Following an historic international break which saw Wales and Northern Ireland confirm their place as debutants in European competition, the Premier League returned in typically dramatic fashion.
Naturally, the arrival of Jürgen Klopp at Anfield was the main focal point in the lead up to GW9, but his players produced a performance which fell short of the hype.
In stark contrast, three managers found themselves on the periphery of the Premier League scene due to Klopp’s reputation. However, they utilised their top-flight smarts to the fullest extent, yet again inspiring their respective teams to produce a strong result.
VAN GAAL v EVERTON – 3 points
Super Sub/Key Players: Wayne Rooney
What a difference six months (and a good summer) makes! Back in April, the Red Devils were sunk by an inspired Everton performance that saw the Merseysiders secure Premier League safety with a 3-0 win.
Saturday’s match, played under the shadow of Howard Kendall’s untimely death, gave Manchester United the opportunity to avenge that insult. They did so with extreme prejudice, reversing April’s scoreline in their favour through three well-taken goals.
The clinical and ruthless finishing, undertaken with such ease, was a throwback to the unstoppable Manchester United team that played under Sir Alex Ferguson at his managerial peak in the late nineties.
The most attractive aspect of United’s play was the simplicity of the manoeuvres that lead to the goals. In Louis van Gaal’s brave red world, the quick interplay between Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial is proving to be the downfall of many a team.
Louis van Gaal’s decision to deploy Rooney in a wide position at the start was a confusing one, yet his unmatched vision caused havoc in the Everton defence. The former ‘boy wonder’ turns 30 on Saturday, but his fitness and versatility under Louis van Gaal have been nothing short of a revelation after a few years of relative mediocrity.
Everton’s midfield rock, James McCarthy, looked particularly ordinary in the presence of Rooney and Martial, and the Irish international would have undoubtedly been a marked man in van Gaal’s playbook. To stop McCarthy, and an unfit John Stones, is to stop Everton.
Van Gaal’s decision to deploy Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger as the holding pair in midfield was also a masterstroke, providing a combination of good passing ability and cultured footwork. This only served to deepen Everton’s frustration on a day of mourning and reflection.
WENGER v WATFORD – 2 points
Super Sub/Key Players: Olivier Giroud
Arsene Wenger is a master of psychology, and Saturday’s evening kickoff at Vicarage Road was yet another prime example of a substitute being deployed to take advantage of a team’s natural drop in positivity after conceding a goal.
Faced with an immediate new challenge, the conceding team must not only re-adapt their game plan to the situation of trailing, but also to the additional challenge presented by the presence of the substitute.
Giroud’s physical presence, which compares favourably to that of the jet-heeled Theo Walcott, provided Watford with a new challenge to which they could simply never adapt. Within ten minutes, a further two goals were scored by Arsenal, one of them from Giroud himself.
BILIC v CRYSTAL PALACE – 1 point
Super Sub/Key Players: Nikica Jelavic
Once again, West Ham stole the points in another bountiful trip for Slaven Bilic’s road warriors.
Curiously, the moment of reckoning came unusually late for West Ham, as the game meandered to an uninspired draw with just five minutes left on the clock.
The introduction of striker Nikica Jelavic proved pivotal, with West Ham taking the lead less than one minute later through an assist from Jelavic and a goal from Manuel Lanzini.
Jelavic’s emphasis on hard work and determination created that opportunity, which exorcised the fighting spirit from ten-man Crystal Palace. Credit must also be given to Bilic for the bravery shown in placing more emphasis on attack, at a time when stamina was at a premium.
A weaker manager may have accepted the point from Selhurst Park, but Bilic’s brand of uncompromising play keeps him at the summit of the FLIP Sports Tac-Masters table!