Weekend in 100 words or less
The battle for the final Champions League spot has become entertaining over the past few years. This season, North London rivals Tottenham and Arsenal, have been tipped to challenge for the final spot in Europe’s prestigious tournament, which has led to Spurs spending approximately £110.5m in the transfer window. However, Arsene Wenger made his big move on deadline day, when he managed to persuade a world-class talent to take his talents to the Emirates. Both sides acquired talented players in the no.10 role, and this weekend they showcased why the clubs aspiring to solidify Champions League football sought them out.
United’s issue in the final third
David Moyes celebrated his first win at Old Trafford, as the Red Devils cruised past 10-man Crystal Palace. For what it’s worth, United struggled to find their rhythm until Kagisho Dikgacoi was wrongfully sent off for a foul on Ashley Young that actually took place outside of the 18-yard box. Ian Halloway’s men were organized well and they maintained a compact shape for majority of the half. Dwight Gayle, Mile Jedinak, Dikgacoi and Jose Campana tucking infield kept Michael Carrick and Anderson quiet, but it also left United space on the right to exploit.
Fabio and Valencia worked hard to create overloads and isolate Dean Moxey, but the Palace fullback coped well. Moyes’ men dominated possession but they lacked thrust, penetration and creativity in the final third. A recurring theme in United’s style of play under Moyes is their intent on pressing the oppositions defenders on goal-kicks or when they attempt to play out of the back – which led to the Young controversy – and it’s been successful thus far. In fairness, United didn’t really face any scares on the defensive end, as Halloway’s men struggled to complete three successive passes, along with Carrick doing a fantastic job in breaking up play.
United stamped their authority on the match in the second half with the man advantage, as Wayne Rooney began to drift around midfield picking up the ball and linking play, while substitute Adnan Januzaj was a direct threat from wide areas. However, United struggled to create legitimate goal-scoring opportunities, and relied on a Rooney free-kick to put the match out of sight. United has failed to score from open play since their opening day victory against Swansea, which shouldn’t be overlooked. The service from wide areas has been mediocre and Rooney still looks somewhat disinterested, thus leaving Van Persie craving service – because there doesn’t seem to be a link between midfield and attack.
Nevertheless, United can’t complain about claiming seven points from four games – equaling title contenders Manchester City and Chelsea’s point tally – but they’ll need to improve in the final third if they intend on being victorious in next week’s Manchester Derby.
Ozil proves his worth, while Ramsey continues to dominate
Mesut Ozil displayed to Premier League fans why he was worth the £42.5m Arsenal splashed on him at the end of the transfer window. The German international enjoyed a fantastic debut for the Gunners, and was one of the few influential players in a third consecutive Arsenal victory. It took the German 11 minutes to make a statement, as he ran into space and calmly brought down a long ball, which he squared for Olivier Giroud, who gave Arsenal an early lead.
Ozil laterally glided across the final third, combining with wingers and dropping into midfield to overload central areas. Overloading central areas in midfield has been a feat in Arsenal’s approach over the past few matches – Ozil and Wilshere dropped into deeper to help Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini assert their dominance in midfield. Ozil was most threatening on the counter attack, where he played two defence splitting passes, sending Theo Walcott 1v1 with Keiren Westwood, but the Sunderland keeper denied Walcott on both occasions. Ozil was imperious throughout the match, specifically in the first half, where he was allowed to attack pockets of space in the final third.
Frankly, Paolo Di Canio’s approach to the match was lethargic. His side sat in two banks of four with his forwards failing to apply pressure to the centre backs and his midfield sitting off – with Adam Johnson tucking in – which allowed Flamini and Ramsey to dictate the tempo of the match and Kieran Gibbs to freely surge into advanced positions.
Sunderland improved in the second half, and was awarded a penalty when Laurent Koscielny committed a clumsy challenge on Adam Johnson, which substitute Craig Gardner converted. Di Canio’s men limited the gaps of space in midfield, sitting narrow and compact, and Arsenal struggled to break them down. Meanwhile, Johnson began to penetrate in wide areas, and Sunderland was catching the Gunners out of shape on the counter. Wenger’s men were fortunate not to go down a goal, when referee Martin Atkinson wrongfully halted play when Jozy Altidore was clearly fouled by Bacary Sagna – but Altidore was on a clear breakaway and put the ball in the back of the net.
Arsenal took advantage of their fortunes minutes later when Jenkinson got forward and played in a wonderful cross to Ramsey, who displayed great skill to volley the ball past Westwood. Ramsey put the match out of reach when he made a pass to Ozil and ran into space and collected a pass from Giroud, after he combined with Ozil. Ramsey was superb defensively, and he continues to show maturity going forward in midfield.
This was one of the better Arsenal performances over the past few years, albeit it coming against a feeble Sunderland side.
Eriksen makes his mark
Spurs bounced back to winning ways with a convincing victory against Norwich City. Andre Villas-Boas handed Christian Eriksen his Tottenham debut, and the Danish midfielder flourished. A significant factor in Spurs’ loss to Arsenal two weeks ago was a link between midfield and attack, and Eriksen filled that void in a fantastic manner.
Eriksen received balls between the lines and played key passes out wide and penetrating balls between defenders. The Danish midfielder provided a defence-splitting pass for Gylfi Sigurdsson’s opener and his ball out wide to an advancing Paulinho led to Sigurdsson’s second goal.
Villas-Boas men cruised through the match due to Norwich’s lack of pressure and defensive structure. Soldado dropped into midfield and wide areas to link play, Dembele and Paulinho were allowed time to play sideways passes into wide areas and push forward, Sigurdsson drifted infield and made runs from midfield, while Andros Townsend’s direct running caused the Norwich backline several problems.
Norwich rarely provided an attacking threat, but they did identify spaced behind Kyle Walker to exploit. Chris Hughton’s men attacked the right side several times, and they created their best chance of the match by doing so. Nathan Redmond broke free behind Walker and played a ball into the six-yard box for Ricky van Wolfswinkel, but Danny Rose recovered well and cleared the danger.
The inclusion of Eriksen to the Spurs squad is a massive improvement – they now possess an attacking link that can create chances in the final third, which is an element AVB’s men required in their quest for Champions League football.
Naismith nods unbeaten Everton past Chelsea
Roberto Martinez earned his first win as Everton manager this weekend, as his men showed grit and resilience to fend off a strong Chelsea side. Samuel Eto’o and Gareth Barry made debuts for their clubs, while Juan Mata started in a no.10 role for the Blues. It was a tight opening half that saw Everton maintain a slight advantage in possession, but Chelsea got into better areas in the final third. John Obi Mikel tracked Leon Osman, Ramires kept tabs on Ross Barkley, and Mata pressed Barry when he dropped deep, while Eto’o occupied both centrebacks.
Mourinho’s men aimed to hit the Toffees on the counter, but they failed to make the most of their chances. Mata slowed down the tempo when Chelsea broke on the counter, Eto’o lacked match sharpness and Andre Schurrle was poor in front of goal. Ramires and Mikel were allowed space in midfield to play forward passes, while the attacking three drifted between the lines to receive the ball in pockets of space.
Eto’o didn’t have a poor debut, and in the first half he displayed why he’s a better option than Fernando Torres and Demba Ba. Mourinho wants his centre forward to link play with the attacking three and interchange with them, thus providing fluidity in the final third. In the opening 45 minutes, Eto’o drifted to the right flank to allow overloads and connect with midfielders making forward runs. The Cameroonian striker should’ve handed the Blues the lead in the first half but Schurrle played a poor pass to the striker allowing Barry to block his shot.
For all of Everton’s possession, they failed to create legitimate goal-scoring chances, often being stifled around the 18-yard box, but the Toffee’s found an area to attack. Surprisingly, Baines and Coleman were cautious about moving forward – and it was logical based on the space left available to expose on the counter – yet Coleman was more adventurous with his positioning. There was vacant space behind Cole to exploit on the right, encouraging Naismith and Coleman to overload the right flank. Despite Eden Hazard replicating the great defensive work of Naismith in tracking back, Barkley often drifted over to the right to maintain a numerical advantage.
Everton took the lead at the stroke of half time when Ramires was dispossessed in midfield. The attack was pushed to the right and a cross was played into Nikica Jelavic, and the Croatian nodded the cross back to an open Naismith, who headed the ball in from two yards out. Terry was left marking space, while Cole failed to track Coleman’s run into the box, and after several attempts to exploit space on the right hand side, Martinez’s men succeeded.
Chelsea rallied in the second half, upping the tempo and applying more pressure, but the Blues created minimal chances. Mourinho introduced Oscar and Frank Lampard for the unimpressive Schurrle and Mata, but they didn’t have a significant impact on the match. Martinez reverted to a 4-5-1, introducing James McCarthy for Jelavic, thus leaving Mirallas, Barkley and Naismith upfront – three players capable of causing havoc on the counter. Mourinho’s last attempt to salvage a result saw him introduce Torres for Cole, pushing Mikel to centre back and David Luiz to the left – but Torres was poor and Luiz didn’t offer much going forward.
Osman and Naismith were standout performers on the defensive end – Naismith tracked back effortlessly to prevent Eden Hazard from isolating Coleman, while despite failing to dictate the match, Osman prevented Chelsea’s midfield from dominating midfield.
Also, Barkley continues to display his significance to this Everton side, as he used his pace, trickery and vision to help Everton break on the counter, while playing a few key passes in the final third.
Chelsea produced a good performance, which should’ve seen them up a goal or two in the first half, but the lack of quality in the final third led to their downfall – Everton took their chance and defended admirably in the second half, which merited three points.
Saints lack creative spark against Hammers
Southampton was one of many Premier League sides that made significant improvements in the summer, which has tipped many to believe that they could finish in the top half, this season. Yet, they’ve been ridiculed for their lack of creativity in their attack. Mauricio Pochettino continued to experiment with Rickie Lambert and Pablo Daniel Osvaldo upfront, but once again they failed to have test the West Ham back line.
Sam Allardyce’s men pressed West Ham on goal kicks and when they aimed to play from the back, forcing Pochettino’s men to concede possession. Ravel Morrison, Kevin Nolan and Mark Noble closed down Victor Wanyama and Morgan Schneiderlin, who struggled to get forward to join the attack. Southampton created a handful of chances throughout the match, but Jussi Jaaskelainen made several top saves to keep the score leveled. Adam Lallana and Jay Rodriguez drifted centrally, while Lambert moved into wide areas to receive the ball, but the quality in the final third was dire. Pochettino’s men improved in the second half with Schneiderlin occasionally making darting runs into the box, Rodriguez running at defenders from central positions and West Ham’s press dwindling.
West Ham struggled to create opportunities going forward, receiving their best chances from wide areas, specifically Jarvis’ delivery. Allardyce looked for another element of attack by introducing Ricardo Vaz Te, but the Portuguese forward was merely an isolated figure. The Hammers had a chance to take the lead in the dying minutes of the match, but James Collins skied his shot from six yards out.
More importantly, Southampton lack a link between midfield and attack, and the Lambert/Osvaldo experiment is failing miserably, without a creative spark. It was surprising to see James Ward-Prowse enter the match so late, and Pochettino’s reluctance on using Gaston Ramirez. Nevertheless, Southampton drop more points in another match that they dominated, and it’ll be interesting to see how much longer Pochettino sticks with the Lambert/Osvaldo duo and keeps Ramirez on the bench.
Other Results: Stoke City 0-0 Manchester City, Fulham 1-1 West Bromwich Albion, Aston Villa 1-2 Newcastle United, Hull City 1-1 Cardiff City,
- Robin van Persie scores his 125th Premier League goal and the first vs. Crystal Palace. Of the current Premier League clubs, he has now only not yet scored vs. Cardiff City.
- Since the start of 2008/2009, five players have been sent off for fouls on Ashley Young, joint most of all current Premier League players with Scott Parker.
- David Moyes recorded his first-ever win as a Premier League manager at Old Trafford (P13, W1-D4-L8)
- Christian Benteke has now scored 9 goals in his last 10 Premier League home matches for Aston Villa.
- Laurent Koscielny caused his sixth penalty in the Premier League since the start of 2008/09, joint most with Robert Huth, Sebastien Bassong among players now active in PL
- Chelsea’s 7 points after four Premier League matches is the WORST start for the club in the Roman Abramovich era (Jul 2003)
- Everton & Liverpool keep clean sheets in their opening two top-flight home matches of the same season for the first time in history.
@InfostradaLive provided all the stats used in this recap
Follow me @TEEWHYox