What all 20 clubs should pledge to do in 2022

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Goodbye 2021, hello 2022. All you have to do is be better than either of the past two years, so quite frankly the bar is pretty low. It’s the time of year when we all make New Year’s resolutions that will almost certainly be broken within the first few weeks of January, and the Premier League is no different.

But what should the Premier League clubs be looking to change about themselves in 2022? We have suggestions for all 20 teams.

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Arsenal: Stop their captain doing un-captainy things

Captains are supposed to be leaders and role models: think about your Ahabs, your Kirks, your Americas. But recently Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang became the latest Gunners skipper to be stripped of the armband or suffer some other bad footballing fate, continuing a trend with Arsenal captains stretching back to Thierry Henry in 2005. Even Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta suffered from the captaincy curse when he took the armband in 2014 and then only made a handful of appearances wearing it. If stand-in Alexandre Lacazette officially takes up the mantle full-time, it might not be for very long as his contract expires in the summer.

Aston Villa: Keep Gerrard happy at all costs

There were many wondering if Steven Gerrard had bitten off more than he could chew when he left Rangers to become Villa manager in November, but the former Liverpool captain has hit the ground running. Four wins from his first seven games have turned around a side who had lost five of their previous six, and Gerrard’s three losses have all come against the league’s top three sides. What magic has he performed? I have no idea but everyone at Villa needs to not change a single thing right now. Don’t upset the equilibrium. If the thing he wants most is to make more cutting quips at Michael Owen’s expense, then find Owen a job at Villa Park for greater ease of access.

Brighton’s top scorer Neal Maupay is on form this season — seven goals in 16 league games so far — but he does have a tendency to try and shush opposition crowds after late goals: see his superb late strike against Southampton and an ear-cupping after a last-minute lob at arch rivals Crystal Palace as evidence. And that would normally be fine, except those two goals rescued Brighton two barely-earned draws. Such shows of hubris are almost guaranteed to backfire eventually. Maybe a polite high-five and jog back to the centre circle would be more appropriate in the future, Neal.

Brentford: Make the goals bigger

Brentford forward Bryan Mbuemo must be great at sending his Christmas cards on time, because he never misses the post. The French striker has scored three league goals this season but has hit the post seven times already — that’s just three fewer than Robin van Persie’s record of 10 in a single Premier League season. So, come January, shift the goal posts at the Brentford Community Stadium a few inches further apart and Bryan should be able to add a few more goals to his tally in 2022. How they’ll sneak that past the Premier League officials, I have no idea, but it would be in keeping for Brentford’s trademark “out-of-the-box” thinking to find a way.

Burnley: Buy Dyche a coat

Come on Sean, you’re not impressing anyone, standing outside during a blizzard with only a shirt covering your shivering torso. Chilblains are no joke, my friend. I know Burnley have a reputation to uphold for being gritty and tough, but no one is going to be intimidated if you end up with a cold and a runny nose. And you wouldn’t want a sore throat making that voice even more gravelly. Get yourself a nice new jacket in the January sales and you’ll be good to go for 2022. Maybe a scarf, too.

Chelsea: Bring back the old guard to save the season

After a superb start to the season Chelsea endured a bit of a winter wobble with draws against Burnley, Everton, Wolves and Brighton and a defeat at West Ham in December. That 7-0 win over Norwich feels a distant memory. Blues boss Thomas Tuchel will argue that is as much down to injuries and a COVID-19 outbreak that have decimated his squad, so desperate times call for desperate measures. Former captain John Terry recently announced he is coming back to the club to take up a role with the club’s academy — surely he’s only one or two defensive injuries away from being hastily registered and drafted into the squad. A spate of absences in midfield? Get Super Frank Lampard back in, he’s got some time on his hands. If Romelu Lukaku gets hurt again and Timo Werner doesn’t cut the mustard, then Didier Drogba doesn’t have much on. At this point, why not complete the set by sticking Blues technical director Petr Cech in goal.

Crystal Palace: Do whatever it takes to convince Gallagher to stay

It’s clear as day to everyone that Palace are thirsty for on-loan star Conor Gallagher to stay past next summer. The Chelsea man has made an explosive start at Selhurst Park and is the Eagles’ top scorer with six goals and three assists so far. There’s absolutely no way they can afford him and, by all accounts, the midfielder is keen to try his luck back at Stamford Bridge next season. But, if Patrick Vieira & Co. can find ways to appear more like his parent club over the next few months, then maybe they can convince young Conor he’s already at Chelsea. They could start wearing that lovely blue-and-white third kit more often, switch the prematch music from “Glad All Over” to “Blue Is The Colour,” and tell the home fans to sing less and start haranguing visiting players more. It’s so crazy, it might just work.

Everton: Pretend Rafa never managed Liverpool

Sometimes ignorance is bliss when it comes to football. Injuries to key men haven’t haven’t helped, but Everton are not having a great season whichever way you look at it. Unfortunately, manager Rafa Benitez is bearing the brunt of the criticism, mainly because he was famously once manager of that lot across the park. Sorry, Toffees fans, but you’re going to have to just forget that Rafa ever managed Liverpool, and that way you’ll be able to focus your ire on the muddled approach and scatter-gun transfer policy at board level over the past few years. It’s easy, look: “Rafa Benitez? Oh yeah, the guy who managed Valencia, [REDACTED], Inter Milan, Chelsea [could forget this, too, while we’re at it], Napoli, Real Madrid, Newcastle and, of course, that unforgettable spell at Dalian Yifang. And the Champions League in 2005? Why would you bring up Everton losing a 2005-06 qualification playoff to Villarreal? Weird.” See, easy!

Leeds United: Get Bielsa spying again

It’s been a rotten second half of 2021 for Leeds. Star players missing through injury, a defence shipping goals and even that bucket that coach Marcelo Bielsa sits on isn’t that comfortable anymore. Last season they won 18 games in total, so far this season just three. Leeds were really rocking when Bielsa was spying on other teams’ training sessions. So, in a bid to kick-start their season, they need to get him a shiny new pair of binoculars and send him off with a trenchcoat and a trilby to some training grounds, starting with relegation rivals Burnley who they play on Jan. 2.

Leicester City: Promote Maddison’s hairdresser

I don’t know who was doing James Maddison‘s hair at the start of the season, but they had him walking around with a floppy centre-parting that made him look like the main love interest in a Hallmark Christmas movie. But, since he got that trimmed down to a short back and side-parting, the Leicester No. 10 has been banging in the goals like the next game is about to get called off due to COVID. He’s scored six in his last nine matches, and laid on the assist for Ademola Lookman‘s strike in that shock win over Liverpool. Brendan Rodgers needs to find that hair expert, appoint them as Leicester City’s chief coiffeur and hope they have a similar effect on the rest of his squad.

Liverpool: Get Klopp smiling again

What has happened to Jurgen Klopp? That famous smile and happy-go-lucky persona has been replaced with a very grave exterior: giving serious lectures on vaccines, moaning about fixture list pile-ups and having arguments with officials. The most recent incident saw him telling referee Paul Tierney “I have no problem with referees, only you.” If you pause the footage at just the right frame, you can see the exact moment Tierney’s heart breaks. Good luck getting leniency from other referees any time in the near future, Jurgen. Klopp needs his spark back, something to really cheer him up … just show him Everton’s record under Benitez.

Oh, you think you’re clever do you, City? Scoring so many Premier League goals that match reports just become a chronological list of the strikes and how they were made? Single-handedly ruining the market for betting on the results of your matches? Pep Guardiola’s team are at their free-flowing best right now, at one point in December scoring a whopping 17 goals in three games, and they already have a goal difference of +39 at the midpoint of the season. But if they really want to keep impressing us, we’re going to need more than that now. We want to see City score double figures, maybe even with goalkeeper Ederson on the scoresheet. Come on Pep, let’s see what you’ve really got.

Manchester United: Give Ronaldo more opportunities to be ‘Mr. Clutch’

Whisper it quietly, but Cristiano Ronaldo likes being the centre of attention. Shocking, I know. But, to be honest, he does so with good reason. Since returning to Manchester United this season he has continued to be their saviour over and over again. So far eight of his 13 goals scored in all competitions have either secured a point or earned all three. He is United’s ‘Mr. Clutch,’ thriving on the high-pressure moments when he is at his most decisive. So why not manufacture some more of these moments, just for the fun of it? Start conceding early goals on purpose, just to give the opponents a head start and to see if Ronaldo can save the Red Devils again before the final whistle. Wait, what do you mean they’ve already been doing that in 2021?

Newcastle United: Swap more players’ positions around

Eddie Howe hasn’t quite had the impact he’d have liked on results at Newcastle since replacing Steve Bruce as manager in November. But he has had an effect on Β£40 million flop Joelinton. The striker has scored a paltry seven league goals since joining in 2019, but recently has flourished in a central midfield position. So if Howe is going to save the Magpies this season, he needs to repeat that masterstroke. He could stick Jonjo Shelvey in goal, Jamaal Lascelles up front, Amanda Staveley at left-back and maybe even himself (he played 302 games as a defender between 1995 and 2007) in alongside Joelinton in the centre of the park. What has he got to lose?

Norwich City: Get Delia back on half-time announcements

Whenever I think of Norwich City I can’t help but think of Delia Smith’s half-time pleading of the Carrow Road fans back in 2005. “Where are you? Let’s be having you!” she yelled into the microphone to confused home fans, and it still makes me smile even now. Will getting the long-time Norwich director and die-hard Canaries fan back doing half-time rallying cries make any difference to where Dean Smith’s side finishes this season? No. But it will at least make the next few months at Carrow Road more entertaining.

Southampton: Only score set pieces

Goals don’t come easy for Southampton, but when they do it’s normally via captain James Ward-Prowse. While striker Armando Broja is doing sterling work, with four league goals so far, JWP is leading goal involvements with five scored and one assist in the league. It’s just that he doesn’t tend to score from open play — set pieces are more his thing. The midfielder scored a trademark free kick at Palace and a penalty at West Ham earlier this month, while his recent half-volleyed goal against Tottenham was from open play but bore all the technical hallmarks of a dead-ball strike. So if Southampton are to get their biggest goal threat scoring they need to dispense with open play happening in their matches as much as possible, and focus on setting up as many set pieces for their captain as they can.

Antonio Conte is Tottenham manager now and has brought his brand of intense, fiery energy back to Premier League touchlines. The Italian, and his teams, seem to be at their best when he is at his most volatile in the technical area (and often outside of it). He doesn’t seem like a man who is comfortable being still and silent, so Spurs players and staff need to do all they can to keep his hackles up. Tell him Chelsea are better now than when he was in charge, spam his phone with robocalls, put pineapple on pizza — whatever it takes.

Watford: Change manager

Let’s be honest, Watford have got a bit boring since they decided to have a manager for longer than five minutes. Well, three months if you’re actually counting, but either way it’s dull and it’s time for a change. In fact, it’s a surprise they haven’t yet got rid of Claudio Ranieri, considering the Hornets have won just one of their last eight league games, so a switch must be on the cards pretty soon. You know what? I’m happy to do it. My managerial record is pretty solid: I got my Sunday League side, Oxted Orient, promoted from the Redhill and District Sunday League as player-manager in 2008. Plus, I live in the vicinity of Watford, so perhaps I’ll just go and hang around outside the training ground and wait.

Michail Antonio has been a revelation since switching from an attacking full-back/winger to a forward for West Ham, but the magic appears to have run dry a little. Just two goals in his last 15 club appearances is a disappointing run for Antonio, who became West Ham’s all-time top Premier League goal scorer earlier this season when the goals were still flowing. So, much like when your laptop grinds to a halt, it’s time for a hard reset. Antonio arrived in 2015 from Nottingham Forest as a right wing-back, so manager David Moyes could put him back there for a bit and maybe that will jolt him back into striker mode. Either that, or give the cardboard cutout a go up front.

Wolves fans have been completely starved of goals this season, the poor things. Bruno Lage’s team have scored the fewest of any Premier League side, just 13 goals in 18 game so far, an average of a goal every 124 minutes. Yikes. And, because their defence is one of the meanest in the division, with just 14 conceded, that means that Wolves matches see on average just 1.5 goals per game this season. No Wolves striker has scored a goal in more than a month, since Raul Jimenez‘s winner vs. West Ham on Nov. 20 (typically, it was a 1-0 win). The last time Jimenez was anything close to prolific was when he earned two yellow cards in 48 seconds at Manchester City on Dec. 11 (Wolves lost that game — yep, you’ve guessed it — 1-0). All anyone with any association with Wolves wants for 2022 is just to see some goals, any goals, and feel something again.





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