There was a feeling of decisiveness headed into this weekend’s fixtures: That perhaps the three relegation favourites fates would all be pretty much sealed. The big guns would edge closer to Champions League qualification. Spurs and Arsenal can still provide some excitement. And, that FFP would finally prove to be a righteous form of justice.
Turns out, I was as wrong as Jermaine Jenas’ collarless shirts.
Smells Like Team Spirit
To say Brendan Rodgers has a reputation as a ‘bottler’ would be as insightful as David Moyes’ reminding his defenders ‘not to concede’. We all remember the 3-3 with Crystal Palace and that slip that cost his Liverpool side a title back in 2014. Leicester’s collapse has not been as dramatic, but the Foxes missing out on the top four did seem near impossible headed into the restart.
Other than Jamie Vardy, the team has been plagued by poor form and seems to really miss the creativity and energy of right back extraordinaire, Ricardo Pereira. To put into context just how poor the run has been since the restart, a look at the form table has them in 16th after collecting only six points – 17th and 18th are Aston Villa and the fox slayers, Bournemouth. Both clubs with four points after both winning their first games in twelve years this weekend.
This game felt almost a ‘gimme’ to Leicester. A golden opportunity to get the European bid back on track. Instead, it was Bournemouth that came out with something to prove and, despite 16th, 17th and 19th place all winning before them, Howe’s team proved they are up for the fight.
Bournemouth asked questions of the now shaky-looking Leicester defence throughout the game and, to the Cherries’ credit, played within their opponents half. Their opponent/own half passing figures 172/140 compared to Leicester’s 247/192. Bournemouth also attempted an impressive 18 dribbles compared to Leicester’s measly 6.
It is that wonderful time where strange results begin to happen as terms like ‘spirit, fight, want and desire’ spill from commentators and pundits mouths. Leicester need to show some of this before Rodgers and bottling becomes a cliche of its own. Perhaps this season, he will find his own name in one of those envelopes.
Into the Wilder
Chelsea ventured to Bramall Lane in search of three points and to maintain their lead over Sheffield United, Wolves and Manchester Red Socks. Instead, like a teenager on a gap year, they ended up doing some soul-searching and were left very disappointed.
I want to start by saying how thoroughly enjoyable and downright ruthless Sheffield United are. They use the ball so efficiently and can counter or cause overloads at lightning pace.
Wilder’s team is also so good at getting shots off in quality positions. Like a dickhead on FIFA, they will punish you with sweaty goals and pointblank cut backs.
Sheffield United know exactly who they are, what they’re good at and how they can best cause opponents problems. Frank Lampard’s Chelsea meanwhile are the polar opposite. Lampard tinkers with his defence and midfield persistently. Gilmour, Kanté, Jorginho, Barkley, Kovačić, Loftus-Cheek and Mount have all taken turns starting since the Premier League came back. Similarly in defence, James, Rüdiger, Christensen, Zouma and Alonso have been doing the Franky-Cokey. Most alarmingly, not one of these players seems to have a place in the XI secured.
Lampard, perhaps to his credit, was quick to react at half time. Forty-five minutes later however, I can tell you it didn’t work. Chelsea resorted to long-balls up to Giroud and Abraham (a sorry combination, which also didn’t work).
Now, the calls are incoming for Lampard to make defensive signings as well as the attacking talent already secured. ‘Change’ is clearly the key word for Lampard. I just can’t figure out if it’s in the style of a 2008 Obama campaign poster, or a conversation with Garth Algar.
Karim On My Wayward Son
Benzema is an enigma. The striker has been as underrated as a banana sandwich in his career and despite being happy with playing second fiddle to Ronaldo for much of it, he seems to be flourishing in the spotlight.
The French striker netted his 18th league goal of the season against Alaves, keeping Real on course to capture the league title. This, for Benzema, will be just the third of his career. He is second only to Messi in scoring and tied for third for assists with Suarez on eight.
When playing Pippen to Ronaldo’s Jordan, it was always mentioned that he ‘sacrificed a lot for his teammates’, but the striker doesn’t get the credit for just how much he truly did give up.
He is now clearly enjoying being one of the best attackers in La Liga and indeed Europe. His goals plus assists per 90 is at 0.81, without Ronaldo last year he went from 0.82. Second only to 2015/16’s ridiculous 1.42 which was somewhat of an anomaly.
We spoke briefly on this week’s JB podcast about Benzema’s tainted career following the Valbuena blackmailing scandal. That will never be forgotten. Nor will the fact that it cost him a World Cup Winners medal. But perhaps this title, and Benzema’s MVP-like impact, will live just as long in the memory.