Meet The New Boss……
The build up to the weekend games was dominated by the Manchester derby and in particular the clash of the titan managers, Mourinho and Guardiola. One of the changes in the modern TV version of football is that all managers are celebrities; not just those who have something interesting to say or are otherwise entertaining such as a Clough or Shankly. The outcome of the match made it 8-3 to Pep in the head to head with Jose which makes it fairly conclusive that Pep is the main man. We can put this one to bed now I think. As usual Mourinho blamed the match officials for the defeat but they were second best in what was an exciting yet error prone contest; where spirit and determination dominated rather than the quality of the football – not one for the purists you might say. I’ve not yet heard Guardiola interviewed but his impression of Marcel Marceau on fast-forward on the touchline does provide added amusement.
Both Manchester clubs will likely be in at the death when the Premier League is decided next May. The amount of money spent on player recruitment will determine that, never mind the respective managerial competences. Manager of the season so far, for me, has to be Ronald Koeman at Everton; not only a great start for the Toffees but also for taking Enner Valencia off our hands.
Money’s Too Plentiful to Mention
It was revealed this week that Manchester United became the first UK side to earn more than £500 million in revenues in a single year. As with most Premier League teams an ever increasing proportion of revenue comes from TV and commercial operation rather than from matchday income. If in the future the crowd effect can be virtually added by CGI there may be no need for troublesome supporters in the stadium at all. It was estimated that the transfer fee cost of the starting 22 in the Manchester derby was somewhere in the region of £700 million. Big clubs with big managers tend to sign players with big reputations. It is surprising how little you might end up getting for your money if the performances of Pogba and Bravo are anything to go by. Interesting that despite all the spending City do not have a reliable backup to Aguero; Iheanacho may have potential but the remarkably one-footed Nolito doesn’t look a viable replacement. Kevin de Bruyne is a fine player and probably justifies his fee but I am still to be convinced that either Sterling or Stones are the best use of (getting on for) £50 million each – with almost the same again spent on a taller version of Sterling in Leroy Sane. Value is largely subjective but if there was any purpose in Fair Play Rules they would legislate against the indiscriminate spending of the likes of City and Chelsea.
Going off at even more of a tangent into the Championship, I was surprised to note that of the 27 players featured in the encounter between former European champions Villa and Forest only 9 were English.
Strikers, Goals and Movement
It is most unusual to see a West Ham player at the top of the goalscoring charts but Michail Antonio is currently up there along with Costa and Ibrahimovic. Maybe we will get someone into double figures this season. Off the mark this week were Lukaku and Kane and I would expect both to continue rattling them in during the remainder of the season. Many of the goals at the weekend were the result of quick, incisive passing and movement often on the counter attack. The type of goals we scored in the smash and grab away victories at Anfield and the Etihad but which have been rare ever since. Quite a few teams have adopted the pressing and quick break strategy with the notable exceptions of Arsenal and City who still tend towards the tippy-tappy. Our own current Plan A is something of a hybrid involving ponderous sideways passes (also known as fannying about) with the ball eventually played out to one of many wide-men who then attempt to put in a cross; Plan B is to try to win a free kick in a dangerous position.
There were two flying overhead kicks at the weekend by Koscielny of Arsenal and dirty Diego of Chelsea. Both looked spectacular and helped towards earning points for their respective clubs but both also raise the question of where the line is drawn for dangerous play. Had they happened elsewhere on the pitch I wonder what the decision would have been?
The Case for the Defence
There was a fair share of comedy (or was it schoolboy) defending this weekend. There were individual errors and there was collective incompetence. Top prize for individual error went to Lucas of Liverpool but fortunately for him it did affect the final outcome of the game. There was some complicity from Mingolet who should never have given him the ball in the first place. Players (playing for the more sophisticated coaches) may be under instructions not to welly it upfield but abdicating the responsibility to a teammate is not really any better. Claudio Bravo was not content with his initial flapping at a cross clanger and tried to go one better by embarking on several suicidal dribbles. The award for collective incompetence was hotly contested and in the final analysis Sunderland just pip West Ham for the honour. The West Ham defence at least put up a token resistance to opposition attacks whereas Sunderland just seemed to want to keep out of Lukaku’s way. Honourable mention as well to Stoke who conceded four at home for a second match running. A poor result for them but their defence was more undone by opposition cunning rather than them being absent without leave.
Bad Decisions Make Great Stories
A week in Premier League football would not be complete without referee inconsistency or downright bewilderment. Arsenal’s fortunate last minute penalty was a case in point with the referee making a (Freeman’s sized) catalogue of errors. First he failed to spot a clear foul on a Southampton player which gave Arsenal possession; then he didn’t stop the game despite there being an Arsenal player lying prone with a head injury in the middle of the goal; said prone player then prevented the Southampton keeper getting to the cross; and finally he penalised the Southamton defender in what was as clear a case of ‘six of one and half a dozen of the other’ as I have ever seen. Such events can kick-start a season. Elsewhere it appeared that ‘top whistle-blower’ Mark Clattenburg had decided that the new dissent clampdown didn’t apply to Wayne Rooney – on any of a number of occasions during the course of the match. Chelsea were, for once, on the wrong end of a refereeing blunder with Cahill clearly fouled by Leroy Fer before he scored Swansea’s second; this can, however, be put down as justifiable karma!