Debrief: The Premier League weekend reviewed, Sep 22
1) Moyes must put faith in his talented squad
Slow starts are nothing new to Manchester United: six of the Reds' 13 Premier League titles have seen them win only two of their opening five games.
Nonetheless, this feels different. A 4-1 thumping at closest rivals Manchester City laid bare several worrying flaws for David Moyes to ponder, and as he rolls back the tape with his video analysis team later it could be very hard for him to avoid the conclusion that many of the errors were self inflicted.
During his time at Everton, Moyes’ unwillingness to rotate and trust players beyond the first XI was a source of frustration for many Evertonians. With a bigger squad at his disposal at Old Trafford, this last week was Moyes’ first big test in the squad rotation department – and one he failed.
The paucity of United’s early-season wide play has already been discussed, yet Nani and Wilfried Zaha continue to find themselves nowhere near the first team. Ashley Young made only eight successful passes in the first half against City, yet a fit and fresh Nani remained on the bench. Danny Welbeck toiled without success and Marouane Fellaini showed worrying tactical naivety in midfield, yet Moyes remained unmoved. Indeed, at 4-0 down it was staggering to see Nani, Javier Hernandez and Shinji Kagawa sat twiddling their thumbs on the bench.
If throwing caution to the wind in the face of adversity was the way of The Old Boss, Moyes offered a tentative – even timid – response to managing a game rapidly escaping his grasp, in complete contrast to his predecessor.
Moyes’ pre-match comments that he hadn’t yet had a chance to see how some of United’s other players might fit in will also worry the red half of Manchester (did he not work that out in pre-season?) and hints at a manager completely unfamiliar with the squad rotation that is now a necessity at the highest level.
With games coming thick and fast in both league and cups, Moyes will have to learn how to manage his squad to greater effect, and fast. (JF)
2) Liverpool not cute without Cout
When Philippe Coutinho limped off at Swansea, ruled out for six weeks, he took much of Liverpool's attacking play with him – and not just on the night, as our live Twitter analysis noted. Daniel Sturridge has rightly won praise and headlines for his goals, but the Brazilian behind him has commanded the centre stage, dominating games in the space behind the striker with performances that fully justify his No.10 shirt.
Against Southampton at Anfield on Saturday, Brendan Rodgers asked Iago Aspas to play off Sturridge. The Spaniard was so timid that some might not have noticed his half-time substitution, had Raheem Sterling not come on instead – and fared no better. One of his problems was that he tended to drift right, onto the toes of Liverpool's right-sided attacking midfielder Jordan Henderson – himself, hardly a natural wide man.
As they so often have, Southampton locked down the area in front of their centre-backs. However, instead of seeking to probe around the edges (as Coutinho tends to), Liverpool tended to hammer on the firmly-locked door. Their Player Influence map in the second half of the Southampton game vividly illustrates the problem. With the exception of isolated frontman Sturridge and second-half sub Daniel Agger, who frequently dropped back to get the ball off Simon Mignolet, the home side's players are penned into a dead zone barely 40 yards wide and maybe 30 yards deep.
Liverpool did have a willing wide man in Victor Moses, but his enjoyable duel with Nathaniel Clyne (as detailed by James Maw in our Saturday Analysis) was typical of the Chelsea loanee: dangerous, for sure, but more of an erratic head-down-and-charge than a worldly wise link man.
Luis Suarez is now eligible again, and it will be intriguing to see how he combines with Sturridge. Both frontmen are dangerous but in the Uruguayan's absence the Englishman has notably improved – as have the team. When Coutinho returns he may be the man to unite the various attacking talents; Rodgers must hope they work together well enough until then. (GP)
3) West Ham are officially the new Stoke
It's a tag completely befitting Sam Allardyce's uninspiring Hammers right now. Sure, things weren't great before, but surely they weren't this bad.
Before Saturday's 3-2 defeat to Everton, the Hammers had managed fewer shots on target than any other side (6) and bemoaned the top flight's worst shooting accuracy (20%). Their first four games this season were in the Premier League's bottom seven for total ball-in-play time.
Nonetheless, it looked as though they might grab all three points against the Toffees until Mark Noble pushed the self-destruct button, getting sent off and allowing Leighton Baines to net an equaliser with a wonderful free-kick before Romelu Lukaku headed a late winner.
But West Ham's two goals came from their only shots on target from 10 efforts. Their attacking-third passing was unimaginative (see below) and largely direct as they completed just 49% of their final-third efforts.
For the second game in succession, the service afforded to striker Modibo Maiga was pitiful. In 129 minutes of football the Mali hitman has received just 27 passes from his team-mates, following on from another supply-starved game at Southampton. It's no surprise to discover he's won the most aerial duels in the Premier League this season (43).
Andy Carroll's absence is hugely noticeable, but it's worrying for Allardyce that his game plan relies so heavily on the towering England man.
That no West Ham player featured in the top seven distributors against Everton says it all. A hefty 17% of their passing was long. And until Carroll returns, it's not likely to get much better. (JB)