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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. Barry F

    August 20, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    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.

    That’s not exactly rocket science. Don’t give either yourself or Martino too much kudos for observing that (a) it’s superficially* surprising that the manager would leave out his record signing and (b) the inclusion of two relatively classy midfielders might have improved Hull City’s midfield play!

    *And it’s only superficially surprising because, when you think about it, it’s not really surprising that two new signings who have only been at the club for 48 hrs might be ommitted from the starting line-up. They may have been lacking match-fitness, or simply not been entirely up-to-speed with what was presumably a game plan that had been worked on since before their arrival.

  2. cnl. onions

    August 19, 2013 at 11:52 pm

    I like this weekly feature, Kartik. Keep em coming.

  3. City Blue

    August 19, 2013 at 2:50 pm

    So right on Redmond – best bargain but this summer.

    • Patrick

      August 19, 2013 at 7:20 pm

      Totally agree. He’s more athletic and got more pace than anything we’ve seen out of East Anglia in some time.

      • Nick

        August 19, 2013 at 8:50 pm

        I’m excited about Redmond, too. My question is how long it’ll be before Hughton tries him in the middle. He seems much more dangerous in the center of the pitch than on the wings, and with Pilkington, Snodgrass, and Olsson, Hughton might figure it’s worth trying him as a CAM.

        I suspect that Hughton will stick with Fer, Howson, and Hoolihan in the middle (occasionally even playing Hooper off RVW?). He doesn’t rush…anything. Maybe Redmond will stay on the wing all season. But eventually he will play in the middle, and he’ll cause teams fits there.

        • Kartik Krishnaiyer

          August 19, 2013 at 9:21 pm

          Yeah Nick I am thinking the same thing. Snodgrass will be fit again soon, and Pilkington is incredibly dangerous. The Canaries best buys have all been buying down a division (or in Pilkington’s case two divisions). To me it is amazing Redmond who I thought was amazing for Hughton at the end of the season two season ago as Brum made the playoffs came back to Hughton so cheaply. His potential in my opinion isn’t terribly different than Zaha’s. That’s not a knock on Zaha, that is what I think of Redmond.

  4. Kelly

    August 19, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    This series is a good idea and well executed, but, just a thought, the bold terms should be hyperlinks to wikipedia, or (better, if possible) WST searches/articles.

  5. Tony

    August 19, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    I appreciate your comments about Gustavo’s Wolfsburg debut but how about the continued bumbling of Wenger in the transfer market? Why would ANYONE choose Wolfsburg OVER Arsenal if the Gunners had seriously pursued him? Honestly, I do not believe Arsenal ever made a bid.

    Just shameful and shocking.

    • Kartik Krishnaiyer

      August 19, 2013 at 2:16 pm

      Wolfsburg has actually won a title more recently than Arsenal has won a trophy of any kind but yes your point is well taken. 🙂

  6. Tayo

    August 19, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    Am I the only one who is missing EPL Review? You know that one hour show that lets us watch all the highlights from the weekend games? Well I MISS IT!!!!

    • sajid anwar

      August 19, 2013 at 2:07 pm

      Their “Match of the day” program is similar to what you are looking for. Extensive highlights with some analysis thrown in.

  7. Wongo1

    August 19, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    I try to watch and like the MLS but knowing that games mean so little make me bored. They truly need to change this set up and have promotion and relegation, then it would be more interesting and exciting.

  8. RPM

    August 19, 2013 at 1:07 pm

  9. jtm371

    August 19, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    i will try but A White and martini boy are not my cup of tea.hope it gets better as the season goes on.

  10. Jeff

    August 19, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    I find it shocking that an American commentator like Krishnaiyer could go through a whole column about the weekend with discussing the MLS. At least this week we didn’t have the mind melting NASL and USL talk. MLS games now are critical as we are in the final stretch before the playoffs while these Euro leagues just started and 95% team in these leagues have nothing to play for except avoiding relegation. The leagues are not as competitive as MLS.

    But as has been discussed in large measure the past few weeks MLS has been a victim of not getting enough promotion from NBC. IF they put half as much effort into promoting MLS, something that actually has relevance for this country that they have into a league an ocean away the ratings for MLS would be much higher than the EPL. Also the MLS is more competitive than the European leagues, probably the most competitive league in the world top to bottom. Results in Europe are pre-ordained but in MLS they are not. Seriously, the French league is a joke, I cannot believe you would mention it. PSG with all the money dominates it.

    • Flyvanescence

      August 19, 2013 at 12:36 pm

      . . .

      Comparing MLS to European football is like comparing Hillary Clinton to Kate Upton.

      • gbewing

        August 19, 2013 at 6:40 pm

        meaning Clinton is much smarter with more substance?

        • Flyvanescence

          August 20, 2013 at 9:13 am

          Um, are you trying to say Kate Upton has no substance?
          Cuz shes got PLENTY of substance . . .

    • Christopher Harris

      August 19, 2013 at 12:42 pm

      Jeff, if you or any of the other readers are interested in writing about MLS for our site, we often publish articles from our readers. More info is at

      I haven’t received any submissions about MLS in a while.

    • Kartik Krishnaiyer

      August 19, 2013 at 12:42 pm

      This “most competitive” argument is laughable. Is MLS more competitive than the Premier League? Yes. Is it more competitive than the Bundesliga? Arguably no. The Bundesliga has had four different champions in the last seven years, not as competitive as MLS (5 in 7) but not far from it. Is it more competitive than Ligue Un? Based on the fact France has had six different champions in six season no.

      The argument by MLS fan boys also ignores the reality of Mexico, Brazil and Japan’s leagues all superior in quality to MLS and also more competitive over the long period of time.

      A team as successful as the Galaxy the last few years is virtually impossible in those three leagues.

      The Mexican league is hyper-competitive. How else could a side like Club Tijuana pop up and within a few years win a title? Toluca has been consistently good as has Monterrey, but Pachuca has fallen off, Cruz Azul struggled for a while as did America. Chivas has been relatively poor for a long time.

    • Kartik Krishnaiyer

      August 19, 2013 at 12:47 pm

      PSG dominates? 6 different champions in 6 seasons.

    • jtm371

      August 19, 2013 at 12:48 pm

      the opening weekend of the EPL and you want to talk mls.their was more emotion when the LFC fans sang YNWA then any mls match ever.I am not a pool fan but it raised the hair on my will always be a soccer fan and i will always be a football fan.enjoy your Minor League Soccer.CHEERS!

      • Eplnfl

        August 19, 2013 at 7:59 pm

        NBC did promo there MLS coverage often during the first weekend coverage. Hats off to them for that.

        I would like MLS coverage anytime and Kartik is just as well versed in the MLS as the Euopean leagues. It is a problem for the MLS when the Euro leagues start since attention becomes focused on them.

        Once the WC qualifiers start up again you well see much greater interest in the MLS as we see US team members from MLS go for a world record of consecutive wins.

        It was hard to see how Klinnsman was going to keep the team motivated throughout the rest of qualification but if the US wins out they set a consecutive win record. Something to shoot for. GO USA.

    • Barry F

      August 20, 2013 at 4:14 pm

      This all assumes that fans care more about “competitiveness” over the course of a season rather than the actual quality on display in any given match.

  11. Patrick

    August 19, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    I thought NBC did a spot on job with their coverage all weekend. I was thoroughly impressed. Can’t wait for next Saturday

    • CTBlues

      August 19, 2013 at 12:37 pm

      There is match on Monday and Wednesday so you won’t have to wait too long.

      • Wongo1

        August 19, 2013 at 1:20 pm

        No one cares about that match on Monday 🙂

      • Patrick

        August 19, 2013 at 7:15 pm

        Sadly, the 9 to 5 gets in the way of weekday matches.

  12. dstorm

    August 19, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    I agree with your comment on Martino – He was really good – I came away very impressed.

  13. Steven P.

    August 19, 2013 at 11:55 am

    Martino did much better than when he was at Fox Soccer. He’s still the weakest link but the signs are good that he could improve.

    I agree that NBC Sports had too many commercials before the Liverpool-Stoke game but I’m willing to live with it (they do have to pay the bills somehow) because overall their coverage was outstanding.

    The two Mersey side teams were involved in the best games on opening day. The last minute penalty save by Mignolet gave Liverpool 3 points when it looked like they might only get 1. Everton were involved in a 2-2 thriller against Norwich and Barkley looked impressive and with Martinez at the helm should be a bright spark at Everton.

    • Sammy

      August 19, 2013 at 2:14 pm

      I agree that Kyle wasn’t bad but is still way off from being good at the EPL. Hope he improves.

      NBC’s coverage was first class. Hope it stays that way.

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