Alternative Premier League table: Are Liverpool the team least reliant on one goalscorer?

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How would the Premier League table look without the goals of each side’s top scorer?

To find out, Squawka looked back over the last 27 games of the season and subtracted every point secured through the goal tallies of the most prolific finishers of every top flight club, with Liverpool soaring forward to take the lead in the title race thanks to their lack of reliance on one, stand-out striker.
Sadio Mane has lead the way for the Reds this year with 12 goals from 24 league games – an impressive return for a winger – but due to the team focus of Jurgen Klopp’s attacking tactics, they also boast one of the most diversify list of goalscorers in Europe’s top five leagues, insulating their points return from the affects of taking the Senegalese wide-man away. In fact, Liverpool gain two points thanks to other sides missing the impact of their most reliable providers of goals.

Chelsea’s plummet from the top spot is rather dramatic. From holding a 10-point lead in the real Premier League, they fall two places in this table after losing 13 points won through the finishing of Diego Costa, who has made the difference to the Blues in so many games this season, most notably their tight and cagey 1-0 win over West Bromwich Albion at home in December and a run of four goals from four games in the opening weeks of August and September.

Without the Spain international’s ability to find a way through to score, regardless of his side’s overall form, Antonio Conte’s uncertain start to life in England could have ended in disaster. They certainly wouldn’t be leading the title race, as this table makes clear.

 

Manchester United also suffer without Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swedish target man has scored 15 of their 39 league goals this season, and after taking him out of the equation, Jose Mourinho’s side move even further away from the top four, slipping down to seventh from sixth.

Everton, on the other hand, somehow get away with losing Romelu Lukaku, and move up to fourth, suggesting that while the Belgian may well be capable of filling his boots when he is on form, his goals may not be as important as his imposing strike tally may suggest.
The other big casualties from the battle for Champions League places are Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur who have both placed a great deal on emphasis on the goals of Alexis Sanchez and Harry Kane this season. No surprises there. By contrast, Manchester City look to be in a good position without Sergio Aguero, level on points with Liverpool at the top and separated only by goal difference.

In the relegation scrap, it’s clear that Watford would be in serious trouble without Troy Deeney, while Hull City’s transfer business means that their current top scorer is no longer at the club anyway.

Since Middlesbrough don’t score many goals anyway – they have pocketed just 19 in 27 games so far in the Premier League proper – they actually gain an extra three points without Alvaro Negredo, due to the lack of leading scorers around to punish their stubborn defence and force them to concede costly goals.

West Brom, however, continue on happily in eighth, despite Salomon Rondon’s goals being written out of the picture. Leicester City too see no change in their position with or without Jamie Vardy.

 

Every position Paul Pogba can play – and which one he should master at Manchester United.

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It has never just been about price. Even before the signatures were signed on the dotted line to make Paul Pogba’s record-breaking move to Manchester United official in the summer of 2016, talk had turned to how the Frenchman would and could fit into Jose Mourinho’s plans at Old Trafford.

Squawka took an extensive look at where the former Juventus player had performed best for club and country prior to his sale in July and concluded – without surprising anyone – that the answer was a free role similar to the one carved out for him over on the left in Turin.

With Patrice Evra bombing on from full-back, Pogba was allowed to roam from central areas and run into spaces behind his side’s forward line. Liberated from his defensive responsibilities, he was the moving part of a three-man midfield finely balanced to take control of the middle of the pitch while allowing their prodigious match-winner the latitude to take opponents apart as he saw fit, charging into channels, marauding through the final third and dribbling through defences.

 

Mourinho has toyed with the giving the France international a similar role at United, although he also appeared determined to persist with the idea of deploying Pogba in a two-man midfield, alongside Ander Herrera. Since his return to Manchester – four years after leaving to join Juventus as a teenager – the 23-year-old has made 15 appearances in central midfield, 15 appearances in a deeper, more defensive midfield role and four appearances in a more advanced position, as an out-and-out attacking midfielder, across the Premier League and Europa League.

He has scored a total of six goals and created four assists, two goals and two assists coming from central midfield, three goals and two assists from deep and one goal and no assists from behind the striker, usually Zlatan Ibrahimovic, in the hole.

Pogba’s record in this role could have been more impressive had the Swede managed to take chances laid on for him by the midfielder in games such as the 0-0 stalemate against Liverpool at Anfield. It wasn’t the only example of the Frenchman putting an opportunity to score on a plate for his teammates only to see their finishing let him down.

 

Compared with his previous seasons in Italy, the midfielder is actually creating more chances per game. However, United are ranked 18th in the league for converting their chances, and rock bottom as the worst side in the division for putting away so-called “big chances”; those goalscoring opportunities where a player should be reasonably expected to score due to being in a one-on-one scenario or from close range.

Yet regardless of where on the pitch he is set out to play, there is a degree of nuance that must be taken into account, and isn’t covered by counting up the number of games played as a defensive midfielder, central midfielder or as an attacking midfielder behind the striker.

At Chelsea, Mourinho gave Cesc Fabregas a free role in a 4-2-3-1 system, with Nemanja Matic charged with putting in the leg work to cover for the Spaniard as he floated around the pitch, soaking up possession and looking to play the killer ball. No player has completed more through balls in the Premier League this season than Pogba.

 

On the other hand, the Frenchman has been played in a three-man midfield for club and country over the last nine months but with a more disciplined role to play, negating the benefits he enjoyed from a similar set-up at Juventus, yet it is also clear than his manager expects the 23-year-old to take the initiative when it comes to creating chances.

The emphasis of United’s play this season, with Ibrahimovic up front and Pogba in midfield, has been on trying to exploit their exceptional qualities and attributes as individuals, rather than focusing on finding balance and more tactical solutions from the team as a collective, like Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur.

Pogba has responded to his billing by completing more take ons than any other central or deep-lying midfielder in the English top flight, and is second only to Christian Benteke for duels won, with the Belgian striker’s tally inflated by the amount of successful headers he rises above his opponents to claim.

 

Given how fashionable it has become for teams to play with a three-man defence this year, perhaps the Frenchman would thrive in a similar space to Dele Alli or Eden Hazard between midfield and attack in some sort of 3-4-2-1 formation?

That may be one idea that will be forever limited to on-paper theoriising, but even so, those positions work for Spurs and Chelsea due to the space they can open up in the final third up against other common shapes, rather than any magical, inherent properties within those numbers. It’s all about the match up. Pogba doesn’t need a back three to take similar advantage of his opponents’ weak points.

His teammates and how they play around him are extremely important. The Frenchman needs to be the key component in a moving machine rather than lumbered with the ball and few options to call upon. At first, Mourinho paired him with Marouane Fellaini who has too conservative with his passing, leading to Pogba becoming bogged down with dictating play too deep to be effective. Once the more ambitious and incisive Herrera finally replaced the Belgian as his side’s primary ball-winner, his illustrious partner’s play improved.

 

Similarly, the reintegration of Henrikh Mkhitaryan came to be a boon to Pogba too after the Armenian initially seemed to be in competition as the focus of the team’s build-up play. After a run of games, however, he soon became another useful alternative to take on the ball and distract the opposition in order to allow United’s deeper-lying playmaker more freedom to do work off the ball.

Bournemouth may have come away from Old Trafford with a draw, much to the disappointment of Mourinho and the fans who had expected to see their team punish Eddie Howe’s unsteady defence to finally push on into the top four, but there were signs there too, with the return of Luke Shaw, that the Englishman could do for Pogba what Evra once did down the left for Juvenus, with Anthony Martial too helping to weaponise that flank.

That may be the key going forward for Pogba. With rumours of more high-end signings coming in the summer to further complicate the picture in attack, a three-man midfield seems unlikely. A shift to playing 3-4-2-1 would be very un-Mourinho. Moving the Frenchman out wide, as Steven Gerrard once was for Liverpool and England, seems like a compromise rather than a solution.

 

Instead, as was the case with Fabregas at Chelsea, Mourinho and United must ensure all the right moving parts are put into place around Pogba – the surging overlaps of Shaw, the inside runs of Martial, the decoy dribbles of Mkhitaryan, the diligence of Herrera and the link-up play of Ibrahimovic – that he can play his game and justify the hype.

He is not a defensive midfielder, nor is he a box-to-box player in the traditional sense, or an out-and-out attacking midfielder, but a rather unique proposition whose range of abilities encompass aspects of all these roles and positions. It remains the case that Pogba is at his best when he is given space and freedom instead of being shackled down. Of course, he must also show that he deserves these privilege.

 

Too often, he becomes flustered in the crunch moments, over-elaborated upon his game rather than finding the clarity required to turn a match in a moment or simply lost his head when United have needed him to show his coolness under pressure to make the difference. He had a day to forget at Wembley in the EFL Cup final and not for the first time he looked ineffective against Bournemouth, who held out with 10 men for 45 minutes to leave Old Trafford with a point and deny United an important home win.

All of this should come with age. Pogba is, after all, still just 23. He must continue to learn and grow and gain wisdom. United, in turn, must become a team good enough and strong enough to allow their star midfielder to play his own way, with fewer defensive responsibilities. It remains on the player himself to prove he is worthy of not just transfer fee but such special treatment too.

 

Manchester United’s Paul Pogba problem analysed by Frank Lampard and Jamie Carragher

The Frenchman became the world’s most expensive player when United paid £90m to re-sign him from Juventus, but he has been unable to lift them into the top four and he has contributed just four goals and three assists in 25 Premier League games so far.

Lampard, who scored 177 Premier league goals from midfield over the course of a glittering playing career at West Ham, Chelsea and Manchester City, insists there’s plenty of room for improvement.

“It was a signal of their intentions to spend £90m on player who I wouldn’t say is the finished article,” he said on Monday Night Football. “He’s got fantastic attributes. He’s strong, he’s got great feet, he’s bigger than you and he’s quicker than you as a midfield player.

“But when you have a £90m price-tag on your shoulders, we analyse more and we want more. I’m still wondering, what’s his best position? What kind of player is he? What does he want to be?Paul

“I feel a little bit like he has fallen in between everything. When you pay £90m you want to see results, and he hasn’t quite delivered. He’s young and he possibly will do, but as it stands he hasn’t been a game-changer.

“The problem he has is all of our perceptions. Who would you pay £90m or £100m for? Suarez, Ronaldo, Messi. They bring 40 to 50 goals a season. They win games on their own week in, week out. We don’t know that Paul Pogba can do that yet, but he’s being judged on it.

“We need to give him time. We need to flip forward to next season and see if he’s improving his game. But at some stage he has to be that dominant midfield player because I do believe that’s in him. The problem for me is that if you spend £90m, you don’t want a £90m problem.”

Mourinho has used Pogba in a deep-lying, two-man midfield as part of a 4-2-3-1 formation in recent weeks, but Carragher insists he is ill-suited to the role. The Sky Sports pundit referenced United’s 2-1 loss to Manchester City in September, when he described Pogba’s display as “one of the most ill-disciplined” he had seen.

“Six months later nothing has changed,” he said on Monday Night Football. “He’s still nowhere near good enough or disciplined enough to play in that central midfield role.

“He’s a liability defensively, there’s no doubt about that. They should have lost the EFL Cup final. Against one of the top sides I think they would have lost that game and Pogba was one of the reasons why.”

Lampard agreed. “His responsibility there has to be more defensively-minded,” he said. “I think when Mourinho is playing a two, he wants them to defend. He wants their first thought to be security. I feel harsh criticising him because I don’t think it’s his real attribute to do that. I feel Jose Mourinho would want a holding midfield player to be doing that job.

“You do see a link between him and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and he’s trying those long passes, but my question is how much do you want him in that deep role spraying balls? If you want him to be like Scholes in his latter years, spreading balls from midfield, is that the job for a £90m player?”

Lampard insists Pogba needs to be closer to the opposition’s goal. “Pogba has the ability to score and create goals, but from the position he’s in, it’s a long way to go. If he’s not close enough, he’s not going to get numbers as high as he should. It’s a problem for Manchester United and a problem for Jose Mourinho.”

So what’s the answer? Carragher believes it’s a switch to a 4-3-3 formation. “I think there’s no doubt that he’s better in a three-man midfield,” said Carragher. “That’s what you would class as the Frank Lampard position – wide left in a three.”

“I played most of my career in that position and I loved it because the responsibility first and foremost is to get the ball in [attacking] areas and make goals,” said Lampard. “If he’s up there, he can affect the game around the box.”

But as Carragher pointed out, Mourinho needs his midfielders to score regularly if he is to use a three-man midfield instead of a second striker. At the moment, that’s not happening. With just 39 Premier League goals this season, United have by far the lowest total of the top six.

“When Mourinho looks back at the end of the season and he’s going through it with his staff, with Ed Woodward, he will say we need more goals,” said Carragher. “In that 4-3-3 the idea is that you don’t need a second striker because you get goals from midfield. If Pogba is not providing goals, Mourinho is going to want another attacker there.

“I think it’s a massive problem for Mourinho. You’ve spent that much money on a player, that position is best for him, but he’s lacking goals and there’s talk of Antoine Griezmann coming in.

“They’re going to want to spend big money on someone to get those goals. So if they get a Griezmann, or someone of that ilk, he then has to play [behind the striker] and you’ve still got the same problem. If you break a transfer record on Griezmann, he’s going to have to play week in week out, so again, Pogba finds himself in that position in a midfield two.”

Lampard believes the only alternative in that situation would be to play Pogba out wide. “If you’re going to get the best out of him I think you have to give him some freedom,” he said. “To get him advanced, you’ve got to play him in one of the wide areas. You have to swap him with Anthony Martial and get him up the pitch.

“He could certainly play that role but are you getting the best out of him? I know Steven Gerrard did it a lot for Liverpool and he was very effective at coming in off the side, but Pogba’s qualities are more central for me, so by doing that, again, you’re shifting around what might be the real issue.”

It’s a conundrum for Mourinho, but Carragher insists it ultimately comes down to Pogba to deliver. “At the end of his time at Manchester United, there are probably two things Paul Pogba needs to be a success. Manchester United have got to go and win a league or a European Cup, and he’s got to be the driving force behind that.

“I think individually, he’s got to match this man on my right, as well as Steven Gerrard and Yaya Toure, those great central midfield players who drive the game forward and get goals and assists.”

Frank Lampard selects five Chelsea stars in his Premier League Team of the Season.

Chelsea extended their lead at the top of the Premier League table to 10 points on Monday evening, as Eden Hazard and Costa struck in a 2-1 victory against West Ham United.

Predictably, due to their utter dominance of the division this season, the Blues featured heavily in an all-star line-up assembled by the recently-retired Lampard post-game for Sky Sports.

The former midfielder also picked two English stars from second-placed Tottenham Hotspur in his 4-1-3-2 system, though none from either Arsenal or Manchester City.

 

Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea makes an appearance in goal, despite his 10 clean sheets this term being beaten by Thibaut Courtois (13).

The back-line is constructed of Cesar Azpilicueta, Michael Keane, David Luiz and Ryan Bertrand.

 

Surprisingly, the defence features no Spurs players, despite Mauricio Pochettino’s men shipping a division-low 20 goals.

N’Golo Kante, who has continued his exceptional Leicester City form with Chelsea, has proven his immense value with a combined total of 112 interceptions and tackles – the joint-most of any Premier League midfielder.

 

Adam Lallana is the sole representative of Liverpool, despite their free-flowing attacking play, and is joined by Hazard and Dele Alli. The trio have netted seven, 11 and 13 goals, respectively.

Though the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Zlatan Ibrahimovic surely provided stern competition, Lampard has opted for top Premier League scorer Kane (19 strikes) and Costa (17) in his XI.
Continue reading “Frank Lampard selects five Chelsea stars in his Premier League Team of the Season.”

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