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Sunderland Sack Jack Ross…

Somewhat surprisingly, yesterday Sunderland Boss Jack Ross had his contract terminated by the club.

Surprising because the season is still early and despite a poor start to the season, the black cats had managed to climb up the table, currently sitting in a playoff position.

They have 19 points from their 11 games and a plus, albeit small goal difference, of 2. They have lost just 2 matches… Hardly relegation form you’ll agree.

The club decided to terminate Ross’ contract with immediate effect and want to move forward in a different direction. Ross did extrememly well to stabalise a club, which was in free fall and had suffered back to back relegations, prior to his arrival.

In his first season, having rebuilt well, he guided the club to a checkatrade trophy final, where they were narrowly beaten by Portsmouth on penalties and the League 1 play off final where again they lost narrowly to Charlton 2-1.

Ross is by no means a bad manager, he forged his name north of the border and leaves Sunderland with his held high. He has a good win percentage of 50% and there are plenty of managers with a far worse win ratio still in employment, and whose clubs are far worse off than Sunderland.

It remains to be seen, who will take up the new post.

What’s Up With City?

Manchester City hit another bump in the road on Sunday as they slipped to a second defeat of the season against Wolverhampton Wanderers. Two late Adama Traore goals gave Wolves all three points at the Etihad.

In the skewed reality of this latest iteration of the Premier League, where Liverpool and City are essentially both gunning for record breaking points tallies, every dropped point by the two runaway leaders is infinitely more drastic. 

It means that Liverpool’s eight point lead early in the season feels like a cavernous gap – the Merseyside tectonic plate shifting away from the East Manchester one. So what exactly is going wrong for City?

Their latest defeat against Wolves was an example of something that has been heralded as a weakness throughout Pep Guardiola’s managerial career: counter-attacks. 

It’s common to see just City’s centre-backs not joining the attack, leaving them exposed to teams adept at transitioning quickly up the pitch on the counter.

And Wolves are a side that specialise in hitting the opposition in such a way, as shown by their excellent record against the ‘big six’ since their promotion back to the Premier League. 

Nuno Espirito Santo had his Wanderers side play a wonderful counter-attacking game on Sunday. Part of this was, of course, through excellent defending. They were able to funnel City wide and force them to go wide and cross the ball – playing straight into the hands (foreheads) of Willy Boly, Connor Coady and 13th minute substitute Ryan Bennett. 

Their defensive organisation was supreme, and further drew in City to leave them more vulnerable at the back for when Wanderers did strike. And when they did, they did so with excellently. 

Raul Jimenez terrified Nicolas Otamendi and Fernandinho with his dribbling ability, and should probably have given Wolves the lead in the first half. But City clung on, and it was Santo’s tactical shift that helped bring about Wolves’ two late strikes. 

In January of last season, Wanderers fell 3-0 against City at the Etihad Stadium after Boly’s first half red card. At half time, Traore was brought on to offer a direct counter-attacking threat with his pace in behind.

Although it didn’t work out then – Wolves were down to 10 men and completely pinned in by City – Santo used this tactic again on Sunday in far more positive circumstances. 

In the 68th minute, Matt Doherty was brought on for Patrick Cutrone. The Irishman took up his usual slot at right wing-back, with Traore moving up front alongside Jimenez. 

The Mexican frontman again terrified Otamendi and Fernandinho with his dribbling on the counter, and this time had Traore haring up the pitch with him to finish.

Counter-attacking isn’t the only way to exploit City. Set pieces are a well known weakness, and generally getting at their centre-backs can cause real trouble. Especially with Otamendi the most experienced available player in that position, with his sudden decisions to forget how to be a footballer. 

Norwich were able to target City’s weaknesses in devastating fashion with their victory at Carrow Road earlier this season. 

The Canaries opened the scoring with a set piece goal, before continuing to cause City problems with their boldness in playing out from the back. 

It was the style that saw Norwich promoted last season as champions, and they showed that if you can break the Citizen’s initial press and go at their centre-backs, City are vulnerable – as proved with Norwich’s second.

Otamendi got himself in a pickle, while at full-back Kyle Walker sat far too deep to play Teemu Pukki onside. For the third goal, Otamendi was caught in possession as he made one of his sudden decisions to forget how to be a footballer. 

Of course, there are some mitigating circumstances. The centre of City’s defence is a key issue, which is somewhat understandable considering the injuries to Aymeric Laporte and John Stones, as well as the departure of the ageing Vincent Kompany. 

There is also some transition in midfield, with Rodri still adapting to his role at the base of midfield in front of the defence. Kevin de Bruyne is also a huge loss in the middle of the park. 

But these weaknesses also seem to be systematic, and it looks like Premier League sides are starting to target them more and more. 

Guardiola has adapted before upon his arrivals in Germany and England. Now, it is looking like he must continue to evolve his City side to tend to their weaknesses, before Liverpool build up an even healthier lead at the top of the table.

Three players who should’ve been included in Gareth Southgate’s England squad

England manager Gareth Southgate announced his latest squad for the upcoming European Championship qualifiers away to the Czech Republic and Bulgaria. The main talking points will be the omission of Tottenham’s Dele Alli and United’s Jesse Lingard as well as the continued omission of right back Kyle Walker. But which players can count themselves unlucky to not be involved?

James Tarkowski- The Burnley centre back may be another victim of not playing for a “trendy” club as the in form defender has been overlooked once again by Southgate. Tarkowski has been a large factor in why Burnley boast one of the better defensive records in the division and his own personal stats make for good reading, as in terms of aerial duel success rate he sits third in the league with 76.9%, and interceptions per 90 minutes he sits second with 8.85. Despite competition for places at the heart of England’s defence, the 26 year old is playing the best football of his career right now and is unfortunate to miss out.

 

Aaron Cresswell- The left back looks to have finally regained his starting spot in the Hammers back four and looks back to his best in the early stages of this season. A brilliant display against United was capped off by a spectacular free-kick goal to double his sides lead, and this was followed up with another goal in West Ham’s 2-2 draw with Bournemouth a week later. Meaning after only three Premier League appearances so far he has already matched his best ever goals tally at West Ham. Add to this the poor form of fellow left back Danny Rose, who has endured a tough start to the season, Cresswell can count himself unlucky to not be adding to his three caps.

 

Todd Cantwell- The Norwich winger has been a complete surprise package this season, linking up brilliantly with striker Teemu Pukki and chipping in with important goals and assists from the left flank. The 21 year old has adapted to Premier League life seamlessly, and has already made more goal contributions (4) in seven games this term than he managed in the whole of last season (3). And when you consider he has notched goals against the likes of Chelsea and the champions Manchester City, this further supports his case. Had he been playing for a top six club, Cantwell would have more than likely been in the 25 man squad, but if he continues this fine form Southgate cannot ignore him for much longer.

Has Bernardo Silva’s critism been unfair?

Bernardo Silva in recent weeks has faced criticism for a twitter post, in which he compared long standing team mate Benjamin Mendy to a child in a French children’s cartoon. The post was quickly deleted but did not escape the mainstream media’s attention, and instantly labelled him as racist.

All bodies involved disregarded any prior knowledge that the two have been teammates for the past four years at Monaco. Manchester City and Pep Gaurdiola saying the two ‘are like brothers,’ and regularly exchanged jokes about one another.

KickItOut condemned the tweet and exclaimed that they were ‘extremely disappointed’ with Bernardo’s behaviour, furthermore the FA opened an investigation into the tweet. In response, Silva and Mendy both wrote open letters to The FA, with Bernardo apologising if he caused offence, and Mendy saying no offence was taken from Benrardo’s tweet and that it was a ‘friendly joke’.

The lack of context shown with Bernardo’s case is definitely worrying. The two are very close friends and have been for a number of years, constantly seen to be having banter on their respective social media accounts, and on the Netflix All of Nothing series. Without context this case, which is how a number of media outlets reported, it could possibly be seen as offensive. However, John Barnes, former Liverpool and England striker, was also to Bernardo’s defence with the accusations of racism as “ridiculous,” and called for context while also saying that KickItOut and The FA having bigger racial problems that they should be focusing on.

Do you think Bernardo should be punished by The FA? Or should they focus on more serious problem involving racism?

Manchester United vs Arsenal

About 15 years ago, Manchester United versus Arsenal was the hottest fixture in the Premier League calendar. As the cliche goes, it’s the game you would be looking for as soon as the fixture list came out.

But nowadays, as much as the Sky Sports marketing team are trying to pretend otherwise, it just doesn’t have the same gravity.

The days of the Ferguson-Wenger rivalry are over, along with the two side’s title hopes for the foreseeable future. There are no furious wrestles for top spot in the Premier League, but a desperate clammer for the Europa League. 

The Solskjaer-Emery rivalry just doesn’t feel like it will have the same kind of bite to it. And it’s a rivalry that, should the current form of both sides continue to slump, probably won’t be around for much longer. 

Both sides currently sit outside the ‘top six’, but a win for the Gunners would see them fly up to fourth, behind Leicester City on goal difference. A win for United, meanwhile, would put them level on points with their London opponents.

The two sides have already met twice in 2019 since Solskjaer took over. The first was in late January, near the start of the Norwegian’s now baffling winning streak. It was a game and a result that actually felt like more than just United’s players being happy that someone with a nice smile had taken over as manager. 

Solskjaer displayed some real tactical nous. Jesse Lingard lingered in kind of false nine position, teasing the Arsenal backline. Romelu Lukaku would then use his pace and power to exploit this space, and drift wide to pillage the inevitable gaps left by Sead Kolasinac. 

It was a result that felt like it gave some real substance to United’s burst of form under Solskjaer. Something that showed that it wasn’t just a new manager buzz that was spurring them on. 

But fast forward a couple of months to their Premier League meeting in March, and the Red Devils slumped to a disappointing 2-0 defeat at the Emirates Stadium. The wheels had come off whatever vehicle Solskjaer was at the wheel for. 

It was Arsenal’s first victory against Man United since May 2017, having lost three of the four games since. But now they seem the slightly more likely side to pip the points tonight based off recent form.

United capped off a disappointing 2-0 defeat to West Ham last weekend with a midweek scare against Rochdale in the League Cup. A strike from 16 year old Luke Matheson sent the match to a nervous penalty shootout, which United were able to edge through on. 

The signs aren’t encouraging for the Red Devils, although they were able to pull off what now constitutes as a surprise victory against Leicester this month. 

United have generally struggled in games which they’ve seen a lot of the ball, such as against Crystal Palace. But when facing teams that want to play and have their share of the ball like Leicester and Chelsea, the Red Devils have been able to release their counter-attacking weapons. 

This has the potential to trouble Arsenal’s defence, with David Luiz and Sokratis both struggling this season. Sokratis lacks speed and has looked shaky in possession, while Luiz’s recklessness has seen him punished several times already. 

Isolating both in one on one situations could see them struggle, although United will be without Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford. Both players’ direct running abilities would have been a serious danger to the Gunners’ centre back partnership.

Instead, it is likely to be Mason Greenwood who they will face. Unless Solskjaer decides that Lingard should be played up front, like he surprisingly did against West Ham. 

Greenwood has certainly shown potential and willingness to run at opponents, so if he can fully realise his talents against the Gunners then he could be a threat. 

But that is not to forget Arsenal’s own talents up front. Alexandre Lacazette remains sidelined but Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicholas Pepe both look set to start, with Dani Ceballos in the team to help supply them. 

Arsenal’s front line this year is incredibly promising, in stark contrast to their defence. United, meanwhile, have bolstered at the back with Harry Maguire, who looks to be forming a good partnership with Victor Lindelof. 

But with Martial and Rashford injured and a lack of a creative attacking midfielder, the Red Devils look very light in attack. It will be a fascinating battle between two teams who have greatly mixed abilities throughout each of their sides.