As I’m sure you’re all aware, referees this season are clamping down on shirt pulling and general wrestling in the penalty area. Most of the decisions across the course of the last two weekends have been consistent and accepted with little reproach; however, this weekend’s decisions have raised the issue as to whether or not consistency on the matter is going to prove to be an issue.
Christian Benteke was awarded a penalty in line with this season’s new directive, yet Robert Huth was denied after being wrestled to the ground by two Swansea players whilst Liverpool were also denied at least one penalty in their game against Tottenham. Fans, managers and players alike were all left exasperated at the obvious imparity leaving many to question just how consistent will referees be this season?
Personally I’m not the biggest fan of the new directive, especially after watching Christian Benteke win the ball with his back to goal, before being awarded a penalty for having his shirt tugged. It beggars belief to see non-goalscoring opportunities being overly governed by a rule that, at its root, has been formed with good intentions at heart. It’s the age old issue with the majority of refs - they simply haven’t played enough football themselves to actually understand the intricacies of being a footballer, that tugging and pushing isn’t a massive issue when someone doesn’t have a clear sight at goal. Fingers crossed that common sense prevails.
The Re-emergence of Raheem
Pep Guardiola must be doing something very right at City, not only are they three for three this season but the style in which the team have started winning games is truly a joy to behold. The fluidity of their play and the freedom they have on the pitch is just fantastic, what makes the whole scenario even more impressive is the fact that City seem to be growing with confidence week after week.
At the forefront of the club’s progress is Sergio Aguero, a man who has scored 105 goals in 151 Premier League appearances for the club, yet this season’s real stand out improvement is undoubtedly Raheem Sterling.
Sterling’s first season at the club was a stale and frustrating one, yet after a brief time working under the tutelage of Guardiola, the England forward's undeniable potential looks to be blossoming into real quality. Pep has noted Sterling’s positive mentality and focus as the driving factors behind his upsurge in performance adding, "That’s it. When that happens he is going to do good things for us and the England national team. I’m pretty sure of that."
Problems with Pardew at Palace?
Alan Pardew has spent over £70 million in the last two seasons at Crystal Palace, and while he’s certainly recouped some money from outgoings - including Yannick Bolasie’s big money move to Everton - just how much has he actually improved the London club?
Truthfully: not a lot. Palace haven’t won away from home since December the twelfth of last year, and while the early signs of Pardew’s tenure indicated an upswing in the London club’s fortunes, three wins in their last twenty-five games in the Premier League paint a rather grey picture for Palace’s odd collection of Italian-Ultra-influenced fans.
Palace fans’ relationship with Pardew looks to be turning sour rapidly and who can blame them? If Zaha goes to Tottenham before the end of the window, just how long will the Glasgae-kiss-wielding maniac have before things turn ugly… again?
Dyche and the Gulf
Sean Dyche was quoted this weekend as describing the difference in class between teams like Burnley and Chelsea as a "Big gulf." It was an interesting comment coming from the man who masterminded a smash and grab victory against a relatively impressive Liverpool team last weekend and it certainly raises an interesting question: just how big is this gulf?
The answer is unclear in all honesty, it’s hardly a Stranger Things style Upside Down contrast, but there is certainly some kind of disparity. Teams such as Burnley and ourselves have worked this transfer market with a stringent approach, penny pinching for the most part in comparison to other clubs considered higher beings.
Yet when clubs like Bournemouth splash over £35 million on a series of relatively young, inexperienced players you have to ask questions as to whether or not this gulf is merely a mental one or not. Leicester proved last year that astute investment and camaraderie goes a long way to awarding success, so the question must be asked: is this gulf genuinely as insurmountable as Sean Dyche would have us believe, or was this simply a media soundbite used to excuse a poor showing from his team?
Big Sam’s Ingerlund Squad
Despite turning his back on our beloved club for the bright shiny lights of the capital and the aptly named, FA - who know as much about football as the acronym suggests - Big Sam still holds a relatively fond space in most fans’ hearts. So this weekend’s announcement of his first England squad, despite not necessarily dealing with the Premier League itself, was an interesting development worth discussing.
Sam has pulled no punches with the omission of Jack Wheelchair and Ross Barkley, whilst including Danny Drinkwater and, somewhat surprisingly, Michail Antonio. Never mind this tiki-taka "bollocks" as he so eloquently put it, Sam seems to be looking to assemble a more physical side with mobility and mettle - team that will hold its shape before hitting the opposition with fast-paced, direct, counter-attacking football.
Will the team be able to claw some shred of dignity back during these world cup qualifiers? In all honesty, probably not. I wouldn’t be surprised if we romped through qualifiers before being knocked out in the round of sixteen after being humbled once again by one of the world’s big boys. One can hope, though, eh?