November review: Can anyone stop Manchester City or Mohamed Salah?
November saw Manchester City creep closer to a Premier League record and a struggling West Ham team in bad form. Adam Hurrey looks back at the month's winners and losers.Who won the month? Manchester City, again. Obviously.
Another month, another set of challenges for Pep Guardiola, another clean sweep. It looks increasingly bizarre that the only team to have denied Manchester City some Premier League points this season were Ronald Koeman's pre-implosion Everton, but perfection would be a bit boring, wouldn't it?
In November, it was first Huddersfield, and then Southampton, who came closest to stemming the sky blue tide but -- in both cases -- there weren't enough pairs of legs and eyes to keep track of everything swarming around them. Raheem Sterling, not only in the form of his life but deciding games single-handedly, was the beneficiary.
Once again, Guardiola has had the relative luxury of sitting back and watching the likely also-rans stumble over themselves. A stabilising Chelsea saw off Manchester United and then shared the points with Liverpool, while Tottenham -- who initially looked like City's most durable rivals this season -- were well beaten by Arsenal and have only a single-goal win over Crystal Palace to show for their month's efforts.
The long-term hamstring injury for John Stones was City's only piece of bad news. They're two wins short of Arsenal's Premier League record of 14 in a row -- a mark they could equal in the derby against Manchester United. In summary: it's all coming together.
Who lost the month? West Ham
Imploding to the tune of four goals against a team from Merseyside under one manager might be regarded as a misfortune. To do it again under a different manager in the same month looks like carelessness.
Unlike Everton's new manager, Sam Allardyce, who watched them gleefully feast on West Ham's carcass, David Moyes doesn't have a squad worth galvanising into caring about their predicament. Their defence is the most fragile in the league, having conceded 30 times already. At the other end, everything has seemed to orbit hopelessly around the semi-decommissioned Andy Carroll ... who is now injured again.
Only Newcastle and Swansea mustered fewer points in November, but both have managers whose reputations are, for now, intact. Moyes might be quietly relieved that the ire of the West Ham fans is being directed towards the owners, because his own quest for goodwill is undermined by West Ham's next three opponents: Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal.
Player of the month: Mohamed Salah
£35m, all of a sudden, doesn't stretch very far. But it did get Liverpool a Mohamed Salah -- the latest 2.0 version, too, with added confidence and bolted-on muscle -- who has returned to the Premier League almost unrecognisable from the peripheral figure we once occasionally saw at Chelsea.
His USP on arrival was his pace -- proper, all-out, defender-terrifying pace -- but his output has been more textured than that. Rather than being stationed out wide to be an intermittent danger, Salah has been deployed down the middle, lurking on the shoulders of comparatively leaden-footed centre-backs to profit from Liverpool's counterattacks.
Once his pace got him into good positions, it's then all about the decisiveness that three stellar Serie A seasons has helped cultivate. Salah has a velvet touch in the penalty area and his finishing has a calm efficiency about it, to go with the occasional emphatic flourish. Both were on show at Stoke, as Salah rounded off a month of eight goals in six games with a belting volley and then a clinical one-on-one.
Liverpool's inconsistency has almost become their trademark, but -- on the evidence of the first four months of this season -- you always know which Mohamed Salah is going to turn up.
Goal of the month: Wayne Rooney vs. West Ham
Unlike the Premier League title race, it's a competitive field for the month's standout goal.
A superb curling effort from Huddersfield's Rajiv van La Parra was a fine way to open his Premier League account and see off West Brom. Likewise, Salah stepped inside to bend an unstoppable shot beyond Fraser Forster as Liverpool swept Southampton aside. In fact, November was a great time for cutting in and shooting: Riyad Mahrez's example against Tottenham perhaps the best of the lot.
Xherdan Shaqiri and Jesse Lingard flew the flag for the solo artists. Shaqiri, like a wind-up toy being released down a polished-wood corridor, had Crystal Palace diving for cover, while Lingard sauntered his way around a back-pedalling Watford defence to ice Manchester United's cake at Vicarage Road.
The greatest goalscoring spectacle, though, came from a struggling figure in a struggling team. Luckily for Wayne Rooney and Everton, West Ham were in town. To score a hat-trick is pleasant enough; to seal it by firing a first-time scud missile over the head of Joe Hart from 60 yards must be very satisfying indeed. Goals from the halfway line aren't everyone's bag, which is fine, but the reflexive execution here made Rooney's a fine example of the sub-genre.
Good month for... the managerial old guard
"I've enjoyed being amongst football people again... they call it banter these days. I don't know what that is."
Those are the charming words of Gary Megson, briefly given some Premier League reins for the first time in an eon, but whose caretakership at West Brom was brought to an abrupt end by another manager returning from the wilderness. And why Alan Pardew? Because they know what they're going to get.
The same short-term caution applies elsewhere. Sam Allardyce was the least risky, most-willing candidate available as Everton worked their way down the shortlist. For better or worse, Crystal Palace and West Ham employed the same emergency logic with Roy Hodgson and Moyes.
Generalisations and polarisations are rife in the managerial game: old or young, foreign or not. Dismissing a manager for his age is as unhelpful as sneering at one because he's never set foot in English football before. As for the young ones, why would Sean Dyche and Eddie Howe abandon the houses that patience built just to be given one-season mandates further up the food chain?
Like it or not, there is simply too much at stake for precariously-placed Premier League clubs to venture into the unknown.
Bad month for... Expected goals
Its mainstream proponents have been polite and measured with their explanations. Its antagonists have reacted with distrust and ridicule. Expected goals (or xG, if you really want to wind up the football purists) is not a complicated concept, but it has sparked a multi-layered war over how people should be allowed to enjoy their football.
Never intended to undermine -- let alone replace -- the actual, sacred scoreline, expected goals briefly generated a debate over its usefulness before unravelling into some spectacular overprotesting about something nobody is forced to use.
Sky's Jeff Stelling and his caricatural panel of pundits were the latest to declare xG as hocus-pocus -- willingly and happily ignoring the purpose of it in the process. Some reservations over a statistical model were to be expected, but the defensiveness from some quarters has been a bit pathetic.
What December needs to deliver
Some medium-term optimism at Everton, where David Unsworth at least managed to sign off on a high note. Meanwhile, the upcoming Manchester derby might have the neutrals on the red side, in the hope of breathing some life into a title race that Pep Guardiola is strolling into the sunset with.
City -- with a defence that looks a little light on numbers -- have nine games to negotiate between now and 2018: if they're going to falter, now might be the time.
Adam Hurrey analyses the language of football. You can follow him on Twitter: @FootballCliches.