February 6, 2018

FREE KICKS: Did the transfer merry-go-round solve anything?

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

While we should all be resigned to the fact that Manchester City has wrapped up the title, sitting 13 points up on Manchester United after this weekend’s draw against Burnley, the race for the top four looks like it will be as tight as ever.

After this weekend’s fixtures, Arsenal sits sixth place with 45 points, five back Chelsea in the critical fourth-place slot.

All five teams made a big move in the transfer window to prepare for this killer stretch run. Arsenal and United exchanged Alexis Sanchez and Henrikh Mkhitaryan while Chelsea picked up target man Olivier Giroud from the Gunners. The Reds landed Virgil van Dijk at the beginning of the window, but also lost key playmaker Philippe Coutinho to Barca. Arsenal, seemingly already sick of summer acquisition Alexandre Lacazette, also picked Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to lead the line. And Spurs, not to be left out, bought PSG castoff Lucas Moura.

These five combatants had no small share of drama this weekend, either.

Liverpool and Tottenham had a crazy end to their game with a couple of penalty calls and two goals in injury time.

Sanchez opened his account with United after watching his team concede 11 seconds into his United Premier League debut against Spurs midweek.

Arsenal’s offence exploded once again, scoring three goals in the first 19 minutes and four in the first half against Everton.

And Chelsea couldn’t hold off Watford to grab a point despite grabbing an equalizer in the 82nd minute.

All five of these Champions League chasers have talented enough squads to make a run at the three remaining spots. Now, it’ll be a matter of seeing which January arrival can propel his new team over the finish line ahead of their rivals.


With all the hype behind the arrivals of Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan, and Mesut Ozil signing a contract extension, the forgotten man at the Emirates was Aaron Ramsey.

While many were clamouring for Arsene Wenger to roll out a LMAO (Lacazzette, Auba, Mkhi, Ozil) attacking line – which makes no sense positionally – it was the Welshman that got the headlines against Everton, scoring a hat trick in the big win.

Of course, the new arrivals did their share, with Mkhi setting up three goals and Auba scoring in his debut – although he looked offside to me – but it was the tried and true that came through.

The biggest question mark with Ramsey has been his injury proneness, but if he can stay healthy, his play will prove just as important as those big-money signings.


With all of the talk about the referees in the Liverpool-Tottenham clash, it was a smart move by Mohamed Salah to keep playing while his team appealed for handball in the box, eventually beating the three defenders in front of him and scoring what almost everybody thought would be the winner. Play to the whistle is what we’re all taught and this time it benefited the Reds … What a rocket from Victor Wanyama to tie up that game. You don’t see many shots hit harder than that …  Dele Alli picked up his third yellow card for diving since 2015-16. No player has received more … The criminally underrated Chris Brunt now has 21 assists since the start of the 2014-15 season, which is actually two more than former player of the year Eden Hazard … Raheem Sterling had the miss of the season, right in front of the Burnley net. It’s a good thing for him and City that it likely won’t matter in the long run … Wait, is Swansea good? The Welsh side now has seven points in the past three games, including those two shockers against Liverpool and Arsenal … Goals don’t come more perfectly placed than Izquierdo’s against West Ham. There was no chance for Adrian to stop that perfectly curled shot into the top corner … Scott McTominay got absolutely clobbered by the Terriers’ Terence Kongolo to no call. It was the sort of hit that would’ve definitely been called a foul outside of the box, but for some reason the ref didn’t want to make the call for a clear penalty. Kongolo probably should’ve gotten a yellow for it, too … Speaking of McTominay, we’re not sure what message that Jose Mourinho was trying to send by starting the youngster over Paul Pogba. It’s something that can’t be ignored after the Special One and Pogba got into a positioning argument on the sidelines midweek and the Frenchman was subbed off. All this is doing is creating a narrative of instability at Old Trafford between the manager and a star player and it’s an unneeded distraction … Only seven teams have a positive goal differential this season and six of them are at +16 or higher. Only Leicester City, which started out the season quite poorly, is in the single digits at +3 … You’ve got to be pretty daft to get two yellows in the space of five minutes, like Tiemoue Bakayoko did against Watford. The game was only a half-hour old, too.


If you thought the race for Champions League spots was going to be crazy, take a look down the table and notice how insanely close the relegation race is.

From 19th-place Huddersfield Town to 12th-place West Ham, there is a mere three-point difference. That’s eight teams that could find themselves in the relegation zone at the end of any given week, plus 20th-place West Brom, which is four points back of the Terriers.

The big difference right now is goal differential, with Stoke and Huddersfield at -26 and -27, respectively, while the teams currently in safe positions no worse than Swansea’s -18. That could be huge down the line. The thought of being sent to the Championship because of a tiebreaker would be a heartbreaker.

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