Five things we learned from Premier League GW19
Photo: Getty Images - Jan Kruger

Five things we learned from Premier League GW19

We're at the midway point and there were more surprises this week.

grantmcquillan
Grant McQuillan

Liverpool have guaranteed their place at the top of the Premier League table going into 2019, thanks to another free-scoring win against Newcastle and yet another Manchester City slip up.

Also at the top of the table, Tottenham Hotspur have overtaken the champions in second and continue to worry Man City and Liverpool thanks to a 5-0 thrashing over Bournemouth at Wembley, whilst Ole Gunnar Solskjaer continues to bring joy back to Old Trafford, as his men ease to a 3-1 victory over strugglers Huddersfield. 

Down at the bottom, Fulham again fluffed their lines, dropping another two points from a winning position, this time against Wolverhampton Wanderers, whilst Cardiff City and Crystal Palace showed just how tight it is at the bottom, as they played out a goalless draw.

It really could be their year

'It's 'r year!' has been running joke aimed at Liverpool for the entire 26 years of the Premier League's existence. 18 English first division titles, but zero since the inception of the Premier League in 1992. But, it really could be their year, it really, really could be.

At the start of the campaign, most of us thought it was just going to be another dominant year by City. At Bayern Munich and Barcelona, Pep Guardiola has won the league title in all three of his first seasons, so, logically, considering City's record-breaking season last year, we all envisioned another Premier League trophy draped in blue at the end of the campaign.

As mentioned in last week's edition of 'five things', Liverpool look like a complete team right now. Jurgen Klopp has built a defence better than any other, a front three that would rival the big guns in Europe and a versatile and resilient midfield. But, despite their brilliance from one to 11 on matchday, arguably the most impressive aspect of Klopp's team is its depth and versatility.

One day the midfield you could have Naby Keita and Jordan Henderson, the other it could be James Milner, Fabinho and Georginio Wijnaldum. Then, if needs be, the likes of Adam Lallana, Xherdan Shaqiri, Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi are ready to come on. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is still waiting in the wings too with his injury. 

If you look at Premier League champions of the past, most notably Sir Alex Ferguson's winning teams, you see a squad of pure quality in depth. At times, Ferguson had the likes of Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer all in one squad for just one position, and later on, midfield's with the likes of Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick, Anderson, Ji-Sung Park, Ryan Giggs, Owen Hargreaves and Paul Scholes.

Did Ferguson need all these players? Not really. But with games coming thick and fast, certain players came in to do certain jobs within certain games, and, as a result, Ferguson built versatile, in-depth squads that dominated for years. Now, in 2018, Klopp has done the same with his Liverpool team, and, I guess you could say, they have a squad fit for champions, just like that of the 'Fergie days'.

For the first time this season, Liverpool are title favourites according to the bookies, and with them at under evens and City in a bit of a blip, Liverpool fans have every reason to be excited.

Fact: Only three teams have had 50+ points after 19 games of a Premier League season: Chelsea (2005/06) Manchester City (2017/18) Liverpool (2018/19) Both of the previous two won the title.

High flying Spurs are right in there

It comes as little surprise to see Spurs doing so well again this year. Perhaps what is more surprising is the dip in form from City and the fact that Liverpool still haven't slipped up.

Under Mauricio Pochettino there has been an elite squad gradually being built throughout. Harry Kane is clearly amongst the best in world football, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen are unplayable at times, whilst Heung-min Son is becoming one of the Premier League's best, and their defence is still as solid as it has been over the last three years.

One thing that has troubled Spurs in their recent title pursuits is their consistency, or 'doing a Spurs', as it has been jokingly coined. In 2015/16, they chased Leicester City all the way, but two draws and two losses in their last four games handed the Foxes the title and saw Spurs not just lose the title, but even finish third. A year later, 19 wins in their last 22 games was not enough to surpass the brilliance of Chelsea, as Spurs only won just eight of the first 16 games in that season.

Just six wins in the first 16 games in 2015/16 and only eight wins in the first 16 games a year later, overshadowed their fabulous winning streaks later on in the campaigns.

However, things look different this year. 19 games gone and Spurs have 15 wins and four losses, putting them ahead of champions City and six points off leaders Liverpool, meaning Spurs haven't just started well, they have remained consistently a threat to the favourites for the title. Now, if Spurs can do their usual end of the season win streak, there will be an almighty conclusion to this league campaign

Fact: Christian Eriksen has assisted Harry Kane 18 times in the Premier League - only Frank Lampard to Didier Drogba (24), Darren Anderton to Teddy Sheringham (20) and Steve McManaman to Robbie Fowler (20) have assisted a teammate more in the competition's history.

Solskjaer has set Pogba free, and it's deadly

It was no secret that Jose Mourinho and Paul Pogba were not the best of friends. A few digs at each other in the press here and there, that training ground footage and the obvious that Pogba just looked like he couldn't care less under the guidance of the Portuguese.

Now it's hard to believe that a World Cup winner refuses to play well just because of his manager. After all, Pogba is a serial winner and undoubtedly one of the best around. However, his performances under Solskjaer thus far have further fueled the Pogba-Mourinho debate, because the Frenchman is immediately flying once again under new guidance.

Two assists and a man of the match performance against Cardiff first time out, and now two fantastic goals and another man of the match award against Huddersfield. Is this all down to Mourinho's departure? Sadly, it seems that way. Pogba is playing further forward and allowed to roam freely, rather than attempting to be a box-to-box midfielder and clipping his wings like Mourinho did.

In truth, Pogba isn't a great tactician and reader of the game. Under Jose, he tried to be a Luka Modric, Yaya Toure and David Silva rolled into one. But, in reality, Pogba's a playground player. He is that school kid who is the physically superior specimen with the most flamboyant tricks and the golden highlight reel.

He won't control a game like Modric, he won't rummage through a team like Toure and he won't distinguish the tempo of a game like Silva. But, he'll win a game by himself like only Pogba will do, just as long as you let him. 

Ironically enough, he's just a player who needs little managing. He just needs to be set free and allowed to swagger, and Solskjaer has just let him be the Pogba he wants to be, which, coming as little surprise, has rejuvenated him once again.

Fact: Paul Pogba has been involved in more goals than any other midfielder in Europe this season with seven goals and six assists.

Burnley are in deep trouble

It is hard to believe after such an astonishing campaign last time out that Burnley are struggling this much. After achieving a record-high seventh place, which resulted in a spot in the Europa League qualifiers, the Clarets are three points from safety and just two points ahead of bottom-placed Huddersfield.

The problems are clear to see, however. Last year, they had a solid defensive foundation from the likes of James Tarkowski and Jack Cork, with a fantastic 'keeper in Nick Pope, whilst utilising their strengths in Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood up top, forming a very British-esque team -  not too stylish, not many goals, but hard to break down with a fierce counter-attack.

 

In truth, not much has changed. Sean Dyche still employs his traditional tactics and the team has not changed much either. Pope and Tom Heaton are still both injured, forcing Joe Hart between the sticks, whilst Matej Vydra is the only notable addition, who he has yet to make an impact at all so far.

All considered, it's a fairly simple analysis - Burnley's purple patch has just ended, really. Last year, Burnley had the sixth-best defence. Now they have the second worst defence, whilst Wood and Barnes have just four goals between them, as opposed to their 19 in total last campaign. Sacking Dyche won't do much, but keeping him won't either. However, they are in an ugly relegation scrap, so something has to change.

Fact: Burnley have taken just four points from their last 30 available in the Premier League (W1 D1 L8), fewer than any other side over the last 10 games.

There is still not a clear winner for PFA Player of the Year

By this point in the year there is usually one clear front-runner for the prestigious PFA Player of the Year.

With Chelsea starting the season in unbeatable form, Eden Hazard was most people's go to, then with Chelsea dipping in form and City continuing to stun everyone Silva became the main man, and now with both Chelsea and City off the pace of Liverpool, Virgil Van Dijk has moved into the spotlight for the award, with his teammate and defending champion Mohamed Salah right alongside him.

There is still a strong debate for Hazard to claim the award, however, which would be his second time winning the prize. The two-time Premier League champion has been involved in more goals than anybody in the league thus far, assisting nine and scoring 10, whilst Hazard also has the most take-ons (52), fouls won (59) and created the most chances (50).

Van Dijk has established himself as arguably the best defender in world football this season, and the Dutchman has been the main reason why Liverpool have been so solid at the back, as they get closer to their first ever Premier League title. It is fair to say that without Van Dijk at the back, Liverpool may not be six points clear at the top of the table.

Silva, as he has been for eight years now, is the main man for Manchester City. The Spaniard defines the playmaker role, and game after game Silva sets the tempo for the match, and if something happens for the champions, it is usually through the 32-year old. Right now, he is ageing like a fine wine, and has still barely set a foot wrong all year, nor has he really ever in a blue shirt. There is a reason why City fans cherish the man they call Merlin.

As for Salah, he has continued his record-breaking form of last season, and with 12 goals and six assists in 19 games, only Hazard has been involved in more goals, as he boasts 19 to Salah's 18. The Egyptian was believed to be a 'one season wonder', but there can be no debates he is the opposite. Salah is mesmerising to watch yet again, and, on his day, he is the Premier League's number one hotshot.

The ex-Chelsea man scored a record-breaking 32 goals last time around winning him the Player of the Year and the Golden Boot, and if Liverpool really can go onto win the Premier League, there can be little debate in giving Salah the award, because without his goals, it is hard to see Liverpool achieving even the top four.

Players like Kane, Raheem Sterling and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will still be in with a shout if they continue their blistering, goal-scoring form, and if Spurs pip Liverpool and City to the title, Kane will surely be the leading candidate. However, right now, statistically speaking Chelsea's superstar, Hazard is the winner this far, whilst Van Dijk seems to be the name on everyone's lips.

Facts:

  • Despite claiming two Golden Boots, Harry Kane has never won the award.
  • Van Dijk would be only the seventh defender to win the award in 45 years and the first since John Terry in 2004/05
  • Salah would become only the third player to win the award consecutively (Cristiano Ronaldo 06/07, 07/08 and Thierry Henry 02/03, 03/04).
  • Despite winning three Premier League titles, David Silva or Raheem Sterling would becomes the first Manchester City player to win the PFA Player of the Year.
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