In a new addition to the site, Rich Laverty takes a weekly look at five areas of the weekend’s football and explores the key issues behind teams in form, out of form and why. This week, the Premier League’s defending and goalkeeping troubles are highlighted, while Seattle Sounders secure their first MLS Cup and Chelsea show their winning mentality.
Joe Hart’s phone could be busy in 2017
It’s not been a very good season for Premier League goalkeepers so far and one wonders just what is going through the mind of England’s No.1 at the moment.
While life in Italy has certainly not been plain sailing for Hart, he must be watching Claudio Bravo and wondering how it’s come to this. There’s no doubt Bravo can indeed play out from the back as Pep Guardiola wishes, but it would be nice to see him save a shot once in a while.
Last week, all three of Chelsea’s goals beat him far too easily and it was a similar story at Leicester, Bravo failing to cover enough of his goal as shots that could have been prevented went past him.
And what about Liverpool? With Simon Mignolet deemed not good enough last season, Loris Karius hasn’t exactly done much to fill the Belgian’s shoes. If Guardiola doesn’t want Hart, maybe Jurgen Klopp will?
Chelsea have found that old grit
Antonio Conte’s side finally found a way past a stubborn West Brom side when Diego Costa pounced on a late error to clinically fire Chelsea to a ninth straight win.
It was scrappy, it wasn’t convincing but it was just the kind of result that leads to sentences like ‘that’s how champions do it’.
It was a throwback to Jose Mourinho’s title-winning season where Chelsea scraped several 1-0s in the second half of the season against QPR, West Ham, Everton, Manchester United and Crystal Palace on their way to the title.
A handy trait you might say…
Defending is indeed a lost art…
Aside from Chelsea, defending – or lack of it – has proved to be a big talking point in recent weeks. Guardiola admitted Manchester City don’t practice tackling during training, which isn’t a huge surprise when you watch the team at the moment.
Liverpool weren’t much better against West Ham, gifting a goal to Michail Antonio, while even Mourinho has struggled to close out games in recent weeks at Old Trafford. Saturday’s Match of the Day was highly entertaining due to lack of top class defending on show, providing plenty of goals on a day which saw every home team score at least three goals.
Whether it was Crystal Palace, Hull City, Burnley, Bournemouth, Everton or Watford, some of the defending on Saturday was truly abysmal.
…unless you’re Seattle Sounders
Moving away from England for a second, Seattle Sounders became MLS Cup winners for the first time on Saturday evening after a defensive showing against Toronto FC that even Louis van Gaal would have been really proud of.
The Sounders didn’t even register a shot on target, managing more efforts on goal in the penalty shootout than they did in the previous 120 minutes.
Not many MLS defences have managed to cope with the trickery and skill of Sebastian Giovinco combined with the strength of Jozy Altidore, but Seattle did just that. They also relied on the wonder save from goalkeeper Stefan Frei in order to lift the cup for the first time.
…Or Manchester United, who have found themselves with more options than you’d imagine
The lack of top class signings at central defence caused worry and many sweated brows during the summer for Manchester United fans.
Chris Smalling and Daley Blind had done a solid enough job playing in a defensive side last season, but Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo had big question marks against their names – and nobody knew quite how Eric Bailly would settle into Mancunian life.
But what a turnaround it’s been, with Smalling out of the picture, a partnership of Jones and Rojo has flourished for Mourinho with both in absolute top form against Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday. Jones in particular has been superb since returning from injury and fans will hope he can finally sustain his run in the team.
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