The 2015/16 season has been enriched with shock results, and the race for the Premier League title and the battle for European berths remains tight, the attainment of which can be crucial to retaining star players or attracting them from overseas in the summer.
The Premier League is now closing in on its twenty fifth year, with a new breed of young managers bringing a fearless brand of football to their respective clubs. The future of the league has never appeared brighter, but entertainment comes at a cost for some of these managers; with points thrown away needlessly as a result of inexperience.
It is no coincidence then, that the well-seasoned trio of Wenger, Pellegrini and Ranieri are amongst the front runners in a title race that keeps even the greatest experts guessing. However, in the Tac-Masters table, an enterprising young manager on the south coast remains top of the pile.
GW20 – EDDIE HOWE v LEICESTER
2nd January 2016
Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth produced a staunch defensive stand at the home of the team that would lead the table going into February. To lock out Leicester’s vibrant attack is one feat, but to do it with a numerical disadvantage is quite another, and there can be no doubt that Howe picked the right words at half time, with his tiring side resisting the Foxes at every turn.
The introduction of Sylvain Distin after Simon Francis’ dismissal also provided the Bournemouth defence with added wisdom, with the Frenchman galvanising a depleted squad through the final thirty minutes of a tough game.
Key Player: Sylvain Distin
GW21 – STEVE MCLAREN v MAN UTD
12th January 2016
The most pulsating match of Game Week 21 unfolded on Tyneside, with Newcastle twice eliminating a deficit to draw 3-3 with Manchester United. It was apparent from the opening minutes that Newcastle had been instructed to wear down the Red Devils and conserve energy for the later stages of the game, in which United would be under intense pressure to chase the win.
This tactic from Steve McLaren was vindicated, though not in the way originally envisaged, with the score at 2-2 with twenty minutes remaining, and it was the deployment of an additional attacking outlet in Yoann Gouffran (for Jack Colback) that helped to tire the United defence and secure a potentially crucial point.
Key Players: Alexander Mitrovic & Yoann Gouffran.
GW22 – LOUIS VAN GAAL v LIVERPOOL
17th January 2016
Van Gaal remains under intense scrutiny from the United fanbase, but a disciplined win at Anfield cannot fail to help to his faltering cause. Though full of endeavour, Jürgen Klopp’s enthusiasm for the occasion blinded him to United’s potential for a cunning move from the subs bench, which manifested itself just after the hour mark with the introduction of Juan Mata for Jesse Lingard.
With the Liverpool defence often struggling against pacy opposition, Lingard would have figured prominently in Klopp’s playbook. He was well-marshalled by the defensive partnership of Kolo Toure and Mamadou Sakho, but this changed upon Mata’s introduction. Mata’s superior vision gave additional support to former Evertonians Wayne Rooney and Marouane Fellaini – both of whom grew in stature throughout the second half.
After sustained periods of domination from Liverpool, it came as little surprise when both of the aforementioned players combined to deliver a sucker punch, with Fellaini and Rooney, respectively, the provider and the scorer of United’s winning goal.
Key Players: Juan Mata & Marouane Fellaini
GW23 – KOEMAN v MAN UTD
23rd January 2016
At a stadium filled with exasperation, Southampton had played a disciplined and composed game, and it was a decisive double substitution in the 67th minute that placed the Saints on course for a victory.
Dusan Tadic, a player who often amounts to a support striker, made way for the deeper lying James Ward-Prowse, giving the impression (to the untrained eye) that Southampton were content to escape Old Trafford with a point.
This was ultimately a winning move, as an increasingly desperate United tried in vain to pacify a hostile home crowd, coming forward with purpose but leaving themselves exposed to the counter. After being forcibly drawn into Southampton’s game, United paid the ultimate price, with Charlie Austin (assisted by Ward-Prowse) scoring the winner and pushing Louis van Gaal ever closer to the abyss.
Key Players: James Ward-Prowse & Charlie Austin
Title image credit: Laurence Griffiths (Getty Images)