In a normal season around this time of year, Christmas / New Year, we would be at the halfway point of the Premier League campaign. Of course this is not a normal season with interruptions to the fixture list following the death of the Queen and a World Cup played in our winter as opposed to the summer.
As we go into the final fixture of 2022 at home to Brentford we still have three league games to play before the halfway point is reached. Following Brentford we have away games at Leeds (4 Jan), and Wolves (14 Jan), with a third round FA Cup tie at Brentford in between (7 Jan).
In a normal season we would play all the other 19 teams first before embarking upon the reverse fixtures in the second half, but this time around it will not be quite like that, as our 19th fixture at Wolves will be the second time we have faced them. We haven’t yet faced high flying Newcastle as that game was postponed in Matchweek 7.
After 16 Premier League games we have lost 10, winning just 4 and drawing 2. That means we have 14 points and sit in 16th place in the table, just ahead of Everton based on goals scored (we are level on points and goal difference with them). Any team that is averaging a point a game or less is involved in a relegation situation. We are most definitely involved. Although Declan Rice believes the current position is just “a bump in the road.”
Everton are one of just three teams to have scored fewer goals than us. We have 13, Everton 12, Forest 11, and Wolves 10. Conversely our goals conceded record is much better with only Newcastle, Everton, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool having conceded fewer goals than us. That demonstrates where the problem lies. We are not scoring enough goals, especially away from home where we have managed just four and never more than once in any game.
At home we have 10 points from our 8 games with 3 wins by two goal margins, 2-0 v Wolves, 3-1 v Fulham and 2-0 v Bournemouth, and a 1-1 draw v Tottenham. Four home games have been lost conceding two goals in each, 0-2 v Manchester City, 0-2 v Brighton, 1-2 v Palace and 0-2 v Leicester.
Away from home this week’s 1-3 reverse at Arsenal was the first time we have been beaten by more than a single goal, with four 0-1 losses at Forest, Everton, Liverpool and Manchester United and a 1-2 reverse at Chelsea. The four points we have picked up on our travels are from a 1-0 win at Villa and a 1-1 draw at bottom club Southampton.
Current form is woeful with four league defeats in a row (the same as Southampton who have recently sacked their manager); our last win was 2-0 at home to Bournemouth (24 Oct). Said Benrahma is our leading league goalscorer with 3 (2 of which were penalties). In fact he has scored our last three league goals. The last time any other player has scored a goal was when Zouma scored (a controversial?) header just before half time in the win over Bournemouth.
Bowen, Scamacca and Antonio haven’t scored since 9 October when they all scored in the 3-1 win over Fulham. Bowen’s goal was a penalty in that game; he subsequently missed one at Liverpool on 19 October. They have each scored just twice this season.
The 14 points we have amassed from our first 16 games is exactly half of what we had achieved after 16 games last season when we had 28 points from 8 wins, 4 draws and just 4 defeats, and sat in 4th place in the table. This highlights our decline since then with the final 22 games from last term and the first 16 from this one (a full season’s worth of 38 games) producing just 42 points.
The only real positive from this season has been our 8 wins from 8 games in the Europa Conference League. You can only beat what is in front of you but these victories say more about the quality of the opposition in those games than anything else.
The pressure is building on David Moyes as we have lost four games in a row, the ten defeats are equally the most in the top flight, and we are just one point and two places above the bottom three. The next three games to the halfway point of the season are crucial.
- Can we win all three to move on to 23 points from 19 games and mid-table?
- If we lose all three and / or fall into the relegation places will David Moyes still be the manager? Or will two top seven finishes in the last two seasons, reaching the Europa Cup semi-final last time, and qualification for the round of 16 in the Europa Conference League this season buy him more time?
- If he goes, who might replace him?
- Will we still be in the FA Cup after the third round matches?
The mood on fan groups on the internet certainly seems to have shifted. The numbers calling for the manager to be replaced are growing, and the number of fans supporting him seems to be diminishing rapidly. That will escalate if the current slump does not get turned round quickly.
The list of complaints about him include:
- losing the dressing room,
- picking his favourites however poorly they seem to be playing,
- a lack of tactical ideas,
- no plan B or C,
- setting up to not lose or to hold on for a win if we do get in front,
- making strange substitutions,
- making substitutions too late,
- an inferiority complex especially regarding the top teams,
- giving too much respect to the top teams especially when we are away (he has a poor managerial record against some top clubs never having beaten them away after numerous efforts),
- turning good players into average ones,
- buying players not suited to the club, the Premier League or his playing style,
- opposition teams have now found us out and he has failed to adapt or recognise this,
- failure to give academy players a chance
Those are just a random selection – there may be more.
He was well supported in terms of finance in the summer but the newcomers have not (yet?) proved to be a success. Aguerd has been injured (is he injury prone – time will tell?), Paqueta is obviously a good player but does not seem to be suited to playing in the Premier League, Scamacca is Haller mark 2 and not suited to our style of play, Emerson is Masuaku mark 2, Cornet seems to be injury prone, Kehrer seems to make a lot of mistakes for a current German international defender, and Downes looks a good player but doesn’t get selected.
This evening’s game against Brentford is vital if we are going to start to recover from this disappointing start to the season. We haven’t beaten them for almost 30 years, although we have only played them twice in that time when they did the double over us last season. Despite our recent form, bookmakers still have us as evens favourites to win the game. What are the chances?