Analysing the second round of Premier League fixtures with Everton impressing again, Fulham faltering and Crystal Palace leaving a trail of destruction at Old Trafford…
Last Updated: 20/09/20 12:19am
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Man Utd start on the defensive
Remember how simple it was a year ago when the transfer window closed before the season started? Now, with the window allowed to be open for almost a month after the campaign has kicked-off, we are back to the peculiarity of Fantasy Football selections needing to be finalised before clubs have committed to the real thing and the awkwardness of every early season result being viewed through the prism of a fast-closing transfer window.
And at Old Trafford, it’s now closing very fast indeed.
Even before their defeat to Palace, the concern of Man Utd fans about their club’s relative inactivity – limited to a single signing, Donny van de Beek – had been increasingly vocal. How could it not when Liverpool were signing Thiago Alcantara and a £45m reserve forward, Tottenham were bringing home Gareth Bale and Roman Abramovich had rediscovered his Chelsea cheque book?
Those concerns would have intensified on Saturday night just before United’s belated start when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer named Dan James, whose form plummeted in the final third of last season, in his starting eleven almost exactly at the moment as Liverpool formally unveiled Jota and Tottenham made Bale’s return official.
What transpired over the next couple of hours was all-too predictable: an anonymous outing for James prior to his half-time substitution, an excellent illustration in reverse of why United are chasing Sancho, and a raw demonstration of why they should prioritise at least one new defender over a forward in any case.
As Gary Neville put it afterwards, United’s problem area isn’t up front. It’s at the back.
Which, after a summer of near silence, is also rather where United are at too. Barely eight weeks ago, when they won at Leicester to secure Champions League qualification, United were on the offensive. Now, having started the season late both metaphorically and literally, United are on the defensive.
They have catching-up to do, and just two weeks to do it in.
What’s possible for Palace this season?
Crystal Palace have remained eagle-less since the passing of their much-loved mascot Kayla but having won just one of their nine games post-lockdown, Roy Hodgson’s side have rediscovered their sense of direction.
After two wins in their opening two Premier League games this term Palace are soaring and in Wilfried Zaha they have their undoubted talisman in red-hot form.
For all the debate over the retaken penalty during Saturday’s 3-1 win at Manchester United, it was a richly deserved win that will have lifted expectations for the season among Palace supporters.
The arrivals of Ebere Eze and Michy Batshuayi has already worked in raising the standards of those already at the club; Zaha scored only four league goals last term but already has three this time around, but Hodgson is remaining grounded when it comes to readjusting the season’s targets.
“I think we’re a good football team – and I thought that last season,” he said. “Funnily enough, I thought it many times during the lockdown when we were losing game after game. I didn’t think we looked like a bad team – we were just not getting the results.
“I’ve got great faith in the team and in our defending and work rate. We’ve also got some very good footballers that given the right opportunities will score goals.
“We’re only two games in, but points are hard to come by in this league. Everyone in our position is looking for the magic 40 and we’ve got six on the board already. That’s all I take from the game at the moment, plus the fact that we played so well.”
But having left such a trail of destruction at Old Trafford, Palace have earned the right to aim higher.
Everton’s talented attack take centre stage
Think of all the things a cracking Premier League game should have – a surprise start from the underdogs, VAR overturning a disallowed goal, red cards and a hat-trick. Everton’s win against West Brom had it all.
But perhaps the most exciting thing – for Everton fans at least – was the sheer quality they now possess up front and they used it to full effect against a sloppy West Brom defence. The easiest place to start is with Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s hat-trick, with the first two goals showing his poacher’s mentality. While the third may have been a slight fluke off his turned back, he was just having that kind of game – everything was heading goalwards.
Then there’s James Rodriguez, who has brought that touch of world class that a Carlo Ancelotti side deserves – make no mistake about it, James came to the Premier League for the Italian manager, which is just what the Everton owners wanted when they bought Ancelotti in. James made quality passes and crosses time and again, netting his first Premier League goal with a superb, drilled finish.
Richarlison also notched up a personal milestone, registering two assists in a Premier League game for the first time ever and he was unlucky to come away without a goal.
Ancelotti said after the game that he is pleased with his attack, but does want to shore things up defensively. That will surely come with some more time and work on the training pitch, but what Everton have shown up front thus far is how incredibly exciting things could be this season.
Arteta’s abundance of ammunition
It’s a luxury few managers in the Premier League have; a wealth attacking talent so good that you can concede twice as many attempts on goal than you are able to register on the opposing goal and still win a football match. That’s the position Mikel Arteta finds himself in at Arsenal.
With Willian having an uncharacteristically off day by his usually high standards, Arsenal lacked a creative influence in midfield and invited wave after wave of West Ham pressure.
It looked as though it would ultimately cost the Gunners two points, and at some stages even all three, but when that crucial moment of quality was required, Arteta’s side show they had it in abundance.
The timing of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s run in behind and the precision of his sumptuous cross for strike partner Alexandre Lacazette in the first half served West Ham with a warning they failed to heed.
Yes, you may point to the fact that it was Arsenal’s only attempt on target before the break, but when you take them in such devastating fashion, who needs more?
After the break there was another ruthless example that Arsenal possess such quality in reserve, with Eddie Nketiah putting his differences with Dani Ceballos to one side by coming off the bench to wrap up the contest.
“We always look a threat because of the players we have up front,” Arteta said, with the broadest of smiles on his face after maintaining Arsenal’s perfect start to the season. “We know what Eddie can bring, he’s a goalscorer and he has a good sense of where the ball is going to land.”
With a telepathic trio of strikers at his disposal Arteta has landed on his feet at Arsenal, he knows there is room for improvement but if he can crack the puzzle of supplying his attack, they can fire him right to the very top.
Leeds forward line firing on all cylinders
If there has been one problem for Leeds in their two previous seasons under Marcelo Bielsa, it was that they didn’t always finish the chances they created. But in just two Premier League games, Leeds have netted seven goals.
They are showing a clinical edge to the game and putting away the opportunities they manufacture.
Helder Costa takes the plaudits for his two efforts against Fulham – one powerful effort and one placed effort leaving keeper Alphonse Areola with no chance. Don’t forget Patrick Bamford, though, who has scored in both of his Premier League games and is already answering the questions about whether or not he is good enough for this level.
This was a victory without Pablo Hernandez, too, who pulled up with a groin strain in the warm-up and record signing Rodrigo was not at the races in the first half.
When he is up to speed with Leeds’ style and Hernandez is fully fit, they will continue to create opportunities and the early signs are they have found a way to make the most of them.
When Leeds play, expect goals.
‘Criminal’ Hammers have cause for optimism
Whatever way you look at it, two defeats from two makes for grim reading for West Ham. But the bitter pill of defeat at Arsenal was made even harder to swallow after such an encouraging performance.
For large parts Arsenal were stifled, frustrated and seemingly out of ideas, as chance after chance fell the Hammers’ way. If any side was going to push for the winner, your money would have been on West Ham, and you would have been as disappointed when a defensive lapse, branded ‘criminal’ by David Moyes, handed the game to the Gunners.
After their opening-day defeat to Newcastle few would have envisaged West Ham had such a performance in them but a rousing display, albeit in defeat, has renewed the dwindling new-season optimism at the club.
And, with Wolves, Leicester, Tottenham, Manchester City and Liverpool on the horizon, they are going to need it.
Lack of discipline costs West Brom
When Grady Diangana tested Jordan Pickford inside three minutes before scoring a superb goal shortly after, you expected West Brom to take the game to Everton after a demoralising 3-0 defeat to Leicester on the opening weekend.
But what transpired at Goodison Park was more of a blow because it was West Brom’s own ill-discipline that cost them. The easiest place to rest the blame would be with Kieran Gibbs for his unnecessary sending off at the end of the first half for striking James. While it may have been out of character for the former Arsenal defender, it was petulant and certainly warranted a straight red.
He was swiftly followed by manager Slaven Bilic after his on-field protests to referee Mike Dean, which is not allowed under Premier League rules. The Croatian is experienced in the English game and knew his confrontation could lead to a sending off, which is just what happened as he watched on from the stands for the second half.
With a defender and manager down, it was not going to be long before the wheels came off for West Brom, even if Matheus Pereira’s superb free-kick hauled the Baggies level immediately after the break. Everton went on to score three more while West Brom’s attacking bite from the first half evaporated.
It is not just Gibbs and Bilic who must shoulder the blame, the defending overall was well below par. Calvert-Lewin scored twice from tap ins right on the goal line, as did Michael Keane, and there was not enough cohesion in the West Brom defence to keep out Everton’s talent. There is already plenty for Bilic to work on and the Baggies need quick improvement.
Defensive issues will be fatal for Fulham
Fulham’s latest foray into the Premier League is going to be a short one unless they fix their woeful defence – and quickly. They have already shipped seven goals in two games and all four at Leeds could have been avoided if they just cut out basic errors.
Scott Parker said after the game that it wasn’t necessarily something they could work on in training, or to do with the team’s shape, but more to do with his side’s attitude to defending. He wants them to smell the danger, to develop a nasty side and to stop giving their opponents numerous chances to score.
The first goal saw Helder Costa unmarked from a corner while Robin Koch had a header tipped over as he lost his marker at a corner. Fulham’s defenders didn’t do their basic jobs from set-pieces. But Joe Bryan’s push on Patrick Bamford to give away the penalty was unnecessary and something Parker certainly couldn’t legislate for.
A gap the size of the River Thames was available for Mateusz Klich to find Bamford for the third – clearly there was a distinct lack of communication between Michael Hector and Kenny Tete – and Hector left his team-mates short in the build up to the fourth, committing to an aerial challenge that he got nowhere near.
Fulham’s midfield duo of Harrison Reed and Frank Anguissa were impressive, they always looked like they could hurt Leeds when going forward and Alphonse Areola dealt with crosses well and made a good double save in the second half. But none of that matters if the back four player like strangers every week.
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Source : Sky Sports