Premier League expert Alex Keble runs through the best and worst from the 2019/20 season-opening round of games.
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- Watch the goals as United run riot over Lampard's Chelsea
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- VAR denies Wolves a winner
- Man Utd’s new emphasis on speed
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has spent the summer moving Manchester United in a new tactical direction.
The acquisitions of Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, coupled with Anthony Martial’s re-emergence as a key player during pre-season, point to the Norwegian manager’s desire to put emphasis on speed and direct attacking play this campaign.
In the first half against Chelsea, that led to a chaotic and stretched match in which the hosts could have gone 2-0 down. However, once United dropped back, inviting Chelsea possession, they were able to counter-attack at breakneck speed through the heart of midfield. James, Martial, Jesse Lingard, and Marcus Rashford will all excel in a system that relies on countering at speed, while Paul Pogba will enjoy the Hollywood passing options his team-mates’ runs will create.
All three second-half goals were from quick breaks and, following the sudden success at Old Trafford, Solskjaer may choose to play on the counter regularly this season. If he wants to let individual players break the tactical lines and dribble directly at the opponent, then he needs the structure and security of a deep-lying defence.
- Pochettino’s tactical switch that showed Eriksen’s importance
Fielding a narrow 4-4-2 diamond for the visit of Aston Villa proved to be a mistake, their lack of width meaning Villa’s weakest areas – the full-back positions – went relatively untested. The pitch was too cluttered and, because Jack Grealish and John McGinn both performed well, Spurs just could not break the visitors down. However, in the 64th minute Mauricio Pochettino switched to a 4-2-3-1 and introduced Christian Eriksen in the number ten role.
Eriksen immediately dictated the game, linking the lines of midfield and attack while winning multiple corners and free-kicks – the source of two of Spurs’ three second-half goals. Their set-pieces in particular forced Villa into retreat, creating increasingly desperate defending that – predictably – led to late goals following pin-ball goalmouth action and deflections.
For Tottenham to challenge for the Premier League title this season they will need to dig deep with late wins, scrapping for unlikely points as Liverpool did in 2018/19. Pochettino might have made a mistake at the outset, but his ability to correct it tells us more about the Spurs manager.
- Brighton’s positivity with Potter in charge
The 3-0 scoreline perhaps flattered a Brighton side who amassed just five shots in total and scored with every single one on target, but the overall attacking positivity of Graham Potter’s side made victory a just reward for their boldness.
Potter made a double substitution in the 64th minute and both strikers introduced, Florin Andone and Neal Maupay, ended up on the score sheet – but that’s not why Potter deserves credit for the change.
Making such an attacking switch when already leading 1-0 was brave, highlighting the English manager’s emphasis on expansive football and his belief in the squad’s ability to outplay their opponents.
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- Early VAR controversy shows it will overshadow the season
Whether you believe VAR made the correct calls over the weekend or got key decisions wrong, whether you believe said calls were subjective or objective, whether you think VAR is good or bad for the game, and whether you find it interesting or boring to talk about, there is one thing we can all agree on. It will – for better or worse – overshadow the season.
The original intention of using technology to assist refereeing was to reduce debate, but instead punditry is becoming more tedious than ever.
Already, it is clear we need to review the handball laws and the offside laws for VAR to be used in top-level sport. Already, it is clear VAR changes how the sport is played and how the sport is watched on a fundamental level - and that means endless chat about its use in football.
As the season wears on and the debates become even more tedious, there might just come a point where we collectively start to wonder: Are the benefits of VAR really worth all this?
- Antonio’s defending against Mahrez and Walker
The worst piece of defending in the Premier League this week was Michail Antonio’s throughout the first half at London Stadium.
Manuel Pellegrini will have worked tirelessly on his team’s defensive shape before the visit of the champions, and while everyone else performed their duties diligently Antonio had no interest in tracking back.
Riyad Mahrez dominated down the right because Aaron Cresswell was overwhelmed. At one point, shortly after Mahrez hit the side netting, the left-back threw his arms in the air and screamed at Antonio. It did not work: five minutes later Antonio again jogged listlessly behind the play as Mahrez crossed for Gabriel Jesus’s opener. He was rightly hauled off at half-time.
- Crystal Palace’s attack without Zaha
Having been sent home from training on Thursday by manager Roy Hodgson because his head was not in the right place, Wilfried Zaha was unsurprisingly left on the bench for the visit of Everton on Saturday. Even less surprisingly, that meant Crystal Palace did not score a goal.
Here was a glimpse of what life will be like if Zaha gets sold to a European club this month, and it wasn’t pretty: six shots on goal, with two on target, and just a solitary shot in the 24 minutes following Morgan Schneiderlin’s red card.
Given that Burnley, Brighton, and Sheffield United all made strong starts, it increasingly looks as though Hodgson may have run out of steam at Palace. They are too dull, and too conservative, to avoid a relegation dogfight this season.