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BPL Notebook Matchday 3: Former stars emerge from last season’s misery

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49 million pounds is a large sum of money.

The current transfer market may suggest otherwise, but 49 million pounds is not pocket change. Managers and club owners don’t place 49 million pounds on a player without expectations. Pressure is placed on a player to instantly live up to the price valuation given by clubs, and failure to meet expectation results in potential scrutiny.

Today’s society is all about the present. Patience is limited, and we crave instant success. If our high standards aren’t met, we’re quick to criticize, and search for another source of happiness/greatness to fill the void for the disappointment we endured. This isn’t necessarily a bad mentality to instill when evaluating certain aspects of the everyday human life, but when it’s utilized to evaluate a player’s worth, it can be slightly absurd.

When a club decides to invest a large transfer fee on a player many tend to overlook the various factors associated with the move.

Will the player adapt to a new style of play and demands from the new manager?

Will the player and his family settle into their new lifestyle?

How will the player psychologically cope with transfer pressure or potential backlash from ex-supporters?

If he moves to a new country, will the climate affect him?

The aforementioned questions are generic, and certainly other factors come into play, but many tend to forget that players are also human beings with natural feelings. Players don’t necessarily flop because they’re not good enough to play in a specific league – if that was the case, most clubs wouldn’t even risk wasting money on a potential failure.

Raheem Sterling’s move to Manchester City sparked turmoil amongst Liverpool supporters, and the England international subsequently experienced the negative aspects of a big-money transfer move. What’s frankly supposed to be the pinnacle moment of a footballing career can sometimes backfire and trigger a period of regression.

The resentment towards Sterling’s move is slightly similar to Fernando Torres’ transfer to Chelsea: it’s not that Sterling was at the peak of his career, but the belief that he’d improve his chances elsewhere in England was rather insulting. Two years after playing a key role in a near title triumph, Sterling had joined the eventual winners that season.

Luis Suarez’s departure and Daniel Sturridge’s constant injury issues presented Sterling the opportunity to be the key man at Anfield that he had no interest in considering once he caught the attention of several big clubs in Europe. And even with Sterling’s positional versatility and tactical awareness elevated his overall game, a move to the Etihad was too good to decline.

Though the price-tag merited his potential and his homegrown player eligibility – the latter guarantees price inflation – Sterling’s move was always a risk. This wasn’t comparable to Kevin De Bruyne, who a year prior performed at a world-class level, and was arguably a top-five player in the world. Sterling’s valuation was steep based on the legitimate possibility that he could reach world-class levels sooner than expected.

However, Sterling’s debut season was the antithesis of the player many project he’ll develop into. He initially performed well at the start of the campaign when Manuel Pellegrini implemented two wide wingers in a 4-2-3-1, thus enabling David Silva to operate in a no.10 role behind Sergio Aguero.

The system was promising, and City were rolling over teams, but through injuries, and Pellegrini’s limited tactical prowess, a severe decline ensued. Sterling’s confidence dropped significantly, and his presence within the final third was ineffective – his Capital One Cup final misses from point-blank range against Liverpool epitomized the England international’s poor form throughout most of the season.

Nonetheless, the announcement of Pep Guardiola’s hiring offered optimism for Sterling’s career, though he failed to produce a consistent level of quality performances last season, which carried through into Euro 2016, it was evident change in personnel and footballing philosophy was required at City.

Frankly, Sterling entered a dire situation. The core of the team was simply based on individualism, whereas the manager was incapable of evolving their play during his tenure. City had become predictable, feeble in midfield, and vulnerable to swift counter-attacks in transition.

Although we’re only three games into the Premier League season, Guardiola’s shift in culture has already showcased vast improvement, and Sterling is proving to be the main beneficiary. This shouldn’t be a surprise when you assess Guardiola’s track record, turning players such as Sergio Busquets, David Alaba and Jerome Boateng into world-class stars, whilst maximizing the talents of youngsters Pedro Rodriguez and Kingsley Coman in past seasons.

Guardiola’s 4-1-4-1 pushes David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne in deeper positions, with the full-backs occupying narrow half-spaces, to limit counter-attacking threats, whilst dominating central areas. Meanwhile, the wingers are responsible for stretching the pitch by hugging the touch-line – ultimately, Guardiola prefers to position the wide men into 1v1 isolation scenarios by dominating the centre and quickly moving the ball into wide areas.

The tactical rejig has resulted in Sterling completing the most take-on’s, winning the most fouls, and surprisingly registering a match-high four tackles at Stoke. Sterling’s dribbling and pace led to two penalty kicks in the opening weeks, but now he’s also overcoming his poor finishing in the penalty box.

Perhaps Sterling’s finishing against West Ham weren’t necessarily difficult, but it highlights the contrast between last year’s confidence and the faith Guardiola has instilled in the youngster. Sterling may have skied his opener over the net under Pellegrini, whereas his ability to round the keeper and coolly slot the ball into an open net is a heavily underrated trait that is solely displayed by the top players.

Leroy Sane’s eventual debut definitely puts Sterling’s starting spot in jeopardy, but at the moment, he represents a rejuvenated tricky wide player under Guardiola. Often unsure of his duties in his debut season, Sterling appears well aware of his role at the Etihad, and if he can continue to torment opposing defences around the final third, whilst adding goals to his game, he may eventually join the list of aforementioned world-beaters.

49 million pounds is undoubtedly an astronomical fee for a 20-year-old, but if you nurture his growth, and provide an ideal tactical platform to maximize his strengths, with time, the player’s value slowly becomes priceless.

Pressing battle exploits weaknesses of Spurs and Liverpool

A showdown between two of the top pressing sides in the league vividly exposed Liverpool and Spurs deficiencies this weekend.

Spurs were behind the Liverpool defence within the opening minute through a mental/defensive lapse that enabled Dele Alli to break forward via a thrown-in, which left many to believe the Reds’ mental lapses would surface again. Yet minutes later, Spurs succumbed to Liverpool’s pressing, and Christian Eriksen’s giveaway saw Liverpool break swiftly into the box, but Philippe Coutinho’s tame effort was saved by Spurs goalkeeper, Michael Vorm.

Klopp’s Liverpool have been impressive against the top-sides in the division, and here, their pressing was once again vital. More importantly, the German’s major decision to drop Daniel Sturridge for Sadio Mane on the right proved wise. Mane was the key man throughout the first half by constantly bypassing Danny Rose, and cleverly charging behind the defence only to be denied by Vorm’s efficient sweeper-keeping.

When Mane wasn’t bamboozling the Spurs defence, he was tracking back to ensure Rose didn’t pose a threat from left-back. Spurs were simply stifled going forward. Apart from Toby Alderweireld’s distribution from centre-back, they encountered difficulties bypassing Liverpool’s press.

Mauricio Pochettino’s men were fortunate not to be trailing by a few goals at the hour mark: a combination of Vorm’s goalkeeping, several last-ditch defensive blocks, and a fortuitous offside call following a slick Liverpool break – stemming from a poor Erik Dier pass – kept the hosts in the game. But as the pressing levels decreased in the second half, both sides improved from open play.

Adam Lallana began to locate space between the lines to receive the ball and ignite forward moves. Spurs, on the other hand, found space through Dier’s advanced positioning at right-back as Liverpool dropped into a 4-5-1 out of possession. To no surprise, it was Alderweireld’s diagonal ball over makeshift left-back James Milner that bypassed the Liverpool press and Dier’s cross led to Rose’s equalizer. Kyle Walker’s departure due to injury, thus resulting in Vincent Janssen’s arrival upfront may have encouraged Spurs to deliver more crosses into the box, but they clearly need increase their productivity in wide areas throughout a match.

Conte’s Chelsea inspired by rejuvenated Hazard

Eden Hazard has a point to prove. The Belgian’s fall from grace last season was surreal, and similar to Sterling, he’s performing at an extremely high-level under a newly appointed manager.

Hazard, however, ended last season on high, and carried his form into Euro 2016 where the Belgian captain dazzled despite exiting the tournament prematurely. Likewise, Hazard is one of many Chelsea players that displayed signs of progress in what has been the most comfortable triumph of the Conte era thus far.

The early lead settled nerves as Hazard went on one of his trademark runs, but opposed to passing to a teammate, he coolly slotted his shot into the far corner. It’s the type of selflessness that’s been disrupting Hazard’s growth: The Chelsea player always gets into good areas with his dribbling, but is reluctant to shoot around the box.

Another key take from Chelsea’s win was the constant switches of play during lengthy spells of possession, and Oscar’s late diagonal runs into half space and the channels to create 3v2 situations on the right flank. Defensively, Chelsea were rarely tested due to their counter-pressing in midfield when they lost possession, and Gray’s failure to hold up the play and link with his teammates.

Chelsea’s profligacy in the final third – mainly through Hazard and Diego Costa – prevented a potential onslaught at Stamford Bridge, despite the noticeable limitations throughout the squad as Conte’s philosophy is quickly settling into the players’ mindset. N’Golo Kante’s work-rate is protecting the back four, and enabling Nemanja Matic and Oscar to harry opponents when they pass half, while Hazard and Diego Costa are show signs of the form that proved decisive in Blues 2014-2015 triumph.

Conte still requires reinforcements if Chelsea intend on challenging the Manchester clubs until May, but if that fails, maximizing the talent of Hazard and Costa without the burden of European competitions could be an effective plan B.

Mourinho’s United save it for late

Manchester United may have dropped points at Hull, had this been the Louis van Gaal or David Moyes era. A match United thoroughly dominated from start to finish required a stoppage time winner from Marcus Rashford to preserve United’s unbeaten start to the season.

Unlike Mourinho’s predecessors, the Portuguese manager’s side are finding ways to win when they don’t play well. Southampton’s trip to Old Trafford required brilliance from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and here, despite United’s territorial dominance, the away side produced a flat first half performance.

The intent to move the ball forward quicker and penetrate in advanced areas is vivid, but their best chances in the first half stemmed through hopeful crosses into Ibrahimovic from wide players. United, however, experienced a few issues with their overall shape in both phases once again – while the back four remains solid, the midfield and attack are still somewhat unconvincing.

Marouane Fellaini and Paul Pogba offer a combination of power and drive in a midfield duo, but did a poor job of protecting space between the lines, which Adama Diomande consistently exploited in transition. Luckily for United, Hull’s counter-attacking threat was scarce, and Erik Bailly comfortably negated Abel Hernandez’s hold up play throughout the second.

The other issue persists upfront where United lack dynamism around the final third.

Pogba’s willingness to go forward is positive, and though his combinations with Juan Mata and Ibrahimovic are promising, everything appears improvised. There were moments in the match where Ibrahimovic dropped deeper to pick up the ball, and no runners charged beyond the defence – a key element to PSG’s attack during the Swede’s time in Paris. Anthony Martial has shown glimpses of the threat he posed last year, whereas for all of Mata’s ball retention skills and occasional nifty passes, the Spaniard is still lacking an x-factor around the box.

However, Mourinho’s second half alterations offered a direct element to United’s game that improved the away side’s performance. The hosts couldn’t cope with Marcus Rashford and Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s direct running from deep positions: the former forced a good save and delivered a sensational cross that Ibrahimovic should have scored, whereas the latter won free-kicks in dangerous positions when he broke away in transition.

United’s winner caught Hull out of position, as great work from Wayne Rooney led to a Rashford tap-in, which was quite deserving considering the youngster’s impact off the bench. Rashford and Mkhitaryan will now place pressure on Mourinho to make alterations to his XI, and with the derby approaching, a tactical rejig wouldn’t be farfetched.

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Arsenal’s passing dynamos overwhelm Watford

Arsenal’s efficient first half display was enough to decrease the pressure surrounding the club, following a poor start to the current campaign. Olivier Giroud was still unavailable to start, but the return of Mesut Ozil and a second consecutive start for Granit Xhaka in midfield proved too much for Walter Mazzarri’s men.

Watford’s success last season derived via the combination of Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo upfront, but the duo has yet to combine consistently under Mazzarri. Wing-backs Nordin Amrabat and Jose Holebas offered the Gunner’s back-line a few scares, but the hosts didn’t harm Petr Cech in the first half.

With central areas congested, Arsenal also found joy in wide areas: Alexis constantly charged into the left channel to pester Younes Kaboul, and the Chilean’s combinations with Ozil were breathtaking. Arsenal’s marquee signings combined on several occasions including the build up to Arsenal’s opener – an Ozil clipped pass that resulted in Alexis suffering a foul in the box – and the third goal which saw Ozil nod Alexis’ cross past Heurelho Gomes.

Xhaka’s influence from deep was also pivotal towards Arsenal’s success: the midfielder received time and space to play a combination of short and long forward passes, but his ability to break up play thwarted Watford’s attack on a few occasions. Wenger has desperately lacked a player capable of being effective in both roles simultaneously, and Xhaka should restore order in Arsenal’s midfield.

Watford’s attempt to rescue the match witnessed a shift to a 4-4-2 diamond, and although substitute Roberto Pereyra narrowed Arsenal’s lead, Xhaka was still free to string passes together from deeper, and Ozil was drifting into space between the lines to combine with advanced runners.

Arsenal’s passing and swift transitions unraveled the hosts, but majority of their work out of possession was positive, and Wenger’s men must identify some consistency in this area. With new signings arriving and key players expected to return from injury, the mini-crisis Arsenal endured should be an afterthought sooner rather than later.

Results: Spurs 1-1 Liverpool, Chelsea 3-0 Burnley, Crystal Palace 1-1 Bournemouth, Everton 1-0 Stoke City, Leicester 2-1 Swansea City, Southampton 1-1 Sunderland, Watford 1-3 Arsenal, Hull City 0-1 Manchester United, West Bromwich Albion 0-0 Middlesbrough, Manchester City 3-1 West Ham United

Weekend Stats

  • Raheem Sterling has directly contributed to five goals in his last three appearances for Manchester City (2 goals, 3 assists).
  • Marcus Rashford is the first teenager to score a Premier League goal under a side managed by Jose Mourinho.
  • Chelsea have won consecutive home league games for the first time since May 2015.
  • Both Manchester clubs have won their first three league games in the same season for only the second time in their history (also in 2011/2012)
  • Claudio Ranieri has won his 100th Premier League game as a manager & is the fifth non British/Irish boss to reach the landmark.
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Posted by on August 29, 2016 in EPL, Published Work


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BPL Notebook Matchday 2: Top Clubs make statement, last year’s achievers suffer from goal drought, same ol’ Liverpool?

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It felt like an eternity since Old Trafford was filled with such excitement. The last three seasons have been slightly excruciating for Manchester United supporters, but it appears that Jose Mourinho is ready to put the days of underachievement behind the club.

Similar to the other top clubs vying for the title, United is still a work in progress, but Mourinho’s ability of preparing his sides to earn results is pivotal. As a whole, they weren’t spectacular, but the back four was flawless once again, and marquee signings Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic rose to the occasion.

Where many have failed to live up to the United bill – whilst crumbling at the pressure surrounding Old Trafford – Pogba and Ibrahimovic have taken a step towards justifying their summer transfers. Some said Ibrahimovic was too old, but he’s now notched the Community Shield winner, and was the goal-scoring hero on Southampton’s visit to Old Trafford.

Frankly, Ibrahimovic’s goal presented a sigh of relief, considering Southampton were in full control prior. A midfield trio of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Steven Davis and substitute Jordy Clasie were dictating the tempo of the match with ease, as United constantly conceded possession, but the away side lacked any threat around the box.

Dusan Tadic drifted into clever positions but failed to create chances for his teammates, whereas the striker partnership of Shane Long and Nathan Redmond were underwhelming. Full-backs Matt Targett and Cedric’s crosses didn’t connect with the former – he clearly lacks the pace to get past opponents – whereas the latter constantly dropped into midfield or to the right flank to run at players.

The away side were getting into dangerous positions but were unable to get behind the United defence, thus highlighting the significance of Sadio Mane and Graziano Pelle’s departure. The contrast between the two sides attacking options were vivid when you assess their best chances – Long quickly scuffed a low shot at David De Gea despite breaking free into the United box, while Ibrahimovic towered over Jose Fonte to nod a powerful header past the keeper.

It was Ibrahimovic’s first clear-cut chance of the night, and he comfortably slotted a penalty kick won by Luke Shaw in the second half to double United’s lead. Pogba, on the other hand, completed a full 90 minutes in midfield, and appeared unfazed by his massive transfer fee. Ander Herrera’s passing in United’s opener suggested he may play a key role in Mourinho’s XI, but Pogba completely tarnished that notion.

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The Frenchman’s first touch of the match may have indicated otherwise – a poor pass that resulted in a quick Southampton counter-attack. But Pogba nonchalantly evaded challenges with his powerful dribbling, and his clever chipped pass towards Juan Mata in half space nearly resulted in a highlight reel Ibrahimovic goal.

United’s midfield offered the power that’s been non-existent in recent years: Marouane Fellaini and Pogba are aerially competent, and are more than capable of shrugging off opponents when required. When Pogba sat deeper and passed with precision, and when surging forward with the ball he represented the link between defence and attack.

In Pogba and Ibrahimovic, Mourinho has addressed issues the club have ignored for years – with the former it simply involved power and dynamism in midfield. Likewise, United haven’t possessed a clinical penalty box finisher since Robin van Persie’s debut season at the club. That year United won the title, and if Ibrahimovic maintains his current form, history may repeat itself.


Guardiola’s City swiftly takes shape

Sergio Aguero has been Manchester City’s saviour from the moment he moved to England, but Pep Guardiola’s attempt to reduce the heavy reliance on individualism is slowly coming to fruition.

Aguero added another two league goals to his tally – taking his weekly total to five – but City’s significant improvement from their opening weekend display was collective. City were dominant in the first half, stifling Mark Hughes’ Stoke City attempt to build attacks from the back and quickly retaining possession near the hosts’ box.

Even with Fernandinho pressed out of the match, City were still relatively fluid going forward. Nicolas Otamendi’s passing out the back was positive, Raheem Sterling’s dribbling troubled defenders, and Kevin De Bruyne constantly darted through the right channel to deliver quality crosses into the box.

Perhaps City’s midweek trip to Romania resulted in fatigue to a fairly unchanged squad, but going two goals ahead merited the away side’s declined passing tempo. Bojan’s second half penalty kept the score-line close, but Guardiola’s men were untested throughout. Late counter-attacks witnessed substitutes Kelechi Iheanacho and Nolito increase City’s lead, but in fairness, their first half performance – a combination of mesmeric passing, intelligent movement, and intense pressing – away from the Etihad was an upgrade to previous displays under Manuel Pellegrini and Roberto Mancini.

It may be worrying that City aren’t scoring or creating enough goals from open play, and Guardiola will be aiming to improve that area swiftly.  Guardiola’s philosophy should improve various elements of City’s game on a weekly basis, but while Spaniard attempts to fix their slight issue in possession, his side still appears better suited in counter-attacking scenarios.

Conte’s system alteration proves decisive

They saved it for late yet again, and Conte’s bold changes can be identified as the catalyst behind Chelsea’s perfect start to the season. Still opting to field his side in a hardworking 4-3-3 system, Chelsea’s subdued attack provided minimal scares for Walter Mazzarri’s Watford outfit.

Chelsea pressed well from the front to fluster Watford’s back-line – out of possession they kept Watford at bay – but one of the main issues the Blues currently experience is the lack of creativity and penetration from central areas. Nemanja Matic and Oscar offer tenacious work-rate, positional discipline, and physicality in midfield, but their passing is mediocre, which explains why Chelsea’s buildup play is somewhat lethargic. Much credit goes to N’Golo Kante who ensured Chelsea weren’t exposed in midfield, whilst maintaining the Blues’ passing rhythm once possession was regained.

It doesn’t help that Pedro Rodriguez offensive threat from the right is scarce, while Branislav Ivanovic has transformed into a liability on both ends. To make matters worse, a stunning strike from Etienne Capoue – Watford’s first legitimate chance of the game – put the hosts ahead with little over a half hour remaining.

Nevertheless, a switch from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-4 following the introduction of Victor Moses, Michy Batshuayi and Cesc Fabregas tipped the balance. Fabregas played ahead of Kante, Batshuayi offered an additional penalty box presence, while Hazard maintained width on the right as Moses attacked defenders from the left.

Watford’s decision to sit deeper to preserve their lead benefitted Conte’s side, and a simple Batshuayi tap-in – stemming from goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes failure to hold Hazard’s shot from distance – served as an equalizer. Minutes later, Fabregas recovered possession and instantly clipped a pass behind the Watford defence for Costa to run onto and notch his second winning goal of the season. It was a vintage move between the two Spaniards often utilized during Chelsea’s title-winning run two seasons ago, and another piece of evidence highlighting Conte’s astute mid-game tweaks.

It’s no secret Conte prefers to play with two strikers upfront, but the current squad at his disposal is better suited in a 4-3-3 to maintain a compact defensive structure. However, Fabregas’ creativity and a promising Batshuayi – Costa partnership may turn the Italian manager’s head.

New season, same Liverpool?

If Liverpool’s win over Arsenal at the Emirates was a statement to their league rivals and potential title contenders, then a loss at Burnley quickly erased any fear Jurgen Klopp’s men were aiming to impose. A loss away to Burnley showcased the issues Liverpool have suffered in recent years: they perform well against the top teams, but severely underachieve when given the onus to break down inferior opposition.

Saturday’s loss at Turf Moor was no different, and Klopp would be highly disappointed that both goals conceded were via moves his teams are renowned for. Nathaniel Clyne succumbed to Burnley’s high pressing, and his loose pass resulted in a terrific Sam Vokes finish. Later in the half, newly-acquired midfielder, Steven Defour, charged through midfield and played in Andre Gray to double Burnley’s lead.

Apart from the goals, the hosts broke into Liverpool’s half twice, via Gray’s pace, but failed to test Reds keeper, Simon Mignolet. Therefore, Liverpool struggled to get behind Burnley’s low-defensive block, and didn’t receive quality service from wide areas to trouble the hosts’ back-line.

The weird feat regarding Liverpool’s XI was the decision to start Daniel Sturridge from the right. Sturridge was often seen dropping near the half-way line to pick up the ball, but he rarely posed a scare in Burnley’s half. Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana combined occasionally in left half space, but the former continuously struck audacious shots from distance wide of the net.

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The main contrast in Liverpool’s two matches was the amount of space the opposition presented. Klopp’s men comfortably exploited an expansive Arsenal side last week, but here, Burnley remained deep and clogged central space – at times they had a six-man defence with George Boyd and Scott Arfield aligned with the back four to complete defensive duties – thus forcing the Reds to shoot from distance.

Liverpool must maintain a level of consistency in both results and performances if they intend on securing a top-four finish this season.

Arsenal & Leicester continue to struggle in front of goal

This wasn’t the tight, cautious encounter often expected between two top-sides, despite last year’s champions and runner-ups recorded the first score-less draw of the season. Arsenal and Leicester remain win-less to start the season, which isn’t ideal considering many tip both sides to miss out on the top four this season.

From an offensive view, Arsenal’s buildup was slightly improved via Granit Xhaka’s passing, but the Gunners remained underwhelming in the final third. Alexis Sanchez’s occasionally linked play upfront but was fairly anonymous, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s powerful running served as the away side’s sole goal-scoring threat.

Leicester offered better structure in their home opener with Shinji Okazaki applying pressure to Xhaka from deep, while the inclusion of Nampalys Mendy ensured central areas were protected. But Leicester’s issue upfront is dissimilar to Arsenal’s – to be frank, Claudio Ranieri’s attack is fairly predictable.

Danny Drinkwater’s diagonals and quick Kasper Schmeichel releases into the channel for Jamie Vardy are being coped with, and though Riyad Mahrez’s trickery still bamboozles defenders, finishing in the final third has been wayward – an issue Vardy is equally suffering from as well. Hull City and Arsenal have maintained deeper defensive lines to limit Leicester’s counter-attacking threat, and the champions still look unconvincing when they dominate possession.

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Arsenal, on the other hand, simply miss Olivier Giroud’s presence in the box. While many Arsenal supporters would prefer a better centre-forward, at the moment, the Gunners issues derive from a non-existent penalty box threat.

Giroud remains an underrated Premier League striker, but his ability to bring runners into play, and attack crosses into the box is invaluable at the Emirates. Theo Walcott struggles to time his runs beyond the defence, and despite Alexis’ wonderful skill-set, he’s been ineffective as a lone striker.

With little over a week remaining in the transfer window, you would expect both managers to address their attacking issues, but with few options available in the transfer market, they may have to rely on applying minimal tactical tweaks to their starting XI.

Sunderland require plan B upfront.

Cristhian Stuani scored two wonderful goals Sunday afternoon to hand Middlesbrough their first win of the season, but it’s difficult to overlook Sunderland’s issues upfront. A long-distance screamer and a wonderful passing move punished the Black Cats, following a dominant first half display from the away side, but Sunderland sparked a promising second half fight-back.

Jeremain Lens replaced Paddy McNair, and moved within close proximity of Jermain Defoe at half-time, while Lynden Gooch slotted into midfield alongside Steven Pienaar. Lens’ presence offered additional pressure to Middlesbrough’s defence and his ability to play with his back to goal forced Aitor Karanka’s men towards their penalty box.

Sunderland found joy down the left flank where they exposed Stuani’s – a forward by trade – reluctance to track Patrick van Aanholt’s adventurous runs forward, which further ignited a brief turnaround. Duncan Watmore and Steven Pienaar combined with the advancing full-back throughout the second half, as the hosts’ goal stemmed through this route of attack when Van Aanholt charged into the box to tap in a rebound from Watmore’s initial shot.

Following Brad Guzan inability to hold onto Adnan Januzaj’s shot minutes later, Sunderland’s attack failed to create another clear-cut chance. Middlesbrough created second half openings through Alvaro Negredo’s hold-up play at half, and here, Sunderland may have flourished with a natural target-man alongside Defoe.

Look no further than Defoe’s equalizer against Manchester City to witness the threat the Sunderland striker offers, but with minimal space available behind the opposing back-line, the England international’s threat remains scarce. Likewise, if Sunderland experience extensive spells without possession, Defoe playing off a striker would prove beneficial.

Moyes’ men won’t receive many opportunities to dominate games, but the current state of his attacking quartet doesn’t suggest Sunderland will score enough goals to survive this season.

West Ham injury issues halts growth

It took Harry Arter’s senseless foul on Cheikhou Kouyate – which resulted in the Bournemouth midfielder’s dismissal – for Slaven Bilic’s men to look threatening in the final third and claim their first win of the season. West Ham were poor against Chelsea, and were equally underwhelming against a much weaker Bournemouth side at home.

Bournemouth’s full-backs remained high, and West Ham’s decision to drop off into a 4-5-1 enabled Arter and Andrew Surman time and space to play forward passes into wide positions. The away side’s attack suffered, however, due to Jordon Ibe drifting centrally into congested areas only to be dispossessed, while Callum Wilson was out-muscled by West Ham centre-backs Winston Reid, and James Collins. West Ham’s attacking threat was also unconvincing, but they found some joy via Gokhan Tore first half display, where he dominated full-back, Charlie Daniels poor positioning at left-back.

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Neither side offered a substantial goal-threat in the second half, but Arter’s dismissal shifted the balance of the match. Bournemouth shifted to a narrow 4-4-1, but were ultimately undone by West Ham’s width. Unsurprisingly, it was Tore picking up Mikhail Antonio’s over-hit cross and providing a better delivery for the unmarked Englishman to nod past Artur Boruc.

Injuries to Sofiane Feghouli, Andre Ayew and Manuel Lanzini are evidently responsible for West Ham’s torpid attack, but Dimitri Payet’s influence is clearly missed at London Stadium. Without Payet, West Ham are deprived of creativity, a genuine set-piece specialist, and penetrative passing in the final third.

Payet’s return should see West Ham shift to a 4-2-3-1 that offers the Frenchman freedom to dictate play between the lines. At the moment, they simply lack guile and the element of unpredictability in attacking zones that was responsible for their success last season. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Bilic was counting down the days until his injured players return, as West Ham’s overall attacking play has been average.

Results: Manchester United 2-0 Southampton, Stoke City 1-4 Manchester City, Watford 1-2 Chelsea, Crystal Palace 0-1 Spurs, West Brom 1-2 Everton, Burnley 2-0 Liverpool, Swansea City 0-2 Hull City, Leicester 0-0 Arsenal, Sunderland 1-2 Middlesbrough, West Ham 1-0 Bournemouth

Weekend Stats

  • Michail Antonio has scored a joint-high seven headed goals in the Premier League since the start of 2015-16 (level with Giroud).
  • Patrick van Aanholt (4) has scored more Premier League goals in 2016 than any other defender
  • Leicester’s unbeaten run at home now stands at 16 Premier League games (W10 D6), since losing to Arsenal in September 2015.
  • Since returning to the Premier League, Cesc Fabregas has more assists than any other player (26)
  • Sergio Aguero is the top scoring player in the Premier League so far in 2016 (18 goals in 19 games)
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Posted by on August 22, 2016 in EPL, Published Work


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