Football paled into insignificance this weekend, as a heart-wrenching tragedy unfolded at the King Power Stadium following Leicester City’s match with West Ham United. As he does after every home match, Foxes owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha boarded his private helicopter in the centre of the pitch along with two business associates and two flight crew. Moments after clearing the top of the stands, however, it’s understood that a problem with the tail propeller caused the engine to cut out and for the aircraft to fall from the sky. All five people on board were killed. Leicester is now a city in mourning for the Thai businessman, who not only took the club from the brink of extinction to the Champions League quarter-finals via a miraculous Premier League title win, but who also embraced the city and its community, donating generously to hospitals and universities. The tributes laid in their thousands at the King Power stadium on Sunday are a testimony to how highly Leicester City’s supporters and the city as a whole regarded Srivaddhanaprabha. His presence in the game will be a great loss. Our thoughts are with the families and friends of all five victims of this terrible tragedy.
In more trifling matters, a full programme of Premier League fixtures threw up its usual collection of triumph and despair. Here are the hitters and council gritters from Gameweek Ten.
Mohamed Salah – After gameweek ten last season, Mohamed Salah had five goals and three assists to his name, with many already describing him as one of the bargains of the summer of 2017. After gameweek ten this season, Mohamed Salah has five goals and three assists and Football Twitter have already worn out the F, R, A, U and D keys on their mum’s laptop. Against Cardiff, Salah was back to his best, rifling in a first half effort to give the Reds the lead, before laying on two more for Xherdan Shaqiri and Sadio Mane to make the game safe.
The Egyptian might not yet be at his explosive best, but rumours of his downfall have been greatly exaggerated. No other player on the Anfield pitch on Saturday played as many key passes as Salah, nor had as many shots on goal, as he proved a constant thorn in the side of Neil Warnock’s burly defence. Having suffered a dislocated shoulder in the biggest match of his career, as well as a disappointing World Cup campagin with his country, Liverpool’s main man could be forgiven for coming into the new season with a lack of morale, but the stats suggest he’s still doing the business when it matters, even if he looks unlikely to match last season’s, frankly ludicrous, tally of 44 goals.
The suggestion that Liverpool aren’t quite as potent going forward as last season is a myth that needs busting – in fact they’ve scored three more goals and accrued ten more points than this stage last year – and can perhaps be put down to the focus at the other end of the pitch. Jurgen Klopp’s team can defend now, and their title credentials are stronger than ever. Should Salah continue on last season’s trajectory, they’re going to take some stopping.
Bournemouth – Last week we wrote about how Eddie Howe had turned Bournemouth into something of a finishing school for young British talent, and as if by magic the class of 2018 produced a scintillating performance at Craven Cottage this weekend to back that claim up. Fulham’s defensive frailties have become a weekly talking point in the corridors of the football commentariat, but the Cherries’ resounding 3-0 win was as much to do with the quality of their attacking play as their oppositions shortcomings at the back.
Switching to a 3-4-3, Howe pushed Ryan Fraser and David Brooks up alongside Callum Wilson to put pressure on Slavisa Jokanovic’s flagging defence, and in a first half in which debutante ‘keeper Sergio Rico faced a barrage of shots, Callum Wilson’s penalty seperated the sides. With the Cottagers pushing further and further forward in the second period in search of an equaliser, Bournemouth’s pacy front three were given licence to roam, as Fraser in particular made hay in the wide open spaces. The Scottish winger laid on a tap-in for Brooks and, after Fulham midfielder Kevin McDonald had received his marching orders, squared for Wilson to score his fifth of the season.
That hiccup at Turf Moor aside, Howe and his team have already staked a huge claim to finish ‘best of the rest’ this season, having racked up wins against their rivals for a top seven spot. Next week’s meeting with Manchester United – currently three points behind the Cherries – will give us a better idea of just how high Bournemouth can finish this season.
Roberto Pereyra – It’s taken a while, but Watford’s Argentinian wing-wizard finally looks to have settled in Hertfordshire. Signed from Juventus for £11m in 2016, Pereyra found himself used sparingly under Walter Mazzari and Marco Silva, but in Javi Gracia he has a manager that trusts him to go out and do the business. As a result, his ten starts so far this season mark the longest string of appearances since moving to Vicarage Road, and the Hornets are beginning to feel the benefit.
On Saturday, Pereyra ran the show against Huddersfield in a match his team lost 4-1 last season. The Argentinian’s opening goal, a solo strike of jaw-dropping quality, effectively ended the match as a contest after ten minutes, with the goal-shy Terriers struggling to find a way past Ben Foster. That Goal of The Season contender was Pereyra’s fifth of this campaign, already matching his total from last time out, and, including internationals, his third in four appearances, having netted against Iraq on his debut for Argentina.
This website has a running joke about Watford being nothing but a collection of Football Manager re-gens, devoid of identity and difficult for neutrals to love. With just the tiniest bit of continuity, the Pozzo family are finally introducing the Premier League to their vision of how a football club should be run and how the game on the pitch should be played. While talk of a Champions League place in August might have been premature pie in the sky, European football would suit this incarnation of Watford down to the ground. With players like Pereyra at their full potential, there’s no reason the Vicarage Road faithful can’t begin to dream.
Wolves’ Expectations – During the last international break, with fifteen points from their opening eight games, Wolves might just have been thinking that this Premier League lark is easier than it looks. Back-to-back defeats against Watford and Brighton, teams that Nuno Espirito Santo would have expected to have picked up points against, will have pushed the reset button on the West Midland side’s expectations for their first season back in the top flight.
At the AMEX Stadium on Saturday, Nuno made the first change to his starting line-up all season, bringing over-inflated pace merchant Adama Traore into the team in place of Jota. Having been surprised by Watford at Molineux last weekend, it was the turn of well-worn Premier League trope ‘nothing’s going in’ this time around, as Mat Ryan posted a remarkable performance in the Seagulls goal to keep out the visitors seven shots on target, with another eight sailing high, wide or handsome. Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy, swiftly becoming the Bruce and Pallister of the Bumble generation, blocked a further ten efforts between them, as Nuno prepared to write “one of those days” into his diary.
Chances are that this Wolves side, who, let’s face it, have a wealth of European experience and frightening talent to call upon, will be knocking on the door of upper mid-table come the end of the season, but these recent setbacks will come as a useful wake-up call to a manager and squad who’d started the season making the transition from the Championship to the top flight look like a doddle.
Sean Dyche – That feint cry you can hear in the distance is the last person in the country still calling for Sean Dyche to be considered for a job at one of the Premier League’s leading teams. Only Sports Direct can rival the pace at which the gravelly cueball’s stock has fallen, and another heavy defeat this weekend left Dyche’s Burnley mired in the lower reaches of the league table.
The Clarets run to seventh place last season was built on solid defensive foundations, averaging slightly over a goal conceded per game, and letting in three or more on just three occasions throughout the whole campaign. That solidity has been emphatically defenestrated this year, as Maurizio Sarri and co. delivered a clinical gubbing at Turf Moor to take Burnley’s goals against record up to 21 in the opening ten games. It’s already the fourth time they’ve conceded three or more this season.
Though Dyche admitted that it’s hard for a team the size of Burnley to keep up with ‘the big boys’ in his post-match interview, he also took time out to roll out the classics, as he targeted Willian for criticism over the Brazilian’s dive. Those comments mirrored last week’s complaints against Leroy Sane, and whilst simulation is something that desperately needs stamping out, neither occurence had a bearing on the overall result. After such a difficult start to the season, Dyche must be careful not to fall into the trap of pointing the finger at everyone else but himself – the hallmark of the Downtrodden British Manager.
The Bottom Five – While Burnley have suffered a difficult start to the season, it looks like they’ll be avoiding the mini-league that is slowly developing in the bottom five. Cardiff and Huddersfield were tipped by most to struggle this season, but the presence of Southampton, Newcastle and Fulham in the relegation pack hardly comes as a surprise. This weekend’s results provided further reasons to be fearful for their respective fanbases.
At St Mary’s, a game destined to be last on Match of The Day provided no goals and fewer highlights, as Rafa Benitez’s toothless Magpies made the long journey south to frustrate Mark Hughes’ Southampton. With Newcastle yet to win a game all season, and Saints’ having failed to win at home since last November, a draw was always on the cards, and after ninety action-free minutes, both sides were probably happy to leave with a point and forget the whole tawdry affair.
For the other three, heavy defeats at the hands of Watford, Bournemouth and Liverpool further plunged their seasons into despair. Cardiff will have travelled to Anfield in high spirits following their victory over Fulham last season and, despite being soundly beaten, may have emerged with the most credit thanks to their enterprising display at the league leaders. Huddersfield battled well at Watford, but defensive naivity put paid to their efforts to pick up a fourth point of the season, while Fulham were simply dreadful.
This season, more than any other, looks like becoming a race to the bottom as all five teams already embroiled in a relegation dogfight look to outdo each other in the incompetence stakes. Newcastle, in particular, look like a team sleepwalking to the drop, with a team lacking creativity and firepower and struggling for a plan B. For the Toon Army, and their fellow drop-zone candidates, it looks like a harsh winter ahead.