Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart admits the team’s performances have dropped below the minimum required recently but he denies they are suffering from a lack of leadership.
Manuel Pellegrini’s side were out-played in every department in the 2-0 defeat at Stoke in which Marko Arnautovic scored twice from assists from the excellent Xherdan Shaqiri and could easily have had a couple more at a windswept Britannia Stadium.
City’s defence have recorded just two clean sheets in the last 18 matches, after not conceding a goal in their opening five games of the season, and it is no coincidence the absence of captain Vincent Kompany to injury has affected their stability at the back.
But Hart, returning to the side after injury himself and captaining in the absence of Kompany, believes they have enough quality to cope without the influential Belgian.
“We’ve got a great squad and Vinny is a massive part of it but Nico (Otamendi), Martin (Demichelis) and Manga (Eliaquim Mangala – suspended for Stoke) are good centre-halves,” he told CityTV. “After a 2-0 loss it’s probably easy to say [Kompany was missed] but we’ll stick together as a squad, work for each other and get through this.”
A fourth away game without a win – and the third in a row on the road without a goal – has seen City overtaken by Leicester and Arsenal at the top of the Premier League.
Six games and 15 minutes without Kompany in the Premier League and Manchester City have conceded 15 goals. 8 games with Kompany, conceded 1
— Sammy Lee (@Sammy_Goal) December 5, 2015
Hart admits they have to raise their game, starting on Tuesday when they host Borussia Monchengladbach needing a win and a favour from Sevilla to top their Champions League group – from which they have already qualified – to give them a much-needed easier quarter-final draw.
“At the level we’re playing at, we need to turn out performances of seven out of 10 at least every week and rely on some players to produce eights and nines,” added the England international.
“That’s how we should be playing and we’re not. Credit to Stoke – I thought they deserved to win. Conditions were tough but that’s English football – I said before the game no-one would be able to walk of the pitch with an excuse. A few of the lads are feeling it from the amount of games we’re playing but that’s not an excuse.”
Newcastle head coach Steve McClaren heaved a huge sigh of relief after seeing his team breathe new life into their season with a priceless 2-0 Premier League victory over Liverpool.
The game at St James’ Park was deep into injury time when Moussa Sissoko crossed for Georginio Wijnaldum to cement the win and finally allow McClaren to believe a massive three points was his amid speculation that he might have only two games left to save his job.
Asked about his emotions when Wijnaldum struck, the 54-year-old said: “Sheer relief because even then I thought with a minute to go, we could likely concede two with the way we go.
“It was relief because you know Liverpool, they have got quality players in any moment and that could have spoiled it, like (against) Chelsea, conceding just at the end.
“It could have spoiled it, but it didn’t today. We’ll enjoy this for 24 hours, Tuesday morning we will review it, bounce heads off the wall again and get back to work and get ready for next week.
“Now we have got to take that on. We are not getting carried away, we have a lot of work to do. People say, ‘Where do you solve it?’ You only solve it on the training field, you can only solve it through hard work, and that’s what the team got back.”
The Magpies efforts were rewarded by a stroke of good fortune when Wijnaldum’s 69th-minute shot was deflected over keeper Simon Mignolet by defender Martin Skrtel, and – having seen the visitors get the rough end of a tight offside decision to rule out a potential equaliser by Alberto Moreno – the Dutchman made sure in the 94th minute.
Wow what a result. When you’re committed and work hard, the rest follows. Great win at last. Well done @NUFC!!
— Alan Shearer (@alanshearer) December 6, 2015
Jurgen Klopp, who tasted defeat for just the second time in his fledgling reign, was less than happy with his side’s performance.
Asked what had gone wrong, Klopp said: “Nearly everything, I would say. The start, the middle and the end. I don’t know. This was obviously not a really good football game, and that was 50 per cent because of Newcastle and 50 per cent because of Liverpool FC.
“We were not creative enough, so we had no chances.”
Glenn Murray's 82nd-minute goal for Bournemouth condemned Chelsea to their worst defeat of a wretched season on Saturday.
A run of three games without defeat in all competitions had suggested an upturn in Chelsea's fortunes, only for Eddie Howe's promoted Bournemouth to condemn the champions to their eighth defeat of the campaign.
Murray was the match-winner at Stamford Bridge, scoring 99 seconds after coming on to leave Chelsea just three points above the relegation zone and turn the spotlight firmly back onto their manager Jose Mourinho.
Mourinho had again elected to leave Diego Costa on the bench, only to turn to the Spain striker at half-time as the home side looked for a breakthrough.
But it was Murray who settled the game, nodding in from close range after fit-again Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois had come for a corner and missed.
It was Chelsea's fourth home defeat of a dismal campaign, while Bournemouth were left to celebrate a famous result that lifted them out of the bottom three.