The two big games on Sunday provided us with some further insight into how the respective teams will approach this season. Here are some tactical points that proved to be key in determining the results, and some things that may be worth keeping an eye on for the upcoming campaign:
Southampton 2-3 Manchester United
Robin van Persie grabbed all the headlines on Sunday with three typically clinical finishes to secure a 3-2 victory for Manchester United against Southampton. But it was the changes made by Alex Ferguson late in the game which helped the Red Devils wrestle back control of the contest from a buoyant Southampton side.
As expected, United had the majority of the ball with Michael Carrick, in particular, excellent in possession. He completed 115 of his 126 attempted passes in the match. The Southampton midfield sat deep, however, allowing Carrick the ball but limiting the space in which Shinji Kagawa was able operate in his role behind Van Persie. At the base of the Saints midfield, Morgan Schneiderlin snuffed out a lot of the United attacks, intercepting the ball on 6 occasions and winning 4 out of his 5 tackles.
This provided Nigel Adkins side with a solid foundation upon which they counter attacked to great effect. The physicality of Ricky Lambert proved tough for Vidic and Ferdinand to handle, as he won all of his aerial duels in the penalty area, scoring from a back post header early on.
In the aftermath of the thrilling encounter, both Van Persie and Ferguson made reference to the impact that Paul Scholes had on the game. But it was the introduction of Hernandez that helped facilitate the space for Scholes to work in. With the Mexican’s pace stretching the Southampton defense, it allowed Scholes the time to dictate the game alongside Carrick. In the 30 minutes Scholes was on the pitch, he created 3 goal scoring opportunities for his team mates.
Ultimately, the constant pressure Saints came under for the last half an hour was too much for a weary Saints defense to withstand, and it allowed Van Persie to strike twice late on and win the game for United. Southampton will have a lot of positives to take from this game, but will learn a harsh lesson from United’s late show.
Liverpool 0-2 Arsenal
Arsenal remain unbeaten for the campaign as they secured a 2-0 win against a Liverpool side lacking in attacking aptitude. New signings Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla scored their first goals for the club in either half in an excellent Arsenal performance at Anfield. Brendan Rodgers must be given time if he wishes to emulate a style of play similar to that of the Gunners, as Arsene Wenger’s side put on a midfield masterclass.
For two sides that pride themselves on their ability to pass the ball, the opening stages proved to be uncharacteristically untidy from both sides. Arsenal began to assert themselves on the game midway through the second half, however, with Abou Diaby and Mikel Arteta sitting deep in midfield and managing to pass through the intensive pressing from their opponents. Arteta was particularly impressive, and he completed 95% of his passes, combining excellently with Diaby and Santi Cazorla throughout.
The lack of a ‘destroyer’ in the Liverpool midfield was especially evident. New Liverpool signing Nuri Sahin struggled to make an impact, as Cazorla reeked havoc in the space in front of the Liverpool back four. This allowed him to set up Lukas Podolski for the first goal and then go on to score himself after a neat passing move .
Liverpool’s reliance on Suarez was especially apparent, as he struggled to impose himself against a tight knit Arsenal defense. Arsenal look a much more solid unit under assistant manager Steve Bould. The Uruguayan lost out on 5 of the 6 occasions he ran at Arsenal players and only managed to test Arsenal keeper Vito Mannone once throughout the game. Without Suarez not at his best, Liverpool never really offered a major goal threat throughout. Joe Allen’s efficient passing once again proved to be a positive for The Reds however, whilst the direct approach of Raheem Sterling should give Rodgers reason to be optimistic.
The lack of attacking options on the bench is a worry however. If Suarez doesn’t score the goals, it is difficult to see who will. Liverpool have yet to score from open play in the Premier League this season. Arsenal on the other hand look as good as ever defensively. With Cazorla impressing and the forward line looking to have clicked in to gear, things may not be quite as bad as they seem at the Emirates.
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