LIVERPOOL’S FLUID FRONT FOUR DESTROY ARSENAL
Philippe Coutinho. Sadio Mane. Adam Lallana. Roberto Firmino. All four played their part in ripping apart an inexperienced Arsenal defense on Sunday as Liverpool beat the Gunners 4-3 in a thrilling encounter.
With youngsters Rob Holding and Calum Chambers chucked in to the center of Arsenal’s defense, Jurgen Klopp would’ve been licking his lips pre-game as he stood on the center circle and stared almost incessantly at Arsenal’s players warming up. Early on though, it was Liverpool’s shoddy defending which was highlighted.
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Alberto Moreno first brought down Theo Walcott rashly in the box but the latter missed the resulting spot kick, then seconds later Moreno left a huge gap for Walcott to exploit and slam home. 1-0 to Arsenal and things weren’t looked great for Liverpool. Right on half time they were handed a lifeline as Holding gave away a free kick and Coutinho stepped up and curled home a stunning free kick from over 30-yards out.
That injected life into Liverpool’s front four who smelt blood in the water. In a blistering 18-minute spell after half time the Reds scored three more times. First Lallana controlled wonderfully and slotted home coolly to make it 2-1, then a flowing move was finished off by Coutinho after Nathaniel Clyne‘s pinpoint cross. Soon, Mane stole the show, cutting in from the right and the $45 million summer arrival spanked an unstoppable drive into the far corner. 4-1. Game over. Yet, Liverpool’s own defensive weaknesses were highlighted as Arsenal scored two more and made it 4-3 with 15 minutes to go.
Liverpool held on somewhat comfortably and despite conceding three goals, it will be heartwarming for Klopp when he realizes he has an injured Daniel Sturridge to return, plus Divock Origi and Danny Ings to play their part this season.
Speaking to the assembled media after the game, Klopp revealed he regretted celebrating prematurely with his players after they went 4-1 up.
“We came out and scored wonderful goals and then I made the big mistake and got involved in the celebrations,” Klopp said. “That will happen hopefully one or two times in my life but not so early in the game because it was the wrong sign for all of us, it felt for everyone in this moment like ‘that is it’. Then you look on the watch and see there is still half an hour to go and that is not too good. The crowd was a bit angry obviously and Arsenal fought back and showed character and scored the goals.”
As for Arsenal, they were without Mesut Ozil, Laurent Koscielny and Olivier Giroud who all returned to preseason late after playing at EURO 2016, while central defenders Gabriel and Per Mertesacker were missing through injury.
Arsene Wenger pointed to all of that as a main reason for Arsenal’s struggles as the Gunners lost at home on the opening weekend for the third time in the last four seasons: “We are not ready, physically, we are not ready,” Wenger said.
With rumors suggesting Shkodran Mustafi could be arriving as a new central defender shortly, there could be some good news for Arsenal. However, their failure to spend big this summer to strengthen their defense, and particularly their forward line as the halfhearted pursuit of Alexandre Lacazette continues, shows that Arsenal isn’t willing to spend what it needs to in order to to challenge for the PL title this season. More results like this will see the already brittle confidence levels fans have in Wenger and this team shatter, perhaps beyond repair as the legendary French manager enters the final year of his contract.
ANALYZING THE NEW BOYS
Seven clubs had new managers in the dugout in the opening weekend and here’s a look at how each of them fared…
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Pep Guardiola – Lining up with full backs in midfield, plus Fernandinho dropping into a central defense comprising of John Stones and regular left back Aleksandar Kolarov, Guardiola certainly did things differently. City got across the line, just, in his opening game in the Premier League against a stubborn Sunderland outfit. There will be greater tests ahead but Guardiola has shown his philosophy will not waver.
Antonio Conte – Jumping into the crowd to celebrate Diego Costa‘s winners with Chelsea’s fans, it was a dream end to Conte’s managerial debut in the PL. You could already see the philosophy of Chelsea’s Italian manager seeping through his team as N'Golo Kante improved as the game against the Hammers went on and the likes of Costa and Eden Hazard had that sparkle back. All-in-all, a great debut for Conte as Chelsea delivered a win and showed they will be compact and tough to break down.
David Moyes – Sunderland were simple and kept City at bay until Paddy McNair‘s late slip up. Moyes has a big challenge on his hands to turn the Black Cats into a midtable team but if they can defend like they did against City and keep Lamine Kone, they should be free of relegation this season. Also, Moyes handed a PL debut to U.S. youth international Lynden Gooch, 20, at the Etihad and the playmaker didn’t look out of place. Gooch clearly has a bright future.
Jose Mourinho – A dominant win with minimum fuss, this is exactly the kind of win Morinho would’ve wanted to open the season. He started Juan Mata despite reports stating he could be sold and a solid outfit made the most of Bournemouth’s mistakes to win 3-1. Zlatan Ibrahimovic looks like an inspired signing as he lashed home on his PL debut along with goals from Mata and Wayne Rooney. Red Devils are regaining fear factor.
Ronald Koeman – Ross Barkley scored early on and Koeman’s Everton debut was going swimmingly until late in the second half when Erik Lamela equalized for Spurs and grabbed a 1-1 draw at Goodison. New signing Idrissa Gueye shone in a 3-4-2-1 formation and late on the Toffees had to rely on Maarten Stekelenburg to grab them a point.
Walter Mazzarri – Watford started brightly in their 1-1 draw at Southampton with Etienne Capoue rifling home to give the Hornets the lead and they looked composed in the first half. They dropped back deeper and deeper in the second half but defended well and it was a good point on the road in a 3-5-2 formation which Mazzarri loved to play in Italy. Work to do but a decent start.
Claude Puel – Southampton started sluggishly and the Frenchman was wildly gesticulating from the sidelines. In the second half Saints improved drastically with new signing Nathan Redmond grabbing an equalizer but they couldn’t break down 10-man Watford in the final 15 minutes. The diamond formation in midfield will take Saints a while to get used to and there are some concerns about where goals will come from.
MIXED FORTUNES FOR NEWLY-PROMOTED TRIO
One of the most anticipated factors on opening weekend is the chance to see the three newly-promoted teams in action and assess if they’re ready for the rigors of the PL.
When it comes to Hull City, Middlesbrough and Burnley, we learned all three are ready to mix it up and fight for their lives. Of course Hull City’s composed, mature display against reigning champs Leicester was sublime. Caretaker boss Mike Phelan only has 13 fit senior players to chose from after Steve Bruce walked out as manager and the owners are looking to sell up following the summer transfer window.
The Tigers delivered a superb display as they thoroughly deserved to beat Leicester as they stayed solid in defense and looked dangerous on the counter with Adama Diomande and Abel Hernandez combing for a bizarre and awesome opening goal, then Robert Sndograss grabbing a winner. If Hull show this kind of spirit throughout the season and add a few more players, they could stay up under Phelan… if he’s given the job. On this showing, he should get it.
Further up the east coast of England, Middlesbrough started brightly against Stoke City, drawing 1-1 at the Riverside as they returned to the top-flight for the first time since 2007. Boro took the lead through Alvardo Negredo and Aitor Karanka‘s side looked solid defensively but were undone by a moment of magic from Xherdan Shaqiri.
As for Burnley, well, it was a case of the same old story for them. Just like two years ago when they were in the PL, the Clarets huffed and puffed against Swansea City at Turf Moor but fluffed their best chances of the game and came up against Lukasz Fabianski in fine form, especially when he denied Sam Vokes. If Burnley are to stay up this time they need a proven goalscorer. With 16 days left in the transfer window it’s safe to say all three of the newly-promoted teams will make moves but all three won’t be too discouraged by how they played on the opening weekend.
CRACKS APPEARING FOR LEICESTER?
For probably the first time since he took charge of Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri questioned the togetherness of his players following their 2-1 defeat at Hull in the opening game of the season.
The Italian manager will lead his team into the UEFA Champions League but after suffering a shock defeat on the opening day of the season with a shaky defensive display, plus losing to Manchester United in the Community Shield the week before, small cracks are beginning to appear. Yes, they’ve created plenty of chances in those games but they haven’t been clinical and defensive errors have cropped up when they were so rare throughout their incredible title-winning campaign last season.
Speaking after the Foxes became the first-ever reigning PL champ to lose on the opening day, Ranieri questioned their team play.
“We equalized immediately from the start of the second half and when we went on the counter attack, we lost the ball on halfway and they scored again. After that it was a very tough match and we tried to do our best but we made a lot of effort individually, but not so well as a team,” Ranieri said. “I’m very pleased with the number of chances we created but of course I want to see a team.
“Our strength is as a team. Today we were better, harder, but not like a team. When I played with four strikers it was important to play with [Ahmed] Musa and Riyad [Mahrez] very wide. They wanted to score and they went very close. This season is harder. It’s harder but we must compete very well. Better than today with more attitude and motivation because that is our strength.”
Ranieri and Leicester will be the prey instead of the hunters this season and dealing with high levels of expectation is something that is new to most of these players. The Foxes must get back to their roots of defending first and then being clinical when the chances fall.
Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here.