Premier League round-up 30/08/2010

This weekend marked the last round of Premier League fixtures before the close of the transfer window, and understandably the 10 games played were – on the whole – cagier affairs. Players were keen to avoid mistakes for fear of being replaced by trigger-happy managers before tomorrow evening, and thus took fewer risks.

Such an attitude led to more tentative displays from the likes of Tottenham, who failed to pierce Wigan’s sieve of a defence as they fell to a 1-0 defeat. Perhaps distracted by Thursday’s Champions League draw – which paired them with holders Internazionale – Harry Redknapp’s side lost focus and lacked the attacking vigour of last week’s win over Stoke.

After beginning the game looking to avoid defeat, Roberto Martinez’s Latics soon realised they had a chance to get all three points from the visit to White Hart Lane. Spurs failed to heed a very visible warning shot in the form of Antonio Alcaraz’s embarrassing miss, and minutes later Hugo Rodallega (below) notched his first goal of the season.

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The Colombian’s winner will give Redknapp cause for concern, and he will be keen to avoid similar slip-ups after the Champions League ties in Milan, Bremen and Enschede. With margins of error smaller than ever this season, just one European hangover could be the difference between Champions League qualification and a season in the Europa League.

One team looking more comfortable at the moment is Arsenal. Spurs’ North London neighbours saw off a stubborn Blackburn outfit and could have easily added to the two goals scored by Andrey Arshavin and the resurgent Theo Walcott.

This is exactly the kind of game Arsene Wenger’s side have dropped points in in recent years, but even when their forwards were squandering chances at one end, the Gunners’ back-line limited Rovers to few clear-cut chances at the other. Despite picking up a red card on his competitive debut for the club, Laurent Koscielny looks like a smart acquisition by Wenger.

That 2-1 victory leaves Arsenal on seven points, the same tally as Manchester United. Sir Alex Ferguson’s men brushed past basement side West Ham with Dimitar Berbatov starring in a 3-0 win. The watching Fabio Capello will be relieved the Bulgarian has retired from international football, with Berbatov’s fellow countrymen taking on a weakened England back-line in Friday’s European Championships qualifier.

Nemanja Vidic

As important as Berbatov’s flair was the performance of Nemanja Vidic at the back. After a poor World Cup the Serbian is quickly getting back to his best at Old Trafford, and West Ham’s forwards barely got a touch on the ball, let alone a clear sight of goal.

But Arsenal and United are still chasing champions Chelsea, who kept up their 100 per cent record with a stroll in the park against Stoke. The Potters’ negativity left them playing a game of damage limitation even before Florent Malouda netted the opener, but Tony Pulis’ side know these are not the games from which they should be looking for victories. Still, with Stoke still yet to record a point this season, their home game against winless West Ham in September is already looking like a relegation six-pointer.

The top four is rounded off by Aston Villa, who bounced back from last week’s humbling at St James Park with a hard-fought 1-0 triumph over Everton. A well-taken goal from Luke Young may see Fabio Capello start to regret the full-back’s retirement from international football, while another impressive performance from Marc Albrighton made the £26m sale of James Milner look smarter by the day.

Milner’s new employers Manchester City slipped to a shock defeat at Sunderland, who are quickly turning the Stadium of Light into a fortress. Micah Richards, so impressive last week against Liverpool, was the villain of the piece this time round as he brought down Darren Bent for the decisive penalty kick.

Not so long ago, the thought of Birmingham against Blackburn on Sky would have encouraged the casual supporter to turn off the TV and get a headstart on their work for the week ahead, but not any more. Blues boss Alex McLeish has recognised the 1-0 wins of last season will not be so easy to come by without Joe Hart on the club’s books, while Bolton manager Owen Coyle has brought a fluid passing system with him from Burnley.

Roger Johnson

He has also brought Robbie Blake with him, and the veteran striker was the Trotters saviour, firing a late free-kick into the top corner of Ben Foster’s net to complete a comeback after goals from Roger Johnson and Craig Gardner had given Birmingham a 2-0 lead. Foster’s opposite number Jussi Jaaskelainen, meanwhile, had a game to forget – a needless slap on Johnson saw the Finn dismissed before half-time.

Another ground which witnessed a 2-2 scoreline was Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road. Luke Varney’s profligacy in front of goal contributed to Sheffield Wednesday’s relegation from the Championship last season, but the former Crewe man enjoyed a more fruitful debut with Ian Holloway’s team. Opponents Fulham will have impressed manager Mark Hughes to some degree after coming from behind for the second week running, but there remain question marks over their defensive solidity.

Aside from Blackpool’s fairytale start to the season, perhaps the biggest surprise this term has been the form of Mick McCarthy’s Wolves. They kept up their unbeaten record with a 1-1 draw against Newcastle, in a game which turned into a physical battle between the two midfields. A series of crunching tackles from Wolves captain Karl Henry silenced Newcastle hard-man Joey Barton but the Toon Army picked up their game in the second half to earn a deserved point.

On the subject of combative midfielders, Christian Poulsen enjoyed an impressive debut as Liverpool saw off the challenger of West Brom. Fernando Torres may have grabbed the headlines with the only goal of the game, but Poulsen showed a good understanding with Steven Gerrard, giving the Anfield faithful reason to be optimistic despite the departure of Javier Mascherano. The visitors can also be relatively happy with the performance, suggesting defensive collapses like that suffered against Chelsea are a thing of the past.

Team of the week (4-4-2):

Mignolet (Sunderland); Luke Young (Aston Villa) Vidic (Man Utd), Vermaelen (Arsenal), Baines (Everton); Al-Muhammadi (Sunderland), Poulsen (Liverpool), Mikel (Chelsea), Nani (Man Utd); Berbatov (Man Utd), Varney (Blackpool)

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3 Comments

  1. Berbatov has retired from international football, which is a bonus for England considering his current form.

    Wigan – the most bi-polar team I’ve ever seen in my years of watching football.

    What do you make of Arshavin at Arsenal. Scored the winner, granted, but I thought he carried on in the same vein of the past year or so – pretty average overall performance. Can’t really argue with scoring the winner though. As a slight aside, Arsenal should be buoyed that they went away to Blackburn and came through with a win, despite their talisman Fabregas being slightly off form – normally they’d struggle without Fabregas expertly pulling the strings.

    I watched bits and pieces of the Liverpool game and I didn’t think they looked particularly impressive – but it’s natural given all the upheaval that’s gone on there. I think they’ve the makings of a very good first eleven, but it’s the depth beyond that that you’d worry about. I’m sticking by my tip of them finishing 4th ahead of City…

    … which brings me to my last points:

    Carlos Tevez. He he he. In all seriousness though, they reaped what they sowed yesterday. City still have too much of a small time mentality IMO. They went overly defensive by starting with De Jong, Yaya and Barry – Tevez alone up front isn’t ideal. They should be going to places like the Stadium of Light and trying to assert their authority, not lining up with three defensively oriented midfield players.

    You rightly note that Albrighton has sparkled so far for Villa. I also think Jordan Henderson deserves a mention for Sunderland. Young, English, tenacious and technically gifted. If we also consider the likes of Wilshere, Welbeck, Cleverley, Jones, Gibbs and Rodwell, then we’ve got some fantastic talent coming through…

  2. I must have missed the Berbatov retirement – have now changed the article accordingly. Agree with you about Arshavin – despite nominally being part of a front 3 he is often having to push deeper than when he was on the left in a 4-4-2, which is baffling. Still, he is chipping in with goals and assists, and arguably creating more space for team-mates.

    Speaking of strikers who have been dropping too deep, it is precisely this part of his game which means Tevez shouldn’t be used as a lone striker. Last season City dropped a lot of points due to defensive frailties and it almost looks like Mancini is trying to overcompensate. I think he’s intelligent enough to recognise when that tactic isn’t working, though.

    Liverpool are transitional and Wigan are hilariously unpredictable – no argument there.

    In terms of England’s future, there are clearly some (like Rodwell and Gibbs) more ready than others, but on the whole it looks promising. At least far more promising than a recall for Scott Carson suggests (!)

  3. Yeah, there wasn’t a great deal of fanfare surrounding the Berbatov retirement. He said at the back end of last season that he wanted to pass the responsibility onto the nation’s younger players. Though I reckon it was more to do with the fact that he was starting to take a lot of stick for his performances with the national side. It’s something that really shocked me given his outstanding record at international level – 48 goals in 77 games. On Berbatov generally, I’m not really sure what’s changed between last season and this, but the transformation is very welcome. Apparently he is free is a bit of a pain in the arse knee problem and that would certainly explain his more mobile start to this season. He did an interview recently where he said he did a bit of soul searching over the summer break, and so it seems that the penny dropped that he needs to match his immense ability up with his actual performance levels. Well done to the fella though, because he’s only behind Scholes in being our best player in the opening period of the season so far. The big test for him will come when we play Everton away after the international break – a notoriously difficult fixture for us, and one where Fergie would normally err on the side of caution and play 4-5-1. For the first time in his United career though, Berbatov is going into a big-ish game expecting to start, such is his form. Interested to see what happens there. I think sometimes, we’re prevented from going two up front in the big games because of the relative weakness of our midfield…

    Re City and their 4-5-Tevez formation – I was surprised to see them lining up like this. I’ve got to say that Tevez is a smashing player, but he never looked the business in the lone striker role for us – I don’t think he’s quick enough, nor does he possess the body strength to cope with two centre halves. He’s a far more effective player when he’s able to buzz around the park. I wouldn’t actually read too much into their defeat at Sunderland – I think the Stadium of Light is one of those tricky places to travel to, especially when you’ve not got a settled team yet – but nonetheless, the team selection of three anchoring midfielders seemed overly negative to me. All that said, they missed at least three extremely presentable opportunities (Tevez, Yaya and Adebayor) and had one of those gone in, the whole team selection debate would have probably been elementary. I just think that if you’re challenging for the title (and that will undoubtedly be City’s ambition) then you need to go all out for the win – as we saw a couple of years ago when Liverpool only lost two games all season, too many draws can be damaging. The real barometer of a championship winning side is not how few you lose, but rather how many you win – I think City are going to need to instill this mentality a little more if they want to get to where they expect to be. What of David Silva, btw? I know it’s too early to be talking about flops/failures, but he hasn’t really featured that much. He’s not one that I’m expecting to make waves tbh – I think he’ll go the same way Robinho did.

    I was really disappointed with the England squad tbh. Carson is an absolutely God-awful ‘keeper IMO. The whole squad is just mired in mediocrity. The most bemusing selection was SWP when Joe Cole is excluded.


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