Monday, 29 September 2014

Premier League Week 6

Spurs do a job on Arsenal

Saturday's derby made me miss Harry Redknapp a bit. North London derbies when Redknapp was in charge were always entertaining affairs. He didn't really bother with gameplans at the Emirates, and just sent the players out to try and out-score Arsenal. It worked.. once. Most of the time it didn't. They were often on the ends of big defeats or involved in high scoring draws. Saturday's affair was dull by comparison.

Pochettino came out with a gameplan and sent his team out not to lose. Fair enough when you think about it. Spurs' record against last season's top four was awful. The summation of their results amounted to a single point at home to Chelsea. Seven defeats. Twenty seven goals conceded in eight games. This is clearly one area that Pochettino has identified a need to improve and did so by adopting a more defensive approach against Arsenal on Saturday.

Poch's first task is to shed Spurs's 'laughing stock' tag

Spurs were set up to sit back and hit Arsenal on the counter when they got the chance. They executed the gameplan pretty well and nearly emerged with what would have been a highly unlikely victory. They still look shaky defensively and had Hugo Lloris to thank for a string of excellent saves to keep them in the game. In the end they couldn't hang on. A A period of sustained Arsenal pressure resulted in a deserved equaliser, crafted brilliantly by Danny Welbeck and finished off neatly by Kieran Gibbs. Spurs won't be too disappointed with the draw. They've already matched their points haul against the top four sides last season and face Man City at home next week. Given they regularly ship 5/6 goals to City, I think we can expect another defensive display from Pochettino. Slow progress but progress all the same.

Arsenal did not have a great day. Aside from dropping two points and falling to six points behind Chelsea, they lost three more players to injury. Arteta and Ramsey both fell foul to muscular strains whilst Wilshire suffered a nasty looking ankle injury. Nothing you can do about impact injuries, luck of the draw really but Arsenal do seem to pick up an awful lot of muscular injuries throughout every season. So much so that it is hard to believe it is purely coincidental.  Ramsey missing another six weeks is a massive blow to them.

Gerrard gives critics the wrong answer

Up until Phil Jagielka's stunning late equalizer, the Merseyside derby looked set to be, as so many occasions have been at Anfield down the years, the Steven Gerrard show. He's come in for a lot of criticism in the media lately but Steven Gerrard answered his critics with a stunning free-kick to break Everton's resistance. Except he didn't. Not at all.

No one is doubting Gerrard's ability to shoot, or the quality of his set-piece deliveries. What he is lacking is any sort of defensive contribution to this Liverpool side. Try telling this to him though, as he ran to the crowd cupping his ears with the look of a man who seems to think he's shut everyone up. Obviously in his mind, being able to bend a ball in from thirty yards makes up for not showing up defensively this season. Age has restricted him from bombing forward to join attacks these days so he needs to make some sort of defensive effort to warrant inclusion in this side and he's just not doing that right now.

Gerrard scores but the criticism of his defensive game will not be quelled

Gerrard does not do enough work as a defensive midfielder. What he generally does do is take the ball off the defence and pick out a pass to try set up attacks. He does this very well.  He doesn't press and doesn't put enough tackles in and this hinders his team defensively as they are forced to carry him. Liverpool would surely have won the title last season were it not for the amount of goals they conceded. They've brought in Dejan Lovren among others to shore up the defence but the real problem lies slightly further forward. Like Arsenal, they lack a destroyer in midfield. Some one who'll press and press and break up opposition moves before they get into the Liverpool box. The zone between the Liverpool area and the halfway line should be his house. Nothing gets through there. Opposition rarely find resistance in this area and when they do it's usually from the far more energetic Jordan Henderson.

Nemanja Matic is perhaps the best holding midfielder in the division at the moment. He shields the Chelsea defence well and when he gets the ball lays it off to Fabregas or one of the more creative players, leaving it to them to do the attacking. Gerrard's passing game is fine, he has a longer range than Matic but the primary function of a holding midfielder is first and foremost to win the ball back. Matic has averaged 3.5 tackles per game in the league this season. United's holder, Daley Blind has averaged 2.7. Steven Gerrard just 1.8. Also less than Fernandinho at City, Mikel Arteta at Arsenal and his opposite number at Everton, Gareth Barry.

It's a similar case when it comes to interceptions. He averages 0.5 per game while his counterparts at the other elite teams are all up around the 1.8 to 2 mark. A notable difference and once Liverpool cannot ignore any longer if they are to shore up this defence. Suarez isn't around to bail them out anymore in games where they leak 2/3 goals.

Liverpool plundered Southampton for players during the summer and got a fair haul in Lallana, Lovren and Lambert. Perhaps they might have been better off taking a run at Wanyama or Schneiderlin. Both of these have been excellent for Southampton in the last couple of years in defensive midfield roles. Even playing one of them alongside Gerrard would relieve him of some defensive duties and allow him to be more of a playmaker. His range and accuracy of passing, combined with the quality of his set-pieces do make him a valuable asset to Liverpool, but he's just not doing enough in his current role and no amount of wonder-goals will change that.

Edin Dzeko deserves more credit or at least more playing time

It seems strange that Edin Dzeko is never considered worthy of placement in Europe's top bracket of number 9s. You know the bracket, Robert Lewandowski, Diego Costa, Falcao, van Persie. It's a little unfair, his goals per game ratio is among the very best and the fact that he's found himself used as a substitute more often than not

Dzeko scored another two goals at Hull and Saturday to ensure a City victory, the first an absolute screamer to put them 2-0 ahead and his second a good finish to put them back in front after Hull had pegged them back. Dzeko has a good goal rate at City, he's averaging 15 league goals a year, impressive considering he's never really been first choice at the club. Last year he spent much of the first half of the season sitting on the bench as Alvaro Negredo was preferred up top as a partner to Sergio Aguero.

Dzeko came to City's rescue yet again

This is the first season that Dzeko has a chance to establish himself as a first choice starter at the Etihad. Last season, mostly due to injuries to Aguero, Negredo and Jovetic, was the first time Dzeko started more than 16 league games in a season. He hit exceptionally form towards the end of the season and was perhaps the most pivotal figure in City's winning streak and march to the title.

It does seem strange that Dzeko is not held in as high regards as Europe's elite strikers. He's powerful, skillful, reasonably quick and a brilliant finisher. So much more than the target man it is easy for someone of his size to be cast as. Perhaps he has spent too long living in the shadow of Sergio Aguero. Aguero's lack of fitness towards the end of last season paved the way for Dzeko to shine. Now that the Argentinian is approaching full form and fitness again, you'd imagine he'd be favoured ahead of Dzeko in the eyes of the manager. Some strikers are just more equal than others.

Rooney not leading by example

The role of the captain is considered by many to be of diminishing importance in football. There are very few Roy Keane/Patrick Vieira figures in the Premier League today. This summer Wayne Rooney was handed the honour of both Manchester United and England captaincy. At club level at least, he seems to be shirking this.

He's now United's second longest serving player after Darren Fletcher, passing the ten year mark this weekend, and by far the most capped player in the England squad so he was the obvious choice in that regard for both titles but is he captain material? On the face of it, he very much isn't. Saturday's indiscretion wasn't the first and probably won't be the last. He was sent off for England in Montenegro a couple of years ago for a similar attack of mindless violence, kicking out at a player, seemingly just for the sake of it. Not the kind of antics you'd expect from a captain.

The walk of shame for Rooney on his 10th anniversary at United

In terms of top Premier League captains, Vincent Kompany is probably the best around. No-nonsense, fearless, leads by example, rarely lets his side down. It's rare to see attacking players as captains, generally it's defenders and central midfielders who make the best leaders. Putting in a last-ditch tackle or making a lung-busting run to get back and win the ball tends to inspire confidence in your team-mates rather than scoring goals does.

Rooney has a chequered past with United. Despite being the club's record goalscorer in waiting, his relationship with the club has twice deteriorated to the point where he's asked to leave. Surprisingly, this was his first red card in five years and only his third for the club. His performances throughout the years have ranged from sublime some days to largely inconsistent for months on end. It seems questionable that he was handed the armband this summer, not solely base on his acrimonious past, but also on the fact that on recent form, he's not a guaranteed starter.

Rooney is the best of a small pool of candidates when it comes to potential United captains. Jonny Evans and Darren Fletcher are the only two other viable options and neither are guaranteed a spot in the first eleven. Rooney needs to adapt to this role, stop going missing in matches, assert his authority in the dressing room as the senior player at the club and lead by example when it comes to discipline and performance. He's not off to a great start.

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