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10 Aug 2015 00:00
Arsene Wenger endured a nightmare start to the Premier League. (Adrian Dennis/AFP)
1) Montero highlights Ivanovic’s vulnerability Alongside John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic is a player few Chelsea supporters would ever criticise. The Serbian has been a rock solid part of the furniture at Stamford Bridge ever since he was signed from Lokomotiv Moscow in 2008, and was deservedly named as the right-back in the PFA’s team of the season for 2014/15.
But after his chastening experience against the raw pace and trickery of Swansea’s Jefferson Montero, there must be many around Stamford Bridge who are beginning to wonder whether the 31-year-old has seen better days.
2) Walker has a long way to go before England call again Kyle Walker’s display against Manchester United was pock-marked with clumsiness and erratic play. The right-back’s touch was unreliable, he kicked regulation passes straight out, and he might have done better with the own goal that handed United a 1-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur. Walker was also disappointing when United beat Spurs 3-0 in March at Old Trafford and the sense is that his ambition to re-establish himself as the England right-back may be a struggle. But the 25-year-old is honest, which is always the best start when looking to improve. “Yeah, last season here - I totally hold my hands up. Defensively I was shocking,” he said. “I’ve tried to come here today and put things right. I had a stop-start season last season. I missed pre-season last year [with a serious abdominal injury], which is vital. This season I’ve aimed to hit the ground running.”
3) Same old ArsenalArsène Wenger had stressed, on numerous occasions, the importance of making a flying start to the Premier League season, although he really did not need to. Everybody connected to Arsenal knew that they had mucked it up over the first 12 games of last season, effectively torpedoing their title hopes by November. Yet there was the excruciating feeling of deja vu at the Emirates on Sunday, when the 2-0 loss to West Ham highlighted so many of the club’s age-old problems. Rather abruptly, all the talk of the perfect pre-season, in which Arsenal had won every game, was overtaken by Wenger saying his players had lacked sharpness and West Ham, who had played six competitive ties in the Europa League, were physically stronger. There was possession from Wenger’s team but little incision and when two dreadful concessions left them playing catch-up, there was the sight of a visiting team defending deeper and beginning to play for time – which always gets Wenger’s goat. Afterwards, Wenger bingo fans could complete their cards. “A successful season is down to how you respond to disappointments,” Wenger said. “It’s never a clear motorway and we have to respond quickly.” Arsenal will bounce back. They always do. This, however, felt like a reality check.
4) Lovren delivers his best Liverpool performance What passed for a manager’s post-match dispute at the Britannia Stadium centred on Dejan Lovren receiving only a yellow card for an elbow into the face of Mame Diouf and witnessed by the referee, Anthony Taylor. No prizes for guessing which side Mark Hughes and Brendan Rodgers came down on. Of more importance to Liverpool was Lovren’s contribution to a better-organised, more resolute visiting defence. Rodgers admitted a lot of pre-season work has been spent improving Liverpool’s defensive organisation and, tellingly, that last summer’s £20m signing from Southampton was in need of a shot of confidence after a difficult debut campaign at Anfield. “It was arguably his best game for us,” said the Liverpool manager. “He has gained confidence from knowing he was going to start, and stood up to the challenge.” Lovren had been favourite to start alongside Martin Skrtel before Mamadou Sakho missed three days’ training after his wife gave birth in Paris last week. The vote of confidence paid dividends.
5) Defoe the sole bright spot for SunderlandDick Advocaat was brutally honest in his assessment of Sunderland’s 4-2 defeat to Leicester on Saturday. He spoke of being “scared” by his team’s performance and not able to “see any positives” following a contest where the visitors were 3-0 down at half-time and lucky it was not at least double that. It was difficult to disagree with the Dutchman, but amid a shambolic and lacklustre display there was perhaps something for the manager and the 3 000 supporters who travelled to the King Power stadium to cling on to.
Jermain Defoe’s goal on 60 minutes was well taken. Having seen Adam Johnson collect possession in a position just outside the Leicester area, Defoe immediately provided an option for the winger by spinning behind Robert Huth and into space. Having collected Johnson’s pass with a deft touch, he then slammed the ball past Kasper Schmeichel with a clean, right-footed strike.
It all happened in the blink of an eye, and served as proof that, aged 32, Defoe retains the ability to be a clinical Premier League finisher. Certainly Sunderland will need him to continue in such fashion while defensively they continue to show all the durability of a chocolate teapot. There could be quite a few high-scoring matches at the Stadium of Light this season.
6) Van Gaal right to exclude De GeaIt was a slightly surreal sight to see three Manchester United goalkeepers with almost 1 000 senior appearances between them sit in the stands for their season opener against Tottenham. Even more surreal given that none of David de Gea, Victor Valdes and Anders Lindegaard are currently prevented from playing by injury or suspension, just not selected because Louis van Gaal doesn’t believe them to be worthy of a place, for assorted reasons. Lindegaard is no huge loss and nobody is really sure whether Valdes is or not, but De Gea’s position in the stands could certainly cause some consternation given that, while Sergio Romero was relatively untroubled on Saturday, he has that chilling quality for a keeper of ‘having a mistake in him.’ Nonetheless, Van Gaal is absolutely correct to keep De Gea on the sidelines while the saga of his move to Real Madrid advances slowly towards its inevitable conclusion, like lava down a slight slope. “If he is still here on September 1 we will look again, but he cannot play before that because as a goalkeeper you need the highest concentration,” Van Gaal said on Saturday. “It is difficult when you are in a position like David. We saw in pre-season his focus was not quite there, and we made the decision on Wednesday not to play him.” It is undoubtedly better to play one goalkeeper who might make an error because of a slightly erratic nature than to field one who is likely to slip-up because he has one eye on home.
7) Gestede’s threat in the air can revitalise Villa After the doom and gloom and all the talk of relegation after losing Christian Benteke and Fabian Delph, Aston Villa relished their gritty 1-0 victory over Bournemouth. One question dominated before the match: where were the goals going to come from without Benteke? One question dominated after the match: how are defences going to stop Rudy Gestede in the air? Gestede scored Villa’s winner with a crushing header and if the delivery into the area is right, it is going to be fascinating to see how defenders will cope with a player whose leap is so powerful and whose heading ability is so potent. Gestede scored 22 goals for Blackburn in the Championship last season and the Villa fans already love him.
8) Watford have the firepower to stay upQuique Flores made friends at Goodison Park on Saturday, surprising many by shaking hands with everyone he encountered on his route out of the press room. His team made a fine impression, too, and while opening-day results can be deceptive, Watford look a side with the quality to survive. Promoted clubs often require striking additions to give them the potency needed in the Premier League. Watford may be the exceptions. Troy Deeney, Odion Ighalo and Matej Vydra scored 57 of their 91 league goals last season. Deeney took his aggressive approach too far with a challenge on Phil Jagielka that could have been punished with a red card, but his pace gives him the potential to score at this level. Ighalo’s goal was beautifully taken and the Nigerian substitute presented a compelling case to start soon. Watford’s supply line looks promising, too, with Miguel Layun scoring once and threatening another goal, José Manuel Jurado providing an encouraging debut, and the £4.6m Dutch winger Steven Berghuis still to debut. It all explains why much of Watford’s transfer activity has been concentrated on defenders and defensive midfielders. Their fate may rest in their hands, because Watford should score more than at least three other clubs this season.
9) Experienced heads have a part to play in Palace’s evolution Glenn Murray’s two major contributions at Carrow Road were a late tackle on Graeme Dorrans that merited more than a ticking-off and a first-half chance he should probably have converted. It was, as Alan Pardew noted, not the striker’s best performance but his presence in Crystal Palace’s attack underlined that any evolution from strugglers to potential European challengers will be managed carefully. Palace were offered around £3m by Bournemouth for Murray last week but the bid was rejected; it would have been easy to accept such money for a player who turns 32 next month, especially with Connor Wickham and Patrick Bamford having been added to the ranks this summer, but Pardew believes it is important to retain the experienced heads that have served his team well. “We have a lot of characters in the team that I don’t want to move,” he said. “Glenn is still our number one number nine. Connor has got to learn to all those things Glenn does well.” The same applies to Mile Jedinak, albeit the club captain was edged out of the starting lineup by £13m signing Yohan Cabaye. “When we can bring someone like Mile on, what a luxury that is – he played a couple of simple things and tidied this up,” Pardew enthused. “We have good experience for the Premier League and it’s a massive quality.” Palace’s trajectory is unmistakably pointing upwards, but they will not be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
10) Is Anita about to unveil his true worth? Defining a single talking point from Newcastle v Southampton prompts dilemmas. After all, how do you overlook Jay Rodriguez making his first, thoroughly welcome, start for Southampton for well over a year following that horrible injury? Can you really ignore the immense promise of Steve McClaren’s first return to a Premier League dug-out after a nine year absence? And wouldn’t it be nice to mention how Southampton’s assistant manager Erwin Koeman seems, well, just as nice and measured as his brother, the Saints manager, Ronald. But ignoring such pressing claims for prominence, the talking point has to be Vurnon Anita and how, sitting in midfield alongside Jack Colback in Newcastle’s 4-2-3-1 formation, the former Ajax midfielder confounded Southampton, helping keeping McClaren’s side thoroughly in control until, well into the second half, he was stretchered off with a back injury. Not flashy but intelligent, Anita’s passing consistently confounded Southampton and he adapted well to McClaren’s tactic of pressing a little higher up the pitch. Could a diminutive player identified by Graham Carr, Newcastle’s chief scout but never really trusted by Alan Pardew and John Carver, be set to really show his true worth under the new regime? Only time will tell but, on Sunday, his team-mates lost their equilibrium when he was replaced by Cheick Tioté. – © Guardian News and Media 2015
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