In my neck of the woods, the climate can get pretty erratic this time of year. One day we’re enjoying weather that’s balmy enough to permit T-shirts, and the next we’re piling on layers to cope with near-freezing temps. The warm days even fooled our daffodils into sprouting prematurely, but now I’m afraid they’ll get frostbitten!
The winds can blow hot and cold in the English Premier League too. Let’s check the weather to see who’s basking in the sunshine and who’s shivering in the cold.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool are simply stunning. They are unbeaten over their last 42 EPL matches and have taken 100 of the last 102 points available. They haven’t lost a league game in 13 months. Last weekend’s triumph over Southampton tied Manchester City’s Premier League record of twenty consecutive home wins, and they haven’t lost a match at Anfield in any competition since September of 2018. I said September of 2018, people!
Their record of 24-1-0 in this campaign is the best start to a season in the history of any of Europe’s elite leagues, and the 22-point lead they enjoy over the second-place Citizens is the largest gap in the history of England’s top tier — not just Premier League era — but a century+ of top flight football (goal.com).
Last year they became the first English side to win the international treble (Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, and FIFA Club World Cup), and 2020 will surely see them setting even more records on their way to winning the Premier League and contesting the FA Cup (currently in Fifth Round) and Champions League (currently in Round of 16).
Liverpool’s quality runs so deep that instead of his senior squad, Klopp sent his youngsters and their U-23 coach to dispatch ‘Pool’s Fourth Round FA Cup opponents on Tuesday. The boss wanted his first-team players to enjoy their winter break by jetting off to destinations around the globe.
The Reds are champions of Europe and arguably the best football team on the planet. Given the manifest quality of their youth system, their intelligent approach to scouting and transfers, and a contract renewal for Klopp that will keep the German genius at Liverpool until 2024, the club looks poised to be a dominant force in world football for years to come.
When it comes to hot, the Reds are thermonuclear.
Appointed manager of Everton on December 21, Ancelotti watched from the stands as his new club played Arsenal to a goalless draw that day. He managed the team from the technical area for the first time five days later, beating Burnley 1-0 on Boxing Day. That was eight games ago, and since then Everton have lost only once. In 15th place on 19 points after that Arsenal match, they now sit in 7th on 36.
Everton made no additions to their first-team squad over the January window. That means that using the very same players Marco Silva had, Ancelotti has collected 17 of 24 points available during his 8 games in charge, while Silva managed only one victory during his last eleven league games. That’s quite the new-manager bounce.
The road ahead is about to get rougher: Everton face Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, and Liverpool over their next four. But already one of the most decorated and respected managers in world football, Ancelotti has so far only added to his legacy in his brief time at Goodison Park.
(Also hot: Dominic Calvert-Lewin. No Toffee has benefited more from his new manager than DCL, who has scored six goals over Ancelotti’s eight games, and three over his last four.)
Manchester City’s Argentinian hitman has scored seven goals over his last five appearances. Those performances generated 47 points in FPL and 93 points in Fantrax. Those numbers are crazy even for one of the EPL’s most legendary strikers.
Sunday’s postponement of the MCI/WHU match came as a blow to fantasy managers hoping to milk Kun’s sizzling form, and he’ll come under increasing threat of rotation now that hope is all but lost for City to retain the league crown. But at almost 32 years of age, Aguero continues to show us that he’s still the best goal-scorer in the Prem.
Video Assistant Referee
The Tottenham/Manchester City match two weekends ago pretty much summed up the abject failure of the EPL to smoothly integrate VAR. First, VAR was implemented to review a hard challenge on Dele Alli by Raheem Sterling for which referee Mike Dean had initially shown Sterling yellow. No further punishment was awarded after review despite the fact that replays showed an offense worthy of dismissal.
Later, Dean halted play for VAR review nearly two minutes after Serge Aurier made contact with Sergio Aguero in the penalty box. VAR adjudged Aurier to have committed a foul, so Dean pulled back his initial decision to wave play on and awarded a spot kick to City. Ilkay Gundogan’s attempt was saved by Hugo Lloris, but Raheem Sterling went down after Lloris challenged him for the rebound. That incident also came under review, but this time no foul was given.
That enraged the City players, who clamored for another penalty. But it also angered the Tottenham players, who argued that Sterling should have been given a second yellow for diving if VAR deemed that Lloris had committed no foul. For a good belly laugh, check out Jose Mourinho’s emotional transformation as he goes from glee over Lloris’s save to outrage over the non-call on Sterling:
But that bizarre three-minute sequence was only the most recent in a long series of controversial VAR incidents in this, its inaugural season. For instance, who can forget Pep Guardiola’s hilarious reaction after the second time his appeals for a penalty against Liverpool were ignored without review? The video has no sound, but that last “Twice!” that Pep shouts towards the heavens is still pure gold:
As funny as these clips are, the damage that VAR has done to the English game is no joke. After the most recent drama, Ian Darke tweeted “Almost a theatre of the absurd at Spurs” (goal.com). Former EPL forward Stan Collymore was even more blunt: “A two-minute 50 second illustration of how to make a nation’s top division a laughing stock” (goal.com).
Between the non-calls, the wrong calls, and the right-but-ridiculous calls (“one of his knee hairs was offside!”), almost two-thirds of fans surveyed by YouGov believe that VAR has made the game less enjoyable. For one thing, many goals are now anti-climactic, because everyone must hold breath for three minutes whenever the ball ripples the onion bag. No more explosive release means... no more catharsis, and that just sucks the air out of the ball (or just sucks, period)
EPL CEO Richard Masters acknowledges that the system has not been perfect and promises to implement improvements next season (bbc.com). But in the interim we are left to wonder how the EPL managed to bungle a tool that worked so well in the last FIFA World Cup.
What is going on at the King Power Stadium? The Foxes started off the season on a tear, losing just two matches over their first seventeen and keeping clean sheets in almost half of them. But they’ve now suffered four defeats in their last eight, holding their opponents scoreless only once in their last nine.
Not surprisingly, their biggest fantasy assets are cold as ice too. Over his last twelve games James Maddison has mustered only two goals and one assist. He hasn’t had a double-digit Fantrax return in two months, and in FPL he has scored more than two points only once since game week 16.
Even megawatt superstar Jamie Vardy has been more of a black hole than a supernova lately. He hasn’t scored a goal since Boxing Day, which was also the last time he notched a double-digit Fantrax return. And he has posted more than two points in FPL only one time since game week 18.
Fantasy managers have kicked these two guys to the curb in droves, but there is at least one Fox who is trying to melt the ice at Leicester: Harvey Barnes has scored in each of his last three.
Brighton and Crystal Palace
Leicester’s recent record is bad, but compared to the Foxes, Palace and Brighton are on life support. The Eagles have only won 3 of their last 16, dropping 32 of 48 points available. And they’ve kept only three clean sheets and scored just 18 goals over that span.
The Seagulls are in an even deeper funk, picking up just 2 wins and 10 points over their last 13 games. Like Brighton, they’re failing at both ends of the pitch, scoring just 13 goals and keeping one lonely clean sheet over that stretch.
Consequently, we’ve seen these two teams tumble down the table, with Palace now only five points above the relegation zone and Brighton clear by just three. Both clubs are praying for some warm spring sunshine to restore their frosty fields to a lush green.
Other teams in lousy form: Manchester United (4 points so far in 2020), and Arsenal (8 points over the last two months).
Speaking of Arsenal, the summer signing of Pepe was the most expensive in the club’s history. As in, more expensive than Aubameyang, more expensive than Henry, more expensive than Vieira, more expensive than Bergkamp, more expensive than Van Persie. But the Ivorian has repaid the Gunners’ record investment with just three goals and three assists. Hell, he’s not even a regular starter.
Truth be told, Pepe is only the latest example of a pattern of poor decision-making that stretches back over a decade. Mikel Arteta faces a steep challenge in trying to restore the club to its former greatness, and he’ll have to begin by offloading Arsenal’s expensive mistakes in order to refresh a squad that has managed just six wins this season.
And while we’re on the subject of high-priced flops, the world’s most expensive goalkeeper has kept only five clean sheets this season and has the worst save percentage in the Prem. The Spanish newspaper El Mundo reported that Kepa’s woes stem from problems with his girlfriend, but Frank Lampard’s sympathy has apparently run out. The gaffer dropped Kepa to the bench for Chelsea’s most recent game, and it’s rumored that Lampard is already monitoring a shortlist of candidates to replace the Spaniard, who joined the Blues only a year and a half ago. I guess Chelsea discovered that Kepa isn’t a... keeper? (See what I did there?)
Thinking about dropping one of your fantasy stars who has gone cold? Got your eye on a player who is heating up? Think Liverpool can keep pouring on the hydrogen? Can Brighton and Palace thaw the freeze? Please give us your forecast in the Comments below.