Review of Week 4
Arsenal got very lucky against a Newcastle side that played most of the match with ten men due to the inevitable dismissal of Mitrovic for being a headcase. In fairness, the Gunners were denied what seemed like a clear penalty for a foul on their marauding right back, Hector Bellerin but in the end, had to rely on an own goal courtesy of Collocini’s unfortunate leg to claim the win.
Contrary to this column’s expectations, Villa and Sunderland played out an entertaining game of football with 2-2 the final score as the spoils were shared. Hilariously, Lee Cattermole managed to outdo his usual level of buffoonery with one of most obvious penalty give-aways seen this season so far. The ensuing goal for Villa managed to drag them back level with Sunderland after the Black Cats took an early lead.
Bournemouth and Leicester, despite their respective starts to the season, managed to serve up some fairly bland fare prior to the international break. So bland, in fact, that this end of their review.
Saturday 12th September
15.00 Arsenal v Stoke
Four matches into the start of the new season and Arsenal are already five points off the leaders, Man City. However, when you consider that they’ve only scored three goals so far this season (two of which were own goals, mind you), a return of eight points is no mean feat. It doesn’t take from the fact that this Arsenal team are presently struggling for goals but in his infinite wisdom, Arsene Wenger decided against buying any outfield players at all (the only team in the top five divisions of Europe to do so) and so the good-but-not-great Oliver Giroud is the main man to lead the line. Said striker was booed by French fans during the international break due to another indifferent performance for Les Blues. Hmm…
Stoke spent the summer surprising everyone with some of the more audacious purchases ever conducted by a team generally considered to be mid-table. With so many new gems woven into their cloak, could the Potters surprise everyone and force their way into contention for European places?
Of course, it’s still possible but they haven’t had a great start, to put it mildly. They had something of a nightmare in their last match against West Brom (managed by ex-Stoke manager, Tony Pulis) when the ghosts of Stoke past came back to haunt them with two first-half dismissals which effectively handed the tie to their guests. They were also unlucky to lose against Liverpool in their first match but the plain fact is that, even with the addition of a number of quality players, Stoke have only managed two draws thus far.
So how might this one play out? Traditionally, Wenger’s china dolls rarely enjoyed coming up against Stoke, such was the physicality with which they were met. Although Mark Hughes has his Stoke side playing football with a far greater technical ability than they had done before, they are no shrinking violets and Hughes will encourage them to ‘get about’ the Arsenal players from the off. Stoke are a lovely price for the win (obviously) but it seems that, given Aresnals’ indifferent start to their season, a draw might be the likeliest of outcomes here. Totesport have 5/1 for that outcome.
15.00 Crystal Palace v Man City
This is the first top of the table clash as second placed Palace welcome league leaders, Man City. It’s not often one gets to write that sentence. Still, it is early in the season and at this stage last season that Villa, too, were riding high and we all know how that turned out. Mind you, in their temporary march toward the top in 2014, Villa hadn’t beaten the previous season’s champions as Palace did in week 4, claiming a rare and impressive scalp in beating Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
Thus far, Pardew’s Palace look like they could make serious progress this year and City would do well to bear that in mind. The Manchester side have been peerless with four wins from four, ten goals scored and none conceded. And they’ve just added the Bundeslige player of the season, Kevin de Bruyne, to their ranks in exchange for a fair wedge of money. A front four of said Belgian, David Silva, Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero is about as good as you’ll find anywhere, the kind of fearsome firepower to give opposing defences nightmares.
In their match against Chelsea, Palace defender, Damien Delany, gave a supreme performance in his defensive shackling of Diego Costa, physically matching and sometimes dominating the Chelsea bruiser. Aguero is different kettle of fish altogether and Delaney (and his team mates) will have to go back to the well and summon another awesome performance if they are to prevail here. In truth, with City (apparently) so strong from front to back, it’s hard to see anything other than a home loss but if one wanted to be optimistic, the draw offers some good value with 16/5 from Betvictor being one of the best prices around.
17.30 Manchester United v Liverpool
Whatever comes to pass in this match, you can be guaranteed that the outcome will provide reams of ‘evidence’ for those writing the managerial obituaries for Van Gaal and/or Rodgers. Both managers spent huge amounts of money over the summer and both are already under the cosh as a result of some uninspiring performances.
A sizeable amount of Liverpool fans have Rodgers marked down as a jammy chancer and are saying prayers and lighting candles in the hope that the owners think likewise, ditch the Irish man and install Germany’s Jurgen Klopp, who helpfully pointed out midweek that he doesn’t necessarily have to manage a big team. For all the money he has spent, Rodgers still has Martin Skrtel as his main man in the centre of defence. Skrtel may be a lot of things but the brain of a central defence he is not, yet his stature in the team is such that his is the voice which sets the line and barks the orders; Liverpool’s chances of finishing in the top four when such a pivotal position is occupied by a man frequently given to lapses in concentration and skill are slim.
Van Gaal, on the other hand, has significantly added to midfield but has subtracted from his forward line with a mis-firing Wayne Rooney in near sole charge of striking duties. He has also dropped erstwhile midfielder, Daley Blind, back into the centre of defence with Chris Smalling. The Dutch man is a very capable footballer but probably lacks the size to control his defensive area effectively. Size, of course, is not a prerequisite for a central defender (think of Cannavaro, for example) but if it’s not your natural position, it certainly helps.
Now, if Liverpool manage to play to Benteke’s strengths, they might well worry a lightweight Utd defence but Liverpool have done little to suggest that they are capable of playing with much coherency in the final third. They have scored just two goals this season, one of which, finished by Benteke, was clearly offside. The other was scored by the Brazilian whizz, Coutinho, who will not face Utd due to suspension.
It’s hard to imagine either team rising above mediocre in this encounter. This column has little confidence in either team providing much in the way of a classic encounter but certainly expects some slapdash talking points as both teams set out to dispel the belief that top teams should be involved in top quality matches. Solely by virtue of the better price available, this column will, without any shred of confidence, go for a Liverpool win which Bet365 has for 7/2.