The sparks have flown and the dust settled; the North London Derby is no more, and what a spectacle it was! Meanwhile, Old Trafford is turning into St. James Place, controVARsy (or lack thereof) rears its ugly head yet again, and Liverpool is plagued by bitter infighting (not really)!
SC: Whew! That was quite a hectic week, but luckily we now have the ‘privilege’ of enjoying the international break.
MH: I am sure my girlfriend will enjoy actually seeing me for a weekend morning.
SC: But when the Premier League sings it’s siren song, we’ll be dashed against the rocks of hectic English football once again.
Big Six Bunglers
MH: I suppose we won’t leave our readers waiting. The North London Derby was chaotic and perhaps entertaining if you were an unbiased observer. Both teams will feel like they should have walked away with all 3 points. Spurs took a 2-0 lead but once again looked horrific trying to build-up play from the back. Every time Hugo Lloris took a goal kick short I felt deeply uncomfortable and everyone in the house heard my very vocal discomfort. Arsenal made the comical defending errors that come with playing David Luiz and Granit Xhaka but looked dangerous going forward, particularly after the introduction of Dani Ceballos. With the Spaniard playing regular minutes and Nicolas Pepe more settled, the Gunners will be a threat to outscore most opponents, even if they give up a penalty every game.
Was it a better result for Spurs or Arsenal?
SC: Oof, that’s a tough one. A team of Tottenham’s caliber would probably feel aggrieved that they couldn’t clamp down on a 2-0 lead. However, I wouldn’t rate their overall performance very highly; in fact, the whole team has looked a bit subdued throughout the inaugural weeks of the season. With that in mind, I’d say it was a point earned for Spurs. After all, their recent record at the Emirates is poor, and the way they passed around their box, as you said, simply invited disaster. However, I am curious to see who else Mauricio Pochettino will play at right back this season!
That brings me to another concern. I know players have been injured, but…it’s always said that most managers have a shelf life.
MH: I refuse to have this conversation. They reached a Champions League final last year and have consistently over-performed. Talk to me in five months when Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso are healthy and incorporated into the team.
SC: Pochettino has been Tottenham’s manager since 2014, and the team has been impressive in that span. The squad hasn’t seen much change over the years, and even with the new additions, it won’t provide much of a difference to their template. Is there a limit to what Pochettino can do with this team? Will he be able to reinvigorate them once again?
MH: TO GET ON A DIFFERENT TOPIC: How about them 4th place Crystal Palace Eagles? No? No bites?
Manager Roy Hodgson is great at saving failing groups from disastrous outcomes! Speaking of failing groups, how long will Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last at Manchester United with these performances? Daniel James won’t score every shot on target for the rest of his career, either.
SC: Well, the mood at St. James Pla- er, I mean, Old Trafford, is dour. Manchester United seemingly have no choice but to rely on a 21-year-old Premier League newcomer to score with 100% accuracy. Sure, some might say “well they’re one of the game’s traditional giants” or “why is one of the richest institutions in world football utilizing Ashley Young as a defender,” but that’s all tosh! But Manchester United isn’t the only side with defensive issues. Chelsea’s rearguard hasn’t looked too promising.
MH: I don’t know if Frank Lampard can fix Chelsea’s defensive issues, Sam, but he can sure hope that N’golo Kante and Antonio Rüdiger will help. Kurt Zouma has been surprisingly horrific after a solid season for Everton last year. No one can replicate Kante’s ability to be everywhere on the pitch simultaneously, but the Chelsea midfield has done a particularly poor job without him. Their pressing is haphazard at best, which drains the players. Almost all of Chelsea’s games have featured a decent first half performance followed by a much worse showing in the second half. Is Lampard bad at tactical changes or are his players just getting tired?
SC: Who can say? It’s only Lampard’s second year of professional coaching. Plus, you have an almost completely new group of players coming together from the reserves and youth academy. As we’ve stated in previous columns, it will take time for the set of youngsters to really gel. Regulars Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Christian Pulisic, and Kurt Zouma weren’t even at the club last year, while Andreas Christensen played only sparingly under Maurizio Sarri. And to be honest, I can’t blame the center backs for Chelsea’s draw against Sheffield United. As you said, Chelsea fail to control games for 90 minutes, and whether that’s due to personnel or Lampard’s tactics, it’s something the manager is responsible for fixing.
Of all players, surprise debutant Fiyako Tomori had the team’s highest passing completion rate at 95% (93 of 98), while Zouma won eight aerial challenges and completed 95 passes of his own. Emerson, on the left flank, led the team with five interceptions. Then on the right flank…Cesar Azpilicueta needs to rediscover his form. He’s been mysteriously off-color through the start of the season, and he lost track of Callum Robinson’s run for the late cross that saw Chelsea concede and drop two points. The midfielders need to do a better job of relieving pressure off that backline, but Azpilicueta playing badly simply hasn’t been an issue any other managers have had to deal with.
Either way, it’s a case of Lampard maximizing the resources at his disposal. There’ll be learning curve for both him and his young players, but it increasingly looks likely that he’ll have patience from the hierarchy to do so. Now, playing poorly with an untested manager and a crop of new players is one thing, but doing so after five seasons at the helm, and with new additions to the squad, is another. But I’m excited to finally see the academy products in action! Or, as the English might say, giddy.
Pretenders to the Throne
MH: In an early battle for the Everton Cup (7th place), Everton came out victorious against Wolverhamptom. It was a surprisingly exciting game, as many predicted a defensive battle. With goals in the first 12 minutes, the game burst into action early. I remain somewhat skeptical of Marco Silva’s strategy of crossing the ball until the opponent has a concussion. However, it worked in this game as both Richarlison and recently arrived Alex Iwobi powered two crossed into the back of the net. Everton did look more dangerous up front with Iwobi and teenager Moise Keane and both should see their playing time quickly increase. The latter has not been a great header of the ball in his short career, so he will either have to learn quickly or Everton may actually have to play a pass down the middle. As for Wolves, I remain convinced that they are a very solid team with a good gameplan, but they are not deep enough to compete on two fronts.
SC: Interesting, so you think neither of these sides could break the mold beyond seventh place?
MH: My pick to break into the top six would be Leicester, who have continued to look dangerous under Brendan Rodgers. I love watching James Maddison and Jamie Vardy play as two complete opposites, Maddison a feathery presence on the ball that can pick a beautiful pass, and Vardy a snarling, physical force constantly running at defenders. Together, they form a dangerous attacking duo. With teams like Chelsea and Manchester United looking vulnerable, I would not be surprised to see Leicester break the hegemony.
SC: I will concur about Wolves. We’ve said this so many times about other teams, but qualifying for the Europa League is probably the worst thing that could have happened to them. I would have marked them for success, but if manager Nuno Espirito Santos goes all in on Europe, it will leave the squad threadbare for tough Premier League games.
But I’m not going to sleep just yet on Everton. I like the squad that Silva has thrown together, with a solid backline featuring Michael Keane, Yerry Mina, Lucas Digne, and the long-serving Seamus Coleman. The midfield has top-level experience through Gylfi Siggurdson and Andre Gomes, while a recently Guardiola-fied Fabian Delph should provide…something out of his former relationship? The key, as always with the Toffees, will be consistency. No one doubts the personnel, but they’ve yet to maintain good levels over the course of a season.
However, Everton emerged victorious in their first real test, while Leicester haven’t been able to record a victory against competitive opposition just yet.
We’ll need a larger sample size before we can make a truly informed decision, but for now, you have our predictions on the record! I am for Everton, while Matthew says Leicester. Either way, how exciting it will be if the top six hegemony is broken!
What is VAR For?
Anyone who is familiar with Edwin Starr’s 1970 single “VAR (What Is It Good For)” should know that – wait, what? That’s not the name of the song? Well, no matter.
As a schadenfreude enthusiast, I’d love to have the visual of the inside of Jack Grealish’s mind as he raced into the box, was tripped up, saw his teammate equalize off the resulting scrum, raise his hands to celebrate, and then keep them raised in immediate disbelief as the goal was chalked off and he was booked for diving. Now, there’s a lot wrong with the sequence of events, and it can be traced back to bad refereeing.
Aston Villa were down a man and down a goal when Grealish embarked on his run. As he approached the box, he was nudged in the back by Palace’s Wilfried Zaha, which saw Grealish clatter into Gary Cahill before losing his balance. Did he appeal for a penalty? No. Did he immediately get up because the ball was still in play? Yes. The sequence resulted in the ball skipping out to Henri Lansbury, who buried the ball in the back of the net but quickly saw his joy turn to frustration as referee Kevin Friend blew the whistle. Grealish didn’t dive, and even if Friend suspected the midfielder might have taken a tumble, VAR is there to let him review the play to make sure everything was by the book. Instead, he wrongfully robbed Villa an equalizer and a point.
English football is notoriously slow to change; it will be some time before the league fully embraces VAR, but for now, it’s essentially a glorified offsides-checker. It can do so much more than that, but if referees continue to make incorrect, snap judgements, like this, it won’t matter.
- Liverpool and Manchester City both won their games in fairly straightforward fashion. In fact, it was so straightforward that the press had to make much ado about nothing when Sadio Mané became angry with Mohamed Salah for not feeding him a pass. Have to find a story somewhere, ya know.
- Tammy Abraham continued his good form with yet another two goals! That’s four in four games now, tied with Ashley Barnes in the scoring charts; not a bad way to stake your claim to that starting spot! Above him are Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling, and Teemu Pukki.
- In an early “shock of the season” contender, football fans far and wide heard an accurately applied use of the phrase “pace and power!” Wow! In the Everton-Wolves match, Adama Traore did indeed use his superior speed and physique to muscle Digne off the ball and out of the way as he raced toward the byline to create Wolves’ first goal.
- The Champions League draw was this week. We will discuss the competition more in depth as it approaches but there seems to be little debate about who will likely progress in most groups. Many of the games will be familiar matchups, which is either entertaining or boring depending on your preference.