01 September 2013
With my cable provider (Comcast) doing everything in their power to make my life miserable this weekend, I didn't know what to expect here Sunday. The good news is my cable box worked long enough on Sunday for me to watch both games on NBCSN. Here are my takeaways from Sunday's two big matches.
If you read any of my thoughts post Liverpool's opening two fixtures, I was deeply concerned about their spacing. The first two games saw the same pattern develop. With a midfield that was higher up the pitch they were conceding too many second half chances to sides they shouldn't have been giving easy chances to. Today, that space was not on the pitch. Had it been, I'm pretty confident we don't see the 1-0 result Liverpool did get.
Liverpool were smarter in how they closed Manchester United down; with the midfield closing down when the defense was back, and the defense closing down as the midfield tracked back into position. Rodgers was willing to concede the wings, and it was evident early as to why. The crosses into the box were easily defended, resulting in a plan B that played right into Liverpool's hands. When Manchester United would go down the center of the park, Liverpool were already in position to close them down. The frustration was evident in the number of Manchester United bookings late in the first half.
The biggest improvement today for Liverpool though, which I think was the biggest reason Liverpool's spacing improved, was how well Daniel Sturridge held the ball up. His ability to hold the ball has been very hit or miss. Today, Sturridge's ability to hold the ball allowed Liverpool's midfield to play deeper and still get into the attack whenever required. With the way Sturridge has adapted the first three games of the season, it will be very curious to see how Suarez is reintegrated into the side once his suspension is over.
Ryan Giggs at a Crossroads
It is hard for me to say that I feel for any Premier League player, but I really feel for Ryan Giggs right now. He is at crossroads in his professional career, and I'm not sure he really knows how to handle it. From my vantage point, Ryan Giggs needs to make his mind up as to what he wants to be this season. It's obvious to me he can't be a player coach.
I was shocked at how much time Giggs spent in the first half almost coaching the players on the pitch. From an outside perspective, it looked like Giggs spent more time trying to get other players to play their role than playing the role he was supposed to be playing. It showed in his performance on the pitch. Giggs was easily the second weakest player on the pitch behind Ashley Young, and it was an obvious substitution to make when Hernandez came on late.
Ryan Giggs needs to have a serious look at what he wants to accomplish with Manchester United this season, and make a decision. If he wants to play, he needs to let David Moyes that he needs to devote all of his time to his midfield role. If he wants to be a part of the coaching staff, he needs to retire from the pitch. It is almost a damning indictment that Manchester United still needs Giggs craft in the midfield. Then again, when you leave one of your most valuable midfielders out of the squad for this match, people like Giggs still feel they can play a part; and still try to play that part on the pitch.
David Moyes Steep Learning Curve
If David Moyes doesn't know what he was stepping into when he signed on as Manchester United's manager, he does now. After two extremely lackluster performances against rivals old and new, it is apparent to me that Moyes still has not abandoned his management philosophy from his days as Everton manager. It was the same style that did not win him
Manchester United this week in their play against Chelsea and Liverpool was frankly too cautious. The only player in his squad that looked like they wanted to get any hint of three points was Wayne Rooney. However, on Sunday, he was not in the eighteen due to a late week training ground injury. The squad selection today was simply baffling as well. In a game that Sir Alex Ferguson would have played Kagawa in, David Moyes left him out of the 18. The last thing Moyes should have done is admit that Kagawa was fit, and that he simply left him out of the squad. If you don't want Kagawa, I can think of many teams who would want his talents.
If Moyes genuinely believes this was the best Manchester United played this season, he would be wrong. The way they played against Swansea City was much better than the way they played today. You might have been able to get away with saying that at Everton, but you can't at Manchester United.
David Moyes deserves the time Sir Alex Ferguson got to get adjusted to life at Manchester United, and how he manages the club. However, he needs to accelerate his learning club. The expectations that Moyes will have every year do not match how he plays in the bigger matches. He might get a pass this season as he beds himself and the coaching staff in. Going forward, that will be a completely different story.
Same Old Spurs
Today's match at the Emirates was a major litmus test for what Tottenham have done this summer. When it was all said and done, all I could think was this was the same old typical Spurs side we are use to seeing in the bigger matches. This is now compounded by the fact Spurs have yet to score a goal from any open play or set piece this season.
Tottenham's attack was pretty much useless. In these 90 minutes there was only one effort on goal that I thought tested the Arsenal resolve. Their efforts were either hopeless wide of target, or right at Szczesny. With Soldado on an island, even with Spurs moving forward, Arsenal's defenders were able to build confidence that is not normally seen. Mertesacker and Koscielny were able to get comfortable, and in positions to force long distance efforts.
A surprising thing to me, despite all the signings, is that the midfield still lacks creativity. While their attacking play still has some purpose, it is easily broken down. Arsenal dealt with the same style of attacks all match long. When Capoue's injury forced Sandro's inclusion, things didn't change. In fact, it could be argued their attack was even more one dimensional than before.
Until Tottenham can prove the results against top sides last year was no fluke, it will be easy to dismiss them as a serious top four contender. Of the six that I think will fight for Champions League places, I have them sixth. While AVB is still changing the philosophy of the club, these are the matches where you prove your worth. Today was a giant step backwards.
Arsenal's Core Coming Good
Despite all the yelling and screaming from detractors of Arsene Wenger, he's proven one thing through the opening three weeks of the season. That thing is Arsenal is a lot closer to title contention then many will want to admit.
The signings of last season have blended well with the young English core. Giroud looks like the player Arsenal signed from Montpellier and not the scared player last season. His third goal of the season was the difference, and it was his ability to spot the space between the center backs that proved Tottenham's undoing. Cazorla is looking more and more dangerous on set pieces, and Monreal is becoming reliable in helping Arsenal close out matches. If Podolski can show the form he had against Fulham when he returns from injury, Wenger will have a strong core of 15 players to rely on.
It is no secret that Arsenal needs cover. With the rumored bid for Ozil before the deadline tomorrow night, I believe Arsenal would be wise to also invest in at least one defender. If they do, it'll go a long way in proving the opening weekend was an aberration then reality. Arsene Wenger's transfer philosophy maybe a bit odd, but based on today's post match press conference he might be willing to spend relatively big tomorrow. Considering the Premier League is coming back to Arsenal than Arsenal are drifting away from the top, the spending Arsenal do on Monday might determine how serious a title contender they can potentially be.