August 28, 2012 by Gerry Johnston
Another weekend of Barclay’s Premier League action is behind us and if I had to summarise it in one word I’d go with “errors”. No less than eight of the twenty-four goals scored this weekend resulted in a defender or goalkeeper lying head in hands knowing they had made an error that had cost their team a goal. I don’t even include Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s goal in this. That was just bad luck. The eight I am talking about include defenders being caught in possession, bad back passes, bad goalkeeping and bad communication between defenders and goalkeepers. All eight were down to bad play, pure and simple. I know it’s early in the season but at the money these players are earning, I don’t think fans want to hear about it taking a few weeks to settle in.
Norwich vs. QPR
It wasn’t only the players who performed badly this weekend. Referee, Mark Clattenburg, who was in charge of Norwich v QPR was another who had a bit of a nightmare. He gave a very soft penalty to QPR when Djibril Cisse was “brought down” by Norwich debutant, Sebastien Bassong. If there was any contact, it was minimal but the referee pointed to the spot. Cisse managed to get himself up from the ground to hit the penalty but Norwich goalkeeper, John Ruddy, got down well to make a fine save. Unfortunately for Ruddy and the Canaries, the ball rebounded straight to Bobby Zamora who shot into the empty goal. Replays showed the QPR man was inside the box when the penalty was taken so the goal should not have stood but Clattenburg missed it and the scores were level. Clattenburg completed his hat-trick of errors in the second half when QPR goalkeeper, Robert Green, handled outside the box. Green was clearly outside the box but once again Clattenburg got a key decision wrong and it looks like he will be having next week off, once the referee’s assessors get a look at his performance. On the game itself, Norwich could have got the three points but it wasn’t to be. They missed a few second half chances and Robert Snodgrass, in particular, should have done better when he headed over the bar. Their goal came after a good move was finished off with a close range header from Simeon Jackson.
Swansea vs. West Ham
Swansea and West Ham kicked off the action at lunch time on Saturday and it wasn’t long before the errors began. West Ham handed the Swans two goals before half-time. Goalkeeper, Jussi Jaaskelainen diverted an Angel Rangel cross into the goal and shortly afterwards James Collins attempted a back pass which hit off his standing foot and Michu was able to get to the ball before Jaaskelainen to poke home Swansea’s second. Danny Graham got a third in the second half after another fluid Swansea attack. West Ham did have a few chances and Swansea keeper, Michel Vorm, made a great double save when Matt Jarvis, making his West Ham debut, volleyed from inside the box. Vorm saved well and blocked Kevin Nolan’s follow up when it seemed a certain goal. Swansea can be very proud of their efforts so far this season. People will say they haven’t played much but you can only beat what’s in front of you. Michael Laudrup’s team have not only beaten what has been in front of them but they done it in emphatic fashion. West Ham looked very poor and performances like that are simply not good enough in the Premier League. I thought their centre back pairing of James Collins and Winston Reid looked a bit static and if they don’t get it sorted soon, any team who attack them with pace can expect to have a good day.
Manchester United vs. Fulham
Manchester United got back to winning ways with a tough 3-2 victory over Fulham. Fulham took the lead with a free-kick that looked like it was straight from the training ground. Damien Duff was the man who applied the finish to Bryan Ruiz’s short pass. United levelled soon after with Robin Van Persie getting his first goal for his new club. It was a great strike with Van Persie swinging his left foot at a bouncing pass from Patrice Evra. Mark Schwarzer, in the Fulham goal, had no chance. Schwarzer made a borderline error shortly after when he parried Tom Cleverley’s effort straight into the path of Shinji Kagawa who put United ahead 2-1. I didn’t include Schwarzer’s parry in the eight errors as it would have been hard to hold onto the shot but maybe he could have directed his block away from the middle of the goal. United went further ahead when Rafael scored a back post header. United should have been comfortable but unfortunately for them it was error time again. This time it was a mix up between David De Gea and Nemenja Vidic that led to Vidic scoring an own goal. Much of the blame seems to be going to De Gea but I’m not convinced it was his fault. He came out towards the ball with a clinched fist then appears to pull out completely. I’d be very interested to know if Vidic gave a shout that he was going to deal with it. De Gea’s actions certainly suggest that there had been a shout as I can’t see why he would pull out of the challenge other than if Vidic had called for the ball. Even if De Gea was at fault he more than made up for it, making some superb saves throughout the game. De Gea wasn’t great last season but has shown himself to be a good shot stopper in the two games this year. United do look troubled in defence and their biggest weakness yesterday was at right-back. Rafael scored, had one disallowed and forced Schwarzer into a fine save but defensively he was very poor. Everything Fulham done yesterday came down his wing. Fulham had quite a few chances throughout the game and every single one of them were as a result of exploiting the right hand side of United’s defence. Fergie is an astute manager and I’d like to think he has a plan in place because if he doesn’t it could be a tough season for United. For Fulham, the biggest task this week will be keeping star midfielder, Moussa Dembele. The Belgian was super again yesterday and he has been linked with a move to Real Madrid in recent weeks. Fulham manager, Martin Jol will no doubt breath a sigh of relief if Dembele is still a Fulham player by next weekend.
Aston Villa vs. Everton
Manchester United’s conquerors from last week, Everton, kept up their good start to the season with a great win at Villa Park. Pienaar scored an excellent, curling effort in the first few minutes. Shay Given made a bad mistake for Everton’s second goal. Marouane Fellaini got his head onto a Phil Jagielka cross. The ball went straight to Given but he flapped at it and the ball went past him into the net. It’s sad to see Given playing like that. For so many years Given barely made a mistake but he had a terrible Euro 2012 and has got off to a rough start in the league. I hope he can get his form back because he has been a superb player over the years for clubs and in particular, country. Nikica Jelavic got back on the goal trail before half-time blasting home a Leighton Baines pass. Things got worse for Villa, when Ciaran Clark was sent off for hauling down Jelavic when he was through on goal. Villa got a consolation goal late on when new signing, Karim El Ahmadi, hit a shot from distance. Tim Howard played his part in an error filled weekend by getting hands onto the ball but it was not enough to keep the ball out. In Howard’s defence the ball did swerve but the American really should have done better. In truth 3-1 was a flattering result for Aston Villa and if Everton had taken all of their chances the scoreline could have been a lot worse. I mentioned in my preview column that Lambert was one of four new managers who had lost his first game in charge. Things have gone from bad to worse for the ex-Norwich man and it looks like he has inherited a very difficult job at Aston Villa. Things don’t get any easier for Villa as they head up north next week for a tough game against Newcastle United. Lambert is a decent manager but if he starts with three defeats then the boo boys may just start getting on his back. For Everton it’s a case of onwards and upwards. It usually takes David Moyes men a month or two to get their first two wins of the season but this looks like a new team. If Everton can keep up their good start and finish as strongly as they usually do, talk of a Champions League place might not be too unrealistic.
Tottenham vs. West Brom
Another manager who was looking for his first points in charge of his new team was Tottenham manager, Andre Villas-Boas. Spurs came very close to getting him a win but in the end they had to settle for a draw. Tottenham had chances to score but it looked like it was going to be one of those days until Benoit Assou-Ekotto hit a vicious drive from 25 yards which deflected off West Brom’s, Graham Dorrans, and into the net. In the dying minutes, West Brom threw everything they had left at Spurs. The Baggies got their reward when the ball fell to James Morrison who found the bottom corner to send the visiting fans wild. I expect to see Spurs bring in a few players this week, especially now Modric has gone to Real Madrid. I would love to see them bring in a proven goalscorer. Defoe and Adebayor are both a bit inconsistent. On their day they can score goals but neither would be likely to score over twenty a season at this stage in their careers. Spurs have an excellent midfield with a lot of creativity and if they could find a striker to score 20-30 goals a season, there’s no reason why they couldn’t compete at the top end of the league. For West Brom I have to give a mention to a player who has impressed me a lot, Romelu Lukaku. He has only been on the pitch for 49 minutes in total this season but in that short time he has shown fantastic pace and strength and he reminds me of Didier Drogba. Lukaku is still only 19 years old but if he can develop over the next few years then I can see him making a big impact for his owning club, Chelsea.
Southampton vs. Wigan
Southampton v Wigan was the only other 3 o’clock kick off, after Sunderland’s tie with Reading was postponed. The Stadium of Light pitch was waterlogged. Down at St Mary’s it was Wigan Athletic who took the three points, winning 2-0. Franco Di Santo opened the scoring when he blasted home a superb through pass from Shaun Maloney. Late in the game and it was time for another error. This time Southampton’s Jose Fonte was caught in possession near the halfway line and Arouna Kone ran in to seal the three points for Wigan. Wigan have lost Victor Moses to Chelsea and they will need to bring in a replacement if they want to stay in the league. I’m not convinced their current forwards have enough to keep them up and wouldn’t be surprised if they made a move for Huddersfield’s, Jordan Rhodes. Southampton have learned a tough lesson and may have taken Wigan a bit lightly after putting in a strong display last weekend against Manchester City. They are unlucky to have no points from their first two games but unfortunately for them unlucky doesn’t keep you in the Premier League and with their next two games being at home to Manchester United and away to Arsenal they may have to start trying to make some luck for themselves.
Chelsea vs. Newcastle
In Saturday evenings television match it was Chelsea who picked up the three points after a 2-0 win over Newcastle. Eden Hazard got his first goal for Chelsea from the penalty spot after Fernando Torres was taken down by Vurnon Anita. A few commentators have suggested Torres dived but from what I have saw, Anita definitely made contact so a penalty was the correct decision. Anita did appear to be trying to pull his foot out of the way but just because he tried to avoid the foul does not mean he didn’t foul him. Hazard was the provider for Chelsea’s second goal, laying the ball off for Torres to toe poke into the top corner from the edge of the box. Hazard has made quite an impact in England. In his three games, Chelsea have scored 8 goals. Hazard has a goal, four assists and has also been brought down for two penalties which Frank Lampard converted. If he can keep this form up then Chelsea could be genuine title contenders. They have looked fantastic going forward and Fernando Torres even looks like he is slowly but surely getting his confidence back. One worry I do have about Chelsea is their defence. They have two clean sheets from three games but if Wigan and Newcastle’s finishing had been better then we could be looking at a different league table. Chelsea centre-half, David Luiz, has been linked with a move to Barcelona in recent weeks and I can’t think of why they would want him. Every time I watch Chelsea he is a liability. He tries to bring the ball out from the back too often and gets caught out with bad passes and being caught in possession. If Barcelona are willing to part with the money that is being reported then I think Chelsea would be crazy not to take it.
Stoke City vs. Arsenal
Sunday started off with what on paper should have been a cracker between Stoke and Arsenal. Instead we were treated to a poor quality 0-0 draw. Arsenal were the better side for most of the game but a lot of their play broke down when the ball reached French striker, Olivier Giroud. I had my doubts about his abilities before the season started and after two games I have saw nothing to make me change my opinion. His first touch is poor, his passing is poor and his finishing is poor. Arsene Wenger could do with bringing in another striker before the transfer window closes but I don’t expect him to do that as I am convinced he is going through that adolescent phase in life where you make bizarre decisions for no apparent reason and if people think you should do something then you will do the complete opposite. For evidence you only have to look at his three substitutions today. Arsenal’s best players were Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski. They were the Gunners only attacking threat. Naturally, Wenger saw fit to replace them when Arsenal needed a goal. He also took off Gervinho, who to be fair isn’t great but the Ivory Coast man was looking like Pele in comparison to Giroud. Wenger made the changes and unsurprisingly, Arsenal failed to score.
Liverpool vs. Manchester City
The weekend finished off with a cracking 2-2 draw at Anfield between Liverpool and Manchester City. Liverpool looked a lot better this week and in particular Joe Allen and 17 year old winger, Raheem Sterling, looked impressive. Liverpool opened the scoring with a great header from Martin Skrtel. City got level in the second half with help from the first error of the afternoon. Liverpool failed to deal with a Tevez cross, Pepe Reina came off his line and got nowhere near the ball which bounced off Martin Kelly’s knee and straight to Yaya Toure who shot into the empty net. Minutes later, Liverpool were ahead again. The referee gave a soft free-kick, when a Steven Gerrard shot was blocked by Jack Rodwell but the ball bounced off his knee and onto his hand. I don’t know what else Rodwell could have done. If you try to jump or dive without raising your arms, you are going to lose a lot of momentum. Harsh free-kick or not, credit has to go to Luis Suarez for the finish. Suarez could not have put the ball in a better place. He curled the ball around the wall with nothing to spare and managed to find a football sized gap between the post and Joe Hart’s hand. When you think of the chances Suarez missed last week it seems ironic that he should score such a great goal this week. However, City weren’t finished yet and it was time for the final error of the weekend. That honour went to Martin Skrtel who tried to play a blind, pass back to Pepe Reina. Carlos Tevez was lurking and intercepted the pass before rounding the keeper and passing into the empty net. Both sides had chances to win the game late on with Jonjo Shelvey, Andy Carroll and Edin Dzeko all going close. However there was to be no more goals and the game ended 2-2. I think most Liverpool fans will be feeling a bit more positive about the season ahead after a better performance.. Nuri Sahin is still to come in and I think he could prove to be a good player for the Reds. One criticism I would make on Liverpool so far is, I don’t really understand Brendan Rodgers thinking on playing Suarez through the middle and Fabio Borini out wide. You have a non-creative poacher on the wing and a creative but poor finishing forward playing through the middle. I would quite like to see those two swap positions in the coming weeks and would be surprised if it didn’t give Liverpool a more balanced look.
Goals Of The Week
Man Of The Week
Fernando Torres – He’s starting to look good again. Now Anelka and Drogba are playing in China, he is first choice at Chelsea and with the creative talent in their midfield he will get a bundle of chances. He took his goal well and looked a constant threat throughout the game. I’ve always liked Torres and can’t explain what has happened to him over the last few seasons but if Torres could get back to his best, the Premier League would be a better league for it.
Moan Of The Week
Most of this week’s column is moaning but there is honestly no need for the amount of errors and bad play we had to sit through this weekend. These players are supposed to be the best in the business yet they can’t even get the basics right. They say the Premier League is the best league in the world, if this weekend was an advertisement then I’d have to strongly disagree.
In my last column I made a few predictions on how I thought the games would go at the weekend. I managed to predict a 1-1 draw in the Norwich v QPR game and also correctly predicted wins for Swansea, Manchester United, Chelsea and a draw in the Liverpool v Manchester City game, although I had the scoreline wrong in those four. I wrongly predicted a draw at Villa Park and wins for Southampton, Tottenham and Stoke. 5 out of 9 isn’t bad but it’s not great either.