Editor’s Note: EPL Talk is excited to present a new weekly column to readers which will incorporate various opinions from different bloggers and podcasters each Monday after the Premier League. Get Stuck In will allow each writer the chance to express their opinion in regards to what stuck out to them the most from the respective gameweek and as always, will give you the reader the chance to comment on the different opinions or express one of your own in the comments section.
As seen below, EPL Talk’s Jesse Chula, Kartik Krishnaiyer, Earl Reed and the Gaffer himself all opine on the fascinating weekend that was week three.
Spurs’ Luxury Players Are Unhappy – Earl Reed
Today’s match between Manchester City and Spurs saw a return to the lineup for Luka Modric. Much has been made of his desire to leave Spurs, probably due to their lack of Champions League football this year. Tottenham was riding high in early March of this year, looking for another Top 4 League finish as well as a title in the UCL. But the last 6 months have seen a U-turn for Tottenham: losing to Real Madrid in the UCL Quarterfinals, failing to re-qualify for the UCL, and also starting off the current campaign with two unflattering losses to the Manchester clubs.
Recall Week 1 from last season, where Roberto Mancini’s Blues were fortunate to escape with a scoreless draw, saved by the play of goalkeeper Joe Hart. Today’s 5-1 drubbing at White Hart Lane epitomizes a fall from grace for Spurs.
What about these “luxury” players? Luka Modric looked out of match fitness, and most certainly uninspired. Rafael van der Vaart effectively walked off the pitch with a minor injury. Gareth Bale was decent, but has not found the form that manifested against Internazionale in last year’s Champions League (I only consider Bale a “luxury” player because of the supposed interest from continental clubs). Couple that with a group of forwards that scare no one at this point (Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe and Roman Pavlyuchenko), and it leaves you wondering how Tottenham can return to their previous play.
In my opinion, Tottenham has never been the same since the first Real Madrid UCL quarterfinal in April. Something happened in the dressing room before that match. Aaron Lennon was a late scratch, and Peter Crouch proceeded to earn two quick yellow cards. Spurs lost that match 4-0 to Madrid.
At this point, I’m not sure Redknapp can gain this group of players back into his corner. They have been a shell of their former selves. Modric is obviously unhappy, and I would openly wonder if van der Vaart also stands with one foot out the door. Daniel Levy has some major decisions to make in the coming weeks, but without some investment in a quality finisher it will take a lot for these higher-caliber European players to jump back on board with the club’s direction.
The Premier League Should Look At Erasing 12:00 PM Kickoffs in England – Jesse Chula
There were only two things worse than Saturday’s West Midlands Derby between Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers: the first being the quite silly 12:00 PM local kickoff time in Birmingham, and the second, by default, was the same kickoff time for supporters across the globe, specifically here Stateside. Premier League fans braved a 7:00 AM Saturday morning kickoff to catch what was then a third vs. fourth place in the table clash that failed to live up to any hype largely because of the lackluster atmosphere in display at Villa Park.
While Mick McCarthy’s Wolves and Alex McLeish’s Aston Villa have both enjoyed decent starts to the 2011-12 Premier League campaign, one wouldn’t have been out of line in guessing that an early season match between the two (let’s face it) current over-achievers had stalemate written all over it. It without a doubt failed to impress, and the early kickoff didn’t help the atmosphere around the usually vibrant Villa Park, one of the Premier League’s most exciting grounds.
Saturday’s early match was in fact the lowest attended match at Villa Park since December of 2006 which again speaks volumes of the absurdity of the decision by the Premier League to stage what was on paper a semi big local derby match to start off week three of league play. To further how odd the 12:00 PM kickoff was, the two sides have had no real or recent history of crowd trouble which again asks the question ‘why?’.
While most of us Stateside love our Saturday morning ESPN coverage team of Ian Darke and Steve McManaman, even they couldn’t help but to point out (with the help of a camera) the numerous sections at Villa Park which housed empty seats. Sort this one out Premier League or maybe even better yet, Villa and Wolves supporters. We Want Our Atmosphere!
Newcastle Ascendant Under Ashley and Pardew – Kartik Krishnaiyer
Amid all the gloom and doom scenarios articulated on Tyneside this summer, few considered the possibility that the Magpies would be chasing a European spot. But right now Alan Pardew’s team looks cohesive in midfield and well organized at the back, despite losing arguably their three best players this summer.
Joey Barton’s twitter rants and the departure of Kevin Nolan and Jose Enrique appeared to throw Newcastle into a potential relegation scrape. But instead what has emerged is a team with a solid defense, and a remarkable team spirit. Back to back victories away to Sunderland in the Tyne-Wear derby and home to Fulham have Pardew’s side looking more cohesive and confident than most of the division.
Leon Best is proving to be a better Premier League player for the club than he was in the Championship. The Republic of Ireland International now has to be re-emerging on Giovanni Trapattoni’s radar for future National Team call ups. Cheick Tioté has emerged as one of the best box to box midfielders in the early portion of the Premier League season.
Mike Ashley has been heavily criticized by Newcastle fans and the London based Football press. But reality is that the club is healthier under his stewardship than it was when Freddie Shepard ran the club. Newcastle’s decade plus of underachievement was finally laid to rest with promotion back to the Premier League at the end of the 2009-2010 season, and the club is being run in a logical way. Living the Dream is nice if you can afford it, but stabilizing mid-table and perhaps making a run at Europe every few seasons is a more practical reality for the Magpies.
Ashley may not articulate his positions as well as he could, but his positions regarding finances and high salaried players are logical given the financial realities of this era of Premier League football. But to argue Newcastle is a poorly run club in this day would be a fallacy. Additionally, Alan Pardew’s work resembles his Reading and West Ham successes and not his disastrous tenure’s at Southampton and Charlton.
Do not be surprised if Newcastle finish in the top half and make a deep run in one of the domestic cups.
Danny Welbeck’s Injury Was Unfortunate and Ill-Timed – Jesse Chula
There was certainly no escaping the brilliant performance from Manchester United at home to Arsenal on Sunday. While Arsenal supporters hope and pray for another time and day, the United faithful at Old Trafford and around the world are basking in the glory that is another rebuilt, retooled and revised Championship-caliber United squad under Sir Alex Ferguson.
It’s not the first time Fergie has worked his magic in rebuilding his team in Manchester but it very well may be one of the last. Integral to United’s early season success thus far has been the fantastic and energetic performances from 20 year-old Danny Welbeck. Welbeck, a Manchester lad, spent last season on loan at Sunderland where he impressed overall but scored only a modest six goals in twenty six league appearances. To contrast, and though Sunderland is no Manchester United, Welbeck already has two goals in three appearances this season.
Welbeck looks the part of a classic #9 for United and has linked very well with United’s attacking amalgam of Wayne Rooney, Ashley Young, Nani and others. His fantastic back-heel pass in last Monday’s match v Spurs set up Anderson perfectly for United’s second goal of the night. Welbeck is a long player with pace to burn, skill on the ball and he’s good in the air. He makes intelligent runs off the ball and has definitely shown a good touch and even a few tricks.
During Sunday’s 8-2 thrashing of league rivals Arsenal, Welbeck pulled up just slightly lame while tracking down a ball into the box in the second half. Welbeck immediately grabbed his hamstring, went down and was soon replaced by Javier Hernandez. Initial reports suggest that Welbeck will now miss four to five weeks while nursing the injury.
As United move forward, they’ve no shortage of attacking talent to place into the hole left by Welbeck. The aforementioned Hernandez was one of last season’s most exciting stories while the almost forgotten Dimitar Berbatov, last season’s co-leading scorer, continues to languish on the bench. For neutrals, fans of good football, good performances and quality attacking talent, the loss of Welbeck’s positivity for a few months is a fact to lament.
Why I Feel Sorry For Wojciech Szczesny – The Gaffer
Arsenal’s triumphant display against Udinese mid-week was a joy to watch. The highlight, one of many from the match, was Wojciech Szczesny’s incredible diving save to tip over Antonio Di Natale’s penalty. It was something you’d expect to see in a Roy Of The Rovers comic. Except, in this case, it was real life, which made it that much more enjoyable.
Fast forward four days and Szczesny was between the goalposts for Arsenal at Old Trafford. And what a contrast it was. Manchester United completely ripped the Gunners apart with such precision that it looked like it was target practice with shots and crosses being rifled in one after the other toward the Polish goalkeeper’s net.
If you look at each of the eight goals that Manchester United scored Sunday against Arsenal, you can’t blame Szczesny for any one of them. In fact, the scoreline could have been much worse with United’s 14 shots on target. Szczesny made several crucial saves to prevent the Red Devils from scoring more.
Usually in a game where a team gets thrashed, the goalkeeper is guilty for letting in a few soft goals. But not in this match. Szczesny commanded his box well, and kept a positive attitude throughout the match, always giving 100%. Even before this match, I was convinced that the Polish goalkeeper is one of Arsenal’s best assets. It’s just a shame that the team that’s out in front of him is in massive disrepair.
I’m hoping that Szczesny can move on from here. He’s proven himself as the number one goalkeeper for Arsenal. He’s only 21 and has a bright career ahead of him. Hopefully he won’t blame himself for Arsenal’s devastating loss. For once, Arsenal’s defeats haven’t been a result of a dodgy goalkeeper. Now that they’ve solidified themselves between the post, this is a big positive for the Gunners. Hopefully he can spearhead a new generation at Arsenal that learns from their mistakes and progresses forward. Whether they can or not, Szczesny has a bright future ahead of him no matter where he lands.
The Middle Tier Is Much Larger Than We Expected – Earl Reed
The talk heading into this season was a tiered approach to dissecting the teams in the Premier League. Since everyone had different definitions of those tiers, my preseason take was: your Big 4 or 5 (Man’s United and City, Chelsea, Liverpool, and/or Arsenal); another 3-4 contending for Europa League football (Stoke, Tottenham, rejuvenated Sunderland, and maybe Aston Villa); 5 that were stabilized in the League (Everton, Fulham, Bolton, Newcastle, West Brom); and the 6 relegation possibilities (Wolves, Wigan, Blackburn, QPR, Norwich, and Swansea).
But at this point, it seems there is a top 4 likely forming (my original top grouping sans Arsenal). There’s also Blackburn, which stands out as the clear doormat without some form of major change. In between, you have 15 teams, and it can be difficult to put your finger on where those teams actually stand in the grand scheme.
Obviously Spurs are better than last place, and while they could push towards Europe, Wolves ultimately should end up on the south side of #7 (just ask Mick McCarthy yourself). But overall, when you start to weigh results and schedule strength, it looks like these teams may not be that different.
My theory behind this trend is simply augmenting the 2010/11 season with one simple modfier: money. Last season may have displayed more parity than we’ve ever seen before in the league, especially below last season’s Top 6. Aside from the top 4 that exist right now, none of the other teams in the league have made a significant investment in quality. The rest of the league has basically stood pat, aside from modest transfers. That has allowed the four big spenders to rise like cream. Out of the other top clubs, Arsenal has lost three key players without real reinvestment (Fabregas, Nasri, and Clichy), and Tottenham is in a bit of disarray (as I detailed earlier). That has brought them back to the rest.
I think we’ve seen a restatement of what money means in this league. We’ve all known its significance in success, but this season you’re clearly watching the rich getting richer, while the rest are fighting to overcome mediocrity. Everyone will have their opinion on whether it’s right or wrong, but it can make for some boring blowouts.