Monday Soccer Insider: Aug. 19, 2013

Here in the United States, NBC’s Premier League debut was amazing even to the point of engaging non-soccer fans and non-Premier League supporters. The studio shows hosted by Rebecca Lowe were informative and engaging. The only complaint I have was with the large number of commercials in the 7am-7:45am ET Premier League Live timeslot leading into the Liverpool-Stoke City match.

Robbie Mustoe’s analysis was spot on throughout the weekend and Robbie Earle did well also. Most surprising was the high-level of analysis and insight provided by Kyle Martino, the lone American on NBC’s studio team. Martino was on the mark with his analysis of Tottenham Hotspur and Crystal Palace. Before the match, he made an observation about Hull City’s squad selection and tactical setup that I was making via text message to my friends and on Twitter around the same time. That observation was the surprise decision by Steve Bruce to omit Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore from the starting XI.

Martino’s observation, which I echoed was very prescient. The Tigers were undone by not having a midfield that could control the tempo in the first half or slow down the game by getting a foot on the ball. Once Bruce inserted both, Hull City looked like they could compete with Chelsea. Granted, the Blues were by this time on cruise control but Bruce’s changes saw the shape of the match transform.

ESPN FC’s panel of experts revealed on Friday that no one had picked Manchester United to win the title. I keep hearing about how David Moyes hasn’t upgraded the squad the way Chelsea, Manchester City and Spurs have done this summer. But many seem to have forgotten that Manchester United ran away with the title last season. And in Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley, they have two young blossoming English internationals who continue to improve dramatically from season to season. Both played critical roles in the Red Devils 4-1 undressing of Swansea on Saturday.

Much of the attention prior to Arsenal’s opening loss to Aston Villa at the Emirates was about the lack of signings Arsene Wenger has made this summer. But I feel a more important subject is the number of players that the Gunners have allowed to leave the club on a free or on loan, thus undermining the depth of the side. In particular the developing Francis Coquelin and Ignasi Miquel could provide important depth as the Gunners face a crisis defensively due to injury. At the very least, these young players should not have been loaned out until replacements were bought.

Norwich City’s defense was a strong point last season for the Canaries but Michael Turner’s unfortunate second half performance was embarrassing. The defender was a large part of the reason why Hull City were promoted in 2008 to the Premier League but his time at Sunderland exposed his lack of mobility and difficulty at times in open play. These liabilities were not exposed as often last season as was first feared when Chris Hughton signed him over the summer. But Turner was a mess on Saturday in the 2-2 draw versus Everton. And given the level of ambition represented by Norwich’s spending this summer, perhaps Hughton needs to dip back into the transfer market and buy another central defender.

The Canaries new signings, especially 19 year-old winger Nathan Redmond who was signed for a relatively inexpensive fee from Birmingham City, stood out on Saturday. Redmond’s value dropped last season at Brum with uneven performances but the potential of the player, combined with his pace and a developing ability to cross, made it a worthwhile expenditure for any number of Premier League clubs.

Roberto Martinez’s faith in youth in was rewarded as Ross Barkley surprisingly got a start and scored one of the most spectacular goals for Everton of the young European football season. Seamus Coleman had some shaky moments defensively but was impressive going forward and got a goal for his efforts.

The Sunderland debut of Jozy Altidore was hampered by a lack of good service from midfield. Altidore looked active and up for the occasion but wasn’t given the opportunity by his team mates to excel. The Black Cats wide play was almost non-existent and link-up play from the center of midfield was poor. Stéphane Sessègnon did not combine with Altidore particularly well either.

Jonathan Walters‘ penalty misses are now becoming a thing of legend for Stoke City. Thankfully for Simon Mignolet, who had a really poor Liverpool debut, his penalty placement was entirely predictable. Otherwise Liverpool was very good. Going forward, the Reds looked creative and incisive, while at the back Kolo Toure’s inclusion helped settle the defensive shape.

It was wonderful to see Kevin Phillips back in the Premier League. At age 40, the former Premier League and European Golden Boot winner still is a natural goalscorer. And is quite frankly a freak of nature. He will score his share of goals this season for Crystal Palace even though Ian Holloway’s side will still need to upgrade to avoid relegation.

In the Bundesliga, Borussia Dortmund struggled to get past newly promoted Eintracht Braunschweig. Henrik Mkhitaryan played in what could be described as the Mario Götze role, but failed to deliver the type of incisive service or creativity Dortmund has relied on in the past few seasons.  BvB eventually broke through and held on for a 2-1 victory, but the lack of cutting edge in the final third has to be worrying for manager Jürgen Klopp.

Luis Gustavo’s smashing Wolfsburg debut took the Bundesliga by storm. Schalke was undone by Gustavo and the nice tidy midfield trio he formed with Koo Ja-Cheol and Diego. The 4-0 victory was a statement of intent by Wolfsburg for the remainder of the Bundesliga season.  Gustavo has been lauded for his pass accuracy at Bayern Munich, similar to Xavi’s and Leon Britton’s, but the thinking was it would take some time for him to get accustomed to his Wolfsburg team mates. However, Gustavo was incredibly effective in midfield during this match, defensively marking Julian Draxler out of the game for large portions of the proceedings.

With all the focus on Monaco and PSG this Ligue Un season, it is not surprising people have forgotten about Lyon. But Rémi Garde’s side has looked strong the first two weeks of the season with Clement Grenier and Yoann Gourcuff both looking very good in midfield while Alexandre Lacazetteis got off to a hot start with three goals in two matches and youngster Yassine Benzia looks like a budding superstar.

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  1. Steven P. August 19, 2013
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