Chelsea. An unstoppable machine. Ready to stare down, and ultimately destroy, any team that dares stand in there way this season.
We may aswell order the Chelsea-blue ribbons and polish the trophy already. Heck, let’s store it just down the road from Stamford Bridge for convenience shall we, because it’s over isn’t it?
To begin writing off the reigning champions as early as October is ludicrous, and all the premature talk of Chelsea claiming the ultimate domestic prize come May is exactly that, too. Premature. Frighteningly premature.
One man fired Manchester City back into the minds of fans, and so-called experts, this weekend with a masterclass. A lesson to any young players of exactly how you play as one of, if not the world’s best striker. Sergio Aguero was relentless on Saturday afternoon; he was in the zone—a zone he, worryingly to all opponents, finds himself in almost each and every single game.
In 79 league games, Aguero has found the net 61 times. In just eight games this season, Aguero sits atop of the goalscoring charts with a hugely impressive nine goals, despite being eased into the season by Manuel Pellegrini. Let that sink in: he has scored nine goals despite starting just six games. He finds himself level with Chelsea’s tour de force Diego Costa, in what could be the battle that ultimately decides the location of the Premier League trophy.
Chelsea have some serious strengths. Diego Costa seems to possess an almost telepathic understanding with Spanish compatriot Cesc Fabregas. Eden Hazard, on his day, is one of the league’s best and young Belgian shot-stopper Thibaut Courtois is on course to become a goalkeeping great.
For every Costa, Fabregas & Courtois however, it should not be ignored that Chelsea, as a squad, do have their weaknesses. Dare it be said that Chelsea are finding themselves in a real situation of becoming reliant to the form of Fabregas and Costa? Let’s face it, when Costa is fit, he plays, leaving Loic Remy feeding off any scraps of playing time that Costa’s hamstrings may allow—hardly an ideal situation for a second striker expected to fit straight in and pick up Costa’s goalscoring burden. An even worse situation looms now, as Remy has injured himself in Chelsea’s 6-0 victory against Maribor.
The form of Willian, Oscar and Andre Schurrle is inconsistent at best, and the natural rotational aspects of their positions again prevents them from playing themselves into any inkling of form. The notoriously impenetrable Chelsea back line also appears to be showing minor cracks; no longer do you enter a Chelsea game and expect a clean sheet for the men in blue.
Manchester City actually find themselves in a better position this season than at the exact same stage last season. More points. Fewer losses. Less goals conceded. Yet we are only casually throwing them into conversation about a possible title charge for the necessity of debate.
Manchester City, with the evil overlord of FFP looming overhead, had to spend their money much more wisely than was perhaps necessary last season. Receiving a combined £25 million for Jack Rodwell, Gareth Barry and Javi Garcia helped fund the £32 million move for Eliaquim Mangala. The signing of Fernando for £12m could well be the bargain of the season when you consider a move for William Carvalho, gathering interest from Arsenal, looks likely to be upwards of £30 million.
Bacary Sagna for free was a no-brainer and £6 million for Willy Caberello is fantastic business to ensure a consistent challenge to Joe Hart. Throw in the loan move for Frank Lampard, and with a net spend of only £24 million, you have considerably improved the reigning English champions.
There is no escaping that with Jose Mourinho at the helm, Chelsea will always challenge, but to write off Manchester City this early in the season, and hand Chelsea the title may be the inspiration that Pellegrini and his squad need. No-one expects them to win; it’s arguable no one wants them to win. But let’s not be surprised if, come May, we are once again met with the image of Vincent Kompany holding the Premier League trophy aloft.
Written by: Sam Parker
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We have some cracking fixtures in the Premier League this week as Manchester United host league leaders Chelsea at Old Trafford, and second plays fourth as Manchester City take on West Ham. At the other end of the table Burnley will be looking for their first win of the season against an Everton side that could be suffering from Europa League fatigue.
Here are our five things to look out for in the Premier League this weekend.
- Manchester United vs Chelsea (Sunday October 26, 16:00pm).
Undoubtedly the Premier League’s colossal clash of the weekend, Louis van Gaal and his Red Devils lock horns with Jose Mourinho’s early high-flyers, Chelsea. The London club have romped to the summit of the Premier League table—winning seven of their first eight fixtures—and are looking in fine fettle. It has been a shaky start for Manchester United, but the atmosphere inside Old Trafford is sure to be electric for this one.
Mourinho has “confirmed” that the current top goalscorer in the Premier League Diego Costa—alongside Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero on nine goals—will not make the trip to Old Trafford, with Loic Remy also absent. Some speculation persists surrounding whether this is just Mourinho playing at his usual “mind games,” with many critics and fans alike believing the pair could make the squad.
Irrespective of Costa’s presence, Chelsea still have enough firepower regardless, and United’s midfield will have to be tight to Spaniard Cesc Fabregas, who has provided seven assists already this season—level at the summit of the assists table with Southampton’s Dusan Tadic.
Despite Van Gaal’s side seemingly light years away from being back to their best, this Sunday’s afternoon game promises to be a treat. Look for the superb Argentine Angel Di Maria to take the game to the opposition for the hosts, as they attack in numbers. With a weak defence that has an inclination for making key mistakes, you would expect Chelsea to break the home side down as well. Evidently, Van Gaal’s biggest game yet in charge of United will be sure to have you on the edge of your seats.
- Southampton’s Graziano Pelle & Dusan Tadic
After Southampton ran rampant 8-0 over Sunderland at the weekend, all eyes will be on Ronald Koeman’s squad as they look to carry on their splendid run of form by staying in the top four of the Premier League table. On Saturday afternoon they host Stoke City in a game that many will expect them to win—particularly with their current confidence and free-flowing football.
Southampton bought incredibly well this summer in the transfer window, looking to the Dutch Eredivisie for their investments. The Saints picked up Graziano Pelle from Feyenoord for £8million and Dusan Tadic from FC Twente for £10.9million. The former has, in just eight Premier League appearances, already registered six goals and once assist. Tadic, on the other hand, is proving the perfect provider, notching up seven assists and one goal in his eight games in the English top division.
This is a duo that are ready to dismantle any team with ease, and Stoke will be wary of their threat.
- Alan Pardew
The furore seems to have died down a little with regard to Alan Pardew and the safety of his job at Newcastle United, but the threat of being sacked still lingers threateningly over his head. The Englishman has curtailed some of the abuse of late, with a 2-2 draw away to Swansea—and a 1-0 win over Leicester City at the weekend—but if Newcastle do not continue to pick up points, they will be in trouble this season.
Tottenham Hotspur host the Magpies at White Hart Lane this on Sunday, and will be looking for all three points after slipping to a 4-2 defeat to Manchester City at the weekend. Sergio Augero’s four goals routed the North London club and they will be licking their wounds while readying themselves to face Newcastle this weekend. Expect Spurs to come out fighting and the rumours surrounding Pardew to resurface should the Newcastle boss’ side not take any points from the game.
- West Ham vs Manchester City (Lunchtime, Saturday)
In all fairness, our Saturday lunchtime kick off this weekend also promises not to be a dull affair. Ordinarily, you would expect Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City to put West Ham and big Sam Allardyce to the sword. However, the Hammers have been in fine form, and sit fourth in the table, just four points behind the Citizens.
Sergio Aguero—fresh off his four goals against Tottenham last weekend, and fit to burst with confidence—will be ready to lead his team in their charge to track down early league leaders Chelsea, before they disappear altogether. Three points against Allardyce’s in-form side will not be easy, but should they overcome the hosts—as one would expect their significant firepower and class eventually to do— and they will be looking to Old Trafford to see if their neighbours Manchester United can do them an early favour in the title race.
Worth a watch if only to see City set out to bring the Hammers back down to earth.
- Ross Barkley
Ross Barkley’s impressive return to action last weekend against Aston Villa inspired Roberto Martinez’s Everton to a solid 3-0 win and a much-needed three points after a slow start to the season. Barkley was marvellous—proving why he is such a highly-rated young talent— and after missing the early part of the campaign will be eager to get the Toffees back up the right end of the table, picking up victories again. Everton’s visit to Burnley on Sunday gives them the chance to win back-to-back games for the first time this season.
For Burnley manager Sean Dyche, this season—Burnley’s return to the Premier League—has been a bit of a disaster, as they sit in nineteenth, winning not one of their opening eight fixtures. Everton have a midweek trip to Lille this week, and the Turf Moor faithful will be hoping they make the most of the potential fatigue.
If they do not manage to register a victory soon, the 2014-15, from a fan’s perspective, will go from worrying to drastic fairly quickly.
Written by: Ben Johnson
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Diafra Sakho has sent waves riveting through the footballing community after his dream start at West Ham United. The 24-year old Senegalese player was signed to the English side for an undisclosed fee in August and has since proved to be one of West Ham’s key young talents.
He made his debut for the side on the 24th of August in a thrilling 3-1 win against Crystal Palace. Sakho scored his first goal wearing a West Ham shirt just a few days later during an encounter with Sheffield United in the League Cup. The talented young player then went on to score a further six goals against Liverpool, Man United, QPR, Burnley FC and Hull City, beating Leroy Rosenior’s record for the most goals scored in his first six team starts.
Diafra Sakho was born in Gwediawaye, Senegal and moved to France to pursue his footballing career in 2007. He played predominately as a substitute for FC Metz before being given a starting place in the side by newly-appointed manager Albert Cartier in May 2012. From this day forth Sakho has appeared to be unstoppable, scoring 20 goals in his 36 starting appearances for FC Metz in the 2013-2014 season.
His side proudly lifted the trophy after taking the Ligue 2 title before the up-and-coming player was indisputably voted as Ligue 2 Player of the Year. Unsurprisingly, Sakho’s astonishing talent as a striker did not go unnoticed and he was promptly signed by West Ham United’s Sam Allardyce once the French League had drawn to a close.
Sakho has described joining West Ham United as one of the proudest moments of his life, and although he expected to score goals in the Premier League, he did not expect to make such a big initial impact. The 24-year old was quick to settle into his new team and believes that his complimentary partnership with Ecuadorian forward Enner Valencia is, in part, the reason for his dream start with West Ham.
Sakho’s father died two years ago and it was this tragic event that inspired and pushed the young player to strive to be the best he can, both on and off the pitch, for both himself and his two-year old daughter Nadia. The Senegalese star has always been inspired by Didier Drogba and aspires to be as successful as the Chelsea frontman as his team continues to battle for the title in the Premier League.
Sakho will be making his next performance for West Ham on Saturday the 25th of October at Upton Park. His team will be playing League giants Man City and, unsurprisingly, West Ham fans are expecting big things from the young player.
Diafra Sakho is almost certainly set for big things within the footballing world as he continues to strive for greatness alongside his team members. The 24-year old has the skill and mentality to go far both as an individual player and as one of West Ham’s greatest strikers. All that’s left to be seen now is whether or not Sakho will increase his record by scoring yet again in Saturday’s big match!
Written by: Mary Johnson
The #WENGEROUT campaign, rumoured to have been started by Jacqui Oatley, was out in full force on Saturday, and nothing other than a win against Anderlecht tonight will stop that hashtag trending once more.
Two wins in eight, 11 points behind leaders Chelsea, a mere three points in front of 17th place Sunderland and already out of the Capital One Cup—it paints a bleak picture. However, I want to present the case for the defence of Monsieur Arsene Wenger.
Let us start with this season—yes, two wins in eight is not championship winning form. However, not many people are taking into account the competition they have faced: Everton, Tottenham, Manchester City and Chelsea—not straight-forward contests by any means.
Then take a look at the treatment table so far: Laurent Koscielny, Mathieu Debuchy, Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta, Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud; this leads me to believe they have not had the best of luck (or they have a physio as easy on the eye as Chelsea’s Dr. Eva Carneiro). Against Hull City, the Gunners were forced to field a back line consisting of Nacho Monreal in an unfamiliar role at centre-back and Premier League debutant Hector Bellerin.
This issue was brought up prior to the match during the AGM by an irate fan questioning the sale of Thomas Vermaelen. Arsene, earlier in the meeting, conceded: “I agree we could have bought one more player but we didn’t find [one].” So what should he have done? Keep a disgruntled player, who wasn’t in his first team plans, and had the opportunity to play for one of the world’s biggest teams?
What would the Gooners prefer: Arsenal to purchase any old player just to fill a gap? Or to be patient and wait for the right player to come along in January?
What I admire most about the Arsenal manager is that he seems to genuinely care for this club. Countless managers have splashed the cash in a desperate attempt for personal glory; they’ve done this by placing pressure on the board to spend money they don’t always have by bemoaning to fans through the media how they desperately need players.
Wenger has shown class throughout his tenure, as he, to my knowledge, has never gone down this route. This man considers the financial implications—something that is unheard of within the higher echelons of European football. It is widely regarded that his hands have been tied since the move to the Emirates Stadium, therefore, for him to achieve a 17th consecutive successful Champions League qualification is exactly that: an achievement. No English club has ever matched that feat.
Le Professeur said back in October 2012: “For me, there are five trophies. The first is to win the Premier League, the second is to win the Champions League, third is to qualify for the Champions League, fourth is the FA Cup and the fifth the League Cup.”
“I say that because if you want to attract the best players, they do not ask ‘did you win the League Cup?’ they ask you ‘do you play in the Champions League?’” Football purists may disagree but in today’s game, his comments for many are spot on.
This week marks the ten-year anniversary of “pizzagate”—the day where Arsenal lost their 49-match unbeaten run to Manchester United at Old Trafford. Many mark this as the pivotal moment where the Frenchman lost his way. However, since that day, Arsenal have not only qualified for every Champions League competition, but have won the FA Cup on two occasions, reached a Champions League final and were finalist in the League Cup on two occasions.
I appreciate that some Arsenal fans are frustrated that they are seemingly forever on the cusp of great things; “a couple of more signings…”seems to be the catchphrase amongst the more positive supporters. I also appreciate that Arsene Wenger appears to be tactically inept when it comes to playing the big teams—his record of zero wins against Jose Mourinho highlights that very fact.
However, when push comes to shove (see what I did there?), the vast majority of supporters of other English clubs would rather have endured Arsenal’s triumphs rather than their own—pre- or post-the “pizzagate” era. Only a handful of managers can boast a better win percentage ratio than Wenger in the EPL.
He is Arsenal’s longest-serving manager and most successful in terms of major titles won. In his first full season he won the double. Then there is “The Invincible”—Arsenal’s greatest-ever team cemented their place in English football history by becoming the only team to go a 38-game season undefeated—a feat that only Preston North End managed back in 1889, albeit during a 22-game season.
Even his old adversary, Sir Alex Ferguson, pointed out back in 2011 that it is more the standard of the opposition that has improved rather than Arsenal going backwards, and that is still the case today: “The work he has done in the 15 years he has been at the club is the best in Arsenal’s history. The quality of his side has not been reduced. Chelsea’s involvement has created a lot of the problems in terms of trophies to win because they and ourselves have been dominating the Premier League.
“Now Manchester City have come on the scene. When Arsenal and ourselves were going head-to-head, it went on for about eight years. The competition is far greater now.”
I firmly believe that the Arsenal supporters behind the #WENGEROUT campaign need to get some perspective. Yes, they haven’t won the Premier League since 2004, but only Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea have—all of whom had a significant more amount of spending power.
In the Champions League only three English teams have reached the final since Arsenal , who in my opinion were desperately unlucky that night when they were defeated by Barcelona back in 2006.
My message to what seems to be the majority of thankless Arsenal fans is this: this man provides you with a team that plays attractive and entertaining football, with an emphasis on youth, competing at the very top in world football, all whilst spending within the clubs means.
With the Emirates Stadium and a training ground funded by his astute signing, development and then the sale of Nicolas Anelka, he has provided you with the foundations to not only be competitive and self-sustainable now, but for generations to come.
No manager, bar Sir Alex Ferguson, has overseen such a greater transition in a clubs stature in the Premiership era. So relish him, respect him and enjoy your remaining years with him…because when he’s gone he will not be forgotten and I’m in no doubt he will be sorely missed.
Written by: Peter Petrucci
I don’t usually watch Match of the Day. I record it and watch it later, enabling me to fast-forward past the “analysis.” I use the word loosely given what constitutes “analysis” on the programme. The one constant during any discussion is to highlight how the winning team “got their tactics spot on.” As meaningless statements go, that’s pretty high in the rankings.
Occasionally I press play too soon and I hear the monotonous tones of a bland pundit pontificating on how the winning team really, truly were tactically “spot on.” A few clips are then shown to justify that perspective, conveniently ignoring any evidence that would hint at the corollary. And then we move onto the next game. The two-minute analysis is complete. Yet a cursory look over the match statistics details proves that the winning team had fewer shots on goal and less possession than the victorious opponent.
But we’ve learned that if you have more possession and more shots on goal, you are the better team. So how did they get their tactics right when the statistics suggest otherwise? Who is right?
Most likely? Neither.
Here’s a confession: I like statistics. And I like tactics. That doesn’t make me a bad person. A geek? Undeniably. A bad person though? No.
We’ve seen two things become increasingly prevalent in the mainstream media in recent times: tactics and statistics. Unfortunately it appears that many are still used incorrectly—particularly the manner in which statistics are widely and wilfully misused.
Statistics can make a substantial difference to how we understand and interpret football, but we still see statistics being used wrongly to justify increasingly bizarre positions. I have two personal favourites in this area: goalkeepers and central defenders.
Conventional wisdom seems to dictate that we talk about a goalkeeper’s save percentage. A goalkeeper with a better save percentage is a better goalkeeper, right? Except it’s pretty meaningless. One easy reason why is that a basic save percentage takes no account of the quality of the shot and whether the goalkeeper should actually make the save. When you begin to look at the expected save percentages—that is the shots the goalkeeper is expected to save, along with other factors—you begin to identify the quality goalkeepers.
Central defenders need to possess many qualities. Tackling, heading, interceptions are all measurable. What about passing? Is this relevant for a central defender? Of course it is, but is the pass completion rate for a central defender of any real consequence? Chances are passes will be short, made under little pressure and played to a defensive midfielder player close by.
True, sometimes a long diagonal may be hit but generally the passing is in a safe area of the field, yet some choose to hype such statistics in an effort to champion a player from their team.
What is essential when considering any statistic is context. The statistics used must relate to wider events and not sit in isolation. One variable considered alone won’t really help you understand very much.
For some, the use of stats is heresy. Something that shouldn’t even be considered. Why should we consider numbers and figures from the game? That’s just pure madness. If we want to know what happened, we simply watch with our eyes.
That’s part of the problem. Many people watch football but their interpretation of the game is entirely different. Gather five or six fans in a room to watch a game and ask for their views at the end and you’ll probably gain contrasting reviews—and that’s hardly surprising. Fans will have certain preferences over the style of play they enjoy, the type of player they praise and so on. Yet there is an increasing trend in recent times to base an assessment of a game entirely around the final outcome. Fans now see the final score and revise their viewpoint to connect with the result.
There’s a coach in Spain who you have probably never heard of, but whom Pep Guardiola lists as one of his biggest influences: Juanma Lillo. He calls such people “the prophets of the past.” If a team won, it must have used the right tactics surely? Of course not. The final score tells us nothing about the game itself; the final score only tells you the result and not what occurred during the actual game itself.
We’ve all seen games when our own team is battered for 90 minutes, but a combination of last-ditch tackles, poor finishing, luck and that one excellent counterattack from the opponent leaves our team with no points from a game. We have nothing to show for our efforts, do we? The result is all that matters, isn’t it?
Should we write that game off in its entirety because of one moment—even if the team performed perfectly for the remainder of the game? Do we now change our approach to games on the basis of one bad result? Or should we take all of the positive points from that game and build upon them?
We must recognise that there are fine margins in football and ultimately, in this game, very little went wrong and what is needed is a repeat performance at a similar level.
It’s more difficult to praise a team that lost and far more convenient to say the winning team did everything correct. Acknowledging a team lost despite having played a tactically perfect game, well, that’s an inconvenient truth, isn’t it?
Written by: Chalkontheboots
“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
Arsene Wenger, figuratively, has had two near-perfect opportunities to “die.” Whether or not he should have bowed out when Arsenal became financially stable, around three seasons ago, or whether he wanted to do so on the back of last season’s FA Cup win, both would have been accepted with no trace of tainted emotion.
It was always known by fans that Arsenal weren’t financially comfortable during the noughties, and even just slightly after. It wasn’t revealed until a few seasons ago just how stricken Arsenal were financially, and how unbelievably well Wenger had done to keep them in a UEFA Champions League spot with the (lack of) resources available.
If Arsene Wenger had decided to call it a day, after the revealing of carrying weak Arsenal sides to fourth place for many years, he would have been cheered—by all. Heads were turned as he was lambasted for Arsenal’s decline, but little was known as to how he was almost solely stabilising the club as a Champions League authority.
That, in itself, is like a trophy to Mr. Wenger. He prides himself on achievements that aren’t just silverware. His footballing credo goes much deeper than attaining his, or a club’s name, engraved in some shiny metal. He does what he does for not just himself, but for the contingency he finds himself responsible for. That is one thing Arsene Wenger should not—cannot!—ever be criticised for.
That would have worked perfectly. He decided to stay on. Then came May 17.
Arsenal beat Tottenham Hotspur, Coventry City, Liverpool, Everton and Wigan Athletic to get to the final of the FA Cup against Hull. Over recent years the FA Cup has lost some of its glory, but by no means did it lose any on that Saturday to Arsenal fans. A triumphant and admirable voyage to the final; it was really felt to be Arsenal’s… Arsene’s… year.
And after early horror, it was. Arguably, this was the perfect time for Arsene Wenger to call it a day. He’d come to England, he’d conquered and revolutionised England, he brought a club to a world-recognised standard and financial power, then, despite a long period of gloom, polished it off with something shiny. He’d accomplished his personal targets and the club’s. Instead, in the summer, Wenger signed a three-year contract.
The opportunities were there, Arsene. You could have left a hero. Now, it looks like it could be too late. Arsene Wenger will never be able to leave Arsenal with a send off that the first half of his career at the club should have earned him.
A man who was right with his arrogance up until eight years ago—he was making history. Now, his history besets him and his arrogance has left him looking senile.
It’s painful to say, it really is. Arsene Wenger is, by the definition itself, a legend. But, his arrogance—that French pomposity—has got the better of him. Whether it’s a combination of that, age and the stress of managing such a constantly lambasted club weakening him, only he knows.
But, it has to be said: Arsene Wenger no longer looks fit to manage Arsenal. And it doesn’t look like he ever will be again.
It’s portrayed by his own doing, and likewise reflected in the team’s. Arsene’s system is neither here, nor there. If he doesn’t really know what he wants to implement, how can the players possibly execute it? Yes, it’s also down to the players—of course it is, and they don’t receive enough of the flak.
But, likewise with Pep Guardiola when leaving Barcelona, it seems as though Wenger is becoming less and less of an influence on the players. Do they listen to him with the same intensity? Can he rally them like he did in 2004? Does he possess and exude the same vigour he did when revolutionising English football?
Of course not. But, unlike Guardiola, Wenger doesn’t know when to quit—or has shown no sign of knowing, yet.
Arsene Wenger and Arsenal’s time together is nothing short of a fairytale—even the names of both come together like it was scripted. The Frenchman shouldn’t call it a day for just the club and his legacy with the fans, but also himself. Managing Arsenal is a task he can no longer bear; it’s become a burden he can no longer push deep down and patch over.
His love for the club and his sincere dedication towards Arsenal Football Club is what urges him to continue, he wants to take them to new heights—better heights. Sadly, it’s a task not reachable for a once-unstoppable manager. As the cliché goes Arsene, when you love something, let it go. Or something mushy like that.
Written by: Gene Oliver
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Everton’s Ross Barkley displayed extremely promising signs for the future, blowing away the Goodison Park faithful this weekend and inspiring his side’s first home win of the season—a 3-0 victory over Aston Villa. Having suffered knee ligament damage in pre-season, he showed remarkable tenacity to lift a side who had started the weekend on the fringes of the relegation zone.
Making his first appearance of the season, the England youngster brought power and potency to Everton’s performance. His last competitive game had been for the Three Lions against Costa Rica at the World Cup finals in June, but nonetheless, he returned to help the Toffees regain the stunning form which saw them finish last season in the top five.
Barkley operated as Romelu Lukaku’s sidekick in a partnership showing fantastic signs of potential, and it was fitting that he provided the final pass for the club record signing’s goal. Barkley sent Lukaku clear, and the 6’3” striker took possession in his stride before firing past an overwhelmed Brad Guzan.
The England international has predominantly played as a No. 10 under Roberto Martinez, linking up well with his Belgian teammate and occupying the space behind the centre-forward. This is the role he instantly assumed on his return against Villa.
Martinez will have been delighted to welcome back his star playmaker; despite Steven Naismith’s goalscoring heroics throughout the opening weeks of the season, results were simply not going the Spaniard’s way.
As the Toffees languished near the relegation zone, following a string of below-par results, it became evidently clear that the team was missing that “special something”—someone capable of transforming a match with the flick of a switch.
At just 20 years of age, Barkley is a player who possesses the ability to dribble, tackle, shoot and pass. He has the makings of a complete midfielder with added game-winning ability.
As Martinez himself described the youngster, “Every Evertonian will tell you Ross Barkley is the kind of player you buy a ticket to see. He brings back memories of some of the legends we’ve had at this club and the best is yet to come.”
There is still a long way to go in his development, but he is already a massive part of the Merseyside outfit’s squad. He scored six goals in 25 Premier League appearances for the club last season, per WhoScored.com, and played nine times for England, including their three games at the summer World Cup in Brazil.
Martinez has custom-built his Everton side, in its entirety, to accommodate Barkley, but the youngster’s injury has forced him reconsider his systemat least for the opening few weeks of the campaign, anyway.
Barkley’s return will see the Spaniard switch from his more recent 4-3-3 set-up to his favoured 4-2-3-1, which encompasses the 20-year-old in a playmaking role behind the striker.
Currently he is perfectly suited to playing in this No. 10 role, but over time it’s widely expected that he will develop into a more robust central midfielder—a scenario his manager has previously acknowledged.
Playing deeper in midfield will provide him with more time, more of the ball and a greater platform from which he can dictate proceedings, allowing him far greater influence on each game.
This is a role many expect him to fulfil in the long-term and it’s no surprise to see the player falling between the crosshairs of the Premier League’s very best sides, as they, too, anticipate this development.
Indeed, speculation linking the Merseyside-born midfielder with current champions Manchester City has been prevalent in recent weeks. At the Etihad Stadium, Barkley is seen as the perfect successor for world class box-to-box midfielder Yaya Toure—a credit to the youngster’s current standing in English football.
Reports suggesting a value of as much as £50 million may be jeered at first, but considering the English premium many sides are having to pay—alongside his potential ability—this a more acceptable amount of money to fork out.
Barkley has the skill-set to become one of the world’s best, there can be no doubting that. His power, pace and technical ability—elements you rarely find altogether in a player—would see him succeed in any of the world’s elite leagues and competitions.
However, having signed a new contract in June, he looks set to remain at Everton for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, his return will provide the Toffees with a major boost.
Martinez described his return to training as “infectious,” and this effect clearly transgressed to their weekend performance vs. Villa. The fit-again midfielder was the star of the show and he transformed an Everton side that has looked dull and lifeless far too often this season.
An important few months lie ahead for the Toffees; with the club needing to pick up their domestic form, every match becomes a tricky contest.
Martinez will have one eye on clashes with Tottenham Hotspur and City at the end of November, as well as the club’s upcoming Europa League tie with French outfit Lille, but momentum will prove crucial as we head toward the Christmas period.
For now the Toffees remain in the bottom half of the Premier League, but with Barkley back in the side, the odds of an instant return to the upper echelons are extremely high. Of all the emerging talent in this country, there are none classier than the Everton man.
All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com.
Written by: Chris Linnell
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Joining Arsenal aged 13, Isaac Hayden has spent the best part of his teenage years representing the club at youth level. His leadership skills have seen him captain the youth sides on the odd occasion, and his versatility has seen him shuffled into various positions as a utility man.
The positive of being a “utility man” from a young age is that you learn and pick up different qualities from various positions. In his midfield playing time, Hayden has developed the need for recycling possession and often carrying the ball forward. This helps him as an aspiring centre-back because the demand of modern day defenders is that they can link the defence to the midfield.
Sometimes a negative stigma can be attached to utility players because it usually means they are not of high quality. As modern football continues to develop and squads become slimmer with more proactive options, the utility man has become one of the most important players in a squad.
In Hayden’s case, though, it is not that he is an outright utility man. From a young age, playing in different positions helps add an extra flavour to a footballer’s game. It aids more than it obstructs; in fact, most youth academies now trial and error a lot more with individuals due to the potential qualities players can unlock.
Hayden is the type of centre-back that will play a tad advanced—but not in a gung-ho manner—to maximise his ability to intercept passes and break up play. Those are his two resounding defensive qualities, which make him quite frustrating to play against if you are an opposition striker. Hayden is an intelligent player, able to read the game to a level higher than what he usually plays at. It also helps that he can move the ball around with fluidity and zip.
Unfortunately, a downside of Hayden’s game is that he can be too individualistic. His passion for playing a tad advanced usually leaves his defence dumbfounded and prone to opposition counter-attacks.
Essentially, when full-backs maraud forward, defences are left with two players in the centre, and one midfielder will usually drop to cover a full-back’s run. With Hayden shifting forward, it is almost impossible for an offside trap to be played, and Arsenal’s youth sides can sometimes be left with just two players in their own third when hit on the counter.
Perhaps my words do not do Hayden justice, and his weaknesses bring back masochistic memories of Thomas Vermaelen, but he doesn’t aimlessly bombard forward. In fact, he doesn’t bombard at all. He just steps a couple of feet further up than his counterpart.
One could argue that this naivety is something that Hayden will eradicate from his game once experience with senior-peers creeps in. Perhaps playing with a leader like Per Mertesacker will help calm his game down, and the pressure of representing the club at the most prestigious level will force him to play with simplicity rather than high risk.
Call me a footballing romantic, but nothing beats the feeling of an academy boy rising through the club’s ranks and grabbing his first-team opportunity with both hands. Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs—these two did exactly that, and now it can be relatively hard to find an Arsenal fan who doesn’t adore either. Although in Wilshere’s case, hate is typically thrown his way and usually substanceless too. Anyhow, I digress.
Hayden may not be outrageously gifted in the ilk of Wilshere, but dependability is something that a defender must have above talent. In the few appearances he has made for the first-team, the English defender has impressed. Many fear that inexperience in defence can ruin a team’s shape, but if a leap of faith is never taken, some players may find themselves in a footballing purgatory wondering what could have been.
Arsenal are, at the time of writing this, one centre-back injury away from being left with nothing apart from makeshift options. Makeshift defences, regardless of the opposition, will always be exposed for two reasons: they have no cohesion or understanding with one another and, due to Arsenal’s severe lack of study in correlation to the opposition, will not understand how to contain certain teams.
Take someone like Nacho Monreal, for example. He played in the heart of the defence at Osasuna and Malaga, albeit very sporadically. He understands the role, but not quite how to execute it in a completely different league. It is unfair on everyone if Monreal starts as a centre-back because a mistake could lead to a conceded goal, and then fans begin to question the player—a player who has no clue whatsoever about this role in the Premier League.
If inexperience is the reason for reluctance with youth defenders, the case does not change with makeshift defenders. In fact, nerves are more likely to creep in due to added pressure. For this reason, it could be argued that Hayden pairing Mertesacker/Koscielny would be better than any of the other options. He is a player hungry to succeed and this would reflect in his overall game.
Rather than make mistakes with a battered and unrecognisable defence, it would be healthier to make these mistakes knowing that one of the players involved is young enough to learn from them. If Hayden cannot even be trusted ahead of the second choice left-back playing as the fourth choice centre-back, then it speaks volumes of the lack of trust Arsene Wenger has toward the academy at this current moment.
Hayden isn’t the answer to Arsenal’s defensive problems, not initially anyway, but he can help alleviate some of the pressure and enable Wenger to choose from a wider array of options. Should he be given a chance, Hayden will grasp it tightly with both hands.
Written by: Chris Moar
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