Ecstasy. Despair. Mourinho upset at a refereeing decision. All that we love about the Premier League manifested itself as it returned this weekend; delivering an early indication of what we are to expect this season. All the action is covered in our first Barclays Premier League Review of the 2015/2016 season!
‘Freak of The Week’
Jermain Jenas made a ‘Krept & Konan’ reference in referring to Arsenal vs West Ham as ‘Freak of The Week’ on Saturday night’s Match of The Day, and in many ways he was right. Arsenal, however continue their reputation as an inconsistent side that lack the title winning mentality.
Dimitri Payet, Mauro Zarate and Diafra Sakho formed West Ham’s tight forward line in front of three central midfielders including 16 year old Reece Oxford. It’s not often you see an Arsenal side being beaten in the middle of the park, however Bilic did everything right in preventing the Gunners from gaining any real control in the first half.
For the second 45 minutes, Arsenal were crying out for a finish – even after Alexis Sanchez was forced to come on despite not being fully match fit. It’s been said so often that ‘if only Arsenal would buy another striker’ that they could be title challengers – but in reality West Ham managed to lock them out so well defending in numbers, that it was difficult for Arsenal to create any chances in the first place. This West Ham side was a far cry to the side that was eliminated at the hands of Astra Giurgiu a few days ago.
Champions looking Shakey
The weekend wouldn’t have been complete without Jose Mourinho being upset about a refereeing decision, with the added bonus of a dispute with his own backroom staff. There’s no doubt the sending off of Courtois, after denying Bafetimbi Gomis a goal scoring opportunity, had a big effect on the game as Chelsea were unable to hold onto their one-goal lead with 10 men.
Being 2-1 up after 30 minutes thanks to a Fernandez own goal, Chelsea once again had me wondering whether there would have been a different result had they been more ruthless in front of goal prior to the red card. If there is to be a criticism of Mourinho’s Chelsea, it’s the naivety of believing that solidity and protecting the lead is a never-fail strategy. Such a strict adherement to strategy was clear, when Mourinho exploded at the decision by the Chelsea fitness team in the 90th minute to take Hazard off for treatment, leaving them with only 9 men on the pitch.
It’s difficult to judge the performance of the champions, but Swansea impressed, especially the performances of Jefferson Montero and new signing Andre Ayew. Gary Monk seems to have gone under the radar as one of the most highly impressive managers of the past year despite guiding Swansea to 8th last season, their highest ever Premier League finish. The Swans could be aiming for a Europa League spot this season – and they should be extremely happy sharing the points at Stamford Bridge.
Positives to take from Liverpool and Manchester
I always find myself questioning the logic of why managers hold back using new signings as good as Firmino – that’s all I could think about as Liverpool failed continuously to put £32.5million-man Christian Benteke through on goal. Jordan Ibe and Adam Lallana played roles that included a lot of cutting inside which showed that Brendan Rodgers expects the Belgian striker to adapt to the Liverpool style of play.
Despite Coutinho curling in a screamer from outside the area, he too struggled to create chances during the game. Stoke managed to neutralise any Liverpool attack for the most part as Glen Johnson impressed in his debut and Geoff Cameron did a terrific job covering for Ryan Shawcross. Liverpool showed no indication that they’re ready to be challenging for the top 4.
Perhaps Benteke will settle in, eager to prove he’s more than a player that can only finish from long balls and crosses. Roberto Firmino may come in and recapture his 2013-14 form in which he netted 16 in the Bundesliga. Surely the most exciting news for Liverpool fans (no really, it’s the most exciting) is that Lucas Leiva has been allowed to leave as the Liverpool midfield continues to be populated by Rogers’ new signings.
All talk at Manchester United was about Louis Van Gaal’s decision to leave David De Gea out of the team line up. But it appeared a shrewd move as Sergio Romero handled, what was a fairly quiet job, very well as the Red Devils grinded out a 1-0 victory through a Kyle Walker own goal.
New signing, Memphis Depay, didn’t seem comfortable in a central position, as Van Gaal opted to put Ashley Young in his preferred left-wing position instead. Substitute Bastian Schweinsteiger on the other hand looked impressive on the ball, making clever passes along the way. There’s no doubt however that Darmian was the most promising of the new recruits – looking impressive going forward whilst demonstrating defensive solidity, highlighting what United lacked playing Valencia at right-back last season.
Spurs did rally a few chances, with Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen coming close on a few occasions. Linked with a £40million move to Manchester United, Kane is going to have to be clinical this season if Spurs are to finish in the top 4. The midfield does not fill me with confidence however that they are to be of any challenge to the current elite – especially whilst the Eric Dier midfield experiment continues.
For United’s noisy neighbours, Raheem Sterling debuted in a Manchester City side that gelled incredibly well considering it was the first game of the season. City, like Chelsea and Arsenal, have kept the core of their team together but appear to have made the biggest improvement in performance. Cruising to a 3-0 victory over a lacklustre West Bromwich Albion side, the potential of Kevin De Bruyne being added to the midfield should send major warning signals to Chelsea and Jose Mourinho who are set to face a stronger challenge this season… should Manchester City’s defence hold out.
Whilst the attack cut through the West Bromwich Albion defence with ease, there were a few moments you wondered if City might concede late on in the second half. Tony Pulis did admit that partnering Lambert alongside Berahino was the tactical error that assisted City in keeping a clean sheet. Will City find it so easy when they come up against the bigger teams? There is one positive – at least they figured out how to win matches away from home.
Ronald Koeman’s Southampton once again began a season without star players from the previous campaign after losing Clyne, Alderweireld and Schneiderlin in the close season. Nonetheless, they’ll still be targeting a top 6 finish after an impressive performance at St James’ Park. Newcastle, much like Southampton are a club that want to be playing in the Europa League – something that can very possibly be achieved with the squad in hand.
The 2-2 result was a fair one. But most notable was the buzz at St James’ park – something that was missing when ‘the best manager in the league’ John Carver was in charge. Cisse and Pelle continued last season’s scoring form with a goal a piece for Newcastle and Southampton respectively, before marquis acquisition Georginio Wijnaldum took the Magpies into the lead in what was a very impressive individual performance. Shane Long levelled for Southampton late on showing that characteristic fight that’s taken them so far since being promoted just 3 years ago.
The newly promoted sides all provided us with a glimpse of what they’ll offer this season – however none were able to cause a shock upset.
Watford were the only team to come away with a point after a hard earned 2-2 draw at Everton, with Ighalo impressing against the highly rated John Stones (perhaps lowering his value as a consequence).
Norwich City performed well, having 63% possession in their 3-1 defeat to Crystal Palace, but only began to cause real danger in the second half, when already 2-0 down. England U21 international Nathan Redmond pulled a goal back, but Alan Pardew’s Palace side cemented the victory through a Yohann Cabaye goal in the 90th minute.
Bournemouth, unlike Norwich started positively as they applied serious pressure to Aston Villa in the first half. Matt Richie continually created danger and Callum Wilson got into several goal-scoring positions. Unfortunately, the promotion party was spoiled in the second half as Tim Sherwood’s new look Villa side scored the only goal through a typical Rudy Gestede header, as the £6million striker announced his arrival with style only a few minutes after coming onto the pitch.
Although I expect Leicester City and Sunderland to be right down in the relegation mix by the end of the season, Ranieri’s men picked up an impressive 4-2 victory against the Black Cats. Vardy ran his heart out, Marc Albrighton showcased his crossing ability and Mahrez continued his form from the end of last season. But I feat the defence may be too shaky to hold out the entire season. Sunderland picked up a couple of consolations through Defoe and Fletcher, but Mackem fans have much reason to be worried after a shambolic defensive display.
I began the season with the opinion that Arsenal could really mount a serious title challenge if they could hit the ground running, which they failed to do this weekend – and after seeing the Manchester City performance against West Bromwich Albion, there’s a huge possibility of a three-horse race, along with Chelsea, for the title this season.
Manchester United still have to do more to convince me they can make a surge for the title under Louis Van Gaal and selling big players will not have helped their chances. It seems pre-emptive to be making too many judgements so early on in the season – and it’ll be a few games before we can see the contenders’ stories really begin to shape.
But the Premier League is finally back…and that’s all that matters.