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Get Stuck In: Six Things We Learned From Premier League Week Three

luka modric1 Get Stuck In: Six Things We Learned From Premier League Week Three

Photo by HEMADRIDISTADI

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.

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32 Responses to Get Stuck In: Six Things We Learned From Premier League Week Three

  1. IanCransonsKnees says:

    Stoke pretty much always beat West Brom – IanCransonsKnees

    It’s the law.

  2. Trickybrkn says:

    If I’m not mistaken, the noon kickoffs, are set that way much like NFL games @1pm. Crowd control. Local derbies are prone to fighting, and at noon that’s three hours less of pre game drinking. The other factor is tv. Teams get the spotlight of the early kickoff.

    • IanCransonsKnees says:

      I’d argue it was more to do with TV than crowd control nowadays. As Jon says lower down, catering for the Asian market. Particularly given the proliferation of betting companies sponsoring teams, adverts etc.

    • ENGLISH premier league says:

      What Jesse Chula is basically sayin is change the time to suit americans so he doesnt have to get up early lmao …its the ENGLISH premier league , if ur a fan fair enough…but english league = english time zone ..not gonna change for fair weather fans overseas with a passing interest in football

      • IanCransonsKnees says:

        I’d imagine if you asked most fans that attend matches they’d choose 3PM for all kick offs across the board, particularly those that travel to away games. 12pm KOs are for the Asian audience, 5.30pm KOs are for the American audience. I’d be interested to know which of those markets puts most into the league in terms of sponsorship and TV rights. I between those of us who live here might actually get to attend at a decent time.

        I’d put some of the lost crowd in that Villa game down to ridiculous ticket prices. I know when we play them this year it will cost £43 (£5 more than last season) and that will not be classed as a Cat A game so God knows what they wanted fans to pay yesterday. Fans are sick of being the cash cow.

      • Earl Reed says:

        I think he’s saying that the time was a contributing factor in poor attendance at the ground, and that played into the lack of verve shown on the pitch.

    • scrumper says:

      I don’t think the Premiership worries about what region of the world is watching at what time, otherwise every game would kick off at noon for the huge Asian market.

      • The Gaffer says:

        The Premier League has to find the balance between making sure they don’t upset the fans in England, while maximizing TV and sponsorship revenue by moving kickoff times to satisfy Asia markets. It’s definitely something that the Premier League takes very seriously.

        Cheers,
        The Gaffer

        • scrumper says:

          I travel to Japan frequently and Premiership games kick off there at 1-2 in the morning and there is a huge following. Games would have to start 4-5 hours earlier to show at prime time and these would clash with the J league games. I don’t see that happening.

  3. Dillon says:

    I worry about spurs, usually teams that start off bad continue on a bad run, an example that spring to mind is Derby County. They played good soccer but never recovered from the liverpool match early in the season.

  4. Jon says:

    I thought those early kickoffs were to attempt to grab more viewers in Asia?

    I know La Liga moved a match up last year for that very reason.

  5. Peter says:

    As good as Welbeck is, his replacements (Berbatov, Hernandez, and Owen) are hardly a letdown.

  6. thomas says:

    Arsenals barren run coincides quite directly with Abramovich take over at Chelsea..they’ve effectively been spent out of the top tier of English football..what has transpired this summer is purely pathetic

  7. Dam says:

    This match looks actualy Szczesny vs Man Utd … the score is not surprise…I wish best for Arsenal new goalie as he is Great…

  8. Clampdown says:

    I don’t think the lack of fans at the match or the poor atmosphere has to do with the noon start time. What a snoozefest. This is what Villa’s supporters know they are going to get with McLeish. Two goalless draws in three matches.

  9. Tony says:

    Hernandez has not looked sharp for me so far this season. There was always a fear that he would be “figured out” by other teams but so far this year he’s seemed off the pace of the rest of the players.

    Carrick wasn’t even on the bench.

    I’m sure they make more money by holding the game at 12 than they lose in match tickets.

  10. scrumper says:

    Van der Vaart has a torn hamstring, he didn’t walk off “with a minor injury”. Inferring he is a “luxury” player illustrates ignorance. And the definition of “luxury player” is because foreign clubs show interest (such as Bale?) ? what an idiot! Very poor article by someone who clearly doesn’t understand the game.

    • Earl Reed says:

      You’re right, I should have used a different term. I didn’t mean that they were players who were overpriced and under-talented. By “luxury”, I meant that they were players that a team like Spurs could afford (and keep happy) as long as they remained in Europe. At the time I couldn’t think of a better term for players with high aspirations.

  11. Guy says:

    “…few considered the possibility that the Magpies would be chasing a European spot.”

    After 3 matches?? C’mon now, Kartik. ;-)

  12. Marc Ranger says:

    Yep, Tottenham are back to their worst 3 years ago. Arsenal seem doomed to get into 4th place. I have a feeling that Man Utd and Man City are going to sweep the league this year unless….Chelsea, and Liverpool perform.

    • Shmeedy24685 says:

      Yeah i agree that city & united could sweep the league, as they both look great, for city too beat spurs 5-1 away is a statement of intent for the season, i think if city attack liverpool at anfield & chelsea at the bridge then they have every chance of winning the league! I am a city fan btw :) if we don’t win the league or win something then Mancini will be sacked but i am confident than we can win a trophy or 2!

  13. Marc Ranger says:

    STOP protecting Szeszyny. The game highlited he is a horrible goalie.

  14. Bruce Gottesman says:

    C’mon Kartik, it’s well known (well it should be) how much of a Leon Best fanboy you are. His second goal was sweet – more of that would keep him in the squad much more frequently. Tiote was NUFC’s best player last year, and if he could just figure out how to stay out of the referee’s book he would be unbelievable. But the interesting part is by taking Nolan and Barton out of midfield you get a side with more pace and creativity – especially when Marveaux and Ben Arfa are healthy. Cabaye has been solid on both ends as well. The club has even found a way to deal with the loss of Jose Enrique short-term – just play Ryan Taylor out of position, give him some cover, and let him win games with free kicks. Not always pretty, but it’s worked so far. Now a real left-back may be coming in – the reports say Davide Santon from Inter…

  15. Jeff H says:

    After seeing the argument above about the noon start for Aston Villa v Wolves, I hate to burst it, but there was a simple reason why: cause it was the only time on the early afternoon schedule that Sky could fit the game in. And since the league has to allow Sky a minimum number of games according to their contract, if they wanted this one, they had to let them have it.

    A look at this past Saturday’s Sky Sports schedule shows the following-
    Sky Sports 1 was busy all day with the semifinals and final of the England county cricket twenty20 tournament, which started 90 minutes before even Villa and Wolves began.

    At 2:15 pm, Sky Sports 2 started coverage of a Rugby World Cup warmup match between England and Ireland live. If the soccer had kicked off at the usual 12:45, they would have had to join that game in progress.

    Sky Sports 3, meanwhile, was busy with the Tri-nations rugby match between Australia and New Zealand, which spilled over to 1pm, when SS3 then started showing European Tour golf live.

    That left one option if they wanted to start the game at 12:45, and that would have been Sky Sports 4. However, as far as I know, nobody who gets SS on a non-Sky platform gets SS4, so the audience would have been limited. Plus I’m willing to bet there is a clause in the Sky and Premier League contract requiring any league game has to be available on the highest-profile channels of Sky Sports (1 and 2).

    In the end, Sky wanted the game, Sky got the game, and the only way to get it in the early afternoon was to move up the start time.

    Sky Sports schedules:
    SS1- http://digiguide.tv/list/Sky+Sports+1/27+August+2011/
    SS2- http://digiguide.tv/list/Sky+Sports+2/27+August+2011/
    SS3- http://digiguide.tv/list/Sky+Sports+3/27+August+2011/

    • Jeff H says:

      Somewhat correct myself: Sky Sports 4 is available on Virgin Media in addition to Sky in the UK, but it is not available on BT Vision or Top Up TV (the two platforms that are basically add-on services to Freeview).

  16. GrumpyEnglishman says:

    I’m a Brentford fan (League one) and we were lucky enough to have Wojciech Szczesny on loan for a few months in 2009-2010. He probably earned us 15 points in that time and looked every bit a Premier League keeper.
    You’re well wide of the mark with that comment.

  17. Ringo says:

    If Levy doesn’t do something before the close of this transfer window, Spurs are in for a long, difficult season.

    • Shmeedy24685 says:

      I agree especially if Modric’s head is the same! it’s difficult because spurs sold Berbatov too united, then didn’t win any of their first 7 i think & Ramos then got sacked & they were on the up ever since Harry took charge! maybe histories repeating it self!

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