21 September 2013
After a curious Saturday of Premier League action, here are my thoughts.
Lukaku, Barkley and Baines Make Big Difference for Everton
After a first half that saw Everton look clueless against a West Ham side that pressured whenever Everton had possession of the ball, one sub and three players made sure Everton left Upton Park with all three points.
The halftime substitution of Lukaku and McCarthy immediately changed the tune of the match. Lukaku was able to hold the ball up, get West Ham players to commit, and distribute effectively. It also helped to that Ross Barkley was finally able to get space to earn not one, but two very attacking free kicks. Both times, Leighton Baines made West Ham pay with pinpoint accurate free kicks that Jussi Jaaskelainen was a mere spectator to.
Where this match really turned though was the moment Mark Noble was sent off. After being beaten by Barkley in midfield, Noble decided to do all the work himself. Instead of trusting his defense to take care of his mistake, Noble reached in and took Barkley out from behind. Having been booked 14 minutes earlier it was a challenge that was unnecessary. There was cover behind Noble, and he should have known it. Instead of being the man responsible for possibly giving West Ham all three points, he became the root cause of giving Everton all three.
The game winner came from Lukaku's awareness to exploit the hole in the midfield defensive line where Mark Noble was playing. Mirallas did an exceptional job to keep the ball in play and get the cross in. What Lukaku did here was amazing, because not many forwards today would have gone for the ball with the commitment Lukaku did here. Getting clipped after making contact, Lukaku didn't even realize he had scored the game winner (and admitted it to in his post match interview). What was even smarter by the man on loan from Chelsea is the fact he knew where the space would be to exploit.
West Ham screwed themselves in this one. They had plenty of opportunities in the first half to make Everton pay for their wastefulness and didn't take advantage of them. Everton kept their ace in the hole until needed, and Lukaku proved his worth. Roberto Martinez may have had to win ugly, but he's slowly starting to show he knows what to do with this squad. I bet he's also thankful to have kept a hold of Leighton Baines.
Sone Aluko Ruins the Loic Remy Show
Twice, Hull City came back twice from Loic Remy goals, before Sone Aluko's perfect side volley gave Hull City a remarkable 3-2 victory at St. James Park.
Loic Remy didn't have that special of a game, but Remy showed why he was a wanted man on loan. His positional sense put Newcastle United up on two separate occasions. The first came from a mishit by Cisse, and the second came off a blocked Cabaye effort that went right to Remy's feet. Both times McGregor was out of position for what became rather routine goals. Though he scored twice, Remy will be more remembered today for his miss late that would have given Newcastle United an unlikely point.
What I will say about Hull City's performance today was that when the chips were down, they found a way to not only outwork Newcastle and create easy opportunities, but get unmarked opportunities. Brady had plenty of space for Hull City's first equalizer, and easily slid the ball between Krul's legs. Elmohamady's second equalizer came off a perfect free kick run that saw him with two yards of space between any Newcastle defender. As the second half wore on, Huddlestone and Livermore ran the show in midfield, and Alan Pardew had no response off the bench to change that.
The game winner is my candidate for goal of the month. George Boyd made easy work of a soft Newcastle back line and soon found his way to the end line. With all the space in the world, Boyd spotted another unmarked Tiger insider the penalty area, Sone Aluko. With a perfect pass, Boyd teed up Aluko on a side volley. Tim Krul doesn't have time to react as the ball goes past him off the inside of the post and in. It was a special goal to cap off a win that Hull City deserved.
Steve Bruce is right when he says that they finally converted their chances, but Hull City need to be more consistent in doing so. Newcastle should be ashamed of their shambolic defending. However, this day belongs to the Aluko household. Not only did Sone score for Hull City, his sister Eniola also scored for the England women in World Cup qualifying.
Chelsea's Midfield Outlasts Fulham
It was dull, boring, and at time downright ugly to watch at times, but Chelsea finally outlasted a fatigued Fulham in the second half to win 2-0.
Fulham had Chelsea's number in the first half, cutting off Chelsea's attacks at every opportunity. In fact, had Darren Bent not gone right at Petr Cech in the 12th minute, Fulham could have easily been 0-1 to the good. Unfortunately for Fulham, that was a good as it got. Chelsea started to erode Fulham's fitness. While it didn't show on the opener (blame Stockdale for that cluster in front of goal), it did show after the hour. Fulham couldn't keep a hold of the ball, and Chelsea were able to pass through them at will. While it took a set piece to put Chelsea in front 2-0, Fulham simply couldn't keep up with Chelsea's movement.
Jose Mourinho can say all he wants that he is trying to change the philosophy of the team, but I hear those comments and think they are nonsense. I read those comments as code for 'I don't have a clue what my best eleven are on the park, and until I can do so as well as say I told you so after the fact, I'm going to use that line'. Goal aside, Oscar was missing and influential for large periods of the game. The one player who I did think was effective for Chelsea today was Mikel. Not only did he get off the goal snide, his placement on the pitch shut down Fulham attacks that looked like they might go places.
At least Chelsea didn't go walkabout on that Fulham corner in first half stoppage time.
* Liverpool were simply too predictable against Southampton today. Steven Gerrard was rather muted and Daniel Surridge just didn't get enough good service to make a difference. Also of concern for Liverpool is the fact they have yet to score a second half Premier League goal this season. It might be a good thing Suarez is coming back this week from suspension. At least with him on the park, he should add an extra layer to Liverpool's attack.
* I tried talking myself into believing Dejan Lovren goal should have been waved off. However, as I looked at the replay, it was actually Daniel Agger who first went the wrong way round Lovren, and then grabbing the goal scorer. It was well done by Lovren to shake off the defending to get enough power on that ball to cross the goal line.
* What Paolo Di Canio did after Sunderland was embarrassed by West Brom could almost be considered normal behavior for him. It was still pathetic bordering on insane. Di Canio better keep his chin up considering his next two opponents are Liverpool and Manchester United. Is it the perfect schedule for an early season sacking?
These were my thoughts on today's action. What are yours? Let me know in the comments below.