The Treble: Howe and Gerrard impact, Liverpool defensive issues

Date published: Thursday 18th November 2021 11:30 - Alex Keble

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The Premier League is back this weekend as Eddie Howe and Steven Gerrard take charge of their first matches and Arsenal travel to Liverpool.

 

Howe era needs to start with a win
There are plenty of reasons to assume Saudi Arabia’s dream of turning Newcastle United into a super-club is doomed to fail. For starters, there really isn’t any room left at the top, hence why no other sportswashing nation has looked at the Premier League since 2008. We already have six teams trying to fit into four Champions League places and three more (Leicester City, West Ham, and Everton) that are years ahead of Newcastle in their development.

Then there’s FFP, which for some inexplicable reason nobody seems to be talking about. UEFA and the Premier League are looking at ways to tighten the regulations, which already prevent Newcastle from emulating what Manchester City did, while the Premier League’s emergency blocking of sponsorship deals that involve pre-existing business relationships shows Saudi Arabia won’t be able to find ways around it.

It is perfectly conceivable they will simply get bored when their wild, entitled dreams fail to quickly materialise. Certainly the way they have thrown their weight around in these early days, putting Unai Emery off and failing to land a director of football, smacks of an unprofessionalism that doesn’t bode well for super-club building.

And that boredom may kick in particularly early should the project be delayed by a few years with relegation this May, which remains a distinct possibility. Newcastle have a Nuno situation – a manager in charge who wasn’t even close to first choice – and a squad of players who aren’t really wanted anymore. Somehow Eddie Howe is supposed to inspire this team to survive the drop, despite Newcastle having failed to win any of their first 11 matches.

January might save them, although a reported £50million transfer kitty isn’t going to achieve too much, especially if Newcastle are mired in the bottom three by then – and especially if Howe, who had an abysmal track record at Bournemouth, is trusted to spend the money.

It all looks rather bleak, then, and the only way to change that would be to get off to a flying start under Howe. If he loses his first couple of games the mood will darken.

Brentford have lost four on the trot and Newcastle may be able to pick them off, assuming Howe’s first priority has been to instil a cautious counter-attacking system like the one he used towards the end of his time at Bournemouth. But the international break will have done wonders for Brentford, whose brilliant start to the campaign shows they have the quality to stop this slump. Re-energised and facing the league’s leakiest defence, Thomas Frank’s team can spoil Howe’s debut by earning at least a point.

Back the draw at 23/10 (Planet Sport Bet)

 

Steven Gerrard era gets an easy start
There are a lot of unknowns surrounding Steven Gerrard’s appointment as Aston Villa manager, which only makes his arrival in the Premier League even more exciting; it’s a risk for both parties but a well-calculated one. Villa might just have landed one of the best up-and-coming coaches in the world if his invincible season at Rangers is anything to go by, although there is just as much chance that his methods in Scotland will not translate to a mid-table English side.

We won’t learn much in these early weeks. It will take time for a tactical strategy to emerge at Villa Park, especially with fewer training sessions as we approach the busy winter months. And so for now Villa need to hope for a new-manager bounce to end their five-game losing streak. They ought to be grateful that Gerrard’s debut comes against a team falling down the table.

Brighton have failed to win any of their last six league games as old habits return; Graham Potter’s team look a little baggy, too open in the transition and too wasteful in the final third. In front of a raucous Villa Park crowd those problems are likely to persist, handing Gerrard the chance to get off to a winning start.

Back Villa to win at 29/20 (Planet Sport Bet)

 

Klopp’s defensive record becoming a concern
Across the last nine matches in the Premier League and Champions League Liverpool have conceded 13 goals, a record that threatens to undermine their strong start to the season as Jurgen Klopp’s side slip to fourth in the table. Defeat to Arsenal on Saturday would see Mikel Arteta’s team go above them, triggering a mini-crisis at Anfield.

The defensive problems are partly the result of Virgil van Dijk’s lack of match fitness, the Dutchman looking a little wayward in the transition as he struggles to get back up to the speed of Premier League football. But he is not currently getting enough protection from midfield, where Klopp continues to chop and changes as he looks to find a winning combination without Georginio Wijnaldum.

Wijnaldum, who started 69 of Liverpool’s 76 Premier League games over the last two years, was often underrated. His ability to control the game with measured possession and passing under pressure was the key to Liverpool grinding teams down and holding them at arms’ length after taking the lead. It is telling that, in his absence, Liverpool have dropped points despite being twice ahead against Brentford, twice ahead against Man City, and 2-0 up against Brighton.

For many of these goals Curtis Jones or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, deputising for Wijnaldum, have been caught out of position, pressing on their own and dismantling Klopp’s defensive structure. The Liverpool manager needs to find a solution and fast, although injuries to Naby Keita and Jordan Henderson make them a doubt for the Arsenal game.

Arsenal are the perfect team to exploit Liverpool’s defensive issues in the transition. Arteta’s football is all about sharp passes through the lines, with Martin Odegaard, Emile Smith Rowe, Alexandre Lacazette and Bukayo Saka all drifting in the half-spaces to receive vertical passes into feet. In short, they will know exactly how to target Liverpool’s vulnerable defence and midfield, creating an entertainingly open game at Anfield with goals for both teams.

Back over 3.5 goals at 23/20 (Planet Sport Bet)

 

Back the treble: Newcastle to draw with Brentford, Aston Villa to beat Brighton, over 3.5 goals in Liverpool v Arsenal at 17/1 (Planet Sport Bet)

Villa-treble

 

Odds correct at the time of publication. 18+ Please Gamble Responsibly. Visit begambleaware.org

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