Monday Soccer Insider: Aug. 26, 2013

It’s funny how many of those constantly calling on Arsene Wenger to “SPEND SPEND SPEND” previously criticized Wenger for bringing too many foreign players into the Premier League. Right now, no other top six side in England is so reliant on British players — particularly young British players — than Arsenal. While Manchester City, Chelsea and Spurs are making all their buys on the continent, Wenger has in recent years bought from the likes of Charlton Athletic, Southampton and Cardiff City.

Aaron Ramsey has developed into the type of mobile two-way player that Wenger has long desired. Ramsey’s movement off the ball has gotten crisper while his tackling ability and short passing continue to evolve. He has been the best player in both of Arsenal’s wins this week.

Former Arsenal man Kolo Toure, who was let go on a free this summer by Manchester City, has been an integral part in Liverpool, keeping two clean sheets to start the season. Toure looked exceptional in spot duty last season for the Blues when Vincent Kompany was injured. In fact, Toure looked so good, I thought it would be wise to give him an extension but City’s management felt otherwise.

Speaking of Toure, Manchester City could really use him as cover in the defense. But more important than the ill-advised decision to let Toure go is the apparent tactical naivety of Manuel Pellegrini about English football. Manchester City has set up in both matches thus far this campaign without a ball-winner in midfield. Under Roberto Mancini, Gareth Barry and often Nigel De Jong (later Jack Rodwell) were employed in a deep-lying role. The City brass sacked Mancini because they wanted a more “holistic” approach and stylistic change. However, in the three full seasons Mancini led the club, the side gained the second most points total in the English top-flight league and won a Premier League title. Yet management desired a different approach and the inability to control midfield or win the ball back in critical situations was exposed by an excellent Cardiff City side on Sunday. Barry, who was one on the first names on Mancini’s team sheet, has yet to dress this season. And Rodwell, fit for a change, has yet to feature. Pellegrini rued the set piece mistakes by his defense in his post-match comments but ignored that the set pieces had been earned by defensive breakdowns in midfield particularly by Yaya Toure and new signing Fernandinho whose physique is not suited to sitting deep in tough away fixtures.

Joe Hart continues to be a liability for Manchester City and question marks have surfaced about his position as England’s number one keeper. With seven days left in the Transfer Window it will be interesting to see if the Blues make a move for another keeper.

Fraizer Campbell’s excellent form for Cardiff City during the second half of last season in the Championship has continued into the Premier League with his brace on Sunday. Campbell’s work rate and movement were top class in both the second half of last week’s opening loss to West Ham and throughout today’s match versus Manchester City.

Hull City’s efficient performance, especially after having been reduced to ten-men at home, versus underwhelming Norwich City again showed Steve Bruce can manage a match in-game at this level even if his training methods have been derided as “ancient.” Tom Huddlestone is quickly settling into becoming one of the most significant signings of the season for a team likely to fight relegation this season.

Bolton Wanderers have gotten off to a poor start and manager Dougie Freedman must be sitting in envy as Crystal Palace play Premier League football. One bright takeaway from Wanderers early struggles has been the reemergence of American central defender Tim Ream. The former New York Red Bull is fit and playing well, giving the United States another option on the backline.

In the Bundesliga, Borussia Dortmund got past Werder Bremen the other night but needed almost forty shots to score a lone goal.  Jürgen Klopp’s side is finding adjustment to life without Mario Götze difficult though Henrikh Mkhitaryan showed some good signs in Friday’s victory. Youngster Jonas Hofmann is becoming a key component off the bench especially in the attack.

Bayern Munich meanwhile have lacked a cutting edge in the final third the past two weekends. They’re still perfect on points, but growing pains are evident as Pep Guardiola continues to implement his philosophy. Mario Götze and Thiago have yet to settle in and make any dramatic impact. Thiago’s ankle injury complicates matters further and perhaps Bayern should not have sold Luiz Gustavo to Wolfsburg. The sale of Emre Can to Bayer Leverkusen also may be a long-term mistake for Bayern.

André-Pierre Gignac has been spectacular the first three weeks as Marseille has moved two points clear atop Ligue Un.  Andre Ayew and Mathieu Valbuena have also been excellent early on this season. With PSG’s early wobbles and Monaco dropping points this week versus Toulouse, OM sit alone atop the table.

Juventus struggled with Sampdoria at times, but Paul Pogba’s dominant performance in midfield indicated that the French central midfielder. who got away from Manchester United, is rapidly turning into one of the world’s best young players. Carlos Tevez’s match winner was a reminder as to his quality, and showed his quick acclimation to Italian football.

His form eventually eluded him at Fiorentina but Luca Toni started the Serie A season for newly promoted Verona in excellent form with two goals in the shocking upset of Milan. Toni’s mobility and ability to get into prime positions in open play has always been his most under appreciated assets and he demonstrated it again on Saturday.

How can we not mention the dramatic comeback by the Portland Thorns in NWSL action, to advance to the final next week? The Thorns accomplished the comeback versus Kansas City without Alex Morgan who now has another week to regain match fitness for the league final.

Kudos to both Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers for creating a one-of-a-kind unique atmosphere for a MLS match Sunday night. The Sounders do everything right and no group of supporters in North America are as passionate, loud and vocal as the Timbers Army.

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  1. Flyvanescence August 26, 2013
    • Flyvanescence August 26, 2013
  2. Eplnfl August 26, 2013
  3. Tom August 26, 2013

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