This past weekend of Premiership results showed us one thing – there are no easy games in the English Premier League. Liverpool were soundly thumped by West Ham, Manchester United threw away a two goal lead to surrender to the might of Leicester City, Tottenham succumbed 0-1 to West Brom and Everton also lost to Crystal Palace.
Liverpool’s mullet-like defence
Unsurprisingly, Liverpool were overpowered by a highly motivated West Ham team. Unsurprising because, other than an impressive team display against Tottenham Hostpur, the Reds have played some uninspiring, inspid and dull football in the rest of the games they have played this season. Liverpool were lucky to escape with a last-minute penalty victory against an unheralded Bulgarian team in mid-week and surely Real Madrid must be rubbing their hands with glee after they annihilated Deportivo La Coruna during the weekend.
One of last season’s highlights was the fact that Liverpool set the record for goals scored, but at the same time had the worst defensive record for a team in the top half of the table. Similar to the mullet hairstyle favoured by certain types of Americans, Liverpool were “business at the front, and party at the back”. The start of the new season has continued the way the last season ended, but it seems that things have gotten even worse. Mamadou Sakho’s collision with teammate Dejan Lovren pretty much summed up the non-existent communication between the central defenders. I have been a consistent defender of Belgian ‘keeper Simon Mignolet since he signed for the club, but one of the biggest problems for Liverpool at the moment is that they have a goalkeeper who is hesitant and uncertain and all that does is spread to the defenders in front of him.
The other big issue facing Liverpool is the role of talismanic captain Steven Gerrard. Age is unfortunately catching up with the Liverpool legend and as we all know, time is never a friend to those in professional sports. Gerrard played his third full game in seven days against West Ham and it was painfully clear to all watching that as much as his soul is willing – his body cannot keep pace with the demands of all the games he is asked to play. So Liverpool as a team have suffered as they have no protection in front of the central defenders, and both Aston Villa and West Ham used the same tactic to unsettle Gerrard in possession which worked very well. Both opponents sent one man to effectively press and harry Gerrard any time he had the ball, giving him no time to think and forcing him into quick and sometimes inaccurate passes. Chelsea showed all teams the way to defeat Liverpool and it seems other managers have taken notice.
Liverpool have also suffered as a result of the successes of last season. This season they are competing in a number of competitions like the Champions League which has necessitated a squad rotation policy as Brendan Rodgers looks to make the best use of all players. However, the loss of Luis Suarez, combined with the injury to Daniel Sturridge and the signing of a raft of new players has meant that continuity has suffered at the club. The almost telepathic understanding between teammates that was there last season has been replaced by an unfamiliarity and an uncertainty among the players. When a club signs a world-class player like Luis Suarez or James Rodriguez, that type of player typically takes a short period of time to settle in and develop a relationship with his new team mates. Unfortunately for Liverpool, the players they signed are not quite in the same quality bracket and that bedding in time will take slightly longer.
Captain Rooney and the Red Devils
Much will invariably be made of Manchester United spending so much money on attacking talent and not focussing equally hard on their defence. That is certainly part of the equation as Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao are certainly already providing their return on investment for the high transfer fees/ wages paid. What is apparent is that quality players provide that additional bit of spark and creativity when it is needed most and the South American duo are delivering plenty of both.
Like their fierce rivals from Merseyside, Manchester United are struggling at the defensive end of the pitch and the loss of experienced players like Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand did not help their cause. Although arguably Ferdinand in particular, and even Vidic, were no longer the same athletes they were due to injury and the advances of time both were leaders in the United team along with Evra. this new-look team seems short of leadership at the moment and making Rooney captain has exacerbated the problem. Wayne Rooney has always been a gifted, if somewhat erratic, footballer – when on form he can be unstoppable with his vision, passing and work rate. However, when things are not going well he tends to become surly, aggressive and the work rate disappears. Therefore, it baffles me why such a player would be a candidate to wear the captain’s armband. Perhaps part of the reason for that decision is related to other factors like which players have been at the club the longest and would be able to pass on the importance of the club’s history to new players. However, Rooney does not strike me as a “footballer’s footballer” – one of those who loves to study and discuss the game and breathes football.
Leicester show attack is best form of defence
Leicester may have just been promoted to the Premiership, but they have shown a different approach in their opening 5 games of the new season. Common wisdom may dictate that as a newly promoted team your best bet is to park the bus and hope for a draw, especially when four of your opening five opponents are Everton, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United. Leicester have opted for an attacking mentality and this has seen them secure 8 points from a possible 15 – not bad for a team that would have been written off by most before a ball was even kicked. Admittedly, Leicester were fortunate as some decisions went their way in their barnstorming come-from-behind win over Manchester United. If Leicester can maintain a consistent run of form then they will be well on their way to securing their place in the Premiership.
Arsenal smiling this weekend
The Gunners were the biggest winners from the weekend’s action following their 3-0 win against the Villains. Chelsea and Man City played out to a draw and Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur both lost. Dat Guy scored his first Arsenal goal as well as he setting up the opening goal for the oft-maligned Mesut Ozil. The German playmaker has had his detractors since he was signed for a then Arsenal record transfer fee at the start of last season.
The primary criticism of Ozil seems to be that he doesn’t seem to do what he was signed to do which is provide assists, and even worse he seems to not “work hard for the team”. To me, this is a very English criticism – players like Andy Carroll at Liverpool and even Fernando Torres during his Chelsea stint, were well received by supporters because they tried really hard. Never mind that they never delivered on their primary objective – to score goals. I really like Ozil but then again I think I like left-field players of his ilk – the guys who seem to be doing nothing all game but when you actually just focus on him alone you see how many runs he makes off the ball, how many defenders he attracts to open up space for other team members. Ozil is unfortunately one of those gifted players who is a couple of moves ahead of his fellow teammates (as well as supporters) most of the time, and when they struggle to see the bigger picture it’s obviously Ozil’s fault.
There is a long way to go in the Premier League marathon, but I can’t wait for the next round of fixtures together with more surprises or perhaps business as usual.