Gandalf, Green Power Rangers, and Guy Patterson: Premier League Saturday Review

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Arsenal 3-1 Norwich City

Steve talked about the controversial penalty, a late decision that turned today’s match in Arsenal’s favor. Until that point (85th minute), Michael Turner’s first half goal had held up, with the Champions League-chasing Gunners left pursuing three points they couldn’t afford to lose.

But thanks to goals by Mikel Arteta (from the spot), Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski, Arsenal got the result everybody expected – three points that temporarily vault Arsene Wenger’s team into third place:

Pos. Club GP Pts. Pts/G
3 Arsenal 32 59 1.84
4 Chelsea 31 58 1.87
5 Tottenham Hotspur 32 58 1.81
6 Everton 32 55 1.72

Chelsea and Tottenham don’t play in league this weekend, their derby rescheduled with the Blues still alive in the FA Cup.

Still, it’s a three-team race for two spots. Everton’s lingering, but they need two teams to trip over the next month. That’s not going to happen.

Everton 2-0 Queens Park Rangers

Queens Park Rangers are eight points from safety with five to play. This conversation’s no longer interesting. Time for another four-year plan.

As for Everton, it was a good result but no more than you’d expect from a team of their stature – a level that unfortunately is not going to include Champions League soccer. They’ll have to comfort themselves with finishing just outside the top four (again) while being the top-ranked team on Mersey (again).

Welcome to a Toffee-supporters’ purgatory. You can’t ask for more because you know your club’s hamstrung, but you can’t help but pine for those oh so elusive breaks that could finally bring glory to these otherwise strong but fruitless campaigns:

Why can’t an Arsenal, Chelsea, or Spurs collapse coincide with one of our best seasons so we can get back into Champions League? If for no other reason than variety’s sake, so we don’t have to go through this same routine every year, can we just finish fourth one more time? It’s all so monotonous.

source: ReutersReading 0-0 Liverpool

Meet Alex McCarthy. He’s young, he’s English — his favorite Power Ranger’s the green one — and he’s very happy to meet you. You’re not Philippe Coutinho, right? Good, because he’s not happy to meet Coutinho.

(I’m going to conveniently ignore he’s merely punching the ball.)

Based on reaction out of the Maejski Stadium, McCarthy may be your Player of the Week. The 23-year-old keeper (who has been on eight different loans in the last six years) made 11 saves in his first appearance since November. Liverpool put 28 shots toward goal, held 60 percent of the ball, and saw Luis Suárez hit the woodwork. Yet they left Reading with their 11th draw of the season, goalless for the second straight weekend.

As Brendan Rodgers put it in the most understated tone possible, “The game will be summed up by the great goalkeeping performance of young Alex McCarthy.” As other fans articulated it in their retweets:

source:

Aston Villa 1-1 Fulham

Hey, remember last week when Villa seemed to turn a corner at Stoke? They got points and goals, and it looked like everything was coming together. Tom Hanks was ready to make an 11-part HBO mini-series: Villans.

(Personally, I wouldn’t mind a “That Thing You Do” reboot. Or just a sequel. Guy Patterson trying to revitalize his career in music after realizing the family business is making him into his father? Faye recoiling as Guy’s new ambition reminds him of Jimmy’s overbearing ways? Tom – I’m writing the script on spec.)

Aston Villa may very well be turning the corner, but here’s the thing: When you’re only three points from the drop, draws at home are a great way to let other teams gain control of their own destiny, especially when the two you are trying to hold off (Sunderland and Wigan) now have matches in hand.

Fulham is a good team, but they’re also in that Premier League netherworld of having nothing to play for. They were on the road, and Villa seemed to be building momentum.

But that’s in the past. Time to regroup.

Southampton 1-1 West Ham United

Saints’ three-match winning streak was snapped, but hopefully they’re not above seeing this as progress. It wasn’t not so long ago that they were in the drop, playing at a level that would leave few surprised if they didn’t get a point at home from West Ham. Now both teams are on 38 points. Sitting 11th and 12th, the clubs have practically guaranteed themselves a second season in the Premier League.

Gaston Ramirez opened today’s scoring near the hour mark before Andy Carroll, with this third goal in two games, pulled West Ham even. Now up to five goals on the season, there’s still time for the Liverpool loanee to salvage a decent return on an injury-plagued campaign.

How much would it cost for West Ham to keep him? We all know that’s in the cards, right? He’s a unique player who comes with obvious benefits, but since moving to Liverpool in January 2011, Carroll only scored 11 league goals. Do you still have to pay a premium for his big Anglo-ness?

How much of their £30 million investment will Liverpool seek to recoup?

Managerial change a slippery slope for West Brom

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Tony Pulis brought much needed stability to West Bromwich Albion before his tenure soured in a hurry.

When Pulis took over at the Hawthorns, West Brom had seen both Pepe Mel and Alan Irvine do little winning in abbreviated managerial stints. Mel won three of 17 matches in charge, while Irvine could only nab five in 22.

[ MORE: Pulis sacked ]

So there is little debating, even for those who West Brom fans who revel in the club’s former free-flowing ways, that Pulis had a productive time in charge from January 2015 right on through most of last season.

But Pulis was seemingly limited to setting a points total and then kicking his heels up once Premier League safety was reached.

While that sounds a bit laughable, the facts are that the Baggies finished 10th last season despite an impressive start that saw the club comfortably eighth for much of the season. However, West Brom won five points from its final 12 matches to finish 16 points behind a European place (including five shutout losses at home).

The Baggies finished 14th the previous season, Pulis’ first full year in charge, but collapsed again after hitting the rarefied air of 11th. That final stretch? Five losses and four draws including shutout losses at home to Norwich City, Watford, and West Ham.

In doing so, Pulis belied his own budgetary critiques by proving the Baggies had the talent to compete for something relatively special.

Pulis was good at getting his side to play with the fury of a relegation contender from Day One, but it was so clear the side was sated once safety was secure. It wouldn’t be callous to opine that the manager would’ve viewed the Europa League as a nuisance to his “never been relegated” reputation (an idea buttressed by West Brom’s performances in Cup competitions, where Pulis never advanced to a quarterfinal while losing to Reading, Norwich City, Derby County, Northampton Town, and, this season, Man City).

What West Brom does next will say a lot. If it’s as simple as a rehashing of the “never been relegated” deck with Sam Allardyce, well, that’s something. But the Baggies are in the tricky predicament of having to replace a relatively stable hand who was their first good hire in three tries, while also running with the knowledge that their players clearly are capable of so much better than 17th.

The names on the bettor’s lists show what’s expected of West Brom: gritty style from an island manager. Derek McInnes is the favorite, with Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill just ahead of Sam Allardyce. Alan Pardew is next, followed by Ronald Koeman (For what it’s worth, bookies are still milking money from gamblers by including Jurgen Klinsmann’s name at 20:1 or so).

West Brom is in its eighth-straight Premier League campaign. The firing will jostle an already rocking ship, but the Baggies have steady leadership in Jonny Evans, Ben Foster, Chris Brunt, Gareth Barry, Gareth McAuley, and Craig Dawson. They have the wherewithal to achieve safety again, and can even look good in the process should a manager find the right way to use Salomon Rondon, Matty Phillips, Jay Rodriguez, Nacer Chadli, and others.

Who’s the right man for the job?

West Brom fires manager Tony Pulis

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Tony Pulis‘ reign over the Hawthorns is over, as West Bromwich Albion has fired the 59-year-old after just under three years in charge of the Premier League outfit.

Assistant coach Gary Megson takes over on an interim basis.

[ MLS: Steve Bruce to Miami? ]

The Baggies have not won a game since August, and were belted 4-0 at home by Chelsea on Saturday to leave the club one point above the drop zone.

Overall, Pulis oversaw wins in just 36 of his 121 matches, losing 49, in what will go down as one of the least successful stints in his well-traveled career. Only three PL clubs have scored less than the Baggies’ nine goals.

Here’s the club statement:

“These decisions are never taken lightly but always in the interests of the Club.

“We are in a results business and over the back end of last season and this season to date, ours have been very disappointing.

“We would like to place on record our appreciation of Tony’s contribution and hard work during a period of transition for the Club which included a change of ownership. We wish him well in his future endeavours.”

Pulis will almost certainly be back on the touch line soon, as he hasn’t spent more than a few months out of work since 2002.

Pressure builds on Borussia Dortmund manager Peter Bosz

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Borussia Dortmund has fallen to fifth in the Bundesliga table thanks to a trio of consecutive losses in league play, and suddenly there is loads of pressure on manager Peter Bosz.

The Dutchman came to Westfalenstadion after upper management pushed Thomas Tuchel out over the summer, and while he won seven of his first eight league matches in charge by a total goal differential of 21-2, things have come crashing down. The black & yellow have lost three in a row Bundesliga matches and four of their last five across all competitions, with their only win in that span coming over third-tier Magdenburg.

With fans feeling helpless over the departure of the wildly successful Tuchel that came as a result of a falling out between the German and his superiors, Bosz would always be on a short leash. He inherited a flawed squad, yet one that had achieved much under his predecessor, and immediate failures would naturally be lumped on the new man.

The most recent defeat, a 2-1 falter at Stuttgart, was a microcosm of Dortmund’s recent failures. The team conceded a comically poor goal five minutes into the match, worked hard to equalize just before the halftime break, and conceded again just after returning to the pitch. They controlled much of the match, but largely failed to capitalize.

The head man summed it up pretty well. “The defeat really hurts,” Bosz proclaimed after the final whistle. “We came here to win, so we’re very disappointed. When you see the goals we conceded, it borders on the ridiculous. It hurts because we actually put in a relatively good performance in the first half. The team performed well after conceding the early goal, only the final ball was lacking. The second half wasn’t as good. We need to keep going, we won’t give up.”

So what do the Dortmund executives do? Does Bosz get the benefit of the doubt based on performances? Or does he get blamed for the sudden dropoff in results? There is plenty of pressure given the team sits not only nine points back of Borussia Dortmund in league play, but is also third in a brutal Champions League group with almost no hope of recovery, and even threatens to miss out on a drop to Europa League play if they slip behind Cypriot club Apoel Nicosia, whom they find themselves level on points with.

Even if the club sticks with the Dutchman for now, his room for error has almost completely evaporated and it’s only mid-November. The next two matches will likely tell the tale, and it’s an uphill battle. Tottenham comes to Westfalenstadion on the backs of a disappointing defeat to North London foes Arsenal, followed by the home end of the Rivierderby against a Schalke side that sits second in the Bundesliga table, three points above Bosz and Dortmund.

Antonio Conte calls Tony Pulis a “really good manager”

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West Brom, after four straight defeats, sits 17th in the Premier League table, most recently suffering a 4-0 dismantling at the hands of Chelsea.

Yet Blues boss Antonio Conte has offered his counterpart an olive branch, supporting his fellow Premier League manager at a time of panic.

With reports that Pulis could be fired this coming week – some say as early as Monday – the Baggies boss is under heaps of pressure, but Conte doesn’t believe he should be. “I must be honest, I think Tony Pulis is a really good manager,” Conte said, hoping those in charge don’t make decisions based on Sunday’s result.

“He has great experience and it’s always very difficult to play against his team. This game became easy because we started very strong, with great concentration and desire to win. We showed from the start our will to win this game. But I repeat: Last season we struggled a lot against them.”

West Brom has lost four in a row in league play, and they haven’t picked up a win since August, and as The Guardian points out, they have the lowest average possession in the Premier League and have the second-lowest shots on target thus far. They registered just two shots on target against Chelsea, and held 39% possession, which is actually slightly above their average for the season.