Manish Bhasin: Racism Reaction & Return of the Premier League
It's great to be on board with my first column for Gambling.com, but I'm not so elated having to reflect on Monday night’s shocking scenes in Sofia as racism quite literally reared its ugly head to overshadow England’s fine 6-0 win over Bulgaria.
Amidst the hate-filled gloom created by a vocal minority, it was great to see Tyrone Mings, Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford shine in the way that they did. It was the perfect response by those being singled out - it was just a shame that many of those who hurled abuse weren’t around to see Sterling get his brace.
For England, it was also the perfect response to their first loss in 44 qualifying matches against the Czech Republic on Friday in the most trying of circumstances. The phrase "Stronger Together" comes to mind, and I was so proud of how the England team dealt with it.
To hear afterwards how Jordan Henderson wanted to make those ‘fans’ suffer with a comprehensive performance just shows how they were all hurt by what had transpired.
What Can Be Done?
But what needs to be done to stop this from happening in the future? Is UEFA’s three strikes and out policy too lenient? At what point will national FAs finally realise that enough is enough? It’s good to see action has been taken on that front. Hopefully, it isn’t just lip service.
As events were unfolding, it was fascinating to see two black ex-footballers come up with different ways to deal with the problem as they took to social media. Chris Kamara tweeted "Please don’t let the racists win - do not call this game off" while his fellow pundit Stan Collymore wrote "The monkey noises are audible. Take them off".
Please don’t let the racists win 😡 do not call this game off— Chris Kamara (@chris_kammy) October 14, 2019
The monkey noises are audible.— Stan Collymore (@StanCollymore) October 14, 2019
Take them off.
That in itself sums up the current predicament. I agree with Collymore’s sentiments, but I get the nagging feeling that approach would appear to be giving in to the perpetrators. Surely, the sight of both teams walking off with the referee would give a clearer message of solidarity - that this will simply not be tolerated anymore no matter which team is being affected.
As for punishments, surely now is the time to impose much tougher sanctions such as stadium closures and travel bans. This is the chance for UEFA to make a real statement, not just a written one.
But as a footnote, as someone who's experienced racism at football matches in the mid-80s, let's not get carried away by pointing fingers at others. More than 30 years on, racism is still a problem on these shores and we cannot afford to take our eye off the ball either.
Three Lions Midfield Dilemma
As for matters on the pitch, Gareth Southgate (whose conduct has been impeccable throughout this unseemly episode) continues to try and find his best combination in midfield. It’s hard to surmise too much from Monday’s win with Henderson, Winks and Barkley starting. But there’s no doubt it’s an area which lacks conviction. It also lacks any real identity.
Is Henderson’s energy enough to make him a shoo-in to start regularly? Does Harry Winks' technical ability place him ahead of Declan Rice? Who then links up with the attack? Dele Alli? Ross Barkley? Phil Foden? Mason Mount? James Maddison? Southgate needs to settle on a midfield combination as soon as possible with a clear vision ahead of Euro 2020.
England’s frontline seems far more straight forward. Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane and Jadon Sancho look the standout trio. They have already scored 20 goals between them in the early part of the season and could prove to be a lethal partnership in the Euros. On form, there are few better forward lines in world football.
Managers Under Pressure as PL Returns
Current next Premier League manager sacked odds (as of 16/10/2019)
|Ole Gunnar Solskjaer||3/1|
|Quique Sanchez Flores||25/1|
As for domestic matters, the Premier League returns this Saturday (hurrah) with three managers who find themselves under pressure and in desperate need of a win. In fact, all three are favourites in the Premier League sack race.
On top of that list is Everton’s Marco Silva. It’s incredible to think that just over two months ago they were being touted as credible top-six challengers. Instead, they’re in the relegation zone with just seven points from eight games. It’s hard to see where the Toffees have improved since Silva replaced the much-maligned Sam Allardyce.
Ever since Romelu Lukaku left for Old Trafford back in 2017, goals continue to be a real problem, with just six so far in this campaign. That’s despite Everton having had 10 more shots on goal than Leicester City, but have scored eight goals fewer. An astonishing statistic.
If ever there was a time to find their goal-scoring boots, it would be now. While Everton appear to be standing by their man, you get the impression the next two games against West Ham and Brighton could have a huge bearing on the manager’s future.
Unlike Everton, the Hammers do look like a side who’ve got something about them, especially up front. I like the look of their club-record signing Sebastian Haller who's taken to life in the Premier League impressively.
There’s no doubt Tottenham and Mauricio Pochettino will have a huge point to prove after the international break. The PL’s recent perennial over-achievers have only managed three wins in their last 11 games in all competitions. So how will they respond after conceding 10 goals in heavy defeats to Bayern and Brighton?
You could argue those results aren’t an accurate reflection of where they’re at. But there are several issues that Pochettino needs to address. Does he need to stick with the three so-called ‘contract rebels’ (Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld and Christian Eriksen) who are into the final few months of their current deals? How does he get the players to regain their intensity?
Pochettino has endured a horrendous run of results in recent weeks (© PA Images)
The stats don’t lie. In his 6th season at the club, not only is the average age of Pochettino’s team at its oldest - 27 years and 243 days compared to 24 yrs, 338 days in his first season - but his side now covers less distance per 90 mins (down by 10k), as is the number of presses per 90 mins (down from 13.6 to 10.6).
Are the double training sessions on roughly the same group of players beginning to take its toll? He could do with some players back from injury, namely Dele Alli and Ryan Sessegnon, to not only lift the dressing room but to give some unpredictability to their play.
Despite press reports suggesting that Mauricio Pochettino is already thinking of life after Tottenham, I feel he’s got enough credit in the bank to be given the time to try and put things right. Hosting bottom club Watford, who’ve lost their last five league trips to Spurs, could be seen as the ideal fixture - or the worst depending on the outcome.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
On Monday, I presented a TV show assessing all 20 teams in the Premier League season so far. We discussed each team in order of their position in the league, starting with leaders Liverpool. We didn’t get to Manchester United until the start of Part 3. That says it all.
Ole Gunner Solskjaer has overseen United’s worst start in the Premier League after losing to West Ham, Crystal Palace and Newcastle - and things could get a whole lot worse as they host a rampant Liverpool on Sunday, who’ve won their last 17 on the spin. The fact United could be without the injured David De Gea, while Liverpool could welcome back Alisson, is just another problem Solskjaer could do without.
United need to stick with their manager for the sake of stability alone, but I just wonder though whether a heavy defeat might see him pay the ultimate price? Soljskaer needs his key injured players back, and like Spurs they need to work harder to regain possession. They have won fewer tackles and interceptions combined (125 tackles and 66 interceptions) than any other team in the top-flight of English football. You’d think hard work would be a given.
Surely a home fixture against one of your arch-rivals will be enough to sting the players into action. Anything else will prompt further questions not just of the manager but the players' attitude as well.
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