Premier League Gameweek 2: Premier League: Poor defence of Arsenal and Chelsea, Manchester United’s lacklustre show and other talking points

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.

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 managed to eke out a narrow 3-2 win over Arsenal on Saturday. AP

Chelsea managed to eke out a narrow 3-2 win over Arsenal on Saturday, although both teams were seen lacking in their defence. AP

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.

N’Go(a)lo Kante?

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.

Manchester not-so-United

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).


Premier League Gameweek 1: Naby Keita’s impressive debut, Mo Salah’s hug and other talking points

It’s only Gameweek One but it already looks ‘order restored’ in the Premier League as big guns Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester United and Chelsea picked up valuable points in their first outings of the 2018-19 season. Liverpool and Manchester City, especially the latter who started without Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and Leroy Sane, exhibited enough to suggest it will be a two-horse battle for the title. But Manchester United, buoyed by an outstanding performance by World Cup winner Paul Pogba, showed typical Jose Mourinho doggedness, while Chelsea were typically ruthless, suggesting the two favourites won’t have it easy.

Here are five talking points from the Premier League Gameweek One

A revival for the 4-3-3 formation?

In football, it would seem old habits die hard. Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City started their games with the 4-3-3 formation — a strategy that was immensely popular in the first decade of the 21st century after Sir Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho and Frank Rijkaard’s domination with their teams. Tottenham and Arsenal, the other two of the ‘Top-6’, played a 4-2-3-1 formation, which is also an extension of the 4-3-3, where one midfielder is completely freed of his defensive duties.

The opening week of Premier league saw Chelsea (in picture), Liverpool, Manchester City and United fielding a 4-3-3 formation. AFP

The opening week of Premier league saw Chelsea (in picture), Liverpool, Manchester City and United fielding a 4-3-3 formation. AFP

The 4-3-3 has a rich history and was often used by the managers who have a favoured attacking football. The famous Ajax team of the early 1970s, which won three European Cups with Johan Cruyff, used the formation to great effect. Zdenek Zeman ‘Zemanlandia’ revolution at Foggia Calcio in Italy during the late 1980s also used the 4-3-3.

Key getting the best out of the formation are the wide forwards who support the lone central striker. These players are all-round attacking players with pace and shooting ability, who use their speed on the wings before cutting in towards goal. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have been showing the potential of wide forwards for over a decade now, and the reason why managers are using the formation must largely be due to the availability of players like Mohamed Salah, Eden Hazard and Riyad Mahrez. In Manchester United, it helped free Pogba of his defensive duties, therefore bringing the best out of the Frenchman.

Pre-season and Gameweek One suggest this will be the go-to formation for the big teams in the year, strangely ending the love for the three-man defence that was made popular by Antonio Conte in his two-year stint in the Premier League.

Naby Keita and Liverpool’s swagger

Liverpool's Guinean midfielder Naby Keita impressed on debut. AFP

Liverpool’s Guinean midfielder Naby Keita impressed on debut. AFP

After an impressive pre-season, Naby Keita did not disappoint in his Premier League debut, dominating the midfield and adding steel to an impressive Liverpool team. Proactive and more than happy to burst his lungs, Keita was involved in everything positive for Liverpool in their match against West Ham United, justifying the hefty £52.5 million they paid RB Leipzig to secure his services. The Guinean footballer certainly looks capable of shouldering the attacks in the Philippe Coutinho-role while adding more to the defence.

Keita also showed his versatility as a midfielder, comfortably slotting into the front-three, after Jurgen Klopp replaced Robert Firmino with Jordan Henderson. With Xherdan Shaqiri also impressing in his cameos for Liverpool so far, it is safe to say Liverpool won’t regret not signing Nabil Fekir in the summer.

Sarri-ball will need time

Chelsea might have eased to a 3-0 win over Huddersfield but the Blues are far from being the Napoli-like dominating team their new tactician Maurizio Sarri craves for. In fact, the victory was typical Chelsea — converting three of their five chances. The Sarri-ball will take time to roll with Eden Hazard, Matteo Kovacic and other World Cuppers still some time away from regaining peak fitness. The new-look midfield does promise a lot though, with Jorginho and N’Golo Kante already looking suited for each other. David Luiz looked comfortable throughout the game, suggesting a revival for the Brazilian defender who had a difficult relationship with the previous manager Antonio Conte. Early signs are positive for Chelsea, but a match against Arsenal in the upcoming Gameweek should give a clearer idea of how prepared the team is.

Wolves can bite

Newly promoted teams are often bookies’ favourite for relegation but Wolves’ opening-day performance would have most gone a long way in at least temporarily halting that trend. Marshalled by the exciting Reuben Neves, Wolves excited in their opening 2-2 draw against an Everton who invested millions in the summer. 21-year-old Neves, who was Championship’s best player last season, is a midfielder with rich pedigree. He was 18 when he captained Porto, arguably Portugal’s best team, before surprisingly making a jump to Wolves. Neves scored a stunning free-kick and played a crucial role in Wolves’ attacks as the men-in-yellow impressed against Everton. Neves isn’t the only star in the Wolves team though. With Rui Patricio keeping, Jao Moutinho as central midfield, Helder Costa in the forward line, this Wolves team should be eyeing a top-10 spot this season.

How can you not love Mo Salah?

Sadio Mane must be wondering what he must do to get out Salah’s shadows. Mane outscored the Egyptian in Liverpool’s 4-0 win against West Ham and was arguably more efficient, but Salah still managed to hog headlines, this time via an actual hug.

Last season’s Golden Boot winner ensured that a young fan’s pitch invasion in the 80th minute didn’t go futile by giving him a hug and ensuring he didn’t get charged upon by the security officials. Awww!