Sunday 18 March 2018 / 07:04 PM


(Red) Devils advocate

For the second consecutive week Lukaku, Pogba and Martial hit the net and United won 4-0, their sea-son off to a rollicking start. Mourinho looks to have his squad locked in, once again dominating pro-ceedings and thundering home.

Whilst it’s hard to deny their flashy start, the scoreline was not an accurate depiction of the game’s events. Swansea were far better than in their season opener: after conceding 29 shots on goal, it was a small miracle they escaped with a clean sheet. This week they were more organised: they were particu-larly stringent in slowing down Pogba and the rampaging midfield, tracked back to cover their back three well and denied United any obvious path to clean looks. It was once Lukaku netted in the 80th minute and the game was out of reach that everything imploded and the goals racked up.

But let’s not get too far ahead — whilst impressing, West Ham and Swansea aren’t wins to hang their hat on, and they started with three wins last season before delving into their struggles.

What might give you pause is how gimmicky it can all seem. Long forays deep into the opposition ter-ritory seem to be coming at an alarming rate (and are usually fruitless), a luxury that presumably won’t continue against superior teams.

United’s hot start should bring about encouragement, just don’t jump on the hype train too early and begin forecasting their season by these results. They haven’t quite turned the corner in terms of break-ing teams down, but at least they converted a dominant position into a comfortable win. Optimistic, but not definitive.

Huddersfield, here to play

Riding high after their inspirational maiden win, Huddersfield hosted their first Premier League game to equal success, continuing the good times with a secure 1-0 showing, the goal coming courtesy of a superb strike from Australian Aaron Mooy.

Their astute play has caught both their opponents off-guard, and despite scoring a treble in their open-er, Town improved further this week, better controlling the tempo and winning the midfield, coming home rather commandingly to claim victory. Sitting second is a fun novelty, but their mission to stay in the league is off to an awesome start.

Same old

United revival aside, another week’s worth of games has only furthered the predetermined narrative of each of the other five contenders.

Arsenal’s and Liverpool’s defence are worries: the Gunners are being penetrated through the middle with ease, exemplified by Stoke’s PSG recruit Jese’s game-winner that tore straight through their cen-ter.

Liverpool look equally as vulnerable, a visible sigh of relief every time they shakily reclaim posses-sion and clear the ball (their set-piece defence is a major concern: they played an artificial high-line to avoid danger, but serious troubles against Watford and Palace suggest things could get ugly fast).

It seems to effect their games in the same way — they control majority of possession, fail to score (due to other flaws) and look susceptible to the counter every time. Arsenal lost due to this, and Liverpool were Benteke not choking on a sitter away from the same predicament. Luckily enough, these two face one another this week in what shapes as a telling, defining clash for either side.

The other teams ran over familiar ground: Chelsea won ugly (32% possession, 40 clearances and two shots on target for two goals-level ugly), City are still on a passing safari without a destination and Spurs played a game so typically Spurs-y it hurt. So far, no one has shook their preseason perceptions.

Match of the week

Craziness at St. Mary’s Stadium as Southampton downed a resilient West Ham in a dramatic five goal thriller. The Hammers, attempting to rebound from a 4-0 shelling in their opener, got off to a difficult start: Southampton scoring their first goal in seven home games, followed by the sending-off of Marko Arnautovic and compounded by a penalty that Tadic converted to make it 2-0.

Marquee poacher Javier Hernandez hit before half-time, then again 20 minutes into the second to breathe life into the contest, seemingly turning West Ham’s fortunes – a tough climb for a 10-man side with a two-goal deficit. It was all in vein, however, as veteran back Pablo Zabaleta gave away another penalty which was slotted home to let the Saints escape with a 3-2 win.

It makes judging these teams an interesting task. Southampton have been almost paradoxical: failing to net with 29 shots and 59.6% possession a week earlier against Swansea (leaving with an inexplicable scoreless draw) then, despite an enormous 66.3% of possession, managing to have West Ham out-shoot them 16-14 and give up 8 shots on target, yet walk away with the win in a high-scoring affair. Their upcoming schedule is somewhat soft, so the aims should be firmly on carving out a reliable style.

West Ham’s issues are more apparent — they have now conceded seven goals in two games off just 35 shots. The opportunities they’re giving up have teams converting at a high clip, so they need to tidy up at the back ASAP.

Mat Ryan Watch

Well, that didn’t last long. After such a promising Premier League debut, Brighton & Hove Albion’s Aussie keeper Mat Ryan was thrown to the other side of the bus.

A misdirected parry landed at the feet of Okazaki who converted the chance at the 53-second mark as reality set back in for the newly-promoted side. The fluctuation continued — after putting his body on the line to impressively deny Vardy, Ryan was beaten again, this time off a powerful header from a precisely-delivered Mahrez corner.

Another confident, physical challenge on Vardy prevented a third, and that was that. Two signature body-on-the-line stops watered down by two rather simplistic goals. He’ll see better days.

Quick Thoughts

    • Both Spurs’ opponents have been rather strident in handling Dele Alli. It appears teams will be as physical as possible in hopes to slow him down. Something to watch.
    • Stoke lost 11 of 12 against top-six teams last season, making Arsenal’s loss extra concerning.
    • Palace (by way of Chelsea) forward Ruben Loftus-Cheeks looks legit. Looking forward to more show-ings of that calibre.
    • Watford, who ended last season on a six-game losing streak, take four points from their first two games. Credit manager Marco De Silva for having them ready to play.
    • Hugo Loris is a genuine world-class keeper, so his game-costing mistake looks all the more dire. Un-characteristic to say the least.
    • Replacing Sigurdsson’s contributions is going to define how fall Swansea fall this season. Whilst their defence looked more organised, how deep they sat in their own end further highlighted how direction-less their attack can look. Swansea have failed to hit a single shot on target through two weeks. Alarm bells ringing.
    • In his two last Premier League games against Southampton, Marko Arnautovic has been sent off twice. Rather exclusive list of players with a consecutive hat-trick of red cards against the same team.

[YouTube – G-Studio]

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About the author

Brayden Issa

Brayden is a Sydney-based sports management student and sports fanatic, specialising in rugby league, basketball, football and cricket. He is concerned with everything related to professional sports performance and management.

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