Monday morning quarterbacking with Daniel Storey.
Every modern head coach now comes with a philosophy that they wish to imprint, but Unai Emery’s first-season success at Arsenal may lie in learning to compromise. Unlike Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho and Jurgen Klopp, there is not a vast transfer budget to buy players to fit the perfect style. This must be done on coaching, and coaching takes time.
Emery prefers to have his team press high up the pitch, but Arsenal to do not have the attackers to fit that demand. He prefers his team to play with a high line, but Arsenal’s central defenders are slow. His Sevilla team had a powerful midfield enforcer, but Arsenal played with 19-year-old Matteo Guendouzi and in Granit Xhaka have a midfielder who is still flattering to deceive.
Arsenal will have learned hard lessons against Manchester City, and should not be disheartened at being outclassed by the Premier League’s best team. But there are obvious flaws in this squad that the summer has not solved. After 20 years of slow decline, this will take much effort and even more time.
A trip to Huddersfield constituted an early banana skin for Maurizio Sarri, a fixture that Chelsea were expected to win and yet started without their best player. The home crowd roared during the opening 15 minutes as if they have been counting down the minutes until they could hero worship their team of giant-killers. They sensed blood; they always do.
But Huddersfield were silenced, beaten and eventually teased, such was Chelsea’s Saturday afternoon dominance.
The home side were restricted to a single shot on target and two corners, and Sarri’s Premier League reign started with consummate professionalism. The Italian will claim he does not wish to replicate Napoli in west London, but Chelsea’s first and third league goals of the season were straight out of his counter-attacking playbook.
For all the concern over Chelsea’s lack of summer transfer activity, here was emphatic proof that a new manager will bring a new mood to this club, just as it has so many times before during this era of managerial short-termism. If first impressions can be lasting, Chelsea will be far more sprightly after last season’s lethargy.
There’s no doubt that we have become overly reliant on the transfer window as a measure of judging a club’s success over the break between seasons, but there is a middle ground between lavish, careless spending and doing nothing at all. In May, Mauricio Pochettino insisted that Tottenham must be brave in order to move forward. By August, it was clear that the club was happy to stand still. In the uber-competitive world of the Premier League’s top six, standing still often means moving backwards.
Without any off-field reason for cheer, and with supporters getting restless, Spurs and Pochettino needed an instant feel-good hit; it came at St James’ Park. Tottenham were rarely comfortable having retaken the lead in the first half, but a patchwork team missing Mousa Dembele, Son Heung-Min, Erik Lamela, Kieran Trippier and Victor Wanyama ensured that the grumbles would be silenced for now. Victory against newly-promoted Fulham at Wembley next Saturday, and Pochettino should be able to take a far stronger, happier squad to Old Trafford.
Paul Pogba was probably Manchester United’s best player on Friday evening against Leicester, scorer of the opening goal and United’s most assured player in possession having been made captain for the evening by Jose Mourinho.
After the game, Manchester United’s manager praised Pogba for both his performance and fitness.
But if Friday night brought a warming of the relationship between manager and player, Saturday evening’s embargoed quotes sent Mourinho and Pogba back into ignominy. “If you’re not happy, you cannot give your best,” Pogba said. “There are things I cannot say otherwise I will get fined.” This was hardly a coded message.
Mourinho’s post-World Cup words have clearly hurt Pogba, who believes that his manager is deliberately scapegoating him. That only makes interest from Barcelona seem more appealing to him and his agent Mino Raiola.
It is extremely unlikely that Pogba will leave; Manchester United simply won’t sell without the opportunity to reinvest. Mourinho must make Pogba feel loved again if he is to get the best out of a wonderful midfielder, and Pogba must accept any olive branch for the sake of his own reputation. Manchester United’s season might just depend on it.
Wolves and Fulham displayed unprecedented financial ambition this summer. Jean Michael Seri, Joao Mourinho, Rui Patricio, Andre Schurrle and Leander Dendoncker - these were signings made by top-six clubs, not those who had recently escaped the Championship.
But the opening day offered evidence that all three promoted teams will take time to settle, and emphasised too the gap between the Premier League and Football League. Cardiff were swatted aside by a Bournemouth team without their big-name summer signing Jefferson Lerma, while Fulham must quickly learn the importance of making the most of your chances in the top flight.
They had 15 shots to Crystal Palace’s ten, but the visitors’ finishing was impeccable.
For Wolves, a draw against a team with top-six ambitions is clearly no disaster, but playing against ten men for 50 minutes handed them a chance to start with home victory and Everton were still able to register more shots on target. A reminder that pre-season positivity counts for nothing when the battle begins. All three must get their first league victory on an ASAP basis.
Given that he signed on August 29, 2017, we have waited with some anticipation for Naby Keita’s Liverpool debut. Some new arrivals are given 48 hours to acclimatise to their new surroundings, but Keita has been waiting for this day for almost 12 months.
It and he was worth the wait. One of the things that Liverpool missed last season was a central midfielder to play between the lines, instead relying upon one or more of the front three dropping deep to meet the midfield. Keita changes that, driving forward with the ball and finding space in front of the opposition’s defence.
He had a significant hand in Liverpool’s opening goal, but more generally looked entirely at ease at Anfield.
Jurgen Klopp believed that Keita was a perfect fit for his high-energy, all-action Liverpool team. On this evidence, he will be proved emphatically right.