The Premiership is back with a bang baby, for the first time in 3/4 years I can hand on heart say I’m obsessed with the game again. Why? Because the big hitters in England are taking their fingers out and realising that new blood is needed in order to restore the English game to a high level of excellence. United have been excelling in Europe over the past few years but its been turgid, dour football not really the United way and at home the lack of any domestic challenge has contributed to that malaise.
This year, a much improved City have finally put themselves forward as genuine contenders even though I still think defensively they are shocking and Chelsea under AVB, proved today that if they don’t pander to ego’s and surround Torres with flair and pace, they’ll be a package to fear in the CL and domestically too.
As for the game today, fantastic, breakneck speed but quality football. Precision, flair, speed, vision; it was all on show today and whilst the defending from both teams wasn’t the best, going forwards it really was top notch stuff.
Anyway 5 Things I Noticed…
1. Nani – The Complete Right-Winger
I never thought I’d see a better winger than a young Cristiano Ronaldo. He seemed to have everything you’d want in a wideman but then he was fashioned more into a forward and his game changed into that of a goalscoring machine, to the extent where if you watch him these days in wide positions, he gets tackled quite frequently whenever he runs at players allowing him to be shackled quite easily. There’s also the issue of Ronaldo refusing to track back and rarely crossing the ball, factors which demonstrate that he is probably best served playing as a wide striker of sorts.
Nani on the other hand is such a great winger on the right, an absolute delight who has taken elements of that young Ronaldo package merged it with some of the new goalscoring elements of Ronaldo and yet put it all together with a natural flair that Ronaldo can only dream of. Ronaldo’s tricks even at his best were mechanical and he couldn’t beat players with simple body feints and close control, Nani can do the Messi-esque close control, but he also possesses plenty of skill and dazzle in his locker, not to mention ever-improving upper body strength – the demonstration of which left Ray Wilkins in need of tissues.
He can run down the right and put in quality whipped in crosses, hit first time balls, or he can cut in and unleash powerful shots of either foot or thread through naughty disguised passes. On the left hand side, he is more predictable as his crossing off his left foot isn’t the best but on the right he just plays on sheer instinct and is uninhibited. There’s not many players who can claim to have destroyed Ashley Cole, but Nani can say he did. Flawless.
2. Andre Villa-Boas…
Chelsea were very good to watch in that game and from a neutral perspective, you could argue they were unlucky not to win that match as they enjoyed the lions share of possession even if United were exceptional on the counter-attack. Anyway, there has been a lot of media attention on AVB and whether he had the nous and experience to bring Chelsea back to the level that we associated them with back in Jose’s heyday. That question was a step closer to being answered today after that performance and in particular, the decision to take off Lampard at half-time.
Since Jose, the dressing room at Chelsea has had more influence than the managers and it has allowed a boy’s own club to form and the same clique playing week in week out, regardless of current form or age etc. I think it is one of the main factors why Torres has failed to settle, as he realised a lot of his team-mates are not up to it and felt his strengths weren’t being played to.
Under previous regimes, you wouldn’t have seen Sturridge start today or Lampard come off at half-time, even if he was injured. It was a massive step forward and I think there are major hints that AVB is a very smart guy who doesn’t pander to anyone. He is his own man, has a vision of the game and if he feels certain players are hindering his grand plan, he will not hesitate to dispatch with them if need be. I personally think if Chelsea are to thrive, Lampard needs to go and if a Modric-esque figure can be brought into the midfield, they will really be serious competition. Another issue in their team is that they’re arguably some young legs short at the back. Luiz’s reading of the game isn’t the best and he continues to make reckless challenges, an issue they need to address also. Nonetheless, a step in the right direction for the Blues.
3. United Midfield is vulnerable
As we saw today the backup players in United’s midfield do not allow us to play in that signature United style that we’ve been spoiled with these past few weeks. Fletcher and Carrick, great servants that they are … are industrious but not mercurial, and lack the technique and the finesse to up United’s level of performance. If Anderson has an off-day, as he did today, we look woefully short in the midfield and are vulnerable to being overrun and outplayed. If he gets injured, then say goodbye to winning games by big margins and say hello to games such as we witnessed in midweek v Benfica, a tough grind but moments of magic by the forwards winning us games.
It is not a phase of the season I’m particularly looking forward to, but it is definitely going to happen as Anderson has never lasted an entire season and someone like Cleverley with his high energy approach will take knocks. We just need to pray that when the big games come rolling, the optimal pairing are fit and raring to go. I think we’re one quality midfielder short and lack cover for Anderson.
4. Lightweight Hernandez
After a blinding debut season it was inevitable that defences would get to grips with Chicharito and therefore he’d have to up his game. We were told that he was taking his game to a new level during the summer, working on his technique but I think that knock to the head has shaken his confidence a tad, as he just isn’t making his presence felt at the minute.
The danger of playing with a poacher like Hernandez is that at times, especially when under siege like we were on occasion today, its like playing with 10 men. Whereas Rooney was in the thick of the action, Hernandez was not even providing us with a consistent outlet on the counter-attack. Welbeck when he was fit, could play poacher and also go wide, as well as playing in the hole; it made United’s movement completely unpredictable as Danny could at any stage, switch with Young, Rooney and Nani. With Hernandez, these options are limited as he is only useful on the shoulder of the last defender. Not a major issue by any means, but its a debate that will come to fruition I feel later in the season when we’re looking for our perfect first XI.
5. Opposition One 2 Watch: Juan Mata
Sublime player and anyone that watched Valencia CF closely wouldn’t be surprised to see how effective he is in locating space in midfield areas and finding a killer pass. He’s reminiscent of David Silva and has that spanish tendency of just making the right decision on the ball, time after time. I can’t remember seeing him tackled, he was just sheer class and every time he had the ball, I felt like a woman with no knickers… vulnerable.
He will be the first of a wave of technical talent coming through at Chelsea under AVB, surround him with like-minded players and he will thrive. Mancini has done that at City, with Nasri/Aguero combining with Silva and I think AVB will look to do that in the coming years.
Raees (follow me on www.twitter.com/redrae7mufc)