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Dublin: 13 °C Monday 26 August, 2019

Man United's negative tactics and more Premier League talking points

Plus. why Christian Eriksen is one of English football’s most underrated players.

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah, left, and Manchester United's Matteo Darmian, right, battle for the ball.
Liverpool's Mohamed Salah, left, and Manchester United's Matteo Darmian, right, battle for the ball.
Image: Rui Vieira

1. Man United’s negative tactics

THERE WAS A sense of deja vu at Anfield this afternoon.

A year ago, Jose Mourinho took his Man United side to the ground and earned a hard-fought point, with his side sitting back and playing with extreme caution for much of the game.

The same happened today and one excellent David de Gea save from Joel Matip’s close-rang effort aside, a stalemate rarely looked in doubt, with the game failing to live up to the considerable media hype surrounding it.

United defended well, but given how promisingly they have started the season, there will likely be a slight sense of disappointment among fans that they did not offer more in attack.

In 90 minutes, the Red Devils registered just one shot on target and had 38% possession according to the BBC, as Liverpool dominated yet struggled to create clear-cut chances, while a late defensive change that saw Victor Lindelöf replace Ashley Young suggested Mourinho was happy to settle for a point.

Others were not so pleased. Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville suggested his former side could not win the title with such a passive approach against the bigger teams.

That said, it certainly is not a surprise that Man United played in this conspicuously conservative manner — according to Sky Sports, in their last seven away games against their big rivals (Man City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea), they have scored only once.

On the plus side though, with 20 points on the board, the Red Devils have equalled their best-ever start to a Premier League season (1999-00 and 2011-12).

The outlook for Liverpool is less promising, as Jurgen Klopp’s side not for the first time struggled to break down a team who put bodies behind the ball and defended deep, with the Reds slipping to eighth in the table as a result.

2. Imperious City in seventh heaven

An emphatic 7-2 victory over Stoke at the Etihad was hailed by boss Pep Guardiola as Man City’s best performance of the season and there are certainly plenty of contenders for that accolade.

It was a remarkably dominant display from the table toppers — they had 79% possession and hit the target with 11 of their 20 shots.

Even with Sergio Aguero only fit enough for a place on the bench, the hosts were in scintillating form — Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne all impressed, as their club hit seven goals for just the second time in Premier League history (they beat Norwich 7-0 in 2013).

One player in particular who is really developing into a key player for the title favourites is De Bruyne.

The Belgian international has now registered 32 assists since making his City debut in September 2015 — a stat all the more impressive when you consider he had a prolonged spell out injured during this time.

“He is one of the best by far, he is someone who produced a lot of actions,” an admiring Pep Guardiola said of the man of the match afterwards.

3. Chelsea struggling to cope without key players

Britain Soccer Premier League Chelsea's Marcos Alonso gestures after missing a chance. Source: Alastair Grant

To call Chelsea’s loss against Crystal Palace today a ‘surprise’ would be an understatement.

Before the game, Roy Hodgson’s side had lost seven straight Premier League matches, failing to score a goal in the process.

And while they have not received much luck since the start of the campaign, they were certainly fortunate to be facing their fellow Londoners at a good time.

Without two of their key players, N’Golo Kante and Alvaro Morata, the reigning champions looked totally out of sorts, just as they had in their previous limp display — the 1-0 defeat to rivals Man City.

Palace were actually deserving winners, while Chelsea — with just four wins in their opening eight games — look unlikely to retain the title even at this early stage and particularly with City in such formidable form.

4. Christian Eriksen one of the Premier League’s most underrated stars

Tottenham ended their Wembley hoodoo today with a first win at their new stadium.

It was an important victory, as it takes them to within three points of second-place Man United, who they face on 28 October at Old Trafford.

Yet for long periods, it looked as if it was going to be another frustrating afternoon for Spurs at their temporary home against a dogged Bournemouth outfit.

Mauricio Pochettino’s side’s class eventually told, as Christian Eriksen scored a clinically taken winner on 47 minutes.

Harry Kane and Dele Alli probably get a bit more attention than the former Ajax youngster, but he is just as important to the Tottenham cause.

With three goals in his past five league games, Eriksen has shown that Spurs are far more than just a ‘Harry Kane team,’ as Pep Guardiola jokingly suggested much to Pochettino’s annoyance recently.

In addition to his goalscoring prowess, since joining the club in August 2013, Eriksen has frequently been near the top of the assists charts.

According to ESPN, only De Bruyne created more goals last season, while Mesut Ozil was the sole player to finish ahead of him in this regard in the 2015-16 season.

The 25-year-old attacking midfielder’s phenomenal form in recent weeks especially is one good reason why Ireland might be better off avoiding Denmark in the upcoming draw for the play-offs.

5. Arsenal have right to feel aggrieved 

Arsene Wenger has not been shy to cry foul in the past when dubious refereeing decisions go against his side, while he mysteriously ‘doesn’t see’ the fortuitous calls that benefit the Gunners.

Yet tonight, the veteran French manager certainly had reason to feel aggrieved.

His description of the incident as “scandalous” was over the top, but there is no doubt the penalty awarded to Watford changed the course of the game at Vicarage Road.

Per Mertesacker’s header gave Arsenal the lead, before Hector Bellerin was deemed to have fouled Richarlison with just under 20 minutes remaining.

However, replays suggested the attacker made the most of it, with former Premier League referee Graham Poll among those to castigate the young Brazilian for a “dive”.

Watford were galvanised as Troy Deeney scored the ensuing spot kick and the Hornets went on to claim a late win thanks to Tom Cleverley’s last-gasp strike.

Yet while the decision may have been incorrect, it should not distract from the obvious problems at Arsenal.

The visitors missed a glorious opportunity today to gain ground on many of their rivals, as they once again were unable to grind out a win amid a difficult away trip.

Watford, by contrast, have been this season’s surprise package, with Marco Silva working minor miracles since he took charge in the summer.

Today’s win meant they leapfrogged the Gunners and currently sit fourth in the table — a vindication if one was needed of the decision made in the summer to appoint the manager who could not prevent Hull from going down last season.

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Paul Fennessy

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