SINGAPORE — How have your favourite English Premier League (EPL) teams performed over the past week? And how will they fare in their next matches? Yahoo News Singapore looks at the key talking points surrounding the league in this new weekly series:
Farcical VAR decisions disrupt flow of the game
WHAT HAPPENED: Is it possible to be fair and accurate, and yet cause chaos and disruption? Yes, if you have the VAR (video assisted referee).
And after more than half a season in, it is safe to say that VAR is the worst thing to happen in EPL history. It has created confusion, it has invited ridicule, and it has destroyed the rhythm and beauty of the game.
Just look at the chaos during the Tottenham v Manchester City crunch tie on Sunday (2 February). First, Raheem Sterling should have been shown the red card for an appalling tackle on Dele Alli, but somehow VAR deemed that referee Mike Dean’s yellow card was sufficient.
Then came the farcical penalty sequence, in which Dean – via VAR – awarded a City penalty about three minutes after an infringement was apparently committed. When Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris saved the spot kick, VAR waded in again to say that he did not trip Sterling as they collided during the rebound – yet did not recommend a second yellow card for Sterling’s theatrical fall.
(As an aside, it elicited this gem of a reaction from Spurs manager Jose Mourinho, who went from laughing at the decision not to penalise his team at Sterling’s fall to raging at Sterling’s yellow-card no-call in a split second:)
From big smiles to complete rage 😃😡
Jose Mourinho's reaction to Hugo Lloris saving Ilkay Gundogan's penalty and then realising that Raheem Sterling could potentially be given a second yellow card shows the full spectrum of the managerial emotional rollercoaster ⚽️#PL #TOTMCI pic.twitter.com/vL6iRAXs07
— SuperSport 🏆 (@SuperSportTV) February 2, 2020
Back to VAR: it has all become a farce. Players are unsure whether to celebrate a goal before it goes through the VAR scrutiny for any tiny infringement in the build-up. Referees get undermined by the VAR overruling their initial decisions. And worst of all, fans inside the stadium – who provide the great atmosphere – have grown quiet as they are unsure how VAR would decide the outcome.
The premise of VAR helping to make fair and accurate outcomes has been completely overshadowed by its lengthy deliberation and head-scratching decisions, particularly in borderline offside instances. For a sport which depends so much on rhythm, VAR has been a negative development on EPL – not a single match has been improved due to VAR’s interference.
The main purpose of having VAR is to put an end to the ugly player/manager spats against referees who made controversial calls. Yet it has only create more controversy, while failing to be decisive on such contentious calls.
No, unless a better mechanism is being put in place, VAR has been an abject failure. This experiment must end by next season.
Guardiola fails to rejuvenate jaded Man City
WHAT HAPPENED: If there was one match weekend that summed up this season’s title race, the past weekend would be a prime candidate.
Runaway leaders Liverpool hosted a resurgent Southampton at Anfield on Saturday (1 February), and initially struggled to impose themselves in a goalless first half. But manager Jurgen Klopp calmly regrouped and re-organised his players, and the Reds found their ruthless efficiency in the second half, romping to a 4-0 victory to open up a massive 22-point lead.
On Sunday, second-placed defending champions Manchester City also found themselves in a 0-0 draw after the first half of their away tie against Tottenham Hotspur. Yet their attack continued to lack composure and a cutting edge in the second half, squandering chance after chance before Spurs stunned them with two well-taken goals to take all three points.
The two outcomes – Liverpool finding a way to win eventually, and City failing to turn possession dominance into victory – tell much of the story of this season. But while Liverpool’s unstoppable form has been frequently praised, there is little talk about why City – champions in the past two seasons with record-breaking points accumulation – imploded so dramatically this season.
So what happened to that swashbuckling City side which passed so wondrously all over the pitch, turning defences inside-out before coolly dispatching goals after goals? Manager Pep Guardiola has been criticised for not beefing up their defence, but City’s once-unstoppable frontline has been repeatedly held at bay by rival clubs.
This season, City have already lost six times; never has any side managed by Guardiola lost more in one season. Have the likes of Sergio Aguero, Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling gone jaded after pushing themselves incessantly to their limits during the title-winning runs?
If so, then Guardiola has to take the blame for not planning for rejuvenation. His famously perfectionist streak may be vital in shaping winning teams all over Europe, but it wears players down quickly – and the Spaniard should have been far more attuned to changing up his team, either by bringing in youth-team talents or rotating his squad more frequently.
As it is, Guardiola seems oblivious to the struggling forms of players like Ilkay Gundogan and Kyle Walker, at the cost of surprise defeats throughout this season. It is a strange oversight for such a meticulous manager, and he needs to re-evaluate his entire misfiring squad come next season.
WHAT’S NEXT: A home tie against relegation-threatened West Ham should allow City to bounce back from their setback, and set them up for the crunch tie against third-placed Leicester City on 23 February.
Prediction: A resounding 3-0 City win.
Hammers in dire straits after throwing away victory
WHAT HAPPENED: West Ham are one of those EPL clubs whom no one really hate. They play football the right way without any cynicism, they produce youth talents regularly, and their fans are happy-go-lucky in their joyous support of the London club.
Lately, however, all the joy has been sapped from the supporters, starting with their much-heralded move in 2016 to the London Stadium, the centrepiece for the 2012 Olympics. The cavernous venue has been much criticised for lacking the intimacy of the Hammers’ previous home ground Upton Park.
Then the poor results came, and stayed. Their famed youth academy – which had produced the likes of Bobby Moore, Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand and Joe Cole – sputtered in producing top talents, while senior-team recruitment has been dreadful, with flops everywhere on the field.
Managers were axed, replaced and – in current boss David Moyes’ case – re-hired, to little avail. The likeable club became an unpleasant ground of dissent among long-suffering fans, who are calling for the removal of club owners David Sullivan and David Gold.
After Saturday’s dispiriting 3-3 draw against Brighton, West Ham are mired in 18th place and in the midst of a crucial relegation battle. Yet, the draw showed up all their deficiencies: failing to hold on to a 2-0 lead, haphazard defending and lack of regular goal-getters.
Moyes was re-hired for the sole purpose of steering the Hammers away from the dreaded relegation drop, but can the former Everton and Manchester United manager improve his team’s aptitude and morale quickly? The outlook is grim.
WHAT’S NEXT: The reason of the grim outlook is their daunting run of league matches in the next two months: they will face top-10 sides Man City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Wolves, Tottenham and Chelsea. It is a killer stretch which few would expect them to get many points from. By the time April comes, West Ham may not have enough matches to turn things around. This stretch is truly their “backs against the wall” moment.
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