Disgustingly Fantastic Back-Heel Brilliance

Adam Hurrey for Project Babb:

Celta Vigo midfielder Pablo Hernandez (not to be confused with former Swansea and now Qatar-based midfielder Pablo Hernandez) opened the scoring against Atletico Madrid with this speculative dangling of his left heel superbly-executed piece of impudence.

“This Year the Bill Seems to Have Come Due”

Ted Knutson for Stats Bomb:

What happens when Gerrard, playing regista, no longer racks up defensive stats? Apparently, you lose. I think Liverpool upgraded along their back line, with Moreno, Manquillo, and Lovren all improving their quality at the back. That said, most teams have one or two other bodies in midfield to break up opposition attacks. Liverpool frequently have none. Even the best center backs in the league are going to look foolish when facing top attackers running at them constantly. At some point you have to conclude that the problems for Liverpool either lie with the personnel in front of the center backs or that they are systemic, or both.

The Mourinho Stereotype

Richard Jolly for ESPN FC:

This was a reversion to stereotype of a Mourinho team: pragmatic, tactically astute but not overly adventurous. Their formula was also distinctly familiar. While summer signings Costa and Cesc Fabregas started, every other element of Mourinho’s tactics was reminiscent of February’s 1-0 win at the Etihad Stadium.

This was the sequel. It even threatened to have the same scoreline: 1-0. Mourinho deployed the same game plan, the supporting cast reprising their roles. Willian was the hard-running No. 10 again, Ramires a similarly speedy right winger. The emphasis was on industry, not invention. This was a test of his micromanagement, of his strategic prowess

Manchester City 1-1 Chelsea

Henry Winter for The Telegraph:

Lampard brought sanity to the scoreline. It would have been an insult to sporting justice had Eliaquim Mangala, a muscular, mobile centre-half making an accomplished debut, finished on the losing side. It would have been affront had Milner’s tireless contribution of running and passing and tackling not received some reward.

City certainly answered those who had questioned their levels of dynamism and strength of character. They were by far the more assertive side, even if Manuel Pellegrini’s post-match jibe at Chelsea being a “small team” was a cheap shot.

Jose Mourinho has a wonderful knack, if you only care about results, of killing good football games. His teams, like Chelsea today, decided not to go head-to-head against City, but rather absorb the pressure and try to only break on the counter. It was a dull strategy.

Look, I’m not saying it’s not a valid strategy, and especially that being pragmatic is some kind of devilish thing to do (especially after that Manchester United result), but it’s such a waste that a game between these two sides chock-full of talented players be so boring.

Looking at the result from the eyes of a neutral, I’d much rather City win the league, if only to incentivise future managers to play attacking football.

Cox on Vardy

Michael Cox for The Guardian:

Vardy showed tactical intelligence but also tremendous strength and his performance personified Leicester’s approach. Pearson’s tactical nous, combined with some old-fashioned, Championship-style physicality to bully United’s superstars, meant Leicester deservedly won to move ahead of Van Gaal’s side in the table – having played much trickier fixtures.

Leicester City 5-3 Manchester United

Simon Hart for The Independent:

United led both 2-0 and 3-1 and provided an early goal-of-the-season contender from Angel Di Maria, yet their defence was torn apart by a Leicester side just out of the Championship. In the process the erstwhile kings of the comeback lost a match for the first time in the Premier League era after holding a two-goal lead and now sit 12th in the Premier League with five points from five games – two fewer than they had time at this stage last year under David Moyes.

An extraordinary game, and one that United should have won. Despite the howler by Mark Clattenburg, Rafael was first fouled by Vardy and then Vardy dived in the box, with United at 2-3 up they should have at least held on. It was a monumental collapse, one that will have given Van Gaal something to think about.

“Gunners Look Convincing for First Time This Season”

Hugh Schuitemaker on Arsenal’s win against Aston Villa:

The result will come as some valuable encouragement for Arsenal, after suffering a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Borussia Dortmund to start their Champions League campaign and needing to score in injury time to secure previous Premier League points against Leicester and Everton. With a myriad of attacking options, Wenger should have none of the depth issues he experienced last season, while fluency between Welbeck and the supporting playmakers should only improve with more playing time.

West Ham 3-1 Liverpool

Arash Hekmat for the Mirror, on West Ham’s summer signings:

Credit to the manager for the players he chose to bring in – his summer acquisitions were at the heart of the Hammers’ best moments tonight.

Enner Valencia was again a valuable outlet for the Hammers on the break, while Diafra Sakho, who joined from FC Metz, made it two goals in two with an audacious chip from the right side of the penalty box.

And in the middle of the park, Alex Song reminded us all just why Barcelona signed him in the first place, with an impressive debut performance that helped contain Liverpool’s attacking players for large periods of the game.

And on Liverpool’s set piece defending:

Another game, another set piece goal conceded by Liverpool.

As the cross came in, Liverpool’s defenders failed to prevent James Tomkins from heading across to an unmarked Winston Reid, who will have few easier finishes in his career.

Friday Foreplay – Gameweek 5

My regular Friday Foreplay article has been published at All Things FPL:

Graziano Pellè features in punts for the second consecutive Gameweek thanks to his brace against Newcastle. ATFPL have been high on the Southampton forward since Gameweek 1 and he’s got the underlying numbers to back up the pick. Owned by only 4.9% of Fantasy managers, as noted in Matej’s Opinion piece, the handsome forward is second only to Costa in shots inside the box. With fantastic fixtures ahead, now is the time to take the Italian train to Fantasy point land.

Check it out.

“A Brief Tour around Europe”

Following the Champions League games I stumbled upon a fine preview from Mike L. Goodman for Grantland:

Bayern Munich are always going to be one of the favorites, though it’s starting to become a little troubling that, more than a year into Pep Guardiola’s reign, they still haven’t quite jelled. Pep’s most recent wrinkle was a surprising late-transfer swoop of Xabi Alonso, who was immediately slotted in as a deep midfield string-puller. Even if they’re not the finished product, Bayern sit tied atop the Bundesliga and will be one of the favorites to take home the Champions League title.

Jérôme Champagne to Go against Sepp Blatter

Rob Hughes for The New York Times:

There, however, lies Champagne’s opportunity. Blatter will be 79 when the congress meets next June. He is not Superman. Traveling by executive jet might make it easier to handle the stresses of the job, but even that does not make him invulnerable to the inevitable physical and mental changes of aging.

Clearly, FIFA is Blatter’s life. He is like many men, unwilling or unable to give up power.

Monaco’s Change in Strategy

Paul Doyle for The Guardian:

“There are two ways to go,” the Monaco vice-president Vadim Vasilyev says. “One is either you invest a lot of money and do it quickly, the other is you build up an intelligent project and you have to base yourself on your academy and sound principles of working and scouting well and basically that’s what we’ve decided to do.” All very laudable, and all in total contrast to the approach that Vasilyev had initially pursued after being appointed last year by Dmitry Rybolovlev, the Russian billionaire who bought a controlling stake in Monaco in 2011 at a time when the seven-times champions of France were slumming it near the bottom of the country’s second tier.

Monaco 1-0 Bayer Leverkusen

Alec Fenn for Goal:

Joao Moutinho breathed life into Monaco’s lacklustre start to the season as his 61st minute strike sealed a 1-0 Champions League group stage win over Bayer Leverkusen at the Stade Louis II.

The Ligue 1 club headed into Tuesday’s Group C clash on the back of a dismal start to their Ligue 1 season, with Leonardo Jardim’s side having taken just four points from their first five matches to sit second-bottom of the table.

Great win for Monaco as they beat the team many have predicted to be the dark horses of this years competition.

Juventus 2-0 Malmö

Jerrard Peters for Bleacher Report:

Then came the robot celebration.

Just check out the Vine. Glorious.

Liverpool 2-1 Ludogorets

Saikat Mandal for Soccerlens:

Liverpool had 64% ball possession, 23 shots with 7 on target, yet the Reds were shockingly poor. It can be down to the fact that it was Liverpool’s first Champions League match in five years and nerves could have played a part, especially after failing to make an early breakthrough.

Although Liverpool fans would gladly accept full three points, the Reds were, worryingly, unconvincing yet again. Team selection has come under question while the 4-3-3 system has hardly worked. It was only when Liverpool made those late substitutions and changed into a 4-4-2 diamond shape, they looked comfortable.

Real Madrid 5-1 Basel

Sid Lowe for The Guardian:

This was a victory Madrid needed. The atmosphere had become tense. Madrid sat 13th in the league after suffering two losses in three games, including a derby defeat against city rivals Atlético Madrid here three days ago. They had also lost the Spanish Super Cup to Atlético. But their coach, Carlo Ancelotti, described this game as an opportunity, and he was right. The debate will be whether Madrid were very good or Basel were very, very bad.

Dortmund 2-0 Arsenal

Henry Winter for The Telegraph:

Too naïve, too slow, too open, too meek. Arsenal were fortunate they let in only two goals to a sharper, smarter, stronger Dortmund side. It was difficult to know what was worse, Arsenal’s hapless defending or the officials’ horrendous new kit. Probably Arsenal’s defending; at least the referee’s shirt had some shape.

Although they haven’t lost the first Champions League group game in some time it’s much too early to write Arsenal off. They have a knack under Wenger to coming through qualifications, whether it be for the fourth spot in the league or to the knockout stages of the Champions League.

Falcao Profile

Jonathan Wilson for The Guardian:

But in 1995, his father’s career over, the Garcías returned to Bogotá and Falcao turned his attention back to football. He trained after school with a local side, where his finishing caught the attention of Silvano Espindola, an Argentinian friend of his father. A former Unión player and devout Christian, he ran a football school that also had a religious aspect, looking to produce not just good players but good men. Whether they succeeded or not with Falcao is almost impossible to judge, but Tor-Kristian Karlsson, the former chief executive of Monaco, describes Falcao as the humblest player he has ever met.

Great piece by Wilson.

CNN: “Human Rights Workers Go Missing in Quatar”

The human rights record of 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar is under the spotlight again after two Nepalese-British workers “disappeared in Doha following harassment by the police,” according to a non-governmental organization.

The Norwegian NGO Global Network for Rights and Development (GNRD) says its employees Krishna Upadhyaya, 52, and Ghimire Gundev, 36, both vanished while working in the Gulf State.

The pair went missing on August 31, and a spokesperson for the UK embassy in Doha confirmed to CNN that it is investigating their disappearance.

CNN has contacted Qatar’s interior ministry on several occasions but has yet to receive a response.

Third-Party Ownership

David Conn for The Guardian:

Speaking more generally of Doyen and other funds which buy stakes in players for a share of their future transfer fees, De Carvalho described the funds as “a menace to sports and for football”. He listed the dangers as a lack of transparency because the funds are mostly based in offshore tax havens with undeclared owners, a blight on the finances of clubs because they do not receive all the money for selling players, and argued that they add to the risk of match-fixing because funds could own stakes in players competing for different clubs against each other in the same match.

You have to look at the clubs in debates over third-party ownership. When they have run themselves to the ground they should accept the truth and rebuild for the long run. But instead they have found a way to live on borrowed time by allowing third-party owners build up new teams. Now, many teams owe huge debts and don’t even own their players. Then they complain about losing influence over their transfers.

Still, I agree with the sentiment. It would probably be better for the game to eliminate the third-party companies as they surely do little good for the clubs.

Assessing Arsenal’s Transfer Window

James McNicolas for Bleacher Report:

To go in to a season with such little recognised cover always looked like folly. Arsene Wenger wasn’t merely tempting fate; he was raving a red rag at it and bellowing “bring it on!” in its direction.

He has a point. If Arsenal lose two or more defenders at one time they will be in trouble.

Real Madrid 1-2 Atlético Madrid

Sid Lowe for The Guardian:

Nothing will ever make up for the loss in the European Cup final, of course. For Real, meanwhile, the décima will never be taken away. But at the end of this game, there were whistles for the home team, the only cheers coming from a tiny pocket of supporters high in the north stand. Atlético proved that they were not sunk by Lisbon, resisting the return of the jinx that has pursued them. They have a five-point lead over their rivals already; Carlo Ancelotti’s team have been beaten twice in their opening three league games.

Arsenal 2-2 Manchester City

Hugh Schuitemaker for Outside 90:

Suffering from an start to the season plagued by injuries, Manuel Pellegrini’s side is now beginning to hit full stride as key names make their way back. Appearing for the first time this season in the starting eleven, Navas wasted no time in making an impact on the game, constantly pressuring Nacho Monreal on the right wing and providing dangerous passes into the box. Also now once again returning to goalscoring form, Aguero seems to have fully resumed first team action and will only get better with more playing time. A rough seven days for the reigning champions will now see them face giants Bayern Munich in the Champions League before hosting the red-hot Chelsea on the weekend, two fixtures that will further challenge Pellegrini’s depth and the early character of his team.

With the form Chelsea are in, they better be back to full strength next Gameweek. It will be a fascinating match.

Blind in the Theatre of Dreams

JJ Bull for Project Babb:

In my lovely eyes, Daley Blind made the biggest difference for United. His role as the anchorman just in front of the defence saw him act as a third defender and a third midfielder at the same time. THE SAME TIME.

His position meant that he was always available for a pass, and always in the right place to clear up any mistakes or loose passes.

For United, Blind was always in space. His time spent on the ball was minimal but as soon as a defender moved forward he assumed that position, and when they moved forward he acted as a middleman for the wide players to return to. He could prove to be the silent hero for Louis Van Gaal this year.

Manchester United 4-0 QPR

Richard Jolly for ESPN FC:

Instead, he embraced a midfield diamond. It still isn’t a shape where everyone can be accommodated because there isn’t one. At least it allowed him to play Rooney, Robin van Persie, Mata, Di Maria, Herrera and Daley Blind. While stiffer tests await United, the presence of individuals with their quality offers hope. They had more potential scorers in their side after Van Gaal’s rethink and struck four times.

I traveled from Iceland for my first Premier League games, watching Liverpool’s loss against Aston Villa and Manchester United’s win against QPR. Suffice to say that the Manchester game was a better one.

Di Maria was fantastic, Herrera was full of movement and energy, and Blind was a fantastic anchor in midfield. I felt he was playing a 4-3-3; Jolly argues a diamond. It was a hybrid, with Blind anchoring but Mata playing to far front to be considered a true midfield. Something like a very fluid 4-1-2-3 with Blind the only player to keep his position, allowing Di Maria and Herrera to venture forward.

Admittedly, QPR were awful but much better from United.

Chelsea 4-2 Swansea

Keith Satuku for Off the Post:

It was 1-1 at half-time and Chelsea were struggling with the threat of Neil Taylor and Routledge down the Blues’ right flank. Mourinho took off Schurrle, who was struggling to track back with Taylor, and switched to a 4-1-4-1 formation by introducing Ramires.

Fabregas and Ramires had to both push up into central midfield to press tightly on Swansea’s central midfielders. Oscar completed the game as a right attacking midfielder where he was much tighter to Taylor and the Blues generally started pressing very high up the pitch. That move suffocated Swansea whenever they had to build from the back. Monk’s side began to lose possession quickly, while Chelsea improved their ball retention.

Paulo Bento Quits as Portugal Manager

IANS for Sportskeeda:

Portugal coach Paulo Bento has stepped down by mutual agreement following a shock 0-1 defeat to Albania, the Portuguese Football Federation (FPF) said in a statement issued on their website.

“The Portuguese Football Federation is communicating that Sep 11, Paulo Bento’s contractual obligations to FPF and in the service of the national team has come to an end. This was a joint decision between the board of the FPF and Paulo Bento,” the statement said, reports Xinhua.

The Task Facing the Madrid Teams

Guillem Balague for Bleacher Report:

But their attack this season is not as potent as it was last. This is a side that still isn’t sure—post Diego Costa—what the best options are, and it could prove to be the biggest coaching challenge that Simeone has ever had to face.

Mario Mandzukic, Raul Jimenez, Alessio Cerci and Antoine Griezmann are all top-quality players. The question is will Simeone be able to galvanise them into a collective unit with Atletico?

Aston Villa 0-1 Liverpool

Arash Hekmat for the Mirror:

With debuts for Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic in attack alongside Mario Balotelli – who had another quiet game today – and no Sterling or Sturridge in the starting line-up, it’s not surprising that Liverpool looked slightly disjointed despite all their possession.

The same was true at the back as well, where Rodgers started three defenders who weren’t at Anfield last season in Dejan Lovren, Javi Manquillo and Alberto Moreno.

That’s a lot of new players to bed in at the same time, and it will take a few games before they’re all operating on the same wave-length.

Aston Villa defended perfectly today. They clogged up the middle — Delph, Cleverley, and Westwood had fine games — and offered Liverpool the freedom of the wings where they did not know what to do. Markovic, Lallana, and Balotelli were poor; perhaps they just need time to adapt but the signs today weren’t good.

As soon as Sterling came on the game changed. His pace, directness, and trickery caused Villa problems but it wasn’t enough.

Liverpool had problems defending set pieces; it didn’t seem they knew who to pick up and Villa could have had a couple more in the first half from corners and set piece.