Merson also describes Chelsea's youngsters as 'phenomenal' and gives his view on the Premier League title race between Liverpool and Man City
Wednesday 30 October 2019 08:23, UK
Paul Merson says Granit Xhaka reacted "in the heat of the moment" to Arsenal fans booing him during a substitution because he was hurt and lauds praise on "phenomenal" Chelsea. Plus who holds the cards in the Premier League title race?
Xhaka's behaviour was shocking but at the same time, he's hurt. He's the captain, he's getting booed off the pitch, the fans are going mad and it's the heat of the moment. It's not nice and no one wants to get booed off the pitch, I don't care who you are. You could be the best player in the world and even Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi wouldn't like to be booed off the pitch.
Looking back now, in the heat of the moment, you're the captain and usually the last people to come off are the captains, then the crowd take it out on him. If he could have that one moment back, he probably wouldn't do it, but it's heat of the moment stuff. I'm one of his biggest critics but he does care. I've seen some people come off pitches and they don't care, they fly off and run faster off the pitch than they did during the game.
It's a hard one for the club because Unai Emery rates him, he's the one player who plays every week so I would have thought Emery will want this to blow over really. I don't think it will be an Ozil situation where he says 'that's it, you're not playing for the club again'.
I wouldn't have him as captain. I would've had David Luiz as captain, which I said all along. Luiz plays every week, he's won everything in the game so you don't win everything in the game by being no good. I don't know about being a leader but he's a winner, he's been in winning teams and I've always said that he should have been the captain.
I like Pulisic, who scored a hat-trick in the 4-2 win against Burnley, and I've always been a big fan of his. I think he's a top player, but he's only a kid. He's 21 and you're not going to hit your best football until you're 27 or 28, I wouldn't have thought.
A lot of these Chelsea players are kids and you don't realise that playing at a big club like Chelsea at this age and putting in performances like they are, it's phenomenal. To go up to Burnley and win like they did after they just beat Ajax away takes some doing. For me, it's the performance of the week. It won't be, but Burnley is a hard place to visit and to go there and win like a walk in the park was, for me, the performance of the week.
I think Frank Lampard has been outstanding - they're playing football as good as anyone. When I watched Chelsea last year, it was dire in a way. I know they won the Europa League final, should have beaten Man City in the Carabao Cup final, and they came third in the Premier League, but the football wasn't great.
Now, the football is fantastic and everybody is joining in. Last season, you gave the ball to Eden Hazard, hope he did something and if he had an off day, Chelsea had no chance. Now, everybody is chipping in and they're all kids, enthusiastic and putting in performances. The future is bright for Chelsea, although they have fallen over it. It was put on them and I don't know that without the transfer embargo or Frank Lampard, how many of them would be in the team. I think half of this team that are ripping it up now would be out on loan in the Championship.
And you've got to give Frank credit. He could have easily played safe and looked after himself, a lot of managers do and he could have gone with the experience, but he hasn't. He's thought of the club more than himself and it's paid dividends.
It was a big result against Tottenham having also come back against Man Utd to draw 1-1. They were also behind against Tottenham and on their day and when they've got all their players fit, Spurs are a good team, but Liverpool came back there again. That's four points they've won from behind in two hard games so they're ticking the boxes of champions at the moment.
But it's still in Man City's hands because if they beat Liverpool twice, they'll win the league and that's how good this Man City team is as well. For me, if I was Liverpool and drew at home to Man City in a few weeks, I'd be doing cartwheels.
That means then that Liverpool would have to lose three or four games until the end of the season not to win the league because Man City are going to lose one or two and if they do, that means Liverpool can lose another couple on top of that. So it's a massive game coming up in a couple of weeks.
I'd be so worried if I was Tottenham and I know they only got beaten 2-1, but what score could it have been? I know they had their chances and if Heung-Min Son goes round the goalkeeper and doesn't hit the bar, it's 2-0 and then it's a different game but the best player on the pitch was the goalkeeper. That can't be right if you're a Tottenham fan. It could have been seven or eight and I'm not saying that because I played for Arsenal; it's what I saw.
The week before, they went 1-0 down against Watford early doors and you think 'that's alright, they'll come back and win this game,' but that didn't materialise and that's the problem. I worry for Tottenham at the moment because something is not right and their result against Liverpool covered over the cracks.
It was a Polyfilla performance, but people will think it wasn't a bad result, and if Spurs didn't hit the bar, it would have been 2-0 and a different game. Yes, it would've been, but how many chances did Liverpool have before it was 2-0? That's what you've got to ask yourself.
I've said it for a long time, Dele Alli has to get back to the old Dele Alli and he was one of the best young attacking midfield prospects in Europe. He got in the box, made runs and he could score a goal. He was probably the nearest thing to Frank Lampard at one stage.
If you're a midfielder, no one likes chasing another midfielder when they haven't got the ball and they get in the box and score a goal. That's what he's stopped doing. He might be thinking that when Moussa Sissoko has got the ball, is it worth me running? And that's a problem
I like Harry Winks but he's not a 40-yard passer of the ball. The only one who is going to put it on a sixpence for you in the Tottenham team is Christian Eriksen and if you look back on Alli's goals over the last few years, some of his goals have been from 40-yard passes and I think he's lost confidence in the players on the ball. It's horrible because he starts thinking 'I'm not going to run here because I'm not going to be found' so you don't run and you're the one who gets the blame and I think that's the problem he's got at the moment.
It's been a good week for them. They stopped Liverpool, then they went to Partizan and kept a clean sheet and they would have wanted to keep a clean sheet against Norwich. They had to beat Norwich surely, they got beaten 5-0 by Aston Villa at home and the last thing you need is to be going there and getting beaten - that would have been a disaster.
We put such a high bar on Man Utd because they're the biggest club in the world and now we're talking about having a good week drawing at home to Liverpool and beating Partizan and Norwich away. I didn't think in my wildest dreams that I'd be sitting here talking about a good week like that for Man Utd. A few years ago, it wouldn't even come up, it would just be run of the mill. Liverpool don't win at Old Trafford and they go and win the other two games - that's what is expected, but this is where they are at the moment.
All it is with Man Utd is a bit of consistency and confidence. You only have to win three on the trot and before you know it, you're back in the top-four race and that's what they're in.
Anthony Martial is a top player, he's better than a lot of the players they've got. If you're the manager, you're always going to hope a player like him is coming back into the team. On his day, he can rip anybody apart and if you get him and Marcus Rashford playing, they're going to hurt teams and fly up the table but it's all about consistency and they've got to put in performances like they did against Liverpool every week.
I thought they were outstanding. Brendan Rodgers has gone in and got a winning mentality back in there. They had one when they won the league obviously but that fizzled away and it was like 'if we win, we win and if we don't win, it isn't a big drama'. But he's got a winning mentality there like he did at Celtic and he's carried that on.
With winning teams, when people are down on the floor, they keep them down. Like in heavyweight boxing, if you knock someone down, winners make sure they don't get back up and carry on and that's what I thought with Leicester. They just kept going and going and instead of switching off at 3-0 or 4-0 and letting the game fizzle out, they just kept going and going.
I'm a massive fan of the manager and no disrespect to Leicester, but I was shocked that nobody took him before he left Celtic. I think a lot of teams missed a trick.
They haven't performed that well in games against 'bigger teams' but if they keep consistent against the lesser teams, all the other big boys bar Liverpool and Man City are dropping points. If they finish the top four, that will be a massive feat, or even if they come in the top six.
For Southampton, they have to pray that it rains that much that the games get called off in the next couple of days against Man City. The last thing you want is Man City away twice in a week. Some people might say they'd rather that than playing against a lesser team, but not me.
Southampton were that bad against Leicester, and I'm not being horrible, but if Man City get going, that record is in danger. How many times have you seen Man City play and after the game gone 'they could have won that 10-0'. They only have to have a game where they start finishing all their chances and Southampton are in trouble.
There are ways of losing football matches and Friday was as embarrassing as it gets. You know it's embarrassing because the players have given their money to charity, which fair play to them, is a good move. But it's not going to get away from the stigma of having a record that will probably last for a long time.