Five players f*cked it on Tuesday. Another five did themselves no favours on Wednesday night…
Fred (Manchester United)
It is perhaps a little unfair to single out any Manchester United starter since eight of the XI were generally awful. Not that any of it comes as a surprise. Phil Jones was clumsy before being replaced at half-time; Paul Pogba could barely disguise his apathy; Jesse Lingard was more anonymous than ever; Andreas Pereira was dreadful on the right and even worse on the left. We knew all this.
Fred’s first half, though, was stunningly bad. So bad that I spent half-time trying to recall a worse 45 minutes from a United player in 33 years of going to Old Trafford. Admittedly, that’s on a rather occasional basis and I lived abroad during most of the Kleberson/Djemba-Djemba/Dong years. But my conclusion by the time the second half kicked off and Marcos Rojo passed a ten-yard ball straight out of play was that £52million Fred had just offered up 45 minutes as wretched as I could remember.
I’m not going to use stats to justify that assessment because I haven’t seen any. Numbers weren’t needed to judge the Brazilian’s inability to pass, tackle or even stay out of his team-mates’ way. This was an opportunity for the 26-year-old – not a rookie – midfielder to stake a claim for a rare Premier League start against Arsenal on Monday but the bench beckons once more, and only because of the dearth of other options available to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Pogba, Fred, Perreira, Lingard have all put in a 2/10 against Rochdale.
— Gaz Drinkwater (@Radio_Gaz) September 25, 2019
Rhian Brewster (Liverpool)
Brewster was given the big build-up before his first senior start against MK Dons on Wednesday night. “He’s a complete striker,” said Jurgen Klopp’s assistant Pepijn Lijnders before we were given a rare opportunity to judge for ourselves.
At first glance, the 19-year-old struggled to justify the hype. On his first start almost 30 months after making the bench for the first time in April 2017, Brewster struggled to connect with his team-mates while toiling against League Two defenders. He managed three shots – all off target – while the attackers either side of him (Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott) both enhanced their first-team prospects far more significantly and had double his number of touches on the ball.
Brewster’s development was knocked off course by the serious knee injury that kept him out for a year, but the former Chelsea schoolboy with a Champions League winner’s medal has to catch up quicker. Many of his World Cup-winning England Under-17 team-mates are bypassing the striker and with chances to play in Liverpool’s front line likely to be limited, Brewster must make better use of the opportunities when they come. Maybe the loan he wanted at the start of the season wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
Christian Pulisic (Chelsea)
The visit of Grimsby was Pulisic’s first taste of action this month after the £58million signing lost his place in the wake of the 2-2 draw at home to Sheffield United. Since then, the USA star has been confined to the bench, which is where he seems likely to remain when Chelsea return to Premier League action this weekend.
Against League Two opposition, Pulisic struggled to penetrate and, in the first half, just following his manager’s instructions was a stretch. When discussing Callum Hudson-Odoi and Pulisic’s first-half performances, Lampard said: “As wingers, I thought the message was to hurt the line, run behind and end up in areas inside the box where you’re taking people on. It wasn’t happening and that message didn’t get across because at half-time it had to be reinforced pretty strongly. In the second half we managed to get into better positions.”
In that second half, Hudson-Odoi helped himself to a goal, while Pulisic managed an assist to tee up Michy Batshuayi for his second goal. But that simple lay-off was all the big-money buy could muster on a night Lampard changed his entire XI. With Mason Mount impressing on the left of Chelsea’s attack in the position Pulisic was expected to occupy and Hudson-Odoi ready for the Premier League again, Pulisic could not afford another game on the periphery.
Albian Ajeti (West Ham)
Sebastian Haller has quickly made himself undroppable at West Ham but the trip to Oxford offered fellow summer recruit Ajeti an opportunity to show that should Manuel Pellegrini need an alternative to his £40million centre-forward, then he is ready to step in.
It was a chance wasted by Ajeti. Not that he was given many by his team-mates. One half-chance was all the £8million signing from Basel was able to fashion, and that ended up over the Oxford bar. Pellegrini, who made nine changes to the team which beat Man Utd on Sunday, reluctantly sent Haller on after Oxford opened the scoring in an effort to get Ajeti some support, but still he appeared stranded.
It appears abundantly clear from the evidence of two Carabao Cup appearances against Newport and Oxford that Ajeti will struggle to stand in for Haller in Pellegrini’s single-striker system. With the Hammers thrashed at the Kassam Stadium and knocked out of a domestic cup competition by a League One side for the third successive season, it is hard to see where Ajeti will get the opportunities to offer a glimmer of hope that he might be of any use to Pellegrini without changing his formation.
Ajeti. Well that's what £8m gets you in this market.
— Pride of East London (@prideofeastldn) September 25, 2019
Shane Duffy (Brighton)
One half of one of the Premier League’s most highly-rated centre-back partnerships last season, Duffy has found himself out of the picture under Graham Potter in recent weeks. The new Brighton boss has preferred Adam Webster on the right of his back three, with the £20million summer recruit making the most of his chances.
The visit of Villa on Wednesday offered Duffy his own opportunity to stake a claim for a place which was almost guaranteed before Potter’s arrival. Duffy accepts he deserved to be dropped: “I probably didn’t perform to where their levels are this year so it’s one of them, a kick up the arse and get back at it.”
Duffy was back at it as captain for the night and one of only four players in Brighton’s squad to have played senior football before. The night ended in a 3-1 defeat, with the 27-year-old being spun by Keinan Davis in the build-up to Villa’s second, before Duffy left the ground on crutches after sustaining a calf injury in the 72nd minute.