High Pressure, Fresh Breeze
It was ice cold in England on Monday morning, but one way to deal with a drop in temperature is to run around, and The Diary understands that running around is about to come into vogue at Manchester United, now that the club have confirmed that Ralf Rangnick is to become the club’s interim manager for the remainder of the season. A manager with a surname in the past tense replaces a manager too tense about the past and Rangnick is expected to instil his famous pressing principles, or try to at least.
His task is a big one, because turning around superclubs and making their squads function as a well-oiled machine can take longer than six months, but he only has to look at United’s two main rivals to see that a manager with a big personality and some clear beliefs can do it. Manchester City and Liverpool tower above the rest of the Premier League in a range of metrics but no more so than with the proportion of their pressures they perform in the attacking third of the pitch.
Winners of the last four Premier League titles between them, this is the sort of complete buy-in that brings success in the modern game. Can Rangnick emulate it at Old Trafford? It’s going to be fun finding out.
Midweek Sports Special
We don’t know yet whether Rangnick will be taking charge of Manchester United for their game against Arsenal on Thursday evening, but we do know that for the first time this season we have a full midweek set of fixtures to feast on. In countries like Germany this sort of schedule is simply called an “English week”, so convinced are they that English clubs play 3-4 times a week and three times on Christmas Day alone.
But it’s not just fans from overseas who can misjudge elements of the game. Grab the average fan in the street (please try this) and ask them to name the Premier League’s highest-scoring day of the week and they’ll usually go for a Tuesday or a Wednesday. It seems years of suffering through mediocre Grand Slam Sundays, combined with rapid-fire late evening goal roundup programmes presented by Steve Rider, has convinced a nation that you simply get more action in midweek matches. In fact, as the table below shows, Thursday and Wednesday are the lowest scoring days in Premier League history, with Monday and Tuesday next in line. Sunday, in contrast, is the highest-scoring regular day going, with a pure-entertainment rate of 2.75 goals per day. So let’s hope for plenty of goals in MD14 this week, but don’t count on it.
Jamie Vardy was 27 and a half when he made his Premier League debut and now he is considerably older and also the 14th highest scoring player in the competition’s history. His two goals against Watford on Sunday were his 92nd and 93rd in the top-flight since reaching his 30s, drawing him level with Ian Wright at the top of this particular chart. The fact that both players spent the early stages of their careers in non-league football before making it to the top of the game is almost certainly no coincidence. For strikers in particular, 30 can be a worrying landmark, and for plenty even 29 can be the beginning of the end. Only 5.3% of Michael Owen’s Premier League goals came after he reached 29, while for Robbie Fowler it was 12.3%. Vardy, cruelly predicted to finally slow down this season by some misinformed pundits, looks almost certain to become the first player to score 100 Premier League goals in his thirties. You know what? It’s an achievement that might never get beaten.
Talking of giving strikers time, Bournemouth’s game against Millwall last midweek saw Dominic Solanke match his Championship goal total from last season, with his 15th of the campaign. He didn’t score in the Cherries’ 2-2 draw at home to Coventry at the weekend but he now has an incredibly neat record of 30 goals in 60 Championship games. If you want a striker to score one in two, like in the olden days, then it gets no purer. This contrasts significantly with Solanke’s Premier League record, which remains four goals in 63 appearances, 21 of them for Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.
Now 24, Solanke may turn out to be the sort of player who can run riot in the second tier and not match that in the top-flight. Or, like Vardy, he may be the sort of player who gets better with age. With Bournemouth eight points clear of third place West Brom as it stands, Solanke may be getting another chance to impress in the Premier League pretty soon.