Premier League Talking Points: Gameweek 25

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Hello, I’m Adam Widdrington and welcome to my Premier League Talking Points for Gameweek 25.

Firstly, let’s head over to Villa Park, as West Ham went home with all the spoils, winning the ‘Claret and Blue derby’ thanks to the in-form Kevin Nolan. A second consecutive 2-0 victory for the Hammers and a second consecutive brace for the club captain, whose ill discipline has hampered his season and has made fans turn on him. Six massive points out of six will hopefully make his recent misdemeanours a distant memory for Irons fans and once his partner in crime (couldn’t resist) Andy Carroll returns from a ban, their link-up play could be crucial for survival. He’s certain been crucial to his manager’s own personal survival, and with West Ham being unable to buy a goal in the first half of the season, fans will be hoping to see a lot more chicken dancing over the coming weeks.     

With only two defeats in their last ten, a third successive derby win against Newcastle and a place at Wembley already booked, you’d forgive Sunderland fans for thinking things were looking exceedingly rosy for them. But a little look over the horizon, and the league table, may suggest otherwise. Their defeat against Hull may well have broken their recent momentum, but it’s their upcoming fixtures that will have a Wes Brownless defence quivering. In order, in the league, they play Arsenal, Man City and Liverpool ALL AWAY. They then face three six pointers back-to-back with Crystal Palace, Norwich and West Ham their opponents, before another devilish away fixture at Tottenham. They have proven they can mix with the best, beating title challengers Man City at home already this season, however the next three fixtures could easily send them back into the relegation zone and negate the great work Poyet has done recently. Complacency can easily seep in when focussing on league position rather than points accrued, and given the fine margins in the bottom half of the table this season, it is certainly going to be a long and exciting relegation battle. Not quite job done for Gus and his boys…

Speaking of complacency, let’s travel to Manchester and to Moyes’ United side that simply can’t keep out of the headlines. A Man Utd side spearheaded by van Persie, Rooney and Mata was expected to walk to victory against bottom of the table Fulham. As it turned out, the Cottager’s midfield worked tirelessly, with the stand outs Holtby and Sidwell combining to superb effect to open the scoring at the now informidable Old Trafford.  Cue the onslaught. the home side pressed and pressed, with Fulham defending for their lives. Opta stat history went out the window as Moyes’ men whipped a record 81 crosses in (incidentally only 18 of those found a red shirt) and enjoyed 75% possession. Eventually the resistance broke and a quick-fire double from RVP and Carrick sent the home fans into raptures. The sigh of relief could be sensed around the ground, however it was a premature. In a week when Vidic declared he would be leaving the club at the end of the season, the veteran Serb nodded a dangerous ball in the direction of Michael Carrick deep in the Man Utd half. Man of the Match Steve Sidwell collected the ball after a bundled challenge on his opponent, and after Richardson’s shot was parried high into the air by De Gea, Bent was there to nod home a last minute equaliser, with Vidic unable to get back into position to competently challenge the eventual scorer. Gob-smacked and furious, the stadium fell eerily silent, and it epitomised the challenge facing the manager. To suggest the result was ‘a disaster’ and , by the Scot’s own admission, ‘as bad as it gets’ I think is a slight overstatement of facts. To qualify for ‘as bad as it gets’, you surely have to at least lose a football match, right? But what is concerning was the degree of complacency and arrogance on display by the home side once they had scored the second goal, as if that was ‘job done’, despite there being at least ten minutes to play. This indiscipline must be addressed by the manager, and you could argue Nemanja Vidic’s mind was elsewhere (Serie A, perhaps?…). Now sitting nine points off the Champions League places, qualification into Europe’s elite club competition may be a stretch too far, however if his side can demonstrate some focus, Moyes still has a chance to snatch a Europa League spot. On this evidence, big ‘if’.

Two managers enjoying weekend home wins after troubled campaigns were caretakers Monk and Sherwood. Both Swansea and Tottenham had tricky fixtures against rivals, whether regional or positional, giving both sides a hugely required lift. So is that the answer? Former or current players, it is said, understand a club’s culture more, and therefore the ambitions and feelings of the squad. I would say that more importantly than that, and rather more pertinently in the cases of Swansea and Spurs, is that both Sherwood and Monk appear to have the respect of the players. Andre Villas Boas seems, although tactically astute, to lack the required man management skills to deal with high profile squads, isolating players and showing them little protection in ill-delivered press conferences. Michael Laudrup was also accused of not demanding the respect of his players, with rumours of unprofessional training sessions and lacking the effort needed to inject spirit into his side. This, it must be stressed, is all conjecture, but certainly in the short-term, both clubs have so far benefited from these appointments. It may be that for interim managers, ability to impact in the short term overrides their possible long term prospects, with Spurs seemingly rumoured to be making an approach for Louis van Gaal after the World Cup. It is also unlikely Garry Monk will remain in post beyond the end of this season, so it is clear both men’s tactical inexperience may well count against them in the long run. Whether Sherwood or Monk remain in their respective clubs’ set-ups if ‘permanent’ managers are installed remains to be seen. One thing that is certain, is that neither of them have done their chances of future employment as managers elsewhere any harm.

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