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Week two knee-jerkery
So now Chelsea are no longer sh*t, Spurs have big issues, Arsenal are still Arsenal, Liverpool are still Liverpool and we still need to see Utd face a tougher test.
Looking forward to Citeh v Everton so we can make some knee-jerk reactions to the clash of the big spenders…
Jon, Joburg (Man U – come on Rooney tonight)
The Chelsea fight is back
I won’t say that we are out of the blocks just yet, but the fight shown in the second half of the Burnley game and yesterday has given me great confidence in Chelsea as the season goes on. It is the kind of defensive performance we did not see so much last year – we did not require to be honest – and doing that with a makeshift team with players playing out of position and new players coming in and blending nonchalantly as if they were playing together for the past few years bodes really well for the team. This kind of dogged team structure and the willingness of the players to adapt to it and to change the team shape if required without even making a dust speck out of place makes Conte a great manager. I hope Roman sees this and help him by giving him with what he needs.
I have to talk about a few players in yesterday’s game.
1. Christensen – This is the day when the lad broke his shell and came out as a man. After a botched clearance trying to control a high ball with his side foot three yards in front of goal , he was absolutely immense. He clearly thwarted everything Spurs, especially Kane, had to throw at Chelsea and he seemed to relish the central role. I know it will be harsh on Cahill, but this lad needs to be given more chances. He is young, fast and clearly has a defensive intelligence to make it big. If he cant make it in the senior team, no one in the academy can.
2. David Luiz – This guy is really stepping it on, be it in defense or midfield. He won the foul in which Alonso scored and won the tackle and swiftly send the ball forward for the winner. Yes, he looked a bit out of place sometimes, but we have to understand that he was playing in a not so familiar role. A real leader in the team.
3. Bakayoko – I saw his almighty run with the ball in at least three separate occasions and boy is he strong and fast? He did not have a perfect game which is understandable as he was rushed in after injury and did not look fully fit. But there was enough in the match to suggest he is going to do well. He looked very much part of the team and was good at disrupting the Spurs flow along with Kante. Once again we have got a raw gem here which needs fine tuning and Conte is the right man for it.
4. Morata – Got a perfect chance at five minutes and he missed it. It was as if he did not expect such an easy header. But we can’t judge him in this match where he was almost alone and Chelsea was not set up to play fluid attacking football where he excels. This was a Drogba type game and that is where he needs to work on. Especially with CL coming, we will definitely be playing some defensive football and he needs to control the long ball and keep hold of it and turn into attack. He was good, especially his movement, whenever we were attacking. The only problem was that he was not strong enough to keep hold of the ball against their strong midfielders and defenders. He will definitely improve.
5. Marcos Alonso – He free kicks like god, he runs, he scores whenever he want, he defends, all without a single strand of his hair out of place. Why do we need an upgrade ? We just need a back-up.
And a word to Spurs. Their fluid movement was a sight to behold. Any other team, I’m sure they would have won. They will win games this season and Wembley is not a factor. On that note, Wembley will be a good home for Chelsea when our stadium renovation time comes. Our record there is phenomenal.
…- If there is one club in England who is an expert at defying odds when there’s perpetual internal chaos to get a result like last night, it has got to be Chelsea.
– Despite the media’s (I look at you low life J Redknapp for saying fans booed the players in GW1 when they were clearly booing the referee) best attempt to create the crisis situation, there was something in Antonio’s pressers and the club’s remarks through the usual unofficial media channels – we’re working together in all ways to find solutions.
– And boy did they? When I read the line-up, I just didn’t know whether it was a 3-4-3 with Moses in the wing for Pedro, a 4-3-3 with Luiz in midfield or a 3-5-2 with Christensen in midfield (yes you heard that right, Conte did try him in that role vs a closed door game against QPR). Antonio bluffed to everyone stating Luiz is a defender. And played a 3-5-1-1.
– The key to understanding last night’s Catenaccio (or smash and grab however you call it), was what Antonio said post game. Luiz was a player of “reference” who played with utmost tactical “discipline” in the system. Conte’s teams are positional to the fabric of their being. Every player has a positional role to play. And some are the point of focus. The center forward for instance Pirlo epitomized it best when playing for Conte. Pirlo was not merely a play maker, he was the reference (like Makelele was under Jose). And why Fabregas never plays Pirlo role is also same – his lack of positional discipline. Luiz was the key to what we did last night.
– Also Kante. And Bakayoko. The midfield three had a positional job to stop Christensen and Alli from getting between lines to cause us problems (see Conte learns). Boy did they do a job. I don’t think Spurs would’ve expected this kind of space pressure in the areas they use to hurt teams. As a result, they had no choice but to go out wide and cross, and the back three were ready for it and cleared it with ease.
– Now on our back three, I potentially think a combination of Christensen-Luiz-Rudiger-Azpilicueta would be Chelsea’s and arguably the league’s best center-back pairings. Yes, there were moments when Kane was terrorizing us (he can do that to anyone) but just playing for their second time together, our back three were phenomenal. I continue my praise for both Christensen and Rudiger. Christensen had a 100% pass completion (squwaka). Think about what Pep might do with him for a moment. And I thank my stars we have him safely in our books. He read danger, blocked dangerous shots, tackled when needed and above all showed a sense of calmness against a team that presses aggressively. Please Antonio, sell Cahill to a mid-table club (and I don’t think even they’d want him). We have enough options in defense.
– And some thoughts on our build-up play. Conte’s system normally depends a lot upon building from the back. In games we struggled last season were against teams that pressed us into errors (Spurs, Pool, Arsenal and even City). The reason was a combination of Ivanovic and Cahill. With our back three comprising of both Rudiger and Christensen, there were enough signs of how to play out when pressed. With time, I expect improvements and Chelsea will be a much better team.
– That brings me to my penultimate point in the mail: A tailor’s suit is only as good as the fabric and thread he has. Conte can make a team like last night gel to beat against odds! What could he do when he gets better fabric? Alonso was my man of the match even minus his goals. But he does struggle in certain type of games. Spurs were mad to not ask Trippier to go 1 v 1 vs Alonso! We need back ups in wing backs and central midfield. Should we sign a wing back, a central (perhaps creative) midfielder and another forward player, Conte will have his fabric to weave magic again.
– Final notes on Morata. He is not used to playing what was expected of him. He should’ve scored under five minutes. He could’ve held the ball better (but hey whenever he headed the ball to keep it there were 4-5 opponents at his heels). But, his movement, game intelligence (TM), work rate were top class. When Chelsea recover from injuries, when we eventually sign players, when he gets more match fit and understand his team mates, he is going to be one heck of a center forward.
Aravind, Chelsea fan
Couldn’t help but wonder why Conte gets lauded by the pundits and the press for his “catenaccio”, whereas Mourinho gets lambasted for “parking the bus”. It really gets my goat.
It’s up there with the way fans run around saying “we won”. To paraphrase Seinfeld, no, they won. You sat on your couch guzzling beers.
Ryan (Hope the team keeps winning) MUFC
I did enjoy the one whole week where Arsenal weren’t in crisis; thankfully, it’s good to see the world is revolving back on its axis again ….
What’s been forgotten in the vitriol is the total reliance over the last three years on the star player, Sanchez, and how bang average Arsenal look when he isn’t there/contributing. You want to sum up Arsenal for the whole upcoming season in the first two games – easy peasy…
You are 2-3 down at home to Leicester because you have no idea how to play 343 vs some 442 direct guys that will put in a few crosses.
However your manager is still a very good, but no longer an elite manger, and he makes two superb substitutions which turn the game, so – a 4-3 win.
Your next game is away at a traditionally hard rival, who initially allow you to chip the ball over their left-back 59 times in the first half.
Bizarrely though, the other manager changes tactics (obviously not allowed), which means you spend the remainder of the game trying to create a 143 pass threaded move into ‘ace’ finisher Welbeck. You then run out of ideas long before the end – result being yet another ‘unlucky’ defeat’ – on the plus side though, the new star striker supposedly ‘wasn’t offside’ (even if he just was…).
From my seat I’ve seen how dangerously over-reliant we’ve been on Sanchez (and to a lesser degree Ozil) over the last three years. Looking at the first two games, how did Wenger even allow himself get ever get himself into this position? When the star player isn’t there, jeez we look devoid of anything,
Klopp: Stubborn or just lacking?
When Klopp first came to Liverpool I was as excited as any Liverpool fan about the possibilities. This was the manager who would end our drought for a League title. Now though, I’m seriously beginning to question Klopp’s football intelligence and his ability to take LFC to that next level. There’s no doubt he’s improved us. Yet, everyone and their mother can see our problems in midfield. Last season, our squad was limited and I was willing to accept it. When Lallana was out we didn’t have the midfield creativity we so desperately lacked. Now though, once we lose Lallana there’s no plan B. Coutinho? Sure, but without both? Klopp’s solution: “Let’s just play three of the same type of player, watch the same thing happen as it did time and again during the 2nd half of last season and hope for the best”.
If Klopp doesn’t want to fix the problem in the transfer market, then surely the answer is to change the system when we’re without Lallana and Coutinho. Switch to a 4-4-2. Lose one of the lame ducks in midfield and have your wingers drop a touch deeper. Sturridge and Solanke anyone? It worries me that Klopp can either be too stubborn to change his tactics or too ignorant to the glaring problem Liverpool are facing, and it is glaring. If Klopp remains this stubborn it will cost Liverpool in the long run. As one of the writers, Alex, mailed earlier, the issue lies almost exclusively with Liverpool’s midfield. Without a truly creative midfielder Liverpool are easy to defend against. Lallana and Coutinho, who is not truly tested as a midfielder not to mention the whole Barcelona thing, are both injury prone and I don’t think can be relied upon for 60 games a season. Klopp needs to figure something else out. Or Liverpool may need to find someone else who will.
Adam (Liverpool fan, from Dublin, living in NYC)
Mahrez to replace Coutinho?
As Barcelona prepare for a fourth bid for Coutinho, it seems somebody at Liverpool must be considering possible replacements. Even though the club and the manager seem to be set on not letting him leave, it is better to be cautious than facing the top European league with lack of creativity from the center midfield.
Mahrez might be a good replacement. Here is why:
1. He is Premier League proven.
2. He can create and score just like Coutinho (23 assists and 15 goals is his last two Premier League seasons)
3. He has started the season in good form.
4. He wants to leave (will get to play in Champions League too)
5. 50 million euros ( or 40?) might be outrageous but with the inflated market who will we get for that price?
6. Leicester will sell without much hassle
You might add to this or look at the negative side (losing Salah, Mane and Mahrez to African Cup of Nations simultaneously being one). Overall, to me he seems to be a great replacement.
Losing Coutinho will be very hard on Klopp’s plans for the season but LFC should be ready.
NSD (Mignolet is disappointing!) LFC
Ed’s weekend thoughts
There are few feelings in life like leaving a party at 8.30pm to put your child to bed (he is 28 years old) and discovering the next day most of what you missed was the clean-up operation.
* Well done to Liverpool for their win. They piled the pressure on Crystal Palace, and broke the hex the Eagles had held over them in recent times. That said, Liverpool haven’t lost four consecutive home games to the same opponent for 80 years, so the streak was bound to end eventually.
* That said, this was better defensively from Crystal Palace, and not just because we only conceded once. It’s disappointing to lose having held Liverpool out for so long, but it did at least look like the players understood what they were supposed to be doing. The only goal the home side did actually score came from an individual error, rather than last week where our system was totally exploited.
* Christian Benteke looked like the Benteke of old. Unfortunately, it was the Liverpool version When the Eagles signed him, I worried it would make the team one-dimensional, in a way that didn’t quite sit with the plan to play the ball out from the back, which is part of why he had struggled at Anfield. His miss from close range on Saturday looked like that same player, short on confidence and an expensive square peg trying his hardest to fit in to a round hole.
This is one of the reasons why I’m quite sceptical about using 3-4-3 with this group of players, because it doesn’t play to their strengths. It’s still early, and there has been progress, but there was also several instances (on the MOTD highlights) of players treating the ball like a hot potato, with rushed passes to teammates. A couple of times possession was conceded from times when it looked like players were fighting the urge to simply hoof it down the field. Fair enough if that’s not the system, but when you’ve got Andros Townsend in your team, surely it makes sense at least once to see if the opposing full-back can match him for speed. I’m not saying do it every time, I’m saying mix it up.
* Wayne Hennessey kept his side in the game with some excellent saves, but also made a mess of coming for a relatively straightforward cross, from which Joel Matip should have scored. Another good save Hennessey made came with a slice of fortune. In the second half, Georginio Wijnaldum could have buried a chance with his left foot, but spent too long trying to work it onto his right foot and the chance was lost. Part 427 in the long-running series called “why can’t professional footballers be at least competent with their weaker foot”.
* Crystal Palace’s next game is at home to Swansea City. Is it too early in the season to call it a relegation six-pointer?
* Elsewhere, that incident with Nathaniel Chalobah and possibly Harry Arter was a bit strange. It looked like Chalobah had a call (possibly from Arter, nefariously), to dummy it, only there was no teammate behind him. In ice hockey, when Mario Lemieux came out of retirement about 10 years ago for Pittsburgh, his much younger teammates used to call him ‘Legend’ (completely deserved and not at all arrogant). In a game against New Jersey, John Madden (not that one, or the other one) picked up on this, and chasing Lemieux up the ice, tapped his stick and said “Legend”. Super Mario duly coughed up the puck and was left incredibly red-faced.
* Marko Arnautovic earned the Premier League’s most obvious red card. I do wonder if the officials could have done anything to take the heat out of a situation that had already seen Arnautovic flattened by an elbow and Mark Noble fly into a horror tackle. They wouldn’t have shown it on the highlights but it would be interesting to know what was done to calm the players down.
* People only complain about refereeing consistency when they feel like the victims, but surely Paul Pogba showed why there is something needed between two yellows and a red card. His second foul was worthy of a yellow card, and would have produced one had he not already got his name in the book. It seemed like his previous infringement was the only reason he didn’t receive further punishment, largely because the referee didn’t want to send him off. It’s easy to imagine that, were something like a sin-binning for ten minutes on offer, he would have been invited to sit and think about what he’d done for a spell.
* I remembered earlier that I actually used to know a Huddersfield Town fan. Seeing his side second in the Premier League and daily reminders that he isn’t in a relationship with my moron cousin means life must be pretty sweet for him.
Worried about Newcastle…
First off, I get into the office this morning to see no reference on the home page (or indeed match report??) to the HFC vs NUFC game at all, barring a video of Rafa’s disappointment?? Really? It’s okay though, we’ve got six articles related to Conte’s Chelsea and an article ranking the PL’s best mascots instead. Thanks. For. That.
So in lieu of a report, I’ll share my thoughts and yes: good grief that was hard to watch (for a Toon fan). Against Huddersfield, NUFC were just shocking at times. I am not jumping into my panic station just yet, but certainly against Spurs in the first game and against the Terriers yesterday, several players displayed quality that belongs firmly in the Championship at best.
1. Elliot’s kicking is just shocking, cringed every time the ball was played back to him- HOOF!
2. Which brings me to the comedy pairing of Clark and Lascelles, physically solid, but good grief watching these two on the ball is tough and their insistence on playing a 20-30 yard pass back to Elliot at the first sign of danger is frustrating. AND, when they did play forward it was simply another HOOF.
3. As for Mbemba and Manquillo, I had NO expectations of Mbemba at left-back and Manquillo is solid if a bit unadventurous.
4. Hayden and Merino – Hayden breaks up play well enough but was beaten soundly by Mooy in the midfield battle, Merino looks a decent player and has a much-needed bit of calm on the ball, I hope he retains his place.
5. Atsu is the only player capable of taking a player on, just like against Spurs the only player that I felt offered any individual threat.
6. Ayoze and Ritchie do plenty of running and harrying, but with Ayoze that seems to be all he’s capable of – he’s not particularly quick, doesn’t demonstrate much in the way of dribbling ability and his finishing is dogsh*t. I like him but he wastes far too many half/decent chances. As for Ritchie, not quick enough with or without the ball, on a different day could’ve seen red for that silly slide, and got knocked off the ball too easily, which had me screaming at the telly to just pass the bloody ball quicker.
7. Gayle – ah Gayle, I haven’t (and won’t) checked the official stats, but I imagine his number of touches in the first half to be very LOW – every time the ball came into his feet or indeed near him at all, he was out-muscled or his touch simply wasn’t good enough – Joselu was alright, though I don’t think did much to suggest he could offer much more than Gayle. I obviously hope he can.
8. Diam e- tidy, offers no threat, Murphy I didn’t see enough of so I wouldn’t be surprised if he remains on the bench despite the transfer fee. Don’t know why we waited till the last 10 to get his fresh legs on though…
As for the Terriers, I thought their defence looked organized and Billing and Mooy really bossed the middle. Van La Parra is thought was average, whereas Kachunga (luv the name!) was a threat and Ince was very good – I guarantee if he performs near this level over the course of the season, he WILL be moving next summer for 25+ mill. Mounie worked the defence and held up the ball brilliantly, and for the reported 11 million looks worth it.
Seriously hoping we can get a few loans in before the end of the window, because with the current Toon squad, we are going to struggle.
Jon (seriously forgot Henry Saivet was still there) NUFC, Guangzhou
On Bournemouth v Watford
There is a small idiot element in both these sets of supporters that tries to whip this up into a rivalry. Most of this goes back to the 2015 Championship season, and I think the Bournemouth fans are more guilty because of some perceived ‘need’ to have a rival. On Saturday the chanting and arrests were as sour as they were predictable. Since promotion there have been four draws, but with us playing like this, the rivalry won’t last long as Watford were streets ahead. Bournemouth were guilty of a couple of nasty bits of cynicism too; Arter clearly calling for Chalobah to leave the ball to him when given a clear shooting chance, and then Cook being really lucky to not be sent off for a hack when miles out of position and some way off the ball.
Cherries’ pre-season was hardly awe-inspiring, but the signings were positive and there was enough against Napoli to suggest we might at least score goals again. However in two games against teams who are nominally mid-table rivals we have barely had a presentable chance. What is most worrying is that Cook and King, arguably the two best players over the last two seasons, both look a bit off the pace. On Saturday I thought Howe got it wrong; Afobe and Ibe (both much-maligned by fans) had offered both outlet and threat and yet King was left on instead. After they were replaced it was all Watford. Defoe missed bits of pre-season and is still not quite fit, but given his success when working off a big man I wouldn’t be surprised to see King left out next time. Some of the old-timers in the pub were grumbling about the lack of Lewis Cook. He quite rightly got extra time off after the U20s but I’d expect him to be involved in the League Cup tomorrow night. I don’t think we should expect him to run every game just yet, but I do think he will gradually replace Surman – who has become even more sideways than ever – as the season goes on. Ake and Begovic look solid, both got exposed by mistakes elsewhere on Saturday and it is far from a crisis yet – however with man City at home on Saturday and then Arsenal away after the internationals the home game with Brighton in mid-September looks massive.
Quick word on Watford – very impressive. Holebas is still a walking yellow card and Chalobah looks like the sort of player who better midfielders might provoke into something stupid but they were all athletic and good on the ball. Could surprise a few I think.
Andy J, Bournemouth
Peter G’s weekend thoughts
* We’re only two weeks in, but Sean Dyche has already wrapped up Substitution Of The Season. Trailing 0-1 to West Brom in the 78th minute, he yanked technically adept wingers Robbie Brady and Johann Berg Gudmundsson, and replaced them with target men/bruisers Ashley Barnes and Jonathan Walters. He kept Sam Vokes on the pitch. They lost. Chris Wood arrives from Leeds tomorrow.
* If you’re wondering how Gareth Barry did in his West Brom debut, meh. A few good clearances, some decent passing, but not the man to play in a 4-1-4-1, even against Burnley. He was bamboozled by Jack Cork, for goodness’ sake.
* Mikel Merino, replacing Jonjo Shelvey, was quite literally central to Newcastle’s performance against Huddersfield. He displayed plenty of talent, but couldn’t deliver the key pass on the counterattack, and didn’t close down Aaron Mooy on the winning goal. But if he settles, he’ll be very useful.
* For Brighton & Hove Albion’s anemic attack, it’s a case of Waiting for Lefty, three times over. The first is Anthony Knockaert, just coming back from injury. The second is the superbly named José Izquierdo, for whom the deal with Club Brugge has finally been concluded. The third is Kenneth Zohore of Cardiff City, for whom the club is currently bidding. They’ll need all three and then some.
* It was football from Mars by Nathaniel Chalobah against Bournemouth. Every time you looked up he was flying forward, barely in control. Shots missed by miles, dummies were played to the wrong team, one-on-ones with the keeper were wasted, and a wonderful time was had by all. He was part of the build-up for the winning goal, too.
Peter G, Pennsylvania, USA (can Spurs and Chelsea play every week?)