Posts Tagged ‘Romelu Lukaku’

Yes this is a bit late and you’ve already read everyone else’s summation of the Premier League season by now, but time is money, and nobody pays me shit for this. But these are always fun to do and read, to see the opinions of other people and compare notes. So indulge me a little, why don’t you?

It was another thrilling season in England, even though it all came to an end a bit soon and we were left with a fairly non-descript final day of the season, with very little to play for.

Still there were plenty of talking points to come from the season, and in the interest of fairness to every club in the division, I shall be dividing up these awards into one for the top six, and one for the rest of the league. Poor Everton, I honestly had no idea which section to put you in initially. But you end up in the rest for this season.

 

TEAM/MANAGER OF THE SEASON

Top Six – Chelsea/Antonio Conte

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Not a bad start to life in England for Conte

Some might put these as two categories, but I fail to see why you would treat manager and team performance as separate things as they are somewhat co-dependent. Some might have fancied Spurs to edge this award as their ‘success’ was far less expected than that of Chelsea, but Conte’s achievements have been fantastic in his first season in English football.

This was a largely similar squad last season finished down in tenth and was in all sorts of disarray. Conte deserves credit not only for turning around the fortunes of these players, helping them rediscover their form, but realising that changes could and should be made and simply implementing them with little fuss.

He changed English football’s way of thinking from insisting on a flat-back-four, with his switch to a back three system helping Chelsea overcome a shaky start to go on a 13-game winning run, which essentially had the title wrapped up by the turn of the year, regardless of how game Tottenham’s pursuit of them was.

The Rest – Bournemouth/Eddie Howe

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Eddie Howe enhanced his burgeoning this reputation this season

There was often little to choose between the remainder of the teams in the division, given they all had runs in the season where things were good, and then a subsequent slide down the table. Everton basically matched expectations to be the bridge between the two, Southampton managed top-half again, but were largely uninspiring, and West Brom (the runaway winners of this award for a while) simply hit 40 points and we went back to forgetting about them.

Bournemouth by no means had a fantastic season, but a final position in the top-half, despite many (including myself) worrying that second-season-syndrome would kick in and relegation could be in the offing.

With key players repeatedly being laid low with major injuries and results faltering, that fate did look a distinct possibility at one point, but Howe marshalled a still relatively inexperienced team at this level away from danger and led the side to their finest ever league finish. You can’t say fairer than that.

 

PLAYER OF THE SEASON

Top Six – N’golo Kante (Chelsea)

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The best player in the Premier League. Another sterling season for Kante

The choice between pundits was between Kante and Eden Hazard for the gong, but I’ll plump with the majority and go for the little French midfielder, who was the difference for Chelsea and has won back-to-back titles with different clubs, which is impressive on its own.

His energy has allowed the likes of Hazard to focus on wreaking havoc in attacking positions instead of being coaxed into defensive duties, and helped improve the previously flagging performances of Nemanja Matic.

Plus, his arrival was probably key in John Obi Mikel no longer playing Premier League football anymore. These are always things to be celebrated.

The Rest – Romelu Lukaku (Everton)

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It is surely a matter of time until Lukaku ends up at a top club

I wouldn’t call it a cop out. You might, but I wouldn’t, as Lukaku has not just continued to motor along at a level that is honestly beneath him, but improved his record and reputation even further by enjoying his finest ever goal-scoring season.

Goals may not be everything and he still has plenty of detractors wondering if his all-round game is yet good enough for the move up he clearly so desperately craves, but 25 goals is not an easy tally to record in the Premier League and he would have claimed the Golden Boot were it not for the crazy late-season form of Harry Kane.

Lukaku was the standout player of the sides outside of the top six. How long that is the case remains to be seen.

 

MOST IMPROVED

Top Six – Ander Herrera (Manchester United)

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Captain in shithousery. Future captain of Man Utd?

Sure some might call for Christian Eriksen at this point, but it’s only this season that people have actually begun to notice how much he does for this Spurs team. Plus as a fan, I’m far more aware of what he has been doing, so he’s just motoring along just nicely for me.

Instead I’ve gone for Herrera, who has gone from popular yet flawed midfielder struggling to hold down a place under Louis van Gaal, to being probably the most important player in this Manchester United team.

Having been underappreciated by management staff since his arrival from Athletic Bilbao, Jose Mourinho has seen him as the ideal partner to help Paul Pogba shine – only to complete outshine his more illustrious teammate.

He might be an awful shithouse of a player for fans of the opposition and his tendency to flop to the ground does grate somewhat. But you can’t knock what he’s doing in general and try to enjoy the other, more pleasing aspects of a game that has come on leaps and bounds.

The Rest – Joshua King (Bournemouth)

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King’s improvement have seen him linked with a big move

No contest here, as quite frankly this time last year, I had serious doubts about Josh King making a long-term career as a Premier League footballer, with the inkling being he would be more at home in the Championship.

Even a few months into the season I could have been forgiven for harbouring that point of view as he struggled to break into the first-team at Bournemouth, but once he took his chance, he really broke into a fine footballer.

Nobody doubted his desire or his running, but there seemed to be an issue with the final ball, the final pass and for an attacking player his returns previously were just not good enough to warrant a regular place in a top flight side.

This season it all appears to have come together for him and a leap from six to 16 Premier League goals is a testament to the work he has done away from the pitch. Plus a man with such a basic English name being a Norwegian international can only make you more endearing.

 

BEST SIGNING

Top Six – Victor Wanyama (Tottenham Hotspur)

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Wanyama’s success at Spurs has surprised a lot of people

“No Kante? But you made him your player of the season!” I hear you cry. But I’m not on board for the same player winning two awards, and this is my page and I’ll do what I want. So there.

Anyhoo, Wanyama’s arrival at Spurs was met with very little fanfare really, more an acknowledgement that he would be a useful addition to the Tottenham squad with the added burden of Champions League football and Eric Dier having been quite frankly run into the ground over the course of the previous campaign and European Championships with England.

So few people expected Wanyama to essentially oust Dier from a midfield spot he had suddenly looked extremely comfortable in, with many at Spurs putting the Kenyan powerhouse among their star performers throughout an impressive season that saw many steal the headlines.

At just a reported £9m, Wanyama was nearly a third of the price of Kante, and was just as important to another side that exceeded expectations to leave the Manchester clubs in their wake, despite all pre-season talk of the title heading back up north.

Acknowledgements to Sadio Mane and Zlatan Ibrahimovic who certainly exceeded expectations as well, but it’s Wanyama who gets the nod here.

The Rest – Joe Allen (Stoke City)

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Allen continued his good form over from Euro 2016 with Stoke

I really wish I could bend my rules and include January signings. But they only played half a season, so I can only apologise for not including Wilfred Ndidi or Kamil Grosicki. This goes double, because the summer transfer window last year was tragically bad, making it rather difficult to pick a winner for this ‘award’.

There’s a sense that if some of the sides in the division hadn’t twisted so much last summer, we may not have been talking about half the division as serious relegation candidates at some point in the season. Because there was an awful lot of crap signed, and for a lot of money as well.

Fernando Llorente did fairly well, but annoyed people for not sprinting much. Christian Benteke finished with a decent tally for Palace, but yet we still expected more from him. Few others jumped out.

So it’s Joe Allen that wins this one. Humble upon arriving with that price tag despite never really impressing at Liverpool, with his stock boosted once more by an impressive showing at the Euros with Wales.

He did pretty well, became an integral part of a Stoke side a lot of us forgot were in the Premier League and improved his goal-scoring record. Hilariously, only Peter Crouch scored more goals for the Potters this season. Allen even got a brace in one game.

 

WORST SIGNING

Top Six – Shkodran Mustafi (Arsenal)

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We thought Mustafi would be a big player for Arsenal. We were wrong

Remember how I mentioned last summer’s transfer activity was a bit rubbish? This goes for the top six as well, with a gluttony of candidates available for this. Claudio Bravo, John Stones, Vincent Janssen, Moussa Sissoko, Michy Batshuayi, the list goes on. This is just the ‘bad’ ones, let alone those that just didn’t live up to expectations.

While many would expect Sissoko to win this, there was always a sense that he was brought in to bolster an already strong squad, replacing Nacer Chadli more than any first-team regular.

Mustafi on the other hand was supposed to – along with the equally disappointing Granit Xhaka – be the final works in the Arsenal puzzle, the expesive, established stars that bounced them into a serious title tilt, with the gold up for grabs following Leicester’s unexpected success.

Finally a competent partner for Laurent Koscielny had arrived in the form of Mustafi. Well, that was the thinking anyway, as the German was cumbersome, clumsy, slow and just looked all over the place as Arsenal’s defence looked worse, not better for his arrival.

For £35m, you expect so much better. You at least expect him to not end the season potentially as fourth choice, with youngster Rob Holding and the returning Per Mertesacker looking far more composed at the back for the Gunners.

The Rest – Ahmed Musa (Leicester City)

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It has not gone well for Musa at Leicester. Pitifully bad, in fact

The first signal of Leicester’s intent to not simply slip away into the pack once again after their shock title win. Also the first signal as to why they did.

Musa was the first player Leicester broke their transfer record to sign last summer. Islam Slimani came next, another striker in a team with a couple of stars already in their attack, with Shinzi Okazaki hardly disgracing himself either. So you already you wondered how things were going to fit together.

Slimani at least grabbed a handful of goals when he managed to be fit, but Musa on the other hand was an unmitigated let-down. Like, to the point where you forgot he was even there come the end of the season. Never before has a black player wished they were back in Russia.

 

YOUNG PLAYER

Top Six – Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur)

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When will Alli get a challenge for this award? He should be a shining example

We all know how good Dele Alli is. We all know what a good season he had. Want to know why he won this? Because no other young player was quite frankly given anything that could be deemed a regular chance.

Gabriel Jesus may well be fantastic when he gets a full season behind him, and Hector Bellerin could well get back to his previous levels, but there are very few opportunities being offered to young players of any nationality, let alone English.

The success of England’s under 19s at the World Cup will hopefully lead to change, but with all the money going round in the game, clubs are always more likely to sign established stars than give a youngster a chance. They will keep signing promising kids, loan them out a tonne and eventually they’ll be able to toddle off somewhere in their 20s, failing to have kicked on and disillusioned with a nomadic lifestyle and a lack of chances at the place that was supposed to be home.

The Rest – Tom Davies (Everton)

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Davies is evidence of what can happen when faith is put in youth

It’s not just the money men by the way. The rest of the division is not much better for giving young players a chance, with only a couple of clubs seeming like a place to be given that chance to impress in the Premier League.

Southampton have developed a reputation for it, and Everton have also thankfully taken it upon themselves to give their impressive academy a chance to shine, with Tom Davies being the pick of the bunch.

The youngster has taken to life as a Premier League regular like a duck to water, pouring shame on Ross Barkley in the process. Davies looks comfortable and willing to kick on, with a number of Everton fans now happy to see Barkley moved on if it means Davies can be the main man driving forward from the midfield.

Alfie Mawson deserves a mention as well, but frankly the pool is still far too small to choose from. Given the disaster of last season’s transfer window, it is perhaps more pertinent to look to the academies for ways to improve the squads.

Time is very much of the essence for Roberto Martinez currently. It has been running out for some time now, as Everton fans, and subsequently the media are quickly realising how flawed he is as a manager.

Now in his third season at Goodison Park, there has been no progress forthcoming since the Spaniard took over, with Everton in fact having tumbled down the table, infuriating a set of fans who are generally some of the most patient in the country.

Under the stewardship of David Moyes, fans endured mixed seasons as they yo-yoed up and down the table on a whim, yet there was plenty of understanding among the crowd that the Scot would be capable of turning it around, with more ire directed towards a board that was not investing in the side.

Once Moyes was permitted to ‘enjoy’ a spell at Manchester United, Everton were tasked with finding a new manager for the first time in a decade, with Martinez seemingly given the bigger stage he deserved.

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After three years, Martinez’ time at Everton appears to be running thin

Credited with building the Swansea side that climbed up the divisions into the Premier League and made Brendan Rodgers the egomaniac he is today, Martinez signed for Everton on the back of an unprecedented FA Cup victory with Wigan Athletic.

With a massive achievement like that coming against all odds, in theory he was the perfect man to take Everton through that glass ceiling separating them from really troubling the top four positions, the board clearly happy to back the new man to realise their dreams.

What should have been heeded more was the relegation suffered by Wigan in that same season, with a side that toppled Manchester City to win the cup managing to be worse than a rancid Sunderland side who had looked doomed with a month of the campaign remaining.

 

The patience that he has been afforded to by the Toffees’ faithful has now worn thin, as despite a positive opening season, Everton have gradually gotten worse as time has gone on.

Their defensive record has become a running joke, their record at Goodison Park is among the worst outside of the relegation zone, and a side that looks very promising on paper is seemingly falling well short of its potential.

Everton are a side boasting one of the top strikers in world football in Romelu Lukaku. One of England’s most exciting midfield prospects in a long time in Ross Barkley. A man who excelled against Lionel Messi for Bosnia & Herzegovina at the last World Cup in Muhamed Besic. The apparent heir to Bobby Moore in John Stones. And yet they have yet to even reach the magical 40 point mark that is supposed to guarantee a reprieve from relegation from the Premier League.

Stones Struggles

Touted as a major prospect for England, John Stones is suffering for the mis-management of Martinez

Stones’ potential alone has been pinpointed for a number of years among more learned people than I, but his progression will only continue to falter under a manager who does not believe clean sheets are important to recording victories.

Lukaku is a forward who will attract any club in the world should he desire to push for a move away from Merseyside and a continued failure to even threaten challenging for Europe and a rather vocal agent will only amplify his wish to compete on a grander scale.

 

This felt like a make or break season for Martinez, to prove that he is the man to take Everton forward, following in the footsteps of Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur in breaking up the elite sides in the division. If West Ham have make a fist of it this season, a side with the talent Everton possess should be expected to pose some form of threat.

With new investors coming into the club at the end of 2015 and always the potential they might want to bring in their own man, this has felt like an audition for Martinez to keep his job into the 2016/17 season.

Since Farhad Moshiri arrived at the club, he has seen a sorry state of a side limp into the second half of the season, with the Toffees’ last 13 games yielding just 13 points, seeing them slip to 14th in the table.

Martinez Out

The natives are restless. And understandably so

The silver lining for Martinez is a place in the FA Cup semi-finals, and he must put all of his efforts into winning this trophy now to give him a fighting chance of being given another season at Goodison.

With Everton being given the tougher task of taking on either West Ham or Manchester United for a place in the season curtain-closer, Martinez will have to fancy his chances of landing silverware should they progress beyond the semis.

With dissent growing within the fans as ‘Martinez Out’ banners have begun to appear, he could quieten some of those doubters by bringing a first trophy to the club since 1995, buying himself more time to ensure he will be remembered as a success, making it difficult for new owners to dispose of him easily and perhaps convincing star players to give an extra year to the club.

Failure to do so and a bottom half finish will see the clamour for change increase. A series of daft sound-bites, a failure to realise that there are problems and obvious tactical deficiencies are undermining his position currently, with even the nice guy image beginning to dwindle.

Without that mask, he is susceptible to criticism from outside of the club and that is the beginning of the end for Martinez. Only cup glory will probably save him from an inevitable – and deserved – change of personnel in the summer.