In the first of a new Premier League series, Cian O’Callaghan dissects the performances of the heroes and zeros from each Premier League gameweek. This week he discusses the results and performances of the opening weekend in the 2014/15 campaign.
The New SAS?
With the driving force behind their unlikely title bid departing in the summer and no top-class attacker yet being drafted in to replace him, Liverpool fans will have begun the season wondering where the 31 goals Luis Suarez scored last campaign where going to come from. Brendan Rodgers had insisted that there would be no single replacement for the Uruguayan but rather it would be the team as a whole – established stars as well as the new recruits – who would try to ensure Suarez’s departure didn’t result in a loss in the team’s overall effectiveness.
For this to become a reality Rodgers will need last season’s second top scorer Daniel Sturridge to maintain his hugely impressive strike rate and also for Raheem Sterling to continue to build on the rapid rate of progress the youngster’s game has experienced this calendar year. With a goal from each on the opening day to ensure the team edged past Southampton, it’s been a good start.
Yesterday’s goal was Daniel Sturridge’s 36th in his first 50 league matches for Liverpool, a higher strike rate than any other player in Liverpool’s history over his first half-century of top-flight matches. Considering some of the players who have gone before him that’s worthy of a little fanfare.
Having been made favourites for the title Chelsea started their campaign with a swagger, a commanding display which was equal parts authoritative and sparkling. With summer signings Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa, the former in particular, hitting the ground running and Andre Schurrle bringing his World Cup form back to English shores, Jose Mourinho’s side already look far more threatening.There will, of course, be much tougher tests but this was a very impressive start for the west London side.
By creeping in unnoticed yet again to score Arsenal’s stoppage-time winner Aaron Ramsey underlined once again his growing value to Arsene Wenger’s side. The Welshman has developed a knack – not unlike Frank Lampard across his career – at arriving in the box late and in space and having the cool head to take whatever chance falls his way.
Although Ramsey’s ability to strike from distance will catch the eye more easily, it is these scruffy ones – what Jamie Redknapp referred to as ’Lampard goals’ (and, yes, I do feel dirty for quoting that particular pundit on anything) – that will ensure that as long as he remains injury-free, he’ll bag in and around 20 goals this campaign. With that return from a centre-midfielder Arsenal will be a lot closer to winning the biggest prizes come next spring.
McGeady has to be included for his superb finish at Leicester. With about a yard in the top corner to aim at the Ireland international fired a lovely curled effort smack bang right into that yard. Always pleasing to see a ball fired home at such pace into that postage stamp area.
The Spur sboss deserves all the credit in the world for not making a negative decision after Kyle Naughton was harshly dismissed in the first half at West Ham. Although Mark Noble wasting the resultant spot-kick helped hugely, by not taking off an attacker and trusting in his remaining defenders on the pitch, the new Spurs boss sent out the message that there were no plans for an exercise in damage limitation and they weren’t settling for a draw.
Eric Dier’s late winner may have been a little against the run of play but it was just reward for Pochettino’s bravery.
Not only a sensible idea but also gives the crowd something to cheer if the rest of the action on the pitch has failed to do so.
After the summer firesale they produced a performance that suggested that those predicting their demise this season have been a little too hasty. Although they lost – and were unlucky to do so – Ronald Koeman’s new-look outfit were excellent at times and in Dusan Tadic they may have found another gem to flog next summer.
Masterminding a first-ever league win for Swansea City at Old Trafford and spoiling Louis Van Gaal’s big day in the process. This was no smash-and-grab either; the Swans were sent out with a definite gameplan which the players carried out to perfection. The fact that United had almost no threatening moments in the last 15 minutes speaks volumes for the composure and control Swansea had at that stage – they coasted to victory in the end.
Joint top scorer with five league goals last term, Berahino reached 40% of that total already on Saturday. With West Brom’s biggest problem being the deficit of goals since Romelu Lukaku left, it’s no exaggeration to say if the youngster Berahino starts delivering where it really matters – and he appears to have the ability to do so – then the Baggies’ prospects could be transformed.
With Yaya Toure an immovable object from the Man City first XI and Fernandinho enjoying a fine debut season at Eastlands, just where the new signing from Porto was going to fit in was a matter of debate. While it is still not entirely clear if the new boy will regularly replace his compatriot in City’s midfield or if he will partner him there, allowing Toure to push on further forward, what is certain is just what he will bring to the team namely a sharp defensive shield which the squad has missed since the days of Nigel De Jong.
While Fernando may not offer a huge amount going forward, he showcased his expertise at doing the dirty work at Newcastle and he will play a key role away from home and against the top sides this campaign.
What an anti-climax but after the series of victories in pre-season which raised expectations that the team were back in with a chance of competing for the Premier League title, this insipid defeat may turn out to have been a positive in the long run.
The defeat to Swansea will not only have lowered expectations but it will also have underlined the scale of the task facing Louis Van Gaal; the rot which set in under David Moyes will not be so easy to eradicate and it will be doubly harder if much-needed top-class players – in defence and in midfield – don’t arrive in the next fortnight.
United’s nervy, disjointed performance once again highlighted the lack of balance in the squad and the absence of quality in some areas of it. As the new boss has stressed, it will take time for the team to absorb and replicate his methods and ideas but for them to have a maximum chance of doing so, they need a couple of injections of world-class quality and quickly too.
After all the promises, all the fanfare and all the money allegedly there to spend, the fact that United have signed the fewest players of any Premier League club and have failed to land any world-class talent so far is damning of Woodward and embarrassing for the self-styled ‘biggest club in the world’.
Probably not too much of an exaggeration to say the next fortnight will shape the executive vice-chairman’s future at Old Trafford.
The Hull City boss saw his side dig out a big win at QPR, a victory which was crucial in blowing off the cobwebs after their dreadful finish to last season and yet Bruce still chose to use his post-match interview to have a sustained go at the match officials.
Along with Mark Hughes, Bruce is the most paranoid manager in the top-flight, seeing conspiracy everywhere and never fails to overlook the opportunity to praise his players in favour of lambasting the referee. Perhaps no surprise considering who they both played under for the bulk of their career….
Noble doesn’t miss penalties we were told just before he sent a weak effort trickling past the Spurs’ post. After a turbulent summer at Upton Park, Sam Allardyce needs a positive start to this campaign and Noble wasted a huge chance to give it to him.
Speaking of penalty misses, Austin’s for QPR was probably even worse, a limp excuse of a spot-kick which even the ever-enlarging Bruce probably could have saved. Keeper Allan McGregor got the plaudits for saving it but honestly, it was that poor a penalty that he should have been fined if he didn’t stop it.
Confirmation that he remains Manuel Pellegrini’s number one after being selected to start ahead of Willy Caballero at Newcastle. However, should he continue to flap at crosses as he did at St. James’ Park then he’s really going to test his manager’s loyalty.
£1.2m strikers on crutches would be ashamed to miss the golden opportunity Southampton’s new recruit did at Anfield, so I would hope the Saints’ new £12m man had a sleepless night last night. Highlighted, sadly, why Long for all his talent, work-rate etc will never be a really top striker.
Ashley Young. Playing as part of a team which failed both individually and collectively to give any kind of acceptable performance against Swansea, it says something for the accuracy of that bird that, despite all the dross around him, Young still managed to be the sh!ttest player on the pitch. My apologies.
Cian O’Callagahan, Pundit Arena.
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