January’s Giraffes and Lemons

With Chelsea seemingly marching on towards the title the main talking points in the Premier League for the following months will no doubt revolve around the battle for survival and the chase for those elusive European places. With Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool all stumbling recently Spurs seem the best placed to secure one of the Champions League places and you never know Jose could just manage to sneak Manchester United into the top four.

Indeed, my Team Giraffe for January goes once again to last month’s winner Manchester United, who are still in the hunt for four trophies, although the Premiership has to be the least realistic as Chelsea seem unstoppable at the top of the table.

At the other end of the table what looked like a four-way fight for the safety of 17th place now looks like a six-way tussle to avoid relegation with both Middlesbrough and Leicester City being dragged into a relegation dog fight. However, I think both of these teams will survive as their respective owners have not pushed the panic buttons by firing their managers and this continuity will keep them safe. The same, I am afraid, cannot be said for Sunderland, who although they have also kept faith with their manager, have had an abysmal January and as such win my Team Lemon of the month.

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

In a month where transfers dominate the footballing news I was tempted to go for “Grab the Cash” Sam as my Individual Lemon of the Month but Palace’s first win under the Greedy One’s reign on the last day of the month just saved him. Instead my Individual Lemon of the Month goes to Claudio Bravo, more for an accumulation of goalkeeping errors since he arrived at the start of the season than the numerous statistics which have been bandied about this month, which only confirm what I have been saying since Pep shipped Joe Hart off to Italy.

In handing out my Individual Giraffe of the Month I wanted to showcase the magic of the FA Cup, which only really exists during the first month of the year when the third and fourth rounds give the minnows a chance to shock the big boys, just think of Wolves managing to knock out both Liverpool and Stoke! One of the biggest fairy tales has been Lincoln City’s cup run as they knocked two Championship teams out of the cup and in the case of Brighton, convincingly. Therefore, my Individual Giraffe of the Month goes to Theo Robinson who terrorised the Brighton backline in the second half.

Advertisements

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.

Great Football Signings

fax-machine

Even though Mourinho’s United parked the bus at Liverpool they still had David De Gea to thank for them to come away from Anfield with a point and this got me thinking. Maybe the best signing United have made over the last few years is the IT technician who broke the fax machine with Real Madrid’s transfer documents for De Gea in it!

Manchester United 1 – Stoke City 1

Even with the same starting XI as the previous week against West Brom, even the most ardent Stoke supporters turning up at Old Trafford were not expecting their team to do anything but survive against the team who had demolished the Premier League Champions the week before. And for the first half that is all Stoke seemed capable of with Manchester United creating chance after clear cut chance only to be thwarted by a goalkeeper making only his second top flight start.

Zlatan was the first to test Lee Grant as he was played through and with only the Stoke goalkeeper to beat the big Swede should really have done better. With the talismanic striker unable to break the deadlock Juan Mata was next to try his luck with a cheeky chip from the edge of the penalty box but Grant was once again up to the task. Then Zlatan broke past Shawcross, who played as well as he had since the Everton game, and spotting Linegard the big Swede fed the young Englishman who, shooting first time, could only watch in shock as Grant somehow stretched to his left to palm the ball around the post.

To say the action was completely one-sided in the first half would be unfair to Stoke who did have a couple of chances, non more so than a tame Cameron shot which if he had put his laces through it might have changed the narrative of the first half. Yes Stoke did have chances but when they did break the first touch or final pass of the Stoke front four let them down. Time after time the Stoke defence found themselves unable to catch their breath because Bony, Shaqiri, Arnie and Joe Allen all gave the ball away too cheaply at times.

With the teams coming out for the second half most people inside the stadium would have been expecting the game to follow the pattern of the second half but instead it was Stoke who held the upper hand. Yet for all their possession Stoke were not creating any clear cut chances and this was because, just like in the first half, Stoke gave the ball away too cheaply.

On the side-line Jose had obviously seen enough and decided to replace Linegard and Mata for Martial and Wayne Rooney yet initially neither managed to wrestle the initiative away from Stoke until Martial was gifted an opportunity, which he took beautifully, by a poor touch from Cameron. Finding themselves behind Stoke seemed to panic and Manchester United, smelling blood, pushed forward for a second which surely would have killed the game but instead it was Stoke who managed to get the final goal of the game.

For the second time in the game the team which was clearly in the ascendency got caught with a sucker punch when a speculative cross from Super Jon was fumbled by the Manchester United defence and Joe Allen was on hand tap into an empty net for the second match running. Allen’s goal prompted a typical Jose response and Depay was added to the already impressive array of attacking threats but whilst at times looking somewhat shaky, and thanks to Lee Grant, Stoke’s defence managed to hold out until the end of the game.

Against Manchester United Stoke improved again upon the previous matches performance but with a break for the internationals there are still a few things Mystic Mark and his backroom staff must work on ahead of the must win match against Sunderland:

  • I know I sound like a broken record but what has Ramadan done wrong? Maybe he wouldn’t have got on the pitch and yes Super Jon did set up the goal but a place on the bench gives him the experience and Mystic Mark a genuine wide-man option.
  • Keep working on zonal marking. It was better than against West Brom but Manchester United still won too many headers in the Stoke box.
  • Persevere with Wilfried Bony. Again Stoke scored once Two Meter Peter was introduced but apart from looking back as Joe Allen scored can you honestly say you noticed that he was on the pitch.

Stoke Giraffe of the Week           Lee Grant

Stoke Lemon of the Week           Erik Pieters

Match Ratings

Lee Grant – 9                     Amazing, lost count of the number of fine saves he made during the course of the match.

Glenn Johnson – 8           Played well both in attack and defence and dealt well with the rather unimpressive Rashford

Ryan Shawcross – 8         Let Zlatan get away from him once or twice but on the whole looked after the big Swede well.

Bruno Martins Indi – 8    Works well with Shawcross and looks to be a threat from set pieces

Erik Pieters – 6                  Back to his early season form, unfortunately, came inside too often giving Valencia and Linegard too much space

Glenn Whealan – 7          Always there to plug the gaps

Clumsy Cameron – 7         Did the defensive part of his game well and popped up in opposition half, most notably for his first half chance. More than most though needs to work on his clumsy first touch

Joe Allen – 8                       Another Duracell bunny performance and in the right place to score the goal.

Shaqiri – 7                           Not as influential as last week but his tormenting of Smalling in the corner was majestic as he turned the United defender inside out then  back inside again.

Arnie – 8                              Another hardworking performance and Stoke’s most dangerous outlet.

Wilfried Bony – 6              50/50, at times looked the consummate lone striker at others looked like a Port Vale player

Substitutes

Two Meter Peter – 6            Ran around a lot but didn’t really do much else

Super Jon – 7                        Set up the goal.

Phil Bardsley – 6                  Weird one After only having one full back at times this season Stoke finished the match with three on the pitch

Manager

Mark Hughes – 7                  Would love to have heard what Mystic Mark said to the boys at half time, substitutions worked again.

Referee                              

Robert Madley – 6                Best summed up by the Stoke fans in the first half, “We’ve got another shit ref!”.