How can you tell if a team is in reasonable form? The League table helps, but isn’t indicative of current form. The injury ‘table’ often gives it away. When smaller teams do well, often a key ingredient is a full, fit squad to choose from. Watford’s (comparative) flying to start to the season has mirrored their lack of injuries – just 4 across the whole season. Palace have just the three injuries at the moment, none of them first team players. Then Leicester. Leicester City are currently one point off the top of the Premier League. They have 25 points from 12 games. They also have only had one player missing through injury this season, Matt James. It’s an incredible league position and an incredible injury statistic.
Newcastle United are top of the ‘injury league’ with 10 players. Every year we fight it out with Arsenal for the ‘injury’ title, often winning. Currently Good, Taylor, Riviere, Obertan, Aarons, Darlow, Krul, Colback, Haidara and Rob Elliot are listed as ‘injured’. I’d say 5 of those players would be in with a chance of starting Saturday, or at least playing some part. The same thing happens every year. It’s not bad luck. Maybe it’s bad luck on Steve McClaren’s part as he’s new to this mess. It’s not bad luck for Newcastle United. Something is seriously wrong. Most injuries are muscle related and not picked up on the pitch. Many players get injured and are out far longer than originally thought. What kind of treatment are the players receiving? What an earth is going on. It’s a farce. No one is asking any questions. Why?
This weekend two teams at the top and bottom of the table meet in what is quite a tasty fixture. Leicester are flying. Jamie Vardy is flying. He’s missed the international fixtures but he’ll be back on Saturday. He’s hoping to score in a record 11th consecutive game in the Premier League. He’d be the first player in history to do so in the Premier League. It’s impressive. Leicester themselves have blown all pre-season predictions out of the window. Their superb last quarter of the 14/15 season has propelled itself into this term under the stewardship of Claudio Ranieri. The man is a class act and never seems to stop smiling. The only manager I’ve ever heard criticise him in his career are Jose Mourinho (in Italy) and Alan Pardew recently. Work that one out.
Normally if this United were facing a team at the top end of the league, our chances would be bleak. However there is some hope. Besides dismantling a rank Sunderland side on the opening day, 4 2 – Leicester haven’t won a single game this season by more than one goal. United have kept more clean sheets in their last two games than Leicester have all season. Simply, Leicester concede goals and chances. Lots of them. Leicester gave only conceded 2 less goals than McClaren’s men – a staggering statistic when you think how shaky our defence have been. The problem is they’ve scored nearly double than our pathetic 13 goals this term and they’ve scored in every single game they’ve played. There’s a slight feeling amongst some pundits and some Leicester fans that they’ve been a tad fortunate in a few games.
I think United will win the game. We’ve lost only one of our last 4 games, and that was the referee dominated encounter with the mackems. The last two home games, against Norwich and Stoke, the performances have been good and we’ve created chances. We like to play on the counter attack and I think Leicester like to take the game to the opposition. It should suit our quicker players. The main worry is midfield. Bournemouth absolutely dominated that area of the pitch (and all others to be fair) and it’s arguable that neither is good enough to play in a Premier League midfield, let alone together. Tiote has been getting better in recent weeks (not that it was hard to improve) but he still gives the ball away needlessly. At least he is capable of occasionally winning the ball back. Anita is much discussed. I see that he has some sort of social media fan club. He’s neat and tidy, when under no pressure. He gives the ball away nearly as much as Tiote. It’s pathetic that a Premier League is relying on these two in the middle of the park in Premier League fixtures. One solution is moving Sissoko or Winjaldum inside and playing three in the middle and playing Thauvin. That negates our two most prominent attacking threats on either flank, who are responsible for most of the goals we’ve scored this season.
There’s another round of international fixtures to go while I’m writing this so fingers crossed for no injuries.
Leicester are due a bit of bad luck, I think we’re due a bit of luck – so hopefully we’ll win this one 3 1.
ALEX HURST – Follow Alex on @tfalex1892