Liver­pool rise as Ar­se­nal fall

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Sport Starts Here -

Iain Macin­tosh casts his eye over the best and worst of the ac­tion from open­ing week­end in the Premier League.

HEROES Even though you’d imag­ine that at least 10 per­cent of Liver­pool’s sup­port­ers are still hid­ing be­hind the sofa, for this was not a par­tic­u­larly re­lax­ing way to start to the sea­son, what an open­ing day win it was to tri­umph 4-3 at Ar­se­nal. There is plenty for Jur­gen Klopp to work on, par­tic­u­larly at left-back (see be­low), but four goals at the Emi­rates Sta­dium in­di­cates that, what­ever the new cam­paign brings, it cer­tainly won’t be bor­ing. This was also fur­ther proof that, as long as Philippe Coutinho is in the team, there’s al­ways a way out of any cri­sis.

Where on earth did that come from? Rel­e­ga­tion favourites Hull City couldn’t have had a worse prepa­ra­tion for the sea­son had they ac­ci­den­tally sold half their squad on eBay. They’ve only got 13 fit se­nior play­ers and there they were beat­ing the cham­pi­ons on the first day of the sea­son. Ex­cep­tional per­for­mances from the likes of Sam Clu­cas and Cur­tis Davies were enough to se­cure a gen­uinely as­ton­ish­ing 2-1 re­sult. A few more af­ter­noons like that and they might even sur­vive. In fact, given that Leices­ter were rel­e­ga­tion favourites at this time last year, per­haps...

Pep Guardi­ola praised all of his Manch­ester City play­ers after their vic­tory over Sun­der­land, but he kept sin­gling out Fer­nand­inho and it was easy to see why. The Brazil­ian mid­fielder had a duel role, work­ing in the mid­dle of the pitch on the odd oc­ca­sion that City were out of pos­ses­sion, drop­ping back be­tween -- and some­times be­hind -- the cen­tre-backs when pos­ses­sion was re­gained. He was calm, com­posed and tire­less. Or in other words, ex­actly what his new man­ager re­quired of him.

Okay, it’s only Bournemouth, no-one ex­pects much of them and they con­ceded a whop­ping 67 goals last sea­son, but you can’t turn your nose up at a thump­ing open­ing day win. It has been a good start for Jose Mour­inho at Manch­ester United. In a short space of time, he has made the team quicker, harder and, oddly given his rep­u­ta­tion, con­sid­er­ably more at­trac­tive to watch. Goals for Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic, Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata, se­cured a very en­cour­ag­ing re­sult and set­tled a few nerves at the same time.

So much has changed over the sum­mer and so many new faces have ar­rived in the Premier League. And yet some things will al­ways re­main the same: Tony Pulis con­tin­ues to grind out re­sults against the run of play. The West Bromwich Al­bion man­ager might face an un­cer­tain fu­ture with new own­ers in place, but there’s no-one quite like him in the coun­try, no-one who can seem­ingly guar­an­tee safety, what­ever the odds. Crys­tal Palace dom­i­nated pos­ses­sion. The Bag­gies dom­i­nated the score­line. Meet the new Premier League. Same as the old Premier League.

VIL­LAINS It was all go­ing so well! After 44 min­utes, Ar­se­nal had a de­served lead over a Liver­pool side that looked hor­ri­bly out of sorts. Three points were in the bag, the bag was tied up tightly and a pri­vate se­cu­rity firm was car­ry­ing it to the safe. And then every­thing fell apart like, well, Ar­se­nal. Granted, the Gun­ners have had a se­ries of un­for­tu­nate in­juries and ab­sences that left them with two in­ex­pe­ri­enced cen­tre-backs, but this was a hor­ri­ble ca­pit­u­la­tion. Day two of the new sea­son and al­ready the pres­sure is on Arsene Wenger.

You might have thought that the Europa League Fi­nal would have been the last game of Al­berto Moreno’s Liver­pool ca­reer, such was the cat­a­clysmic dis­play he of­fered up, but no. The new sea­son be­gan and there he was, still leav­ing Liver­pool’s left flank com­pletely ex­posed. Theo Wal­cott must have felt like a small boy on Christ­mas morn­ing as he was pre­sented with one chance after another. The Ar­se­nal winger missed the penalty that Moreno con­ceded but didn’t mess around when the hap­less left-back left him clear on goal 69 sec­onds later. Note to Klopp: The trans­fer win­dow is still open for another cou­ple of weeks yet.

Jamie Vardy’s only achieve­ment of note on the open­ing day of the Premier League came when he punched him­self in the face, thus cut­ting out the mid­dle man. Last sea­son’s top goalscorer air-kicked one chance and wal­loped another over the bar be­fore van­ish­ing with­out trace at some point in the sec­ond half. Ev­ery­one ex­pected Leices­ter to regress a lit­tle this sea­son, but no-one re­ally ex­pected them to lose to newly-pro­moted Hull. Clau­dio Ranieri’s de­ci­sion to al­ter the bal­ance of the team, par­tic­u­larly up front where Shinji Okazaki was missed, may have been an er­ror.

Vardy, it must be said, was only one cul­prit among many on Satur­day. The sea­son is long and much may change, but this was a pro­foundly dis­ap­point­ing re­sult for Leices­ter. Cap­tain Wes Mor­gan was hon­est enough to ad­mit af­ter­wards that his team were “sec­ond best” and de­served to lose. The only ques­tion is how long it will take his team to re­cover from such a shock to the sys­tem. Leices­ter cel­e­brated last sea­son’s tri­umph long and hard, as they should have done, but it means noth­ing now. They can­not put in another per­for­mance like Satur­day’s or the doom­mon­ger pre­dic­tions will turn out to be true.

Crys­tal Palace have won just two league games in 2016 and you won­der when the pres­sure is go­ing to build on Alan Pardew. In his de­fence, this has been a very dif­fi­cult sum­mer. With play­ers like Yan­nick Bo­lasie locked in drawn-out ne­go­ti­a­tions to leave, he finds him­self si­mul­ta­ne­ously with­out star play­ers and a trans­fer fee with which to re­place them. But he has to hope that is­sues re­solve them­selves soon. Palace have a run of winnable games com­ing up after next week’s trip to Tot­ten­ham. He can’t af­ford to lose them.— ESPNFC.

Philippe Coutinho

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