See? Being a perennial Chelsea loanee is not necessarily a career death knell. All it took for Victor Moses was three separate loan spells of varying non-success, five different Blues managers since he joined in 2012, and a complete tactical overhaul from Antonio Conte in order for him to be brought in from the cold. Simple.
David Luiz has excelled and Marcos Alonso has been a fine addition, but the most understated improvement any Chelsea player has undergone this season has been that of Moses. The skillful winger has transformed into an excellent wing-back, one built for receiving anything between a 6 or 8 out of 10 in player ratings for ‘performing his defensive duties but ensuring to get forward often’.
The 26-year-old has played just 91 minutes across Chelsea’s three Premier League defeats this season; only three players have featured in less of their losses. Oscar (84 minutes) has since departed, Cesc Fabregas (61) has been no more than a squad player, and Michy Batshuayi (24) has his own engraved seat on the bench. Moses is the true Victor here.
Arsenal have lost four games this season; Shkodran Mustafi remains undefeated. The Gunners have fallen to Liverpool, Everton and Manchester City in the Premier League, as well as Southampton in the EFL Cup. Mustafi had not joined the club ahead of the first – a 4-3 defeat to Jurgen Klopp’s Reds – while he was sidelined through injury for the other three. Each time, his absence has been glaringly obvious. Be it Rob Holding, Calum Chambers or Gabriel Paulista, the Gunners simply do not look as imperious without their New F***ing German alongside Laurent Koscielny.
It was expected that Mustafi would improve Arsenal upon his signing this summer for £35million, but no-one envisaged him being quite so important. Should the Gunners still pray that he is as good as Eric Bailly?
“As much as I like Sadio, it’s not allowed to think that our problems are because we missed Sadio. In the games we failed to get a result, we made other mistakes than not scoring enough goals.”
Jurgen Klopp would go on to provide examples of his theory that Liverpool’s recent slump was entirely unrelated to Sadio Mane’s Africa Cup of Nations-related absence. “We scored two against Swansea,” he added, speaking earlier this week. “We scored two against Sunderland. Well, he was still involved.”
It was hardly the most compelling argument, and although Klopp is not alone in blaming factors other than missing Mane, it is difficult not to look beyond his unavailability as the main catalyst for Liverpool’s quite dreadful run in form. The Reds have scored seven goals in their last eight games, and have won one match this year – a 1-0 FA Cup third-round replay victory over League Two Plymouth.
Most of that run has coincided with Mane’s absence. Liverpool’s win rate without the forward this season is 33.3%; with the 24-year-old in the side, they have won 71.4% of their games. They have suffered four defeats in nine matches without him, and just one loss in 21 with him. And they score an average of one goal a game when he is removed from the side, compared to 2.61 goals a game when he starts. These are not statistical quirks or coincidences; Liverpool struggle desperately without him.
It was never supposed to be like this. Mane’s signing was hardly greeted with universal fanfare at Anfield. Some saw it as underwhelming, that £34million could have been spent better elsewhere. Yet the positive effect he has on this side is undeniable. The manager has built a supremely effective system based on his pace, movement and direct running, and it is no wonder he has failed to replicate it this winter without his Senegalese star. Klopp can quote seminal pop classic ‘Price Tag’ all he wants, but it really is all about the Mane.
Am I jealous of Tom Davies, Premier League footballer at the age of 18? Am I jealous of Tom Davies, who can grow a far better beard despite his being born during the 1998 World Cup? Am I jealous of Tom Davies, whose pockets already contain a Yohan Cabaye, an Oriol Romeu swap and a shiny Yaya Toure?
To all of the above, a big fat yes. Davies has emerged as one of the leading lights of the top flight, instigating Ronald Koeman and Everton’s recent unlikely push towards the top six. The midfielder has played 458 minutes of Premier League football this season, in which time the Toffees have scored 13 goals and conceded none.
Everton have a 28% win rate without Davies, and a 66% win rate with him. He has already scored his first top-flight goal. He has two assists to his name. He has played as big a part in Ross Barkley‘s recent improvement as anyone. And yet it is the beard which remains his most impressive achievement.
Oh, you thought that Michael Carrick statistic was no longer valid after Manchester United’s game with Hull on Thursday evening? Think again, pal.
You see, United did not lose. And so Carrick has still not been beaten since May 10, 2016.
I won’t hide the fact that Oumar Niasse and his mates have really annoyed me, because United’s record with and without Carrick this season was not only emphatic proof that he makes a massive difference (it still is, to be fair), but it was lovely and symmetrical. Before Thursday, United had played 34 games – 17 with Carrick and 17 without. With him starting they had won twice as many games (14 to seven), scored 23 more goals, conceded seven fewer, and had not tasted defeat.
Then Marco Silva happened. I can see why Paul Merson doesn’t like him now. Thankfully, we all predicted just how important a 35-year-old Carrick would be to this side under Jose Mourinho. We all did. All of us.
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