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Premier League: 10 Talking Points from the Opening Weekend's Action - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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London- 1) The Matic mystery and why looking beyond Lukaku is the key

So, why was it that Chelsea decided they could afford to let Nemanja Matic join Manchester United and willingly pass over one of the more brilliantly effective midfield players of the modern game to a major rival? When that question was posed to José Mourinho after Manchester United’s biggest league win since he took over as manager he made it sound as if he was slightly bewildered, too. “It depends on what is happening, or what was happening, behind doors and we don’t know,” he said. “The only thing I know is that, with Chelsea’s money, I brought him to Stamford Bridge because I thought he was a player with special qualities and ever since I left I always thought he could be a perfect player for us.” That still doesn’t answer the question about why Chelsea have apparently given Mourinho the final piece in his jigsaw when it comes to assembling a team capable of winning the Premier League. We never get a satisfactory answer and, in the meantime, Matic has quickly shown it might be a grave error on Chelsea’s part. United were struggling to break down West Ham until Matic’s interception sparked the breakaway that led to Romelu Lukaka’s first goal.

The excellence of Lukaku and Matic will attract most attention, but equally crucial was what went on around them. Because Mourinho omitted Ander Herrera he could pick an extra attacker, and whether that was Juan Mata, Henrikh Mkhitaryan or Marcus Rashford, the trident roaming behind Lukaku offered craft, pace, movement and numbers. Last season, though United’s finishing was useless, they also failed to create enough chances, get enough men into dangerous areas, and exploit the qualities of their most talented players. Yesterday, though, they looked menacing throughout and eventually swamped an admittedly poor West Ham; the question now is whether Mourinho will let his team go against better opposition. Daniel Taylor and Daniel Harris

2) Slack Kanté unable to cover for absentees

It isn’t hard to see why Chelsea looked half the team they were last year. From the 13th minute, five of last season’s first-choice outfield 10 were absent. Gary Cahill, Victor Moses, Nemanja Matic, Eden Hazard and Diego Costa were all missing, while in the absence of N’Golo Kanté there was a distinct lack of scurrying … Hang on. In fact a review of the stats reveals Kanté was actually playing, one of Chelsea’s few real leaders from last season to last 90 minutes. Kanté was not to blame for defeat. But he was a bit slack in his covering for two of Burnley’s goals. And the feeling remains he needs the right partner to flourish. Much will hang on how quickly the partnership with Tiémoué Bakayoko gels. As it is Kanté looked quite a long way from a man you’d pick out as the reigning double player of the year. Barney Ronay

3) Liverpool’s defence … again

Plenty have had their say on Liverpool’s defensive shortcomings following their 3-3 draw with Watford but perhaps the most telling came from the man who dealt the late blow to Jürgen Klopp’s side. “Yes we knew [that Liverpool were poor at set pieces], said Miguel Britos. “Maybe it is their weak point.” Of that there is no doubt – the Merseysiders have conceded 27 Premier League goals from set pieces since Klopp took charge in 2015, with only Crystal Palace and Watford themselves letting in more. Some claim Liverpool need better defenders while others, such as Jamie Carragher, say the fault lies with how the existing players line up, especially at corners. Whatever the case, Britos’s comments prove opposition teams are fully aware of Liverpool’s achilles heel, with Watford exploiting it twice. Klopp insists work on the training ground can improve the situation, but that is what Brendan Rodgers also said when he was in charge of a side regularly undone at set-pieces. Little has changed and for all their great attacking play there is simply no chance of Liverpool competing for the title while they remain so shoddy at the back. Sachin Nakrani

4) Distribution and disruption key from Rooney

Ronald Koeman seemed almost as pleased with Wayne Rooney killing a game as winning it against Stoke City on Saturday. The 31-year-old was not signed to replace Romelu Lukaku’s goals at Everton – although he made a fine start with an outstanding header against Mark Hughes’s team – but for the experience and intelligence that was also on display in his first Premier League start for the club for 13 years. Rooney’s distribution caught the eye throughout, particularly his perfectly weighted passes into Dominic Calvert-Lewin, but Koeman was equally impressed with how the forward disrupted Stoke’s pressure late on. The Everton manager said: “When the team needs patience, when the team needs a foul, he is going down instead of Idrissa Gueye or Tom Davies who try and always stand and win the battle. That is down to the cleverness of the player. It was like the moments in his ball possession – every time the right choice and the right decision. That is quality, that is experience and that was really important.” Andy Hunter

5) Outstanding Vardy embodies Leicester-ism

Arsenal might have signed Jamie Vardy last summer. At the Emirates there was a reminder of why they tried so hard; and also why it might have been an interesting, possibly rather difficult fit. Vardy was sensationally good, his constant spiky pressing and the sheer rapaciousness of his straight-line sprints a lesson in what this league tends to reward. But then Vardy is in the perfect team right now for his gifts of speed, expert finishing and constant energy. There is an argument he might have drawn something else out of Arsenal: more direct angles, an even more ruthless counter attack. Really though, this is a case of horses for courses. Vardy remains the embodiment of pure Leicester-ism, blinkers on, a man completely at ease in his current team. If he stays fit and links with Riyad Mahrez plenty of teams will find Leicester’s attack all-but unstoppable at times. BR

6) De Boer gets early sense of challenge ahead

At Selhurst Park on Saturday a smart and energetic team whose players knew what they were doing deservedly beat a hotch-potch assembly in which several men looked confused. So now is a good time to remind Crystal Palace fans that David Wagner’s first match as Huddersfield manager was a defeat (3-1 at Sheffield Wednesday in November 2015). Frank De Boer hopes to transform Palace as radically as Wagner has revamped Huddersfield and the Dutchman will need patience. He may also need some new players. He certainly needs the existing ones to learn quickly: the way he gesticulated at them on Saturday to hit long passes to escape Huddersfield’s pressing suggested he found their attempted application of the Ajax philosophy too simplistic: “You have to recognise when you have to play it on the ground and when you don’t,” said the Dutchman, who could do worse than consult Reading’s Jaap Stam for advice on how to get his message across swiftly. Paul Doyle

7) City up and running

Pep Guardiola was very relaxed on Saturday. Dressed in chinos and tennis shoes, a broad smile on his face, he looked a man refreshed. A 2-0 win over Brighton, he thought, was about right. The performance wasn’t great, but the match was always under their control. What made him particularly excited was how much running his team did. “They were running like players in League One, or the Conference,” he exclaimed. He was right, City did the hard bit against Brighton. They matched the hosts’ energy and appetite. They will need to do so again when steamrollering opponents is not an option. Kevin De Bruyne concurred. “You know what’s going to happen in the Premier League when you play against these teams,” he said. “If you don’t match it then it’s going to be difficult. If you match it, and with the quality we have, we’ll win these games.” Paul MacInnes

8) Sissoko fails to make mark

Moussa Sissoko managed to achieve that ‘impressive’ feat of being unpopular with everyone at St James’s Park on Sunday. Most Tottenham fans would rather he was nowhere near their team, and most Newcastle fans made their dissatisfaction with how he left the club a year ago very clear. He wasn’t terrible in his hour on the pitch but he certainly wasn’t good, and spent most of the first-half shuffling around, regarding the ball with uncertainty and suspicion, as if he thought it would explode at any second. While Tottenham were impressive in their victory, his presence showed there’s still work to be done: after the game Mauricio Pochettino said they must recruit more players before the end of August, but Sissoko is a walking example of how spending money doesn’t necessarily solve your problems. Or, alternatively, a walking example of why you shouldn’t leave it until the last minute. Possibly both. Nick Miller

9) Well-drilled Baggies execute bold strategy

“You have to be set up right at the back,” Tony Pulis said, explaining how it is possible to comfortably take three points while only enjoying around 30% of possession. West Brom evidently were, for though they saw a lot of the ball Bournemouth managed just a single attempt on target, a tame late header from Nathan Ake. It was clear from the moment Albion went ahead that the plan would be to retreat and defend the lead, quite a bold strategy to execute with an hour remaining. Pallid Bournemouth were not the team to break down the Pulis back line. Others might have more success, though the key is surely to score first and force Albion to come up with a plan B. With 6ft 5in Egyptian loanee Ahmed Hegazi adding to Albion’s already considerable threat from set-pieces, only defences as well-drilled as Pulis ones will escape from the Hawthorns with a clean sheet. Paul Wilson

10) Swans in need of new blood

It seems inevitable Swansea City will lose Gylfi Sigurdsson to Everton, as both clubs continue to haggle over a fee in the region of £50m. The next step for the Swans – post-Sigurdsson – will prove the real challenge, though. They have to replace somebody who was directly involved in 22 Premier League goals last season. Paul Clement was coy over talk of a move for the former Swansea midfielder Joe Allen, and realises time is of the essence. “For me it [signing new players] is as soon as possible but the reality is it could go to the final day,” said the Swansea manager. “What we will have to do is [get] one out and potentially two decent ones in but we want the time to do the negotiating. And if it is on the last day it is too late or you pay way over the amount.” Ben Fisher

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