With Christmas just around the corner, the influx of fixtures has approached the Premier League, with three coming in quick succession in the past seven days.
This is the time where some teams fade, like Watford have done, due to lack of squad depth and fatigue taking its toll. It is a crucial part of the season and sets the precedent and expectation for the next six months.
Here were five things that stood out from this weekend of Premier League action:
Manchester United’s considerable lack of depth in midfield
José Mourinho has turned the Red Devils competitive with their best start to the season since Sir Alex Ferguson, but it does not seem to be enough this season. There has been a considerable improvement, in which no one can deny, but there are still areas that Man United are not equipped to a high enough standard.
One of those areas is in central midfield – even with Paul Pogba! The Frenchman missed months due to injury in September and has also missed the last three games because of a red card suspension. In these time periods, we have seen Ander Herrera step up to take his place, but he has considerably underwhelmed.
While the Spaniard was one of United’s best players last year, he is now a shadow of his former self. That might be because Mourinho has asked him to carry out another job, but we are none the wiser.
Nemanja Matić has been sensational since joining United, but he cannot do it all on his own. His main objective is to protect his back four, it cannot be to also drive at the heart of the opposition’s defence.
The Red Devils should be taking a close look at Schalke’s Leon Goretzka, as well as Lazio’s Sergej Milinković-Savić.
Pep Guardiola’s City are irresistible
Another game, another win for Manchester City. No surprise to see Guardiola’s team blow away their opponents yet again in emphatic fashion.
It is almost as if the name of the team does not matter anymore – whether it is Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal or Spurs, City will outplay them and will takeaway the three points with relative ease.
It has been remarkable to see City’s rise and witness such a prolific and irresistible side. There has been premature talk of this team being the best since the Premier League era began – which is, frankly, ridiculous – but there is no denying that City have been exemplary.
City’s pending Premier League title seems inevitable now, which should cast shadows on whether the league really is as good or competitive as some might think.
Sean Dyche has worked miracles at Burnley
Just 12 months ago saw Dyche’s Burnley sitting in 13th place, a respectable place and one in which they thought was slightly better than expected. Wind forward a year and the Clarets are in sixth place, just one point from Arsenal and two away from Liverpool in fourth.
It is unbelievable what Dyche has done with Burnley, and credit also has to go to his players, who have been more than heroic this season. There has been a palpable sense of unity within this squad and it is paying dividends on the pitch.
Burnley have kept three clean sheets in three games this week which highlights their defensive solidity and ability to keep a formidable structure throughout the 90 minutes.
Burnley have a real chance of finishing in a Europa League qualifying spot and it would be a fantastic feel-good story if they can achieve such an achievement.
They might not be the most attractive side, but Dyche has them playing in an effective manner that is creating history for the club.
Newcastle are in big trouble with takeover talks looming ahead
Rafa Benitez’s side have not won a game in nine matches, their last coming against a demoralised Crystal Palace in late October. It has been a disastrous run of form for the Magpies which has seen the dramatically slide down the table into a relegation contender spot.
They have now entered the relegation zone, after yet another loss at the hands of Arsenal. While they would have been hard pushed to have garnered a result at the Emirates, each week creates fresh concern over their survival chances.
The pleasing thing for Newcastle will be that the teams around them are facing major troubles themselves and do not look like deserting them any time soon. Crystal Palace and West Ham have enjoyed a small turn in form after bringing in new managers, which has been a blow to the Magpies.
Constant talk over a potential takeover has also not helped Newcastle, primarily because it not only distracts the players from their on-field duties, but also puts Benitez in a very difficult position as he does not know the transfer budgets or who is supposedly funding the transfer window.
A sense of uncertainty looms over St James’ Park, and it does not look like the skies are clearing for a bright future.
Tottenham are in real danger of a mass exodus
Were Mauricio Pochettino’s side not supposed to be mounting a title challenge this season? Well, that certainly has not been the case. Spurs are currently 21 points away from Manchester City in what has been a very disappointing domestic season so far.
The problem for Tottenham is that they are in real danger of performing an involuntary mass exodus next summer, providing they do not qualify for Europe’s top-tier competition.
Why should players such as Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen et al stay on the wages they are on, without Champions League on offer, when they can leave for bigger and better clubs, who will pay handsome wages?
While those players might be loyal, it would be some surprise to see them stay without the ability to play on Europe’s biggest stage, which is now a real possibility given their form in the league. Pochettino’s record against the ‘big six’ has been atrocious in recent years, and he has not managed to change that in this year’s campaign.
The Lilywhites tread on a very delicate road and if their form does not considerably improve, the quality players they possess will start to orchestrate moves away from the club.
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