Another week, another big VAR controversy involving Liverpool, another Everton red card and lots more talking points to boot.
This Premier League season is easily the most unpredictable in recent years and while this weekend didn’t produce any outlandish results, such as the league Champions getting beaten 7-2, Manchester City losing 5-1 or their neighbours United shipping 6 at home, it still through up some surprises.
The only two teams in the league who went into the weekend unbeaten both lost, meaning that unlike last season when Liverpool lasted until February before losing their first game, every team in the league has lost at least one game already.
With all of that taken into consideration, here’s the good, the bad and the ugly from matchweek 6 of the 20/21 Premier League season.
West Ham’s form
After their opening day defeat at home to Newcastle, West Ham were facing a run of six games in a row against teams who finished in the top eight last season. It wouldn’t have been unfair to suggest that West Ham could end that run with zero points from seven games. Their failure to adequately strengthen during the summer, coupled with rumoured unrest amongst the players over the sale of Grady Diangana, did not paint a pretty picture.
Defeat to Arsenal seemed to mark their card but then something mad happened. David Moyes was diagnosed with Covid-19 and forced to manage the next two league matches from his house. Those games, against Wolves and Leicester, looked tough with their manager in the dugout. Without him, they looked like lost causes. Instead, West Ham gave Wolves a 4-0 slapping at London Stadium before travelling to Midlands and humbling Brendan Rodgers’ team 3-0. Six points from their first four games represented a good start for West Ham. Sure, they have Spurs, Man City and Liverpool up next but even six points from seven games would be acceptable, right? Wrong.
Losing just doesn’t suit West Ham these days, 3-0 down to Spurs away from home, with eight minutes plus stoppage time left, and the unthinkable happened. One goal. Two goals. And then with the referee about to blow his whistle and end the match, a third goal. And not just any goal. Manuel Lanzini’s screamer is an early goal of the season contender. A 3-3 draw, owed entirely to a dogged determination.
Manchester City arrived at London Stadium in questionable form, and were immediately put on the back foot with Michail Antonio’s goal capping a good first 20 minutes for the Hammers. They showed their resiliency to hold out for a draw despite City dominating possession and creating some decent chances second half. West Ham will now head for Merseyside in great form, and full of confidence. They’re not the also rans they were expected to be.
Marcelo Bielsa’s tactical brilliance
This part could just be left here week to week and it would remain relevant. Leeds travelled to the face an unbeaten Aston Villa with a growing injury list and question marks over what their tactical plan would be. No matter to Bielsa, he makes magic happen no matter what he has at his disposal.
Villa were in tremendous form, and had arguably been the best team in the league so far this season. Their wins over Liverpool and Leicester were masterful tactical performances by Dean Smith, their defense was ironclad, their midfield was functioning perfectly and their attack was humming. It looked like Leeds would be lucky to get a point, but Bielsa had other ideas.
Switching away from his usual 4-1-4-1 and 3-3-1-3 formations, Bielsa went with a 4-4-1-1 and exposed Villa. Clever interplay, counter attacks with numbers breaking forward, hyper aggressive defensive work and his famous overloads all game into play as the men from Yorkshire, inspired by a brilliant Patrick Bamford hat-trick, ran out comfortable winners. For more on this game, be sure to check out the Two Footed Podcast with guest Lee Scott, Wednesday at 4pm.
Harry Kane’s head
Harry Kane doesn’t have the quickest feet in the world, but he does possess one of the best brains in football. He’s always a half step ahead of his opponents due to his exceptional reading of the game and understanding of space. He anticipates things before they happen and that’s a big reason why he’s scored so many goals, and outwitted so many goalkeepers.
His head earned Spurs three points on Monday night, but not by scoring a goal.
First, he spot the danger from a Burnley corner, and dropped back on to the goal-line where he was perfectly placed to make a headed clearance and save Spurs from falling behind. While the clearance in itself is excellent, it’s the intelligence and reading of the game that really stand out. Knowing where to be in advance of time is what has really made Harry Kane the player he is.
At the other end of the pitch, his telepathic understanding with Son Heung-Min meant that his cushioned header from an Eric Lamela corner was perfectly directed into Son’s path for the Korean to plant his own head on the ball and steer it past Nick Pope. It’s one of the best assists you’ll see all season, given Kane is off balance, moving backwards and away from goal and can’t see where Son is as he heads it. He just knows where to put it.
While there are admittedly four teams in the league yet to win a game, only six points separate Everton and Liverpool at the top of the table to Manchester United in 15th position. The league is compact, there’s only three points between first and ninth and you never know where the next upset is coming from.
While that will likely change in the coming weeks as the cream rises to the top and the league breaks up into mini-division of title challengers, Champions League contenders, Europa League contenders, the midtable group of repetition and the relegation battle, it’s good to enjoy the current competitive balance where surprise results aren’t really all that surprising at the moment.
Misuse of Attacking Talent
If someone can explain to me how two teams with as much attacking talent as Manchester United and Chelsea can produce THAT type of match, I’d love to know. Both sides are poor defensively, questionable in midfield but loaded in attacking areas. How do they produce a 0-0 without a really clear cut opportunity. Mendy made a couple of good saves, and Chelsea were denied a stonewall penalty for Harry Maguire’s headlock/bearhug on Azpilicueta but that it’s.
Most of it is on the managers, both of whom will be fortunate if they’re still in their jobs in 12 months.
Please stop with the misuse of attacking talent though, Frank and Ole, do better.
Scott Parker’s Job Security
Things don’t look good for Fulham, who sit bottom of the league with one point from six games. While Burnley and Sheffield United have had similar terrible starts, Sean Dyche and Chris Wilder are among the safest in the league having build up plenty of credibility and credence over their tenures at their respective clubs.
Parker did a great job last year, leading Fulham to promotion via the playoffs, but it’s worth remembering that Slavisa Jokanovic did the same in 2018, with a worse squad, and had already turned around a team that looked set for life in League One. Jokanovic was sacked in mid-November of Fulham’s last season in the Premier League. They were 12 games into that season and had taken five points. Six games into this season, Fulham have one point.
Their next six games are against fellow strugglers West Brom, an in-form West Ham, table-toppers Everton, a quality Leicester City side, last seasons runners-up Man City, and Champions Liverpool. It’s difficult to see Parker taking the five points that would be needed to overhaul Jokanovic’s 12 game total if I’m honest. The Khan family won’t hesitate to make a change if they believe Parker isn’t getting the results they want.
Putting aside Jordan Pickford’s horror tackle on Virgil Van Dijk, Richarlison’s reckless lunge at Thiago Alcantara was a disgrace. He was rightly dismissed in the Merseyside derby and is serving a three match ban. Lucas Digne will now join him on the sideline after a dangerous foul on Kyle Walker-Peters.
Carlo Ancelotti has been at pains to defend his star leftback and has made claims that Digne was only sent off because of the “media campaign” against his team following their actions in the Derby. This is nonsense. It’s absolute nonsense. There was no media campaign against his team. Quite the opposite. The UK media rushed to defend England’s number 1. Sky Sports blew the cobwebs off Rob Green to have him make an impassioned, though non-sensical, video defending Pickford. Mass journalists claimed he “wasn’t the type to try to hurt another player” despite evidence to the contrary.
The Digne foul was not malicious, but it was fully deserving of a red card. It was a dangerous foul that could have broken Walker-Peters’ leg. Intent and outcome are not the same.
VAR’s ineptness and the PGMOL telling lies
It started with Harry Maguire’s wrestling move on Azpilicueta, and continued with a spoofed penalty decision in favour of Sheffield United.
Maguire, due to his own poor positioning, found himself forced to wrap his arms around a man six inches shorter than himself in order to win an aerial duel. It’s as blatant a foul as you could imagine. How it didn’t result in a penalty is beyond comprehension.
The penalty in the Liverpool-Sheffield United game was beyond farcical, as Fabinho clearly won the ball clearly. Initially, it was awarded as a freekick on the edge of the box. The VAR on duty, Andre Mariner – a man who’s career “highlight” was mixing up Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Kieron Gibbs and sending off the wrong man, reviewed the incident and decided that because 1/5 of Oli McBurnie’s foot was on the line that it was a penalty.
It was communicated to the commentary team that the VAR did NOT review whether or not it was actually a foul. That’s a break from the normal procedure where every penalty awarded in the VAR era has been reviewed.
After the game, the PGMOL claimed that Mr. Mariner had indeed reviewed the tackle and deemed it a foul. A blatant lie. For the second weekend in a row.
Last weekend it was communicated that David Coote had not reviewed the Pickford on Van Dijk tackle, merely whether it was offside or not. After the game, the story changed. The same thing has happened again here.
It’s tough enough to deal with inept officials without having to deal with the governing body telling lies as well.