x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Premier League best and worst: Rafael is Man Utd's incredible sulk

Half-hour horror show for Brazilian, Michu proving a bargain buy and Jermain Defoe firing again, writes Thomas Woods.

Rafael, left, was substituted before half time against Reading after enduring a torrid afternoon as Manchester United conceded three goals. He struggled to hide his disappointment while sat on the bench, too. Eddie Keogh / Reuters
Rafael, left, was substituted before half time against Reading after enduring a torrid afternoon as Manchester United conceded three goals. He struggled to hide his disappointment while sat on the bench, too. Eddie Keogh / Reuters

Best reality check

A week ago, Steve Clarke's West Bromwich Albion were fourth in the table, brushing shoulders with title hopefuls and basking in praise flying at them from every angle. A team more likely to be looking at the other end of the table were unexpectedly overachieving. Now, they have been brought back down to earth with a bang.

On Wednesday night, they were beaten 3-1 at Swansea City and, on Saturday, they suffered a 1-0 home defeat to Stoke City, who secured a first away win since January. It is not all bad for West Brom though - they are still fifth in the table and travel to Arsenal next, where four of the seven visitors this season have taken at least one point.

Worst 31 minutes

It was a fantastic 34 minutes for everyone watching - more so for the neutrals than fans of either Reading and Manchester United - as seven goals flew in during a crazy first half at the Madejski Stadium.

It was a terrible 31 minutes, though, for Rafael, the Brazilian right-back, who was made the scapegoat for all-round atrocious defending by United, and taken off by manager Sir Alex Ferguson with two thirds of the game remaining.

Cue no more goals conceded by the Manchester club and a classic sulk from Rafael sat on the bench. It was a mighty bump to the defender's ego, after having been compared with the United legend Gary Neville just a few days beforehand.


Best effect

Some big names arrived in English football in the summer, just look at the £32 million (Dh187.5m) Chelsea spent on Eden Hazard. Oscar, the Brazilian also cost the London club a hefty amount. Manchester United spent £17m on Shinji Kagawa, Arsenal splashed £16.5m on Santi Cazorla. The likes of Robin van Persie, Joe Allen and Moussa Dembele also moved between English clubs for big amounts.

But the best signing, in terms of value for money, has to be Michu. The Spanish midfielder was unknown to English fans before Swansea City snapped him up from Rayo Vallecano for just £2m. After 10 goals in 15 games, including two at Arsenal on Saturday, he looks like an absolute bargain as he has propelled the Welsh club up to seventh in the table.


Worst effect

Maybe Chelsea fans were right? They were vociferous in voicing their displeasure at the appointment of Rafa Benitez as interim manager to replace the departed Roberto di Matteo. Something to do with his links to Liverpool and previous frosty relationship with Chelsea, they said.

It was also an acknowledgement that Benitez, while renowned as a great tactician, is not a purveyor of attractive football. His Valencia side were dull, his Liverpool team were the masters of the 0-0 away draw and he did not set the world alight at Inter Milan.

Chelsea were on a four-game winless streak before he arrived, but the Spaniard has hardly made things better. One goal and two points in three games and a defeat to London rivals West Ham United at the weekend. Zzz.


Best revival

When Harry Redknapp was in charge of Tottenham Hotspur last season, Jermain Defoe's days at White Hart Lane looked like they may have been up. The striker did not particularly want to leave, but he could not get a place in the first team which usually saw Emmanuel Adebayor playing in front of Rafael van der Vaart.

But Redknapp left in the summer, Andre Villas-Boas came in to replace him and Defoe has been the main beneficiary of the switch, taking the chance to grab a starting berth with both hands.

He netted 11 league goals last season in a campaign littered with substitute appearances. This time round he is already on nine goals, and his fortunes mirror those of Tottenham who, after an indifferent start, have quietly sneaked up into the Champions League places.

 

twoods@thenational.ae