Of all the potential impacts of VAR on the Premier League, one surprise knock-on effect could be witnessed at Stamford Bridge yesterday, and twice at the King Power Stadium on Saturday. A team that celebrates a goal only to see it later ruled out by VAR suffers a short-term loss of concentration that makes them conceding a goal more likely.
Leicester and Tottenham both succumbed within minutes in their fixture, but Chelsea’s yesterday was even more obvious. Would their marking still have been so dismal if they weren’t still recovering from seeing Cesar Azpilicueta’s goal ruled out? Perhaps.
But this is becoming far too regular an occurrence across the Premier League for it to be a coincidence. Managers must hammer home the need to rule a mental line under such disappointment; might we see goals celebrated less enthusiastically?
When Manchester United agreed to sell Romelu Lukaku to Inter, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was given the option to replace him but turned down the opportunity because he said he had faith in Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood to score goals.
At the same time, Solskjaer was putting his players through a gruelling pre-season in which double training sessions were the order of the day. Hard work was apparently the key to resolving United’s under-performance.
We are only in September and United already have a striker crisis. Rashford and Martial have both succumbed to muscle injuries, joined by Luke Shaw. With Greenwood also afflicted by tonsillitis, United face the prospect of a run of matches without a recognised striker. All the while, Lukaku has scored three goals for Inter in Serie A including the clincher in the Milan derby.
Bournemouth had never won away at Southampton, and Eddie Howe will have expected their eventual victory to come through grit, determination and defensive might. In fact, this was as pedestrian an away win as he could hope for. If Howe and Ralph Hasenhuttl could reasonably be touted as two contenders for the best coach outside the Big Six, Howe laid down a marker on Friday evening.
Bournemouth ran out 3-1 winners but could easily have scored five or six and were unfortunate to not be awarded a penalty when Josh King was fouled in the penalty area after half-time. Following the disappointment of drawing with Sheffield United at home on the opening day, Bournemouth have beaten Everton, Aston Villa and Southampton and lost only to Manchester City. Howe’s ambition that his team make a push for Europe hardly looks misplaced.
There is no cause for panic based on Newcastle’s raw results. The victory over Tottenham means Newcastle have more points than at the same stage last season, when they eventually avoided relegation with ease.
But any supporter who witnessed the performance against Brighton on Saturday will find optimism a stretch. Newcastle ceded possession and territory and were therefore outplayed by their opponents. Steve Bruce could not have moaned had Brighton won by two clear goals, and his players seemed to have little idea of the game plan.
Under Rafa Benitez, Newcastle always improved during the second half of the season. Under Bruce, the same guarantee does not exist. Having been given a £40m striker and a new attacking midfielder to compliment Miguel Almiron, this grim football will soon cause all goodwill to dissipate.
We have a new favourite in the market for the next Premier League manager to lose his job. Everton were handed a useful opportunity to immediately erase the memory of limp defeat against Bournemouth last weekend. They somehow conspired to double down on their misery at home to Sheffield United.
Marco Silva can reasonably claim that this was a freak result. Everton had 14 more shots than their opponents and conceded twice despite Sheffield United only having one shot on target. But excuses should not have been needed. Having spent over £100m this summer and facing a promoted side at home, Everton should have outclassed Chris Wilder’s team. Manchester City come next; it isn’t going to get easier.
Pep Guardiola probably couldn’t have handpicked two better opponents for Manchester City to face to try and get over their early-season blip. City have faced Shakhtar Donetsk time and again and have usually enjoyed the experience, while Watford have become experts in rolling over for City.
The most remarkable aspect of City recording the third highest victory in Premier League history is that they should have scored at least four more times. Sergio Aguero was particularly guilty of profligacy, while City understandably took their foot off the gas having scored five times in the opening 20 minutes.
It’s hard to tell given the lack of ambition from Watford or Shakhtar, but there’s a theory that City might actually be more resilient at the back with Fernandinho playing over John Stones. A blessing in disguise?