Premier League Playback: Manchester United shine bright like a diamond

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MANCHESTER UNITED’S DIAMOND TO STAY?

Relief. Euphoria. Optimism.

Those were the overriding emotions emanating from the majority of the 75,000 fans at Old Trafford on Sunday. Manchester United’s fans were treated to a wonderful display of attacking soccer as their side battered Queens Park Rangers 4-0. New boy Angel Di Maria dazzled with a goal and a hand in the other three goals on his home debut, while Ander Herrera, Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney were also on the scoresheet. After the game, Louis van Gaal revealed his ambition to bring silverware to United following his first win as boss.

“I want to win the Premier League title. If it is not this year, then the second or third year. I want to give a championship to the fans.”

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Click to enlarge – Blind’s heatmap vs. QPR. Source: Opta.

Playing the diamond instead of a 3-5-2 formation could be key in achieving that goal. Okay, let’s put this result into perspective first and not make too many sweeping judgement’s after Sunday’s big win. QPR were very poor and United will come up against plenty of better teams this season.

That said, with a diamond in midfield they looked more balanced and better equipped to launch incisive attacks.

[RELATED: Full match replays from Week 4]

Di Maria was a menace on the wing, Rooney was powerful up top and the Spanish duo of Mata and Herrera linked up superbly in midfield but it was another new boy who quietly tied everything in: Daley Blind. Perhaps the most unheralded new signing to arrive this summer, Dutch international Blind played at the base of a midfield diamond and produced industry, poise and purpose. Blind reminded me of a more skillful Owen Hargreaves (they even have the same luscious flowing locks) as he distributed with ease, picked the pockets of QPR’s midfielders and unselfishly shielded the back four. Blind made 112 passes on Sunday, the fifth highest single-game total by a single player so far this season, as he helped link play between the defense and United’s rampant attack time and time again.

[VIDEO: Premier League highlights]

At one point in the second half, Blind picked up a loose ball and distributed it out to the right flank. He then put his head down and sprinted 20-yards back to the halfway line. His effort to be in the right position, even though United were 4-0 up at the time was impressive and his performance fills me with hope that Van Gaal has finally found the right balance and the right formation. If you look at the heat map on the left of Blind’s outing, you can see he was spread evenly across the middle and just sat in the engine room.

United shone bright with the midfield diamond against QPR, but the real test will come in home games against Everton and Chelsea next month. Only then we will really know how good this United team are but until then, let the euphoria surrounding their first win of the season resonate with talk of winning the title.

Premier League Schedule – Week 4

Result Recap & Highlights
Arsenal 2-2 Manchester City Recap and watch here
Chelsea 4-2 Swansea City Recap and watch here
Crystal Palace 0-0 Burnley Recap and watch here
Hull City 2-2 West Ham Recap and watch here
Liverpool 0-1 Aston Villa Recap and watch here
Manchester United 4-0 QPR Recap and watch here
Southampton 4-0 Newcastle United Recap and watch here
Stoke City 0-1 Leicester City Recap and watch here
Sunderland 2-2 Tottenham Hotspur Recap and watch here
West Brom 0-2 Everton Recap and watch here

COSTA’S HOT STREAK CONTINUES 

On Saturday Diego Costa scored what can only be described as the most effortless hat trick in Premier League history. At least, that’s how he made it look.

In the process of knocking three past Swansea, who had taken an early lead in the top of the table clash, Costa took his tally to seven for the season in his four PL games. Only one other player has managed to score in his first four PL games, that was Mickey Quinn.

[VIDEO: Watch Costa’s first PL hat trick]

Costa has also remarkably scored seven times from 14 shots this season. Talk about economy. Wow.

Below the NBC crew analyze Chelsea’s second half comeback against the Swans, as Costa and Cesc Fabregas continued to form the best midfield to striker partnership in the Premier League. Fabregas also became the first player in Premier League history to record at least one assist in six consecutive games. He had three on Saturday which takes him to six for the season.

[RELATED: Latest Premier League standings]

Chelsea are an offensive powerhouse, but Mourinho is still concerned about the defensive mistakes his side are making after conceding five goals in their last two PL games. That said, they have already scored 15 goals in four games this campaign. Costa looks like he could hit at least 30 goals on his own this season, at least.

ARSENAL, CITY SLUG IT OUT

At the Emirates on Saturday Arsenal and Manchester City treated us to a game which sums out all that is great about the Premier League. Goals galore, comebacks and late drama were in abundance. See the highlights below as City scored late on to rescue a point. The Citizens missed the injured Yaya Toure badly on Saturday after he traveled to Africa in midweek to play for the Ivory Coast. In his absence, little Jack Wilshere grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and tried his upmost best to drive Arsenal to victory. Watch Wilshere’s early goal of the season contender below as he finally delivered a performance to salivate over on the big stage. The diminutive 22-year-old then set up Alexis Sanchez to volley home a beauty to turn the game on its head following Sergio Aguero’s opener but Martin Demichelis headed home after slack defending from the Gunners late on, sealing a 2-2 draw for City.

[RELATED: Premier League stats]

Arsenal have now given up four goals from headers this season as Arsene Wenger bemoaned poor defensive mistakes after the game. City boss Manuel Pellegrini wasn’t happy with both of Arsenal’s goals, calling them “illegal,” as the tilt between two title contenders delivered plenty of talking points.

PARDEW OUT?

According to reports and just, well, common sense, Newcastle’s manager has one game to save his job as the first managerial casualty of the PL season is fast approaching. Alan Pardew has been in this situation before, with Newcastle, but this time the Englishman looks to be on borrowed time. Big style.

During the end of the Magpies’ resounding, embarrassing and utterly humiliating 4-0 defeat to Southampton at the weekend, fans were chanting for Pardew to be fired as banners were unfurled by angry Geordies and one fan even ran onto the pitch at the final whistle to throw his ticket at Pardew. Watch this video to get a sense for the atmosphere among the Newcastle fans towards Pardew.

[RELATED: Premier League schedule]

Potential candidates to replace Pardew include Hull boss Steve Bruce, who Pardew’s Newcastle side play next weekend in his supposed D-Day match. David Moyes and Tony Pulis have also been linked with the post as Pardew’s time on Tyneside seems to be running out. Following just two wins in his last 14 PL games in charge, plus his length ban for heabutting Hull’s David Meyler last season during a game, Pardew has been on a slippery slope for a while. Can he cling on?

Highlights of his Newcastle side being hammered, plus all of the highlights from Saturday’s other games, can be seen below.

SAINTS’ REBUILD

After hammering Newcastle, Saints are sitting pretty in fourth place after four games. That dramatic summer exodus which many believed threw Southampton towards the abyss hasn’t materialized yet… In fact, they are heading in the opposite direction after an impressive summer of transfer dealings. Ronald Koeman’s side coasted to victory at St. Mary’s on Saturday for their second-straight win and look stronger, across the board, than they did at this time last year. That’s quite the accomplishment, especially considering they made over $60 million in profit from player sales this summer.

Premier League Star Performers – Week 4

Player Reason
1. Diego Costa (Chelsea) 3 goals, clinical
2. Angel Di Maria (Man United) 1 goal, hand in all four goals
3. Graziano Pelle (Saints) 2 goals, a beast up top
4. Jack Wilshere (Arsenal) 1 goal, bossed the midfield
5. Julian Speroni (Palace) Clean sheet, saved late PK

Koeman took over from Mauricio Pochettino in June and watched on as Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Dejan Lovren and Calum Chambers walked out on the club for a total of $175 million. The Dutchman knew he had a massive rebuild on his hands but he, director of football Les Reed and chairman Ralph Krueger have acted calmly, openly and impressively as they brought in nine new players for a total spend of $110 million. England international Fraser Forster is a huge arrival in place of Artur Boruc, while Belgian international defender Toby Alderweiereld and left back Ryan Bertrand (replacing teenage sensation Shaw) have both joined on a season-long loan with an option to buy from Atletico Madrid and Chelsea respectively. Both have played in the Champions League final and are huge coups, plus Romanian international Florin Gardos has arrived. In midfield, Serbian winger Dusan Tadic has replaced Adam Lallana seamlessly, while Saido Mane is a speedy Senegalese winger who arrived on Deadline Day. Italian forward Graziano Pelle has scored four goals in his first five games for Saints as he has the biggest task of all, to replace Rickie Lambert. Plus Shane Long arrived for $20 million and is on board to help out up top.

There’s no two ways about it, the impending sense of doom which hung around Southampton all summer has now been replaced with cautious optimism that they can match or even better their eighth place finish from last season. They have a favorable schedule in the first few months, so the real test for Koeman’s boys will be around the festive period but, for now, they are passing with flying colors.

Here’s a quick look at Saints’ lineup evolution over the past season, as we select their strongest possible lineup compared to last season.

Saints’ lineup 2014-15 season

—Forster—
Clyne—Fonte—Alderweiereld—Bertrand
—Davis—Schneiderlin—
—Tadic—Cork—Long—
—–Pelle—–

Subs: Wanyama, Rodriguez (out injured), Mane (new signing), Ward-Prowse, Isgrove, Gardos, Boruc.

Saints’ lineup 2013-14 season

—Boruc—
Clyne—Fonte—Lovren—Shaw
—Schneiderlin—Wanyama
—Lallana—Davis—Rodriguez—
—–Lambert—–

Subs: Cork, Yoshida, Chambers, Ward-Prowse, Guly, Gallagher, K. Davis.

USMNT UPDATE

Brad Guzan keeps hold of the U.S. national team “awesomeness gong” in the PL, as the Villa ‘keeper recorded his third shutout out of four this season as his side shocked Liverpool 1-0 at Anfield. Guzan made some great saves from close range in the second half and looked calm and composed throughout. Villa’s solid defense is fast becoming one of the stories of the season. Elsewhere, Geoff Cameron is on the mend and recovering well from surgery but his Stoke City side lost 1-0 at home to Leicester City. Tim Howard grabbed his first shutout and first win of the season as Everton beat West Brom 2-0 away from home. The Tweet below sums up Howard’s emotions pretty well and make sure to watch Lukaku’s stunning goal right here

Jozy Altidore was once again on the bench as Sunderland tied 2-2 with Tottenham, while a special mention goes to Brek Shea who grabbed an assist on his debut for Birmingham City in the Championship after completing a loan move from Stoke.

Premier League Playback comes out every Monday and takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here