Manchester United and Manchester City’s performances — the former losing to Brighton while the latter battered a sorry Huddersfield Town — summed up a Gameweek of surprises, where the biggest talking point, arguably, was the open nature of a traditionally cold-blooded London derby between Arsenal and Chelsea.
⚡ @LucasMoura7 scored our first goal on Saturday. ⚽
Reply with the name of the player who gave us the lead the last time we beat Man Utd for a chance to win a signed shirt, courtesy of Official Partner @eToro.
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) August 21, 2018
The Blues won the temporary bragging rights and showed glimpses of the very promising “Sarrismo”, but both London teams looked unsure about their new managers’ philosophies, something that will have Tottenham licking their lips (and Dele Alli doing his Conjuring-ish celebration) in the battle for London supremacy, which is now a ridiculous six-team battle with West Ham, Crystal Palace and Fulham also competing (is there no other city in England?).
Here are five talking points for Gameweek Two of the Premier League:
Chelsea v Arsenal and a comedy of errors
London is certainly Blue, but Chelsea will need to tighten up their defence and improve their overall pressing game if they are hoping to challenge for a place in the top-four at end of the season. The match against traditional rival Arsenal though showed glimpses of the positive, attack-oriented football that Maurizio Sarri wants to cultivate at Chelsea, but the Blues went on to win the match largely due to their opponents’ profligacy in front of goal.
While Marcos Alonso (one assist, one goal) and Cesar Azpilicueta (one assist) contributed in attack, they left far too much room for Arsenal’s wide men to dictate play. The abundance of space in the left wing was compounded by Willian’s poor work-rate while tracking back as compared to the work done on the right wing by Pedro. Something Sarri will definitely have to think about once Eden Hazard is fully fit.
Arsenal were, like Chelsea, awful in their defence, and could have easily snatched all three points if their attackers were more efficient. Unai Emery’s men still look like a team finding its true shape and judging by their performance against Chelsea, the former Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) manager will have some tough decisions to take. Mesut Ozil was largely invisible in the match and failed to be the engine for Emery’s counter-attacking plan, while Matteo Guendouzi will need to improve his positioning if Emery persists with a double-pivoted 4-2-3-1 formation.
A reasonable solution would be to replace Ozil with Aaron Ramsey in the starting line-up or shifting Henrikh Mkhitaryan to a more central role and playing both Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette. Arsenal also lacked a captain on the field, which will be another area of concern for the manager. Emery failed to make big decisions against senior players at PSG, which ultimately led to his sacking. Only time will tell, if he has learned his lesson.
There is no doubting N’Golo Kante’s credentials as a defensive midfielder. He played a starring role in France’s World Cup victory and was the linchpin in Leicester and Chelsea’s Premier League title runs in the past season. But new Chelsea coach Sarri sees Kante in a new role — a box-to-box midfielder who can contribute in attack as well as in defence, similar to Allan’s role in Sarri’s Napoli side. In fact, Kante had the most number of touches in the opposition penalty box than any other player in Chelsea’s match against Arsenal.
Pushing Kante ahead has its advantages — his pressing in the opposition half will make it impossible for deep-lying midfielders and ball-playing defenders to pick out a pass. But it also takes away Kante’s biggest strength — his recovery speed. His starting position (in the line between opposition defenders and midfielders) when the opposition is in possession means Jorginho has very little cover once a pass is made. The problem is compounded by Chelsea’s full-backs playing like wingers. If attacking from the wings is something Sarri wants at Chelsea, then he will have to pull back Kante to a more defensive role and expect his wide forwards to do the harrying. If Chelsea full-backs revert to a more traditional role, then Kante will be expected to contribute a lot more in the attack, maybe score around eight goals in a season. Expect the little French dynamite to rise up to the challenge, though.
Two matches into the season and there are already talks of Jose Mourinho being replaced by Zinedine Zidane. United were lacklustre in their outing against Brighton and deservedly lost 3-2, with Mourinho’s men failing to excite. The Red Devils looked toothless in attack and in complete disarray in the defence, so much so that Brighton’s new signing Leon Balogun said, “Some of the lads have just asked me that too and I said I had expected the Premier League to be quicker, but they told me this is always the kind of game you play against United.” *Ouch*
United failed to recruit a quality defender in the summer and Eric Bailly’s horror night will have the manager pointing his fingers at the Board’s inefficiency again. That said, Mourinho still has one of the world’s most expensive sides at his disposal and his failure to get them playing efficient (if not exciting) football, will raise many questions, especially after their star player Paul Pogba’s somewhat strange comment — there are things that I can’t say. Third season curse in ON?
More from Moura?
Pundits (author pleads guilty) were quick to dismiss Tottenham Hotspur’s ability to challenge for a trophy before the season started owing to the lack of transfer activities in the summer. But Spurs managed to keep hold of their stars, have started the season well and have also managed to rekindle the fun for football in their winter recruit Lucas Moura. The Brazilian, a prodigious talent who got wasted in the large talent pool at Paris Saint-German, has stepped up his game at the London club and almost looks like a new signing for Spurs.
The 26-year-old was scintillating in Spurs’ match against Fulham and it looks like the Brazilian winger clearly feels the time is right to live up to his undoubted potential. With Son Heung-Min representing South Korea at the Asian Games, Moura looks set for some much-needed game-time, which could be what he needs to prove — he is better than both Son and Erik Lamela. Considering Daniel Levy’s shrewdness in the market, Moura might well become a £25million bargain for Spurs.
Jesus wants time with Aguero
Manchester City are so strong that they scored six goals past Huddersfield Town without the injured Kevin De Bruyne, wingers Leroy Sane, Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling. Guardiola played an intricate 3-5-2 with Gabriel Jesus pairing with the insatiable Sergio Aguero up front. City bossed the midfield and fed their hungry strikers, who were more than happy to put the ball behind the net.
Quote box: “Pep opted for Sergio and myself, just like he has done last season and I think there was only one match where we didn’t so well – but usually when we both play together we do a great job. We can indeed play together!”
Considering Arsenal and Chelsea’s gaping holes in defence and United’s suffering team spirit, it looks like the title will be decided between Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham (if they can be consistent).