Premier League Week 9 – An Analysis

Howard Kendall, 1946 – 2015

On Friday morning Everton Football Club confirmed the news that Howard Kendall, their former player and manager, had passed away. It was a tragic announcement that caused all of football to pause for a moment’s reflection. Kendall was the most successful manager Everton have ever had at the helm of the club and was renowned for his generosity of spirit as well as his sense of humour.

As well as being the manager who turned around Everton’s fortunes at a time when their neighbours, Liverpool, were dominating English and European football, Kendall had also been a hugely influential player for the club. He was one third of the so called ‘Holy Trinity’; a trio of players made up of Kendall, Alan Ball and Colin Harvey. The trio had a deadly chemistry and most Evertonians old enough to remember believe that they were at their best in the 1968 – 1969 season, though they didn’t help the Toffees win the league until 1970.

ATGImages / Shutterstock.com

ATGImages / Shutterstock.com

His managerial reign at Goodison Park didn’t get off to the finest of starts, however, with no immediate signs of what was to come in the future. After a run of just 6 wins in 21 league games Kendall offered his resignation. Thankfully for Everton the board refused it and the lad from County Durham went on to build a team that would rival even Liverpool for the plaudits towards the end of the eighties.

Kendall despised the type of long ball football that was becoming more and more common in the English game and decided instead to encourage a more fluid passing game. He amassed a dazzling football team, full of talent from lesser known clubs. Peter Reid, Neville Southall and Trevor Steven all came from more humble beginnings but slotted in nicely to a team that also had more well known stars such as Adrian Heath amongst its number.

Andy Gray, better known nowadays as a TV pundit who isn’t shy of making inappropriate comments, spearheaded Everton’s attack from Kendall’s third season onwards. After Gray came another TV pundit in the prolific Gary Lineker. The strikers helped the Blues to two titles in three seasons, though the aftermath of the Heysel Stadium disaster meant that Kendall’s team was never able to test its mettle in Europe’s premier competition.

Kendall left Everton in 1987 to manage Atletico Bilbao in Spain, eventually returning to these shores in 1989 as the manager of Manchester City. In 1990 Bobby Robson was removed from his position as England manager and Kendall was one of the first names on the Football Association’s shortlist of replacements. He reportedly refused to even be interviewed as he didn’t like the ‘loneliness’ of the job. Instead he returned to his spiritual home, Goodison Park.

One of football’s worst kept secrets was the Kendall liked to have a drink and more than one reporter has told stories about interviews starting in Everton’s training ground and ending in the pub. There’s also the tale of the manager’s decision to initiate a Tuesday afternoon bonding session that revolved around having a few drinks in Liverpool’s Chinatown. The session went very well indeed and Everton went from losing to winning quite a few games in a row. When they eventually lost a couple on the bounce Kendall reportedly gathered his team together and said, “Right, lads, this Tuesday routine is clearly not working any more. How do you feel about Wednesdays?”

Kendall took the Blues from a relegation dogfight into the relative comfort of mid-table during his second spell in charge, though he couldn’t push them on any further and so resigned in December of 1993. He went on to have spells at Xanthi, a Greek club, Notts County and Sheffield United before he returned to Everton for one final time. After that he returned to Greece to manage Ethnikos Piraeus, his final job in football management.

At a time when the Red half of Merseyside had been dominant for as long as anyone could remember, Kendall arrived at Goodison Park and changed the landscape of English football. Having won a title with Everton as a player he went on to repeat the feat twice as manager, as well as winning the FA Cup, European Cup Winner’s Cup and three FA Charity Shields. When Liverpool and Everton played each other in the FA Cup final in 1986 the fans sang “Merseyside, Merseyside, Merseyside” instead in the national anthem. Part rebellion against the state, of course, but also part desire to show the country that Liverpool was, at that moment, the most important footballing city in the country. Howard Kendall was a huge part of why that happened and will forever be remembered fondly by both sides of the city.

Howard Kendall, 1946 – 2015. RIP.

Manchester United Could Win The League

It is a phrase that is often touted about football, that it is the most important of the least important things in life. So it is that we move away from memorialising Howard Kendall and briefly discuss some of the football issues that arose over the weekend. We start, perhaps fittingly, at Goodison Park where Everton capitulated against Manchester United in remarkable fashion.

Remarkable not just because of the 3-0 scoreline and also not just because Manchester United were themselves destroyed by Arsenal by the same scoreline before the international break, but also because Everton have hit a real run of form recently that has seen them shoot up the table.

The reality is that, whatever the Red Devils’ fans might claim, this is a poor Manchester United team with a leader who seems to be living off past glories rather than creating any of his own. Wayne Rooney remains one of the most hyped players in the Premier League, with his presence in the United squad somehow seen as evidence that the one time irrepressible winners of the top flight trophy remain a force to be reckoned with. Yet here he scored his first goal away from Old Trafford in eleven months, suggesting that he’s not quite the player he used to be.

Morgan Schneiderlin, also a goalscorer at Goodison, might have the legs to run the middle of the park for United but he’s not normally a renowned goalscorer, whilst Bastien Schweinsteiger is far from the player he was in his heyday. Lots has been made of Anthony Martial’s start to his Premier League career, yet perhaps too much is being placed on his shoulders in a league where goals are hardly at a premium if teams play well.

Laszlo Szirtesi / shutterstock.com

Laszlo Szirtesi / shutterstock.com

All of that said, however, there is a genuine possibility that United could be the main team to offer any real resistance to Manchester City’s seeming parade to the Premier League title. The ‘noisy neighbours’ were impressive against Bournemouth, winning 5-1, but they remain just two points ahead of their city rivals heading in to the Manchester derby. The Sky Blue half of the city has a goal difference of 16 compared to the red half’s 7, clearly indicating the manner in which Luis Van Gaal’s team is hoping to build its success – stay tight at the back and don’t worry too much about going forward.

The United manager had a beaming smile on his face when he spoke to the press after the match, saying, “I am a very happy coach and am also very proud. It’s a fantastic performance I think and after the defeat against Arsenal we needed that. It’s very important to have won today”. It’s certainly true that United needed a big win as they have looked decidedly mediocre in their performances so far this season. Although they dispatched Liverpool easily enough at Old Trafford last month they did so without creating a chance from open play until Martial’s winner at the death.

Their performance at Goodison Park was much improved, though, and it has to be said that Rooney was looking reasonably sharp even before he scored his goal. He was pacey, intelligent in his movement and netted quite comfortably at the ground he used to call home; a ground he has struggled to reproduce his best form in in seasons gone by.

The victory was United’s sixth of the season after nine games and keeps them hot on the heels of their city neighbours. They will head into the Manchester derby quietly confident of being able to pick up a win in what is sure to be an exciting contest. Win it and, despite the state of the team and the fact that even most United fans aren’t convinced that Louis Van Gaal is the best manager for them in the long run, teams will have to sit up and admit that the presumed demise of the former champion’s may have been exaggerated.

How High Could West Ham Finish?

The first quarter of the season always throws up some slightly false suggestions of where teams are likely to finish at the end of the year. Leicester City, for example, have had a brilliant start to the campaign but are surely unlikely to be able to keep it up for the duration of the season. Equally Chelsea have had such a torrid time of it that the board has had to announce its support for Jose Mourinho – one of the best managers in the game today.

Things will level out as the season goes on and teams begin to come to turns with managerial changes and new players are able to settle in to their roles. Teams that faced Sunderland in the first eight games, for example, may have benefitted from the poor defending and general feeling of inevitability that surrounded Dick Advocaat’s management of the club. Now teams will need to take on the more defensive minded set up that Sam Allardyce favours, meaning it will be far trickier for them to win.

Equally Liverpool looked lost and floundering under the continued stewardship of Brendan Rodgers, whilst one game in to the Jurgen Klopp reign and they already seem to have a purpose and a clear direction, and that’s with most of their best attacking players out injured. Will Chelsea, Southampton or even Manchester City be looking forward to playing the Reds in the coming weeks now they’re under the stewardship of the German?

And so we come to the question of West Ham United. Big Sam had them playing the type of football that wasn’t fun to watch and that promised little more than survival in the top flight last season, prompting the club’s owners to say ‘thanks but no thanks’ to the former Bolton gaffer. In came Slaven Bilic and the fortunes of the Hammers have been turned on their head. Yes they endured a rough ride of it in the Europa League, but their dismissal from that competition means they’ve got less games to play and more time to focus on the Premier League instead.

Lario Tus / shutterstock.com

Lario Tus / shutterstock.com

A campaign that began with a 2-0 win away to Arsenal and has also included a 3-0 win over Liverpool and a 2-1 victory over Manchester City at The Etihad is now looking to take shape in a decidedly positive manner. They sit 4th in the league, one point clear of Leicester City and two away from Crystal Palace, the team that they beat in such a decisive manner this weekend.

Admittedly Crystal Palace spent the second half with ten men after Dwight Gayle’s dismissal for two needlessly reckless yellow cards, but even so they didn’t look like they would be able to keep the Hammers’ advancing hordes away from their goal for too long. The win means they have now won five, lost two and drawn two of their opening nine games.

It is often thought that teams that normally hang around the relegation zone will struggle to maintain any early season form as the campaign progresses. Yet West Ham’s wins have come against top teams in the league and, in the case of Liverpool, at grounds where they previously hadn’t won since The Beatles were at the top of the charts. It is also normally the case that one of the biggest problems that teams have is that their squads are too small to compete with the bigger juggernauts who dominate the top few places of the table.

That accusation can’t be levelled at West Ham, however, as they spent well during the summer in order to fill their squad with numerous top quality players. Dmitri Payet, for example, will surely be a player that the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea may consider bidding on in the summer if not before. Lanzini has also been an impressive addition to a team that isn’t lacking in quality in the final third. Andy Carroll also showed just what an addition he can be to the starting line up if he’s able to remain fit for longer than half an hour or so.

Realistically you’d expect the long season to combine with the lack of experience both manager and players have of fighting it out at the top of the table to begin to take its toll before too long. Yet as numerous teams have shown in the past, from Everton in 2005 to Newcastle in 2012, it is possible to break into the cabal that is normally reserved for the better funded teams from time to time. This Premier League in particular seems more than liable to being anything other than what you might define as realistic.

Sunderland Could Yet Escape The Drop

In the world of improbable outcomes Manchester United winning the league should be high on the list, all things considered. The notion of Sunderland escaping relegation is, even after just nine games, the sort of thing those that love cliches would declare to be “the stuff of Hollywood movies”.

The Black Cats have yet to register a win in the Premier League, losing six and drawing just three games. They sit resolutely on the bottom of the league table, having conceded 19 goals and scored a measly 8. Points wise they are 5 behind Bournemouth in 17th and 6 off Norwich in 16th, meaning they’re already floating adrift from the teams they’ll need to catch if they are to escape the drop.

That Bournemouth and Norwich are two of the teams that have already taken 3 points each off the North East team means there is less opportunity for them to catch them as there is now just one match left versus both of them when Sunderland can directly take points off them. In short, they’re in trouble.

It should also be noted that the Black Cats have narrowly avoided relegation on each of the last 3 seasons, meaning they’re running out of their nine lives rather rapidly. In fact you have to go back to the 2010 – 2011 season to find an occasion when they’ve been reasonably comfortable heading in to the final months, finishing as they did in 10th spot.

Maxisport / Shutterstock.com

Maxisport / Shutterstock.com

Now that Sam Allardyce has come in, though, could that be about to change? Big Sam has a career win percentage roughly equivalent to Roy Hodgson. His best spell came at Bolton Wanderers where he won 35.4% of his matches, followed by 34.21% of his games at Blackburn Rovers. At Sunderland’s rivals Newcastle he won 33.33% of his matches, whilst his lowest tally came at West Ham where he won just 30.7% of his games in charge.

The stats suggest he’s likely to win 1 in 3 of his remaining 29 matches, which would be roughly 10 matches or 30 points. It would mean that Sunderland finish the season on around 33 points and immediately begs the question: would that be enough?

Here are the teams that have escaped relegation over the past 5 seasons – i.e. finished in 17th place – and the points they finished on, as well as the team that got relegated in 18th place and their points:

Season Team Points Relegated Team & Points
2014 – 2015 Aston Villa 38 Hull City – 35 Points
2013 – 2014 West Bromwich Albion 36 Norwich City – 33 Points
2012 – 2013 Sunderland 39 Wigan Athletic – 36 Points
2011 – 2012 Queens Park Rangers 37 Bolton Wanderers – 36 Points
2010 – 2011 Wolverhampton Wanderers 40 Birmingham City – 39 Points

Obviously it’s not an exact science and if Big Sam is able to pull out his all time highest win percentage and hit the 35% mark then that would mean he would win 10.15 of his remaining games. Let’s call that 11 to be generous and put Sunderland on 36 points at the end of the season and you can see the size of the task that’s ahead of the team and their new manager. Only one team has survived the drop with just 36 points at the end of the season – Aston Villa last year.

The good thing for Sunderland fans is that Allardyce has form in the Premier League. He’s managed five clubs in the top flight over fourteen seasons and has established six top half finished during that time. His average finish is tenth and his average points total is 49. The other big bit of news for Black Cat fans is that he’s never managed a team to relegation.

Sunderland, though, have also managed to avoid the drop for eight seasons in a row, so could this be the time that all changes for both the team and their new boss? Cats reportedly have nine lives and Sunderland have used up eight of them. One more year of avoiding the chop, or the end of the line for the Premier League’s great survivors? Only time will tell, but the stats don’t look good however you spin them.