Columnists, Sports

Tiki-Taka: 5 things we learned in the Premier League this week

Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri was in the hot seat after the team’s goalkeeper, Kepa Arrizabalaga, refused to be substituted out in the Carabao Cup final. COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Soccer changes every day. This especially holds true in the English Premier League, where a week is equivalent to a year. Here are the five things we learned from all the action this weekend.

  1.    The Kepa-Sarri incident points to a deeper problem at Chelsea.

Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga’s tantrum in the Carabao Cup final was the biggest talking point from the weekend and could prove to be the final nail in the coffin for manager Maurizio Sarri.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the drama unfold before my eyes. I’d seen players show anger and frustration at being substituted, but I’d never seen a player outright reject a substitution.

The most bizarre part of this incident for me was César Azpilicueta’s role as a bystander. Azpilicueta, and the rest of the Blues’ actions — or rather lack of them — didn’t look like neutrality, but rather mutiny. Sarri is the 14th manager in 16 years of Roman Abramovich’s reign.

This impatience of their owner has crept into the mentality of the players. This revolving door of nannies has only made the spoiled children brattier. Abramovich’s impatience with his managers has rubbed off on his players, too. Thoughts and prayers, Chelsea fans.

  1.    How do you solve a problem like Liverpool?

As the business end of the season rolls around, the Reds’ push for a first ever EPL title is slowing down. Liverpool have only one win in February — a routine home victory against Bournemouth.

A dip in form for the Fab 3 coupled with European commitments seems to be taking its toll. Squad rotation is crucial at this juncture, and Jürgen Klopp will need the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri, Daniel Sturridge and Naby Keïta to step up if they are to win any silverware this season.

In his autobiography, Steven Gerrard spoke in 2014 about that extreme desire and desperation for the title as one factor it kept slipping away from them. Liverpool needs to learn from their mistakes in previous seasons and take it one game at a time.

  1.    Toon Army on the up

If Rafael Benítez manages to keep his side for a second consecutive season, I won’t be surprised to see his bust outside St. James’ Park. The record signing of Miguel Almirón from Atlanta coupled with a series of strong performances and results has the Toon feeling rosy.

Despite minimal resources, a half-brained owner and a polarized fan base, Benítez has stuck with the club and churned out results. To put Mike Ashley’s frugal nature in perspective, before Almirón, the record signing for Newcastle was the £16.8 million ($20 million) they spent on Michael Owen!

  1.    The race for fourth is heating up

Just three points separate fourth-place Arsenal and Chelsea, who currently occupy sixth, but have a game in hand. With Manchester United’s uptake in form under Ole Gunnar Solskjær, they look like the favorites to bag the last Champions League position.

Arsenal have been too inconsistent this season, and despite their 22-game unbeaten run, they have a chance at winning only the Europa League this season. The Arsenal-United showdown at the Emirates in March could well become the decider for fourth place.

  1.    Ranieri’s lost his magic touch

Dilly-ding, dilly-dong, Fulham’s going down. Claudio Ranieri’s arrival at Craven Cottage was met with a lot of fanfare, and hopes were raised of him replicating his feats with Leicester City in West London.

Wishful thinking. The Cottagers lie in 19th, seven points adrift of Southampton in 18th. Ranieri has won just four games this season, and his side have won only once in their last five games. The Tinkerman will need one final flourish of his wand to avoid relegation.

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