Week two of the 2016/17 English Premier League season provided plenty of talking points…
‘It feels like watching United again’
Manchester United’s a performance against Southampton was reminiscent of the stuff regularly served up by Fergie cutthroats – effervescent, purposeful and aesthetically pleasing, prompting one TV commentator to remark that “it feels like watching United again.”
The 2-0 scoreline flattered Southampton, who were lucky to avoid a real pasting. Jose Mourinho could not have asked for a better home debut, made memorable by the eye-catching performances of the other Old Trafford debutants. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s brace confirmed once again what a shrewd acquisition he is, whilst Paul Pogba was simply imperious. The returnee strode across the Old Trafford pitch like a colossus and looked every inch his worth in gold.
Fellaini the great survivor
We don’t want to jinx it for Maroune Fellaini, but it looks like he won’t be leaving Old Trafford after all. The Belgian became the emblem of David Moyes’s much derided transfer policy during his ill-fated United reign. Pundits tipped him to be moved on by new manager Louis van Gaal, but the midfielder survived and went on to establish himself as an integral part of the Dutchman’s squad.
When Mourinho took over, undeterred by the falsity of their previous predictions the same ‘experts’ declared matter-of-factly that “Fellaini might as well start packing his bags.” They couldn’t and still can’t see him featuring in the Portuguese manager’s plans. “He is not a Mourinho type of player,” they say.
Fellaini is not listening. He has started all three of United’s matches this season (the Community Shield and in the league) and continues to confound the critics. He had the best pass completion rate of any United player during the 3-1 win at Bournemouth, with a 99 per cent passing accuracy. It was not surprising therefore that the former Everton man retained his place against Southampton as Pogba’s preferred midfield partner.
Smart money is on Fellaini staying on at Old Trafford despite the incessant speculation over his future.
The rehabilitation of Raheem Sterling
Raheem Sterling returned from Euro 2016 a broken player. For some inexplicable reason he bore the brunt of the public’s anger at England’s abysmal campaign. Amid the unremitting criticism of his performances in France it was reported that Pep Guardiola had reached out to Sterling to offer him succour and reassurance.
Whatever Guardiola said to him has quite clearly had the desired effect. Sterling has had an excellent start to the new campaign. He was influential during the 4-1 win at Stoke City on Saturday as City picked up the gauntlet Manchester United had thrown down to them 24 hours earlier.
The England forward has started and finished all of City’s three games in all competitions this season, boasting five assists. Continue in the same vein and the £50m City paid Liverpool for his services will look like a bargain. Crucially, it looks like Sterling has his manager’s trust.
If the trip to Stoke was a litmus test then City passed it with flying colours. However, there will be sterner away tests than the trip to the Bet365 Stadium, notably the derby at Old Trafford in three weeks time, but for now it’s a case of so far so good for City and their new manager.
Klopp has a lot to ponder
It is early days, but the manner of Liverpool’s capitulation at the hands of top-flight newcomers Burnley will cause many to revise their pre-season predictions and question the Reds’ billing as genuine title contenders. In two matches we witnessed the best and worst of Jurgen Kloop’s side. Liverpool fans’ excitement engendered by the high-octane 4-3 win at Arsenal gave way to deflation occasioned by the meek surrender at Turf Moor a week later.
Shorn of Sadio Mane Liverpool were toothless in attack. James Milner at left-back in place of the error-prone Alberto Moreno looked like a square peg in a round hole. But it is Liverpool’s porous defence that is a cause of great concern for Klopp. The Reds have shipped five goals in their opening two matches, not the form one associates with teams harbouring title ambitions.
Another Chelsea late show
For the second successive match Diego Costa struck late to give Chelsea all three points and deny Watford a share of the spoils. With the match delicately poised and looking destined to end in a draw, Costa, just as he did against West Ham last Monday, intervened with an unerring finish to give his side a 2-1 come-from-behind victory. The win kept Antonio Conte’s men on the coattails of the two Manchester pacesetters.
A few character traits are already beginning to emerge from a Chelsea side that is still very much a work in progress. The Blues have substance, finesse and a never-say-die spirit. Those qualities will stand them in good stead for the title race.
At least they didn’t lose
Arsenal players walked off the King Power Stadium pitch with boos from a section of the travelling supporters ringing in their ears. Understandably, Gunners fans were not enamoured with their side’s nondescript display.
It could have been worse for Arsene Wenger’s men had referee Mark Clattenburg not bottled a late penalty decision when Ahmed Musa was felled in the area.
Wenger would have been relieved to avoid a second successive defeat, but long-suffering fans will be concerned that their team is already five points adrift after just two matches.
Triumph in the face of adversity
Hull City have some serious off-field problems, but things couldn’t be rosier on the pitch after beating Swansea on Saturday to make it two wins in two games.
Could the Tigers be last season’s Leicester City? Not a chance. What Leicester lacked in title pedigree last term they more than compensated for in tremendous team spirit and the financial backing of their owners.
By contrast there is a widening rift between Hull fans and the club owners over the identity of the club and uncertainty over its future. The Tigers have the smallest squad in the Premier League, thanks to a lack of investment. Unless they bring in new faces before the transfer window closes then a relegation scrap beckons, the excellent start to the campaign notwithstanding.