield.

Everton has had somewhat of a renaissance since Sam Allardyce arrived. Let me rephrase that. The ship has steadied on the blue side of Merseyside. 3 wins and 3 clean sheets (one of which came in the Europa League) have managed to stave off relegation battle whispers for the meantime. That said, Everton still find themselves inherently flawed and were not given much of a hope going in to this one. Liverpool were fresh off a resounding 7-0 win to top their Champions League group, 16 points in their last 6 Premier League fixtures and scoring goals a-plenty.

Then the team sheets came in. Liverpool’s two Brazilian stars, Coutinho and Firmino were named on the bench. Suddenly the topic of conversation pre game around the ground goes from wondering how many goals, to simply asking why? Why leave the two who make that offence tick sat on the bench in a local derby?

Cut to 75 minutes in. Liverpool seemingly haven’t missed their stars at all. They’ve dominated the whole game. Top goalscorer Mo Salah has opened the scoring and is giving the Everton full back Martina a torrid time. There’s been chances to make it two. Namely when Mane was guilty of not squaring the ball in a 4 on 1 situation before promptly dragging a left footed shot horribly wide. Everton have mustered up only one shot on target and quite frankly are barely threatening to even get out their whole half.

Yet there was something quite inevitable about this game, as there often is when Liverpool find themselves up only a goal in a contest they’ve had much the better of. If they can just get that illusive second goal, it quite often becomes three, four and five. If not, you always fear that one costly mistake that results in dropped points. That mistake came right on cue. There are just two blue shirts in the Liverpool half, compared to six in a red shirt. One long pass behind the defence from wide, one naive lunge inside his own box from Dejan Lovren. Suddenly Rooney finds himself placing the ball on the penalty spot. 1-1. That’s all it took. Its a trend that plagues Liverpool far too often. In fact, their recent form is a perfect example of that.

 

In their last seven Premier League games, Klopp’s team have found themselves 1-0 ahead on every occasion. Five of those times, they have gone on to make it 2-0. Liverpool have won all of those games, finishing with a +16 goal difference in those matches. When failing to get the second goal, they have gone on to draw the two remaining games. In fact, you have to go back to the second game of the season to find a Liverpool 1-0 victory, beating a Palace team that took a record 8 games to score a goal this season. Just 16 games in, Liverpool have already dropped 8 points from winning positions this year. Klopp’s team selection will get questioned here, but this is a recurring theme on Merseyside.

Everton looked like a Sam Allardyce team. They limited the opposition to just 3 shots on target, despite 23 against. They conceded the possession battle. If it wasn’t obvious Big Sam would be satisfied with a point before the game, it certainly was when he brought on Phil Jagielka on for skipper Wayne Rooney with 10 minutes still left to play. Who can blame him?

Whilst a good result for Everton to take them to 7 points from 9 available under Allardyce, this game was the red’s to lose. Jurgen Klopp and the Anfield faithful will be hoping such lapses don’t cost them a place in the top four come May.

Some things are just too predictable…

The clock struck 4:30pm and all focus moved 30 miles east at the Theatre of Dreams. For all the attacking quality on the pitch, all three goals came in a scrappy manner. Despite controlling the game, The Citizens hadn’t once got in behind the United defence. 42 minutes in, left back Ashley Young found himself caught underneath opposing left back Fabian Delph’s cross. Leroy Sane took the ball down with a neat touch using his thigh, worked the ball on to his right foot, and lashed a shot towards the near post. De Gea tipped over. A poor Lukaku header in front of his own goal dropped to David Silva inside the 6 yard box, which he promptly volleyed in.

Facing going in at half time, behind and being outplayed by local and title rivals, United pressed forward. This time, it was Young providing the cross. A simple chip forward, Otamendi misjudged the flight, only flicking the ball on into an unsuspecting Fabian Delph’s midriff. Marcus Rashford latched on to the loose ball, opened his foot and placed the ball past the onrushing City keeper. Honours even at the break.

Just 10 minutes in to the second half, another City set piece created chaos in the box. Lukaku again the culprit, his right foot clearance only going back into the crowd of bodies and Otamendi latched on to the loose ball to regain the lead.

Despite being the side in need of a goal, United if anything found themselves pinned back. An attack spearheaded by Martial, Lukaku, Lingard and Rashford struggled to get anything going. The only time they did look like scoring was from a City mistake, always a possibility given Guardiola’s intent to play from the back. The one time Mourinho’s men did cut open the defence of Manchester City, Lukaku couldn’t convert. A lovely move, Ibrahimovic layed the ball to Mata who’s first time lofted pass allowed Martial to punch a volleyed cross across the face of the City box. Despite the brilliant ensuing double save from Ederson, it’s a chance Lukaku will know he has to take. His poor record against the big sides continued after he again struggled to have an impact on the game.

Mourinho and his players may feel frustrated after only conceding to set pieces when the scouting report will have focused on City’s intricate play far more heavily. Rightly so. However, Manchester City just had an air about them. Watching them, you always felt they could score another if they really needed to. There is a long way to go of course, but after making a record breaking start and looking so comfortable in their closest challengers home, the only thing potentially standing in their way will be themselves.

The scary thing for the rest of the league? Given the sheer number of young players playing an important part in the squads success; today’s front three of Sterling, Sane and Jesus to name a few, along with arguably the worlds best coach, a generation of dominance could be headed to the blue side of the Manchester.

Away day in my own town

St James’ Park. Possibly the best away end in England?

Watched as a neutral from the Leicester end today. The Foxes came out deservedly on top, 3-2 winners in a game which both sides had leads.

Little takeaways:

  • Mahrez just looked on a higher level to anybody else, Leicester have done incredibly well to keep him for this long. Begs the question, how much longer can it last? His departure for bigger & better things seems inevitable.
  • Demari Gray really impressed. England are expected to take a young squad to the World Cup this summer. Southgate knows him well from his u21 coaching days. Could he make a late push to make the squad?
  • Speaking of international duty, Leicester left back Ben Chilwell looks like a player who will pick up England caps in the future.
  • Newcastle look like a Championship squad (because they are). Rafa feels forced to play incredibly defensive. A struggle to entertain as well as a struggle to stay up lies ahead for this club.