Daniel Storey: Safety-first football the prevailing theme of Project Restart

Daniel Storey looks back at the weekend of football.
Daniel Storey: Safety-first football the prevailing theme of Project Restart

Daniel Storey picks out five talking points from the return to Premier League action.

Everton's Dominic Calvert-Lewin (centre) heads wide during the Premier League match at Goodison Park, Liverpool. Picture: Jon Super/PA Wire/NMC Pool.
Everton's Dominic Calvert-Lewin (centre) heads wide during the Premier League match at Goodison Park, Liverpool. Picture: Jon Super/PA Wire/NMC Pool.

Slow starts the overriding pattern

The return of Germany’s Bundesliga was dominated by an obvious loss of home advantage at stadia bereft of match-going supporters. To some extent, the first Premier League weekend followed a similar pattern.

But the standout theme — admittedly from a small sample size — is that we should expect slow starts in these early weeks of Premier League matches while teams acclimatise to unfamiliar circumstances after a long break.

Safety-first is the order of the day as managers urge teams to reserve energy for the final 30 minutes when points can be won and lost by a single piece of quality or lack of concentration.

In the first 11 matches, the Premier League has witnessed two goals scored in the first 25 minutes of matches, both by Crystal Palace against Bournemouth on Saturday evening.

That’s half as many as have been scored from the 90th minute onwards, while the percentage split between first and second half goals is 22%-78% That seems likely to continue as the matches come thick and fast.

Arsenal display worrying signs of old wounds

Arsenal were the only unbeaten Premier League team in 2020 when the season restarted, but hopes that Mikel Arteta was overseeing a quiet revolution have been dented by their two displays since. At Manchester City they continued their abysmal away record against Big Six teams.

Against Brighton they capitulated like sugar paper left out in the rain.

For all the post-match aggression towards Neal Maupay, where was that passion when fighting to win only a third away league victory of the season? Why is that Arsenal crumble at the first signs of pressure, and supposed leaders hide from view when their club needs them most?

Matteo Guendouzi might only be 21, but he must improve his tendency to clam up in defensive midfield when his side is under pressure.

Fail and he will become yet another stale ingredient in a stale club.

Arsenal were never likely to push for the top four in this mini-season. They are too flaky, too unreliable, too damn intent on undoing their own good work.

But Arteta must now spend the next six weeks determining which members of this squad are actually committed to dragging Arsenal out of mediocrity and which are happy to pick up their wages and stumble through their contracts. Difficult decisions will need to be made.

Ancelotti looks to Everton’s future

With precious little to play for in the next six weeks, Carlo Ancelotti was always like to make preparations for his first full season in charge. On Sunday evening came the evidence: Everton’s youngest Premier League XI this century and their youngest in a Merseyside derby since 1986.

It is a monument to Everton’s poor recruitment over the last three years that their academy graduates can hold their own amongst expensive colleagues and produced a more adequate display than the Anfield shambles in December.

There are no more than five or six established first-teamers at Goodison who you would be happy to build a team around.

In their next eight league games, the rest will get a chance to prove that they belong.

West Ham heading for another messy divorce

In his last 26 league games as West Ham manager, David Moyes has picked up just 25 points. What’s more, his team are getting worse. They have collected five points from the last 30 available. Given his club have spent £120m on transfer fees in the last year, that’s ‘managerial sacking’ form.

And yet the most astonishing thing about this bizarre West Ham-Moyes tryst is that he has been replaced and rehired during that 26-match run.

If he was viewed as the safe pair of hands to take West Ham out of trouble following the sacking of Manuel Pellegrini, Moyes has covered those hands in butter. This club know only too well about the dangers of being ‘too good to go down’.

The most infuriating aspect of West Ham’s latest defeat was the lack of attacking ambition displayed by their manager. Moyes picked Felipe Anderson and Jarrod Bowen as quasi-centre forwards who could switch positions, but both were left starved of possession.

He had five substitutions available when it was clear that the plan wasn’t working, but failed to address the obvious tactical flaws that eventually allowed Wolves to win at a canter.

When Moyes was appointed, he was bullish about his own ability to take the club forward — “Winning is what I do”. But winning is not what he’s doing. West Ham are heading for another summer of upheaval, and Moyes should not expect to keep his job unless there is a drastic improvement.

Norwich blow their chance to create momentum

Norwich City have earned plenty of admirers for the manner in which they have embraced their time in the Premier League.

Daniel Farke was keen to retain the bulk of the squad that got promoted, shunning advice to spend their broadcasting revenue windfall. Norwich have always intended to play on the front foot.

But there is no substitute for discipline and steel in a relegation fight, and by these measures Norwich have fallen woefully short.

Their fixture against Southampton was must-win to create some momentum and put pressure on the cluster of clubs above them, but their second-half performance was dismal.

Admirers are far less important than points, and Norwich will surely finish bottom. Then the battle to retain their best players begins.

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