Footballers should not be held responsible for fuelling coronavirus infections because of how they celebrate, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has said.

City’s players, among others, faced criticism this week after they came together to celebrate Phil Foden’s goal against Brighton, despite renewed warnings from the Premier League to avoid hugging and kissing.

Julian Knight, the Conservative MP who chairs the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee, called their antics “brainless”, while another committee member, Labour MP Clive Efford, described them as an “insult to the NHS”.

BIG WEEKEND: Liverpool v Man Utd, Big Sam, Chelsea, Euro derbies

Guardiola, whose mother died in April after contracting coronavirus, said everyone at the club is doing all they can to follow the protocols at a time when many areas of life are hugely restricted due to the latest national lockdown. But he insisted the behaviour of footballers would not have any influence on the progression of the pandemic.

“A lot of people are dying, unfortunately, every day and a lot of people are being infected,” he said.

“We are going to do our best to follow the new rules from the Government. The scientists, (they) inform us what we have to do – but please, the situation that is happening in the UK is not due to football players.”

While the protocols exist to prevent the spread of the virus among Premier League players and staff, which ensures their safety and in turn keeps the season on track, much of the criticism has centred around the optics of the celebrations, and the example they set to society at large.

However, Guardiola’s Liverpool counterpart Jurgen Klopp believes people are intelligent enough to understand that just because footballers, who are tested two or three times a week, hug each other after a goal is scored, it does not give them the licence to do the same.

“I think people are smart enough to make the difference between people who are constantly tested and not tested, it makes a massive difference,” the German said.

“If we thought we threatened one or two of our team-mates we would not do it, it would just not happen. This is the only safe place we have out there on the pitch, outside it is not as infectious. Inside, nothing like this happens.”


Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho said perhaps it was possible for a goalscorer to “express the emotion of the team by himself, alone” but his fellow Portuguese, Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo, was less confident.

“We speak with the players saying (about the protocols) – but I don’t see it coming. It’s too emotional not to touch your team-mate when he scores a goal. I don’t see it happening.”

Premier League and FA Cup matches postponed due to the pandemic which do not involve sides playing in Europe could be played on Champions League nights.

Article 3.8 of the 2017 memorandum of understanding between the European Leagues umbrella group and European football’s governing body UEFA calls on domestic leagues to abstain from scheduling games on UEFA club competition dates.

However, Article 3.9 of the same agreement sets out some of the circumstances where play may be possible – including “postponement due to force majeure or to other reasons beyond the reasonable control of the concerned league”.

UEFA told PA last year the level of co-operation between it and Europe’s domestic leagues would be “even closer in the difficult situation we are experiencing” and that “all examples of calendar hardship are analysed on a case-by-case basis”.

The Aston Villa v Everton game is one which could be played on a European week if no other suitable date is available, as could the Leeds v Southampton match.

Villa requested a postponement earlier this week due to a coronavirus outbreak at the club which forced them to call off Wednesday’s match against Tottenham and field a youth team in the FA Cup third round against Liverpool.

Leeds v Southampton has been postponed to allow Saints to play Shrewsbury in the FA Cup third round. The League One team were unable to play the date on the original date of January 9 due to positive Covid-19 test results among players and staff.

Shrewsbury have confirmed manager Steve Cotterill will not be at the re-arranged tie as he continues to recover.

Earlier on Friday, Wycombe’s Championship match against QPR became the latest EFL match to be called off after the Chairboys reported positive tests.

Wycombe are due to face Tottenham – a club who already have a fixture against Villa to make up – in the FA Cup fourth round on January 25.


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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Frank Lampard insists Fikayo Tomori’s long-term future remains at Chelsea.

England defender Tomori has been earmarked for a loan switch away from Stamford Bridge this month, with AC Milan, Leeds and Newcastle all interested.

Tomori has made just four first-team appearances this season, with Chelsea eyeing a loan move to help the 23-year-old realise his full potential.

READ MORE: Five academy graduates that would benefit from a January move

He made 22 appearances last term en route to his England debut – but only featured three times after December.

Lampard’s sparse use of Tomori had led to suggestions of a permanent switch, but the Blues boss insists the coveted defender can still flourish in west London.

“Fikayo Tomori absolutely has a long-term future at this club, and we’ll see if and when he goes on loan,” said Lampard.

“The moment I got close to Fikayo was when I took him to Derby with me and he was player of the year there and one of the best players in the Championship that year in my opinion.

“And then he came back and played 20-plus games for us at a very young age last year and got in the England squad.

“There’s an absolute long-term plan for Fikayo in my head about his career here.

“And if it’s to go and play games it’s to absolutely enhance his personal development.

“Hopefully help whatever team he goes to, because that will come hand in hand, and then come back to us a better player.”

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Get your mails into…


FA Cup Chelsea thoughts…
Through to the next round after a routine win against League 2 opposition, has Frank Lampard finally found his level?

Okay all jokes aside, you can never take a result in the FA Cup to quickly to heart when you are playing much lower down the football pyramid side, but my takeaway from the game was Callum Hudson-Odoi must play ahead of Christian Pulisic based on form, the question now is can he sustain this form and take advantage?

Also what on earth does Fikayo Tomori need to do to earn a first team start? A player who was decent last season for us, as well as a reliable defender for Derby during Lampard’s tenure, can see him being sold this month which I’d be gutted about, It is hard to judge where in the pecking order his talent is based on lack of games but surely he is a much better player than Andreas Christensen who can remain on the ground, cost the team a goal and yet still be seen as the better player by Frank.
Mikey, CFC


So what’s the point in football?
Oh good. We’ve got the slew of “it’s better to be out of the cup and focus on the league” emails.

Which raises a question for me. What’s the point of football? Is it to have a consistent team that’s ticking over in the middle of the top division, diving out of the cups at the earliest opportunity, avoiding the poisoned chalice of the Europa League?

Or is it to, you know, have fun?

Andrew from Canada posits that we’d be better off not winning anything and finishing midtable every year, holding up Wigan as some sort of dark fable. Well, I live close to Wigan. I speak to Wigan fans. And I can’t think of any of them who celebrate their midtable finishes with the joy and gusto that they remember beating City in a Cup Final. Yes, it’s a bit rubbish now, but it was fantastic then.

My favourite season as a Leeds fan was our first year in League One. Why? What joy could there be in beating Hartlepool at Elland Road while we were bottom of the table?

Because it was fun. We won most weeks, we overturned a 15 points deduction to stay up – and to make the playoffs. Those two playoff semi finals against Carlisle were as fun and dramatic and fantastic as the CL quarter finals against Deportivo. Oldham away might not be the San Siro, but a day out with your mates and a dramatic last minute winner is completely venue-agnostic. I enjoyed that season – and huge chunks of our time out of the Premier League – as much as I’ve enjoyed anything I’ve seen Leeds do in the top flight.

I’d ask my Canadian counterpart whether he’d swap the ups and downs of the past 16 years for the serene solidity of being an Everton fan during the same time period. Never really challenging for honours, never threatened with relegation. Just finishing round about half way, forever, and ever, and ever. Great for shareholders, but maybe lacking in drama for the fans?

So yes. Given the choice of seeing my team win the FA Cup for the first time in half a century at the expense of a few more years in a division I quite enjoyed, I’d take the glory thanks. Because I’d remember winning at Wembley for the rest of my life.

Although good on Bielsa for saving the cup run for a season when fans will be allowed in to enjoy it. Proper deep thinker, that man.
Andy (Leeds fan in Salford)

PS: If football is about having fun, I suggest Jonny Nic finds a new hobby. He’s bloody miserable at the moment.


Johnny’s latest piece…
Johnny’s latest piece
about the money gap being bigger than the talent gap in football was a fascinating one but I would argue it’s somewhat flawed.

Johnny suggests that the biggest gap between the top flight and the lower levels is a fitness one rather than a skill one. I’d counter that by saying neither is the case and it’s actually consistency that’s the difference.

We saw in the massively one-sided Marine vs. Spurs game that there’s a world of difference between a professional and a part-timer, despite Marine’s tremendous efforts. But in reality, even Marine are a side who play in the eighth tier, are part-time, and would probably wipe the floor with a strong pub side. The strong pub side in turn would wipe the floor with a weaker pub side.

Basically what Johnny seems to forget is that there’s literally thousands of blokes who play football (in a pre-Covid era anyway) every single weekend and so the cream of the crop aren’t just Premier League players, they’re actually anyone who’s professional, i.e. Championship, League One and League Two players. Realistically, if you dropped an experienced League One player into a pub side, they’d look just as out of place as a top PL player.

So what’s the difference between a top PL player and a solid League One player? Consistency. The PL player more often than not is going to do his job competently if not excellently against fellow consistently good players. PL players can make mistakes and misplace passes but that’s because they’re human.

Compare a PL game to a League One game and you’d probably see a similar amount of errors. But if you compared a massive sample, there’d be far more errors in the League One games – hence why the PL players are where they are. It’s all about the consistency. And that’s how the *real* greats like Ronaldo and Messi are then able to set themselves apart from even the best. If it were all about skill, someone like Dimitri Payet would be revered above Ronaldo, but it’s not and he isn’t that consistent despite all of his skills.

And in turn, of course a League One side can raise their game against a PL side in the FA Cup as its a one-off game, perhaps the most important fixture in a season for the lower side, and that means that the team’s players are always going to try to perform at their best rather than their average.

Not everything in football is tainted by money like Johnny suggests. A lot of it is, but in this instance, he’s talking a lot of nonsense.




VAR and ref seniority
One thing about VAR that doesn’t get much attention is the psychology of the overruling of decisions by one ref over another. On judgement calls (penalties/red cards, not offsides), it’s a bit like contradicting a colleague at work. In fact, it’s that but also in front of your customers – and most people wouldn’t be that comfortable doing that to someone more senior at work. That’s why it seems a bit strange that there is often a big gap between the experience/seniority of the onfield ref and the VAR. Maybe it’s a small sample, but two of the games where Liverpool have felt most aggrieved at the VAR were Everton (Pickford on VVD) and Southampton (a couple of penalty decisions and a possible red for Walcott). The referees in those games were two of the most experienced – Michael Oliver and Andre Marriner. But the VARs were two of the least experienced – David Coote and Andy Madley. Maybe it’s not surprising that they wouldn’t overrule their more illustrious colleagues on anything but 100% certainty (at least Michael Oliver seems to be owning the Everton mistake now).

By contrast, there were two red card decisions overturned by VAR at the weekend – Jon Moss’s red card for Keogh at MK Dons and Chris Kavanagh’s for Emile Smith Rowe at Arsenal. In both cases the VAR’s were more experienced (Anthony Taylor and Andre Marriner). Marriner has 13 years more experience in the PL than Kavanagh – would Kavanagh be as likely to tell Marriner he got it wrong if the roles had been reversed?

These are only the ones I’ve noticed and maybe they’re the exception, but it makes sense to me from a workplace psychology perspective. So any time you say to yourself ‘how has the VAR not intervened there?’, check if the VAR is a scary top dog or a trembling newbie too scared to say boo to Mike Dean.


Covid postponements
Like many, I find managerial moaning an irritating and pointless by product of the football world. So the arrival of the Moaner Lisa himself at my beloved Spurs was hardly welcome. But even I must concede he’s right to be miffed with our current situation.

Spurs are the busiest team in the league, having played 3-12 games more than any of our league opponents already. And with the cups we can expect that gap to grow. Needing to pack in 3 rescheduled matches in the run-in would be ridiculous.

I’m not in favour of forfeits, especially in the league, as it distorts the competition. And Villa and Fulham, whilst having outbreaks, weren’t the ones with 3 players flaunting an illegal Christmas party. And we can expect the Covid wheel of fortune to land on most clubs eventually.

But the league must still do everything to minimise disruption. Decisions must be made days, not hours in advance, with clubs given a clear deadline. And schedules must be shifted, starting with us facing Fulham this week.
Damien, THFC


So instead of cancelling or suspending either cup competitions or, if sanity prevails, football entirely until thousands of people aren’t dying every day from an infectious disease spread through close contact.. the FA are considering telling Fulham and Tottenham they are now playing each other, at 48 hours notice.

Fulham, after 2 weeks of C19 in their squad spreading faster than my lockdown waistline and ruining conditioning and training, have just played 120 minutes of a cup tie expecting not to have to play again until Friday. We still have players isolating, and personally I would not want to be anywhere near our players or staff currently.

Tottenham were expecting to play Aston Villa on Wednesday and so at least made team selections in the cup that took account of 48 hour turnaround to their next game.

But their preparations, selections, tactical training and individual assignments were based on playing Aston Villa, not Fulham.

This is just.. stupid. How is this remotely fair on either club, or on every other club in the league? There can be no equal levels of competition if the barriers clubs need to get over to win a game are so utterly random.

It’s crap, and while I’m definitely more angry because I’m a Fulham fan, it will still be crap if we manage to get a point or a win against a Spurs side who had no chance to properly prepare.

Stop the fucking season, it’s ridiculous
Tim Sutton 



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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Sir Alex Ferguson has insisted that it is not easy for teams like Manchester United to get back into challenging for the title.

Man United are currently on a great run of form in the Premier League. The Red Devils are 10 games unbeaten in the league. This dates back to their 1-0 loss to Arsenal on November 11.

Including in this run have been standout victories over Everton, Leeds United and Aston Villa.

Top ten Portuguese players in Premier League history

As United’s form has improved, Liverpool have stumbled in their last few outings. Jurgen Klopp’s men are winless in their last three Premier League games.

They drew back to back games before they lost 1-0 away to Southampton at St Mary’s on Monday night.

This has allowed Man United and others to close in on Liverpool. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side are currently joint-top in the league. If they win their game in hand, which is against Burnley, United will move three points clear at the top of the table.

In an interview with the Daily Mail, where he also praised Marcus Rashford and Juan Mata, Sir Alex Ferguson said the Premier League is “difficult” to win currently:

“It’s not an easy road to get back into challenging for the league. It’s a difficult league these days.


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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Pep Guardiola has heaped praise on Ralph Hasenhuttl and Southampton before they face off on Saturday at St Mary’s.

The Saints sit third in the Premier League table after 13 games. Their fantastic start to the new campaign has included seven wins, three draws and three defeats.

Hasenhuttl’s side have picked up impressive victories over Aston Villa and Everton. They have also earned admirable draws against Chelsea and Arsenal.

Cheeky tips both Man City and Arsenal to lose

Southampton are unbeaten in three Premier League games, which leaves them four points adrift of Liverpool at the top of the table.

Next up for Hasenhuttl’s men is Man City at home this Saturday. Guardiola takes his City side down to Southampton after consecutive draws in the league against Man United and West Brom.

During his pre-match press conference, Guardiola insisted that Southampton’s great start to the new season comes as no surprise:

“Southampton have an exceptional manager. I know him a little bit from my time in Germany. He was at many clubs, Leipzig played in a specific style.

“He has experience at the back and one of the best midfielders in the Premier League, [Oriol] Romeu. They have James Ward-Prowse, incredible player in set pieces.

“So no surprise in their success. Southampton for many, many years have been working well – so no surprise.”

So with Spurs looking to recover, Leeds looking for satisfaction, Southampton looking to keep going and Arsenal looking for just literally anything, you could call this a Big Weekend.

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Game to watch – Man United v Leeds United
We’ve waited a while, haven’t we? These two old rivals haven’t met in a league game since February 2004. And there are plenty of reasons to think this should be worth the wait. Leeds are a force of nature, winning and losing 4-3 within their first two games on return to the Premier League. They’ve won 3-0 and 5-2 since then, as well as losing 4-1 twice. Man United are a more predictable but equally oddball side, whose season has comprised thrilling wins on the road but humiliations and disappointment at home.

At the moment, it’s hard to predict which will break first: the excellent if high-wire away wins or the drabness of those home performances. There’s absolutely no way you’re going to catch me out trying to predict this one beyond saying it is definitely going to be more interesting than the 0-0 draws against Chelsea and City and probably closer than the 6-1 against Tottenham. You should absolutely definitely watch this football match.


Team to watch – Tottenham
There’s been a curious reaction to Spurs’ 2-1 defeat at Liverpool this week. Seems to me that most of the criticism about Joseball and bus-parking would actually apply far more accurately to the previous weekend’s game against Crystal Palace. That day, Spurs played eye-catching progressive football right up until they scored the opening goal after 20 minutes, and again for the 10 minutes after Palace’s equaliser. They spent the hour in between trying to sit on that 1-0 lead.

Now that was Mourinho going too far and getting it wrong. What happened at Anfield was Mourinho getting it right; he thrives on taking games like that to the finest margins. It was clearly Spurs’ best chance of getting a result. Inevitably, especially against a team as good as Liverpool – who haven’t lost at home in three years – those fine margins will not always fall your way. That was the width of a post or one uncharacteristically shonky Kane header away from being a masterclass.

The second half was as good as Spurs have looked in quite a while. Against a team far more potent than Palace, they did not retreat into total one-note defence-and-counter. They had three very good chances to go 2-1 up. Mourinho took his stripped-down tactics too far at Palace and got burned; the Liverpool game was actually progress.

And this weekend could provide more. Spurs face Leicester, which is a dangerous but potentially perfect fixture. Leicester are big enough and good enough that beating them would represent a necessary statement after a couple of setbacks. But they are also a perfect fit for Spurs’ counter-attacking low-block. You don’t have to enjoy the aesthetics, but it does bring results. The blueprint for Spurs already exists from as recently as Wednesday night; not only in their own performance against Liverpool but Everton’s 2-0 win over the Foxes. Leicester struggle to break down a disciplined deep-lying defence, preferring space in behind for Jamie Vardy to explore. They also concede extremely silly and soft goals. Ah.


Manager to watch – Sam Allardyce
Just when he thought he was out, they pulled him back in. Time for another patented Big Sam Rescue Mission, and he’s got every chance. West Brom have only seven points from 13 games, but are only three adrift of safety and, more to the point, are not all that far away from being a side who can get themselves out of this.

Late heartbreakers have been the order of the day, but they hung on gamely for an unlikely point at Man City and now have the master of Premier League survival in charge.

He gets thrown straight in to a Midlands derby against Villa, who are a curious side themselves. Before Thursday’s drab goalless draw at Burnley, Villa had won four and lost four of their previous eight games. The wins included that 7-2 silliness against Liverpool and tremendous away victories at Leicester, Arsenal and Wolves. The defeats included a home twatting against Leeds and another damaging home loss to Brighton. Villa’s inconsistency plus West Brom’s new manager bounce could make for an interesting evening


Player to watch – Curtis Jones
Magnificent against Tottenham in midweek. It really isn’t normal for a 19-year-old to look that good, that at ease, in a game like that in a team like this. He made more successful passes than any other player on the pitch against Spurs – and his 81 passes in the opposition half was more than the entire Spurs team managed.

It’s been clear for some time that Jones has outrageous ability. In the last few weeks, a couple more things have been clear. One, he has learned how best to harness it. And two, he is now capable of not just matching but even outshining the dazzling stars around him at Anfield. On Wednesday he turned in a man-of-the-match display in the biggest game of the season so far. Now the next test. Back that up just a few days later. Totally unreasonable, of course. Absolutely no way we should expect him to be that good again. And yet we do.


European game to watch – Lille v PSG
A top-of-the-table clash in Ligue Un played out under the shadow of this week’s collapse of the too-good-to-be-true Mediapro rights deal. Lille owner Gerard Lopez is negotiating the sale of the club, inevitably raising concerns about their future. The timing couldn’t be worse, with Lille currently holding a slender lead over France’s biggest clubs. PSG are a point behind, Lyon a further one behind and Marseille three more back.

Lille are once again punching above their weight, but in the short-term must make sure off-field concerns don’t bleed into the on-field efforts. Long term, the picture is even less clear, even for the big boys.


Football League game to watch – Norwich v Cardiff
Norwich had the look of a relegated team you really feared for, the meekness of their Premier League surrender precisely the sort that looked liable to spill over into the following campaign. Especially given the truncated pre-season. But having lost their last 10 Premier League games – and scoring just a single goal in the process – they have set about the Championship in fine style and have opened up a three-point lead over Bournemouth. Indeed, the top three places in the Championship are currently occupied by last season’s relegated clubs which could mean something tremendously important and significant or just be a coincidence.

Anyway, up next for the leaders it’s Cardiff, who have hauled themselves up to mid-table with a run of five wins in six games.

Dave Tickner

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Chelsea manager Frank Lampard refused to lay the blame of their first defeat in 18 matches at the feet of goalkeeper Edouard Mendy after his error led to Everton’s match-winning penalty.

The Senegal international clumsily brought down Dominic Calvert-Lewin which allowed Gylfi Sigurdsson to score the decisive 22nd-minute spot-kick and inflict Chelsea’s third successive loss at Goodison Park.

It was his second mistake in two games as his error also led to a goal against Leeds last week but there were failings elsewhere with just 10 shots attempted in the game and not one on target after the 28th minute.

“He has been fantastic since he has been here and I don’t think it was just clearly his mistake,” said Lampard after coming off second-best against his former Chelsea manager.

“The mentality of the team to deal with second balls in the early part of the game was not good.

“This was a team that was well organised and who wanted to stop us playing and when you give them that head start it is difficult.

“I don’t think we necessarily deserved to lose the game but if we are honest it was not the ‘us’ of recently.

“I think we could have got something out of the game, I wouldn’t say we were unlucky but I don’t think we were at our best tonight.

“We have been on a really good run and we knew what was coming with Everton physically and we didn’t handle that well. We didn’t show enough to break them down.”

Necessity was the mother of invention for Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti as injuries meant he had to field a quartet of central defenders in his back four, while Sigurdsson was only playing due to playmaker James Rodriguez’s calf problem.

But that actually worked in their favour as once they got ahead they were able to defend resolutely – his side had just 28 per cent possession – on their way to only a second victory in eight matches and first Premier League clean sheet since the opening day of the season.

“We needed this performance, we needed these points,” he said.

“After a difficult period we were able to move on, we are now showing more consistency, at least tonight the performance was really good.

“You cannot win against Chelsea if you don’t have a good performance.

“Defensively we were really good. We didn’t concede opportunities, only set-pieces to shoot from outside the box but in (open) play we were really good because I think we were well organised with defenders and midfielders.”

The match was the first which admitted fans to Goodison Park since March and the Italian felt that helped his side.

“It made a lot of difference, a totally different atmosphere. We had only 2,000 but the atmosphere was completely different.

“We are really happy for this. I hope all the crowd will be (back) soon as possible.”

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

David Moyes heaped praise on Leeds United goalkeeper Illan Meslier for his “outstanding” showing in West Ham’s 2-1 win at Elland Road.

Leeds went ahead early on from the penalty spot. Patrick Bamford was brought down by Lukasz Fabianski as the home side were awarded a spot-kick after just six minutes.

Mateusz Klich stepped up to take, but his tame effort was saved by Fabianski. Shortly after, VAR ruled that the kick should be retaken as the goalkeeper was off his line as he saved the penalty.

Klich stepped up again for the second attempt. He made no mistake that time around, as he finished well into the bottom corner.

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From here, West Ham were clearly the better side. David Moyes’ men really brought the game to Leeds and they could have won more comfortably.

Tomas Soucek levelled for the Hammers with a header in the 25th minute. Despite forging numerous chances throughout the game, the score remained 1-1 late into the second half.

But this changed in the 80th minute as West Ham struck again from a set-piece. The ball was sent to the back post and it was headed home by Angelo Ogbonna.

That was how it finished as West Ham earned themselves a valuable three points at Elland Road.

Leeds remain 14th in the Premier League for now, but they could be overtaken by Arsenal if the Gunners beat Burnley this weekend.

West Ham meanwhile move up to fifth with this victory. They have six wins from their opening 12 Premier League games this season.

Speaking with BBC MOTD after the game, Moyes criticised the decision to allow Leeds to retake their penalty:

“It’s a really good result but we had another setback after 30 seconds. There are some terrible decisions that are happening at the moment.

“Whoever saw it must have had [Fabianski’s foot] x-rayed. The decision was rubbish.

“We had periods where we had big chances. Their young keeper was outstanding tonight and kept them in game. To come to Leeds and get a result is really good.”

So with The Manchester Derby, Arteta on the edge, Chelsea making a charge at it and Mino Raiola more famous than most Kings…it sounds like a Big Weekend to us.

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

The view from the top must be quite special for Frank Lampard. Especially if he’s brought his binoculars…

The Chelsea manager is spending his Saturday night looking down on the rest of the Premier League after a 3-1 win over Leeds United. Getting one over on Marcelo Bielsa, who is now lurking 12 places below Lampard in the table, will have been particularly sweet for Lampard. But sitting at the summit at the end of the day for the first time as a manager would have been satisfaction enough for the Blues boss.

Lampard might also be feeling pretty smug about Chelsea’s chances of staying there. They might not finish the weekend on top, with Tottenham and Liverpool both able to leap back above the Blues on Sunday. But Chelsea’s form means that they deserve as much as anyone to be spoken about as title contenders.

Given the sum Chelsea spent in the summer, perhaps that should be expected. No manager should get to finish in the top four, then have £222million lavished upon him without as a consequence facing the expectation of a title push. But as countless teams and managers have demonstrated, spending alone is not a guaranteed recipe for success.

Lampard has demonstrated in this early part of the season that he can hone that individual talent, whether purchased and produced, and blend it into team capable of taking on all comers in the Premier League.

The Blues boss has also had to identify and fix some Chelsea flaws. Given the scale of their recruitment, some unfamiliarity was inevitable in the early weeks of the season and that manifested itself in a deeply-concerning defensive record.

Had Bielsa been able to analyse and pick holes in the rearguard Lampard employed up until the middle of October, then Leeds might have had a field day at Stamford Bridge. But since conceding three at West Brom and another three in farcical circumstances at home to Southampton, Lampard has shored his side up to such an extent that they have accumulated eight clean sheets over 10 games.

That defence restricted Leeds, an attack that may lack efficiency but certainly not creativity, to only eight shots. In the previous fortnight, Bielsa’s men have rained 48 attempts on Arsenal and Everton’s goals and have averaged over the season almost double the number of shots per game that Chelsea allowed them.

The immediate cure to Chelsea’s defensive ills had the side effect of slowing down their output at the other end. But Lampard has now managed to concoct a precise blend between defence and attack. Since that calamitous draw with Saints, over 11 games in all competitions, Chelsea have scored 25 goals and conceded three.

In the Premier League, they have scored three more goals than anyone else with Christian Pulisic’s late strike taking to 13 the number of players in Lampard’s squad to have notched this season. The next best spread of goalscorers is nine.

It bodes extremely well that the most in-form goalscorer of them all is one who looked all-but-finished at Chelsea. As recently as the last international break, Olivier Giroud looked almost certain to be heading for the exit in January. But half a dozen goals of all type in the last week and a half have propelled the Frenchman to just one below leading scorer Timo Werner.

Werner himself was wasteful against Leeds on a night that he could have bagged a hat-trick. Kai Havertz was similarly off-colour, though unlike Werner, his performance was in-keeping with a sluggish start to his maiden season in the Premier League. The German attacker’s form must be one of few concerns for Lampard, but with incredible competition for places in his forward line, the Blues boss is spoiled for choice.

Chelsea’s credentials will be sorely tested over the coming month, when they face Everton, Wolves, West Ham, Arsenal, Villa and Manchester City. All, except Arsenal, have shown streaks of consistency this term though none quite as impressive or sustained as Lampard’s side. It may not turn out to be title-winning form but it certainly is the form of title challengers.

Ian Watson


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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

There are occasions where two forces seem so dramatically opposed that it’d be rude if they weren’t rivals.

Tom and Jerry. Batman and the Joker. Stormzy and Wiley. When objects of equal strength come into direct competition with each other, it is no surprise that sparks begin to fly.

While the surface-level differences may seem the instigator for rivalry, another school of thought is that deeper similarities between warring factions are the real reason for the simmering hatred. Put simply, rivals have more in common than they’d ever dare to admit.

Read the full article at Planet Football.

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League