Giraffes and Lemons – A Third of the Season Gone

Although not quite a third of the way through the season, the recent international break gives us a chance to look back at the matches which have been played so far and highlight some of the players who have stood out for each club. Here are my thoughts on who has stood tall so far this season, based on the matches I have watched and a couple who have perhaps not done as well as may have been expected.

As always let me know your thoughts and feel free to tell me if you think I have got your club’s star player wrong:

Bournemouth

Giraffe

Adam Smith – An attacking full back who is surely destined for a bigger club as more and more begin to flirt with playing three at the back.

Arsenal

Giraffe

Alexis Sanchez – Has been the reason for much of Arsenal’s good play this season but a word of warning, the Chilean does run hot and cold

Lemon

Arsene Wenger – Another transfer window where he failed to deliver that world class player, Xhaka may turn out to be a star turn but Arsenal need help for Sanchez and Co more than they need defensive minded reinforcements

Burnley

Giraffe

Tom Heaton – If Burnley are to survive it will be because of their shot stopper

Chelsea

Giraffe

Marcos Alonso – Brought to the club so that Conte can play the system he wants to. With three at the back the Spaniard has the freedom to roam forward and is one of Chelsea’s most unheralded attacking options.

Lemon

Gary Cahill – Calamity waiting to happen at times and it sums up his season so far when David Luiz isn’t winning this award

Crystal Palace

Giraffe

Steve Mandanda – Looks to be a class act and could end up being one of the best bits of business done by any club in the last transfer window.

Everton

Giraffe

Yannick Bolaise – Although Lukaku has stolen the headlines with his goals the Congolese international has been the one to provide most of the big Belgian’s bullets.

Hull City

Giraffe

Curtis Davies – I have a feeling by the end of the season Hull will be relegated and Michael Dawson will be winning this award but Davies was immense in August and is largely responsible for the club having the points they have.

Lemon

The Board – There prevaricating over the appointment of Mike Phelan as their new manager was nothing short of a fiasco and, even though as a result they may have saved themselves some money in the short term, their dithering cost them the chance to bring in the players they needed to give them a chance of staying up.

Leicester City

Giraffe

Islam Slimani – With Vardy misfiring the Algerian has looked at times the only likely source of goals.

Lemon

Riyad Mahrez – Should Leicester have sold him in the summer? Surely the longer he takes to recover last season’s form the more his value drops. I would be tempted to get what I could for the Algerian in the January transfer window.

Liverpool

Giraffe

Roberto Firmino – Whilst many would argue this should have gone to his fellow Brazilian midfielder I feel Firmino produces more consistently and is a greater threat

Lemon

Daniel Sturridge – Perhaps more a statement of England’s place in the international game when one of their star strikers shouldn’t really be on his club’s bench based on his Liverpool showings this season.

Manchester City

Giraffe

Fernandinho – With both his centre halves and his goalkeeper being real contenders for the Lemon of the year Fernandinho’s contribution cannot be underestimated. Sitting in front of a disaster waiting to happen the Brazilian has been City’s real foundation.

Nolito – Could have gone to any of City’s back line but the Spanish winger gets the nod simply for the stupidity he regularly shows when over reacting to tackles. Expect at least one more red card this season.

Manchester United

Giraffe

Zlatan – Might have gone through a goal drought but his hard work and all round game brings out the best in those around him. A consummate professional.

Lemon

Marcus Rashford – After bursting onto the scene has been less than average ever since the Stoke game. Fans will need to remember he is young and not get angry when Jose takes him out of the firing line for his own good. Could still be one for the future though.

Middlesbrough

Giraffe

Aitor Karanka – Has overseen Middlesbrough’s return to the Premiership with quiet efficiency

Lemon

Alvaro Negrado – After a goal scoring debut against Stoke, naturally, has failed to produce consistently enough and would be surprised if his loan is made permanent

Southampton

Giraffe

Virgil Van Dijk – I expect the Dutchman to be the next to head through the door marked exit. Truly good all round defender

Stoke City

Giraffe

Geoff Cameron – Has Clumsy finally found his position? Could he be the long term answer to Glenda? His move to central defensive midfielder has been one of the main reasons for Stoke’s upturn in fortune

Lemon

Erik Pieters – Showed signs against West Ham that he may be returning to his best form but has been responsible for too many goals this season

Sunderland

Giraffe

Jordan Pickford – Everybody’s fantasy football goalkeeper. Has been putting in man of the match performances every week and has had to.

Lemon

Jack Rodwell – Once the future of the English game, now looks out of his depth in a team destined for relegation.

Tottenham Hotspur

Giraffe

Victor Wanyama – A tank of a man who shields probably the best back four in the Premiership with consummate ease.

Lemon

Vincent Janssen – A flop since his big money summer transfer

Watford

Giraffe

Jose Holebas – Has been a revelation this season under Mazzari and even scored a stunner against Middlesbrough

Lemon

The Pozzo Family – Whilst Mazzari looks like keeping the Hornets in the Premiership will this be enough for the owners who seem to expect the club to be challenging for honours. The debacle over allegedly forged bank letters could also come back to haunt the club.

West Bromwich Albion

Giraffe

Nacer Chadli – Tony Pulis buying an out and out flair player and playing him regularly, stranger things have happened in football but not often. The Belgian clearly had a point to prove and at the moment is proving it.

Lemon

Saido Berahino – Is he still playing football? Apparently overweight and unfit I still fear Hughes will try and sign the England player when the transfer window opens in January.

West Ham United

Giraffe

Michail Antonio – Already scored five goals this season and looks a threat no matter where he plays, and he has played almost everywhere. What chance ninety minutes in goal before the end of the season?

Lemon

Simone Zaza – The best bit of transfer business West Ham could do in January would be to persuade someone to buy the Italian flop before they are forced to fork out for overrated striker.

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The Lone Striker – Just Watch Zlatan

Picking up the newspapers last Sunday morning I was shocked, if sadly not surprised, by the reaction Wilfried Bony received for his performance against West Brom. In the old days you would judge a centre forward’s contribution in one currency and one currency only, goals, but in today’s modern game the vogue is to play with a lone striker and what they bring to the team is a lot more than goals.

This current trend of a solitary target man has filtered down to the amateur and youth leagues, as every trend, good or bad, seems to do and watching the Boy on a Saturday morning I am constantly amused by the number of teams who line up with only one up front. With a striker who knows what their role in the team is, this lone striker can cause havoc amongst an opposing defence but as the Boy like to tell me, “they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Invariably the Boy and his partner are left marking a solitary, static striker who, whilst having a nose for goal, is not getting the service because they are not working the centre forwards and their midfield believes their jobs are complete once they have got the ball up to their front player. Watching Manchester United dismantling of Leicester I would argue that the man of the match was not Pogba or Mata but a player who seemingly had no contribution to any of the goals, Zlatan.

Against Leicester, Zlatan held the ball up when it was played to him allowing his midfielders to receive it back whilst their teammates ran into space behind the defence. This had the effect that the Leicester defence were being turned and their own midfield were having to expend energy to cover the gaps being created. But what sets Zlatan’s performances above most of his peers is the movement and running he does when he doesn’t have the ball.

Time and time again, against Leicester, he pulled out to the wings and when he managed to lure one of the centre-halves with him spaces suddenly appeared in the Leicester back into which the likes of Rashford and Lingard poured. Yet it wasn’t only this lateral movement which caused Leicester so many problems, when Rooney entered the fray Zlatan preceded to drop deeper, which allowed Rooney to play further up the pitch. This constant movement not only creates spaces for others to exploit but also plants a seed of doubt into the opposition’s minds because nobody knows just who is supposed to be picking him up.

Going back to Wilfried Bony and the match against West Brom, when he was on the pitch Bony held the ball up well and, whilst not as mobile as Zlatan, moved the defenders around to create the space which Shaqiri, Alllen and Arnie were able to run into. Yet when Two Meter Peter replaced him the only space Stoke was seeing was when we broke on the counter attack. Personally I am one of Two Meter Peter’s biggest fans, I think he is one of the most underrated forwards of the last ten years and his England record of a goal every two games should have brought him more than the forty-two caps it did but he is not a lone striker. As the Boy said after watching the match at the weekend, the way Stoke are set up he would much rather play against Two Meter Peter than Bony – out of the mouths of babes.