07 Feb Premier League Review: Burnley and Bournemouth Impressive Again, Anfield Officiating Proves Controversial
A Premier League weekend of teams getting broadly what they deserve.
An age ago, before people were asking what was on telly on the touchline at Anfield, before Champions were capitulating, before even Bournemouth were being the form team in the division, before it all, Manchester City went to Burnley.
And what happened to them is what happened to every side that goes to Burnley. They played Burnley. They played them all over the pitch.
This may sound obvious but it really, really isn’t. The brilliance of Burnley is that every side who plays them very much look like they are playing them. More than any other side this season Manchester City have defined their own reality. They have set their own agenda. They play their football their way. But Burnley don’t stand for that. You play the game on their terms and their terms are that they will engage you all over the park, they may be defensive, they may be attacking but they will always be there, always be present, always fighting you. Their reality is your reality. And you will cop for it.
Their spearhead is Ashley Barnes, a man with more elbows than tends to average, a battering ram who is much more than that – he’s a battering ram with brains. And brains are what define Burnley’s work. They don’t make you do what they want you to do just by grafting away. They do so by being so much smarter than the average bear. They are street fighters with degrees in calculus. They are the most impressive side in the division in many ways. They are the most Burnley.
Burnley got what they deserved. Their point against City means they have now taken points off every side in the top five this season with the most measly of comparative budgets. They have done so by engaging, endlessly, exhaustingly engaging.
Bournemouth, meanwhile, find themselves currently seven games unbeaten and what’s striking about this run is that they have done so through January while not doing any business. It would be fair to describe the bottom half of the table as desperate as the window closed; most doing an impression of going to the bar in the dying embers of last orders and queuing as many drinks up as possible.
But not Bournemouth. Eddie Howe’s side have tended to have a good run once or twice a season since coming up but more than even that, what’s underpinned their relative success is the faith Howe has in his methods and his players. He is happy to keep plugging away but happy to stay limber in terms of formation and approach. Indeed, the biggest question marks around how good a manager he is relate to the transfer market and even there he is beginning to see much of last summer’s investments come good. Begovic and Ake are in good shape.
That this doesn’t include Jermain Defoe is interesting in itself. Howe’s best work is with footballers grafting away and working for each other. His side deserve their seven unbeaten and their victory against Stoke, not least because when forced into a change against early on against the Potters, Howe changed his whole shape given the way the game was working out. Bournemouth got their reward against an organised team under Paul Lambert and can perhaps now look at eighth rather than eighteenth.
Neither Liverpool nor Tottenham deserved to lose but both came perilously close to doing so. Engagement everywhere at Anfield as both sides spent long periods of each half penned into their
own final third. These were two serious football teams facing one another in a game which was dreadfully officiated from start to finish. Referee Moss’s shortcomings are not around one or two questionable penalties but instead were present throughout. He deserves the criticism coming his way as do the PGMOL for a statement which raised more questions than answers. Question one – why did you let the work experience lad pen the statement?
Liverpool and Tottenham have both looked like sides who deserve to finish in the Champions League places this season, far more so than Chelsea who remain fourth. But in getting battered at Vicarage Road they are closer to how their season should end up. Another disappointing title defence in the Premier League is drawing to a close, following in the footsteps of Manchesters United and City, Leicester and Chelsea themselves. Chelsea deserved nothing from Monday, Watford very much did. Another bold managerial move getting results.
Football throws up hard luck stories every weekend but sometimes you have to shrug your shoulders. Sometimes it gets it just right. Let’s mark this weekend down as one such occasion.