December’s Giraffes and Lemons

Another new year and once more, after the craziness of last season, the top of the Premiership is beginning to take on a familiar shape. The title seems to be Chelsea’s for the taking and whilst Manchester City’s recent stumble may have taken some by surprise surely Arsenal’s recent downturn should come as no surprise to anybody.

My Team Giraffe for December doesn’t however go to the league leaders, Chelsea, who have continued to impress but instead to Manchester United, who under Jose are slowly making inroads into the teams above them. Whilst the title this season may be beyond the Red Devils I am beginning to feel more confident that my initial prediction that they would finish in the Champions League places will prove to be true.

At the other end of the table my Team Lemon of the month has to go to Crystal Palace for the second month in a row because even after the appointment of Grab the Cash Sam, look a team in disarray.

Here then is my updated prediction for the end of the season (and how it has changed since the start of the season):

  1. Chelsea (2nd)
  2. Manchester City (1st)
  3. Liverpool (5th)
  4. Manchester United (3rd)
  5. Tottenham Hotspur (6th)
  6. Arsenal (4th)
  7. Everton (7th)
  8. Southampton (10th)
  9. Stoke City (8th)
  10. West Ham United (9th)
  11. West Bromwich Albion (13th)
  12. Leicester City (12th)
  13. Bournemouth                (16th)
  14. Middlesbrough (11th)
  15. Watford (14th)
  16. Burnley (17th)
  17. Sunderland (19th)
  18. Swansea (15th)
  19. Hull City (20th)
  20. Crystal Palace (18th)

Although you could argue that Mike Phelan was always only going to be an interim appointment the way he has been treated by the Hull City Board has been disrespectful to say the least and this is why they get my Individual Lemon of the Month. Whilst Marco Silva may be the man to keep them in the Premiership the Hull board put their shirt on Phelan at the start of the season but instead have decided to replace him with a manager who had previously been linked to Nottingham Forest!

My Individual Giraffe of the Month also goes to a player who I have to admit I have never been a fan of but is beginning to look like the real deal, Dele Alli. The Spurs midfielder is beginning to have a consistent impact on the big games, something I felt he didn’t do last season and is beginning to remind of another player who was indispensable for his club, Frank Lampard.

A Bag Full Of Lemons – Week 21

Whilst I enjoyed my time away in Australia I have to admit the timing of the update which finally broke the Official FPL act on my phone wasn’t perfect. Therefore, with limited chances to update my team I lost some of the momentum I had been building up but, as is usually the case, when I finally got back to a decent internet connection my team didn’t do too badly this week, clocking up an above average 83 points.

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The natural selection of my Giraffe of the Week would be Harry Kane, who put in a captain’s performance in getting me 34 points but Marcos Alonso managed to garner an impressive 21 and in doing so wins the award. At the other end I normally hate highlighting defenders for scoring in the wrong net but Gareth McAuley’s own goal, combined with his side’s shambolic defensive display wins McAuley the Lemon of the Week.

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After so long away this week’s transfers are more about beginning to get my team back to where they should be so out goes Ramadan to be replaced by Arnie, who I hope after his match winning performance against Sunderland will go on a run of form similar to that of last season’s. In addition, the experiment with Shane Long is over and with West Brom playing a Sunderland team clearly short on confidence I have brought in Salomon Rondon.

Search For A Stoke City Star – Orjan Nyland

With only a couple of weeks until the transfer window opens the footballing rumour mill is beginning to build into a crescendo of speculation. In keeping with this tradition I will be giving you my run down on the players who are being linked with a move to the Bet365. This time a player who may only be being mentioned to put pressure on Derby County:

Orjan Nyland

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Current Club: Ingolstadt

Position: Goalkeeper

Possible Price –  Probably less than the four million pounds Derby are asking for Grant

Anybody else interested: Southampton and Everton

Giraffe or Lemon:  This season has been a Giraffe for Ingolstadt but would the Premiership jungle be a little too much for him.

Where Would He Fit In:

Initially for Grant if Derby continue to play hardball but when Butland returns would only be number two

Do We Need Him:

If Grant doesn’t join permanently then yes, both Given and Haugland have shown they are not up to the job of replacing Butland. If Grant does sign then no.

Who’s place would be under threat:

Again it all depends on the Lee Grant situation. If Grant signs then I can’t see this deal happening but if Stoke can’t reach an agreement then Grant will be the one who makes way for Nyland

Verdict: Probably more a rumour to assist in Stoke’s negotiations with Derby more than anything else but of he was to join would be an improvement at number two. The question then would be could he deputise as well as Grant has done for Butland.

Stoke City 2 – Leicester City 2

With Christmas approaching some might say Mark Hughes had been sampling the sherry a little early, whilst others might have wondered if the Stoke boss had been visited by the same spirit of inspiration that brought about the tweak in formation. Whatever the reason Stoke lined up without the suspended Arnie and surprisingly without his partner in crime, Shaqiri. With neither of Stoke’s flair players on the pitch, the question about how Stoke were going to create any chances against last season’s champions seemed a pertinent one.

Yet any concerns about Stoke’s creativity seemed to be banished in the opening exchanges as Allen and Bojan combined, in a sumptuous move, to tee up Super Jon who could only manage to volley the ball into the goalkeepers relived arms. At the back whilst Vardy, Slimani and Mahrez’s pace were forcing the Stoke defence to drop deeper and deeper you had the feeling Shawcross and Bruno, screened by the returning Glanda, were more than capable of dealing with anything Leicester managed to throw at them.

Then, just before the half hour, came the incident which will define this match, James Vardy’s dismissal for a two footed challenge. Was it a red card? I know a lot of people are shocked Craig Pawson decided to dismiss the Leicester striker but Vardy did jump into the tackle, he did go in with two feet and if he had connected he it could have been a career ending tackle. The fact that he didn’t connect shouldn’t be taken into consideration, whilst I don’t believe there was any malice Vardy made a mistake and should be punished accordingly. Thankfully he didn’t connect but if you still think he shouldn’t have been sent off, try and imagine what you would have been thinking if his feet had connected a couple of inches higher?

With Leicester feeling aggrieved, and down to ten men, their sense of injustice began to boil over as Danny Simpson handled Bojan’s chip into the penalty box and the referee had no choice but to point to the spot. Again, for some strange reason, this incident has brought about a good deal of debate with talk about Simpson’s hand being in a natural position but in my all my time watching football I can’t remember too many defenders defending as if they are doing the Flamenco!

From the resulting penalty Bojan scored and this triggered a meltdown in Leicester’s discipline as one after another players got booked for dissent or silly tackles. With Leicester imploding Stoke managed to get the second their dominance deserved when Allen pounced on a rebound after Schmeichel’s save, just before half time.

Leading two nil against ten men Stoke must have felt comfortable but with comfortable comes complacency and as Stoke seemed content to sit back on the lead Leicester began to smell blood and their ten men began to dominate Stoke’s eleven. However it took a substitution masterstroke from Ranieri to finally make the breakthrough as the explosive Demari Gray’s found his fellow substitutes head as Ulluo benefited from the new technology that tells the referee in seconds whether the ball had crossed the line.

Back in the game Leicester began to pile forward and it was evident they had sussed out Stoke’s weakness to the cross as ball after ball pinged into the Stoke boss and in the 88th minute it was Daniel Amartey who benefited from Grant’s failure to collect the high ball. Grant has been magnificent deputising for Jack Butland but if there is one area of his game that lets him down it is how he deals with crosses. Too often he decided not to come and when he does he either looks spectacular or foolish. And whilst Grant has been one of the major reasons for Stoke’s climb up the table it is fair to say Butland would have dealt with both of the crosses that led to Leicester’s goals with ease.

 

After two drawn games and two red cards Stoke now travel to Liverpool and Chelsea and even the most optimistic of us would find it hard to believe we are going to get anything from these games but even so we must look to compete and with this in mind there are a few things that need to be taken into consideration:

  • Super Jon played as well as Super Jon can play once again but the need for a centre forward is evident, especially as the Wilfried experiment seems to be over.
  • Behind the striker, in Stoke’s current 3-4-3 formation we need creative players and whilst Bojan showed glimpses in the opening exchanges he is nowhere near the player we saw a few years ago and Allen looked marginalised without Arnie or Shaqiri which makes the decision to leave Shaqiri on the bench baffling.
  • At 2-0 and even at 2-1 Stoek should have been pushing for the third goal which would have finished the game, instead we sat back and were punished. Against ten men we should be looking to dominate not hold on.
  • With Leicester in the ascendency and with his team not creating anything against ten men why bring on Charlie Boy when we should have been looking at the pace and creativity of Shaqiri or Ramadan. Hughes’ substitutions are predictable, unimaginative and worryingly at least five minutes too late. We need to be proactive not reactive.

Stoke Giraffe of the Week           Glenn Johnson

Stoke Lemon of the Week           Lee Grant

Match Ratings

Lee Grant – 6                        Maybe a shock but he really should have done better with both of Leiceser’s goals.

Glenn Johnson – 8              You get the feeling Johnson is the glue which is making Stoke’s new formation work.

Ryan Shawcross – 7             Unlucky not to keep Leicester’s first out.

Bruno Martin Indi – 7         Looked good for an hour but will not be pleased that the man he was brought to replace outmuscled him in the air.

Erik Pieters – 6                     Why has no one else noticed most of the goals Stoke concede emanate from the Dutchman’s flank

Glenda – 6                             Showed why he is an upgrade on Charlie Boy but started to panic as the game got away from Stoke

Giannelli Imbula – 8           Another good game from Stoke’s record signing and looked the most likely to break down Leicester’s stubborn defence.

Mame Diouf – 7                   Did enough at wing back but didn’t attempt to beat his opposite number once during the game.

Bojan – 6                                A surprise inclusion and did well for half an hour but faded from the game as it wore on

Joe Allen – 7                         As usual worked hard but became marginalised without the movement of Arnie or Shaqiri

Super Jon – 7                        Worked hard, as usual, and is probably Stoke’s first choice forward at the moment but that doesn’t say much

Substitutes

Charlie Boy – 6                     Came on to steady Stoke’s defence but could only watch as Leicester dominated!

Ramadan – 6                        Sadly, once again, didn’t have much time to make any impact.

Manager

Mark Hughes – 6                  Unusual starting XI but sadly a predictable insipid set of substitutions

Referee

Lee Mason –  7                      Got the sending off and penalty spot on but maybe should have sent off at least one of the Leicester players who were on yellow cards in the second half.

A Bag Full Of Lemons – Week 15

This is getting quite boring, yet another week where my score of 46 was around the average score of 48. However, this time I am the one who has to take the blames as my gamble on Iheanacho backfired spectacularly!

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With my captain not playing and my midfield and forward line misfiring I am delighted at how my defence managed to dig me out of a hole and my Giraffe of the Week goes to Virgil van Dijk. At the other end of the scale I am resisting the temptation to give myself the award and instead my Lemon of the Week goes to Roberto Firmino not so much for the performance but for not managing to get at least an assist against Middlesbrough.

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Another week and another rejigging of my forward line with Shane Long being brought in, mainly due to Charlie Austin’s injury which I suspect will give the Irishman a decent run in the starting XI.

The Plight Of The Kiwi Stokie

As usual Stoke’s game against Southampton was last in the Match of the Day running order but by all accounts it was a pretty drab affair and maybe this time it can be overlooked. Personally I wouldn’t be able to tell you because here in New Zealand, if you can believe it, the Stokie is looked down upon even more than their British cousins by the television schedulers.

BeIN Sports have the rights to show Premiership football here in New Zealand and they have committed to showing every match in its entirety. Of course this is good news but in the case of Stoke versus Southampton this means the match will be shown a full twenty-four hours after it had finished. Twenty-four hours where it is impossible not to find out the result, and of course Stoke versus Southampton is the last of Wednesday’s matches to be shown.

So next time you moan that Stoke are being shown last on Match of the Day spare a thought for your kiwi cousins.

A Bag Full Of Lemons – Week 14

Another average week with my team only getting three more points than the average of 46 with Coutino’s absence being a big blow.

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From Lemon to Giraffe, Romelu Lukaku¸ wins the Giraffe of the Week despite being in a losing team. At the other end of the scale there were a number of players who vied for Lemon of the Week but I am giving it to Gareth McAuley for picking up a yellow card in what was otherwise an impressive display against Chelsea

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After last week’s rejigging to bring in Kelechi Iheanacho I am now able to bring my Stoke contingent up to the maximum allowed of three by swapping the injured Coutinho for Xherdan Shaqiri who goes straight into the team in place of his team mate Ramadan Sobhi. After their lacklustre display against Leicester I am expecting Manchester City to bounce back against Watford and this is why I have decided to take a gamble and make Iheanacho my captain!