Opinion: EPL Game week 1: Is this the start of something special?

Forum » Official Blog » Opinion: EPL Game week 1: Is this the start of something special?

Aug 12, 2019, 16:42

A smiling Chelsea fan
This might sound crazy, but am I the only Chelsea fan with a smile on his face this morning?For years I have looked longingly at Spurs, and their seemingly endless production line of homegrown youth. I envied the patience their board showed Poch, and the patience that Poch in turn showed his players. Yesterday was the first time in a a very long that I felt a sense of pride watching Chelsea. Yes, the lesson was a harsh one, but seeing Mason Mount fizzing about the midfield, or Tammy Abraham smack a strike off the post was ace. To think that Hudson-Odoi, Loftus-Cheek and maybe even Tomori or Reece James will feature this season is something to get excited about.

There will be other harsh lessons this season, no doubt (there’s probably one coming on Wednesday night). But if Chelsea continue to play like they did in the first half yesterday, then this season could be the start of something special.


That was a 4-0 game
First off let’s get this out of the way. United had an XG of 2.37 vs Chelsea’s 1.37. United clearly deserved to win but they didnt create as much as their scoreline would suggest. In addition, big component of that XG was the Rashford penalty as opposed to open play,

That said on the positive, United still had the third highest XG of the weekend, only behind Spurs’ 2.57 and Man City’s 3.16, argubly againts tougher opposition too.  Even Liverpool only had an XG of 1.83 vs Norwich’s 0.83, and I didn’t hear comments about how that game “didn’t feel like a 4-1 game” from any pundits.

While a good metric, XG at the end of the day is a fancy Shots Attempted. It doesn’t measure how good the finishes or the save attempt of the keeper, only how good the chances were based on positioning.

However, finishing and saving form matters in single games and in evaluating performance. You could have all the XG you want, doesnt mean much if you can’t convert them. Something thats brought up a lot was that that Chelsea “beat the keeper but hit the post twice” but that is an off target shot and is barely any different if they shot it over the bar. Despite inferior possession, United not only had superior XG but actually did something with it when they moved forward. They were like the Anti-Van Gaal version of themselves.

Chelsea weren’t caught out much, but when they were, their defenders couldn’t defend againts it. Kepa wasn’t well protected by his defenders, by contrast De Gea was afforded good protection by his back four and saved the generic Shots on Target they did concede (map showed Chelsea had a lot of small XG shots from outside the box). They were a few good saves from good chances but nothing you would not expect a Top 6 keeper to do. Chelsea also conceded an uncontroversial penalty – against the run of play – and that is on their defense for being caught out and clumsy.

When you attack and don’t score while your defense couldn’t protect against counters and conceding penalties, well what else would you expect? Chelsea “looked” like they had a good game because they “controlled” it but they really didnt have one. You can’t just ignore a team’s defensive frailties just becsuse the other parts looked like they were doing stuff.

It’s not as if OGS Man United relying on quick counter attacks is particular new either, it is their MO and should have been expected and dealt with. Chelsea deserved the loss and hopefully they can learn from it against future counter attack teams.

United would have lost against a better offensive team that could defend. They will also drop points againts teams that heavily defend againts them that they cannot open. However for yesterday at least, they were the superior team.
Yaru, Malaysia


OK, so no-one really thinks that was a 4-0 thrashing, fair enough. But Man Utd also were not as lucky as implied and suggested. You don’t win games by making more passes in the middle of the park or by having the most shots. You win games by scoring more goals. Hitting the post is still missing the goal.

The fact that Chelsea hit the woodwork a couple of times and had lots of shots compared to Man Utd does not make Man Utd lucky. Man Utd defended better, restricting Chelsea to hurriedly taken shots with not much to aim at. Quite a few shots flew over the bar because of this. Man Utd just defended much better which sounds like a weird thing to say given our recent past.

Conversely, Man Utd didn’t shoot from long range, they created big chances. None of their goals were pile drivers from 30 yards. They were all one on ones that you would expect established strikers to make. Chelsea did not create a single chance as good as any of the shots that Man Utd scored with. The only chance of the game that might have been easier than one or two of the goals Utd scored was probably the one Martial missed at 7 mins after another Zouma mistake when it was still nil-nil. All in all, the 5 best chances of the match fell to Utd. They scored 4.

Which leads me to my next point. Man Utd may have a young strikeforce but they are not inexperienced. Rashford, Martial and Lingard have played countless games together. Chelsea, on the other hand, have some very talented players that have not played anywhere near as many games together or been primary goal outlets. Their attack will probably get a lot slicker, converting some of those wilder efforts into good chances with one more pass and their defence definitely needs to get better. Man Utd need more in midfield and not all opposition will allow the space to run as they got against Chelsea. Counter attacking only works when the other side tries to attack.

I would prefer if Man Utd had a better midfield and were able to go toe to toe with the best clubs but if bypassing the midfield gives them the best chance of winning then I’m all for it. Hell, Leicester won the title playing exactly that way.

And in reply to a mailboxer who thinks Pogba should leave. You’re wrong. He is still our best midfielder so I hope he stays. He lost the ball a ridiculous number of times, particularly in the first half, when trying to pirouette past 2 players when a simple pass or one-two was on. Frustrating, yes, but this is something he can easily improve on with coaching and experience. However, some of the good things he does like his assists are things that other players can only dream of. It reminds me of when Ronaldo was banging in a goal and an assist every game and the haters would always say “but look how many times he lost the ball”. If Pogba scores or assists 2 every game then I will gladly take him losing possession 10 times a game as well. You win games by scoring more goals not keeping the ball.

Man Utd are still a long way from being title contenders but they did win comfortably through well executed better tactics.
Jon, Cape Town


A tale of two cities
So rightly the United fans will be buoyed by a 4 nil win, hailing their new centre back and an electric front 3. For us Chelsea fans the club already faces the hyperbole of the mentally challenged calling for Lampard’s sacking or the joyous taunts from the United fans of ‘sacked in the morning’. Cut through all the invective and the reality is simple, all that could go right for United went right for United, all that could go wrong for Chelsea went wrong for Chelsea. Look beyond the headlines and into the stats you see that this wasn’t some incredible team performance from United against a poor team. Chelsea had more possession, passes, corners, shots and shots on goal. The critical stat here is conversions and United were ruthless in their chance conversion 80%.

Critical moments in the game went United’s way, for 17 minutes Chelsea dominated United as they passed around them, then a break and a penalty. The first penalty Zouma has given away in this PL career, United confidence restored and the next 15 minutes Chelsea spent trying to wrestle back the initiative. The last 15 minutes Chelsea could and should have been level. Some good saves from De Gea, poor execution of passes in the box and the woodwork conspired to see United walk in 1 up. The second half, two good saves from De Gea and United get the second from an excellent break away goal. The rest of the game allowed United to sit back and shore up their weakness (midfield) and play to their strength the pace of their front 3. The last 2 goals were a mix of Chelsea chasing the game, naivety and excellent breaks from United.

Chelsea played that game without 5 key players; Rudiger, James, RLC, CHO and a fit Kante will give this team more solidity and ruthlessness in attack. The doubters in Lampard, give him and the squad time to get back to health and lets judge at the end of the season.
Pete B


If United finish top 4 with a midfield of a want-away Pogba, Perreira and Sir Scott McSauce whilst relying on a defence comprised of DDG, Harry Maguire’s massive head and AWB’s spider legs then I would like to think we would go down in history books as the biggest wind up team in Premier League history, though perhaps second to Leeds or Wimbledon. Looking at the amount of bitterness the Chelsea game has inspired in comments sections and the mailbox, it would be delightful to witness it unfold.

It doesn’t seem as though most of the fanbase are getting too carried away with what could prove to be post-Ferguson false dawn version 9.1. I am sure however that this is actually much to the chagrin of smug rivals such as Mark MCFC, who would clearly be delighted to have the chance to mock any of those that are.

One of the most enduring things in football are the legion of killjoys shaking in anticipation of trying to prevent you from enjoying a victory in isolation. You must put it in the context of the wider season and caveat it with realising that the opposition you are playing is basically a pub side with a spanner for a manager. How dare you enjoy yourself! How dare you not contextualise!! How dare you not realise you are actually still rubbish and the team I support is still much better!!!

We’re going to win the league! Fergie-era United is back! Dan James is Ryan Giggs! The odd thing is that this is seemingly what people read after some innocuous comment about steps in the right direction or building a side to compete at a decent level. I suspect that this is because it is what they want to read, or they have picked out something from some loonpot somewhere and decided that is what the whole fanbase thinks.

Just take a day off with your little narrative – everyone’s heard it before and it only serves to make you look bitter.
Smyth, MUFC


End transfers?
So Jonny wants to ban transfers and just let players move at the end of their contract?  His idea and article are horribly flawed, for two key reasons.  First – his rambling about not being able to assess true value applies to absolutely everything, not just footballers.  Everything is worth what a seller and buyer agree it is, and even currency itself isn’t fixed in value because of inflation and exchange rates.  I would argue it’s comparatively easier to value a footballer than a designer jacket, the exact opposite of the conclusion Jonny reaches.  Footballers have loads of metrics available to compare them buy that the jacket really doesn’t.  They aren’t perfect of course but nothing is.

The second problem is banning transfers unilaterally would of course ruin football as we know it.  The rich would get richer as they could sign anyone they wanted without compensating the poor.  The home of capitalism (the USA) doesn’t have transfers but it still has constraints in place to allow at least come competition.  If you’re going to come up with a random idea on a Monday morning, at least flesh it out so it’s worthy of some consideration
Phil, London


I usually have a lot of time for John Nicholson’s articles and suggestions for improving the game, but suggesting that scrapping transfers is a ‘sensible’ idea is nonsense.

Firstly, it’s unlikely that football can impose such a rule and prevent freedom of movement as per European labour laws. Also, although we complain that the current game is dominated by player power, this would turn the tables far too far the other way.

There are likely to be only two options round this: enforced release clauses into every contract or the ability for a player to buy themselves out of a contract.

The release clauses option is already implemented in Spain and results in ridiculous contract valuations. However I don’t see how you can ban transfers except on agreed release fees, as if a club is willing to sell below a release fee it would be difficult to do some creative accounting with the buying club to push the transfer through for a lower fee.

The contract buy-out would result in players earning even more than they do already on account of clubs’ fears of the players’ easily buying them out (the contract effectively becomes the release clause). There may be something to admire about this – the money in the game actually going to the players over agents, owners, etc – but where would this end? Young players would need to be offered big money early in their careers to avoid them moving on after one decent performance on a moderate contract.

If we were able to create a world in which transfers were banned and European employment laws were willing to tolerate players being locked in to contracts, which player is committing to more than a couple of years? Any half decent player will surely target short term deals to maximise earnings in the face of uncertainty and inflation, meaning constant turnover of talent.

Like them or not, transfers serve a purpose that keeps football relatively stable.
Richard, London


Second ever email and it is regarding Mr Nicholson again. Also became a bit long, sorry.

He laments the exploding (exploded?) transfer fees because us as fans can’t justify them. Obviously we can’t, we are on the outside, we have no access to the clubs’ books, or the owners’ dealings. Like it or not, football clubs are businesses. They always have been and will continue to be, just now its on a much larger scale, at least in the upper echelons, than it used to be.

So, players are commodities, and asking clubs to justify why club Z is willing to pay £X to club Y is like asking fortune 500 companies to open their books and explain why they spent £X on a new company yacht. Does anyone care what Unilever do with their company yacht (no, because they are not an entertainment business), but you can guarantee that that yacht would be used to attract new investors and new business, and in an ideal world, make more money than it cost to buy said yacht. A bit like a shiny new player would (hopefully) bring in: shirt sales, new sponsors, plus, if they have a big effect on the pitch (see Big VirgTM), then they’ll bring in money through TV deals/prize money/final division positions etc. What the clubs do not have to do is explain how much they have made from these shiny new players. Football clubs are different to 99% of other businesses mainly because its not as cut and dry as yacht -> investor -> more dollar.

But what fees also consider, as F365 have said on many occasions before, is that the valuations of players reflect the selling clubs’ positions too, and the potential loss of money they will experience by losing an asset. Leicester did not need to sell Maguire to balance any books (I’m assuming, because I don’t know), and he was clearly their most valuable asset, so United had to give them an offer they couldn’t refuse because one would assume that £80m for a player that can be reasonably replaced by one of the plethora of CBs that they have is too much to turn down, and can be used to reinvest somewhere. On the other hand, Byram cost Norwich a “pittance” because he had no tangible use to West Ham, was costing them a relatively high amount in wages for the return he was giving them, and thus they wanted to get rid of him.

Long story short, its a simple economics situation, supply & demand, investment vs return etc etc. But just because we pay to see these assets on a pitch every week doesn’t mean we have a holy right to understand why the clubs pay what they do to release them from contracts of other competing businesses. We are not shareholders (well, not the every day fan in the UK anyway), thus why do we have a right to know the inner dealings just because we have chosen to follow a particular brand? Its arguably detrimental to a club to release financial information because it puts them at a disadvantage, and I know I wouldn’t want that for my club.

Just because we hear “fans saying they “need a £50 million defender”, like they are a designer jacket on a clothes rack with identifiable £50million qualities which ‘prove’ they are worth that number” that’s less because they have justifiably tangible benefits, but you can guarantee that a good defender that will bring either obvious or not so obvious investment to a club is definitely going to, with all things being equal, be more expensive than one that is not going to bring you as much money (through the aforementioned routes). They see the impacts a “top, top player” has on a club (again, see Big VirgTM) and understand that that is generally the going rate for someone who will improve their club’s on pitch fortunes.

Also, the clubs are giving “free” gifts for taking part because they make so much f***ing money for the associations giving them the money, its almost like its a thank you or a “here’s some more cash to inject into your business so that we can both make even more f***ing money”.

Using this as yet another reason to berate the moral emptiness of football is just opportunism and neglects the wider considerations. (I see a theme emerging in Johnny’s writing here..)

Slightly rambling, apologies again
Joe (witty brackets), London


Six likely unnoticed performances
Pogba might have two assists, but he lost the ball more than any player on the pitch, which in turn slows down or kill the attack several times. We might not be so lucky or clinical in other games enough to cover up for this. Martial got a goal, but he also lost the ball several times and misplaced some attacking passes too. Too much showboating from both of them. I still want both of them gone. Shaw has always been my favorite player but he had a real quiet afternoon.McTominay had a brilliant game, but as usual no one notices. He distributed the ball well, made some key passes and he tackling and positioning was good. The perfect defensive (central) midfielder. Scott is grossly underrated. Aaron was pure class, I lost count of the number of successful tackles he has made so far for ManU. His attacking game is also good, but he can improve on it. Pereira also had a good game before being subbed off. He made some decent attacking runs and passes in the final third. Both him and Mata might be the key to solving our creativity problems when facing defensive units.
Oluwaseun Adelugba, Nigeria (Let’s make ManU great again)


Mourinho the pundit
We are going to learn a lot from having Mourinho as a pundit on Sky this season. Not a lot about football mind you, but a lot about how he is a nasty piece of work, to quote my Mum. We are also going to learn why the players at any major club will not want him as a manager The “me me me” makes him unbearable. His lack of self-awareness is a study for psychiatry students, his attempt to claim that had he had Maguire everything would have been alright is a rewriting of history to match Boris for its chutzpah.

So I will now park my dislike of the man and merely chuckle that he is sitting in a studio, on the chair that is occupied by those that he dismissed with disdain when a manager, and no-one is knocking his door down to come and manage them (yet).
Tim McKane


Anthony Martial
Is everyone completely ignoring the fact that – for United’s second goal – Martial completely missed the ball from four yards out and it hit his standing leg and went in anyway?

Impressed with Maguire and AWB, but Martial won’t get 15 goals this season.


Southgate is a winner
7 Goals shared between Sterling, Rashford and Harry Kane. Looking forward to seeing Gareth Southgate as one of the Winners of the opening weekend!
Ved (still basking in the afterglow) Sen, MUFC.


Better team?
Just a quick riposte to Mikey, CFC from this morning’s mailbox.

Having more possession in a given match does not equate to having been the better team. Context is king.

For example, the context of this game was very clearly that United were happy to cede possession and play on the counter against a Chelsea team who left themselves exposed at the back and got their pants pulled down four times…

Not that I’m calling it a tactical masterclass by Solskjær, but that game played out exactly the way he wanted it to. Rather than a Solskjær masterclass, I’d describe that match as Lampard giving a “how not to” demonstration. It may have been naivety or arrogance by Lampard but from the early stages I was thinking United were going to punish them in that game, and so it proved. It could be a very long season for him (or worse, very short) if that was a display of his tactical acumen at this level.

There was merit in Chelsea’s play going forward, but they created very little of note and it was all dealt with rather comfortably by United – who came with a plan, executed it, then scored a couple of extra goals for fun. United were the better team throughout.

As a United fan, I am extremely pleased with that (deserved) result. Obviously teams’ fortunes can change and we may end up a mile off the pace, but looking at the league table at the end of last season, that could have been the first six-pointer in the hunt for the Wenger Memorial Cup and a very important three points (plus eight goal goal difference cushion on Chelsea).
Andy (MUFC)

As seen on Football365.com

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