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Impressive Decisions in the 2019/20 Premier League

A Premier League season is made up of numerous decisions, which actually start well before the season begins. Some of these turn out to be very fortuitous while others can be unmitigated disasters.  Sometimes the best decisions can seem very strange before turning out for the best while at other times a decision that seems logical can go horribly wrong. That said, let’s take a look at some of the better decisions made this season.

Liverpool Spending No Money

Many years ago, Arsene Wenger said, “in England people think that all the problems can be sorted out by buying players” and in many ways, this seems truer now than ever before. More recently, Wenger said, “I believe the biggest target is to work hard in training, improve what we can improve and have confidence in the players that we have.” This comment came in 2009 when he signed Thomas Vermaelen and no other players. The next season, Arsenal finished third.

Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp is clearly on the same wavelength as Wenger. Many people believe that if you do not strengthen your club then you will be moving backwards. However, after missing out on the Premier League title by just a point last season, Liverpool then lost Daniel Sturridge, Alberto Moreno, and Simon Mignolet and Klopp’s response was simply to add two teenagers, Sepp van den Berg and Harvey Elliott, and a couple of goalkeepers, Adrian and Andy Lonergan. The team are now close to breaking numerous records. In other words, Klopp’s lack of spending seems to have been the best possible course of action.

Newcastle’s Appointment of Steve Bruce

It has been a very long time since Newcastle United manged to take points from Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, and Tottenham Hotspur in one season. In fact, it hasn’t happened since Sir Bobby Robson was in charge in 2003/04. This season is also the first time that Steve Bruce has beaten Manchester United as a manager and his first time beating Frank Lampard as a player or a manager.

Steve Bruce’s appointment at Newcastle has been far more successful than anyone imagined. His appointment was met with great opposition from fans. He had been sacked by a Championship club less than a year before, he was relegated in his most recent Premier League season, and no one was expecting particularly impressive results.

However, Newcastle now need just a few more wins from their remaining 14 games in order to record more Premier League victories in a campaign than they managed under Rafa Benitez. Remarkably, Bruce has guided the team to a position where they are closer in points to fifth than eighteenth, and the club’s decision to appoint him seems better and better with each week.

Watford Acknowledging Mistakes

Watford were quite right to have sacked Javi Gracia after opening the season with three defeats and a draw. However, they panicked when appointing his successor and the return of Quique Sanchez Flores was inexplicable. However, the team’s ability to acknowledge that Flores’ return was a mistake is highly impressive. The team has now secured twice as many points in seven games (14) under Nigel Pearson than his predecessor managed in ten games. While Watford still face a battle to remain in the top flight, they now have a better chance than had they stuck with Flores.

Leicester’s Sale of Harry Maguire

Just a couple of weeks ago Harry Maguire was seriously embarrassed by Liverpool’s Georginio Wijnaldum and Leicester City fans must have thought once again how lucky they are to be rid of the player.

While Maguire didn’t often make the same kind of mistake at Leicester or for the England team, it wasn’t unheard of. Maguire’s ambitious runs from centre-half are part of his appeal, but they are risky and can end in disaster or brilliance. However, they have helped him to stand out and ensured that he was seen as a good defender.

That is why last summer Leicester would have been happy to either sell Maguire for the world-record fee of £80 million or keep him. The price tag will have helped to attract serious interest but it is doubtful Leicester thought he was worth that much. Rather, the club saw an opportunity to exploit Manchester United’s desperation.

Leicester would have felt that Maguire’s place could be filled by Caglar Soyuncu, as indeed it has. In many ways, he is a very similar player to Maguire, and the loss of Maguire has had very little impact on Leicester’s defence, but a huge effect on their bank balance.

Wolverhampton Making Use of Adama Traore

Five years ago, Tim Sherwood claimed that Adama Traore was “a little bit of Messi and a little bit of Ronaldo”. At the time, it felt like hyperbole but now the comparison seems far more apt. Traore has demonstrated the physical ability of Ronaldo and the glue-like dribbling skills of Messi, and in some ways can be seen as a hybrid of the two players.

It seemed like a bit of a risk when Wolves spent £18 million on the erratic Championship winger when they were promoted. While Traore had started to mature and develop at Middlesbrough, he was chaotic and didn’t seem to fit with Nuno’s structure. The fact that he produced just one goal and one assist in his first season backed this up.

However, both the club and the player deserve some credit for persevering. This season he has four goals and six assists from twenty-two Premier League games and his overall game appears far more refined. He appears to be making better decisions, using more intelligence, playing more as a team member, and therefore is more versatile. He has gone from being in impact sub who did not play an entire 90 minutes last season to a player who has started and finished 16 games this season.

The Moving of Kevin De Bruyne

Kevin de Bruyne has spent this season improving on what were already very impressive skills. A player who provided 19 assists in a single season does not really need to improve, but he has done so. This season the Belgian has provided 15 assists and he looks to be chasing Thierry Henry’s record of 20. Pep Guardiola’s decision to subtly change his role to a more advanced free one on the right is certainly paying off.

The change was designed to take advantage of De Bruyne’s greatest strength. He is now attempting more crosses per game (2.5) than he has at any other point throughout his career. He provided seven against Crystal Palace to create six chances. Unfortunately, the rest of the team seem to be letting him down.

Southampton’s Patience

Occasionally a team will suffer such a heavy defeat that it can actually be beneficial. When a team loses 9 – 0, as Southampton did at the start of the season, the only sensible thing to do is forget everything that had happened up to that point and then start again.

At that point, many teams would have immediately sacked their manager in a kneejerk reaction. However, Southampton not only avoided doing this, but they even accepted two more consecutive defeats and still kept faith in Ralph Hasenhuttl. They have now exacted revenge and are comfortably in the middle of the table.

Sticking with Mateo Kovacic

Many people were puzzled when Chelsea decided to purchase Mateo Kovacic for £40 million after he had failed to impress under Maurizio Sarri. However, Frank Lampard has helped the Croatian develop into an excellent player. There are now even some claiming that Kovacic is an even more important midfielder for the club than N’Golo Kante is. Kovacic has not started in any of Chelsea’s last three league defeats and his absence was certainly felt in the match against Newcastle.

Crystal Palace Sticking with Roy Hodgson

Recently Roy Hodgson was asked what he can learn from Pep Guardiola and his response highlighted what a pointless question it was, “When you’re 72 years of age and been a manager for 45 years you’re a little annoyed when you’re asked what you can learn from other managers”.

Hodgson’s five most recent Premier League finishes are remarkably consistent, 12th, 11th, 10th, 11th, and 12th, despite the fact that they span a large number of years and three different teams. Hodgson has a way of doing things, and it does produce results.

For example, Palace have had 45.9% possession this season, just a small change from last season’s 46.6%. Their passing accuracy is the same at 77% and their methods and tactics are much the same. In other words, Crystal Palace’s decision to stick with Roy Hodgson has shown itself to the be right one.

The Utilisation of John Lundstram

John Lundstram has come under fire recently for his dip in form, but this is to forget that his workload has hugely increased since last season. During Sheffield United’s promotion campaign, Lundstram featured less often than Gary Madine did. Furthermore, he has started more league games this season than in the whole of 2017/18. He has never been challenged in this way before, his only consecutive league starts in 2018/19 were in the first two games of the season, and he was brought off at halftime in the second game.

Chris Wilder’s greater use of Lundstram is to be applauded. Without it, the team would certainly not be doing as well in the Premier League as they are despite the fact that they reached the top flight largely without him.

OCA News Editor