Premier League winners and losers

Date published: Monday 22nd August 2016 11:26 - Daniel Storey


Paul Pogba
On Thursday, Jose Mourinho spoke about the chances of Paul Pogba playing for Manchester United against Southampton the following day.

“Paul has been training for more than a week, around 10, 11 days, adaptation is really easy because he is a boy from here, he knows the club, he knows everybody. There’s no need for time to adapt.

“He needs time to build his condition and his understanding in the way the team tries to play. Yes, he’s ready to play. Ninety minutes? I don’t believe. Super performance? I don’t believe. But in condition to accelerate his process of integration in the team, that’s for sure.”

It therefore came as some surprise to see Pogba starting the match, but we supposed he would be brought off after an hour. Not only did the midfielder stay on the pitch for the entire 90 minutes, but he looked as if he could have managed an extra half-hour, just for fun. For a player dealing with the effects of a busy summer, disrupted pre-season and the pressure of a world-record fee, this was an extraordinarily good debut.

Mourinho had no need and no desire to cut short Pogba’s evening, and why would he? Only two players on the pitch covered more ground, while none had more shots, made more interceptions or created more chances and no teammate made more passes or had more touches. Pogba gained possession from an opposition player on 14 occasions in his 90 minutes, a total bettered by only one outfield player in the Premier League this season.

A reminder: It was his sodding debut. Forgive me for going a bit gooey inside.


Pep Guardiola’s front four
“In the short time together my players have shown me how intelligent they are. They are really good players; they have a lot of quality,” Pep Guardiola said after Manchester City’s four goals at Stoke. “I am a little bit surprised, in the short time, with the level we played here and in Bucharest. It is very good. We have scored nine goals in two games. It was a nice week for us.”

Sergio Aguero – Six goals.
Nolito – Three goals, one assist.
Raheem Sterling – Three assists.
Kevin de Bruyne – Two assists.

In three games. Yes, that’ll do nicely. Guardiola is right to be happy, but not to be surprised. He is blessed with a wonderful array of attacking players.


Laurent Koscielny
A supreme performance, dominant and passive at just the right times. If Rob Holding wants to learn how to acclimatise to Premier League life, he should stick like a limpet to Koscielny in training.

Arsenal and Arsene Wenger may have enough problems to attract sympathy from Jay-Z, but their French centre-back ain’t one. He might well be the best in the entire division.

For more on Koscielny and Arsenal, read Matt Stead’s 16 Conclusions from their 0-0 draw with Leicester.


Michy Batshuayi and Diego Costa
Batshuayi has been substituted on in the 85th and 73rd minutes of Chelsea’s two league games. In that half an hour or so of playing time, the Belgian has a goal and assist and Diego Costa has scored twice.

If we’ve learned anything from this Premier League weekend, it is this: When Antonio Conte starts Costa and Batshuayi together, Chelsea are going to win 22-0.


Marouane Fellaini
This week’s early winner, which is something to put on the mantelpiece.


Eric Bailly
Not only does it feel like Bailly has always been in this Manchester United defence, marshaling and hassling as and when required, but on Friday he also made me forget about the existence of Chris Smalling. This new United spine is various different strains of bloody good to watch.


Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Three goals in two Premier League matches, and already in charge of penalty duties. Suddenly nobody is fretting about Marcus Rashford not being given a single minute of action.


Harry Kane, a No. 10
It was a role Mauricio Pochettino could not even have countenanced last season, given the lack of striking options at White Hart Lane, but on Saturday Tottenham played with Kane in a deeper role behind Vincent Janssen.

Kane does not have the guile of a typical No. 10, but possesses the attributes to make the role work. Rather than the lone striker getting isolated, as at Everton on the opening day, Kane acts as the intermediary between midfield and attack. He might have to curb his instincts to shoot on sight (six shots, of which only one was on target), but the partnership with Janssen did provide early promise that it may come to fruition. Watch this space.


Ronald Koeman and in-game management
Last season, Everton supporters became disillusioned with Roberto Martinez’s rose-tinted claims. Martinez’s “phenomenal” was the equivalent of Brendan Rodgers’ “outstanding”; rather than wildly optimistic post-match assessments, Everton needed better in-game management. In Ronald Koeman, they might have found it.

It takes guts as a manager to admit early in a match that a change is needed. By substituting James McCarthy after just 38 minutes, Koeman had quickly decided that his game plan was not working. He switched from a three-man central defence to a back four, using Romelu Lukaku as a focal point up front rather than the slightly wispy Gerard Deulofeu, immediately shifting the pattern of the game as Everton came from behind to win.

Koeman will still want to add players to his squad with nine days left in the transfer window, but the introduction of Yannick Bolasie and Ashley Williams from the bench shows the intention of Farhad Moshiri to take Everton forward. It’s going to be such an exciting season at Goodison.


Leicester City
A questionable penalty decision away from a shot at all three points, and an opposition limited to speculative shots and tame efforts. Claudio Ranieri is right to be pleased with his side’s response to an opening weekend nonperformance.


Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg
If you can find a better individual display in defeat this season, go and shake that player’s hand. Southampton may have lost 2-0 to Manchester United on Friday, but Hojbjerg demonstrated exactly why Bayern Munich supporters were sorry to see him leave the Allianz Arena.

No Southampton player had more touches (105). No Southampton player made more passes (85, and with a completion rate of 92.9%). No Southampton player was fouled more times. No Southampton player made more tackles. No Southampton player won possession more often. No Southampton player created more chances. The big bloody show-off.


Mike Phelan
A central midfielder at centre-back, a left midfielder filling the central midfielder’s place, kids on the bench and a squad decimated by injuries. Whatever Mike Phelan lacks in managerial experience, he must more than make up for in inspiration. Hull City’s players are not just playing to their potential, they’re smashing personal bests. Six points of the 40 usually required to survive, and it’s still light at 9pm.


Shaun Maloney
A year ago Shaun Maloney was playing for Chicago Fire in MLS, now he’s winning Premier League games all by himself. Saturday afternoon brought Maloney’s first Premier League minutes since relegation with Wigan in May 2013. In 17 minutes he became one of the eight players to contribute a goal and assist in the Premier League so far this season.


Cesc Fabregas
Chelsea’s forgotten man after being left out of both starting XIs this season, Fabregas offered a timely reminder of his abilities. In 12 minutes he had an important hand in the equaliser before his sumptuous pass assisted Diego Costa’s winner.


Alvaro Negredo
A goal and two assists in his two games back in England, Negredo highlights the advantage of signing a player with Premier League experience. This is a foreign import who has needed no time to settle.


Cristhian Stuani
Two goals on his Premier League debut, including a wonderful strike for the first. I look forward to correcting my spelling of his first name for the rest of the season.


Sam Vokes
Taking a shot early in order to catch a goalkeeper off guard has become a slightly forgotten art, but Vokes offered a wonderful example to score his first goal in 28 Premier League games. Touch, turn, hit, goal, all within less than two seconds.


Golden oldies
In Gareth Barry, Gareth McAuley and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, three of the six oldest players in the Premier League this weekend scored four goals between them. Call them the silver foxes in the box.



Jurgen Klopp and Daniel Sturridge
If Daniel Sturridge was a loser last week for missing out on the Emirates fun, he was a loser this week for his lack of impact at Turf Moor. He looked as rough around the edges as a striker who has missed vital parts of pre-season training. Stturidge will be playing catch-up in autumn once again.

As we’ve said before, this is Sturridge’s biggest issue. He will always remain a wonderful option when fit, but when you can’t depend on a player’s continued match fitness, you can’t build your Plan A around him.

That said, Klopp must take his share of the blame for Sturridge’s performance on Saturday. Quite why he thought Roberto Firmino would be better centrally with Sturridge on the right is unclear, but neither looked comfortable. That the incoming Divock Origi was immediately played down the middle must both have annoyed Sturridge and worried him too. Is he now first reserve in each of those front three roles?


Philippe Coutinho
Our early loser, for his unhelpful tendency to shoot on sight. Warning: Contains data.


Simon Mignolet
Mr Teflon continues to enjoy the freedom of Anfield, while Loris Karius recovers from a broken hand and Liverpool look unlikely to join the race for Joe Hart. Mignolet has merrily allowed each of the last five shots on targets he’s faced to go into the goal.

When you’d be just as well having a small thimble placed on the goalline, it’s probably time to ask some questions. The same questions people have been asking for almost three years.


Jordan Henderson
If a picture describes a thousand words, how many for a video of Jordan Henderson’s worst bits against Burnley? (And I’m not talking about his gait, Sir Alex)

If anything, this makes Liverpool’s captain look better than he was.


Arsene Wenger, the guardian of Arsenal
After Arsenal’s 0-0 draw at Leicester, Arsene Wenger took the opportunity to enlighten those supporters who are angry at the lack of transfer market activity during this summer. Let’s take his points in turn. If I sound snide and sarcastic, that only follows Wenger’s own lead:

“The fans are highly influenced by the media and that’s part of the process today.”

Sorry Arsene, but that simply isn’t the full picture. Supporters are influenced by what they see on the pitch, and what they know about their club. They know the cash reserves that Arsenal possess, and their lack of activity in comparison with their rivals (not just Manchester City and Manchester United). They also know the deficiencies in the squad.

“Nobody is speaking about the performance of Rob Holding today. You should be happy; he is English, he is 20 years old, but I’m sorry he didn’t cost £55m, so it cannot be good.”

Again, this is a ridiculous straw man argument, in which Wenger judges black against white without accepting the obvious existence of a rainbow of other colours. You can praise Holding’s form (and plenty have) while still pointing out the lack of spending that has hampered Arsenal’s progress. Wenger afforded fewer words for his side’s toothless attack, days after expressing his belief that the club’s existing strikers could carry the can effectively.

“If I buy you for £45m tomorrow, does it mean I have done well? If I listen to you then I will have done well because I spent the money, but spending the money in itself is not the quality.”

No Arsene, it doesn’t. But that’s because you were talking to a journalist, not a striker that would help solve the club’s problems.

“I spend £300m if I find the right player. I will not forget we have 600 employees and we need a responsible attitude for them too.”

I could point out that Wenger’s remit is to ensure the success of the team on the field, leaving the responsibility for the club’s staff to others. But instead I’m going to ask why, if Wenger is so bothered about those 600 employees, hasn’t he been campaigning for them to be paid the living wage while taking home his own salary of £8.3m?


Branislav Ivanovic
There would have been concerns about the form of Branislav Ivanovic whoever was in the Chelsea dugout this season, but the arrival of Antonio Conte made you wince a little for the Serbian. Conte’s preferred 4-1-4-1 or 4-2-3-1 formation clearly doesn’t require the full-backs to be as attacking as in a 3-5-2 with wing-backs, but Ivanovic’s average position in Chelsea’s opening two games of the season has still been in the opposition half. That’s 15 yards further up the pitch than in his games at right-back last season.

Unfortunately, Ivanovic doesn’t possess the pace to race back into position effectively. That forces him into a jack of all trades role whereby he doesn’t offer enough in attack, and yet still looks suspect in defence. Ivanovic struggled all afternoon with Jose Holebas; better wingers than the Greek will exploit him.


A first-half performance so bad that it brought boos during David Moyes’ first home game in charge, yet it was the last half-hour of Sunderland’s defeat to Middlesbrough that was most worrying. After getting a foothold in the match and a chance to salvage a point, an entire team immediately went flat and failed to take advantage of their Brad Guzan-assisted lifeline.


David Moyes and too much realism

“It reminds me a lot of when I took over at Everton – the club was bobbing along the bottom – so what we need to do at Sunderland is to move up, we need to do what we did at Everton, we need to try to get right up the table and be more near the top end. We need to make sure we can win enough games to first of all be away from the bottom end, but secondly to make sure we are trying to get ourselves much higher up the table” – Moyes, July 23.

“The fans are probably right [about worrying about relegation]. It’s been the same for last few years, I think it will be again. You can’t argue with the facts. People are hoping for it to dramatically change, but it can’t. We hope that things will improve” – Moyes, August 21.

Davey ‘Buzz Killington’ Moyes strikes again.


Stoke City
It’s lovely that Mark Hughes is trying to change Stoke’s reputation from mean long-ballers to sexy, silky skillers, but the manager should beware of revealing his side’s soft underbelly. Stoke typically account for their tepid away form by making the Britannia Stadium an official Difficult Place To Go, but that title is in danger of being lost.

In their last nine home league games, Stoke have conceded 18 goals. That’s more than they conceded all season at home during two of Tony Pulis’ Premier League campaigns.


Swansea City’s profligacy
Kyle Naughton, Fernando Llorente, Wayne Routledge, Modou Barrow, Leroy Fer, Federico Fernandez, Stephen Kingsley, Jack Cork and Ki Sung-Yueng had 18 shots between them against Hull. How many of those were on target? None.


Alan Pardew
Now 13 points in 23 league games for Palace and Pardew. Never has the performance of one new signing been more important to a manager keeping his job; Chunky needs Christian Benteke to score on his debut.


England’s Euro 2016 strikers
Not only have Daniel Sturridge, Jamie Vardy, Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford – England’s four Euro 2016 strikers – failed to score a goal yet this season, they’ve only managed one shot on target between them. Only a Harry Kane assist and shot stops this from being a whitewash.


West Ham vs Bournemouth
I’m not saying it was a bad watch, but I’ve seen more entertaining party political broadcasts.


Harry Arter
The first player to fall foul of the new initiative to clamp down on dissent, Arter was booked for sarcastically applauding the assistant referee and then again for a foul in the second half. Let’s hope Bournemouth are the first group of players to learn the lesson of not behaving like a bit of a d*ck.


Daniel Storey

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