1) United’s midfield needs a pass master
On paper, Manchester United should not be losing against Watford and that is no disrespect to Walter Mazzarri’s side, who played with courage and conviction to win 3-1 at Vicarage Road.
There is something not quite right in the United team at the moment, beyond the problems that Mourinho identified, which included an acknowledgement that they are too passive defensively at times and, in the case of some individuals, unable to take responsibility when results and performances are poor. The midfield seems to lack the right balance, with Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini imposing figures but not controlling and dictating games.
There were times against Watford when Wayne Rooney was dropping deeper than the pair of them, for reasons only he knows. Should one of the deep-lying midfield roles not be filled by a more accomplished passer, such as Daley Blind, who lost his place at centre-half against Watford, Michael Carrick or Morgan Schneiderlin? Stuart James
Injuries Martial (unclear).
2) Panic-stricken Stoke must get back to basics
Mark Hughes had been dismissed to the stands for being over-animated in his technical area against Tottenham Hotspur a week ago. He was rather more subdued throughout this latest thrashing, surveying most of his team’s surrender at Crystal Palace with arms folded across his chest and disgust etched on his brow, before mustering a furious kick at the air when the hosts registered their fourth of the day.
Even a manager desperately trying to behave cannot bottle up his frustration for ever. Stoke City are bottom of the table, have lost four on the bounce and have not even led in a league game to date this season. They are already saddled with a goal difference of minus 11 having conceded four in three of the last four games. In truth, they could count themselves fortunate that this latest battering was not even more emphatic.
Defenders preoccupied with the directives against grappling in the penalty area have forgotten they do have to muster a tackle or track their man. At the moment they are tentative and nervous, panic-stricken or just careless. At least the manager recognised the need to remind them of the basics. Each defeat is damaging Hughes’s reputation at present. Stoke are a patient club and, as Alan Pardew reminded the watching world, they are overseen by an experienced manager of proper pedigree. But the need to improve has become urgent.
Theirs would normally appear a winnable run in the months ahead: there are games against Tony Pulis’s West Bromwich Albion and Sunderland, Hull City and Swansea City, West Ham United and Bournemouth, and then Watford and Burnley taking them to mid-December. Only a trip to Old Trafford appears daunting on paper. Yet, if they maintain the sloppiness which so undermined them in south London, they will not give themselves a chance in any of the above. This team’s forte used to be their rugged defence. They need to revert to type. Dominic Fifield
Injuries Crystal Palace: James Tomkins (knee, withdrawn as a precaution but likely to be rested against Southampton on Wednesday). Stoke City: None.
3) Goodison affair given impetus by human error
In a few seasons’ time, providing the International Football Association Board’s trials proceed as planned, goals such as Middlesbrough’s opener at Goodison Park will be swiftly reviewed – and presumably disallowed – by a video assistant referee. A shame, in many respects. Aitor Karanka and his team were ultimately on the receiving end as human error ignited not only Everton’s performance but the quality of the contest and atmosphere after a sluggish opening in every aspect.
Indignation, and Middlesbrough had their share when referee Lee Mason levelled things up by missing Ashley Williams’s high boot on Víctor Valdés for Gareth Barry’s equaliser, is part of a game that is supposed to get one’s blood up. On Saturday, it enabled Everton to show their mentality has altered under Ronald Koeman. “Everton made it hard for us after that and they showed their quality,” Marten de Roon said. “They showed how much quality some teams have in the Premier League.
In 10-15 minutes we lost the game. This was the best team we have played this season.” One poor decision was sufficient for Everton to fold on several occasions last season but they have displayed resilience in the early weeks of Koeman’s reign, coming from behind in two of their four league wins. Another notable factor at Goodison was the Everton manager constantly ordering his players to remain composed and not overcommit on the counter-attack once they had taken a 3-1 lead. “The way we controlled the second half was outstanding,” Koeman said. Andy Hunter
Injuries Everton: Lukaku (foot, unknown). Middlesbrough: Clayton (knee, unknown).
4) Walcott justifies Wenger’s show of faith
In the 4-1 win at Hull on Saturday, sometime England winger Theo Walcott did as much as anyone to secure a third successive league victory for Arsène Wenger’s side. Apart from being heavily involved in the creation of Alexis Sánchez’s two goals, Walcott scored a good one himself – the 100th of his career – while his crosses created virtually all Arsenal’s best chances. Visiting fans were not completely content, with some disputing the quality of his contribution.
There were moments when Walcott briefly disappeared, forfeited possession or picked the wrong pass, but that is what wingers – even the very best – do. Theirs is a difficult job, mistakes inevitably come with the territory. The important thing is that Walcott’s end product was, in Wenger’s words, “very efficient”. There is a reason why Arsenal’s manager has started him in all five top-flight games this season. “Theo’s very dangerous,” Wenger said. “He goes behind defences.” Louise Taylor
5) Potent Slimani proves he is no slouch
It will take some adjustment to become used to the idea of a £28m bargain, but if Islam Slimani delivers on the promise of his Leicester City league debut he will be just that. The Algerian scored two headed goals to help the champions to victory here and headers are his stock-in-trade. He scored seven for his former club Sporting Lisbon this year alone, and now a pair for his new club showcased not just good movement and power but an ability to adapt to a changing situation (viz: Jamie Vardy’s cheeky backheel flick for the second).
But aerial prowess may not be the main reason the champions broke their transfer record for Slimani. As Claudio Ranieri pointed out after the match, he shares the Foxes’ penchant for intensive running and is no slouch pace-wise. He will add more technical prowess in the final third, too. Slimani laid on chances for Marc Albrighton and Danny Drinkwater in the first half and had the ability to drift with the ball across the edge of a packed penalty area, waiting for his moment.
Another player who can make something out of nothing will, of course, distract teams from watching Vardy and Riyad Mahrez. As the game went on, Slimani’s fellow countryman particularly felt the benefit. “Slimani played well but he also linked well with Vardy and Mahrez,” Claudio Ranieri said afterwards. “We bought him for these characteristics.” Paul MacInnes
Injuries Leicester City: Kasper Schmeichel (concussion, will miss League Cup match with Chelsea on Tuesday). Burnley: None.
6) Howe’s capacity for analysis augurs well
The most impressive element of Bournemouth’s 4-0 schooling by Manchester City was Eddie Howe’s post-game demeanour. The manager might have offered weary acceptance of the defeat due to the high-end talent of Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Fernandinho and company.
But, no. He was cross his side had not managed to disrupt them and sent a message that he, like Pep Guardiola, is on the drive for constant improvement. Howe said: “My nature is always to analyse and reflect that we could have done something different.
You only get one shot at it and we didn’t make a good fist of it.” Pushed if he could admire City, Howe said: “I can do that when I’m watching the game and they’re playing someone else. There’s no appreciation of how good they are. It’s just focusing on our team and how we can stop them and get a foothold in the game.” It is precisely this attitude that may allow Howe to reach the very top himself. Jamie Jackson
7) Pickford shines but may be harmed by defeats
On another day and with another goalkeeper, Sunderland could have conceded half a dozen against Tottenham. Jordan Pickford, who was in possession of the ball more than any other visiting player at White Hart Lane, undoubtedly has all the attributes to become one of the best keepers in the country.
However, is facing a deluge every week going to be good for him in the long run? The defenders in front of the 22-year-old are so poor and never too far away from committing a cheap error that his reputation will be embellished when he saves his team time and again.
Yet he could badly do with a game where he does not have to be in action every couple of minutes. Being part of a losing side, no matter the impressive nature of his performances, is not a good look. And for all the praise he is receiving, a defeat is never good for confidence. Alan Smith
Injuries Tottenham: Dembélé, Dier (both hamstring), Kane (ankle). Sunderland: None.
Suspended Sunderland: Januzaj (two yellows).
8) Fàbregas recall can give Chelsea much-needed control
It has been well flagged up since he got the Chelsea job that Antonio Conte’s gameplan is built upon high intensity and a lot of hard running. It is the prime reason Cesc Fàbregas has been left on the substitutes’ bench, but when they were being overrun by Liverpool at Stamford Bridge on Friday night and badly in need of some control, the one midfielder that could provide it remained sitting in the dugout until six minutes from the end.
There are several issues for Conte to iron out but it is clear he does not have the personnel required to execute his desired system to a high level. Arsenal are up next for Chelsea on Saturday evening and the Spain midfielder will, of course, relish an opportunity to get one over on his former club. With Nemanja Matic far from resounding, it may be time for the Spaniard to be given a first start of the campaign. AS
9) Absentee’s experience could be Taylor-made for Swansea
It does not get any easier for Francesco Guidolin. After defeat by Southampton, Swansea City face an unforgiving few weeks with a double-header against Manchester City next up before matches against Liverpool and Arsenal. It is now that Guidolin could do with leaning on the experienced heads within his group, including their talisman Gylfi Sigurdsson, the captain Jack Cork, Àngel Rangel and the estranged left‑back Neil Taylor.
The defender has been a consistent performer over the past six years in south Wales – and for his country at Euro 2016 – but was omitted from Guidolin’s matchday squad at Southampton after being substituted during the first half against Chelsea. Taylor, though, will be given another opportunity to impress against City on Wednesday, according to his manager.
“In this period I prefer Stephen [Kingsley],” said the Italian, who was forced to bat way questions as to whether his players respected him enough in his post-match press conference. “Kyle Naughton can play left-back as well so I do not need another left-back on the bench. If Neil against Manchester City shows me other or different things, I’m ready to change.
It’s not a problem between me and him. I spoke with him yesterday and he is ready for Wednesday.” Taylor will not change everything of course but his experience could prove invaluable in coming weeks. After flitting between formations and personnel, a return to the basics is needed for a team who have not tasted victory since 13 August, the first day of the Premier League season. It is usually at this point that Swansea would look to Ashley Williams, the leader they lost to Everton in the summer. Ben Fisher
Injuries Southampton: Jay Rodriguez (leg, will miss League Cup match with Crystal Palace on Wednesday). Swansea City: None.
10) Resurgent Chadli making up for lost time
Nacer Chadli found game time hard to come by at Tottenham last season, which perhaps explains why he looks in such a hurry to make up for lost time since joining West Bromwich Albion last month. The Belgium international missed out on the European Championship after spending much of last season on the bench and, having previously spoken of his pride to play for the Red Devils, the omission must have hurt.
He gave one of the most economical performances in recent memory against a diabolical West Ham on Saturday, scoring twice and assisting the other two goals despite having only 39 touches of the ball.
That was fewer than every West Ham outfield player with the exception of Simone Zaza, who was hooked at half-time. Chadli can flourish at the Hawthorns and become their go-to player. Is it beyond the realms of possibility that he could finish the season in double figures for goals? AS
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