Premature to ask serious Man United questions
We may only be two matches into the Premier League season but these are still crucial days at the top. Before 4pm on Sunday, teams in last season’s top six had played six matches against teams outside last season’s top six. They had won all six by an aggregate scoreline of 20-4. There may be less margin for error than ever before in this title race.
But if Manchester United cannot afford many more days like these, they are hard to shake out of the system. Jose Mourinho’s team look bereft of confidence or fight, making abject decisions in defence and central midfield like Arsenal in the final days of Arsene Wenger. Where is the unity for which Mourinho is supposed to be so famous?
Those who theorise that the players have given up on the manager certainly have a growing file of evidence. The suspicion that Mourinho will not make it to the end of another third season increases at the same rate. Apathy and uncertainty hang in the air like a foul-smelling fog.
Alonso the emblem of wonderful chaos
Games between two well-matched and disciplined teams can be extremely absorbing, footballing chess played by pragmatic grandmasters. But there is something wonderful about football quickly descending into disorganised farce as two sides abandon structure in favour of chaos.
Arsenal and Chelsea will both concede too many goals to break into the top four on this evidence, but those of us without an affiliation to either simply sat and smiled. There will be few more entertaining Premier League matches this season.
Marcos Alonso was the perfect poster boy for such reckless abandon. There were times last season when he was guilty of over-adventure even as a wing-back, but being moved into a left-back role in a four-man defence doesn’t seem to have caused any lack of attacking intent. Most of Chelsea’s best chances came down his flank; most of Arsenal’s did too.
Alonso had four touches in the opposition penalty area on Saturday. That’s more than Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alvaro Morata, the two starting centre forwards. His mere presence on the pitch virtually guarantees entertainment.
Xhaka now unfit for purpose
It’s hardly surprising that there are Arsenal supporters determined to see the best in Granit Xhaka. For so long Arsenal lacked tenacity and leadership in central midfield. They then spent a significant amount of money on a midfielder who promised exactly that.
But patience in Xhaka is wearing very thin. Matteo Guendouzi had never played a top-flight match before the start of this season. The fact the Frenchman has played all 180 minutes of Arsenal’s two matches, while Xhaka has been substituted after 70 and 45 minutes, respectively, is a damning indictment of the latter’s performances.
Xhaka is a walking yellow card, but that lack of discipline would be easily forgiven if it was accompanied by an effective screen for the defence and a passion that rubbed off on those around him. Sadly, he’s nowhere near good enough. We’re still waiting for anything better than mediocrity.
A ‘curse’ lifted, and supporting actor found?
Harry Kane will obviously be delighted to finally score a Premier League goal in August, particularly so soon after hitting the crossbar from close range and thus wondering if the run would continue. The notion of a curse was nonsense, but these things do play on the mind of a footballer. Kane will now go to Old Trafford next Monday with renewed energy. Nothing helps a striker’s recuperation like scoring goals.
But more important for Tottenham than Kane’s finish might be the identity of the scorer of the opening goal. Lucas Moura hardly lit up the Premier League following his January move from Paris Saint-Germain, but that was more due to a lack of regular minutes than poor performances. The Brazilian now has two goals and four assists in seven starts in a Tottenham shirt.
With a full pre-season completed and greater responsibility bestowed following the late return of teammates to training following the World Cup, Moura can now prove to Mauricio Pochettino that he can be an able goalscoring support to Kane. With Heung-Min Son away at the Asian Cup soon, that will be crucial.
A 25-year-old Brazilian international signed from an elite club for just £25m (€28m)? Moura could well prove to be a bargain.
Old habits die hard for griping Hughes
Mark Hughes has a reputation for blaming referees for his team’s defeats, and there’s nothing like an away defeat in August to remind you that Hughes is still manager of Southampton.
Against the same opponents in May, Hughes accused Jon Moss of “getting his breath back” and so incorrectly awarding a free-kick against Southampton from which Everton equalised. This time Hughes blamed Lee Mason for not sending off Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford in the 2-1 defeat.
See here’s the thing, Mark: There is no anti-Mark Hughes cabal of referees who want to punish your teams. Sometimes decisions go against you, sometimes with you.
The best thing you can do is control the controllables, and your team have played badly in both of their opening two games and so taken one point.
Rather than looking for a scapegoat, Hughes must introspect for a way to tighten up Southampton’s central midfield and look to create more clear-cut chances. Fail to do so, and this could be a long season.
Wilson enjoying his time in the sun
I interviewed Callum Wilson before Bournemouth’s debut Premier League season, and spoke to a young man with lofty ambitions.
He was 23 years old, had just scored 20 times in his first full season of Championship football, and believed he could break into the England squad.
Since then, Wilson has battled to save his career after rupturing the anterior cruciate ligaments in both knees in 2015 and 2017.
Before this season, he was limited to 48 Premier League starts in three seasons.
But Wilson is strong and sees his full fitness and full pre-season as a blessing.
The striker has scored twice and provided another assist in Bournemouth’s two matches, and Eddie Howe’s team have enjoyed their best-ever start to a Premier League season.
Howe knows a thing or two about recovering from serious injury, and could not be more proud of his centre forward.