Connect with us

Premier League

10 thoughts from this week's Champions League action

The Champions League rumbled on this week with another entertaining slate of action. Below, we dissect the biggest talking points from Matchday 4 in Europe’s premier club competition.

Hudson-Odoi making rare starts count

Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi continued to prove his worth Tuesday with an effective, utilitarian performance against Malmo, setting up the game’s only goal with a gorgeous assist from out wide. After switching from the left to the right, Hudson-Odoi stretched Malmo’s compact defense, finding space that became sparse in the opening half.

He’s done well to bide his time and wait for his chance, which is now in his hands due to injuries to Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner. The 20-year-old could’ve easily fled for greener pastures in the summer. Instead, he accepted his role, along with the challenge of fighting his way back into the starting lineup.

Darren Walsh / Chelsea FC / Getty

And he’s come a long way since manager Thomas Tuchel made an example of him in February by hauling him off just 31 minutes after subbing him on. The difference lies in Hudson-Odoi’s commitment to the task at hand. He’s made himself available as a right-wing-back, right-winger, and attacking midfielder, filling roles as Tuchel sees fit.

He did it again in Sweden on Tuesday, making an impact within 10 minutes of Tuchel’s tactical switch.

Can Ronaldo continue saving United?

If you have to depend on one player to regularly bail you out, it may as well be Cristiano Ronaldo, the greatest scorer of all time.

But just how long can Manchester United go on without paying the piper?

United cheated death once again Tuesday, relying on Ronaldo’s heroic interventions to eke out a 2-2 draw away to Atalanta. His match-saving brace – scored via two off-script plays that caught Atalanta’s otherwise alert defense off-guard – came as the rest of his teammates struggled to execute anything resembling a game plan. Only center-back Eric Bailly – author of several last-ditch tackles – can also fly home feeling remotely proud of his performance.

Jonathan Moscrop / Getty Images Sport / Getty

United’s erratic football was in direct contrast to Atalanta’s slick and stifling style of play. La Dea moved the ball with purpose and hounded United whenever they were in possession. United captain Harry Maguire couldn’t cope with Atalanta’s speed.

The frustrating thing about this team is it’s more than capable of playing good and tidy football. United can even play at high intensity. They just don’t do it for a full 90 minutes; the quick exchange of passes that led to Ronaldo’s initial equalizer in first-half stoppage time were by far the exception.

At some point, the Red Devils’ inefficiencies will begin to outweigh Ronaldo’s own individual greatness.

Barcelona don’t need to win pretty

A win’s a win – even for Barcelona.

At no point during Tuesday’s 1-0 victory at Dynamo Kiev did Barcelona look like the juggernaut of old. They played in 25 crosses – many of the speculative variety – and fired a measly four of 15 shots on target. It was up to 19-year-old Ansu Fati to secure the club’s first away win of the season, an important hurdle cleared during a forgettable campaign that’s been low on style and even lower on substance.

SERGEI SUPINSKY / AFP / Getty

Forget the principles of Cruyffian football. Even with Fati, the promising Gavi, and Pedri in the side, and Xavi potentially coming on board, this team can only dream of playing good football.

Simply put, it needs to find ways to win, if only to bide time until the club can sort itself out. With an interim manager in place, crippling debt, and Camp Nou poised for redevelopment, Barcelona have no time to worry about the sheen of their performances. A win like Tuesday’s is exactly what they need to get through this storm, no matter how uncharacteristic it may be for a club and fan base that demands a certain polish on every result.

Lewandowski in the GOAT bracket?

Some food for thought: just how highly would Robert Lewandowski be regarded if he didn’t play in the same era as Ronaldo and Lionel Messi?

The same can be asked of a handful of elite stars who have been overshadowed by two of the greatest to ever play the sport, but Lewandowski should arguably be the most aggrieved with having to share the spotlight.

The Bayern Munich scoring machine – who racked up another hat-trick in Tuesday’s 5-2 victory over Benfica – now has 81 Champions League goals in 100 tournament appearances; when Messi and Ronaldo reached the 100-match mark in the competition, they had 77 and 64 tallies, respectively.

There’s an inevitability about Lewandowski. At this point, it’s a surprise when he doesn’t score. That rarely happens, by the way; the Polish hitman now has 22 goals in 18 games across all competitions for Bayern this season.

Individual accolades are an imperfect way to evaluate footballers – we put too much stock into them, generally – but Lewandowski is the obvious pick for the Ballon d’Or this year.

Dybala vital to Juve’s revival

Juventus’ early-season domestic struggles have been discussed ad nauseam, but the Bianconeri are enduring no such problems in the Champions League, joining Bayern in the round of 16 by virtue of an entertaining 4-2 win over Zenit St. Petersburg on Tuesday.

Juve, languishing in ninth place in Serie A and tied on points with the likes of Hellas Verona (against whom they just lost), Bologna, and Empoli, are perfect on the continent after four games, including a win over title holders Chelsea.

Stefano Guidi / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Massimiliano Allegri is still tinkering, searching for the right tactical approach and lineup. One thing is abundantly clear, though: the team needs to accentuate Paulo Dybala’s skillset to thrive. The Argentine, along with Federico Chiesa, is capable of elevating the club back to recent heights.

Dybala was at his intoxicating best on Tuesday.

He scored twice (including a penalty), showed off his mazy dribbling ability in tight spaces, linked up sharply with his fellow forwards, and came agonizingly close to sealing a hat-trick with multiple trademark curlers from just outside the area. It was a vintage performance from the 27-year-old, who seems to be getting back up to speed after recovering from a thigh injury.

Whatever system Allegri ultimately settles on as his primary setup, Dybala will be the central figure.

AC Milan lacking something in Europe

AC Milan are undefeated in Serie A after winning 10 of their first 11 matches with 25 goals scored. So why are they still winless in the Champions League?

Sure, one could call it inexperience. Several starters made their Champions League debuts this season – in the Group of Death, no less. One could also highlight the questionable officiating that put the Rossoneri at a disadvantage in otherwise tight contests against Atletico Madrid and Porto; a clear foul on Milan’s Ismael Bennacer went unnoticed Wednesday as Porto scored their only goal of a 1-1 game.

But none of that fully explains why Milan can’t replicate in Europe the quick, cohesive football they love to play in Serie A.

Anadolu Agency / Anadolu Agency / Getty

One could forgive Milan for losing to Liverpool in September. It was the club’s first Champions League match in seven years and in the cauldron that is Anfield. The loss at home to Atletico, meanwhile, came against the backdrop of a refereeing disaster. But Milan struggled in the air and in midfield in both games against Sergio Conceicao’s organized Porto.

Maybe this season will help Stefano Pioli’s side understand what it takes to win in the Champions League. Because if Milan continue to perform in Serie A, they’ll certainly be back.

Vinicius rewards Madrid’s patience

A big-money move to Real Madrid is always accompanied by sky-high expectations – especially for a teenager billed as Brazil’s next superstar.

That’s precisely what happened to Vinicius Junior when Los Blancos splashed €45 million to acquire him from Flamengo in 2017. Early returns were a source of frustration for Real Madrid supporters before this season, with the young winger showing undeniable promise but failing to find the consistency expected of such an expensive signing.

There have been no such issues this season.

Vinicius, now 21, has been on a tear to begin the campaign, forging a dynamite understanding with attacking fulcrum Karim Benzema. After setting up both of Benzema’s goals in Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Shakhtar Donetsk, the electrifying Brazilian now has 14 goal contributions (nine goals and five assists) in 13 starts this season.

Vinicius was always going to need some time to make the leap. But, all things considered, it’s happened in a flash for the blossoming star, who’s well on his way to winning over the famously impatient Real Madrid crowd.

Wijnaldum deserves more chances at PSG

Mauricio Pochettino took Georginio Wijnaldum’s plea to heart.

Wijnaldum made clear in October that he was displeased with his lack of playing time since joining Paris Saint-Germain as a free agent last summer. After serving as a vital cog in the Liverpool midfield in recent years, the Dutch international expected a larger role in the French capital.

“The situation is not what I wanted. I have played a lot in recent years, was always fit, and also did very well,” the midfielder said at the time. “This is something different, and that takes getting used to. I was really looking forward to the new step, and then this happens. It is very difficult.

“That’s football, and I’ll have to learn to deal with that. I’m a fighter. I have to stay positive and work hard to turn it around.”

Mission accomplished.

Stefan Matzke – sampics / Corbis Sport / Getty

Wijnaldum entered Matchday 4 having played just 87 Champions League minutes this season. He’s surely earned more opportunities after scoring twice in PSG’s 2-2 draw with RB Leipzig on Wednesday.

It’s easy to say in hindsight, but Wijnaldum’s lack of action always seemed odd: He profiles as the ideal box-to-box player to link PSG’s oft-isolated attackers to the rest of the team, and Pochettino’s squad has looked painfully disjointed this season. Wijnaldum’s performance Wednesday should help cement his status as a consistent starter, which should give PSG more structure.

Atletico’s street smarts don’t cut it anymore

Atletico Madrid tried their best to unsettle Liverpool during Wednesday’s visit to Anfield. They targeted Sadio Mane from the beginning, knowing they’d have a chance if they slowed down Liverpool’s star players.

But Atletico’s game plan was obvious from the beginning.

NurPhoto / NurPhoto / Getty

“We know they’ll be streetwise and ruthless,” Reds boss Jurgen Klopp said before the match. “We have to overcome that.”

That they did. Liverpool were already up 2-0 when Atletico’s Felipe was sent off for stomping on Mane’s heel. Luis Suarez – one of the most streetwise players in the game – barely made an impact. In the end, the score flattered Atletico.

Diego Simeone even went with four attackers, an unusual tactic given his preference for defensive, rough-and-tumble football. The Argentine has struggled to find the right balance with this squad, and it could prove costly with Atletico now sitting third in Group B.

Immutable law of the ex haunts PSG

When a club has Messi, Kylian Mbappe, and Neymar, its brass won’t lose too much sleep over the attackers it may have bailed on too early in previous years. PSG certainly don’t need more firepower up front.

But it’s obvious now that PSG’s decision to let academy graduate Christopher Nkunku depart in 2019 for a mere €15 million was a mistake.

picture alliance / picture alliance / Getty

The 23-year-old is enjoying a true breakout campaign, with his exquisite header at the Red Bull Arena on Wednesday giving him five goals in four Champions League matches this season. A constant thorn in the side of his former team over a frenetic 90 minutes, Nkunku also won the penalty that led to Leipzig’s last-gasp equalizer.

Nkunku could have been a homegrown success story had PSG exhibited some patience. Instead, he looks destined to become the latest in an ever-growing list of players who secure a mega-money move after a brief stop at Leipzig.

Copyright © 2021 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Premier League

Best images from Sunday's snowy Premier League action

Heavy snowfall blanketed northern England on Sunday, creating wintry conditions for a trio of Premier League matches. Here’s a look at some of the best images from a picturesque day in England’s top flight:

Burnley vs. Tottenham Hotspur

This one never even got started, as the adverse weather forced a postponement of Burnley’s contest with Tottenham. It’s no surprise considering the state of Turf Moor.

There’s a football pitch under there somewhere – we think:

Simon Stacpoole/Offside / Offside / Getty

Some Tottenham players made the most of the situation with a snowball fight:

Simon Stacpoole/Offside / Offside / Getty

This fan was bundled and ready for the action, blizzard be damned:

Stu Forster / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Sadly, there was no cameo from the iconic orange balls:

Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Leicester City vs. Watford

Leicester’s 4-2 victory over Watford began like any other contest – the field was actually green – but the scene eventually resembled a winter wonderland.

As is always the case in these situations, members of the grounds crew were the heroes:

Richard Heathcote / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Perhaps they should have kept the sprinklers off for this one:

Tim Goode – PA Images / PA Images / Getty

Manchester City vs. West Ham United

Manchester City claimed a 2-1 win over West Ham at the Etihad Stadium, overcoming both the conditions and the dangerous Hammers.

Marking Pep Guardiola’s attackers is already difficult, but the weather rendered City’s home kits nearly indistinguishable:

Alex Livesey / Getty Images Sport / Getty

A more cohesive unit: Manchester City in full flight, or the club’s groundskeepers?

Alex Livesey / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Spare a thought for the goalkeepers in today’s snow-filled games; they don’t get to run around and stay warm like their outfield peers:

Tom Flathers / Manchester City FC / Getty

Copyright © 2021 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

Continue Reading

Premier League

10 thoughts from the weekend's Premier League action

theScore examines the most important Premier League developments from the weekend, dissecting the biggest talking points after a busy slate of action.

Chelsea’s marauding defenders wreak havoc

Chelsea didn’t need a full squad to produce a complete 3-0 shellacking of Leicester City on Saturday. Even with Romelu Lukaku out, Timo Werner watching on as an unused substitute, and Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic starting on the bench, the Blues produced enough chances to more than double their score.

That’s because Thomas Tuchel has coached a system and style of play that relies not just on one player but the entire collective. Tuchel also tasks his defenders with pushing forward and joining the attack. The wing-backs look like de facto wingers out there, almost creating a front five when they enter the opposing half. We’ve seen Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City operate with so-called inverted full-backs, and Chelsea are pulling off something similar. Reece James and Ben Chilwell routinely find themselves in the final third and even in the penalty area.

On Saturday, James had more touches in the 18-yard box than Jamie Vardy, and Chilwell created more chances than any of his teammates. Trevoh Chalobah, one of Chelsea’s three center-backs, progressed the ball up the field like a midfielder, and Antonio Rudiger scored off another set piece. Chelsea’s defense is so prolific due to Tuchel’s aggressive tactics.

Leicester regressing under Rodgers

Leicester slid into the bottom half of the table with Saturday’s dismal showing, and the fans let them have it. All the goodwill manager Brendan Rodgers had going for him seems to be evaporating.

It feels very much like the beginning of the end.

The stats read like an obituary: with one clean sheet in 17 league matches and just two wins out of six at home, the Foxes look nothing like the high-pressing, all-action side Rodgers unleashed in his first few months in charge. Vardy’s struggling to run off the shoulders of defenders as he usually does, and the midfielders are completely capitulating ground to their opponents. Jonny Evans, an otherwise sturdy presence since joining the club in 2018, can’t possibly mistime any more tackles without getting a red card, and Caglar Soyuncu has offered futile resistance to onrushing opponents.

Mike Egerton – PA Images / PA Images / Getty

Youri Tielemans’ absence certainly took a toll on Saturday – it was the first time he missed a Premier League fixture in nearly two years – as his teammates couldn’t cover the cracks. Chelsea had tons of space whenever they ventured forward, and their long balls over the top forced Leicester’s slower defenders into foot races that showed them up.

It was also peculiar to see Patson Daka – Leicester’s young livewire and author of four goals in last month’s Europa League match at Spartak Moscow – sitting on the bench alongside the club’s No. 10, James Maddison, while Marc Albrighton started in the year 2021.

Solskjaer’s firing long in the making

Nothing was going to save Ole Gunnar Solskjaer this time around, no last-minute push for an equalizer to salvage this lost cause. Last month’s 5-0 capitulation to Liverpool was embarrassing, the 2-0 loss to Manchester City humiliating, but Saturday’s listless 4-1 defeat to Watford was perhaps the worst of all. Watford had scored just twice in their previous five home fixtures, but the goals came easy against Manchester United, who conceded chance after chance to their relegation-threatened opponent.

Afterward, the Norwegian held up his hands to the traveling supporters in the corner of Vicarage Road, apologizing for his team’s lethargic display. Midfielder Bruno Fernandes insisted Solskjaer wasn’t to blame. But many of the problems that plagued the team in recent months – the lack of cohesion, the absence of a game plan, the shortcomings in defense – had resurfaced. The manager hadn’t found a fix.

IAN KINGTON / AFP / Getty

Reeling from their fifth defeat in seven league matches, United had no choice but to fire Solskjaer. The club gave its former player of 18 years every opportunity to succeed, committing over £400 million in transfer fees across the past three seasons. It even awarded him a contract extension in July. But nothing worked. The buzzing positivity that marked the early days of his reign had long evaporated. After 168 matches in charge, Solskjaer failed to establish forward momentum.

Now, the club has to find a capable replacement midseason. Is Michael Carrick really the only interim solution? Did the board not learn its lesson about former players with limited coaching experience? United made a mistake allowing Solskjaer to stay for so long. They could’ve appointed Mauricio Pochettino last year or Antonio Conte earlier this season. Both are now unavailable. Not even Zinedine Zidane seems interested. So around and around United go, searching for answers in familiar places.

Maguire’s fallen off a cliff

What on earth has happened to Harry Maguire?

The England stalwart was legitimately excellent last season for Manchester United. The Red Devils boasted one of the best backlines in the nation and the imposing captain was a critical reason why, anchoring the defense while logging over 3,000 league minutes.

However, he’s been a downright liability this season.

It seems obvious that rushing back from injury to feature for England at Euro 2020 has played at least some part in Maguire’s downfall. The malaise at Manchester United doesn’t help, but some of it comes down to egregious mistakes Maguire simply wasn’t making last campaign.

The horrible sequence that led to his sending off against Watford – turning the ball over under absolutely no pressure before lunging wildly in a desperate effort to recover – was another low point for the 28-year-old.

Maybe the suspension-induced absence will be a good opportunity to reset.

Gerrard settles early nerves at Aston Villa

Aston Villa supporters were chanting Steven Gerrard’s name by the end of Saturday’s victory over Brighton & Hove Albion. Ninety minutes prior, many were unsure how to feel about their new manager. Fans had just bid farewell to “one of their own” in Dean Smith, the man who led Villa back to the Premier League. Gerard is undoubtedly a legend of the English game but is still an apprentice in the coaching department.

Matthew Ashton – AMA / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Still, Gerrard inherited a capable squad, and he’s fostered some kind of team spirit in the short week-and-a-half he’s had in charge. He can be proud of the 2-0 win at Villa Park, his first as a Premier League manager, and he’ll be happy with the contribution of veteran Ashley Young, who supplied a superb assist to Ollie Watkins on the counterattack. Gerrard’s Rangers played at pace on the break, and the early returns suggest a similar strategy could work at Villa Park as well.

Maybe some would’ve liked Villa to show more ambition at home – the hosts had less than 40% possession – but the result was paramount. Villa now have their first win in six league matches, and Gerrard has some breathing room as he settles into the club.

Arsenal still a work in progress

Arsenal have made some clear strides in recent weeks – their 10-match unbeaten run was cause for legitimate optimism – but the Gunners were given a harsh reminder of the gap that still exists between themselves and the Premier League’s elite on Saturday.

Liverpool steamrolled Mikel Arteta’s men in the second half of a dominant 4-0 win at Anfield; the visitors looked overawed as the Reds ramped up the pressure, a telltale sign of a young team still under construction.

“When we had to grow momentum at the start of the second half we gave the game away,” Arteta said after the defeat. “We gave the ball away under no pressure and were punished. They had all of the momentum. They were the better team and that is the level. They have been together for six years. We haven’t. That is the difference.”

There were only two points – and one place in the table – between the two sides before the contest, but that gap was an illusion. That Aaron Ramsdale had an excellent outing and still conceded four goals tells the whole story.

What was in the water on Saturday?

Saturday was hectic in England’s top flight.

There were 30 goals scored across the eight matches played, with teams seemingly throwing caution to the wind and going for broke. That was especially true near the foot of the table, with Newcastle United and Burnley playing out relentless 3-3 draws against Brentford and Crystal Palace, respectively.

Was it just a one-off, or a sign of things to come?

Particularly for teams mired in the relegation race, wins are infinitely more valuable than draws. Those sides might be willing to take more chances and risk throwing away one point in their quest for all three.

For the sake of the neutral viewer, hopefully managers don’t overreact to this weekend’s chaos and revert to conservative tactics.

Rodri integral to City’s title bid

Picking the Man of the Match from Manchester City’s dominating win over Everton couldn’t have been easy, but on a night when a host of City stars could have laid claim to the honor, it was Rodri who stood above the rest.

He was simply unplayable against Rafa Benitez’s uninspired side. He capped off his commanding performance with a 25-yard screamer to help seal another three points for City. The goal was a thing of beauty, but it was Rodri’s work in the heart of Pep Guardiola’s midfield that proved once again why he’s one of the best holding midfielders in the world.

Performances like this would have been difficult to forecast earlier in Rodri’s career at City. His highly anticipated arrival in 2019 was quickly followed by concerns over his ability to adapt to life under Guardiola.

But, just over three months into the season, the Spaniard has established himself as a stalwart at the Etihad. His development will also give Manchester City supporters peace of mind about a smooth transition when Fernandinho calls time on his legendary career.

In awe of Cancelo’s pass

If you haven’t yet seen it, do yourself a favor and marvel at Joao Cancelo’s otherworldly assist from Manchester City’s win over Everton (45-second mark of the video):

Is there anyone in world football who can manipulate the ball with the outside of their foot like the Portuguese star? Eat your heart out, Ricardo Quaresma.

Cancelo had six assists in 76 appearances over the last two seasons for City. He’s already matched that total in just 18 matches this term. With passes like that, it’s no wonder.

Spurs break out of malaise

Over 250 minutes without testing the opposition is long enough to drive any football fan crazy.

After a dismal first-half performance against Leeds United on Sunday, tempers boiled over among Tottenham supporters who booed the home side off the pitch at halftime. It was a deserved response to an opening 45 minutes that saw Daniel James give the visitors the lead, while Tottenham Hotspur’s streak without a shot on target was extended to six consecutive halves.

The second half was a different story.

Adam Davy – PA Images / PA Images / Getty

Harry Kane ended the streak a minute after the break for a side that implemented a much more aggressive game plan. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg brought Tottenham level before Sergio Reguilon scored his first for the club, securing Conte’s first Premier League win as Spurs manager.

Now unbeaten in three games as Spurs boss, the manager celebrated the victory in true Conte fashion. When the aggressive fist pumps and hugs were finished, the Italian tactician said he was confident the victory could be a springboard for Tottenham, saying, “This is a point to start for the rest of the season.”

Copyright © 2021 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

Continue Reading

Premier League

10 thoughts from the weekend's Premier League action

theScore examines the most important Premier League developments from the weekend, dissecting the biggest talking points after a busy slate of action.

Ole’s defensive approach backfires

A frustrated Bastian Schweinsteiger summed it up best as his former club was being utterly dominated in the first half of Saturday’s Manchester derby: Passive Manchester United versus active Manchester City.

At that point, United looked like they were well on their way to a thrashing similar to the 5-0 thumping they received against Liverpool. But, in the end, Manchester City took their foot off the gas in the second half before claiming a 2-0 victory – a scoreline that was more than flattering for United.

It was a stunning display of ineptitude from both Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the United players. The Red Devils were pegged back right from kickoff before gifting Manchester City the lead inside the opening seven minutes to set the tone for the remainder of the contest. Pep Guardiola’s side doubled the lead just before halftime and continued to dominate en route to an easy win.

The post-match numbers told the miserable story for United.

Going with three at the back was an obvious mistake that led to another catastrophic result for a manager already under extreme pressure. Solskjaer might have thought because that strategy worked against Tottenham Hotspur, it would yield the same result against City, but he was emphatically wrong. It was a failed approach that could ultimately cost him his job, as United – losers of three of their last four Premier League games – will have plenty of time to consider their manager’s future before their next match on Nov. 20.

Damning indictment of Solskjaer

We’ve discussed the need for Manchester United to part ways with Solskjaer ad nauseam, and so has the entire football world by this point. So instead of delving into that discussion again, we’ll just leave this stat here and move along:

Everyone can see it except those in positions of power at Old Trafford.

Cancelo on another level

Joao Cancelo has a real claim for the title of world’s best full-back right now.

The Portuguese international has shown attacking brilliance going back to his Valencia days, but he’s taken an enormous step forward since joining Manchester City from Juventus in 2019, thriving under Guardiola.

“He has been playing incredibly well all season,” Guardiola said of Cancelo earlier this week. “Of course, he sometimes has to improve his quality. He has highs and lows, but he has a special ability to do something good.”

Cancelo, 27, tore Manchester United apart in Saturday’s derby, creating both goals and spending more time on the ball than any other player.

Per Squawka, he now leads Manchester City in the following categories this season:

  • Most touches
  • Most passes
  • Most passes in the final third
  • Most tackles made
  • Most interceptions
  • Most aerial duels won
  • Most duels won
  • Most through balls
  • Mosts shots

Cancelo is a full-back in name only.

Burnley setback exposes Chelsea’s lack of cutting edge

The stage was set for Chelsea to strengthen their grip on the Premier League ahead of Burnley’s visit to Stamford Bridge. Instead, the visitors escaped with a point to shock the Blues.

A lopsided victory seemed inevitable for a Chelsea side that continuously knocked on the door for a second goal after Kai Havertz gave them the lead in the first half. But Matej Vydra scored a late equalizer to make the Blues pay for wasting countless chances to double their lead.

Predictably, manager Thomas Tuchel was less than pleased about his side’s shortcomings after a performance that highlighted Chelsea’s lack of cutting edge in attack. “It’s our fault. We should have scored more,” he said. “We created so many chances.

“… If we played this game 100 times, we’d win 99 times.”

Luckily for the Blues, there’s an international break on the horizon that should make it easier to forget this minor setback. The break should offer injured attacking stars Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner enough time to overcome their respective injuries ahead of Chelsea’s next Premier League test against Leicester City on Nov. 20.

Right decision, wrong timing for Norwich

Norwich City made the necessary decision to part ways with manager Daniel Farke on Saturday, dismissing the bench boss just hours after their first league win of the season.

The timing was unconventional and caught many off guard, but even Farke himself must have known this was coming at some point. His overall body of work in the Premier League doesn’t lie.

Steven Paston – EMPICS / PA Images / Getty

Farke’s commitment to his tactical ethos was noble; the likable German insisted on playing the same brand of attractive football that worked wonders in getting the club promoted twice from the Championship – but there was also an element of naivety at play.

Farke watched as his preferred style yielded poor returns and resulted in the Canaries getting relegated from the Premier League in 2020. After immediately bringing them back up and getting another chance – a relative rarity in professional sports – he didn’t alter his approach.

Prior to Norwich’s 2-1 win over Brentford, they had gone 20 consecutive top-flight matches without a victory. The decision to fire Farke had clearly been made before a ball was kicked on Saturday.

As odd as the timing may have seemed, it’s hard to argue with the sacking.

Vieira working wonders at Palace

After some early hiccups, Patrick Vieira has Crystal Palace on a roll.

The Eagles extended their unbeaten streak to six league matches on Saturday, following up last week’s shock win over Manchester City with another 2-0 triumph, this time against Wolverhampton Wanderers. Standouts Wilfried Zaha and Conor Gallagher delivered the goals once again.

Palace threw away a pair of late leads – and four potential points – earlier in the season, but Vieira hailed his team’s “maturity” after Saturday’s win, which was as comprehensive as they come.

The Eagles have climbed into the top half of the table and boast one of the stingiest backlines in the country, as their expected goals against total (11.4) ranks fourth best. Marc Guehi and Joachim Andersen have formed a solid partnership in central defense, while Cheikhou Kouyate shields them and Vicente Guaita backstops the whole operation.

With matches against Burnley, Aston Villa, and Leeds United on the horizon, the good times should keep rolling at Selhurst Park.

Solid defense fueling Arsenal revival

At this time last year, Gabriel was anchoring a three-man Arsenal defense between Kieran Tierney and Rob Holding, with Hector Bellerin and Bukayo Saka at wing-back in a home match against Aston Villa that the Gunners lost 3-0.

Fast-forward to full-time at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday, and the difference is palpable. The Gunners took care of business against Watford to boost Arsenal’s reputation as one of the Premier League’s top defending teams, after recording their third-successive clean sheet and eighth overall this season.

Ben White, who arrived from Brighton & Hove Albion last summer for £50 million, has rebounded since his rough debut to become an integral part of Arsenal’s defense alongside Gabriel. New right-back Takehiro Tomiyasu has been a revelation, while Nuno Tavares’ emergence as a more-than-capable replacement for Tierney could give manager Mikel Arteta a difficult decision when the Scottish left-back returns to full fitness.

It’s clear that Arteta’s defensive vision is taking shape less than two years into the job, but the Arsenal boss will get a true sense of where his team stands when they clash with high-scoring Liverpool after the international break.

Ranieri’s anger justified?

Watford manager Claudio Ranieri was incensed with Arsenal after the final whistle of Sunday’s 1-0 defeat, complaining that the Gunners didn’t return the ball after the Hornets kicked it out of play to allow Ozan Tufan to receive treatment after he went down injured.

Arsenal kept the ball, and after an extended period of play in which Watford never truly regained control, Emile Smith Rowe scored the lone goal of the contest.

Robin Jones / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Ranieri confronted Arteta about the incident after the match and addressed it to the media.

“There is only one thing I’d like to know,” said Ranieri, according to Jamie Redknapp of Sky Sports. “When there is a man on the ground, everybody expected the ball goes back and it didn’t go. There is a respect in that situation. Then we get the ball with (Ismaila) Sarr and go on the counterattack and there is a big foul. It’s unbelievable.”

He added, “When you put the ball out, you have to give the ball back.”

Arteta, of course, had a retort.

“I have to defend my players, team, and club. We are the most honest,” he said, per Sky Sports. “At some stages, we can even be naive. I’m sure there was no intention to take advantage.”

Your stance on the matter likely depends on which club you support, but the question is simple: Should Arsenal have given the ball back? It’s an established gentleman’s agreement that is almost always observed, but there’s no rule dictating that Arsenal had to give possession back.

Aston Villa raise white flag

It was the end of an era at Aston Villa as the fan-favorite Dean Smith was let go after three years in charge. The decision to part with the English manager was announced after the Claret and Blue dropped yet another match to leave them just three points outside of the relegation zone.

After Smith guided the club back to the Premier League and kept them there last season, the 2021-22 campaign had gotten off to a terribly rocky start. The final straw came after Saturday’s contest on the south coast, as Villa slumped to their fifth Premier League defeat in a row with a 1-0 loss to Southampton.

Despite the club’s disappointing performances, there are bound to be some fans who view Smith’s dismissal as harsh given that Aston Villa had the odds stacked against them after selling superstar Jack Grealish in the summer.

Reds stumble at another crucial point in title race

Matchday 11 was an opportunity for Liverpool to solidify their place in the title race. Instead, Jurgen Klopp’s men were left to rue another blown chance to close the gap at the top of the Premier League table.

A week after failing to capitalize on Manchester City’s shocking loss to Crystal Palace, Liverpool had a golden opportunity to cut into Chelsea’s advantage after the Premier League leaders dropped two points in a draw with Burnley on Saturday.

Alex Pantling / Getty Images Sport / Getty

But, when the full-time whistle sounded at London Stadium, the Reds found themselves worse off than they were when the day started. Losing to West Ham United not only ended the club’s 25-match unbeaten run, it also resulted in David Moyes’ revitalized Hammers leapfrogging Liverpool to take sole possession of third place.

Liverpool’s title hopes are far from irreparable – as the Merseyside club sits just four points back of Chelsea – but there’s no doubting that Sunday’s result was a bitter blow that will sting for the entirety of the upcoming international break.

As for West Ham, well, we warned you last week that the Hammers are for real.

Copyright © 2021 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

Continue Reading

Trending