The Workmanlike Performers: Column 2

Last weekend served up some intriguing subplots heading into Gameweek 28, and as usual, the Premier League didn’t disappoint in the drama department. In other news, my co-writer Matthew has been missing since Tottenham’s defeat to Chelsea on Wednesday, so if you see him, please let me know? For now, let’s see how the Big Six fared.

Liverpool

Boy, how they needed that! Results have been flat so far in 2019, and with Manchester City breathing down their necks, the Reds took a high-flying Watford to task with five unanswered goals. It was interesting to see how Jurgen Klopp would line up the team with center forward mainstay Roberto Firmino out of action, and the German turned to Divock Origi, who you might remember from his wacky, bizarre winner that he scored against Everton in the Merseyside Derby last year. His inclusion proved to be inspired, as he scored the team’s third goal after Sadio Mane put his team out of sight with two goals in the first twenty minutes (one an audacious backheel). Virgil Van Dijk wrapped up proceedings with two quick set piece goals. While Mohamed Salah’s lethargy should be worrying, the rest of the squad showed that they’re here to play down the stretch. Up next, an away trip to city rivals Everton on Sunday!


MORE: Workmanlike Performers Column 2


Manchester City

While facing West Ham at home might not have seemed the most daunting of prospects for Pep Guardiola’s side, they were made to work for their meal. The only goal came from a Sergio Aguero penalty, which was charitably given after a soft foul just inside the box. On the balance of play and chances created, City certainly deserved the win, but West Ham were understandably furious with the call. However, it’s these hard-fought victories that are supposedly the hallmarks of a title-winning side. If Liverpool slip (sorry, Gerrard) even once,City will be there to take advantage. Up next, a visit to the south coast with Bournemouth!

Chelsea and Tottenham

Probably the biggest match of the week, the London derby saw a desperate Tottenham side take on a Chelsea team embroiled in scandal. After Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa refused to be substituted during the Carabao Cup final against Manchester City over the weekend, Sarri threw a fit on the sideline and almost stormed out. Really, the coach had no choice but to drop the rebellious keeper and install 37-year-old backup Willy Caballero, but it worked out much better than expected. I’m not even sure Caballero faced a single shot on target all game. A frustrating night for Chelsea winger Pedro turned into glory when he slotted a shot through Hugo Lloris’ legs, and while Tottenham did press for an equalizer, the game was effectively over.

If there’s one thing in life more certain than my co-writer’s unreliability, or his poor FIFA skills, it’s Tottenham’s tendency to collapse when it matters most. After Spurs coach Pochettino weathered the mother of all injury crises and kept his team within touching distance, Kieran Trippier seized the initiative and pressed the self-destruct button, calmly slotting the ball past his own goalkeeper under no pressure whatsoever. As Sarri might have said, “mamma mia!” Tottenham look tired and lethargic. Pochettino needs to get them riled up somehow, or the home stretch will make for grim watching around Wembley Stadium. Up next for Spurs, their biggest rivalry of all, Arsenal! As for Chelsea, they stay in London to face Fulham, who just parted ways with their manager and have conceding goals very high up on their list of hobbies.

Arsenal

Including Arsenal in a Big Six is generous, but they are technically in the top six, so I have no choice.

For fans of rare species of footballers, the elusive Mesut Ozil was spotted out on the Emirates pitch for the first time in…forever! He reminded us all of his ability with a goal and assist in the opening stages against Bournemouth and combined effectively with his teammates. Perhaps Arsenal’s highest paid player does have something to contribute to the cause, after all? Beyond Ozil, strikers Lacazette and Aubameyang were both on the scoresheet. It begs the question, why can’t Emery figure out how to fit one of the world’s best playmakers with two clinical finishers ahead of him? Arsenal are certainly on the mend after years of mediocrity under Wenger, and Emery has time to turn things around. But if he still can’t find a way to get all his best players working in sync, that may come back to bite him when there are higher expectations. Up next, Tottenham! If their rivals are currently handing out free goals, then Arsenal should sweep the North London Derby this season.

Manchester United

With the Manchester United squad looking more like a World War I medical field tent than a football squad, Romelu Lukaku stepped up to the plate, scoring twice in a 3-1 victory over Crystal Palace. He’d been struggling for form recently, so his statement of intent couldn’t have come at a better time. Manchester United had 10 (!) players injured for this game, so it was by no means a sure thing. It just speaks to their revival that, in a fixture they may very well have drawn at best under the previous incumbent, they won comfortably in such a short handed manner. With so many injuries, Lukaku should be ready to lead the line against Southampton on Saturday and eke out a win for the Red Devils. We can hope so, at least.

Quick Notes

  • The race for Champions League spots is incredibly close. Arsenal is in fourth with 68 points, trailing third-placed Tottenham by two. Chelsea, in fifth, are on 53 points with a game in hand. Manchester United sit between the two London clubs on 55 points. There’s no margin for error here.
  • Brendan Rodgers (B-Rog?) is back! The man who took Liverpool oh-so-close to a Premier League title win returns to England to lead Leicester City, who fired Claude Puel for…reasons?
  • Huddersfield won a game! And kept a clean sheet! But they’re still likely going down, along with Fulham. Cardiff City are third from bottom and only two points from safety, but their lack of attacking impetus probably means they’ll complete the relegated trifecta.

Workmanlike Performance of the Week

Groundskeeping is probably one of the most underappreciated facets of running a soccer club. Keeping that pristine pitch in shape for the billion dollar TV deals ensures that the football can continue uninterrupted. With that in mind, the man in charge of keeping the grass growing at Bournemouth’s Vitality Stadium wasn’t going to let something like a live Premier League match against Wolves get in the way of his job. In the 95th minute of their match against Wolves, the sprinklers turned on, drenching the grass, players, and referee Roger East. and Whoever you are, groundskeeper, we’d like to congratulate you on receiving the first Workmanlike Performance of the Week award!

— Matt Hein and Sam Cicci


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