Premier League weekend awards: AngeBall turns to FarceBall, Núñez tops the box office
RDo you remember those weekends without staring into the abyss of the monitors on the field and scrutinizing football and football players? Sure, there was the occasional fierce booing from the officials, costing a title challenge here and a career-defining mistake there. Still, overall it felt easier than this.
This was one of the quieter VAR-influenced weekends until Monday, when Tottenham and Chelsea decided to break into total chaos. Ange Postecoglou was reflective, Mikel Arteta apoplectic and ruthless this week. Gary O’Neil struck a similar note last week. It makes you long for a simpler time. We should still be able to laugh at football and all its prevailing madness. We must enjoy its eternal possibility. So in that spirit, here’s a look at the Real winners and losers of Matchweek 11.
The award ‘well done guys, good process’
An award, the first of its kind. There are simply too many nominees for the inaugural gong due to VAR incompetence. A close third was Manchester United’s early disallowed goal against Fulham. Not least because it was the right decision, so well done guys, good process. But the incessant replays, sending the referee to the screen for a ‘subjective’ view of an ‘objective’ decision, seem to absolve all involved of ultimate responsibility.
In second place we have Stuart Attwell during Arsenal v Newcastle. Once again we find ourselves in subjective limbo regarding a possible offense by Joelinton on Gabriel. Not least because the fate of VAR will ensure that a similar decision next week will have the opposite outcome and we will have to rethink thresholds, consistency and process (bad process, guys). That and the fact that it was easier to give a throw-in when the ball went out of play.
No one can look further than Chelsea-Spurs for this week’s top prize. There’s an interesting thread with VAR in matches, in that when it starts to dictate a game, it doesn’t stop. Does that say something about the quality, the discipline, or does a certain match just get crazy every now and then? There were five disallowed goals in this match, with Tottenham committing nine fewer fouls than Chelsea, but ultimately finishing with nine men. There were five VAR checks within 41 minutes. In some ways you felt for the official who was in the middle of the madhouse. Michael Oliver looked like a man out to solve the world’s problems, no doubt getting new information in his ear about missed incidents, knowing full well that Gary Neville was making funny noises somewhere in the stadium.
Lots of process, even for a relatively quiet weekend, guys.
The Kai Havertz buy one get three free
Havertz was booked for a heavy challenge on Dan Burn – a tackle that could easily have been red. Burns’ teammates were furious, with three Newcastle players receiving warnings in the aftermath. Three bookings for the price of one? Simply great 4D chess game from the German international.
Player of the week award
Pedro Neto, who was nowhere near a football pitch this weekend but showed his value to Wolves – and the increasing importance of people like him to teams outside the top six. It is also notable that Lucas Paquetá was absent from West Ham’s defeat to Brentford after showing his ability to keep the ball away from Arsenal players in a telephone box during Wednesday night’s Carabao Cup win.
But this was Neto’s week, who is out until after the November international break with a hamstring injury. Wolves succumbed to Sheffield United at Bramall Lane on Saturday, scoring just once despite an expected goal (xG) of 1.83. Even more damning, the player deemed to have the highest on-ball value for Wolves was Rayan Aït-Nouri, which tells you everything you need to know. Neto has been one of the most powerful creators in Europe this season. In the top five European leagues, he ranks in the 97th percentile or higher (per 90 minutes) in *deep breath*: assists; expected assists; shot-creating actions; progressive carries; successful acquisitions; touches in the opponent’s penalty area; receiving progressive passes; non-penalty expected goals and assists. Coincidentally, he also ends up in the First percentile in tackles, blocks, interceptions and all things defensive.
If numbers aren’t your thing, know this: Neto is a throwback winger. He is dangerous on the ball and spends his time not wondering when the ball will come back to him. Wolves have impressed this season with their pressing structure. But without Neto, O’Neil’s team lacks a true creator.
The Frank Vernon Fall Guy Award
Listen to me. There is a lot to be said about the value for money surrounding Antony, Manchester United’s second most expensive signing ever. His end product is in question and his output is streaky. Does he know it’s legal to go? past a player?
Watching him against Fulham, however, you got the sense that every commentator, pundit and passing viewer becomes fixated on his lack of defensive input and desire. This always comes down to instruction. If there is a marauding full-back on the opponent’s side, does Erik ten Hag want Antony to be in front of his own goal, or would it not be wiser to have him on the other side of a turnover?
The Brazilian outpaced United’s counter-pressing effort at Craven Cottage on Saturday with eight. He has the third highest number of blocked passes in United’s squad, behind only Casemiro and Bruno Fernandes. Antony is struggling with his form, but I’m not sure that scolding him for not following Timothy Castagne to his defensive corner flag is commensurate criticism.
Statistic of the week
That has to be the shot ratio at Turf Moor, where Burnley registered 18 attempts on target against Crystal Palace’s four and still managed to lose 2-0. To dig a little deeper, Vincent Kompany’s side tried to put five shots on target to Palace’s three xG was almost the same in between: 1.64 to 1.44, according to StatsBomb. These are not fun times for anyone at Burnley. Kompany must find a way to reach January with the team’s heads above the relegation waters before venturing into the transfer market. Whatever Burnley puts on the pitch now won’t score Kompany goals or stop his team from conceding them, despite what the numbers say.
The annoying FPL hipster award for transfer of the week
You all know the person in the group chat who gives you a transfer deadline alert two minutes before it closes, while the fantasy app is frozen and you’re in the middle of a phone call? The man who tells you what model of New Balance you are wearing and how they will never match the Teddy Santis 990V3 Made in USA green olive green. You know, the guy who quietly strolls through life walking a scared greyhound, never without a flat white in hand. That guy, he handed over Jérémy Doku and his 22 points to his team this week.
Xg defies goal of the week
Step forward Mohammed Kudus and his 0.06 xG recorded bicycle kick from around 12 yards out, which flew into the top corner of the Brentford goal.
I love that flair has become another hallmark of David Moyes’ renaissance. Something you would never put together, like marshmallows and pumpkin (get out of here), or the time Christian Benteke did that something similar at Old Trafford for Liverpool.
If you buy a ticket, you lose the lottery prize
Darwin Núñez registered five shots in 23 minutes of Liverpool’s draw against Luton Town. By the end of the match he was done with nine tries and one miss it made so much sense that the residents of Kenilworth Road watching from their bedroom windows could hardly believe their eyes.
You can use any verb you want to describe Núñez’s reckless play. He can be a fun character, but as has been proven, if you port The Bear, he can usually make you look foolish or become a pantomime character. Some love him. Some hate him. If nothing else, it’s box office.
The ‘BoJack Horseman Never Won an Emmy, and It’s Kind of Perfect’ Award
Perhaps the fact that Aston Villa are somewhere between the eighth and fifth best team in the Premier League means that every now and then you will encounter a counter-punch in Nottingham Forest and lose 2-0. Villa dominated possession and had the lion’s share of shots, three of which were on target. Unai Emery’s team had collected 22 points in 10 games heading into the Forest match. They have won 20 Premier League games in 2023, with only Manchester City winning more. Most Villa fans will say that despite their calendar form, they are still nowhere near a title challenge. Perhaps Villa’s role in Nottingham is something that needs to happen every now and then.
The Anti-Hero Prize
“I have something that makes me grow older but never wiser,” sings Taylor Swift in Anti-Hero. There is value in the concept that wisdom is no fun – that it is far better to harness a sense of cognitive dissonance in the world for your own sense of well-being.
Postecoglou is a wise man who knows more about football than most, so his decision to defend the halfway line with nine men on Monday night will likely have a deeper, more nuanced meaning than a shrug of the shoulders and a puff of breath. Angebal, right?
But this seemed like something bordering on the farcical. Like a Machiavellian training session of defense versus attack on Monday morning, set up by a frantic Pep Guardiola after being caught by a counter-attack while leading 5-0 in the 80th minute of a weekend match. There is something admirable about holding on to your identity even in the face of defeat. But there is a distinction between what is wise and what is praiseworthy. Tottenham got older, I’m just not sure they got wiser.