What a weekend of football! From Manchester United’s lethargy, to Arsenal’s comeback , to Manchester City’s dominance of Liverpool, it was a Premier League gameweek to remember. Cian O’Callaghan is here to talk us through the ups and downs.
After an injury-hit first campaign at Manchester City saw the Serb collect a Premier League winner’s medal despite having made a contribution to the cause on a par with the Etihad Stadium ballboys, Manuel Pellegrini said of the former Fiorentina forward ”If he’s fit all the year, he will be a very important player for us.”
On Monday night Jovetic gave more than a glimpse of just why with a highly impressive performance full of clever movement, assured touches and, of course, two well-taken goals.
With Sergio Aguero’s intermittent injury absences, Alvaro Negredo’s goal drought post-January and Edin Dzeko still capable of many frustrating performances, a fit and firing Jovetic will play a key role for City this season, on the domestic and European fronts.
With a bench containing Bacary Sagna, James Milner, Willy Caballero, Jesus Navas, Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho and the likes of Alvaro Negredo, Eliaquim Mangala and Matija Nastasic not even making the replacements’ bench, the City boss undoubtedly has the strongest squad in the country. Spoiled for choice, no excuses for failure.
Top of the table with maximum points, five goals scored and none conceded makes for an encouraging start under their new manager. What makes it all the more impressive is the manner in which Mauricio Pochettino has his new team playing according to his managerial blueprint, with pace, with energy and pressing opponents high up the pitch.
Hell, even Erik Lamela is fit, hungry and looking a £30m player. Very early days but a promising start for the 136th manager Daniel Levy has entrusted with establishing Spurs as Champions League regulars.
Two goals in two starts has quietened those who were tempted to believe that the half-fit and under-par striker who bombed in the World Cup in Brazil was the real Costa. Oddly enough, the £32m signing hasn’t played particularly well in either match but the goals will certainly help him as he beds into the Chelsea system.
The new Chelsea first-choice goalkeeper has slipped into the role with the ease expected of a player who was such an integral part of Atletico Madrid’s success over the last three seasons. Caught the eye again with a commanding piece of goalkeeping to thwart David Nugent with the scores level and the game in the balance.
Coming back from two goals down with seven minutes remaining at Goodison Park hinted at the Gunners possessing a little more backbone and a lot more fight than in recent seasons.
Sam Allardyce & Mauro Zarate
Having come into the new season under huge pressure after being undermined by West Ham’s owners on a number of occasions over the summer – and having seen his side sucker-punched late on the opening day by Spurs – Allardyce’s plans for the trip to take on Crystal Palace were hit by the news that Kevin Nolan would be missing for six weeks.
Into the side in his place came new signing Zarate and the result was a wonderfully taken goal from the Argentine and an eye-catching performance.
There is an argument among regular West Ham watchers that while Nolan provides a steady number of goals, he often contributes little else and his ponderous use of the ball often slows attacks to the point of blunting them. With Zarate moving the ball quicker and popping up in different, dangerous areas the Hammers’ attack certainly looked sharper and it could be that the skipper’s absence is a blessing in disguise.
Despite not particularly impressing in his extended audition for a full-time role after replacing Michael Laudrup last season, Swansea’s maximum return from their opening two fixtures hints that maybe Garry Monk is more than someone who looks like a cocky copper from The Bill; maybe he might even be a good football manager.
Again, it’s early days yet but it’s a promising start containing levels of organisation and enough tactical switches to suggest the Swans’ flirtation with relegation last campaign won’t be repeated this term.
Having been on the verge of leaving the club 12 months ago, the transformation in Cattermole’s fortunes has been huge. From a pariah under Paolo Di Canio to a mainstay under Gus Poyet, Cattermole is now playing the best football of his career.
While the turnaround is yet another sign that Di Canio really had no idea what he was doing in his time at the Stadium of Light, the manner in which Cattermole knuckled down, waited for his chance and then grasped it with both hands is testament to the midfielder’s character. Now if he would just stop wearing his shorts pulled up to his armpits he’d be taken a little more seriously.
You can score as many goals as you like in the Championship but until you start putting away the kind of chances like you had at Stamford Bridge on Saturday then you’ll never last as a top-flight striker.
Another performance bereft of pace, fluidity or power. The most damning aspect of Utd’s latest insipid display was the fact that they barely looked like even testing the Sunderland goalkeeper in the final period of the game. Whereas under Fergie Utd looked like they would rather die than not throw the kitchen sink at opponents in search of a telling late goal, now the players look all-too accepting of failure. The structural and personnel issues in the team are well known enough without me having to go over them again here suffice to say if Louis Van Gaal resolves them, he still has to sort out the team’s lack of confidence and lack of purpose. His cv suggests he will but it may take longer than expected.
Robin Van Persie, Wayne Rooney & Juan Mata
So much talent, so much skill, so little pace. While Van Gaal’s 3-5-2 has been chosen ostensibly to fit these three in their favoured positions, the lack of pace is a big worry and the feeling is that one will be sacrificed long-term to correct this deficit.
Scored an important equaliser in a 45-minute cameo which, although it demonstrated he usually needs a few chances to get a goal, showcased his value to the team as the focal point of their attack. But then he got injured half-heartedly blocking a clearance and might miss the next three months.
Everton’s pre-season planner
For the second match in-a-row the Toffees’ conceded a late equaliser to drop points which looked all-but secured as the game entered its final stages. Against Leicester and Arsenal the Everton players visibly wilted in the final 15-20 minutes with the likes of James McCarthy and Phil Jagielka almost out on their feet.
Whatever they did for their pre-season hasn’t fully prepared them for the demands of 90 minutes of top-flight football.
Richard Dunne and Rio Ferdinand
Asking these two grizzled veterans to learn to play a 3-5-2 system at this late stage is a bit like asking a javelin thrower to switch to the long jump for the final year of their career.
The hammering by Spurs was just desserts and the feeling is there will be plenty more defensive shambles like Sunday’s if Harry Redknapp and Glenn Hoddle persist with the formation.
The Free Shinji campaign
Said Van Gaal of Kagawa when asked why he hasn’t played a minute in the opening two matches and whether he could play in central midfield:
“Kagawa did not wish to fulfil my wishes, my philosophy when I played him in the United States.”
With Mata, Rooney, Adnan Januzaj and now Angel Di Maria all ahead of him in the queue to play number 10, the writing is on the wall in big, bright letters for the former Dortmund player.
Although the Eagles responded to the departure of Tony Pulis with a gutsy showing at Arsenal on the opening day, the poor performance in the defeat to West Ham coupled with the increasingly messy search for his replacement highlights the need for swift and decisive action by the board.
Liverpool and their defence
After the concession of 50 goals cost Brendan Rodgers’ side the title last season, expensive reinforcements arrived to bolster this area. However, two of those (Dejan Lovren and Alberto Moreno) were at fault for goals at the Etihad. While bedding-in issues can excuse the two newboys their mistakes for the time being, the ongoing shakiness of Simon Mignolet cannot be excused for the same reason and his display at City once again begged the question as to why Rodgers dumped Pepe Reina in favour of the Belgian.
Another question which should be asked of the Liverpool manager is his continual use of Steven Gerrard as the deepest midfielder when the captain is incapable of providing the adequate defensive cover a player in that position must provide for his centre-backs – a top-class arrival in that area was a must this transfer window.
The match also highlighted why for all the impressive movement Liverpool continue to show in attacking areas, the absence of Luis Suarez to knit it all together in the final third will mean a sharp reduction in the side’s number of goals. With a reduction in their number of goals they will need to tighten up at the back or another title challenge will be out of the question.
Another poor refereeing decision against his side gave the Hull manager just cause on this occasion for his usual post-match anti-referee tirade. On the bright side he’s now the star of the current funniest account on twitter. Why didn’t I think of that?