Bilic prays power shift stays

Lesotho Times - - Sport -

LON­DON — It is tempt­ing to see this sea­son of Premier League trad­ing places as a freak show, a fleet­ing shift in power rather than the start of a trend.

Ever­ton man­ager Roberto Martínez hinted as much ahead of the week­end, sug­gest­ing the gate-crash­ing of the top six by clubs such as Le­ices­ter and West Ham will look more sub­stan­tial if it is repli­cated next year.

Slaven Bilic begs to dif­fer. Hav­ing seen Dmitri Payet com­plete an un­likely come­back in in­jury time — a third in 11 min­utes af­ter head­ers from Michail An­to­nio and Di­afra Sakho — the West Ham man­ager warned the self-pro­claimed elite not to mis­take his club for a nov­elty act. A won­der­ful sea­son does not nec­es­sar­ily mean West Ham are a one-sea­son won­der.

“This is a per­ma­nent shift at the top — at least I hope it is,” said Bilic. “Clubs like us with the (TV) money — Crys­tal Palace, West Brom, Le­ices­ter — we can still im­prove. Two years ago, West Brom could af­ford Salomon Ron­don, but they would have had to sell Ber­ahino to get him. Now they can keep Ber­ahino. Next year with more in­vest­ment you can keep those play­ers. Crys­tal Palace can keep Cabaye and bring an­other one. So all those teams and us have big­ger room to im­prove.

“Big teams like Man City and Chelsea — if they want to buy a striker — there is no big gap for them to im­prove. Say City buy Ben­zema, they have Agüero al­ready, so there is no big space to get much bet­ter. Chelsea can sell Diego Costa and buy Le­wandowski, yes. But they are only dif­fer­ent, not bet­ter.”

The lin­ger­ing ques­tion is whether the lev­el­ling out is a con­se­quence of those below im­prov­ing, or the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of the es­tab­lished top six. This en­thralling but flawed game demon­strated it is a com­bi­na­tion of both. There was qual­ity and there were de­fi­cien­cies aplenty but, ul­ti­mately, it was the self-in­flicted fail­ure of the home side that en­abled the vis­i­tors to steal the win.

Like oth­ers, West Ham have the class to pun­ish the care­less­ness Ever­ton have made a char­ac­ter trait. Whether it was Kevin Mi­ral­las’s avoid­able dis­missal for two book­ings in 35 min­utes, Romelu Lukaku’s penalty miss or a strange sub­sti­tu­tion at 2-0 up that did lit­tle more than al­low new sign­ing Ou­mar Ni­asse to demon­strate how far away he is from ac­cli­ma­tis­ing to English foot­ball, Ever­ton had to look at their own mis­takes be­fore tak­ing aim at ref­eree An­thony Tay­lor.

Such Good­i­son mis­ad­ven­ture is hap­pen­ing too of­ten to be brushed off as a small de­tail. Yet again Ever­ton had nu­mer­ous play­ers giv­ing seven or eight-out-of-10 per­for­mances but find­ing them­selves on the los­ing side. For Lukaku to be scor­ing at such a rate while his side toils in mid-ta­ble is un­ac­cept­able.

“Seven de­feats at home is not good enough,” Martínez ad­mit­ted. “That is where we feel so hard done by be­cause you look at the at­ti­tude of the play­ers, the tal­ent of the play­ers and the de­sire of want­ing to please our fans at Good­i­son, is in­cred­i­ble. With the seven de­feats we can an­a­lyse ev­ery one and, apart from Manch­ester United, in ev­ery one we per­formed in an in­cred­i­ble man­ner and de­served a lot more.

“Are we good enough, do we do things right enough? The away form tells us that we do. It is just that we need to make sure we find a way to change the lit­tle bit of a dif­fer­ence be­tween per­form­ing well and not get­ting the wins at home. We are not where we should be be­cause of the de­feats at home.”

Martínez de­serves credit for as­sem­bling such a tal­ented squad but, with a new in­vestor on board, he needs the FA Cup to sup­port the view he can get the most from them be­fore the in­evitable sum­mer bids for Lukaku and John Stones. Too of­ten he is talk­ing about play­ers learn­ing from their ex­pe­ri­ences. It puts one in mind of stu­dents who no sooner have fin­ished one set of ex­ams than are en­rolled on an­other course. If they do not grad­u­ate at Good­i­son soon se­ri­ous ques­tions will be asked about whether they are re­ceiv­ing the right tu­ition.

Mean­while, Clau­dio Ranieri is still re­fus­ing to coun­te­nance Le­ices­ter City as Premier League ti­tle favourites de­spite see­ing his side ex­tend their lead at the top of the ta­ble to five points.

Le­ices­ter’s 1-0 vic­tory at Wat­ford en­sured they cashed in on Tot­ten­ham and Arse­nal’s 2-2 draw ear­lier in the day and an­swered ques­tions about their own abil­ity to grind out re­sults from dif­fi­cult as­sign­ments.

Suc­cess at Vicarage Road came cour­tesy of Riyad Mahrez’s se­cond-half goal and left Le­ices­ter in pole po­si­tion.

Yet Ranieri main­tained his poker face and played down the grow­ing con­fi­dence among Le­ices­ter fans that the club can com­plete the most re­mark­able ti­tle tri­umph in Premier League his­tory.

“I don’t dream,” said Ranieri. “I con­tinue to work hard. For our fans it’s good. They dream and I work. It’s a good com­bi­na­tion.

“But you can see in the Premier League that ev­ery match is a bat­tle, not just for us but for ev­ery­body, and five points is noth­ing.

“But we want to con­tinue to fight, match by match and step by step.

“Now our mind is on New­cas­tle, which is an­other tough match at home.

“We want to fight. We know we can win or we can lose but I want to see my team as they were against Wat­ford, con­cen­trat­ing and with hard work.

“If I see that I am happy and the re­sults are not im­por­tant.”

Mahrez gave sup­port­ers an in­jury scare af­ter his goal when he pulled up hold­ing his ham­string, but he con­tin­ued to play be­fore be­ing sub­sti­tuted and Ranieri al­layed fears by con­firm­ing the Al­ge­rian was sim­ply suf­fer­ing from cramp.

Le­ices­ter now have a nine-day break be­fore re­turn­ing to ac­tion against New­cas­tle in the first of their nine re­main­ing games.

“We are very happy but we know there will be an­other nine bat­tles, not only for us,” said Ranieri.

“The Premier League is fan­tas­tic. No­body now can say who will win the ti­tle.

“We aren’t ner­vous. Our job is done. Our job was to save the team, and do­ing this was an amaz­ing achieve­ment.

“The oth­ers must be ner­vous. The oth­ers spent a lot of money to win the ti­tle and we just have to build, slowly, slowly. This year is a crazy sea­son for us and ev­ery­body but we are happy and we have to en­joy.”

The re­sult ex­tended Le­ices­ter’s un­beaten run to three matches since they were de­feated at Arse­nal and means they have still lost just three times in the league.

Wat­ford have won just one of their last six Premier League games and had to con- tend with the late loss of Miguel Britos to a ham­string in­jury in the warm-up.

They were un­done by Mahrez’s su­perb strike but man­ager Quique Sanchez Flores be­lieves his side lost to gen­uine ti­tle con­tenders.

“Le­ices­ter look like a very good team,” he said. “I like them. They are no dif­fer­ent to what we ex­pected.

“They were re­ally in­tense in the middle and got back ev­ery time.

“They were very quick in at­tack, a very good team. We re­spected them be­fore the match and we re­spect them now.”

He added: “We had our chances. The ball pos­ses­sion was 50-50 and we were ex­pect­ing this type of match. It was very tight and lit­tle de­tails cost us the match.”

Fix­tures March 12: Nor­wich v Man City, Stoke v Southamp­ton, Bournemouth v Swansea, Arse­nal v West Brom. March 13: As­ton Villa v Tot­ten­ham. March 14: Le­ices­ter v New­cas­tle.

— Afp/tele­graph

West Ham coach slaven Bilic

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