Saturday Fixtures Round-Up : Chelsea Keep On Winning, Sunderland Off The Bottom While Swansea And Hull Sink Deeper
Posted by Bryan | Published on December 18, 2016
Chelsea keep on winning
It seems like Antonio Conte has struck gold with Chelsea as his switch to a back-three system has since yielded a spectacular run of results for the Blues, who are now on a club record winning run of 11 successive Premier League wins – a run which has now placed them on 43 points and right in the driving seat at the top, being nine points clear of second placed Liverpool and third placed Arsenal who are tied on 34 points.
But it has not just been the results that are generating a major buzz among Blues fans and neutrals alike, but the sheer solidity of Chelsea’s performances, as demonstrated against Crystal Palace on Saturday, when Alan Pardew’s side struggled to break down Chelsea’s defence. The deployment of David Luiz, Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta as a back three combined with a robust midfield shield in the shape of Matic and Kante has proved to be a masterstroke from Conte and proves to be a remarkable turn-a-round for the Blues who at this time last year were mired in a season of struggle that saw Jose Mourinho sacked and their title defence in tatters.
…And Blues boss Antonio Conte was no doubt happy in his post-match interview, “Chelsea boss Antonio Conte: “The run is fantastic. Congratulations to my players, not me. I am pleased for them because they deserve this. I see every single moment, every day. It is commitment, the way we prepare for the game and the way they fight. I am pleased for the fans who are fantastic home and away and who push us.”
Moyes getting to grips with Sunderland job:
There was not really much confidence in the experienced Scot to begin with when Sunderland first announced his appointment in the wake of Big Sam’s departure as the Black Cats’ survival last season had been largely attributed to the timely work of Sam Allardyce. Adding that to the fact that Moyes’ managerial reputation in England had taken a big hit after his ill-fated spell as Sir Alex Ferguson’s chosen successor and his largely unremarkable short stint in Spain, there was little optimism for Sunderland fans as they watched their team sink to the foot of the table after a poor start to the season. There was even a point when speculation surrounded the Scot’s job as the Black Cats seemed unable to pick up points and were heading straight for the dreaded drop. Sunderland has however seen a decent reversal of fortunes in recent weeks with four wins from the last seven league games, picking up a precious 12 points in the process, notably with wins over fellow strugglers Hull and defending champions Leicester.
A 1-0 win over a robust Watford this week restores some much needed confidence to David Moyes’ team after back-to-back defeats to Swansea and Chelsea seemed to have knock the wind out of their sails. Sunderland had looked much more resilient in defence against Watford, as compared to their games in the season when they were shipping goals to every opposition they faced, and while they needed quite a bit of luck and some smart goalkeeping to complete their precious 1-0 win, it begins to seem like David Moyes is finally getting to grips with the tough job he has landed himself into. But like the tough spells that he has endured in Manchester and Spain, the Scot will now have to firmly grab on to the reins if he is to steer his side to Premier League survival as he faces a tough winter window where it has already been stated that any budget for new players is very limited.
Ibrahimovic proves age is just another number:
Remember when we said that Ibrahimovic was probably going to find it tough in the Premier League when he came off his free-scoring career in France to link up with former boss Jose Mourinho at United?
Well, it seems like the Swedish legend has once squashed his critics by delivering another masterclass performance on the pitch to remind us all that even at 35, an age considered to be when a striker’s powers begins to wane, his powers are very much intact and he remains a key component of his club. A well-taken brace against West Brom this weekend has placed Ibrahimovic among a select group of Manchester United strikers who have made an instant impact in their first 16 Premier League appearances, with only Rudd van Nistelrooy managing to net more in his first 16 Premier League appearances. United boss Jose Mourinho must be extremely pleased to have Ibrahimovic alongside him as he faces a tough rebuilding task at the fallen champions, as not only has the Swedish striker helped deflect criticism and bolster morale with his upbeat comments in the press, but he has also delivered when it mattered on the pitch, bringing home three crucial points this week as the Red Devils remain on pace with the league’s top five.
Bradley faces massive job at Swansea while Phelan has much to worry too:
It was never going to be an easy job for Bob Bradley as he landed in England to replace a man who had been cruelly dismissed on his birthday and after a not-too-bad run of results against a host of much stronger opponents. But any hope that Swansea would be suddenly revitalized by his appointment has since faded away as Swansea continued to crash to disappointing defeats that have culminated in them sinking to 19th in the table after Saturday’s crushing 3-0 defeat to Middlesbrough. The manner of their defeat is a particularly worrying sight for Swansea fans heading into the festive season as manager Bob Bradley continues to seem a questionable appointment.
Swansea are now a shadow of the team that once dazzled the league with their brilliant style of play and managed to effectively hold off even the bigger boys in the league despite being on a much tighter budget – not to forget they won the League Cup in a not too distant history. Fast-forwarding through the tenures of Brendan Rodgers, who was poached by Liverpool, Michael Laudrup, who was sacked despite his crowning achievement of winning the League Cup, and Garry Monk whose transition from player to manager was a rare phenomenon in the Premier League today where established managers are often preferred, Swansea have seemed to be losing ground every year as they fell away from their early heights and in more recent times have found themselves scrapping for survival. The truth was that the likes of Alan Curtis and Francesco Guidolin were never likely to be a long-term appointment for the Swans and they now risk going down a perilous path of short-term appointments that provide short-term relief but little stability. Bradley knows he has a massive task on hand and the next month and a half is going to be crucial for Swansea’s future in the current season and the coming seasons.
Fellow strugglers Hull who currently occupy the much dreaded bottom place in the table are also facing a precarious situation despite manager Mike Phelan’s strong front and Saturday’s defeat to West Ham while not a heavy defeat is a worrying one as Hull showed that they lacked not in squad spirit but in squad quality. Unless Phelan can pull off a couple of signings that can hit the road running in the coming winter window, the Tigers could be one of those brave teams that go down fighting in the end (after all Hull began the season in a highly haphazard fashion when then interim boss Phelan could not even make substitutions as they lacked players).
Foxes show character despite Vardy’s red mist:
A hat-trick in one game and a red card in the next was certainly not the kind of revival we were expecting from last year’s breakthrough striker of the year Jamie Vardy, but he will be massively relieved that his teammates somehow managed to pluck two goals and force a draw against a resurgent Stoke City. Debate remains fierce over referee Pawson’s decision to send Vardy off but the focus should be on how Leicester managed to pull themselves together after dramatically falling apart in the first half. Following Vardy’s dismissal, Simpson gave away the penalty shortly after for Bojan’s goal, before Stoke’s Joe Allen was allowed to tap in after Giannelli Imbula’s shot came back off the post and hit Kasper Schmeichel on the back of his head. Even the ever-calm Claudio Ranieri had to be held back by his goalkeeper from remonstrating with referee Pawson at the break, while six of Leicester players were booked in a 10-minute spell either side of half-time.
But it will be a massive point earned for the Foxes at the end when they conjured a fantastic finale with substitutes Demarai Gray and Ulloa combining with their first touches of the match to make it 2-1 before Christian Fuchs crossed from the right for Amartey to head in a dramatic late equaliser.
Said Claudio Ranieri following the game, “It was a fantastic spirit and we wanted to fight until the end so it was important for us to play well.
“During half-time we spoke a lot and had to believe something good was possible. I am always positive.
“It could be a turning point today, but we have to wait and see the next matches.
“I was angry at the referee because I saw my players fight and there were so many yellow cards, but it was a normal battle in the Premier League.”