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The Major Talking Points From Round 3 Of The English Premier League

GiggsyLVG 600x399 The Major Talking Points From Round 3 Of The English Premier League

Howard deserves criticism for his performance against Chelsea

Asking for improvement from a goalkeeper who has conceded six goals isn’t brain surgery. For the last couple of seasons, Tim Howard has been rightly heralded as one of the best goalkeepers in the league. His performances in the World Cup, particularly against Belgium, elevated him to icon status in the USA. While doing interviews with non-soccer-savvy radio hosts, I found myself inundated with questions about Howard’s history within the sport. Howard deserves his time in the sun, but his performance against Chelsea shows why Manchester United was happy to offload him 10 seasons ago.

While Howard can be a tremendous shot-stopper, he is prone to lapses in concentration and this was evident in the entertaining 6-3 loss to Chelsea. For the first goal, Diego Costa rolled the ball through Howard’s legs, who clearly should have done better. For both Costa’s and Ramires’ goals (Chelsea’s 5th), Howard should have come off his line to close the angle of the shot. His hesitation contributed to both Costa and Ramires having more time on the ball, as well as having a greater arc to shoot at. Howard will argue that for the pivotal 3rd goal, Coleman’s deflection caught him off balance. While that is certainly true, Howard made no attempt to stop the ball. Yet again, Howard’s positioning cannot be questioned – there was the requisite arm length between him and his near post. And therefore, any shot played near post would be within his reach. Had Howard stuck out a hand or a foot at the ball, perhaps he could have knocked it out for a corner. Perhaps it was a case of giving up the ghost, but the veteran will be disappointed at his non-action for the Coleman goal.

Happy to see referees take on embellishment

For me, referee Lee Mason got the two big decisions in Stoke City’s shock win against Manchester City right.

For the first decision, Mame Biram Diouf appealed for a penalty as he was brought down by Aleksandar Kolarov. On first view, it seemed that Kolarov had fouled the ex-Manchester United player. However, replays seemed to suggest that Kolarov may have got a touch on the ball before he tripped the Stoke City forward. More importantly, it was clear that Diouf was on his way down before Kolarov made contact. With governing bodies dragging their feet on the oft-debated and much-needed retrospective punishments for diving and embellishment, it is pleasing to see referees taking a firm stance on the issue. Too often, we see players anticipating the foul and going down before contact is made. Sometimes, there is no contact, and calling that a dive is universally accepted. However, if contact IS made, we enter a grey area of whether or not a penalty should be awarded. In my opinion, the decisions this season suggest that referees are less likely to give PKs than before. The decisions in this game – with Diouf and similarly with Yaya Toure – support that hypothesis. Both were penalty shouts. In both cases, the player was going down before contact was made. In both cases, no penalty was awarded. And, in both cases, last season, the referee would have probably pointed to the spot.

Spurs need to play better against top opposition.

Under talented manager, Mauricio Pochettino, Spurs have to find a way to compete against the top teams. Last season, Spurs managed to win one and draw two games in the 10 home and away games against Chelsea, Liverpool, United, City and Arsenal. The previous season, in Andre Villas-Boas’ first season, they won five and drew two out of the same 10 games. In order for Spurs to regain Champions League football, they will have to improve their performances against big opposition. Coming into the Liverpool game, on the back of a convincing win against QPR, the fans could have been forgiven for believing that their side might have the better of a humbled Liverpool side. However, the visitors outplayed Spurs for the entire 90 minutes, and the score could have easily been more than 3-0. There is no doubt that there is ability throughout this team in Nacer Chadli, Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela – exciting players in their own way. However, Pochettino will need to improve the defensive organization of this Spurs side. Mauricio – a defender in his playing days – will have noticed the propensity of his fullbacks to get caught up the field of play. Liverpool exploited this area multiple times during Sunday’s game, with Danny Rose in particular struggling against the speed of Liverpool’s transitional play.

If Spurs could tighten their defense, and record a couple of good results against top opposition, this might be the season they make it back into the Champions League fold.

Louis van Gaal and his system is still failing to work 

When van Gaal was asked about his 3-5-2 formation during pre-season, he said the formation was designed to bring the best out of his players. In premise, he was right – certainly, playing the Wayne Rooney Robin van Persie and Juan Mata axis in their favored positions seemed intuitive. However, the experiment has failed to provide dividends so far. The system has not suited the players at the club. Rooney and van Persie have failed to work together (again) and Mata has been ponderous in his play. At the back, it is clear that the defenders are not comfortable with the system. Jonny Evans’s play has been a perfect example of that. Evans is now the senior defender at United and is usually a very good passer of the ball. However, he has made a number of errors this week (against MK Dons and Burnley), that seem to be a consequence of being forced to play the ball out of defense. In midfield, United’s players have not pressed enough to turn over the ball – the way Nigel de Jong did for Netherlands.

Interestingly, van Gaal’s decision to not step into his technical area is confusing. Van Gaal is known to bark instructions at his players and tweak tactics constantly. Yet, we have yet to see him leave his seat in four games. Some might argue that this means that he trusts his players to do their jobs. However, when a very young team is being hammered 4-0 by a league one side, surely they need a few words of instruction (or anger) from their manager. Van Gaal doesn’t seem to think so. And, to me, that is clearly an error of judgement. Similarly, we have not seen assistant coach Ryan Giggs bark out instructions either. During Giggs’s time as interim manager, the Welshman barely sat on the manager’s chair at all. So, clearly, this is an instruction from van Gaal to abstain from histrionics on the touchline. Maybe it will pay off in the long run – as players understand that they are responsible for delivering the goods – but, for now, van Gaal’s plans remain mysterious, and his decisions remain questionable.

About Nipun Chopra

Nipun (@nipunchopra7) finds time for both neuroscience and the beautiful game. You can find his ULF podcast at unitedandliverpoolfans.podbean.com and on iTunes. A Manchester United fan, Nipun has appeared on the World Soccer Talk podcast, Yahoo Sports Radio and NBC sports radio.
View all posts by Nipun Chopra →

9 Responses to The Major Talking Points From Round 3 Of The English Premier League

  1. Milhouse says:

    Johnny Evans will be a much better defender now that United have Falcao.

    • Jake says:

      I agree. Training against a top Class forward week in week out can only make him better
      How astute of you to point that out. Bravo.

  2. Gringo says:

    Aston Villa are in third place

  3. Jake says:

    Nipun did Van Gaal tell Evans to make poor backpasses and bad decisions with the ball ?
    Evans is and always will make poor decisions at times. He’s done the same thing under 3 managers now.
    Why don’t you make mention of Tyler Blackett and Phil Jones playing much better than Evans himself?
    Both of them are his juniors yet have been vastly superior to him.
    Why is it that the senior defender is the worst of the 3?
    Passing out of the back is the only way to become a good side. If your defenders can’t pass the ball then how do you build up the play itself?
    When we played Bayern our defenders lumped the ball up the whole time none of them could take the ball and carry it forward to initiate an attack. They couldn’t remain calm under heavy duress and play out the back but they hit 40-50 yards bombs routinely and the ball came right backat us.
    Michael Cox wrote a piece about this saying how one bad backpass can result in a goal but 20-30 clearances with can initiate 20-30 opposition attacks. I hope that makes sense.
    Most of the top teams have defenders comfortable on the ball because of this kind of thinking.

    • Nipun says:

      Great points, Jake! I agree that passing out of the back is desirable. My point was that the players are not comfortable passing out of the back yet. While Jones and Blackett were steady, they were not playing the ball out of defense very well either. In fact, the two of them were playing the long-ball far too often. So, there is clearly a discrepancy in what they are being asked to do.

      I think another issue is that we don’t have pace up front for the long ball. So, with opposition defenders pushing up, our ability to create the requisite space required to play the ball out of defense remains limited.

      Either way, I don’t disagree with you per se. Thanks for reading. -Nipun

    • Guy says:

      Jake….maybe United are the “new” old Stoke. Bombs away! ;-)

      Stoke have gotten much better playing out from the back. Unfortunately, they seem to run out of ideas once across midfield. *sigh* Baby steps, baby steps.

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