When is the optimum time to sack a Premier League manager?

The third international break is looming large, and the Premier League is still to see a managerial casualty. There is a growing feeling that is about to change.

A lot has changed since the inaugural season, when it wasn’t until February 1993 that Ian Porterfield was dismissed as Chelsea boss.

The months between October and December have become the most common period when sackings have been made. Five of the 10 managerial departures mid-season in 2017/18 took place between these months, with all five taking place at clubs in 17th place or lower at the time. But it hasn’t always resulted in success.

In fact, West Brom, Swansea and Stoke all changed managers between November 20 and January 6 but all three clubs ended up being relegated.

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Conversely, by the time Pulis lost his job at The Hawthorns (November 20), Roy Hodgson had stepped in for Frank de Boer at Crystal Palace (September 12) while Leicester had already replaced Craig Shakespeare with Claude Puel (October 25).

David Moyes had taken over from Slaven Bilic at West Ham (November 7), and Everton were close to finally finding a replacement for Ronald Koeman, sacked on October 23.

The reason for the length of time it has taken for a first managerial dismissal this time around is largely due to the Premier League table quickly resembling the natural order. No club can claim to be grossly underperforming given the circumstances.

But the first managerial sacking will reverberate around the boardrooms at all clubs involved in the relegation battle, a case of who blinks first, but never has having a contingency plan been so important.

The case of Swansea during the 2016/17 season, when Francesco Guidolin was replaced by Bob Bradley only for Paul Clement to take over by January is the prime example that strikes fear into many owners.

Hull replaced a newly-appointed manager in the same season, with Mike Phelan lasting until the New Year before Marco Silva’s arrival. The Portuguese was unable to keep the Tigers up, but he earned himself a move to Watford.

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By virtue of the panic which comes with missing out on the millions in TV revenue, we now see a strategy, with managers offered contracts on a short-term basis, in arrangements that suit both parties.

Sam Allardyce at Crystal Palace and Everton, David Moyes at West Ham, Carlos Carvalhal at Swansea, Paul Lambert at Stoke and Mark Hughes with Southampton. The threat of relegation is leaving boards with two options.

With Moyes and Allardyce available and with track records of keeping clubs up, they represent the premium option, commanding high wages, and control on transfers even on short-term deals.

Both have rebuilt their reputations, but the other option is those who have a point to prove – the unglamorous, the tarnished or the unknown. Lambert fell into the first of these categories while Alan Pardew certainly falls into the second after failing at West Brom.

Clubs perennially in precarious positions don’t afford managers time to develop their philosophy, and the knock-on effect is that players are beginning to expect a change of direction when results nosedive with the autumn leaves.

What has been the upshot of a change in approach at boardroom level?

We are now seeing record numbers when it comes to just how wretchedly bad some sides start seasons before the ultimate consequence is dished out. Newcastle moved out of the relegation zone after a first win at the 11th attempt.

Huddersfield ended a seven-month wait for a win against Fulham, scoring a first goal at home in 658 minutes – in typical fashion, it was later credited as an own goal.

Both they and Newcastle won courtesy of goals from set pieces. Cardiff lost again at home while Crystal Palace lost a seventh game already this season at Chelsea, yet they sit 14th in relative mid-table obscurity.

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Southampton ended a 505-minute wait for a goal when Danny Ings struck a first-half penalty at Manchester City. To reach the modest sum of 50 goals scored this season, according to Opta’s Duncan Alexander, Hughes’ side would have to take 1,129 shots, so poor is their finishing. They had 450 shots in total last campaign.

Boards are responding to the way players feed off the notion that it takes a lot more money to overhaul an entire squad than change the manager. The lack of intensity from Fulham players who know they face a relegation wage drop was startling.

Now, we see a different, short-term strategy where firefighters masquerade as managers, knowing that they are likely to be those being put out either at the end of the season or not long into the next.

Slavisa Jokanovic’s Fulham weren’t expected to struggle after a record-breaking transfer window, but Monday night’s 1-0 loss to Huddersfield left them at rock bottom.

The chaos and uncertainty which reigns at Craven Cottage can also be felt at St Mary’s, where Southampton manager Hughes is reportedly one game away from the sack.

Hughes became Saints’ fifth permanent manager in the past five years only in May but defeat at home to Watford this Saturday could prove the final straw.

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He announced his “affinity” with the club was the main driving force behind his decision to agree to take charge of the strugglers last March on a temporary basis, but the club were then warned about extending their association with him longer term.

While it is still early, it would appear the sack race among sides directly involved in a relegation battle can be condensed to five, possibly six, runners and riders.

Huddersfield’s David Wagner works under an owner in Dean Hoyle who has gone on record to state he will not be sacking the German this season, regardless of whether or not they survive relegation.

Therefore, we could have ruled out that possibility even before a performance against Fulham that was full of blood and thunder, and a clear demonstration that everyone at the John Smith’s Stadium are pulling in the same direction.

The on-goings at Burnley, who have conceded 13 goals in their last three games, has been viewed as a regression to the norm following last season’s freakish seventh-place finish, where no fewer than 12 games were won by the odd goal.

Their defensive solidity has evaporated, with the very same partnership of James Tarkowski and Ben Mee who kept 12 clean sheets last term having had their rear-guard breached on four or more occasions already in four of the 11 games to date.

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“This is the norm where we expect Burnley to be,” said Jamie Carragher on Monday Night Football. “What they did last season was off the scale, so it was never going to be the same.”

Sean Dyche has rarely come under pressure during his six years at the club, even when Burnley went straight back down in the 2014/15 season. Their immediate return vindicated the board’s decision to keep the faith.

But can Dyche be ruled out of the sack race? Right now, I’m not so sure. After the highs of last season, Carragher assessed how certain players now feel they can move on from the principles that have served them so well, choosing the wrong options on the ball.

Their Europa League exertions can no longer be used as an excuse, while the blame can hardly be placed at Joe Hart, who has made 50 saves this season – five more than any other goalkeeper.

The minority still who feel Dyche has taken the club as far as he can would argue that the same core group of players for the last three seasons now need a new voice with a change in philosophy to freshen up Turf Moor.

The feeling at Burnley is that if things persist as they are, chairman Mike Garlick will continue to back Dyche long into the season, meaning the obvious candidates to bring new ideas and an injection of confidence may have already taken up positions elsewhere.

Burnley could yet become a victim of their success if a ruthless approach isn’t taken. When the late Leicester chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha sacked Claudio Ranieri in February 2017 – nine months after winning the Premier League title – it was met with strong criticism.

But the Foxes were one point above the relegation zone with 13 matches remaining, and there was a distinct possibility of their fairytale success having an unwanted ending.  On a smaller scale, Dyche is currently eating into the credit he has amassed for last season.

By next February, if Burnley remain perilously close to the bottom three, you wonder if a mutual parting of ways will also be in everyone’s interest.

Aside from the exceptions that can therefore be made for both Burnley and Huddersfield, no manager from Crystal Palace down is safe – although in the case of Newcastle, it remains more a case of the club not being safe from their manager walking away.

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Only six teams have conceded fewer goals than Rafa Benitez’s Magpies – the top four, Wolves and Watford – which is likely to form the basis for achieving a third straight season in the top flight.

Teams are having to improve just to stand still, but Newcastle are treading water under owner Mike Ashley, merely existing from one season to the next.

Will Watford’s model become the norm?

The mediocrity of many teams below the top six means Watford’s model of hiring and firing has never looked so healthy under Javi Gracia.

The Hornets failed to even score in any of their eight away games under his stewardship last season, but the Spaniard is now overseeing a squad playing with any such shackles unclipped by four straight wins at the start of this campaign.

Cardiff are a hard sell for any perspective manager, even without Neil Warnock’s regular robust dismissal of his side’s chances of survival.

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You feel if owner Vincent Tan genuinely believed the club could stay up, he would’ve sacked Warnock already – possibly before a ball was even kicked.

The likelihood is that the south Wales club will look to example of Burnley four seasons ago in the hope that a year in the top flight will in the long-term help them come back stronger, but not so many owners can live with the uncertainty of slipping back into the fiercely competitive Championship.

The question of when to sack has in many cases become more crucial than who to appoint. Each season, there are many examples of clubs surviving one managerial change, but never has a Premier league club survived two.

What are the obvious trigger-points for sacking a manager?

  1. Haphazard team selection
  2. Struggles despite investment in squad
  3. Waning attendances
  4. Club representing an attractive proposition
  5. Upcoming fixture list

The five reasons above alone place Jokanovic on borrowed time at Fulham, despite a public vote of confidence from chairman Shahid Khan and his record of having guided the club to promotion only six months ago.

A sense of momentum was built then, aided by a consistency in team selection. The Serbian picked the same back four and goalkeeper for the final 15 games of last season as promotion was secured via the play-offs.

Twelve summer signings to the tune of £100m-plus spent has led to too much competition, with Jokanovic responding from one setback to the next by merely trying to find another solution in terms of personnel.

Maxime Le Marchand’s return to the defence at Huddersfield was the 19th alteration to the back four by Jokanovic in just 11 games – and his time is all the more precarious given Fulham’s status as a London club.

As it stands, he ticks many boxes in the race to become the first manager to be sacked, but there is also the question of giving any potential successor a decent set of fixtures with which to start.

Fulham face Liverpool this Saturday, by which point Jokanovic’s fate may have already been sealed, but the fortnight that follows before their next fixture screams a time for change.

After the international break, the west Londoners are at home to fellow strugglers Southampton – a perfect ‘first fixture’ for both should a new man be drafted in.

“I remain confident,” Jokanovic said after the defeat in Yorkshire. “Part of the job is in the hands of my players, part of the job is in my hands, but part of it is in the board’s hands too.”

Khan sacked Rene Meulensteen just 11 days after the Dutchman received the “100 per cent backing” of Khan in 2014. The omens aren’t good for Jokanovic, whose likely departure could trigger a domino effect.

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Good week, bad week: Brahim Diaz turns on the style for Manchester City as Bayern Munich defender Rafinha apologises for Halloween costume

In a new weekly blog, Ben Grounds looks at those in the world of football to have starred and suffered over the past seven days…

Good week

Ross Barkley

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When Barkley joined Chelsea in January, you could have forgiven supporters for shrugging their shoulders. Another hamstring injury and some rather harsh words from Antonio Conte following his debut at Arsenal were all he had to show for his first six months at the club.

But after a very tough pre-season, he is now reaping the rewards. The midfielder is starting to get the credit he deserves with the potential having always been there. His goals and assists in the win over Burnley mean he has now scored in three successive league games for the first time in his career.

Barkley arrived at Stamford Bridge with no guarantee he would start, but his flying form is now making a mockery of the £15m exchanged with Everton for his services. The player himself deserves immense credit for how he’s turned things around but producing on a consistent basis is now key.

His three goals and three assists have come from just eight shots and five chances created – one every 14.7 minutes on the pitch – and the competition for places at Chelsea means he can’t afford to rest on his laurels as witnessed after several false dawns at his former club.

Roberto Martinez

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Another man whose stock has certainly risen since leaving Everton, Martinez landed on his feet in the Belgium job after his time at Goodison Park turned sour – and the Spaniard is now being heavily linked with the Real Madrid vacancy.

Martinez is a man who certainly interviews well, earning his current post off the back of compiling a detailed presentation of where the national team went wrong in losing to Wales at Euro 2016.

His man-management skills appeared to have masked the fact he only has a League One title and FA Cup winners’ medal to show for his honours’ list on his CV, but his style of football has earned him admirers among Madrid’s hierarchy.

The Belgian FA have issued a warning that they will not tolerate any ‘tapping up’ over their head coach, who has a contract until 2020 that does not have a release clause – meaning Real’s negotiators will need to agree compensation with his present employers to secure his services.

But having led the county to third place at last summer’s World Cup, Martinez must wonder if he will ever have a better chance of managing one of the biggest clubs in the world – a pipe dream when he became the subject of ridicule on Merseyside.

Eddie Howe

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Harry Redknapp has been in the news this week for his rather cutting analysis of Gary Neville’s cutting analysis of Tottenham, but the manager-turned-pundit was full of praise for the job Howe is doing at Bournemouth.

“If Mourinho left United tomorrow, Eddie Howe wouldn’t even get a mention,” Redknapp told ESPN. “I’ve watched Eddie in action at Bournemouth, seen his coaching sessions first-hand, and the intensity and quality of his work is absolutely top-class.

“But when a top job comes up, he never gets a look-in and it’s the same for a lot of good, young English managers.

“It’s different if you’ve managed in the Portuguese league and have a good agent. Club owners seem much happier going down that route.”

It’s hard to disagree when you reflect on the remarkable job Howe continues to do on the south coast, with the Cherries booking their place in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals this week having thrashed Fulham at the weekend.

It’s just a shame they now face a tricky trip to Chelsea in the next round, with the likelihood being that Howe will need to win something before he can be expected to earn the full respect of a top-six dressing room. But his side is full of players he has improved.

Brahim Diaz

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Diaz scored his first two goals for Manchester City as Fulham were swept aside in the Carabao Cup – offering the club a reminder of his qualities with his contract up for renewal ahead of its expiry next summer.

The 19-year-old Spaniard has only made 14 appearances in all competitions since arriving from Malaga two years ago, but negotiations are currently at an impasse with Real Madrid reportedly interested.

With all the talk centred on Phil Foden, Diaz is the old kid on the block, but having been the difference on his first start at the Etihad on Thursday, Guardiola admitted his frustration at having to leave his talented teenager out of Premier League matchday squads.

He said: “There are no words to explain how tough it is. Winter is coming so everybody is going to play.

“They can be upset with me, no problem when they react like that on the field. We can dream but the reality of football… football can break your dreams.” Diaz showed why he could be a star for the future.

Tom Heaton

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One of the more unusual stories of the week that saw two figures brought back into collective conscience, it was revealed that Sir Elton John texted Watford’s chief executive Scott Duxbury to advise him to sign Tom Heaton.

The club’s honorary life president is a regular at Vicarage Road, but the Financial Times reported that he is far from taking a back seat when it comes to giving his views on the team.

Duxbury said he regularly contacts the 71-year-old, and after Watford were recently beaten 4-0 by Bournemouth, Sir Elton not only disclosed that the team were suffering as a result of Ben Foster being in goal, but that they should pursue Burnley’s Heaton.

Foster has kept two clean sheets since the aberration against the Cherries, but Heaton has been on the decline ever since dislocating his shoulder at the start of last season. Sean Dyche has suggested he will let the ‘keeper leave in January, with his last appearance coming in the Carabao Cup defeat at Burton in September.

Having not returned the same player following his injury, such a glowing reference must surely act as a shot in the arm for Heaton to show he’s still standing.

Bad week

Edinburgh derby

The Scottish Premiership has enjoyed something of a renaissance this season since the arrival of Steven Gerrard at Rangers, but the competition made headlines for all the wrong reasons on Wednesday following a tempestuous draw between Edinburgh rivals Hearts and Hibernian.

“This should be a showpiece game,” Hibs manager Neil Lennon said after being struck by a missile that left his jaw throbbing. Both sides are enjoying fine starts to the season, but this was a night of high emotion that overstepped the mark.

The typically feisty derby boiled over during five mad minutes as after Florian Kamberi was sent off for a mid-air challenge on Ollie Bozanic, Hearts ‘keeper Zdenek Zlamal was punched by a Hibs supporter in ugly scenes at Tynecastle.

There have been discussions about allowing alcohol back in the stands during matches, but this was a shameful reminder of what can occur even with it constricted to the concourses, while Lennon was struck by a coin after appearing to goad the Hearts fans for a disallowed goal.

Jon Moss

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While I’m loathe to criticise referees (especially those whose decisions have directly impacted upon my own club’s fortunes), it’s hard to ignore those made by Moss in the two games he officiated in this week.

The 48-year-old was criticised by Southampton manager Mark Hughes, ironically against Everton, for being “30 yards behind the play” when awarding a free-kick which led to his team conceding a late equaliser in May.

Hughes argued that Moss was “probably getting his breath back” in a tone that has punctuated his entire managerial career – but the referee was well-placed to see Idrissa Gueye’s touch on the ball as Anthony Martial theatrically went to ground inside the box last Sunday.

Moss pointed to the spot as Manchester United went on to beat Everton 2-1 at Old Trafford, and he compounded his bad week at the crucial moment in Chelsea’s 3-2 win over Derby on Wednesday.

Cesc Fabregas smashed Chelsea in front shortly before half-time, despite an obvious barge by Davide Zappacosta on Tom Lawrence right in front of the linesman in the build-up.

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Derby manager Frank Lampard said: “The fourth official said it was off the pitch. The VAR looked at it. I’ve looked at it and the ball wasn’t off the pitch, the foul wasn’t off the pitch, so it was blatantly a foul.

“I turned round thinking we’d got the foul, then looked back and they were in our box. VAR should clear up the ones that go slightly wrong. It didn’t tonight.”

Moss has not been put in charge of a Premier League game this weekend and will instead by the fourth official at Molineux for Wolves’ home game with Tottenham.

Huddersfield

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It was another bleak afternoon for Huddersfield at Vicarage Road after more shambolic defending contributed to a 3-0 loss to Watford last Saturday.

The Terriers aren’t as defensively robust as they were last season, when their good start to the season provided the cushion which ultimately helped them stave off relegation.

They haven’t had the same early springboard this time around, while they remain just as limited as an attacking force. David Wagner’s side have scored just 14 goals in 2018, comfortably the fewest of any team in England’s top four leagues this calendar year.

Striker Laurent Depoitre had just four touches inside the Watford penalty box, while they are yet to score at home this term.

With Fulham the visitors to the John Smith’s Stadium this weekend – a side that have conceded the most goals after 10 Premier League games (28) – they have to come out of their shell.

Jang Hyon-soo

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South Korea defender Jang received a lifetime ban from playing for the national team and a £20,600 fine after he was found to have falsified records relating to his military service exemption.

As trotted out by the British media throughout the first month of the season in relation to Son Heung-min, all able-bodied South Korean men must complete almost two years’ military service as part of efforts to maintain a deterrent against the North but athletes can earn exemptions by winning a medal at the Olympics or gold at the Asian Games.

The exemption conditions state that athletes must undergo four weeks of basic military training and undertake more than 500 hours of community service over a three-year period.

But Jang, who was part of the team that won gold at the 2014 Asian Games, admitted this week he submitted false records detailing how many hours of community service he has performed.

The 27-year-old – who plays for FC Tokyo – has now been given an additional five days of compulsory service by the sports ministry, and he said: “I am sorry to have disappointed everyone for such a shameful issue.”

Rafinha

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Jang is not the only player this week issuing a grovelling apology. Everyone knows how footballers love to dress up for Halloween, but there’s always one who gets his costume spectacularly wrong.

Ghosts and ghouls were again upstaged by the more inventive outfits on show, but Bayern Munich defender Rafinha caused social media outcry after dressing in traditional Arab clothing while holding a bomb.

A picture of several of Bayern’s players dressed up for the occasion was tweeted by the German champions on their official Twitter account, which has over four-and-a-half million followers.

Rafinha can be seen dressed in traditional Arab clothing, wearing a fake moustache and holding a box with the word ‘vorsicht’ – meaning ‘caution’.

The right-back has since apologised, saying: “Halloween is a scary celebration with exaggerated costumes. It was not my intention to anger anyone through my disguise or hurt someone’s feelings.”

The mind boggles at how the outfit got the nod of approval from the player, his team-mates and the club who initially tweeted it in the first place.

Good week, bad week: Mesut Ozil shows Germany what they’re missing while Romelu Lukaku fails Juventus audition

In a new weekly blog, Ben Grounds looks at those in the world of football to have starred and suffered over the past seven days…

Good week…

Mesut Ozil

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The week started with the kind of individual performance which made us fall in love with football. Ozil has often polarised opinion, as Graeme Souness said in his assessment of the German following his spellbinding display in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over Leicester.

Souness is a hard taskmaster who has frequently criticised Ozil for his work rate, but it was as though the playmaker was aware of the special guest on Monday Night Football and decided to put on a special clinic, telling the Scotsman, “Hold my water.”

It didn’t stop Souness from reaffirming his belief that Ozil needs to produce his excellence on a more consistent basis, but the manner in which he cut Leicester’s defence to ribbons with his deftness of pass and dummies showcased why the Premier League needs players like him.

Mohamed Salah

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The sceptics were beginning to wonder had he been a one-season wonder. All the key attacking metrics were down on last campaign, his body language suggested fatigue, frustration, even a touch of selfishness.

But Salah is beginning to show the signs of his menacing best of January to February earlier this year, sparked then by a goal that booked Egypt’s place at the World Cup. On this occasion, on a far less prestigious stage, he helped his country to victory over eSwatini (formerly Swaziland), and it appears to have had the same effect on his form.

Salah has scored three goals in a week to steer Liverpool to wins over Huddersfield and Red Star Belgrade, and in so doing became the fastest player to reach 50 goals for the Reds in all competitions – taking just 65 games.

To put that into perspective, Salah’s half-century of strikes is 22 games quicker than Ian Rush and 29 faster than Robbie Fowler. Luis Suarez took 7553 minutes for his first 50 goals, compared to Salah’s 5116. After a ‘drought’ of four games, he appears to be doing just fine.

Mr Bonucci and Mr Chiellini

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FIFA president Gianni Infantino called it an ‘absurdity’ that six sides in Italy’s lower leagues are still unsure which division they’re playing in, but the country’s top-table is still in fine fettle.

English clubs have been defeated on three occasions by Italian outfits already this season, with Inter Milan and Napoli dispensing of Tottenham and Liverpool respectively, and the latest triumph owed much to the wiliness of two famed stalwarts.

Juventus’ 1-0 victory over Manchester United was a travesty in scoreline given their superiority, but Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini were so accomplished up against Romelu Lukaku that it moved Jose Mourinho to remark the pair should give a lecture in the art of defending at Harvard University.

Andre Gomes

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Fresh from his very assured Premier League debut in Everton’s 2-0 win over Crystal Palace, Gomes was present alongside the rest of his team-mates at the annual event for the club’s official charity.

The Portuguese midfielder gave a frank admission of his struggles to overcome mental health issues during his time with Barcelona last season, and Gomes endeared himself to Everton supporters during a touching moment with a supporter at the Everton in the Community (EITC) event.

The young fan with Down’s syndrome appeared to be overcome with emotion at playing with his idols, and Gomes was only too happy to provide him with a hug in footage that underlined the importance of staging such events in binding a football club with its community. 

Frank Lampard

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The fixture list was enough to make any Championship manager’s eyes water, but this fledgling 40-year-old has relished the challenge – and so have his players.

Then leaders Sheffield United were first beaten at Pride Park on Saturday before fellow promotion rivals West Brom were clinically dispatched 4-1 at The Hawthorns. The weekend’s trip to second-placed Middlesbrough holds no fears for Lampard.

His Derby side have come a cropper following dizzying highs already this season – Leeds put four past them in August while Millwall, Rotherham and Bolton have already recorded home wins – but Lampard has impressively managed a group containing several young pros to within two points of the top.

With Chelsea hosting the Rams in the Carabao Cup just reward for the scalp of Manchester United in the previous round, Lampard has the perfect stage on which to showcase why he is fast-becoming one of the country’s most exciting young managers.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek

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He’s not quite the forgotten man of Stamford Bridge (that unwanted title still was bequeathed to Danny Drinkwater some time ago), but Loftus-Cheek became the first English player to score a hat-trick for Chelsea in Europe since Peter Osgood and Tommy Baldwin 47 years ago.

The midfielder scored a hat-trick in Thursday’s Europa League win over Bate Borisov, but finds himself below four other midfielders in the pecking order.

Loftus-Cheek has played just 33 minutes of Premier League action compared to N’Golo Kante (810), Jorginho (810), Mateo Kovacic (476) and Ross Barkley (301).

Blues manager Maurizio Sarri admits he has a “tactical problem” and is struggling to fit the 22-year-old into the side – but Loftus-Cheek was out to prove a point against the Belarusians.

His first senior hat-trick was aided by abysmal defending, but with Ross Barkley receiving all the recent plaudits, this was a timely reminder to Gareth Southgate of his abilities.

Bad week…

Romelu Lukaku

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Lukaku must be tired of being called a pussycat by Martin Keown. But the bulky Belgian looked laboured in Manchester United’s defeat to Juventus, extending his barren run to eight games without a goal in all competitions against the side he had talked up wanting to join one day earlier this month.

Jose Mourinho’s touchline row with Chelsea assistant Marco Ianni showed the ringleader is still busy cracking his whip, but it’s left his lion overwhelmingly tamed.

He can still perform his trick of miscontrolling the ball and passing straight to an opponent, but Lukaku looks a shadow of the player United signed for £75m. A rest is unlikely given Everton are the visitors to Old Trafford this Sunday.

Mourinho said afterwards, “[The concern is] not just with the goals he’s not scoring but also his confidence, in his movement, his touch. He is not linking the game well with his team. I have to agree his moment is not sweet.”

The striker’s big chance conversion rate is down 26 per cent on last season, while his minutes per goal this term stands at 276 compared to 106 at the same stage of last season.

Lukaku can point to an almost non-existent supply-line but with his last shot on target in the Premier League coming against Watford on September 15, he needs to do a lot more to shake off the current malaise.

Julen Lopetegui

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Real Madrid’s dreadful start to the La Liga season reached its nadir as they were beaten 2-1 by Levante at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday, heaping yet more pressure on manager Lopetegui.

It’s is hard to know where to point the finger at Madrid at the moment, with Lopetegui apologists criticising Florentino Perez for a lack of investment in the first team stretching back two years.

Put simply, and on a much grander scale, the side are now failing to reproduce the same results with a weaker squad in the same manner Southampton no longer do following a spate of high-profile departures. But Lopetegui looks set to be the fall guy in all of this, with Real reportedly eyeing up Antonio Cone as his replacement.

With the decision seemingly already made that the former Spain head coach is not the right fit, a victory over Barcelona in El Clasico this weekend could prove an almighty inconvenience for the club’s hierarchy.

Lionel Messi

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The last time Messi missed an ‘El Clasico’, Donald Trump was about to host the first season of Celebrity Apprentice. Much has changed in the 11 years since, but Messi will be absent once more from the Camp Nou showdown this weekend.

The Argentine has been in scintillating form this season, scoring 12 goals in all competitions, but he’s now been ruled out for three weeks after breaking his arm in the 4-2 win over Sevilla last weekend.

Barcelona have enough quality at their disposal to counter the loss of their talisman – witnessed during the Champions League over Inter Milan in midweek – but with Ernesto Valverde’s side just one point clear at the La Liga summit, the Catalans now face the ultimate test to show they can function in Messi’s absence.

Hugo Lloris

PSV v Tottenham Hotspur - UEFA Champions League Group B

Lloris began the week in fine form. The Frenchman produced three vitally important saves to keep out Marko Arnautovic and preserve his team’s clean sheet as Tottenham recorded their best start to a Premier League season against West Ham. Positionally he remains sound.

But all the good work at the London Stadium was undone in Eindhoven. Spurs were in control and on course for a much-needed 2-1 win at PSV when Lloris came haring out of his goal to swipe the legs of Hirving Lorenzo. It was reckless, unnecessary and deserving of the red card that has severely compromised his side’s Champions League hopes with the hosts coming back to salvage a point.

The 31-year-old made being the sweeper-keeper his trademark, but having been caught in no man’s land against Barcelona, his poor judgement is beginning to make him a liability. Putting his recent indiscretions off the field to one side, Lloris’ uncharacteristic mistakes before, during and after France’s World Cup triumph points to a drop in focus that provides Mauricio Pochettino with a fresh problem to solve.

Slavisa Jovanovic

Cardiff City v Fulham FC - Premier League

The wheels have come off at Fulham following a promising start. Over-reliant on Aleksandar Mitrovic’s goals and porous defensively, Jokanovic faces a make-or-break home game with Bournemouth at Craven Cottage this weekend.

The Serbian is coming under increasing pressure following the 4-2 defeat at Cardiff which sent Fulham cascading into the bottom three. It’s not been so much a bad week for the Premier League newcomers as a bad two months, with things getting increasingly worse.

Fulham’s disastrous defence has conceded nine goals in their last two games, conceding 25 in total – comfortably the most in the division. Jokanovic looks no closer to finding the right combination at the back with 61 shots on goal allowed in just nine games.

They also come out bottom on the ‘expected goals against’ metric, with their xGA of 19.53 far higher than the likes of Cardiff (13.89) and Huddersfield Town (13.49). Mourinho remains the favourite to become the first managerial casualty of the season, but Jokanovic is not far behind. His position looks very precarious.

Thomas Frank

Managers with a bad run of results has spread further west of the capital. There’s a familiar theme here with October offering a natural point for struggling clubs to seek a new voice. But for Brentford, under different circumstances, there has been an unwelcome change.

The Bees were buzzing along happily under Dean Smith, in the play-off spots on October 6 after a 1-1 draw at Leeds. But they’ve now gone eight games in all competitions without a win, losing four – including Frank’s opening two games against Bristol City and Preston.

Smith sought pastures new, partly due to his boyhood ties to Aston Villa, but perhaps also with a sense he had maximised his potential growth at Griffin Park. Frank has been promoted from his position as assistant, but he has thus far created the opposite of a managerial bounce.

The Dutchman will point to shoots of recovery in the second-half fightback at Deepdale, but the trip to high-flying Norwich offers little scope for respite following a tough start.

Behind closed doors but nothing to see as England’s search for missing link continues

Hopefully we won’t have to experience this again. It was a great chance for England to kick-start their Nations League campaign, but it resulted in an opportunity wasted in subdued, soulless fashion in Rijeka.

They had the home crowd silenced for them, but for all the build-up of how Gareth Southgate’s side would cope with playing behind closed doors, it really was a case of ‘nothing to see here’ in Croatia.

The second-half was considerably better than the first, pierced on the hour-mark by the unmistakable sound a bin lorry makes when reversing. It turned out to be an ambulance but it just about summed this up. It was rubbish.

Josip Pivaric produced a fine last-ditch sliding tackle to prevent Raheem Sterling from the type of far post tap-in he’s made his trademark at Manchester City, while Eric Dier headed Jordan Henderson’s corner onto the post.

Harry Kane rattled the woodwork in the second period while Marcus Rashford missed two gilt-edged chances that sums up his current lapse in confidence that has travelled with him from Manchester.

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England recorded just one shot in the first half – the fewest amount in the opening 45 minutes of an away game since June 2015 against the Republic of Ireland.

Here was proof that players need support from the stands, a revenge mission that will be remembered fondly only by the 16 hardened souls who stood atop a hill outside Stadion HNK, unable to even see one of the goal-mouths.

Before the second half, they could be heard singing, “Pickford, give us a wave?” The goalkeeper duly obliged for the biggest cheer of the evening.

Having found their voice and form, moments later came the ironic chants of “Your support is f****** shit” and slightly more impassioned “F**k off UEFA, we’ll do what we want!”

Croatia v England - UEFA Nations League A

They saw the first England international born in the 21st Century, with Jadon Sancho introduced with 13 minutes remaining, the youngest player to play for the senior team since Sterling at 18 years and 201 days.

His lively cameo will have been their one takeaway from this glorified training game, but there was little to get excited about.

Three months on, England confronted their World Cup semi-final foes, rekindling memories of the summer of 2018, Glenn Hoddle’s Love Train, Harry Maguire’s head, Boxpark Croydon and all that.

But it was a Nations League six-pointer in front of an official crowd of zero, and there were zero goals and zero talking points.

Of course, those 16 were the lucky few – around a hundred members of the media, 65 dignitaries from the English FA and the same from their Croatian counterparts were inside, while roads had been blocked off by police aiming to discourage fans from making the 102-mile trip from Zagreb.

Around 500 Three Lions supporters had instantly pressed the ‘purchase’ button when this fixture was first announced, a week before FIFA confirmed the game would be closed to the public as part of a punishment handed to Croatia after a swastika was marked on the pitch before a Euro 2016 qualifier against Italy in June 2015.

It was the first time in 988 senior internationals dating back to 1872 that England contested a game behind closed doors. Only three previous games involving English teams have been played under such conditions.

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Most recently in 2014, Manchester City faced CSKA Moscow in a Champions League match in Russia, while you have to go back as far as the early 1980s for the other two occasions.

West Ham hosted Real Madrid B in a Cup Winners’ Cup match in the 1980-81 season while Aston Villa’s home European Cup tie against Besiktas in 1982-83 was also played in an empty stadium.

Former England defender Martin Keown feared the conditions might in fact add pressure to the young players, but it was Sancho who provided the injection of energy in the final quarter of an hour in this snoozefest.

So what, if anything did we learn? Southgate had played his preferred formation of 3-5-2 for over a year, but he dispensed with that on Friday night.

“We think it’s time for the team to evolve a bit,” he said prior to the match. “3-5-2 has been fantastic for us really. We maximised the talents of the players across the summer, but in a couple of the matches against the better teams, we’ve suffered a bit without the ball.

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“We wanted to have a look at a back four, I think it suits the players we’ve got playing tonight, it still gives us the opportunity to move the ball and be a threat, but hopefully we’ll cover the spaces that were a bit of a problem for us in the last couple of games.”

Southgate cited his side being overloaded by Switzerland in midfield and down the flanks towards the end of his time using the old formation, but the shift towards a more attacking system was designed to suit an extra midfielder, and to find the missing link.

Ross Barkley returned to the side for the first time since May 2016 – his first game under Southgate – as part of a three-man midfielder in front of a flat back four. He has looked in good physical condition, and the former Everton midfielder was played in the same position that has led to his resurgence at Chelsea.

This was Southgate acknowledging the need to try out a different approach if England are to ever beat the leading nations when it matters, but what it showed was that an in-form Barkley is the same player he was at Everton without Eden Hazard.

With Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard absent, this was his chance to stake a claim. A chance for England to exorcise some demons from 93 days ago? Barkley has had to wait considerably longer than that, admitting this week he’d watched the Croatia defeat among fans during a family holiday.

That friendly against Australia was the last of his previous 22 caps, coming on as a second-half substitute, while you have to go back more than three years for his last competitive start – against Lithuania in October 2015.

But he was a largely peripheral figure, outshone by the rich talent in midfield whose company he shared, bizarrely opting not to appeal what looked a good shout for a penalty when he was clipped by Ante Rebic inside the box.

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Barkley was not alone in scurrying down blind alleys, but there was little to suggest he will be the long-term answer to England’s search for a midfield playmaker.

Two chances in quick succession were squandered by Rashford, showing too much of his intentions on both occasions as he opened up his body and found the gloves of Dominik Livakovic, but neither side controlled proceedings for any significant period.

There was an eerie feel to this fixture in a stadium with a capacity of 8,217 on the northern Adriatic coast, with Southgate warning his players to watch their language due to the absence of an atmosphere.

Only Henderson was clearly heard barking profanities at Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic after a decision went against him. “Are you the f***** ref?!” he said after 30 minutes. It was an all-too brief reminder of what was at stake.

The introduction of the Nations League has brought a competitive edge to what might otherwise have been a pointless friendly, but while the noises coming from the two sides revealed an eagerness to avoid relegation from the top tier of UEFA’s fledgling competition, the empty stands appeared to hinder both sets of players.

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This was a vastly different experience to the contest played in front of 78,000 at the Luzhniki Stadium three months ago, and there were very few conclusions that could be drawn on a very bumpy pitch.

Henderson was again England’s most creative player here. His two set pieces led to Dier and Kane hitting the woodwork – with the Tottenham striker having now gone six internationals without a goal – and the striker’s offside finish also came from a Henderson pass.

That says a lot about England’s missing stardust, and Kane might well have wished to have seen Sancho introduced sooner given the raw, fearlessness he showed. Ben Chilwell, on his first England start, looks primed to grow into the role at left-back after a confident display.

England were the better side, but for once, their failure to beat another leading nation was somewhat overshadowed by the conditions.

They head to Seville next knowing this odd night will not live long in the memory, but also that they must be far more clinical in front of goal against Luis Enrique’s in-form Spain side in far more raucous surroundings.

Southgate reflected afterwards: “You want to perform in front of a crowd. It raises the level of the game, but I thought our players were really good. We defended well and pressed well.

“If we’d been a bit more ruthless with our chances, we would’ve won the game.”

 

FIFA rechaza la venta de Adrien Silva a Leicester City por 14 segundos

Parece cada vez mas probable que Adrien Silva va a quedar a Sporting CP hasta el fin del ano por lo menos después de la decision de FIFA para no aceptar los documentos de registro enviado por Leicester City.

El acuerdo de £22million, que fue confirmado en el sitio web oficial del club de Leicester el viernes por la tarde, sigue siendo objeto de una autorización internacional.

Pero FIFA dice que no recibió los documentos antes de la fecha limite para comprar jugadores este verano, pero el club de la Premier League va a contestar el veredicto.

Un portavoz de FIFA dijo este miércoles: “Podemos confirmar que hemos estado contactado por la FA en relación con el registro del jugador Adrien Silva y Leicester City.

“FIFA ha respondido en consecuencia indicando las normas aplicables. Póngase en contacto con la FA para obtener más información.”

Silva ya fue en Leicester el jueves pasado al borde de completar su traspaso a Los Foxes, pero el papeleo relacionado al jugador llego a FIFA solo 14 segundos después del vencimiento.

Significa que el fichaje se vino abajo a ultimo minuto. En la noche de jueves pasado, Leicester se frustró cada vez mas con el retraso en recibir los documentos de registro de Sporting.

Fueron concedidos mas tiempo – una prolongación de una hora hasta medianoche para completar todos los documentos del fichaje – y oficiales del club todavía están convencido que fueron completado y enviado a FIFA, una cuestión de segundos antes el punto de corte.

Pero el sistema de TMS – que conecta los clubes con la FA, otros organismos internacionales y FIFA – muestra que los documentos lleguen 14 segundos demasiado tarde.

Sporting CP v Fiorentina - Pre-Season Friendly

Ahora, Leicester esta trabajando con Sporting, el jugador Silva y FIFA para resolver la situación – con la intención de convencer el organismo internacional que el fichaje debería ser permitido.

Si la FIFA rechaza el registro, el traspaso de Silva se derrumbe, el jugador permanezca a Sporting y Leicester no pague nada por su servicios.

Lo mas probable es que Silva va a unirse con Leicester al principio de enero el ano proximo, con la reapertura del mercado de fichajes.

Wayne Rooney’s honeymoon at Everton is over. The holiday glow has faded but Ronald Koeman must now act ruthlessly

Ronald Koeman’s message must be clear: One more misdemeanour and you are out at Everton.

Wayne Rooney’s private life has been spread all over the front and back pages of the newspapers over the weekend, due to his drink-drive charge and everything else that came with it.

Another remarkable night out in Cheshire, after the start to the season he’s had – scoring twice in his first two Premier League games for Everton, is this the Rooney the supporters will have to learn to accept?

The honeymoon period is over; the holiday glow is now replaced by the redness of his cheeks from another intoxicating all-night bender from the Bubble Room in Alderley Edge to the Symposium cocktail bar in Wilmslow.

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This is the self-destructive streak in him: a man that has lived on the edge to get to where he is today, in need of a release from the pressure of being Wayne Rooney. But he is also the father of three who is clearly ill-advised and keeps the wrong company.

This should be the first international window in a long time that we’re not talking about the former England captain, and yet here we are on the day Gareth Southgate’s men hope to move ever closer to Russia with victory over Slovakia: talking about Wayne Rooney.

The latest sorry episode has flared up and prompted a certain amount of dismay within the Rooney household, but also at Everton.

Ronald Koeman is probably wondering now what he’s let himself in for by bringing him back. It’s depressingly sad, weeks after he looked revived from a move back to his boyhood club. Fifty-three days later, it’s all gone wrong already.

Rooney now faces the prospect of a court appearance just 24 hours after his return to face Manchester United at Old Trafford. What state of mind will he be in for that? It’s a self-inflicted mess.

The emotional bond Evertonians have for Rooney will not wash for long should he continue to transgress after a big investment was placed in him, a decade after his peak.

After years being in the spotlight, and criticised for his waning powers towards the end of his time at United, the one big hope for fans at Goodison Park was that the local lad had learned to act like the consummate professional, stung by past transgressions such as his wedding appearance at the England team hotel last October.

A figure that had established himself as a record goalscorer for England and United, a captain, Koeman didn’t for one moment believe he was bringing back the tearaway teenager of 2004 but a man who could inspire those around him to have not won the Champions League medal he has in his cabinet.

Rooney was supposed to be wiser, as well as leaner from intense spinning classes following his return from Ibiza.

But no sooner has the first international break arrived, that Rooney is in the dock again. The self-destructive element is still there. What might he have achieved had he not had this laddish tendency?

Perhaps not quite the honours of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. The records and the achievements are great, but could he have achieved more? Quite possibly.

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Kevin Mirallas was left out of the Everton squad to face Chelsea before the international break due to his attitude, not due to talk of a transfer back to Olympiacos. With no striker bought to replace Romelu Lukaku, Koeman has very little option.

England have had problems over the years with players refuelling, with the nation unable to reproduce the form seen at club level, but Everton cannot afford this.

The public were scathing of the media when pictures emerged of Rooney enjoying drinks at a wedding reception after the win over Scotland, even though the pictures were taken by another member of the public.

There were calls to ‘give Rooney a break’. But as much as we love Rooney, we cannot condone the potential breaking of the law.

What good could transfer listing the player, fining him two weeks wages, or dropping him do? Koeman won’t have been impressed, but as he returns from a long weekend on holiday with his family, will he be surprised?

Rooney had his boxing bout in his kitchen, among other scraps, so this is hardly likely to be a knockout blow barely a month into the season, but the fear for Rooney the man is that when he does choose to hang up his boots, what path shall he take.

He has spoken of a desire to manage England one day, but there’s been other incidents no doubt that haven’t made the papers. Rooney has done a good job to detach those off-field issues given his records. No-one is perfect, but it is so apparent that Rooney isn’t.

The striker opted to call time on his international career citing a desire to focus on Everton, believing he could get another three years at the highest level out of his legs.

But if he’s going to do that, he will have to look at the way he conducts himself off the pitch. The era of when players drink in excess no doubt still exists, but nowhere near like it used to.

There will certainly have been players from League One and League Two clubs on Saturday night who enjoyed themselves whatever the result.

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But there’s also a wave of youngsters coming through at lower level who are teetotal, aware of the pitfalls and the rewards further down the line that might await.

Rooney is 31. He knows the game, he’s lived through it, and has been left behind. The role model debate rears its head again.

They are those held up to a higher standard, and if Everton wanted to sign Rooney for commercial reasons as much as anything else, he is the face of a club that has in turn been tarnished.

He is the self-proclaimed poster boy, and he has been representative of the local hero done good ever since he made his senior debut for the club, against Tottenham – the side he is in line to face in his first public appearance since his charge this Saturday.

Will the rest of the Everton squad welcome him upon the first training session following the international break?

Of course they will. And that’s the truth. There will be an acceptance perhaps of double standards when it comes to Rooney when he should only be the exception based on what he has achieved compared to his team-mates.

He’s a different breed, when he should be treated no different to how Mirallas was, dropped for his attitude, right down to a member of David Unsworth’s Under 23s squad.

You wonder about Rooney’s legacy: Will he be remembered for his goals or the lurid headlines? Yet he remains a popular figure with the nation willing him to do well.

Football Soccer - Premier League - Everton vs Stoke City - Liver

Just witness the outpouring of delight from neutrals who felt Rooney’s emotion when he scored on his home return against Stoke, seeing how much it meant to him in his celebrations.

The flawed genius of the man is something that has come with the territory, but while Rooney was disposable at United, he should not take his importance to Everton for granted.

While there is ongoing and live court proceedings Everton are not likely to fine Rooney for risk of pre-judging any trial outcome.

But while no external punishment may be forthcoming until after the verdict, the club have already been placed in an embarrassing situation. Dropping him against Spurs would send out a clear message.

Redemption night as Everton flex their muscles to derail Arsenal’s title bid

 

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Arsenal hadn’t lost a league game since the opening day of the season. They had only lost once away this calendar year in the Premier League. They had just one defeat in 18 league games against Everton.

Few had given the hosts hope of only a second win in 12 games in all competitions after a desperately poor performance in the 3-2 loss at Watford four days ago, especially after a nervous opening 20 minutes saw them fall behind to Alexis Sanchez’s opener.

But the spirit that has now seen them claw back 11 points from losing positions  – more than any other Premier League side this season – has been somewhat disguised by the results of the past three months.

“There won’t always be games with a Cup final feel to it,” Alan Stubbs rightly pointed out in the BT Sport studio following a ferocious show of character that lifted the side back up to seventh in the table.

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Seamus Coleman typified such a never-say-die attitude, dragging the side level with a well-placed header, screaming at his team-mates down the right throughout, reminiscent of the role played by Phil Neville for many years.

Ashley Williams had quite a night. From villain of the piece to match winner. But he was not alone in needing to put right the many wrongs during a woeful run of form.

Actions speak louder than words, and after Koeman had his Wikipedia picture changed to Pat Butcher in the hours leading up to the game, this was his ‘F*** You’ to those dissenters.

Questions of mental and physical fragility asked by Koeman himself were emphatically put to bed here. There’s no need for an inquest after the final 70 minutes of blood and thunder that added this to the pantheon of great Goodison nights.

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“It was very difficult – you know the qualities of Arsenal,” the Dutchman said immediately after a thrilling 2-1 victory over Arsene Wenger’s side. “We had the sending off of Jags in the final minute and we were lucky with the last challenge in the box, but you need that in life.

“You can as a manager tell the players what needs to change, but if you start as we did today, you won’t win any games in the Premier League. We were very nervous, but if we fight for every ball and if we’re aggressive you can see the reaction of the crowd.

“We went face to face, and with a lot of aggression you can make it very difficult. We deserved the win today. We showed after 20 minutes how we need to play, the commitment and aggression was there and the crowd reacted. It’s a big result.”

Williams gestured a heart with his fingers as he looked towards the box where his family watched on as he celebrated his goal, a reminder of the ‘Together Stronger’ slogan that took Wales to the last four of Euro 2016.

Coleman called on the fans to remain with the players now after such a morale-boosting win heading into the Merseyside derby next Monday night.

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“A lot of teams would’ve given up after going a goal down, and you could sense the crowd getting a little on our back,’ he said.

“But we got the next goal and we know that if we put in a performance we can make the crowd happy and they are like a 12th man so it’s important that we get them right behind us and for them to stay with us.”

Thirty seconds into this contest, James McCarthy went in late on Granit Xhaka. More aggressive, more compact and more fight. This was the midfielder making his intentions known from the off.

Despite McCarthy’s best efforts, the first 20 minutes belonged to Arsenal. Everton sat back, looked to be compact and allowed their opponents to play in front of them. Co-commentator Steve McManaman on BT Sport called it ‘playing with fire’.

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This was quite clearly Koeman’s game plan, hoping to pick Arsenal off on the break with the speed and directness of Valencia and Lennon.

What wasn’t drilled on the training ground was the suicidal minute of madness which led to Arsenal taking the lead.

Three Everton players had the chance to clear, as Enner Valencia, Ross Barkley and Williams were guilty of sloppiness in possession. Idrissa Gueye ended up being clattered by Williams in the self-inflicted chaos on the edge of the penalty area.

Phil Jagielka was the man to eventually halt Arsenal in their tracks, taking out Sanchez, but the Chilean then ensured he did not escape with just a yellow card.

His free-kick was hit low but Williams, lacking mobility with his hands behind his back, compounded his error as he tried his best to adjust his feet, only managing to deflect the ball into the net via the hand the diving Maarten Stekelenburg after it had skidded off his shins.

The groans came back, balls that could have been crossed by both Barkley and Valencia ended back at the feet of an Arsenal player, Aaron Lennon shot when a pass was on for the Ecuadorian.

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But Everton slowly shook off the blow to an already low level of confidence as Coleman rode forward to win a corner, which was flashed over by the involved Valencia.

The crowd responded to a flurry of tackles that rattled into Xhaka and Co, Lennon being released down the left, carrying the ball into the box. But he shot over with his weaker left foot. Again no end product.

Everton were getting some joy down the left, Baines stayed on his feet as both Theo Walcott and Hector Bellerin dangled then withdrew a leg. Lukaku urged his team-mates to squeeze with him from the front. The Gwladys Street roared their approval.

The fans showed further appreciation as Barkley pick-pocketed Coquelin before slipping in Lukaku down the left but he hurried his shot. Petr Cech still hadn’t had a save to make.

Arsenal had shown ruthlessness at Everton’s moment of uncertainty but Everton didn’t show such a clinical side when Nacho Monreal miscued his clearance. Lennon prodded his shot wide of the mark again after being teed up by McCarthy.

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The Wigan midfielder, in front of the watching Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane, looked as though he was playing for his future, winning the ball high up, snapping into another challenge on Francis Coquelin to go into Mark Clattenburg’s book.

For all of Everton’s endeavour, Arsenal absorbed everything that had been thrown at them until they were breached in remarkably easy fashion.

Gueye picked up Barkley’s pass and again looked down the left with the always available Baines. Walcott raced across to shut down the space, but couldn’t slow down quick enough, his momentum inviting the full-back inside onto his right.

Baines produced the perfect inswinging cross for Coleman to cushion his header down low into the corner past the rooted Cech. From one full-back to another, two players criticised defensively this season showed battling qualities to drag their side back into the contest.

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Wenger wore a concerned face to go with his tailored winter coat, and the Frenchman was happy to hear the half-time whistle as the players had to be separated following a bit of afters between Coleman and the peripheral Mesut Ozil.

Even the bouncing Everton first-team coach Duncan Ferguson, still playing in his head and in his Copa Mundials, intervened to help pull the players apart as they headed down the narrow tunnel into the changing rooms. It was then you felt this would be one of those nights.

Into the second period, Everton’s press was evident again from the start, but Sanchez began to assert himself as Arsenal enjoyed an early spate of possession with the hosts sitting in and snapping when the ball broke loose on the slick surface.

Everton were guilty of again failing to clear when Jagielka had the chance, looking to play out through Gueye – Arsenal almost made them pay with Sanchez finding the onrushing Ozil who stroked his ball over when he looked set to score.

Everton were next to go close. Jagielka’s directness this time almost paid dividends, finding the chest of Lukaku whose lay-off to Barkley was flashed just wide of Cech’s left-hand post from the angle.

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But chasing the win they needed to return back to the summit, Wenger urged his players to go up the gears and frantic moments around the box saw Coquelin and Sanchez both denied by last-ditch clearances.

Koeman looked to fresh legs as Kevin Mirallas replaced Lennon, applauded off after a far better showing than in his recent starts. The Goodison crowd roared again as Lukaku won a foot race with Gabriel and Valencia ran himself into the ground to chase another lost cause.

Everton had found a second wind from somewhere but no one was on hand to run onto a loose ball inside the six-yard box after Barkley had outsmarted Sanchez. Arsenal’s defending was becoming increasingly desperate.

Coleman was next to test their resolve as his cross was snuffed out by the impressive Laurent Koscielny after another tepid ball out from the back by Arsenal had been intercepted.

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Into the final 15 minutes, could Arsenal find a way of winning ugly as Chelsea had done against West Brom? Wenger brought on Olivier Giroud but Koeman looked to youth, calling back England under-20 international Dominic Calvert-Lewin to get ready.

With the home crowd beginning to get nervous, the introduction of debutant Calvert-Lewin for the tireless Valencia received a standing ovation. Another talented local boy was thrown into the bowels of the famous bear pit.

It was a masterstroke from Koeman just at the moment the home side needed another lift to go again for the final 10 minutes as the 19-year-old took his place behind Lukaku.

Everton had to be careful not to over commit, but with the exuberance of Calvert-Lewin quickly involved, this was never likely to be a case of two sides settling for a point.

The striker took a one-two off the excellent Gueye and then won a corner from another Baines delivery. Who said Koeman didn’t look to academy players? This was precisely what the fans had been crying out for.

Everton got their heads down, harnessed the passion of the crowd and won another corner.

Barkley this time beat the first man, with the ball falling to Jagielka but Cech managed to claw the shot around the post. Any sense that the danger had been averted, however, was short-lived as Barkley had now, finally, found his range.

Redemption comes in many forms, and Barkley’s positive response to being taken out of the side was given its crowning moment from the ensuing delivery, as Williams rose unmarked to crash his header off the ground and high into the roof of the net.

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The towering Wales captain ran the length of the field, along the side of the Main Stand passing Ferguson on his way, who had done the same memorably for his first goal against Liverpool and twice against Manchester United in his prime.

Coleman eventually caught up with the impassioned centre-half, holding him down as Calvert-Lewin jumped on his back and Gueye was close behind. Lukaku jumped on board while McCarthy was there to give him the final thunderous nod of approval.

It was one huge outpouring of emotion that was mirrored by the usually composed Koeman on the sidelines, heading an imaginary ball as Williams rose before removing his hands from his pockets to celebrate it hitting the net with an almighty fist pump.

The passion in the celebrations said everything. This was Everton’s night. The fans responded with a chorus of songs, how they had suffered for this, but there were still four minutes plus stoppages to hold on.

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Stekelenburg frantically claimed a teasing ball from Sanchez before McCarthy was replaced by Ramiro Funes Mori as Koeman looked to batten down the hatches.

Barkley then exposed the space by running clear down the right but he shot when a ball was on at the far post. It was a rush of blood to the head when both Mirallas and Calvert-Lewin were on for the pass.

It may well have proved costly as after a corner down the other end wasn’t cleared, Jagielka was caught the wrong side of substitute Lucas Perez and was rightly shown a second yellow card.

The veteran ruled himself out of the home clash with Liverpool in the process, but Everton’s concerns were more immediate as with the side one player short for the final minute of stoppage time, Arsenal had a glorious chance to snatch a point.

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Twice they were thwarted by last ditch blocks in the same incredible phase of play as both Monreal and Alex Iwobi had shots blocked, first by Funes Mori and then Leighton Baines on the goal-line.

The ball broke loose, and Mirallas may well have brought down Sanchez who had come up his blind side to pinch the ball, but Clattenburg allowed play to go on.

After his role in a Merseyside derby in 2007 – a 2-1 win for Liverpool in which he awarded the Reds two penalties and failed to give one for Everton led to six years without him refereeing a game at Goodison – some would say this too was a night of redemption for him.

Everton could still have scored a third with Cech stranded up the pitch in pursuit of the equaliser, but neither Barkley nor Mirallas could get a shot away. It was a breathless end to the game as Everton held on.

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Williams slunk to the ground in exhaustion at the final whistle, brought back to his feet by Stekelenburg as Baines was lifted in the air by Coleman and Gueye, never far from anything.

The players had responded to Koeman’s comments after the hapless showing in Hertfordshire, this was him planting his flag in the sand.

Williams could reflect on an eventful night. “It’s nice to get my first goal, I’m obviously disappointed with their goal, so it’s great to get the winner in the end. I was desperate to score to make up for it. It gives us a massive confidence boost.

“It was about looking at ourselves in the mirror, and looking to put it right. We fell behind but we battled back and the fans responded as well. Next week is a massive game, and it’s great we can take this into the derby.”

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Coleman admitted after another famous night under the lights: “We’ve been nowhere near good enough, but the only place to put it right is back on the football pitch. We know that our form has not been good enough and there were some nerves.”

After some strong criticism from supporters who had already begun to question their new manager, this was a major step in the right direction for Koeman leading into the festive fixture pile up.

“Liverpool will be a total situation after tonight,” he said. “We go into it on the back of a good performance with three points in the pocket.

“We’re still unbeaten at home, and we know the importance of the Merseyside derby. If we play with the passion we showed tonight, we can have a good result.”