POSITION UPDATE: We end the matchweek in 10th following Burnley’s 2-1 loss to Arsenal. Jonathan Moss gave two penalties in added time (7 minutes) to both teams – which they converted. On top of that, a red card was given to Granit Xhaka. Mike Dean has got some competition!
Aitor Karanka’s side have struggled to score of late. Prior to this match, Middlesbrough failed to score in five of their last seven Premier League matches. It doesn’t get much better for them at home: the Riverside has seen the least number of goals of any PL venue. No doubt the Boro fans were exasperated at half-time, as they saw their team trailing once more. If the comedy duo Vic and Bob were in attendance at the match with the latter frustrated, they probably weren’t doing one of their famous bits. As a devoted comedian, Mortimer must have thought to himself he should attend more matches to make his sketches look more natural. Cheaper than acting classes this!
Tell you what, the Boro manager could have asked for a frying pan from the Yorkshire comedians at the end of the match. They had the majority of possession, but failed to create any clear-cut chances when they were behind for the second time. They delivered 27 cross into the box, making use of only one. If they chose to spread the ball a bit more or try something less predictable, such as a move without Adama Traoré dribbling, then they could have got a second equaliser.
The second-most number of dribbles made by a player was two. Traoré topped the lot with 11! I don’t think I’ve seen that many in a match against us this season. His former manager Tim Sherwood compared him to both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, saying he had “a bit” of both. However, some have suggested that he doesn’t have much of a footballing brain, and can sometimes do too many things on his own. Then again, he is only 20! I’m sure he will improve over time. The only other Boro player I can praise is Calum Chambers. Everyone else didn’t play particularly well. Turns out Vic and Bob aren’t the only ones in Middlesbrough who can do some serious damage with hammers!
It has taken us 22 matches to win a match in which we have had to regain the lead. When the Smoggies scored the equaliser, I was worried. With a lack of resilience this season, it was difficult to think of anything better than a draw. Do you remember how many times we lost the lead early on in matches last season, and then had to go for an almighty scramble to get a draw at the very least. One of the more notable matches was a 3-2 win over Everton, having been 2-0 down. The goal that won it came from the
delightful French magician snake that is Dimitri Payet. Hiss! Once the snake is back in his natural French habitat, his stings won’t be as venomous.
Last week, I spoke about how our attacking players stepped up. I hate to repeat myself in my match reviews, but I have to give credit when credit is due. There were rumours of Feghouli moving to Roma. Thankfully, the Algerian has decided to buckle down and work for his place in the team. With his recent performances, he certainly deserves it.
There is no doubt Slav has a good relationship with his players, be they fringe or starting XI. Personally, when I read about what Slav was like, prior to his arrival at the club, I was certain that he was a man of morals. I picked out a snippet in which he identified as a socialist. In fact, he went as far to say he created a “socialist team”. Now, I have the same view as Friedrich Hayek on that matter, but I interpreted his comment as saying that he didn’t want players who played for themselves. The team may be made up of individuals, but they need to play as a team.
As a bit of a Lanzini fanboy myself, I used to think that he was extremely underrated. He was in Payet’s shadow. Kevin Nolan hit the nail on the head (as ever) when he said that Manuel was an “unsung gem” back in March. I have always felt the same way. When Payet was injured for a few months in that match against Everton, I felt that there was far too much pressure on Lanzini at the time. Sure, he is good, but he is nowhere near as experienced as Dimitri! He did well last season, yet didn’t receive much admiration. Now that Payet is out of the side, the Argentine can finally receive the attention he deserves.
In the last match, Antonio got a hat-trick of assists. In this one, Lanzini gets a brace of assists. Manu assisted two goals for the first time in a Premier League game, and created the most chances of any player on the pitch. Read that last sentence back substituting Payet for Lanzini, and you’ll find that it sounds like something the Frenchman would have done early on last season. That is the point. It is as if Lanzini has finally started his West Ham career. We can finally see him for who he is rather than just Payet’s creative teammate.
Andy Carroll is the other player to receive plaudits. He has scored four goals in his last five matches. His presence in defence encapsulates the determination of the team. Feghouli did well to track back as well, so glory was really the last thing on their minds. We have won 75% of our PL games without Dimitri Payet this season (3/4), and only 28% with him (5/18).
Our win against Boro came as no surprise to us – only to the bookies. Though, I am going to be harsh on us. I feel that we should have scored a few more. I have no idea how Middlesbrough have conceded so few goals this season, but they had only won once in their last seven matches. It was the same against Swansea. We had to score plenty of goals, as it wasn’t difficult against a team conceding left, right, and centre at that time. Antonio had a great chance in the first half, and Lanzini in the second. It is clear that we need another striker option. Scott Hogan is still on the cards. Also, if we could sell Payet and get either Sigurdsson or break the bank for Croat Ivan Perisic, that would be swell.
Bilic admitted in his post-match interview that Ogbonna was carrying an injury for about a fortnight. The manager took the risk and it didn’t end well. First of all, this explains why Ogbonna had not been at the races lately, and secondly, that Fonte was likely signed as a replacement for the Italian beforehand. It is a real shame to see such a talented player get injured for the remainder of the season. He will have knee surgery as part of his long-term recovery plan. I hope that he gets well soon.
We are currently on a rich vein of form, though we can’t afford to go a losing streak. Southampton are on one, having lost their last four games in a row (prior to their match against Leicester). They were 7th in the table, and are now 13th (at the time of writing). The Premier League can be very unpredictable at times like these. Sometimes, it is easy as predicting Joey Barton getting a misconduct charge from the FA or a David Gold gaffe. Our next three matches are against Man City, Southampton, and West Brom. We have done well against mediocre teams over the past two months, but now we need to ensure our status in the top half by winning against tougher opposition.