Stick or twist?
David Moyes has a decision to make and he has hinted that there could be something different on the cards this weekend.
Moyes has played defensive tactics – rightly – in the past three games with success, having picked up four points in the last two outings against Chelsea and Arsenal.
But, with all due respect to Stoke City, they are neither of those teams and they aren’t Man City either so does the Scotsman have to go with the defensive set up again?
West Ham are clearly a better team when they play five at the back but that, of course, means one less midfielder or forward on the pitch to score or create goals so what you get in defensive solidity, you lack in attacking prowess.
Moyes hinted earlier this week that Stoke and Newcastle too are different beasts and that could give a clue to his thinking about how he might set up the Hammers at the Bet265 Stadium on Saturday.
The Hammers need to start picking up wins, all of their games up until the end of January – bar one against Spurs – come against teams that are currently in the bottom eight of the Premier League and these are games where the team needs to be more attacking.
Arsene Wenger is unable to explain Arsenal’s lack of killer instinct in attack this season.
The Gunners sit seventh in the Premier League, having netted 30 goals, level with Tottenham but behind the tallies of Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City.
Indeed, runaway leaders City have plundered an impressive 52 strikes from 17 matches to open up a commanding 11-point advantage over closest challengers United at the top of the table.
Pep Guardiola’s men are already 19 points ahead of Arsenal, leaving Wenger to question his team’s relatively meagre return in the final third.
“Not quite clinical enough, yes,” he told a news conference ahead of Saturday’s home game against Newcastle United when questioned about the form of his strikers.
“It’s difficult to explain. As we spoke about [Alexis] Sanchez last year, he scored 24, he’s on four at the moment. But he is still committed and he works hard.”
Of Alexandre Lacazette, a club-record signing from Lyon in the off-season, Wenger said: “I feel if you look at his record, it’s quite good. Especially at home. At home his scoring record is really good. Away from home, a bit less.
“But also, do the teams defend better? You could say no, because we create more chances than anybody else. Are the chances of the same quality? I don’t know. There is no objective reason to have a verdict on that.”
The Gunners have had 64 shots but netted just twice in their last three leagues games, losing 3-1 at home to United and then drawing 1-1 and 0-0 at Southampton and West Ham respectively.
Of the attackers at Wenger’s disposal, Lacazette has managed eight goals in 17 league appearances, while Sanchez and Olivier Giroud have four apiece. Danny Welbeck has struck three times in 11 outings, with the boss uncertain of the cause of their collective struggles.
He said: “Is it confidence? Is it the fact that the guys think we have absolutely to score? It’s difficult to know. But we have the chances, the quality of our game is there. But it’s true that at the moment, we cannot show it up with points.”
Mauricio Pochettino will have no problem with Tottenham turning up the music if they pull off a shock win against unbeaten Manchester City on Saturday.
City irked Manchester United at Old Trafford last weekend by – amongst other things – reportedly blaring songs out of their changing room, which prompted an extraordinary bust-up between the teams’ players and staff.
Now Pep Guardiola’s men are chasing a record-stretching 16th Premier League victory but Pochettino wants it to be his side playing the tunes at the Etihad Stadium.
“I wish for that,” Pochettino said.
“I am never [going to complain] if another team celebrate because sometimes it’s good, when you lose, and you hear all that happens in another changing room, it’s good to feel the pain.
“With respect of course, because it’s always about respect, but sometimes it’s good to listen. Then you think ‘if we run more, and we play better and we care more. Come on maybe we need to translate that feeling to the opposite changing room’.”
Everton were given a triple boost yesterday as Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Jonjoe Kenny and Mason Holgate all signed new long-term contracts with the club.
As reported by the club’s official website, striker Calvert-Lewin has signed until the summer of 2023, with defenders Kenny and Holgate committing their futures until the summer of 2022.
All three players look to have bright futures at Everton, but which of them is the biggest prospect?
Calvert-Lewin, part of the England squad that won the U20 World Cup this year, has impressed since joining Everton from Sheffield United in 2016.
A hard-working striker, he has scored twice in the Premier League this season, while he has provided six assists.
Although he is still rather raw, the 20-year-old is an excellent prospect and will surely develop further under Allardyce’s guidance.
Kenny, meanwhile, has featured regularly at right-back for Everton in recent weeks, helping to reduce the impact of Seamus Coleman’s continued absence.
Impressive defensively and also capable of providing a threat going forwards, Kenny, who is a product of the Everton academy, has been playing with increased confidence of late.
Everton have conceded just one goal in the four matches Sam Allardyce has taken charge of.
Sam Allardyce has told Match of the Day, which was broadcast on BBC One on 14th December, that he is baffled that Everton conceded so many goals under Ronald Koeman.
Everton had one of the most porous defences in the Premier League when Koeman was in charge, but Allardyce has quickly given organisation to the team.
Everton have conceded just one goal in his first four matches in charge, and helped the Merseyside outfit keep another clean sheet against Newcastle United at St. James’ Park last night.
And Allardyce simply cannot believe that Koeman was unable to stop Everton from conceding.
He said: “The defence has been performing outstandingly well since i’ve been here. I’m baffled on the fact of how did Everton concede so many goals before I got here?”
Allardyce has made a fine start to life at Everton, winning three and drawing one of his first four matches in charge.
Everton have had a strong defence, despite not even having their strongest back four available.
Cuco Martina is currently playing out of position at left-back, while youngster Jonjoe Kenny is starting at right-back.
Everton’s win over Newcastle has kept them in 10th in the Premier League table.
According to reports, Everton could be allowed to sign Sunderland centre-back Lamine Kone on the cheap during the January transfer window.
It was Allardyce who brought Kone to Sunderland during the 2015-16 season and the Ivorian played a role in helping the club avoid relegation from the Premier League.
He however had a disappointing campaign last term as the Black Cats eventually were relegated. Kone has failed to make an impact for Sunderland this season due to a knee injury.
The Sunderland hierarchy are reported to be open to letting him go on a cut-price fee in order to get him off their wage bill.
Everton previously attempted to sign Kone during the summer of 2016 and after the move failed, he said: “Everton, they are not a small club. There were other clubs interested too. But it was not concrete like Everton.
“It was a very good opportunity for me. A golden opportunity. They are playing for the top positions. They could be in Europe. So it was an interesting challenge for me. At the time, I was disappointed.”
Moussa Dembele is confident Celtic can make an impact in the Europa League as they look ahead to a last-32 tie against Zenit St Petersburg.
The Hoops, who finished third in the Champions League group, were paired on Monday with the Russian club, who topped their Europa League section with five wins and a draw.
The first leg is at Celtic Park on February 15 with the return game in St Petersburg a week later.
Liverpool have been heavily linked with a move for Southampton centre-back Virgil van Dijk.
When speaking exclusively to BT Sport, ex-Reds striker Michael Owen explained how things really will be looking up for his former club if they manage to get a deal for Saints centre-back Virgil van Dijk over the line soon.
Liverpool have been quite sensational going forward this season, but question marks remain over their fragile defence, and Jürgen Klopp will surely be prioritising the addition of an established centre-back in January.
One of their prime targets is the Southampton ace, although Yahoo Sports claim that it would take £70 million to prise him away from St Mary’s.
The 26-year-old is one of the most highly-rated defenders in the league, however, and although £70 million seems rather extortionate on the face of it, in today’s currently inflated transfer market, it could very well prove to be good value for the Merseyside outfit.
And Owen labelled the Dutchman as a ‘proper player’, when speaking to BT Sport, insisting that things will be looking up for the Reds, if they manage to sign Van Dijk:
“Van Dijk is a proper player. If they can get him and Keita in midfield, things are looking up.”
With the opening of the January transfer window just three weeks away, this will certainly be one to keep an eye on.
The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager has claimed that if his tactical approach stopped working, he would give up the game
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola revealed he would retire if possession-based football was unable to achieve results.
Ahead of a huge Manchester derby against United at Old Trafford on Sunday, Guardiola’s City are eight points clear at the top of the Premier League.
In a dominant start to the campaign, City have scored 46 goals and conceded only 10 in 15 league games.
Asked what he would do if possession football stopped working, former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss Guardiola said he would no longer coach.
“If that is going to happen, I’m going to retire, because I don’t feel it another way,” Guardiola said.
I could defend more deep, but I want to have the ball and I want to play. From my first game with the second team in Barcelona, I always try to look for that.
“Sometimes it doesn’t work, but that’s because the other team is good or we are not good enough.
“But the idea [of changing], that is not going to happen. Never. Never in my life.”
Substitute Blake Powell has propelled Central Coast to a one-sided 1-0 win over a gritty Perth and into the A-League’s top four.
Last weekend, Powell marked his return from nearly a year injured with an assist against Wellington.
At Gosford on Sunday, the 26-year-old attacker replaced Kwabena Appiah with 13 minutes to play and within 60 seconds had created and scored the game’s only goal.
That the two sides could not be separated early was scarcely believable, such was the Mariners’ dominance.
They were finally rewarded when Powell played an inch-perfect pass to star playmaker Danny De Silva, who rushed to the byline and cut back for Powell to hammer it under the crossbar.
The result gives the Mariners back-to-back wins for the first time since February and lifts Paul Okon’s team to fourth, leaving travel-weary Perth seventh.
Okon said capitalising on chances was still a work in progress.
“It’s an area we’re working on, we’re improving at it,” he said.
“In the end the goal comes from a bit of Daniel De Silva magic and Powelly finishes it off,” he said.
“Delighted for Blake, he’s worked hard the past six months … and he gets his reward this evening.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Okon opted for an unchanged XI from a 4-1 away shellacking of the Phoenix.
They were met by a Glory outfit missing attacking trio Diego Castro, Adam Taggart and Andy Keogh, the skipper unable to overcome a groin issue in time.
Keogh’s strike replacement Joe Knowles made his first start since his debut two years ago and the 21-year-old might have made an impact had he been given some service.
For the Glory could barely keep 30 per cent possession early on and by halftime the home team had everything but a goal.
Jake McGing’s work rate and impeccable crossing yielded two strong chances for Appiah, who was thwarted by Liam Reddy.
Man-of-the-match De Silva pleased the 8115-strong crowd with his trickery, flicking a cute backheel to Andrew Hoole amid his constant menace.
The Glory relied on some timely last-line defending and the odd counter-attack that would have put them ahead just before the break had Ben Kennedy not expertly denied an on-target Mitch Nichols.
Central Coast could not quite maintain their first-half fluency and Perth, the most prolific side in the last 15 minutes of games, slowly circled.
But Wout Brama burst free and deftly teed up Appiah in the goal mouth, only for Joseph Mills to get there first, before Powell came off the bench.
“We weren’t disgraced here,” said Glory coach Kenny Lowe.
“First 20 minutes they were good value and probably controlled the game and then the last 25 we sussed it out and it was even.
“Second half we did quite well, took their sting away and started to get into it.”