Harry Maguire

Maguire the main man; credits Getty Images

Harry Maguire has been in outstanding form this season for Mike Phelan’s Hull City side.

The 23-year-old central defender came through the ranks at Sheffield United before Hull took the plunge in July 2014 and signed him for £2.5m on a three-year contract.

He joined just a month after facing the Tigers in the FA Cup semi-final, no doubt impressing then Hull manager Steve Bruce.

At the Blades, Maguire was player of the year for three consecutive years and it won’t be long before his teammates at the Tigers recognise his contribution too.

I watched him against West Ham at the London Stadium and he was superb, everything you want a central defender to be.

He was aggressive, on the front foot, he read play, intercepted well, was composed on the ball, dominated Andy Carroll in the air and won his ground battles too.

At set pieces for, Maguire was an obvious threat, particularly when West Ham manager Slaven Bilic put Michail Antonio man marking him, to allow Carroll to mark the near post space.

Only two goal line clearances kept Maguire’s name off the score sheet so he is a weapon in both boxes and he has far too much jumping power for all but the strongest players in The Premier League.

Currently playing in a back three, when used to a back four, for his age Maguire is tactically aware of his new responsibilities and hasn’t publicly vocalised his concerns of the 3-5-2 system Phelan has employed.

This shows me he has a desire to keep his head down and be the best he can be.

Hull this week recognised his efforts by triggering a one year extension to his contract and is one to watch.

Brentford v Cardiff City

Peter Whittingham strokes home; credits Huw Evans agency

It was a Boxing Day goal bonanza at Griffin Park after both sides traded blows, which saw an exciting end to a lacklustre game.

After Whittingham gave the Bluebirds an early lead and with time running out, Brentford equalised with a wonderful effort from substitute Sullay Kaikai with six minutes remaining.

However Neil Warnock must have thought he had snatched a late win when on 88 minutes Kenneth Zohore raced clear to score.

However, the sting in the tail from the Bees was when Kaikai headed home in time added on to see the game end all square.
BLUEBIRDS TAKE A DIVE

Zohore holds off  Tom Field; credits Huw Evans agency

Cardiff lined up in a 3-5-2 with Sean Morrison supported either side by Matthew Connolly and Bruno Ecuele Manga in the bluebirds defence and Manga in particular was very strong at the back.

Cardiff took the lead against the run of play after referee Simon Hooper decided Andreas Bjelland brought down Cardiff defender Sean Morrison in the box from a free kick and Peter Whittingham calmly stroked the ball down the middle to give the Bluebirds the lead.

Prior to that, Cardiff were indebted to a couple of fine saves from Brian Murphy in the Cardiff goal, whilst in the second half he denied Ryan Woods and John Egan with outstanding reactions.

Murphy could do nothing about Brentford’s first equaliser, as substitute Kaikai cut inside from the left and hit a brilliant curling shot from outside the area that went into top corner.

Cardiff looked most threatening from throw ins and set pieces, with Aron Gunnarsson able to launch the ball into the six yard area and Kenneth Zohore providing an outlet in behind.

Brentford had a warning in the first half when Zohore chased down a long clearance from a corner against and only a fine save by Daniel Bentley, the Brentford goalkeeper, prevented a goal.

It seemed the Bees didn’t alter their marking as Zohore raced away in the second half to make it 1-2 from a near identical situation, showing good strength to hold off Tom Field after Harlee Dean tried to play Zohore offside from another through ball.

Zohore showed why he is the number one striker for Neil Warnock with a powerful performance, which underlined why Rickie Lambert was left on the bench.

Warnock decided to pair Zohore with Junior Hoilett, however, the latter was disappointing, often caught offside and always on the periphery buzzing around but outshone by the powerful Zohore.

A pairing of Zohore and Lambert would surely be too powerful for most Championship defences.

BEES ROUND HONEYPOT

Sullay Kaikai was fantastic; credits getwestlondon.co.uk

With the game slipping away Bees Head Coach Dean Smith made a double substitution just after the hour mark, replacing the ineffective Lasse Vibe and Romaine Sawyers with loanee Sullay Kaikai and Josh McEachran.

Both Vibe and Sawyers found it hard to get into the game and it may have been down to Brentford not making Cardiff retreat into a back five, which would have allowed them more space to operate in.

With Brentford happy to receive in front of Cardiff they never tested Cardiff out wide.

The lack of width by Brentford enabled Cardiff to compact the play centrally, whilst the Cardiff back three will never have had an easier afternoon.

The only time the bluebirds back three were moved, was when they gained a throw-in inside their own half and central defender Sean Morrison would jog over to throw it down the line, pushing on the wing back Joe Bennett.

After Jake Bidwell’s departure to QPR, youngster Tom Field has emerged as a possible long-term replacement in the left back role.

However, both Brentford wing backs needed to operate more like wingers with the Bees also playing with a back three.

Neither of the wing backs were able to go past their man until the scoreline required someone to make a difference.

Brentford’s first equaliser came after Field beat two players with two separate nutmegs before crossing for McEachran to set the ball back to Kaikai to equalise.

The on loan Crystal palace striker Kaikai was lively as soon as he was introduced and provided the Bees with some much-needed pace and penetration.

Therefore it was a wonder why he wasn’t introduced earlier, although the double substitution by manager Dean Smith did have a positive effect on the Bees performance thereafter.

With Brentford always chasing the game, it was left to one of the outside centre backs John Egan or Andreas Bjelland to venture a little further forward and try to create two v ones out wide, although neither looked comfortable doing so.

For protection, Ryan Woods would drop into the centre half position to enable the outside centre backs to advance forward but Brentford lacked the inventiveness and creativity a natural wide man provides, such as the injured Alan Judge.

After Cardiff went in front, the second equaliser came from Brentford penetrating the Cardiff penalty area wide and Kaikai met a brilliant cut back cross from John Egan to glance into the far corner of net.

Brentford ended the game as they should start, attacking wide to score centrally, a tactic that served them so well under Mark Warburton and to get the most out of this Brentford side, it is out wide where the Bees will find their wings.

Brentford: (3-5-2) Bentley; Egan, Dean, Bjelland (sub Hofmann 77 mins), Colin, Woods, Yennaris, Sawyers (sub McEachran 63 mins), Field, Vibe (sub Kaikai 63 mins), Hogan
Subs (not used): Bonham, Saunders, Kerschbaumer, Barbet
Cardiff City: (3-5-2) Murphy; Peltier (sub Pilkington 64 mins), Connolly, Manga, Morrison, Bennett, Gunnarsson, Whittingham (sub O’Keefe h/t), Ralls, Hoilett (sub Noone 77 mins), Zohore
Subs (not used): Wilson, Lambert, Harris, Huws
Referee: Simon Hooper
Attendance: 11,098

QPR v Aston Villa

Kodija rifles home; credits Teamtalk.com

Jonathan Kodija repaid some of the £15m fee Aston Villa paid Bristol City, with his eight goal of the season at QPR to hand Villa only their second away win of the season, against lowly QPR.

Villa’s top scorer had earlier had a penalty saved by Alex Smithies, but he redeemed himself with 17 minutes to go with a powerful shot that squirmed under the QPR goalkeeper.

Steve Bruce made six changes to the side that lost to Norwich 1-0 and he started and finished with an attacking 442 formation that sought to bring the best out of his expensively assembled front line pairing of Kodija and Ross McCormack.

It worked as his side delivered 18 shots on goal, double QPR’s total.

With a defence that was rarely penetrated in behind, Villa were able to defend aggressively in front and left back Jordan Amavi was particularly impressive.

Amavi was rarely beaten and there can be no wonder the likes of Liverpool and Everton are said to be interested in his services.

The France U21 international has just returned after a lengthy spell on the sidelines after rupturing his knee ligaments playing for France U21, though the £10m signing from Ligue 1 Nice looks back to his best, which will have pleased manager Bruce.

With Idrissa Gueye recently prised away from Goodison Park by Ronald Koeman, Bruce will be keen to retain the services of the 22-year-old as he looks to force Villa into the top 6.

Hoop dreams fading

Ian Holloway will be concerned with Hoops form; credits westlondonsport.com

Ian Holloway will be desperately disappointed with the form of his charges with his side just three points above the relegation zone.

After winning his first game back at the helm, QPR have slumped to five consecutive defeats, scoring only once in the process against Wolves in a 1-2 loss.

With the starting line up featuring only one striker Holloway must have felt playing 4-2-3-1 was still the best way to get a result against the more attack minded Aston Villa, who adopted a 4-4-2, with two recognised strikers in Ross McCormack and Kodija.

With Conor Washington as a lone striker supported by Tjaronn Chery in the number 10 role, QPR sought to score by finding the latter in pockets in the hope he would supply Washington.

For all Chery’s endeavour, QPR lacked penetration with nobody prepared to take someone on in a 1 v 1 or receive in behind.

Too often, QPR players supported behind the ball, happy to receive and pass backwards rather than play on the last man and penetrate in behind.

When QPR did attack, the back four were often too deep, stretching the units which prevented a more compact, higher tempo game from the home side and it was little wonder QPR only had nine shots at goal, none on target.

It was no surprise to see Washington replaced at half time, although you felt playing as a lone striker in a 4-2-3-1 was not the way to get the best out of him.

With Sebastian Polter left on the bench, this seemed like an opportunity missed for Holloway to play 4-4-2, particularly as they were at home, and the search for the right formula continues.

The Christmas period is a tough one for QPR as they travel to Brighton on the 27th, kick off 12.00 GMT, whilst Aston Villa host Burton Albion on Boxing Day 15.00 kick off GMT.

QPR: (4-2-3-1) Smithies; Bidwell, Hall, Onuoha, Perch, Lynch, Luongo, Wszolek (sub Shodipo, 62) Chery (sub Mackie, 78) Washington, Ngbakoto.

Subs (not used): Ingram, Borysiuk, Polter, Sandro, Sylla,

Villa: (4-4-2) Bunn; Hutton, Baker, Chester, Amavi, Jedinak, Gardner, Bacuna, Adomah, McCormack (sub Agbonlahor, 70) Kodjia (sub Gestede, 89)

Subs (not used): Gollini, Elphick, Westwood, Grealish, Ayew.

Referee; Geoff Eltringham

Attendance; 16,285

West Ham v Hull City

Hull City players dejected after another defeatcredits Reuters

Mark Noble struck the winning goal for West Ham in what was their worst performance of the season against a Hull side who will be wondering how they managed to lose this game.

Mike Phelan’s visitors were far more threatening from the first whistle and hit the post three times, enough to make the post man of the match from a Hammers online vote.

Noble’s goal came after Tom Huddlestone was deemed to have pulled Michail Antonio in the box although contact appeared minimal.

The referee Lee Mason seemed to dismiss the claim at first before his assistant referee intervened and a penalty was given.

Although the converted spot kick secured back to back wins for the first time at their new home, this was a far from convincing performance from Slaven Bilic’s side.

Hull City forward Dieumerci Mbokani should have put the Tigers in front early in the first half but struck the inside of the post when one on one with Hammers goalkeeper Darren Randolph.

Harry Maguire had two efforts cleared off the line from two corners, whilst Andrew Robertson smacked the inside of the post with a thunderous drive from outside the area.

Despite all their good work Hull slipped to a seventh straight away defeat which seems them sink to the bottom of the table for Christmas.

Hull pay the price for missed chances

Another chance goes begging for Mbokani; credits sportskeeda.com

Hull set up in a 3-5-2, a formation which Phelan has used with mixed results so far this season.

Against Spurs in midweek, Hull’s wing backs were too tight to Spurs wing backs and Hull were punished out wide with the pace of Danny Rose too much for the likes of Ahmed Elmohamady.

However, West Ham did not pose the same threats in wide areas with most of the play in front of Hull which suited their aggressive back three.

Curtis Davies, Michael Dawson and Maguire were in command from the first whistle, with one marking Andy Carroll closely with the others picking up any flick ons in behind.

With the Hammers lacking runners beyond the Tigers’ defence, Hull could have been even more aggressive with their line to squeeze the pitch and limit the space for the likes of Dimitri Payet and Manuel Lanzini to play in.

However, whenever West Ham looked like building up in front, Hull were able to snuff out any danger with good interceptions or tackles.

With their size, Hull were a real threat at set pieces and Phelan was able to make good use of the zonal spacing employed by Slaven Bilic and in particular where he put his best header of the ball, Andy Carroll.

With Carroll positioned at the near post space to head any short balls clear, it was left to Michail Antonio to pick up Harry Maguire, a clear mis-match.

With the reliable delivery from Robert Snodgrass, Hull sought to isolate Maguire against Antonio and only two goal line clearances from West Ham prevented Maguire scoring twice.

I thought Bilic may change this at half time but he stuck with his corner marking system and Maguire nearly scored again after the interval and this is an area where other teams may look to expose West Ham.

With Mbokani back after a three game suspension, he was the more effective centre forward on show, often retaining possession and linking well with his partner in attack Robert Snodgrass.

If Mbokani went up for a header, Snodgrass would be running in behind penetrating the Hammers back line, whilst Robertson and Elmohamady were always dangerous out wide.

In the second half Snodgrass received 25yds from goal and smacked the inside of the post and he showed why West Ham bid £8m for his services in the summer with a fantastic all round display.

The best chance of the second half though fell to Mbokani but his failure to capitalise on a poor Aaron Cresswell back pass, when one on one with Randolph, cost the Tigers in the end.

Hammers dig in

Mark Noble salutes the crowd; credits sky sports.com

The result was all that mattered to manager Slaven Bilic, although he knows the crowd will not be expecting to be served up such fare over the Christmas period, in a game Hull could have won comfortably.

Bilic got his formation and personnel wrong with too many ‘Number 10s’ and no threat in behind, West Ham were slow in possession, lacking tempo to their play and rarely penetrated the Hull back line.

In fairness to Bilic he recognised this and was swift in trying to effect a change in performance levels by making a double substitution at half time.

Andre Ayew and Fernandes replaced the ineffective Lanzini and Pedro Obiang and out went the Christmas tree formation and in came 4-4-2, with Michail Antonio the surprise choice to partner Andy Carroll in attack.

West Ham improved but the service from front to back was poor and Antonio failed in shine in an unfamiliar role with his back to goal.

You could see the rationale behind such a move, Bilic saw that he needed more pace in behind and Antonio is one of the very few players in his ranks who possesses such a trait.

Carroll though needed a centre forward beside him who was used to playing with a front man, someone to read flick ons, hold the ball up and play in a partnership.

Carroll appeared lacking in match fitness and often spent large periods of the game outside the box and I couldn’t help but wonder if the Hammers aren’t getting the most out of him or if he is not getting the most out of himself.

Whenever the ball was wide, West Ham were slow to get the delivery in and this is one reason Carroll seems to spend so much time outside the area.

Another, is he doesn’t expect the ball to come in as the likes of Payet and Lanzini like to dribble with the ball so much.

I looked at Salomon Rondon last week for West Brom who scored a hat-trick of headers, all from wide deliveries and I thought of Carroll.

As soon as Chris Brunt of West Brom received the ball wide, he looked to deliver into the penalty area and Rondon was in the box ready to challenge.

Carroll and West Ham need to play to the strengths they possess and start attacking wide with penetration, with Antonio as a winger receiving higher up, enabling Carroll to make his way into the box and the Christmas period seems the right time to switch to a more traditional formation and style of play.

The Boxing Day fixtures are next up for these two as West Ham travel to second-bottom Swansea 15.00 GMT whilst Hull play host to Manchester City at 17.15 GMT.

West Ham: ( 3-4-3):Randolph; Kouyate, Reid, Ogbanna;Antonio, Noble, Obiang (sub Fernandes 46min), Creswell; Payet (sub Nordtveit 90min), Lansing( Ayew 46min), Carroll

Subs (not used): Adrian, Feghouli, Fletcher, Quina

Bookings: Obiang, Noble

Hull City: (3-5-2): Marshall; Davies, Dawson, Maguire: Elmohamady, Livermore (sub Henriksen 68min),Huddlestone (sub Bowen 85min), Clucas; Robertson; Snodgrass, Mbokani (sub Diomande 68min)

Subs (not used): Jakupovic, Meyler, Maloney, Weit

Bookings: Livermore, Dawson,Henriksen, Maguire

Referee: Lee Mason

Attendance: 56,952

 

Watford v Everton

Stefano Okaka wheels away in delight; credits Getty Images

Stefano Okaka was the Hornets hero as he scored his first goals for Watford as they beat an out-of-sorts Everton side.

Okaka, signed from Anderlecht in the summer for £10m, put the finishing touch to a flowing move in the first half before heading home after the break to seal a memorable win for Walter Mazzarri’s side.

Everton took the lead on 17 minutes after a hopeful ball from Gareth Barry was helped on in midfield and, with the Watford defence and goalkeeper slow to react, Romelu Lukaku poked home from close range.

Sebastian Prodl added a third before Lukaku set up a tense final few minutes after heading in late on.

Hornets sting in the tail

Watford had lost three out of the last four and after falling behind looked likely to continue that sequence, however, Everton were lacklustre in possession, often launching long balls up to Lukaku and hoping to win the first or second ball

Watford, meanwhile, were dogged in defence and with Deeney and Okaka a constant threat, Everton’s midfield were caught between pressing or shielding and did neither very well.

If Watford had comfortable possession in midfield the crowd would urge the Toffees to get stuck in.

If they did go and press the Watford midfield, it would leave big holes to play into the Hornets strikers and that meant trouble for Everton.

With Ashley Williams and Ramiro Funes Mori struggling to handle the Hornets front pairing, Watford were able to build attacks and penetrate the Everton back line.

Deeney, however, appeared low in confidence in front of goal, and you could see why he hadn’t scored in 8 league games.

After being presented with a wonderful opportunity after a lovely cut back cross, he took a touch when he could have shot first time.

Toffees come unstuck

A dejected Ramiro Funes Mori and Enner Valencia; credits Getty Images

After a bright start under Ronald Koeman, Everton have won just one of their past 10 matches and defensively they have kept just two clean sheets in the league so far this season.

They lack pace to play a more compact game, with Koeman alluding to this in his pre match press conference.

However, the lack of partnerships all over the pitch, which were a hallmark of the Moyes area, seemed to result in a very disjointed performance.

Kevin Mirallas was largely anonymous before being replaced in the second half and it was surprising Koeman left it until the 64th minute, by which point Everton were 3-1 down.

After such a tepid first half display, the Everton fans may have rightly expected to see a change in attitude or personnel in the second half but it was much of the same until Ross Barkley was introduced just after the hour mark and Koeman left it too late to effect the result.

Things don’t get any easier for Everton as they host Arsenal in the league on Tuesday at 19.45 GMT and Watford travel to face Manchester City on Wednesday, kick off 20.00 GMT.

Watford: (3-5-2) Gomes; Zuniga (sub Kabasele 90 mins), Prodl, Britos, Holebas, Capoue, Behrami, Guedioura (sub Janmaat, 61 mins), Amrabat; Okaka (sub Watson 81 mins) Deeney.

Subs (not used): Pantilimon,Success,Sinclair,Ighalo

Everton: ( 4-4-1-1) Stekelenburg; Coleman, Williams,Funes-Mori, Baines (sub Lennon 83 mins); Gueye (sub Barkley 64 mins), Barry, Deulofeu, McCarthy,Mirallas (sub Valencia 71 mins); Lukaku

Subs (not used): Robles, Jagielka, Cleverly, Holgate

Referee: Andrew Taylor

Attendance; 20,769

 

Feyenoord v Sparta Rotterdam

Tonny Vilhena opened the scoring with a wonderful strike; credits EPA

Feyenoord maintained their position at the top of the Eredivisie by hammering city rivals Sparta Rotterdam 6-1 at De Kuip.

Nicolai Jorgensen scored twice in the second half, after superb strikes from Tonny Vilhena and Jens Toonstra.

Eric Botteghin added a header and despite Sparta pulling a goal back via Thomas Verhaar, Eljero Elia completed the scoring in stoppage time.

Feyenood on fire

Eric Bottenghin pays his respects after scoring; credits Feyenoord.nl

Feyenoord went into the game in a patchy run of form which had seen them win only once in five matches and claim a last minute draw against Utrecht last week.

However, as in most derby matches, form went out the window and Feyenoord dominated from the first whistle, coach Giovanni Van Bronckhorst’s team utilising the whole pitch at De Kuip to try and stretch the deep Sparta defence.

Van Bronckhorst sets his team up in a classic dutch 4-3-3 with one holding midfielder and two attacking ahead.

Dirk Kuyt and Vilhena gave a masterclass in attacking midfield play, often running into spaces created by the Feyenoord wingers dragging the Sparta full backs short, whilst also feeding off Jorgensen’s superb hold up play, to which Sparta had no answer.

The width was provided by the lively wingers Toonstra and Elia who both hugged the touchline, ably supported by the full backs Miquel Nelom and Rick Karsdorp.

Karsdorp, in particular, showed why he is rated so highly with a fantastic performance and no wonder the club are keen to tie the 21 year old academy product down to a new contract to ward off foreign suitors.

It was no surprise when Vilhena gave Feyenoord the lead in the 24th minute, winning a 50/50 with Sparta Captain Kenneth Dougall outside the area before lashing home from the inside left channel.

Feyenoord doubled their lead just before half time when another long cross field pass, again making use of the whole pitch, found winger Toonstra on the edge of the sideline, he in turn helped the ball inside to full back Karsdorp who returned the ball back for Toonstra to volley home a wonderful goal from the inside right channel.

Jorgensen tapped home from a Toonstra cross just before the hour mark to make it 3-0 before adding another a few minutes later after being given too much space in the box, finishing with a low strike that went in off the post.

Eric Bottenghin added a fifth with a far post header, and celebrated by revealing a black armband in remembrance of the Chapecoense air disaster victims before Sparta pulled one back via substitute Thomas Verhaar with a fine headed goal.

Elia, who improved as the game went on, added a sixth in added time to put the seal on a memorable derby victory.

Sparta try to spoil the party

Sparta’s game plan was to sit deep and frustrate Feyenoord and hope to catch them on the counter with Loris Brogno a threat in behind, a tactic that served them well for the opening stages.

Their game plan went out the window however once Feyenoord scored twice in the first half.

After half time I expected Head Coach Alex Pastoor to alter his tactics, with the possible introduction of Thomas Verhaar and a more traditional 4-3-3 with one pivot to gain a foothold in the game going forward.

However, the second half provided much of the same until Verhaar was introduced in the 64th minute, and the passive nature of play by Sparta saw Feyenoord dominate proceedings and further goals were a formality.

In contrast to Feyenoord’s domination in full back areas, Sparta were exposed with the youthful Rick Van Drongelen and Denzel Dumfries often too keen to mark tight and square.

Pastoor may have been better defending in a zone rather than aggressively man to man, which created the spaces for Feyenoord to exploit as the Sparta full backs were dragged infield.

In the last phase of the game Pastoor attempted to stem the tide by reverting to a back three but the momentum had shifted so much due to Sparta’s passive display, any formation change was going to be negligible to the result.

Feyenoord:(4-3-3) Jones; Nelom, van der Heijden, Botteghin, Karsdorp; Vilhena, ElAhmadi, Kuyt; Elia, Toornstra, Jorgensen

Subs ( not used);

Sparta:(4-2-3-1) Kortsmit; van Drongelen, Vriends, Breuer, Dumfries; Dougall, Dijkstra; Spierings, Goodwin, El Azzouzi, Brogno

Referee: Bas Nijhuis

Attendance: 47,500