Yesterday's man? Vettel in need of a boost as winless streak continues

By Sports Desk September 02, 2019

When Sebastian Vettel won last year's Belgian Grand Prix at Spa to cut Lewis Hamilton's lead in the drivers' standings to 17 points, a thrilling title battle between two four-time world champions appeared tough to call.

How different things look now.

Ferrari again had reason to celebrate at Spa this time around, thanks to Charles Leclerc's maiden Formula One victory, a richly deserved triumph for the 21-year-old who came agonisingly close to earlier wins in Bahrain and Austria.

However, it was yet another day of frustration for Vettel, who finished fourth and has yet to taste another race win since his victory in Belgium last August.

A series of errors undermined his challenge for a fifth drivers' championship in 2018, that honour instead going to Hamilton as the Briton finished 88 points clear of Vettel in the final analysis.

If last season ultimately proved a failure, the present campaign has been much worse, with Vettel unable to offer any meaningful challenge to a dominant Mercedes outfit.

Ahead of this week's Italian Grand Prix at Monza, Ferrari's home race, the German languishes in fourth in the drivers' standings, a whopping 99 points behind Hamilton.

Perhaps more significantly, Vettel's lead over Leclerc – who is in only his second season on the grid – is just 12 points and it is easy to argue that margin flatters the more experienced man.

It would be foolish to write off any man who has claimed four world titles – a tally bettered only by Hamilton, Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher.

Nevertheless, Vettel will know his past glories with Red Bull will count for little if he continues to deliver underwhelming performances for the Scuderia.

Throughout the 2019 campaign, he has repeatedly made the same sort of mistakes that became worryingly frequent last term. On recent form, few would bet against Leclerc finishing his first Ferrari season ahead of a team-mate he has out-qualified in each of the past six races.

In the news conference that followed Sunday's race at Spa, Lewis Hamilton hailed the Monegasque racer, but in doing so also shone a light on Vettel's struggles.

"It's not easy for any driver to jump into a top team, let alone Ferrari, against a four-time world champion, [with] God knows how much more experience, and then to continuously from race one, out-perform, out-qualify and out-drive a four-time world champion is not easy to do," said Hamilton.

That assessment may be somewhat unfair to Vettel, who has after all claimed more points than his team-mate, but there can be no doubt Hamilton's most difficult battles so far this season have come against Leclerc and Max Verstappen, rather than his old rival.

Vettel's contract with Ferrari expires in 2020 and at this point it is not clear whether he or the team would seek to extend their partnership.

If things do not improve quickly, the 32-year-old is in danger of becoming yesterday's man in a series packed with emerging talent.

Related items

  • Pep Perfect second goal shows Manchester City back in the groove Pep Perfect second goal shows Manchester City back in the groove

    Bernardo Silva had just set up the opening goal for Manchester City with a sumptuous cross – a suggestion that last season's form might be starting to return.

    But this was no time for the Portugal playmaker to rest on his laurels and he set about harassing Crystal Palace left-winger Jeffrey Schlupp, whose pass towards the danger zone where specialist centre-backs should reside was intercepted.

    Rodri's outing in the heart of the City defence was unexpected and frequently uneasy during the early stages at Selhurst Park. A slip momentarily left Wilfried Zaha unattended before a rushed, hacked clearance went unpunished.

    Pep Guardiola deployed his two defensive midfield commanders. Rodri and Fernandinho, in defence due to Nicolas Otamendi joining Aymeric Laporte in the treatment room and John Stones not yet being match fit following an ailment of his own. City entered the field eight points behind Liverpool in the title race, with the decision not to replace Vincent Kompany starting to look season defining.

    But if being the last line of protection against attacks does not come naturally to Rodri, he specialises in starting them. His interception from Schlupp doubled as an expertly cushioned pass to David Silva and City were away.

    Kompany's successor as club captain deposited the ball at Kevin De Bruyne's feet in unfussy, one-touch fashion. Where the 2-0 loss to Wolves played out under a fug of doubt and laboured decision making, the whirring cogs of Guardiola's machine were clicking into place.

    De Bruyne promptly pushed down the accelerator, powering through midfield. The Belgium star, who did not start either of City's league defeats in the opening eight games, had already proved a menace to Palace. His twinkling triangle on the right flank alongside Bernardo Silva and Joao Cancelo providing a persistent first half threat.

    A great gift of De Bruyne's, a player on record as saying her prefers assists to goals, is he knows when to slip from leading man to supporting character. He found the opening goalscorer Gabriel Jesus.

    The Brazil striker's scruffy diving header a little over a minute earlier was his fifth in as many starts for City this season. But the presence on the bench of club-record goalscorer Sergio Aguero – a man not so clinical behind the wheel on the road to training going off this week's evidence – means Jesus must always strive, always prove himself and always make the decision to please his manager.

    A pass to the buccaneering Benjamin Mendy was just that. Fit again, for now, the left-back and his ravaged knees provides Guardiola with an extra dimension he will need if a third Premier League title in succession can be achieved despite early arrears.

    Mendy's touch was heavy but he was fortunate to see the ball fall to Raheem Sterling, Manchester City's sure thing.

    Goals 12 and 13 of the season for club and country came as England routed Bulgaria in midweek, Sterling revelling in tormenting those who send vile abuse his way.

    An inspirational figure with improvement still in him – as evidenced by a couple of second-half attempts against Palace – Sterling's chipped pass over the top of the home defence was a string on his bow drawing the sweetest sound.

    It was a pass worthy of David Silva, who on this occasion watched the whole picture unfold and found himself on the end of it. For all their discomfort over the early weeks of this campaign, operating without their long-time creator and magician will really sting City this time next year.

    His clinical over-the-shoulder volley through Wayne Hennessey's legs was equal to many of his finest moments over a wonderful decade in the Premier League and crowned a little masterpiece. 2-0 was enough for the three points.

    Second-half wastefulness and Ederson's athletic stops from Christian Benteke and Wilfried Zaha showed City will have to be sharper in their next Premier League away game. That's at Anfield next month, but after talking about putting his players in the fridge over Christmas, Guardiola will have seen enough in a cool, calculated gem of a goal to suggest there is life in this title race.

  • Alli delivers for Spurs but Watford draw not quite what Pochettino ordered Alli delivers for Spurs but Watford draw not quite what Pochettino ordered

    Prior to the home game against Watford, Mauricio Pochettino had pointed to a dinner invite from his Tottenham players as an indication of their continued support.

    The offer was less about attending his last supper and instead a sign they remained strong as a unit, determined to turn around a campaign that had started unravelling rapidly prior to the international break, according to the defiant Spurs boss.

    Against the Hornets, there was certainly no sign of a lack of effort from the team. The problem was more to do with the lack of a cutting edge, culminating in a 1-1 draw that stops the rot but offers little in the way of long-term optimism.

    The fixture list had seemingly served up an appetising offer for Spurs to move on quickly from back-to-back defeats earlier in the month, too. If the 7-2 result against Bayern Munich in the Champions League was a shock to the system, going down 3-0 at Brighton and Hove Albion was tough to digest. They were better on Saturday, admittedly, but then that was hardly a tough bar to clear.

    Watford arrived bottom of the table and without a win to their name. On six previous Premier League trips to Spurs – albeit at differing venues from their opponents' impressive new home – they had failed to collect a solitary point.

    Yet had it not been for a late mix-up between goalkeeper Ben Foster and substitute Kiko Femenia, the visitors may well have departed Tottenham Hotspur Stadium with all three.

    Dele Alli capitalised on the gift to deliver a much-needed equaliser for Spurs. The goal was subsequently checked for handball, with VAR ruling the contact was high on his chest, rather than left arm. Even then there was further drama, the big screen displaying 'Decision No Goal' while the score read 1-1.

    The confusion over their goal rather summed up Spurs' performance, though. They seemingly have all the required ingredients - remember they sprinkled in some new faces during the transfer window - but cannot quite find the recipe for success, particularly in attack.

    Pochettino made seven changes to the starting XI – the most for the club between two Premier League games in a season – but saw the new-look line-up concede early, as was also the case against Brighton, in a listless first half.

    Son Heung-min's half-time introduction added some much-needed life to proceedings, though they still required a helping hand – albeit not Alli's, according to VAR – for the equaliser.

    Worryingly, Harry Kane had just 28 total touches in a game where his team enjoyed 69.6 per cent of possession. There were no shots on target either, as was also the case on that forgettable trip to the south coast a fortnight ago.

    Goals are missing from the menu for Kane and Spurs in general - they have averaged one a game in their last six outings in all competition, and that includes an EFL Cup tie against League Two Colchester United.

    "We're not panicking. We know the quality that we’ve got in this team, we believe in ourselves and the coaching staff are working hard every day. We’ve just got to make sure we show our character to get out of this patch we're in," Alli said to the club's website.

    Spurs' determination to keep going against Watford suggests Pochettino was right to declare his squad remain firmly behind him.

    Dinner may be a little more appetising for the Tottenham boss on Saturday night having avoided another embarrassing defeat, but a point against the competition's bottom side is still tough to stomach.

  • Hudson-Odoi is already the creative heartbeat of Lampard's Chelsea Hudson-Odoi is already the creative heartbeat of Lampard's Chelsea

    Callum Hudson-Odoi produced something on Saturday not seen at Stamford Bridge in seven years.

    In his 92 minutes on the pitch, shortly before he was substituted to a rapturous reception, the winger created five goalscoring chances for the home side.

    It made him the first teenager to create as many chances in a Premier League match for Chelsea since Romelu Lukaku in May 2012, when the Blues battled to a 2-1 win over Blackburn Rovers.

    Hudson-Odoi was 11 at the time, four years short of his debut for the Under-18s, which highlights the impressive rise to prominence of a young player who is fast becoming the real star of Frank Lampard's Chelsea.

    He missed the first six league games of the season as he worked his way back from a serious Achilles tendon injury. Chelsea won just two of those games, against Norwich City and Wolves.

    In their three matches since, they have taken nine points, and Hudson-Odoi has provided three assists, the most recent a cushioned pass that allowed Marcos Alonso finally to find a way past the excellent Newcastle United goalkeeper Martin Dubravka. That made him the second youngest player in Premier League history – after Michael Owen – to set up goals in three successive games.

    Lampard has won plaudits for a commitment to Chelsea's young English talent - even if his hand has been forced by the club's transfer ban - and Saturday's defeat of Newcastle saw them start five English players in a league game for the first time since February 2013. All of Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Ross Barkley and Fikayo Tomori have repaid their boss' faith with performances that have helped Chelsea climb to third in the table since that opening-day 4-0 defeat to Manchester United.

    It was Hudson-Odoi who stood out above the rest, though. Every touch near the packed Newcastle penalty area was assured, every pass intelligent and forward-thinking and, 80 per cent of the time, right on the mark. After they had been thwarted and frustrated for so long by Steve Bruce's men, Hudson-Odoi maintained composure to tee up Alonso for the breakthrough.

    Chelsea are on a five-game winning run in all competitions and Hudson-Odoi has either scored or assisted a goal in each of them. Little wonder Chelsea fans were so relieved to see his proposed switch to Bayern Munich fall through at the beginning of this year. Lampard is cultivating a young, vibrant side and Hudson-Odoi is its undisputed creative heartbeat.

© 2018 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.