Premier League winners and losers: Flanagan, Long & Man City
Kieran Beckles looks at the winners and losers of the weekend as Man City rout Spurs and Jon Flanagan stars in Merseyside derby
Free-scoring Manchester City Manuel Pellegrini’s men turned on the style again at The Etihad as Manchester City put six goals past Tottenham Hotspur. What should have been a fascinating meeting between the Premier League’s best attack and best defence was turned on its head within 14 seconds as Jesus Navas capitalised on a poor clearance to put the Citizens ahead. Spurs, set up to contain City, were forced to come out of their shell and were punished by City’s devastating partnership of Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo. The pair are now rivalling Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez and Manchester United duo Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie. While Arsenal and Chelsea both picked up wins, there were slip-ups for Liverpool and United. So overall, a good weekend for City – but their real litmus test will be a trip to dangerous Swansea City on Sunday.
Shane Long Maybe it was a frank insight into England’s current lack of depth in the striker department, or perhaps, just a nod to the sheer quality of his goals, but Shane Long was being touted as England’s answer to their goal-scoring woes following his brace in a 2-2 draw with Aston Villa. Of course, unfortunately for Roy Hodgson, Long is a seasoned Republic of Ireland international. It didn’t stop there either, as Jamie Carragher, among others, described the West Bromwich Albion striker’s first goal as Dennis Bergkamp-esque, while the ex-Liverpool legend felt Long’s second was akin to a Kenny Dalglish strike. It wasn’t hype either. Long produced a sublime touch to instantly control Chris Brunt’s long, diagonal pass, before a neat flick wrong-footed Nathan Baker, and rifling a finish past Brad Guzan – on his weaker foot, too. The Irishman’s second was equally as impressive as he showed the awareness to intercept a poor pass, turn on his pace and power to go past Baker again, before deftly lifting his finish over Guzan. On current form, it’s no surprise Long has been linked with a move to a top-six club in January, despite almost moving to Hull City in August.
Scouse talent Jon Flanagan Much has been made of the lack of young English talent been giving a chance in the Premier League in recent years. While that sweeping statements holds some trust (Chelsea and City among the guilty parties), some of the big clubs are showing faith in British youngsters. One such club is Liverpool. Brendan Rodgers threw local lad Jon Flanagan into his starting line-up for the Merseyside derby and the 20-year-old right-footed left-back was exceptional despite being faced with one of the strongest right-sided double acts in the Premier League. Everton winger Kevin Mirallas and wing-back Seamus Coleman have the ability to provide devastating pace and width to Roberto Martinez’s side. But Flanagan, helped by a roaming Liverpool midfield, managed to keep the duo under wraps. The Reds youngster did the simple things right; well-timed tackles, superb positional play, tracking runners and even providing the occasional surge forward. There was even better news for Flanagan on Monday morning with the news first-choice left-back Jose Enrique is set to be sidelined for 10 weeks with a knee injury.
Andre Villas-Boas and his summer signings Tottenham Hotspur chairman Daniel Levy and Harry Redknapp remain friends despite the manager’s sacking in June 2012 after leading Spurs into the Champions League for the first time. Andre Villas-Boas was recruited and the Portuguese had a positive first season, although his impact was diluted by the outstanding performances of Gareth Bale. The Welshman left in a £85.4m move to Real Madrid and Spurs gave their side a complete facelift. Now, while it does take time for new players to gel, especially those faces such challenges as the language barrier, like Erik Lamela, there is a distinct lack of creativity in the current Spurs side. Villas-Boas, who is without Christian Eriksen, has flirted with the idea of reverting to a 4-4-2 and deployed the tactic in a behind-closed-doors friendly during the international break. But he stuck with one striker up front against City – and Roberto Soldado was completely anonymous. The Spaniard isn’t the type of striker to hold up the ball and bring team-mates into the game, like Emmanuel Adebayor or Didier Drogba. So, Villas-Boas needs a serious rethink of how to get the best out of his £27m signing because nine goals in 12 Premier League games is not good enough for a club with top-four aspirations.
Striker-less West Ham Unsurprisingly, West Ham United slipped to another Premier League defeat on Saturday at the hands of London rivals Chelsea. Sam Allardyce’s side have picked up two points since their brilliant 3-0 win at Tottenham Hotspur in October. Admittedly, the Hammers beat Spurs without a recognised striker but the goals have dried up since, with Ravel Morrison and Ricardo Vaz Te netting their only strikes in the last five games. It raises the question as to whether Allardyce was right to splash £15m on a striker with a history of injuries in the summer – Andy Carroll is no closer to a return – and then spend the last of his transfer budget on a left winger, Stewart Downing. In trademark bullish Allardyce fashion, the Hammers boss insisted jeers at the final whistle weren’t directed at him at Upton Park, but the Premier League table doesn’t lie, and the east London side are now just three points from 20th-placed Sunderland. Expect the Hammers to buy a striker in January.
Adventurous Artur Boruc Arsenal’s clash against Southampton was billed as a potential slip-up waiting to happen following their 1-0 loss to Manchester United before the international break. But Southampton goalkeeper Artur Boruc gave the Gunners a helping hand with a piece of charity at The Emirates. The Poland international decided to show off his samba kills but was left red-faced as Olivier Giroud nicked the ball from the bumbling goalkeeper and opened the scoring. Arsenal have not benefited from such outrageous charity from a goalkeeper since Fabian Barthez was between the sticks for Manchester United. The Gunner sealed victory and move four points clear of second-placed Liverpool when Giroud slotted the ball past Boruc from the penalty spot in the latter stages of the game. When Boruc was audaciously lobbed by Stoke City goalkeeper Asmir Begovic at the Britannia earlier this month, the Pole vowed to “get those two points back”. Southampton supporters can add a further two points to that tab after his calamitous display on Saturday.