“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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The Clock End were sent into raptures. A point saved. Danny Welbeck taking one touch to control, before firing past a helpless Eldin Jakupovic. Down on the touchline, Arsene Wenger still wanted more. Not content with a late equaliser, the Arsenal coach stood, frowning, with both palms pressed against each other, urging his side to find a winner.
In truth, Arsenal were a mishit shot by Nacho Monreal in the 95th minute away from securing victory against Hull City, but that’s not even close to explaining where The Gunners’ problems lie.
As fans left the Emirates Stadium on Saturday afternoon, many must have been asking themselves “When is our next win going to come?” The answer must be: this week. Five wins in 14 games in all competitions this campaign has left Arsenal’s season, even at this earliest stage, in potential jeopardy. Eleven points behind Premier League leaders Chelsea and out of the League Cup in the third round, Wenger’s ambitions, domestically at least, already appear ruined.
A trip to face Belgian champions Anderlecht on Wednesday is followed by a journey up to Wearside to play struggling Sunderland. The Black Cats, too, are under the spotlight after this weekend’s humiliating 8-0 loss at Southampton.
So, why can’t Arsenal get their season up and running? It seems there are several possible answers.
An unprecedentedly short pre-season featuring just four fixtures—half of which the Londoners lost—followed an enthralling World Cup, where two of Wenger’s stalwarts, Per Mertesacker and Mesut Ozil, made it to the final. The duo were therefore given extra time on their holidays and were forced to miss the Gunners’ start to the campaign.
A hefty summer of spending, which saw over £80 million invested into the squad, ought to have appeased the Emirates faithful—particularly after the club’s first trophy in 9 years was won in May. Five months later, though, it’s clear Arsenal came up short in the transfer market, again.
As impressively as Welbeck and Alexis Sanchez have begun their careers in N7—the pair have 11 goals in 20 appearances between them—Wenger’s inability to bring in additional cover at centre-half, as well as a top-class defensive midfield player, has truly backfired on the Frenchman.
The 64-year old, who reached 18 years in charge this month, admitted before the window closed that he needed some “luck” with regard to maintaining a healthy defence. But quick-fire casualties to Mathieu Debuchy and Laurent Koscielny, combined with Calum Chambers’ suspension—the teenager already accumulating five Premier League yellow cards—meant a makeshift back four were forced into action against Hull, who took full advantage.
The manner in which Arsenal’s physios are being overworked just now must be of grave concern to Wenger; being able to drafting up an “unavailable XI” just nine weeks into a season doesn’t bode well.
One may complain about the tactics Arsenal continue to deploy in such games. You know, the games where Wenger’s men have over 70 percent possession, 10 corners and almost 20 shots but fail to come away with three points? But last season, fixtures against the “lesser” teams weren’t the issue, and nine times out of 10, Arsenal would win this sort of game. The problem is every opponent at the moment doesn’t have to do much to get a result.
“They had two shots on goal in the whole game,” a frustrated Wenger told reporters. “Last week Chelsea had three shots. We concede too many goals.” One clean sheet in nine games isn’t merely good enough.
There were some positives for Arsenal in the past week, mind. Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta, Serge Gnabry and Theo Walcott all returned from varying lengths of time on the sideline. Elsewhere, Olivier Giroud’s broken leg is healing quicker than expected and Chambers will also return from his suspension against Anderlecht.
Scares to Tomas Rosicky and Jack Wilshere proved to be nothing to worry about, too. It’s been a long time since fans in Islington had much to cheer on the injury front, but it’s on-field matters they’d rather be rooting about.
Wenger is not immune to such miserable starts to a season. In 2011/12, Arsenal took just 10 points from their first eight games, whilst in 1998-99, the club didn’t fare much better, managing just 13 points. Three-hundred-and-sixty degree spins of anger, kicking of water bottles, heated press conferences and a huge confrontation with Jose Mourinho…pressure is building on Wenger.
Arsenal fly out of Luton Airport on Tuesday with the world watching on. There is little room left for error.
Written by: Sam Collins
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You wait months for a MAXIFY winner and then 2 come along in as many weeks.
It was a case of sharing the wealth in ‘Game Week 8′ as uMAXit Football’s FREE £2,000 ‘prediction pot’ was shared between 401 players in a weekend of high Premier League predictability.
Each players who managed to correctly predict all 5 outcomes netted themselves £4.98 apiece (perhaps don’t quit the day job guys)!
Steven Caulker’s own goal condemned QPR to a crushing 3-2 defeat at home to Liverpool, in our MAXIFY game, rooting Harry Redknapp’s men to the foot of the Premier League table.
Eduardo Vargas’ two late goals had QPR edging towards a deserved and creditable draw, only for Caulker to put through his own net in the fourth minute of added time.
The result meant that only 1-player, Jamie Gould, was left to potentially pick up the £8,000 ‘prediction pot’ but, in order to do so, he required Stoke City to buck their woeful home form and upset the apple cart at the Britannia Stadium in the 4pm kick-off.
The rest, as they say, is history, as Jonathan Walters’ first Premier League goal of the season completed a come-from-behind 2-1 victory for Stoke against Swansea City.
The result meant that for the second week of a row we were celebrating a solo MAXIFY winner!
JAMIE GOULD WON £8,004.98!
Burnley 1 – 3 West Ham United
Quality of finishing was the difference between the teams at Turf Moor on Saturday as Burnley’s woes in front of goal continued.
The Clarets were dominant in an impressive first half performance but their failure to get on the scoresheet was costly and Burnley were soon down two after the break when a couple of devastatingly incisive West Ham attacks scorched the home side. It was a brutally harsh lesson in the realities of Premier League football for Sean Dyche’s team.
There are no easy answers for Dyche but his team must show rapid improvement if Burnley are to stay up. It’s still early in the season but a second 3-1 home defeat of the season is disappointing. That first win seems a long way away for the club.
Everton 3 – 0 Aston Villa
The return of midfielder Ross Barkley coincided with Everton’s first home Premier League win of the season, beating Aston Villa 3-0, and offered a glimpse of improvements to come from Roberto Martinez’s side.
A knee injury on the eve of the season had sidelined the England international until now, but thrown straight into the action he put in a 65-minute shift against Villa which provided a reminder of just what the Toffees had been missing.
When captain Phil Jagielka opened the scoring with his second in three league matches there was a sense it was going to be Everton’s day, and a much-needed goal for Romelu Lukaku, who benefited from a mistake by Brad Guzan, and Seamus Coleman also on the scoresheet on his recall after a month out injured provided the confirmation.
Southampton 8 – 0 Sunderland
Ronald Koeman well and truly disproved the manager of the month hoodoo as his Southampton side decimated a woeful Sunderland outfit 8-0.
There is a longheld theory that the boss who collects the monthly accolade slips to defeat in the next game but Saints returned to winning ways with their biggest ever Barclays Premier League win as Graziano Pelle scored twice to seal a memorable week on a personal level.
A goal in either half saw Pelle move onto six Barclays Premier League goals for the season and add to his match-winning Italy debut and player of the month award.
Newcastle United 1 – 0 Leicester City
Gabriel Obertan emerged from the shadows to fire Newcastle to their first Premier League victory of the season with his first goal for almost two years as they beat Leicester 1-0.
The Frenchman, who has been a peripheral figure for much of his spell on Tyneside, produced a rare piece of quality to settle a scrappy encounter and hand under-pressure Alan Pardew the win he craved in his 700th game as a manager.
Obertan’s 71st-minute strike secured a first league win since May 3 and just Newcastle’s sixth in 27 games in 2014.
Stoke City 2 – 1 Swansea City
Stoke came from behind to take all three points against Swansea thanks to a Jonathan Walters header after a duo of first-half penalties.
Wilfried Bony took his for Swansea first, converting the penalty he won after being wrestled to the ground by Ryan Shawcross. Referee Michael Oliver was entirely justified in awarding it; but nobody apart from him and Bony appeared to see the incident.
Victor Moses and Angel Rangel linked arms up the other end a few minutes later, and the whistle again blew for a spot-kick. The Swansea defender looked entirely bemused, and one could see why; the contact appeared to be both minimal and equal, but nonetheless Charlie Adam took the opportunity to score.
There was no doubt about the winner, though, as substitute Jonathan Walters created space for himself to head home Oussama Assaidis pinpoint cross from the left.
QPR 2 – 3 Liverpool
Brendan Rodgers hailed Raheem Sterling’s “courage and cleverness” as the winger provided the perfect riposte to “unfortunate” criticism of his England omission during Liverpool’s 3-2 victory at QPR.
Sterling shook off controversy over claims he complained of tiredness in the build-up to England’s Euro 2016 qualifier in Estonia to mastermind Liverpool’s patchy Loftus Road win.
Sterling forced Steven Caulker to turn the ball into his own net in the fourth minute of added time as the Reds gazumped luckless QPR to root Harry Redknapp’s men to the foot of the Premier League.
Unfortunately there are just too many of you to mention by name … so please … whether you won (or not) feel free to give yourself a pat on the back!
Predictions In Numbers:
- 4 x Correct Predictions – 26% of Players
- 3 x Correct Predictions – 41% of Players
- 2 x Correct Predictions – 21% of Players
- 1 x Correct Predictions – 5% of Players
- 0 x Correct Predictions – 1% of Players
Match Outcome In Numbers:
Burnley 1-3 West Ham Utd
(66% of all players predicted a West Ham Utd win)
Everton 3-0 Aston Villa
(81% of all players predicted a Everton win)
Southampton 8-0 Sunderland
(81% of all players predicted a Southampton win)
Newcastle 1-0 Leicester City
(48% of all players predicted a Newcastle United win)
Stoke City 2- 1 Swansea City
(30% of all players predicted a Stoke City win )
MAXIFY: QPR 2 – 3 Liverpool
I don’t know about you but I’ve had just about enough of Mesut Özil. I’m sick of people defending him with their tedious statistics and facts. It bores me to read about the number of assists he’s provided or the vast collection of medals he’s won. If you’re only interested in applying logic to everything then I’m sorry but you’re reading the wrong article.
All I’m really interested in is what I can see with my own eyes, every match day, at home in my armchair. The odd live game whenever Arsenal are on Sky or BT Sport, or more likely edited highlights on Match of the Day, give me the perfect basis on which to judge a player who doesn’t seem to put any effort into the simplest of footballing skills.
I mean, what exactly does he do? I can see what Sanchez does: he runs around a lot and leaves defenders for dead with his blistering pace. Ditto Jack Wilshere, who gets stuck in and goes flying into tackles. When was the last time you saw Özil straining for anything? When did he last atone for an error or win back a badly controlled ball?
Arsenal fans love a player who shows some fight when wearing the shirt. That your technique and control of the ball may render any extra effort unnecessary is neither here nor there. No one ever gets any abuse for trying really hard but not being all that good. Take Olivier Giroud for example – nothing but polite applause.
You’ve got to remember that Özil joined Arsenal for a whopping £42.5m. Forty-two point five million! Who does he think he is costing that much and not being absolutely bloody brilliant all the time? I’d almost understand if he didn’t win every game on his own at half that price, but for £42.5m? He should carry the weight of that fee into every single game.
He’s been at the club for over a year now, which is more than enough time to judge any player. Especially one who’s had plenty of rest due to a number of niggling injuries. Look at how Arsenal legends such as Robert Pires and Thierry Henry were instant hits and didn’t need any time whatsoever to properly adjust to English game.
Of course there are supporters out there who will point to his record in terms of assists, as if a playmaker should be judged purely on his ability to make the play. Yes he’s set up a few goals for Arsenal, possibly more than any of his teammates last season. But what I fail to comprehend is why he’s not created as many goals as he did for Real Madrid.
What exactly is it about playing for Arsenal that made it harder for him to create goals for Giroud, Sanogo, Podolski and Bendtner than for Ronaldo, Benzema, Higuaín and Di Maria? It’s almost as if the quality of finisher directly impacts upon number of assists. Did I mention that he cost Arsenal a whopping £42.5m?
If Özil truly wants to win back my respect, he needs to run around all game chasing possession, fling himself into challenges, track back at every opportunity and radically improve his ability in the air. Basically change everything about his game and become a completely different player. Only then will he be the Ray Parlour we rightfully deserve.
Written by – Nooruddean
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After UEFA’s “Week of Football”—a fancy, eye-catching term for what was essentially a succession of mundane international action—the Premier League returns with a blockbuster slate of matches.
Here, we’ve picked out five points of interest and storylines to watch out for as the action unfolds, beginning with Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur and ending with West Bromwich Albion vs. Manchester United.
Have Tottenham Worked Out How to Play the Big Teams?
Beating Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium is a feat few achieve; it’s taken the sheer might of Barcelona or Chelsea to do it in 2014.
But Tottenham, heavy underdogs going into the match, will fancy their chances, as they reckon they’ve quietly worked out how to play against the bigger sides in the Premier League.
They key performances in white will come from Emmanuel Adebayor, Erik Lamela and Nacer Chadli. Expect pressing and viper-likecounterattacks, with speed, power and tactical nous all required to get the better of Vincent Kompany and Co.
Diego Costa: Jekyll & Hyde?
For Spain this week, Diego Costa was largely dreadful over the course of 171 minutes. He scored a goal, forcing the ball home after a scramble in the box against Luxembourg, but missed a plethora of chances beforehand in curious fashion.
Said strike was his maiden for La Furia Roja, and it took him an incredible seven caps to get off the mark. Contrast the national team Costa—timid, snatchy and sheepish in appearance—to the one we’ve seen rip the Premier League apart, and legitimate questions can be raised.
At one stage on Sunday, we were waiting for Costa to rip a facemask off and reveal he was actually Emile Heskey in a Spain kit. Will the misses for Spain affect his domestic form?
Enter Christian Benteke
Christian Benteke returned to action off the bench against Manchester City just ahead of the international break, played 30 minutes, then stayed in Birmingham to up his fitness instead of linking up with Belgium straight away.
Paul Lambert will be monitoring his progress carefully, hoping he’s fit enough to start against Everton at Goodison Park on Saturday. If he can, it’ll put Libor Kozak’s unfortunate luck to the back of supporters’ minds.
Villa have been sliding, losing three in a row to some of the top sides in the division. The Toffees are no slouches, but can Benteke make the difference?
Return of the Sturridge, Return of the Diamond?
Liverpool fans are excited and it’s easy to see why. Daniel Sturridge is primed to return to the Reds’ setup after several agonising weeks out, and he’s set to transform their attacking fortunes.
Mario Balotelli hasn’t settled and hasn’t adapted, while Fabio Borini can’t be trusted and Rickie Lambert is a bit-part player. Liverpool have been a bit drab since they moved away from the diamond due to injury, and if Sturridge sparks the return of the formation, perhaps the 4-2-3-1 can be placed squarely in the bin.
Systematically this is an intriguing matchup for Liverpool against Queens Park Rangers. Hopefully Brendan Rodgers doesn’t rest Raheem Sterling against his old club, too.
A case for the defence
Manchester United’s return to Premier League relevancy is far from rubber-stamped; despite winning their last three home games in a row, that horrific 5-3 loss to Leicester City in September represents plentiful ammo for the doubter’s pistol clip.
An away win against a West Bromwich Albion side fresh off two improved performances of late should help Louis van Gaal’s men convince the floating voters, but if they’re to pull it off on Monday night, they need their defence to step forward.
Injuries have killed LVG’s squad, so much so that previously unheard-of centre-back Paddy McNair has started the last two games. If Phil Jones and Chris Smalling can both return it’d be a monumental boost; if not, United are on upset alert.
Written by: Sam Tighe
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