Rant of the weekend
Maurizio Sarri’s fairly remarkable rant after Chelsea’s defeat to Arsenal was surprising in some respects, but not quite so much if you’ve been listening to him over the past couple of months.
This has been brewing. Sarri has complained a number of times that his players have found it strangely difficult to concentrate for a full game, switching off after an hour and either letting points slip or going extremely close to doing so. Clearly he’s been frustrated for a while, but it’s worth considering what we might have made of his postmatch news conference if it had come from one of his predecessors.
Sarri and Jose Mourinho are clearly wildly different personalities, but declaring that his players are “extremely difficult to motivate” after a big defeat feels like a deflection tactic straight out of the Mourinho playbook, an excuse that ultimately exposes his own failings as much as those of his players. Sarri had a tough task, starting late into preseason and with an imbalanced squad, but making sure his players are paying attention for most of the game feels like one of the more straightforward tasks a manager can have.
Perhaps this itself is an attempted motivation tactic, but if so it’s a gamble, even if Sarri doesn’t agree. “I don’t think it is risky,” he said. “These guys have a sensible head on their shoulders…I said the players are difficult to motivate but by the same token there are players who are sensible, who will listen and won’t take it the wrong way.”
He had better hope he is right.
Belated tactical revelation of the weekend
When Unai Emery arrived at Arsenal, one of the tactical considerations he had to mull over was how to best use Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, ideally figuring out how to get them in the same team. It’s a shame that Emery seems finally to have settled on playing the Juventus-bound Aaron Ramsey behind them both, just too late to keep the Welshman for the long-term, while simultaneously being an indication of how Arsenal’s attempt at renovating their decision-making structure has backfired.
Goal of the weekend
From a technical point of view almost every goal scored this weekend was better than Laurent Koscielny‘s, looping in off his shoulder against Chelsea. But after the year he’s had, watching France win the World Cup from a treatment table and losing nine months at a stage of his career when time is precious, we can allow a little sentiment.
Retro performance of the weekend
Earlier in the season, when Liverpool were winning games without producing scintillating football, Jurgen Klopp would insist that his team weren’t becoming boring, just that they were more mature. No more madcap, “you score three, we score four” wins, just nice, sensible, two to nothings.
Against Crystal Palace they returned to last season’s form, so you wonder whether this was just a brief interlude or a slide back to their old ways. They will hope it’s the former, but the rest of us might yearn for the latter.
Worst timed injury of the weekend
Mauricio Pochettino tried to be at least a little upbeat about Dele Alli‘s injury, sustained in Tottenham’s last-gasp win over Fulham, but as soon as you see a player clutch a hamstring, you know it’s bad news. That goes doubly so for Tottenham. With Harry Kane out and Son Heung-min absent, they’ll be without their first, second and fourth-highest league scorers, probably for a month at least. The third is Lucas Moura, himself just coming back from injury.
Luckily, after the Carabao Cup semifinal against Chelsea on Thursday, their fixture list is fairly friendly up until the Champions League tie with Borussia Dortmund, but they might still wonder where their goals are going to come from, especially after Fernando Llorente‘s woeful showing against Fulham.
Dilemma of the weekend
This is going to be an interesting few weeks for Fulham. The defeat to Spurs left them seven points from safety, still haemorrhaging goals (51 conceded for the season, the 17th league game in which they’ve let in two or more) and with little real sign that things are significantly improving under Claudio Ranieri.
So the question is whether they now spend in the last few days of January. Is it worth shelling out more on top of the £100 million-plus they already have spent since winning promotion on a team that is likely, if not almost certain to be back in the Championship next season? They have good players: there’s a decent defence in there somewhere, a few good forwards — it’s just getting them confident and playing properly together. Will bringing in even more players help that?
It might be a tacit white flag, but more spending this month feels like throwing good money after bad.
Turnaround of the weekend
Before the start of December, Diogo Jota hadn’t scored a single goal or registered an assist this season. In his six subsequent games, he has five goals and two assists. Combined with the improved form of Raul Jimenez, the reason for the uptick in Wolves’ results goes some way to being explained.
Surprising scorers of the weekend
Andros Townsend has now scored against Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool this season. Crystal Palace have scored as many goals at the Etihad and Anfield as they have at Selhurst Park. One of football’s joys is inconsistency and unexpected results and surprise goals, but this is ridiculous.
Explanation of the weekend
The perpetual diving debate once again popped up, but this time on a weekend when at least two of the more obvious penalties you’ll see were turned down. Aleksandar Mitrovic was dragged to the floor by his lapels by Jan Vertonghen while Raheem Sterling was virtually assaulted by Terence Kongolo: neither were given, both times with little excuse for the referee. Diving, exaggerating contact or whatever you want to call it is not ideal, but after decisions like that you can see why players do it.