If you’re like me – a Premier League-loving American – then most of your Saturday’s during the season are likely spent waking up at o’dark thirty to catch the beginning of the day’s action. Being someone who wakes up early for his “real job”, this usually doesn’t pose a problem as I’m accustomed to the sound of John Petrucci’s guitar solo from “Peruvian Skies” emanating from my phone at five o’clock in the morning, telling me it’s time to get my ass out of bed.
However, being that I have to get up early EVERY OTHER DAY OF THE WEEK, I usually enjoy seeing a, shall we say, less-enticing match on the docket as the opening game so I can enjoy a few more hours of precious sleep. Yes, I know what you’re thinking: “Luke, why don’t you just DVR the first match?” Believe me, I’ve done so. But then I’m behind on Twitter and it’s a whole thing, so most weeks I just bite the bullet and sacrifice some sleep to watch football.
Such was the case this week with Manchester United heading to Turf Moor (awesome name for a park, by the way) to face the newly-promoted Burnley.
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If you read this column last week, then you already know I try not to miss United matches only because I can’t wait to see the latest episode of “Manchester United, 90210”. This week’s episode had my interest especially peaked with new signee Ángel Di María making his debut after just putting pen to paper earlier in the week.
In addition to the soap opera, I wanted to lend my support to Burnley who I somewhat consider to be my “second club” so as to support my friend and fellow Fake Pigskin writer, Matt Lane, who also just so happens to be a Burnley resident (you can follow Matt on Twitter here).
So there I was, camped out on my couch amidst a sea of blankets, watching the third week of Premier League action unfold. And strangely enough, while there are times I would appreciate some more sleep, there’s no place I’d rather be on a Saturday morning.
Here’s my main take away’s from the weekend that was.
1. It’s Time To Start Talking About Swansea
I’ve delayed making the Swans apart of this column for two weeks now, but I can no longer ignore them. No, I don’t expect them to perform at this level the entire season, but after reeling off three fairly convincing victories to start the season, they deserve their moment in the sun.
And while the entire team deserves credit, it’s the play of two players in particular that seem largely to thank for the club jetting out to their fast start; two players that also have fantasy players feeling giddy as an innocent little schoolboy roaming the countryside.
Midfielders Gylfi Sigurdsson and Nathan Dyer have formed a dynamic partnership in the middle of pitch, scoring a combined four goals between the pair. Sigurdsson in particular has been a revelation, creating eight scoring chances which is second only to the 10 created by Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas. And of those eight chances, four have gone for assists, making him the early league leader in that category (tied with Fabregas).
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Heath appears to be the only roadblock that could impede this dynamic duo from compiling stellar fantasy seasons, and while Sigurdsson no doubt was drafted early on in seasonal formats, Dyer could very well still be sitting on your league’s waiver wire. If you prefer the weekly format, both are still relatively inexpensive with Sigurdsson currently sitting at £6.4m and Dyer at £5.5m (per fantasypremierleague.com).
2. Why Always Me?/A Record Breaking Angel
In other words, how did the two latest marquee signings fair in their debut’s as the transfer window cloud continues to swirl and provide us with some late drama? The answer to that can be summed up in one collective “ehhh” as both were fairly uneventful, but there was still a few snippets that I felt were worth mentioning.
Beginning with “Super Mario”, the polarizing Italian striker’s first game back in the Premier League since 2012 went off with little fanfare (though that could be viewed as a positive), but he still managed five shots on goal (though only one was on target), which tells me he’s going to get plenty of chances with his new club. Steven Gerrard seemed to really enjoy his new toy, as he, on a handful of occasions, utilized Balotelli’s hight and athleticism, and the two nearly combined for a goal in just the second minute of the match against Tottenham.
Balotelli (aka World Football’s Terrell Owens) appeared to be comfortable working either as the main central striker, or out on the flank as he and fellow striker Daniel Sturridge often traded positions throughout the match. It also appears he did a little maturing since we last saw him in the Premiership, and was happy dishing the rock on several occasions. We’re not ever going to get him confused with a world class passer, but I do think there’s room there for maybe three to five assists to go along with double digit goals, which I believe he’ll have no trouble achieving.
Moving along to Ángel Di María, the Argentine midfielder, despite having periods of time during the match where he struggled to get involved, still managed to provide some flair that hinted of a player that’s played some Spanish football. He did provide one scoring chance on a peach of a long ball played directly to the chest of streaking Robin van Persie, and would’ve had another had RvP not slipped as he was preparing to shoot.
I’ve been critical of the Di María signing as I think that money would’ve been better spent on a central defender, but one thing’s for sure, he is going to make those around him much better. United will right the ship eventually, and he should be at the heart of it.
3. Wenger Seems To Have Figured Out How Best To Use Alexis Sánchez
It’s taken a few weeks, but it looks as if good ol’ Arsey has figured out that his prized off season acquisition, Alexis Sánchez, operates best out wide on the left flank as opposed to playing alone atop as a central striker. Look, I’m not saying he’s not capable of doing the job, but there was a reason Sánchez was substituted at half time of the Everton match last week in favor of a more natural central striker in Oliver Giroud. And if you watched that match, then you surely you remember it was Wenger’s best decision on the day, as Giroud completely changed that match.
After that match it was discovered that Giroud had broken a bone in his foot, and that has now led to the striker being out of action for at least the rest of the calendar year after receiving surgery on the foot. I mention this because Wenger, instead of trying to force Sánchez into continuing to play a position he’s clearly not comfortable in, decided to leave the Chilean out wide against Leicester City on Sunday, opting instead to play Yaya Sanogo in the central striker’s role.
The move ended up paying dividends, as Sánchez rewarded his manager with two created chances from the position (four overall), completed 84% of his passes, got off four shots, and, of course, scored the all-important goal after taking advantage of a defense focused on Sanogo who’s blocked shot fell perfectly in the path of the former Barcelona man, who came in off the left flank and slotted home the team’s only goal.
4. Any Given Sunday (or Saturday) In The Premier League
I know I’m not alone in thinking that the Premier League is the greatest league in the world. I think this not only for the cornucopia of talent that resides in the league, but for the sheer fact that any team – no matter how small – can beat any other team – no matter how large – on any given day.
Let’s face it, unless you’re a Manchester City fan you were pulling for Stoke City on Saturday regardless of wether or not you care for them as a club or not. And not only did they succeed in pulling off the gigantic upset at The Etihad, they did so by playing one of the most beautifully executed matches tactically that I remember seeing in quite some time.
The plan was clear; retain defensive shape and minimize scoring chances, while trying to catch City out of position on a counter. And that’s exactly what they did. Mame Bram Diouf completed a brilliant piece of individual skill, picking the ball up at midfield and proceeded to outrace his marker and nutmeg the last man to put himself in a one on one situation with Joe Hart which he then calmly converted for the match’s only goal.
That proved to be all the club would need as they were able to fend off every chance that City could muster, and walked away with what will surely go down as one of the best upsets of the season.
5. Everton And Chelsea Provide The Early Match Of The Year, But The Toffee’s Disappoint Yet Again
Despite the horrendous scoreline, I’m surprisingly optimistic coming out of this match.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still extremely disappointed with the result, especially after winning this fixture last season. The defense was nothing more than a sieve, and it would appear Martinez has a good sized mountain to move in order to return that back four to the form they enjoyed last year en route to becoming the third best defense in the league. I’m no tactical wizard, in fact, I’m far from it, but I would start by replacing Phil Jagielka with John Stones and go from there.
But, despite the leaky faucet of a defense, there were some positives to take away. Namely, even without Ross Barkley, whom many would consider to be Everton’s best/most important player, this club has got goals in it and is more than capable of carving up even the most stout of Premier League defenses.
With Baines and Coleman doing what they do best, Kevin Mirallas and Steven Nasmith (yes, Steven Nasmith) playing brilliant, attacking football, and adding in the fact that Lukaku hasn’t really hit his stride yet, I don’t think this team will struggle to find the back of the net. And just imagine what they’ll look like with young Barkley back in the fold.
Now, just to figure out that back four…
Bonus: Really Excited Stoke City Fan
Cheers on the Slipknot tramp stamp, mate!