Weekend in 100 words or less
Euro 2012 led some to think the striker was dying. On week two in the English Premier League the union of strikers hit back and stole the headlines. The league’s most expensive one, Fernando Torres, bounced back with a bang against Newcastle while last season’s bad boys Luis Suarez and Carlos Tevez netted at Anfield. The exciting Nikica Jelavic got his campaign going, Robin Van Persie’s spectacular goal ensured he had a home debut to remember while Bobby Zamora, Simeon Jackson, Danny Graham, Franco Di Santo and Arouna Kone all scored to get points for their teams.
- Fernando’s finest performance in a Chelsea shirt- Since he arrived at Stamford Bridge, Fernando Torres has been one of the most watched strikers in the world. Fifty million pounds will do that, as will a 152 day scoreless streak that came in months not called June and July. It will also leave some still unsure, as many false dawns have come before with the Spaniard, but Saturday’s performance against Newcastle just may have come with a promise of future quality attached to it. Aside from the goal, Torres had an extra step of assertiveness in his game, helped by space allowed him by Newcastle and the magnificent running off the ball by Eden Hazard and Juan Mata. And then there was the goal; a quick pass and run into space to be on the end of a beautiful backheel by the most creative player on the field, Hazard, and then a powerful, instinctive finish at a crucial time in the game. It was so spontaneous, such a special piece of skill that made it feel a little unusual to see this version of Fernando Torres run away in celebration wearing blue. Without doubt, it was finally a look of the Liverpool Torres. With him it remains far too early to know for sure but the time of the goal, the standard of the opposition and the quality of the finish made it his most important league goal for the club to date and allowed Chelsea to dream again about what they can get out of him.
Premier League goals scored for Chelsea by Fernando Torres before this season:
2010/11 season: vs West Ham (84th minute, to make it 2-0).
- Stamford Bridge: The Garden of Eden- Chelsea have eight goals this season and their superstar has been involved in seven of them. Officially he does not have one goal and six assists because winning penalties that are later scored apparently don’t count but, as they say, stats do not tell the whole story which reads that the brilliant Belgian has been directly involved in seven of their eight goals this season. The one he wasn’t in on actually shouldn’t have counted as it was offside. 7/7.
- Three games in a week turns out to be a positive and not a negative for Di Matteo – Everyone looks happy. Sixteen players have already played for the club and nine points from nine means Di Matteo’s much-needed rotation policy is being taken onboard by the players. With the likes of Ramires, Frank Lampard and John Terry all not featuring in their starting XI against Newcastle, Di Matteo’s side put out their best performance of the season, integrating others such as Gary Cahill, Raul Meireles and Ryan Bertrand into the team at a time when things are going smoothly at Stamford Bridge.
- Brilliant Moussa Dembele exposes United’s weakness- This has been Manchester United’s problem for some time. Up against a central midfielder who is comfortable on the ball, whose energy and tactical discipline can ensure a 4-3-3 is better than a 4-2-3-1 and who constantly finds space, they were unable to pin him deep and make life uncomfortable for the Belgian. Instead, Dembele proved to be a thorn in United’s game all match, not only completing 49 of 50 passes but also many of them in the attacking third of the pitch.
- Man Utd still have the same problem – No deep lying playmaker for United cost them in the Champions League last season and meant they were forced deeper against better sides in the Premier League, yet it appears they will enter this season with the same hole. The problem with Anderson and Tom Cleverley is that neither are comfortable enough on the ball to create from deep areas and push the opposing midfield back and out of position at the same time. United were excellent in wide areas, with Antonio Valencia excelling, but far too often looked like a broken team. They controlled the game in the first half, up against a 4-2-3-1, but the moment Dembele came deeper, a Fulham 4-3-3 highlighted United’s weaknesses.
- Van Persie’s goal out of nothing – There were of course many positives for United on the day and none more so than their new signing taking less than ten minutes to score on his home debut. It was all so typical Van Persie, an instinctive strike on the half-volley that 90% of strikers in the game today wouldn’t have even thought about doing. Of the 10% who would have, less than half score a goal of that quality which is sure to please Sir Alex who has watched a lot of goals for his team come via steady buildup or on the back of opponent’s errors. This was a needed difference maker.
- De Gea a victim of highlight shows – The gaffe couldn’t have come at a worse time. Up 3-1 and cruising, David De Gea came out of his net to get a ball he had no business attempting to reach, leaving Nemanja Vidic exposed as the ball came off him and rolled into the empty net. Following the match many people were once again jumping all over the Spaniard for ‘yet another mistake’ while some went as far to say ‘he is not the future of that club’. Those who actually did watch the entire match will have seen De Gea play really well, making exceptional saves to stop Fulham on numerous occasions. Of course, he is far from the finished project, but he already is a top goalkeeper with his feet and needs to be given time to improve in other areas.
- Time to focus on Swansea’s positives; not their opponent’s negatives – For the second successive week commentators of the Swansea match decided to focus a lot on just how poor the other team was against them. A week on from QPR’s “dismal” 5-0 loss to Michael Laudrup’s side, West Ham were poor but were made to look that way by the home side. Swansea’s movement, pace, passing and overall intelligence with the ball going forward tore the Hammers defence to shreds. Individual errors certainly meant the scoreline exaggerated their dominance but Swansea once again found it comfortable in the hot temperatures to play around a static, unfit side from London for the second straight week. Their 540 successful completed passes was the third most they have ever achieved at home in the Premier League.
- Arsenal need more time to gel – It has hardly been the most ideal start for Arsene Wenger and it would be very easy to draw a direct line between their struggles in front of goal and the sale of Robin Van Persie. However, a closer look at their games shows a different picture. The Dutchman clearly would have scored the miss Olivier Giroud sliced wide last week against Sunderland but aside from that moment it is not difficult to imagine Van Persie also struggling in this current setup employed by Wenger. Santi Cazorla has adapted well to this league very quickly but the cohesion of the team in the final third is lacking and they lack real sharpness with their passing and decision making at the moment.
Six Super Stats
- Arsenal became the third team to open the season with back-to-back goalless draws in the PL following Chelsea in 1995/96 and Derby County in 1998/99.
- Everton had the oldest starting line up in the division on Saturday at 29 years and 223 days old. Opponents Aston Villa had the youngest – 25 years and 212 days old.
- Damien Duff’s third minute goal ended Fulham’s run of 502 minutes without a PL goal at Old Trafford and was the fastest goal scored by the away team at Old Trafford in a PL match in nine years, since Lee Clark (also for Fulham) after three minutes of their victory in October 2003.
- Manchester United have scored in each of their last 50 PL matches at Old Trafford. This is the 11th time in top flight history a club has reached this milestone in consecutive home league matches.
- Shinji Kagawa became the third Japanese player to score in the division after Junichi Inamoto and Hidetoshi Nakata.
- Luis Suarez scored from a direct free kick. He is the first Liverpool player in the PL to score from a direct free kick since Craig Bellamy in December 2011 against Newcastle. It is Suarez’s first free kick goal in the PL. He netted five in the Dutch Eredivisie for Ajax.
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Featured Match – Liverpool 2 Manchester City 2
Liverpool (4-3-3): Reina 5; Kelly 6 (Enrique) Coates 6 Skrtel 6 Johnson 7; Lucas (Shelvey 6) Allen 8 Gerrard 7; Borini 7 (Carroll) Sterling 7 Suarez 7.
Man City (3-5-2): Hart 6; K Toure 5 Kompany 7 Zabaleta 7; Milner 6 (Silva) De Jong 6 Y Toure 7 Nasri 7 (Rodwell) Kolarov 6; Tevez 7 Balotelli 6 (Dzeko).
What did we learn from the match? – A lot. It was a fascinating duel between two teams of contrasting styles that ultimately finished level thanks to specific errors in the game that led to goals. Liverpool showed tremendous strides of growth in their 4-3-3, passing the ball well, pressing high and working hard to narrow Man City’s 3-5-2 shape. Roberto Mancini’s decision to use this formation when they clearly have a proven, successful alternative remains a puzzle. Samir Nasri had a good game on the ball in a free role behind the front two but needed to be sacrificed because he struggled to come deep to make up a three man midfield and put pressure on Joe Allen. Effectively City played a 3-4-1-2 for an hour. A lot was made of Yaya Toure’s move to go higher once Nasri was taken off but the change was really to get back to the 3-5-2 shape. Brendan Rodgers will have been very happy with the game, knowing full well that his side were better but didn’t win because of two key errors. Pepe Reina simply shouldn’t have come for the ball on the first goal while Martin Skrtel’s suicidal backpass handed Carlos Tevez an equaliser with 10 minutes left. Those who watched Swansea a lot last year will not have been surprised by the mistake or the fact that Rodgers didn’t blame him postmatch. Defender Angel Rangel against Manchester United for Swansea had a similar moment and the comments from Rodgers after that game were similar to the ones he used when he defended Skrtel after this match. Many will say he is bound to defend his players but the truth is he is correct when he suggests that it is in fact a collective issue that will be ironed out with more time in the system.
Who was the game’s best player? – Joe Allen. On his home debut for the club the young midfielder was outstanding. Forced into a deeper role after just five minutes when Lucas went off injured, Allen thrived closer to the two centre backs, regularly being an outlet for them and constantly starting moves with great tempo. Steven Gerrard thrived alongside the tactically astute, technically gifted Welshman.
What’s next for these two? - Liverpool welcome Hearts to Anfield in Europa League action on Thursday (live on theScore) before hosting Arsenal on Sunday while Manchester City return home to face QPR, a team they famously overturned on the final day of the season just three and a half months ago.
Remember for indepth analysis on all nine Premier League games this weekend, check out our Footy Show Podcast available later today.