Biggest Premier League talking points: Manchester City hit by VAR, Liverpool scrape through testing week
From Liverpool escaping travel hangover to Man City’s VAR ‘anger’, here’s the weekend talking points from the Premier League.
Dominance contributes to City’s VAR anger
With or without VAR, Manchester City deserved to beat Tottenham on Saturday Night Football. That point cannot be argued. Tottenham scored with their only two shots on target, and City had 30 shots on goal.
Being inside the Etihad when Gabriel Jesus scored, City fans seemed certain, even in this day and age of VAR awareness, that nothing could take their winner away. Ninety seconds later, it was gone.
But some time passed before fans were aware the VAR was having a proper look at Jesus’ goal, signified initially by Michael Oliver’s finger to the ear and then later by graphics on the big screen. One wonders whether the finger to the ear is really enough to brace fans and players, but with every goal checked – and remember, a VAR ‘check’ is different to a VAR ‘review’ – signifying a review at the earliest possible time is difficult.
On a 15-match winning run, City and their fans felt injustice, but much of that would have come from their failure to initially see off Spurs.
Over time, VAR may dampen euphoric goal celebrations. That is the fear for match-going fans, but there is a flip side. While City fans were denied a win with the decision, Spurs fans gained a point. They celebrated like their team had scored.
Liverpool sidestep banana skin
As Jurgen Klopp said, “the headlines were already written” for Liverpool as they travelled to Southampton on Saturday with all eyes waiting to see if they would slip up on the back of a tiring week – and they passed the test, just.
- Report and highlights: Liverpool survive scare to beat Saints
- Klopp laughs off Adrian error
Their 4,000-mile round trip to Istanbul for the Super Cup had been made even more problematic by the extra-time and penalties required before the Reds finally lifted the trophy well after midnight on Thursday morning – barely two-and-a-half days before kick-off at St Mary’s.
In the first half of Saturday’s game they floundered and were lucky to be level, let alone in front courtesy of Sadio Mane’s fine goal moments before half-time.
But a second 45 more like the Liverpool of old was an encouraging response and while Klopp still has plenty to work on, especially defensively, three points was all that mattered, and they got it.
Ceballos’ impressive performance
It was like old times at the Emirates Stadium as a young Spanish midfielder bossed things for Arsenal in the middle of the park. Dani Ceballos followed in the footsteps of fellow countrymen Cesc Fabregas and Santi Cazorla in pulling on the red and white as the 23-year-old made his full debut against Burnley.
The Spain international produced a performance that will live long in the memory of the Arsenal fans as Unai Emery’s side secured a 2-1 victory to win their first two games of a Premier League season for the first time since 2009/10.
- Ceballos ‘won’t forget’ Burnley win
- Report and highlights: Aubameyang secures battling Arsenal win
Ceballos was like a breath of fresh air at the Emirates Stadium. He created the most chances (4) of any Arsenal player, he attempted the most passes and successfully completed all four of his attempted dribbles. He is just the third Arsenal player to register two or more assists on his first Premier League after Ray Parlour and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Playing as a number 10 behind Arsenal’s front three before moving back into a deeper midfield position alongside Matteo Guendouzi, Ceballos provided the Gunners with a link from front to back and it’s that versatility which impressed his new head coach.
“With him, it’s for us to use his qualities in the best position in our team with our ideas,” Emery said. “I spoke with him – before coming here – to play like an eight and a 10. Today he started like a 10, but a lot of times he was changing with (Joe) Willock into the eight position, where he can feel better on the pitch.”
There will certainly be tougher test to come for Ceballos, starting with a trip to Liverpool next Saturday, live on Sky Sports, but it’s a very promising start for him and Arsenal.
Zaha return fails to ignite
Wilfried Zaha was restored to the Crystal Palace line-up at Sheffield United after a summer escape act foundered but as Bramall Lane bellowed, the man Roy Hodgson was relying on for inspiration blew cold.
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Just one ball found its way between Zaha and Christian Benteke. A handful of take-ons proved fruitless, swiftly snuffed out by George Baldock and Chris Basham. Palace’s main man jinked here and there but crafted not a shot – nor a genuine chance. He was back – but here, on the periphery.
Hodgson has admitted his star player could yet leave before the European transfer deadline of September 2. The uncertainty appears to have unsteadied a Palace side so sure on their travels last term. Chris Wilder’s side won narrowly but deservedly.
“I’m not prepared to discuss individual players’ performances – we weren’t good enough,” Hodgson said after the whistle. They were not – and while Zaha’s anonymous display was one of several, Hodgson has work to do to galvanise his top performer – for now, at least.
Chelsea press, but it comes at a cost
The opening half hour of Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Leicester will have encouraged Blues fans who, after three games of Frank Lampard’s tenure, are still happy to cling to the positives rather than search for negatives.
- Foxes hold Chelsea on Lampard homecoming
They pressed Leicester superbly in first half, focusing on winning the ball in the final third and punishing, which brought Mason Mount his first Chelsea goal but also several other opportunities.
Lampard’s side were also promising on the ball, moving back to front at speed but, crucially, with the ball on the floor. That’s one of the most difficult aspects of attacking play.
There was a down side. Lampard admitted his players were tired after their midweek trip to Istanbul for the Super Cup, but the intensity with which Chelsea pressed will have contributed.
In the second half, Chelsea remained high up the pitch and left space in their half, despite Leicester’s dominance in the game obviously growing. Tactical stubbornness can be great, but it can also be risky, and Leicester could have easy won the game. Should Lampard have been more flexible?
West Ham yet to find new season identity
The nascent Premier League table does not make pretty reading for West Ham and Watford. Between them, they have collected just a single point – an ominous backdrop for their meeting at Vicarage Road on Saturday. Both sides have a point to make and points to make up.
- Report and highlights: West Ham hold Brighton after VAR call
The mitigation for West Ham is that a draw away from home – they dug out a 1-1 stalemate this weekend against a lively Brighton – is never a bad result in the Premier League. Their defeat to Manchester City, even when categorised as a thumping, can be shrugged aside as they type of result the champions regularly dish out. There’s no reason for alarm just yet.
But it will be fascinating to see how Manuel Pellegrini shuffles his pack again next week. Ruthless and uncompromising, the West Ham boss made five changes to his starting line-up for the trip to the south coast. But to no great effect.
By half-time, in the wake of a dismal 45 minutes in which his side failed to produce a single shot on target and were fortunate on several occasions not to concede, he changed both personnel and formation, withdrawing Jack Wilshere in favour of Michail Antonio.
A considerable improvement followed, although Pellegrini was stretching it post-match when he claimed a draw was a fair result. Two weeks into the new season, West Ham are a side still searching for a clear identity.
Perfect Pukki lights up the PL
Teemu Pukki already scored in the opening game against Liverpool, but it was his showing against Newcastle on Saturday that really announced his arrival in the Premier League. He was near-perfect at Carrow Road, scoring his first Premier League and Norwich hat-trick with some seriously impressive finishing.
- Report and highlights: Pukki hat-trick seals Norwich first win
It’s a huge jump from the Championship to the Premier League and not all players can make it, but Pukki seems to have done so effortlessly. He won praise and accolades for his performances for Norwich last season and arguably their best bit of summer business was tying him down to a new three-year deal, with the Finland international now repaying their faith in spades.
His first was a sensational volley with his first touch, before two cool slotted finishes after some questionable Newcastle defending. Since the start of last season, Pukki has scored 33 league goals, which is more than any other player across the top four tiers of English football.
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