1) Chelsea transfer target may not be music to Terry’s ears
José Mourinho was as supportive of his captain as he could possibly be when reflecting upon a red card that has compounded John Terry’s awkward start to his campaign. “No, no blame,” offered the Portuguese. “It’s a ball into space behind the full-back, who is pressing high. The striker makes the movement and then … Mr Clattenburg decides a red card.” What was the defender’s mood post-match? “We have loud music on in the dressing room and he’s dancing.”
Yet, unless an unlikely appeal provides the unlikeliest of reprieves, Terry will spend the next three weeks downbeat and stewing on that flashpoint. The 34-year-old, by all accounts, had not spoken specifically to Mourinho about his substitution at half-time at Manchester City earlier this month as the champions subsided to last season’s nearest challengers. He had merely thrown himself even more committedly into training to justify his inclusion at The Hawthorns and, when he was leaping high to win the header above Salomón Rondón, which sent Chelsea scuttling downfield at pace to score their second on the counterattack, some of the old power and presence had appeared restored.
That might have been a turning point, the moment a torrid opening to his 18th professional campaign was exorcised. But, while the strength and spring remain, he is being exposed too often on the turf at present. Chris Brunt’s delivery was shrewd but Rondon was not likely to be caught. Terry was never the quickest but, with the centre-half more exposed as Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fàbregas suffer their own early-season sluggishness, this was an untimely reminder of frailty, particularly with the transfer window still open and interest in Everton’s John Stones sure to be stepped up before next Tuesday’s deadline.
As if by a quirk of the fixture schedule, the next time the captain will be available will be for the league game at Goodison Park on 12 September. He will react in the way he generally does, training feverishly over the weeks ahead and attempting to make himself undroppable for the game on Merseyside. But there remains the possibility, however slim, that Stones will have been prised away by then and is lining up for, rather than against, Chelsea that afternoon – and where might that leave Terry? This fixture did not provide the demanded upturn in form and the frustration will merely pool over the three weeks ahead. These are unfamiliarly trying times.
2) Stones adds to his value, despite Everton’s defeat
The John Stones display in Everton’s 2-0 defeat by Manchester City may have added a few million more to the club’s valuation when Chelsea lodge a fourth bid, as is the expectation. So far offers of £20m, £26m and £30m have been rejected for the central defender. Against a City team that again purred to victory – the third on the bounce of this nascent campaign – Stones stood out. Cool, calm and with the fraction of time that can mark out the best, the 21-year-old illustrated the chance of a move to the champions is not affecting his focus.
Everton remain determined not to sell Stones. So if Chelsea are to prise him from the club that fourth offer may need to be in the £40m-plus region to tempt them into relenting. This may seem an overblown price for a player untested at the Champions League level he would be expected to thrive in at Chelsea. Yet the ongoing evidence continues to be Stone could be worth it.
3) Pugh epitomises everything Bournemouth stand for
Marc Pugh has now scored in every division after his crucial goal in Bournemouth’s 4-3 win over West Ham United. The winger took his goal with superb aplomb, beating Carl Jenkinson and curling the ball past Darren Randolph, and in a way he epitomises Bournemouth’s rise. “He deserved that accolade, scoring in every division,” Eddie Howe said. “You’ve not met a more dedicated, nicer guy. He’s been left out of the team but he takes those decisions like a man and shows he’s a true team player. So when someone with that attitude does so well it pleases me no end. With every challenge he has responded, grown and improved as the club has and his attitude off the pitch epitomises everything we stand for. He does a lot of community work and charity work, so nothing pleases me more than seeing Marc do well.”
4) Sunderland fans are second to none
Garry Monk seemed almost astounded. He kept reiterating how “incredible’ Sunderland’s support had been throughout his Swansea side’s 1-1 draw at the Stadium of Light on Saturday. Monk was, rightly, convinced the near 40,000-strong, extremely loud, crowd “inspired” a Sunderland team who had been atrocious during defeats at Leicester and at home to Norwich . After Norwich it would have been no surprise if a stadium that averaged 43,000 attendances during last season’s relegation fight had been half empty but, not for the first time, Wearsiders gave Dick Advocaat’s players the benefit of the considerable doubt. Those loyalists have been short-changed for far too long now. They deserve much, much better.
5) Manchester United may regret letting Van Persie leave
Manchester United scored fewer league goals last season than they did in their wretched 2013-14 campaign. Three games amounts to a small sample size but the evidence is that their tally may drop again this year. Not only because they only struck once apiece against Tottenham and Aston Villa and drew a blank against Newcastle but because Louis van Gaal has less firepower at his disposal now.
If opting not to pay a colossal fee to buy Radamel Falcao was a no-brainer, letting Robin van Persie go could prove more of a mistake. The former Arsenal captain endured his poorest campaign in England last year, had lost his place as the first-choice striker to Wayne Rooney and Van Gaal’s relationship with his fellow Dutchman was fractured. Yet Van Persie had still scored 95 goals in his previous four seasons. He was arguably the best finisher at Old Trafford and, given how few chances United have created in some matches in Van Gaal’s reign, anyone with such a clinical touch should assume a greater importance. Instead, he has been exiled to Fenerbahce.
Admittedly, the prognosis for Van Persie seemed bleak once Van Gaal decided Rooney was his preferred option. It is also harder to keep several strikers happy in a system when only one starts, although Van Gaal has twice dropped Rooney into the No10 position when introducing Javier Hernández. The Mexican again looks a threatening impact substitute. Players of Van Persie’s status may not enjoy such bit-part roles but, had Van Gaal not sold him, he would surely have stood a chance of displacing Rooney if the captain’s struggles continued. Instead, United seem overly reliant on a misfiring Rooney, while their classiest striker of recent seasons plies his trade elsewhere and Van Gaal has not bought a replacement.
6) Spurs so near yet so far – for now
They should build a statue of Mousa Dembélé near White Hart Lane, or at least start one and leave it unfinished for ever. Because the Belgian seems a fitting totem of Tottenham, being a player who often seems tantalisingly close to being very good but, in the final analysis, does little of import. Or maybe that is unfair? Spurs did, after all, finish fifth last season, a rare case of them achieving more than they looked capable of. And maybe their prospects for this campaign are not quite as bleak as a record of no wins from their first three matches suggests, even if Spurs oozed mediocrity for long periods at Leicester. Christian Eriksen will soon return after missing Saturday’s match, the new recruit Clinton Njié should improve the support for Harry Kane, notably by adding much-needed speed, and Dele Alli suggested during 25 minutes that he may be able to play a significant role this term. The energy and technique of the 19-year-old were welcome and he showed a happy knack for being in the right place at the right time, unlike Erik Lamela, who continues to look like a misfit. “He plays with clever movement, he never stops running, he has good technical condition,” said Mauricio Pochettino of Alli, while warning against demanding too much from a teenager, even if he did add that Alli’s precocious poise is his finest attribute. “I especially remember his character and personality,” recalled Pochettino of his scouting of Alli. “Last season I went to see him against Manchester United in the Capital One Cup and it was 4-0. He played centre midfield – a 17 year-old playing like a 30-year-old. This is his best quality.” With such talent emerging and the club likely to be busy before the transfer window closes, Spurs seem, yes, tantalisingly close to being good.
7) Stoke may have £12m bargain in Shaqiri
Whether it was money, a lack of more attractive options, an overwhelming desire to live in Staffordshire or a combination of all three factors that drew Xherdan Shaqiri to Stoke City, the club’s exotic new record signing gave no indication of being anything other than totally delighted to be part of the team before, during and after his new team’s rather fortuitous draw at Carrow Road.
The Swiss midfielder could be seen beaming broadly during the warm-up and pre-match niceties and was quickly into action, having taken up a position on the right of the trio supporting the lone striker, Mame Biram Diouf. There Shaqiri remained for most of the first half, before adopting a more roving brief once Marko Arnautovic and Ibrahim Afellay were replaced by Joselu and Stephen Ireland after the interval. With Stoke spending much of the second half on the back foot, his opportunities to impress in attack were limited. While Shaqiri’s main contribution of note was the inswinging free-kick that a criminally unmarked Diouf nodded home, he showed some deft, innovative touches around the box and a commendable willingness to do his fair share of defensive duties.
Understandably ring rusty on his Premier League debut, Shaqiri visibly wilted in the afternoon heat and on 70 minutes could be seen with his head down and his hands on his knees, blowing extremely hard on a savagely warm welcome to the Premier League. Despite this obvious lack of match fitness, he showed enough glimpses of his undeniable class to suggest Stoke may have got themselves a £12m bargain . “We’ve got any number of good players in forward areas and we’re delighted with that,” said Mark Hughes. “You need game-changers in the Premier League. You can be organised in midfield and defensive areas but you need guys at the top end of the field to change games. The conditions today probably took the creative edge of our players in the final third but Stephen [Ireland], Bojan [Krcić], Shaqiri … those are the kind of guys we need.”
With Ireland in something approaching his best form but unable to nail down a starting berth and Bojan soon to return from injury, Hughes is facing some enviable selection dilemmas.
8) Options open up for Traoré
“I was never that quick. He’s got turbo charge there, hasn’t he? That’s what he is, you saw his first two touches he gives it away, that’s what you’re going to get. But he can light it up, that’s why we brought him in.” Tim Sherwood was clearly impressed – and so was Alan Pardew. Before Saturday, Adama Traoré’s experience of top-flight football was limited to a seven-minute appearance as a substitute for Barcelona at the end of a routine 4-0 victory over Granada on 23 November 2013. Despite that, he was only allowed to join Villa for £7m if the reigning European champions inserted a buyback clause in his contract after starring for the club’s reserve side, despite their relegation from the Segunda División.
The early signs are that he could be back in his homeland sooner rather than later, although replacing the gilded frontline of Lionel Messi. Neymar and Luis Suárez might take some doing. Born in Catalonia after his parents emigrated from Mali in the 1980s, Traoré joined Barca at the age of seven and appears steeped in the techniques honed at La Masia – if his debut at Selhurst Park was anything to go by. The teenager is still eligible to play for Mali, having represented Spain at youth level, but has told the Eagles’ setup he would like to keep his options open for now. Any more cameos like Saturday’s and he will be able to take his pick.
9) Wijnaldum disappointed with draw but Newcastle make inroads
“I am actually a little bit disappointed because the last attack I maybe could have won it. I gave the ball to Papiss Cissé and if I had made that run through I could have scored the goal. It was a gamble and, if I think about it, I am disappointed because we could have won.” Georginio Wijnaldum was pretty justified in expressing his disappointment that Newcastle did not take all three points at Old Trafford on Saturday because, while it might be something of a stretch to say they were the better team, they matched the home side for much of the game. And that was largely down to their defensive solidity, something that does at least offer some encouragement for the remainder of the season. It is perhaps slightly odd to say the return of Steven Taylor to any back line signals the start of something more sturdy but he and Fabricio Coloccini were excellent at Old Trafford, both men splitting the vote for the man of the match award. “The defending was heroic,” said Steve McClaren after the game and while that might be the hyperbole of a man giddy after a good result, it certainly represents something to build on. Newcastle are not, historically, a team known for a watertight defence but if McClaren can get his side to repeat this performance then it will help add some sort of order to a club usually associated with chaos.
10) Saints suffer lack of creativity without Tadic
Southampton were crying out for a creative spark, as their fixture at Watford ticked towards its inevitable 0-0 conclusion and the thought occurred that Ronald Koeman had Dusan Tadic among his substitutes. Was the attacking midfielder, who was a revelation when he joined Southampton last season, not worth a whirl? Koeman, though, revealed that Tadic was not fully fit. The manner in which the 26-year-old struggled with a groin problem in the final months of the previous campaign is well documented but it was supposed to have cleared up. Not so, according to Koeman, who said that Tadic was feeling “more tired than normal” and blood tests had shown that something was not right.
Tadic came off at half-time in the 3-0 home defeat by Everton on the Saturday before last and he was an unused substitute against both Midtjylland in the Europa League last Thursday and Watford. “Dusan was working hard the whole summer … still he had some groin problems and it was looking good at the start of the season,” Koeman said. “But after that, he was more tired than normal. There was something in his blood and that was maybe the reason why he was a little more tired than normal. We have to recover Dusan, so that he can come back on his level.” – © Guardian News & Media 2015