Manchester United’s diamond disaster, Tottenham’s unsettling assuredness, and Jeremy Doku’s big introduction feature among the talking points from the Premier League games you couldn’t legally watch on the box…
HAPLESS UNITED TREADING ON RAKES AS FANS DISSENT TEN HAG DECISION
Let us start with Brighton. They have just been to Old Trafford, made six changes, and had Manchester United on a lead.
Roberto De Zerbi talked of the need for rotation before their first Europa League assignment this week and in reserve while the Seagulls began their schooling of United were Evan Ferguson, Ansu Fati, Joao Pedro, Billy Gilmour and James Milner. Solly March was sat at home, but their alterations were entirely seamless. With such squad depth, and this manager, there is no limit on Brighton’s potential this season.
Ah, United. With a diamond midfield, they started very well and for 15 minutes, optimism abounded. But Erik ten Hag’s men were rope-a-doped by a Brighton side so much more assured in their shape and approach.
Ten Hag suggested pre-match that he intended to use this formation at Arsenal but Scott McTominay’s absence foiled his plan. Going forward, it showed some promise, with Sergio Reguilon and Diogo Dalot providing the width. Marcus Rashford, playing closer to debutant Rasmus Hojlund, was lively but wasteful. Defensively, though, the system was riddled with bugs.
McTominay and Christian Eriksen rarely looked sure of their movements and Casemiro’s weird sluggishness continued. Sofyan Amrabat’s mobility will help, but the slump between seasons for the Brazilian is hugely alarming.
That’s just one of Ten Hag’s many, many problems. The United boss is fighting fires at every turn, and while supporters are for the most part firmly behind him, the dissent when he substituted Hojlund for Anthony Martial was loud and clear. It was surely a scheduled change, with Hojlund building up to 90 minutes after his injury, and the boos with which it was greeted illustrated a wider frustration after such a dispiriting start to the season.
Oh, well. Just Bayern Munich next.
SPURS BEING SPURSY? NOT ANYMORE, MATE
After such an impressive start to the season, it would have been awfully Spursy for Tottenham to drop points at home to Sheffield United.
For a while, it looked like they would do just that. Wes Foderingham was having one of those games as he did his best to make Spurs look more like the team we all know and love, 24 hours after Ange Postecoglou was named Manager of the Month and James Maddison Player of the Month.
When Gustavo Hamer put the Blades ahead in the 73rd minute, everyone expected a good old-fashioned Spurs result after an incredible August. But no, they had to ruin our fun and pull off a remarkable comeback. That is not classic Spurs.
A lot has been said about Postecoglou and his team in the Australian’s early days in charge. We are fully in on Angeball already. High-pressing, fast on the counter, dangerous in the final third, they have been everything you want from your team and the polar opposite of what the club’s fans had to endure during Antonio Conte’s spell in charge; especially in 2022/23.
Spurs had no character towards the end of Conte’s reign and they are bursting in it under Big Ange. It’s still early days, though, and the biggest thing he needs to do is change the Spursy narrative. Wins like these will certainly help.
Sheffield United will be bitterly disappointed to see the points slip away out of their hands but they did not do enough to win the game. Having relied on Foderingham and Spurs being Spurs for 90 minutes, it was in the added on 12 that they were undone.
Spurs now have a massive fortnight ahead of them, with the one that matters most to the fans next up: Arsenal.
It will take a lot for us to consider this team title contenders but a win at the Emirates will send one hell of a message and get any Ange doubters (are there any?) fully on his side. After their north London rivals it is Liverpool at home, which is another chance for Spurs to prove their credentials.
There is only so long we can get away with predicting Spurs to do something Spursy. It’s not looking likely under Postecoglou, who can be regarded as a miracle worker.
DOKU SHOWS US SOMETHING DIFFERENT FROM A GUARDIOLA WINGER
Pep Guardiola stripped Jack Grealish of his expressive style in no time, but he had the £100million man for an entire pre-season, whereas Jeremy Doku joined late in the summer transfer window.
The Belgian youngster joined from Rennes for around £60m and made his debut against Fulham two weeks ago. With Grealish still injured, he was given the nod again as Manchester City took on West Ham at the London Stadium.
A lot of City’s play came through Doku, which is a sign of the young winger’s confidence. He was causing Vladimir Coufal a worrying amount of problems in the early exchanges but it was ironically roles reversed for the opening goal.
Doku proved he is not quite a Guardiola player yet by miscontrolling a pass to help Coufal bomb down the wing to assist James Ward-Prowse.
The £60m winger bounced back to score a second-half equaliser before any other Premier League team had kicked off. After that goal, it became blatantly obvious what the end result would be. Bernardo Silva and Erling Haaland’s strikes took the points back to Manchester but the match at the London Stadium was all about Doku, who provided something very different to Grealish, which is bizarre because we all know the latter can play this way. He did at Aston Villa after all. That’s why City signed him.
Grealish was once a rare breed of footballer, playing the game as if he was with his mates down at the park. A joy to watch with his boyhood club, Grealish came to the Etihad and a lot of people saw him as another cog in the City system, which is the biggest compliment you could pay him in his first year at the club.
Doku at Rennes is similar to Grealish at Villa, yet we saw the former put his usual style on show against West Ham. Guardiola allowing him to express himself in this way was unexpected given his management of Grealish, but it was a breath of fresh air.
He has added a different dimension to this City attack and is providing an instant impact. Whether Guardiola puts the shackles on him or continues to let him thrive on the ball remains to be seen. If he does the latter, we will ask some serious questions about Grealish’s conservative style under the Spaniard.
West Ham 1-3 Man City: Champions fight back as in-form Hammers suffer first defeat
VILLA ARE ASKING FOR TROUBLE AS BAILEY HELPS BAIL THEM OUT
Aston Villa’s two defeats so far this season have both been batterings, one at Newcastle United and one at Liverpool. The main talking point after each result was about the brilliance of their opposition, but a common theme of Villa’s play this season has been their high line, which is the reason a defeat becomes more than that.
Against Newcastle on matchday one, Unai Emery refused to consider damage limitation when the game was out of sight. Instead of doing so, he persisted with a worryingly high line and the Magpies made them pay in a goal fest.
At Liverpool, they set up similarly, which is not how you win at Anfield. Take it from me, someone who has never managed a team except on a games console, not four-time Europa League winner Emery.
Operating with such a high line at home is a lot different, but it obviously still carries the same risk.
Crystal Palace did not breach the Villans’ defence with a ball in behind, but by fighting off the press of centre-back Pau Torres, who was shrugged off by Jean-Philippe Mateta in his attacking half. Spun by the Frenchman, Torres watched Mateta square the ball for Odsonne Edouard to slot it under Emi Martinez, who unfortunately slipped during his attempt to cut out the assist.
Villa would pressurise the Palace defence until their equaliser, which came after Palace threatened to punish them and their risky ways once again.
The breakthrough did come and what a finish it was from Jhon Duran, whose thunderous left-footed volley gave Sam Johnstone no chance. Injury-time goals from Douglas Luiz – from the penalty spot – and Leon Bailey secured the points for Emery’s side.
Like with Liverpool, Villa have decided to rely heavily on their wonderful attack, with the defensive line not quite working. It will surely come under a manager who knows how to make his teams difficult to beat.
Moussa Diaby had another terrific match and actually had an opening goal disallowed for the most marginal of offside decisions. Meanwhile, Ollie Watkins led the line well once again and Duran and Bailey have proved they can provide a crucial spark off the bench.
Villa look very dangerous going forward, there is no doubt about that, but Emery has some work to do. At least they only have Chelsea next. They won’t get battered there.
Aston Villa 3-1 Crystal Palace: Villans score two injury-time goals to see off Eagles
LUTON PLAN ALMOST PAYS OFF BUT HATTERS REMAIN POINTLESS
It wasn’t a thriller. Actually, it was rather dull. But Fulham and Luton will both take positives after substitute Carlos Vinicius’s strike settled a low-key affair at Craven Cottage.
As you would expect, Fulham had A LOT of the ball. To be more precise, 78 per cent of it, as the Hatters dropped deep to defend and deny, then damage the hosts on the break. And for the most part, it worked.
Indeed, xG will tell you that Luton ought to have won. But their wastefulness in front of goal – Tahith Chong and Jacob Brown were culpable in the first period – left their defence no room for error.
Fulham deserve credit for continuing to probe, with Joao Palhinha pulling strings after ‘a weird couple of weeks’ following his on-off move to Bayern Munich. The Cottagers won’t face nine men behind every ball most weeks but Marco Silva’s changes – Vinicius came off the bench alongside Alex Iwobi – were enough to break Luton’s resistance.
For Rob Edwards, again, some encouragement but nothing tangible to take back to Luton. Their performances don’t point towards the Hatters joining this sorry lot but the points swill have to come.
Fulham 1-0 Luton: Cottagers sub strikes to keep Hatters pointless
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