Previous
France
Croatia
4
2
FT
Match 64
Game Details
Belgium
England
2
0
FT
Match 63
Game Details
Next

Premier League players back in training

English Premier League
Read

Transfer clock is ticking: Where are all the big deals?

Transfers
Read

Lindelof can shine for Man United as he does for Sweden

Manchester United
Read

Pogba's discipline for France will benefit Man United

Manchester United
Read
 By Adam Hurrey

Harry Kane, Mousa Dembele stand out; West Brom's woes reach Spain

The Exploding Heads recap an eventful February which included Arsenal's mixed month, Man City's Carabao Cup triumph and numerous VAR controversies.

Who won the month? Harry Kane's decisive interventions

February was a month in which no particular Premier League side could claim to be perfect: Manchester City's muted quadruple hopes went up in smoke at Wigan, of all places, which gave their distant rivals some hope to cling onto for the medium term.

As the Champions League returned, and the big guns had to start spinning all their plates again, Tottenham's man for all occasions, Harry Kane, demonstrated his worth. Within the space of 21 days, Kane had rescued a chaotic point at Liverpool, towered above Arsenal to win the North London derby, led the fightback away to Juventus in the Champions League and then claimed a precious late winner against Crystal Palace.

Spurs are no one-man team, but the timing of Kane's contributions is so crucial: nobody's Premier League goals have been worth more points to their club this season than the 14 he has scraped out of seemingly nowhere.

Who lost the month? West Brom

Given the crowd scene that is the bottom half of the Premier League table, it takes some extra special levels of inadequacy to stand out. West Brom chose February to demonstrate everything they had in that department.

Narrow, but damaging, home defeats to relegation rivals Southampton and Huddersfield were the footballing foundations upon which some solid off-the-field haplessness was built. In the space of a few days, the club's Chinese owner Guochuan Lai sacked both the chairman and the chief executive for "poor results" and then Alan Pardew sanctioned the now infamous mini-break to Barcelona.

"In hindsight, after the incident, would I have gone? No. But before, if I knew there was not going to be an incident, would have I gone? Yes, I would."

Alan Pardew has not had much on or off the field to celebrate since taking over in November.

While Pardew wrestles with his own internal logic, and still loses, West Brom are on a run of one solitary win in 26 Premier League games. And would anyone really miss them?

Player of the month: Mousa Dembele

The accepted remit of the modern central midfielder seems suddenly unclear. Jose Mourinho spent a chunk of a recent news conference dictating the tactical minutiae of where Paul Pogba fit into his Manchester United engine room, but there remains plenty who think that central midfielders should be there to either create or destroy -- but not to attempt both.

You'd have to dig deep into the stats databases to "prove" that Mousa Dembele is a brilliant footballer, which is surely the most beautiful part of his appeal. In each of those nine seasons -- first as one of the moving parts in Fulham's inoffensively tidy midfield and then as the high-grade oil in Tottenham's machine -- Dembele has never scored more than three times in the league. He's clocked up a shade less than 10,000 passes, only 12 of which have created a goal.

If the numbers are to be believed, Dembele is a defensive midfielder. And, in fact he is: but he has spent the past month nullifying the midfields of Man United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Juventus not through sheer physicality but by simply being a very good footballer. For the opposition, it turns out that not being allowed the ball at all is even more frustrating than having it taken off you.

Goal of the month: Brighton's Jose Izquierdo vs. West Ham and Stoke

It was tempting to go for Sergio Aguero's fourth goal against Leicester, gloriously smashed in from 25 yards, straight down the middle, via the underside of the crossbar. Victor Wanyama's highly unexpected, straight-as-an-arrow screamer against Liverpool was also an obvious candidate.

The goal-scoring style points, though, belonged to Brighton's Jose Izquierdo. His first victims in February were West Ham, who allowed him the freedom of the Amex Stadium to curl the ball right into the extremity of the top corner, where no goalkeeper dares to grasp. If that wasn't enough, the Colombian popped up again a week later, darting in from the left wing against Stoke -- swapping passes with Solly March and Dale Stephens without breaking stride -- to swipe the ball beyond Jack Butland.

For a man named Izquierdo (essentially, "of the left"), he has a stunning right foot.

Good month for... Loanenfreude

noun

1. The gleeful revelling in a loaned-out striker when he suddenly starts scoring goals while his parent club endures a run of bad form

Trying to decipher the intentions of Chelsea's loan system is a tricky job at the best of times, but it's safe to assume that they only want the best for Michy Batshuayi at Borussia Dortmund. Five goals in his first three games in Germany, while Chelsea were reeling from a 4-1 thumping at Watford, set the wheels in motion for the usual social media ridicule.

Michy Batshuayi's loan spell away from Chelsea is off to a fast start in Germany.

Whether Antonio Conte actually thinks Batshuayi has a long-term Chelsea future or not, finding form in the Bundesliga is never going to make loaning him out a bad decision. Batshuayi will either return to Stamford Bridge (very possibly under a new manager's clean slate) as an improved player -- or be a highly valuable asset in the summer transfer market.

Bad month for ... The forensic but futile overanalysis of what cannot be undone

Football loves to talk. "Talking points" are the white blood cells of football coverage -- before, during and after the actual football on the pitch -- whose job it is to justify another few billion being spent on the exclusive rights to televise it.

Take, for example, the early February barnstormer at Anfield between Liverpool and Tottenham. An early lead for the hosts, a goal of the month contender to equalise, a missed penalty to win it, another goal of the month contender to restore Liverpool's lead, Harry Kane keeping his nerve from the spot at the second time of asking: it all added up to a wholesome, fascinating game of football.

The big talking point? Whether Erik Lamela's toes were offside in the moments before he was fouled for the climactic, 93rd-minute penalty that earned Spurs their point.

Across various broadcasters, every camera angle conceivable was employed in the futile hunt for "The Absolute Truth," after which virtual reality was then fired up, all while deliberately ignoring that none of the match officials, with their useless human eyes, could have been expected to see it. What did we learn? Absolutely nothing.

What March needs to deliver

Some sort of clarity about who exactly are the Premier League-quality teams occupying places 7-20 in the table. While the "Big Six" (or the Big Five Plus Arsenal, to give them their full legal name) squabble among themselves for four crucial places, the rest are just bouncing around in a mediocre limbo.

Take Burnley, for example, who haven't won since before Christmas and yet are still seventh. What does seventh even mean these days? Hopefully we'll understand the Premier League's soft belly in a month's time, but don't count on it.

Adam Hurrey analyses the language of football. You can follow him on Twitter: @FootballCliches.

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.