By Neil Leverett
- Ten-man Manchester City suffer latest Premier League defeat of the season in 2-0 loss to Spurs in North London
- Liverpool romp to latest victory, as Sheffield United edge Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park
- West Ham United surrender two-goal lead, as AFC Bournemouth register second home win on the bounce
PREMIER LEAGUE, UK – As the top flight approaches its’ inaugural winter break over the coming two weekends, what did we learn from Premier League Gameweek 25?
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Worrying form dip continues for Sterling
As Liverpool romp further off into the distance as they close in on their first Premier League crown, the further foibles of the soon-to-be dethroned champions Manchester City again came to the fore in Gameweek 25.
Suffering their latest top flight defeat of the season away to Spurs, Pep Guardiola‘s ten-man Cityzens were left further trailing in the Reds’ dust. With the things-to-do piling up in the City boss’s in-tray, the rather alarming dip in form of Raheem Sterling has come under the spotlight.
Perhaps fortunate to avoid dismissal at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on two separate counts – in particular his late challenge on compatriot and Three Lions teammate Dele Alli – the England live-wire’s early-season rampage has dissipated, with the forward having failed to add a single goal or assist since his Gameweek 19 brace in defeat away to Wolves.
For a player who we tipped for a shout as Golden Boot contender in the early weeks – after netting five times in the opening three games – Sterling is set to miss the visit of West Ham this weekend through injury. The winter break then, comes at the perfect time for the 25-year-old to rediscover his touch, as Real Madrid come knocking this month in the UEFA Champions League. But his form for the moment will be of concern if not to Guardiola, then his national steward in Gareth Southgate.
PL hitmen suffer rare flop
Gameweek 25’s goal tally may not have been anything significant by any stretch, however the manner in which the numbers came out were, after the Premier League’s top out-and-out strikers suffered a rare and collective flop.
Conveniently matching the Gameweek’s number of a total of 25, but there was anything but the conventional performances of the league’s marksmen. Jamie Vardy, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyeng, Sergio Aguero, Tammy Abraham and Danny Ings are all competing for the Golden Boot come May, but not one of the vying quintet found the target. Nor did the likes of Alexandre Lacazette, Raul Jimenez, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Troy Deeney, Roberto Firmino or Chris Wood.
Instead, quite the ratio of goals came from defence where no less than seven arrived in the form of braces from both Yerry Mina and Antonio Rudiger for Everton and Chelsea respectively, with Ben Chilwell, Issa Diop – scoring for his second consecutive game – and Nathan Ake chipped in elsewhere.
Remarkably, over 25% of Gameweek 25’s allotted sum came at the back and whilst centre-back scorers are becoming more of a commonality particularly this term with Virgil van Dijk‘s exploits as a reference point, however this weekend gave the oft-unsung back lines a moment in the limelight.
Blades genuine European contenders?
Sheffield United have been quite the surprise package this season. A side many tipped for a short-lived stay in the top flight continue to confound their doubters and as Chris Wilder‘s side again showed their steel against Crystal Palace, the Blades are now considered a genuine possibility to finish in the European spots.
Perched in sixth spot in the standings a point above Manchester United, the Yorkshire outfit have shown their mettle both home and away this season, and courtesy of Vicente Guaita‘s eccentrics in conceding the only goal at Selhurst Park, Wilder’s men again took the full spoils back North for the fourth time this term.
On the face of it nothing more than a hard-working side, the Blades however are equally adept on the break with their set-up as wing-backs Enda Stevens – coupled with forays of Jack O’ Connell – and George Baldock push forward, whilst the midfield squeeze their opponents.
Whilst lacking a goalscorer in attack, Sheffield United’s platform has been built on grit but there is not to say the Blades aren’t a fascinating watch – indeed Bramall Lane remains one of the most iconic grounds in the Premier League’s annuls.
The priority ahead of the campaign would have been to merely retain their top flight status but having gone a long way in doing so, could the Blades defy all and grab a place in the Europa League for next season?
Bergwijn looks shrewd investment
Tottenham’s place in the top six is beginning to look a little more assured after their win against City in Gameweek 25, and after a number of new faces made their bow this weekend, Steven Bergwijn arguably had the greatest impact.
Making the switch from PSV Eindhoven in Janaury, the Dutch international has thus far not caught the eye of Europe’s top clubs, but with Spurs set to be without Harry Kane for the majority of the remainder of the season, Jose Mourinho‘s move for him looks like it could pay off.
Scoring a relatively paltry 29 times in 112 appearances in Eredivisie, the 22-year-old continus the Lilywhites’ long lineage of Dutch players having represented the North Londonders. Rafael van der Vaart remains one of the bargains of recent memory after his £7m cut-price deadline day signing from Real Madrid in 2010, whilst Oranje legend Edgar Davids once declared it was his ‘dream’ to play for Spurs in a two -year stint.
Striker Vincent Janssen would obviously be an exception to the rule and Bergwijn has much to do to become a cult figure in the Premier League. However, after his clinical and powerful finish in a game where he was largely peripheral, the early early signs are encouraging for Spurs.
To good to go down?
It’s a line we’ve all heard before in relation to West Ham United, but after again dropping Premier League points in Gameweek 25, the realisation that the Hammers could indeed suffer another ignominious drop down to the Championship has now come into full view.
That famous phrase uttered during the 2002/03 league campaign, is again ringing in the ears of Irons fans across the land, as a team then comprising David James, Michael Carrick, Paolo di Canio, Joe Cole and Jermain Defoe suffered shock relegation 17 years ago.
David Moyes’ current side may perhaps not boast the household names of that ilk, but the Irons have enough talent in their ranks to be well away from the danger zone – on paper at least. However, after throwing away a two-goal lead at the London Stadium to a potential relegation rival in Brighton, West Ham’s very top flight existence is now under real threat.
Robert Snodgrass‘ rare brace was not enough for the hosts to take the spoils, and though the position of being just a point from safety is far from irretrievable, their upcoming fixture list suggests otherwise.
With the daunting prospect of the champions Manchester City next up, followed by the soon-to-be new kings of the Premier League in Liverpool, Southampton, Arsenal, Wolves, Spurs and Chelsea then cascade toward them. Points could be at an absolute premium until April.
If, the Irons can somehow scrape a number of points – coupled with their basement rivals around them failing to break away – the potential for a explosive relegation showdown could occur, with West Ham playing Norwich City and Watford in the final weeks of the campaign, before they face Aston Villa at home on the final day of the season in what could be winner-take-all – or indeed winner-stays-up.
That is some way off alas for the East Londoners, and with considerations of their new stadium to take into account as a possible Championship venue, owners David Sullivan and David Gold will be shifting rather nervously.
A huge amount has been pinned on new recruit Jarrod Bowen after his deadline day move, but after Jordan Hugill flopped spectacularly as the Iron’s other recent addition from the second tier, can he and West Ham somehow swim clear of decidedly murky waters?
Premier League Gameweek 26 takes place over the next two weekends, beginning on Saturday as Everton host Crystal Palace, kick-off 12:30 UK time.
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