United’s defensive shortcomings laid to bare at Leicester
Manchester United’s first defeat in their 853-game Premier League history having held a two-goal advantage, and the most glaring indication yet of where the Red Devils were found wanting in the transfer window.
“Soft-centred” said Sky Sports’ Gary Neville, or “a Porsche with the back end of a 1996 Fiat Punto” in the words of FFT’s own Joe Brewin, using Stats Zone to analyse the match from the King Power Stadium press box.
An hour in and United were coasting to a second successive win over newly promoted opposition as their summer signings shone: Radamel Falcao, Angel Di Maria and Ander Herrera all involved in the visitors’ three goals; Di Maria’s outrageous lob in the 16th minute a sight to behold.
That the game-changing moment hinged on a penalty that should never have been – Rafael upending Jamie Vardy after the latter had barged the former – shouldn’t detracted from the magnitude of the capitulation, leading to yet more head-scratching on why a centre-half was not sought on top of the marquee attackers.
“You never expect it when you are two goals ahead for the second time - you have to kill the game, you have to keep possession, but we could not do that. We gave it away with penalties,” lamented Louis van Gaal. "We kept possession for the first 10 minutes of the second half and scored a goal from that, but we failed to carry on. We created a lot of chances and scored some superb goals but you have to do it for 90 minutes, not 60.”
Key to Leicester’s comeback was the tireless Vardy, who three years ago yesterday was sent off in a Conference game between Fleetwood and Kidderminster before costing the Foxes a cool £1 million in 2012.
As Joe Brewin witnessed, “the 27-year-old's work-rate was exceptional as he chased down every long ball going down the wings, and won both of his side's penalties in between coolly giving his side the lead. No side won more of them than Leicester in the Championship last season, with their dogged frontman winning twice as many (6) as the Foxes' next-best player. Pace is certainly not an overrated commodity.”
All-action Milner and Mangala shine for City
Chelsea have won away at Manchester City more often than any other team in Premier League history (11 times) and they were minutes away from extending that record only for old flame Frank 'Super Frank' Lampard to pop up in the right place at the right time.
Onlookers knew what to expect from Jose Mourinho, who’s less-than-expansive approach successfully negotiated trips to Old Trafford, Anfield, the Emirates and Etihad last season without conceding a goal. The visitors were happy to repel whatever City had to throw at them, making 12 headed clearances inside the penalty area to the home side’s 1 during the first 45 minutes.
Manuel Pellegrini wasn’t impressed: “I think we played 90 minutes against a small team just trying to defend, trying to just to keep 10 players in front of their goal. [We were] the team that wanted to win from the beginning, we had two or three clear chances especially in the second and after we went down to 10 players we continued trying to win. That is why I'm satisfied with the performance but not so with the score.”
Having grabbed a goal, Andre Schurrle finishing off a sweeping counter-attack from a City corner, Chelsea did a very un-Mourinho like thing and failed to see the game out against 10 men. Schurrle turned from hero to villain by failing to track James Milner’s run and allow Lampard to delight narrative-lovers.
Man-of-the-match Milner excelled for Pellegrini’s men in a variety of positions, starting out on the right-wing, dropping to right-back after Pablo Zabaleta’s sending-off before popping up on the left to deliver the cross for Lampard’s leveller. The 28-year-old ended the day having completed the most attacking third passes (36/37), created the most chances (4) and made the joint-most tackles (6/7) with Eliaquim Mangala.
Throwing the debutant in against the league’s deadliest marksman in Diego Costa was considered a gamble by Pellegrini, but the £32 million man from Porto put in a hugely promising debut, helping skipper Vincent Kompany to bully the Brazilian, although he did see a late effort cannon back off an upright.
The French stopper won all 6 of his aerial duels and was comfortable on the ball, completing 40/44 passes and setting up a chance at the other end of the pitch.
'Leader' Lescott gets Irvine up and running
The form book was ripped up in the lunchtime clash at White Hart Lane. West Brom had not won there for 30 years, failed to win any of their previous nine meetings with Spurs and gone 13 league matches on a Sunday without success since a 1-0 win at Anfield in April 2012.
But Tottenham, who had won nine of their last 12 home matches which had immediately followed a Europa League away trip, struggled for tempo from the off and Alan Irvine’s men were only too happy to capitalise.
“We played with 10 different players from the game against Partizan in Belgrade on Thursday. I believe that we were in a good condition to play the game today and to have a good game with a good performance but it is strange that we played very slow," said Mauricio Pochettino.
"I think the beginning of the game was wrong. We were very slow, we moved the ball very slowly, and we had a very slow tempo. In football you need to play quickly because the opponents sometimes, like West Brom today, play a bit deeper. You have to try to recover the ball and be aggressive in offensive situations."
Match-winner James Morrison was a busy bee in midfield. As well as his 2 goalbound efforts, the Scotland international was his team’s best passer (42/47), set up 4 chances and made a game-high 8 ball recoveries.
While the performance of debutant Joleon Lescott was perhaps the most encouraging as the visitors secured their first win of the campaign. Having missed the start of the season due to a knee injury picked up in pre-season, the former Everton and Manchester City defender was an influential presence at the heart of the Baggies’ back-line as well as ending the day with a game-topping 10 clearances.
“We would have been taking a big risk if we put him in before he was ready," said Irvine. "We already had one setback against Nottingham Forest and I have tried to keep saying to people that we want to put him in the team but we want to put him in the team when he is ready and we felt as if he was ready this week.
“It's my most satisfying day in management for West Brom. It's great to get that first win. Everybody makes such a big thing about it. I'll go back to that first game against Sunderland, when it looked like we were going to get that win on the first day and that would have avoided all the questions – so it puts that question to bed.
"But we can't rest on that, we have now got to back that performance up by getting other good results."
Howard howlers inflict more home frustration
Like Tottenham, the Toffees also stumbled at home having been in European action on Thursday.
By the time Romelu Lukaku had fired the hosts into a ninth-minute lead, Everton had completed 105 passes to the Eagles’ 12. But Roberto Martinez’s men couldn’t maintain that momentum, or indeed regain it once Tim Howard’s mistakes had helped turn the game on its head.
“I thought we were fantastic and the first 15 or 20 minutes were as good as we've played,” said Martinez. “We were controlling the game and looked fresh and scored a very good goal.
"I felt that at that point we lost a bit of intent and we didn't have that real drive about us to score that second goal, which was all we needed. Leon Osman had a good chance, if that goes in, it's game over.
"Then the penalty is an incredible reward for Crystal Palace. It's a long ball from Julian Speroni and we have to deal a lot better with it. That allowed Crystal Palace to have a lot of belief, and it forces a couple of errors which are very uncharacteristic for us.”
Yannick Bolasie was a willing runner all afternoon. While he was only successful with 1/7 take-ons, he was often Palace's most profitable outlet and was eventually rewarded with his well-taken goal.
Eyebrows may have been raised by the appointment of Neil Warnock for a second spell as Selhurst Park supremo. But after an unbeaten return of five points from a possible nine, co-owner Steve Parish’s belief that he is ‘a safe pair of hands’ for the club and the current squad appears a wise one.
“We've done ever so well," Warnock said. "We should have won the games we've drawn as well. They have listened and I am very proud of them. A win gives everyone a lift and bit of confidence.”
Liverpool title tilt talk ‘can’t be entertained’
The challenge of the Reds reaching the lofty levels of last season was always going to be stern, and Saturday evening’s 3-1 defeat at West Ham left Brendan Rodgers insisting Liverpool remain “a work in progress”.
“Lots of elements of our game have been very good over the last couple of seasons but it's not really happening at the moment,” he said. “I don't think we can entertain talk [of the title] until we get some consistency. We showed our potential at Tottenham and we need to look to get back to that level.”
Having laboured to Champions League success against Ludogorets in midweek, the Merseysiders were unable to recover from the Hammers’ lightning start at Upton Park, scoring two goals in the opening 10 minutes.
As FFT’s Gary Parkinson noted, the visitors were dispatched in a confident performance inspired by some exciting new players, while Liverpool proved incapable of breaking West Ham down. From the 70th minute onward, they managed just one shot on goal, while they were picked off on the break by Morgan Amalfitano.
“Our higher pressing game was the reason we dominated Liverpool so much in the first half and to score two goals in that early period really stunned the Liverpool players," beamed Big Sam afterwards. “The front two looked like they'd been here for a long time. The energy that they've got, not just in possession but out of possession I think terrorised Liverpool's back four.”
Middlesbrough make the trip to Anfield on Tuesday in the League Cup, but all eyes will already be centred on next Saturday lunchtime’s Merseyside derby as the ideal chance for Liverpool to kick-start their season.