Friday, October 7, 2022

Premier League takeaways: Manchester United win ugly; Liverpool set records; Arsenal, Man City stage comebacks

Saturday’s Premier Leauge matches had something for everyone as there were goals galore. Manchester United broke a seven game away losing streak with a victory at Southampton before Liverpool hung nine goals on newly promoted Bournemouth. Everton and Brentford played to the only draw of the day while Arsenal and Manchester City picked up comeback victories. Let’s check in on what went on around the league.

Arsenal show resiliency

It wasn’t easy for the Gunners as Fulham pushed them to their limits but Arsenal are still perfect after a 2-1 home victory over Fulham. Aleksandar Mitrovic opened the scoring in an unlikely way by picking off Gabriel Magalhaes.  Gabriel was put under pressure after receiving a cross but tried to play out of the back instead of kicking it long.

The goal was against the run of play as Arsenal were attacking well, but Bernd Leno was having a good day protecting the Fulham net, holding up under constant pressure. Arsenal finally got their goal in the 64th minute via Martin Odegaard who scored his third goal in the last two matches for Arsenal. Marco Silva tried to close out the match by subbing on Issa Diop to protect the tie but Leno’s good day was dented following a corner. 

Leno fell down in a tangle with William Saliba before Gabriel made up for his mistake by scoring the winner to keep Arsenal’s run as the only perfect team in the Premier League alive. 

While it’s hard to judge how good Arsenal are this early in the season, these are the type of games where they might have dropped points in the past. Fulham will feel hard done by the result, but under Silva they look like a team that can avoid the drop in the Premier League this season. With midweek matches starting soon, we’ll begin to see what these teams are made of as the rigors of the season increase.

Roberto Firmino has himself a day

Liverpool rolled to a record-tying 9-0 victory over newly promoted Bournemouth behind two goals and three assists from Robert Firmino. Like Liverpool, the Brazillian forward has had a rough start to the season. With no goal contributions in Liverpool’s opening day draw to Fulham, it seemed like Firmino’s days leading the line would be numbered with Darwin Nunez waiting in the wings. But a red card for Nunez gave Firmino another chance that he would take advantage of. With Nunez still suspended for Liverpool’s midweek tie against Newcastle United, Firmino will have another chance to show what he can bring an attacking threat to the match.

Pascal Gross raises the heat for Brighton

It was a day where it seemed like Brighton’s lack of threat leading the line would come back to bite them. But eventuallyl a familiar duo of Leandro Trossard and Pascal Gross got the job done against Leeds United. Gross has had an electric start to the Premier League season scoring three goals, assisting one, and creating nine chances across Brighton’s four games so far. He floated into space to be picked out by Trossard before driving a shot past Illan Meslier. It was a good team goal from Brighton, but one that they could score more often by improving at forward.

Leeds will have wanted to do better with their chances only testing the keeper twice from their ten attempts. New signing Luis Sinisterra, in particular, had a great shot from point blank range which he somehow managed to pull wide. He’ll need consistent minutes to prevent snatching at chances.  Graham Potter has quite a professional setup in his Brighton team and they’re pushing at the top of the Premier League table for a reason. With Marc Cucurella gone to Chelsea, Pervis Estupinan made his debut and was fine defensively but will want to improve his wayward passing as he gets more time moving forward.

Chelsea struggle but persevere for all three points

It seemed like Chelsea were on their way to another disappointing result when Conor Gallagher was dismissed in the 28th minute for picking up two yellow cards. Ruben Loftus-Cheek drew a penalty for the Blues, but Kai Havertz continued his disappointing start to the season by being ruled offside two overturn the penalty chance and it looked like it was just going to be one of those days for the Blues. 

But, in the second half, Chelsea pushed Marc Cucurella and Reece James into more natural wing back positions and reaped the rewards via a Raheem Sterling brace. Those were the first goals scored from open play by a Chelsea attacker this season which highlights their struggles. Mason Mount was withdrawn at the half continuing his disaapointing start to the season while Kai Havertz was also largely absent, though perhaps understandably given the team was down a goal. But Sterling delivered and it’s quickly seeming that this attack is only going to go as far as Sterling takes them.

As for Leicester, as Wesley Fofana closes in on heading to Chelsea, things are beginning to spiral for the Foxes. They haven’t made any signings yet and are in 19th place only four matches into the season. Allowing ten goals after losing keeper Kasper Schmeichel, the defense needs improvements and fast. The attack has been fine, scoring six goals, but the shine from their run at a Champions League place in the 2020-21 season is gone after an eighth place finish last season and more regression happening now.

Manchester United takes a step in the right direction

Erik ten Hag’s Manchester United end a seven match losing streak away from home with a 1-0 victory over Southampton at Saint Mary’s Stadium on Saturday. The only goal of the match was a well built team goal that ended in Diogo Dalot finding Bruno Fernandes in a pocket of space for a great finish. The result from United is a welcome one, but it’s a day during which things could’ve gone differently had United let frustration from Southampton’s stiff defense and timely blocks in the box set in.

During the losing streak, which stretches back to March, Manchester United only scored two goals while allowing 21 into their own net. So the fact that they keept a clean sheet is hugely important, especially after United averaged three goals per game over their losing streak away from Old Trafford. 

It was always destined to end this way. In the first half, it felt like more of the same could happen as despite Manchester United’s best efforts the Saints defense, led by Armel Bella-Kotchap, held strong. United took eight shots in the first period for an xG of 1.88 but only four tested Gavin Bazunu due to Kyle Walker-Peters and Bella-Kotchap blocking two shots each to keep things level heading into the half. Though much of United’s production came from a single run of play where they fired on net four times from point blank range without managing to break through. 

Sustained pressure would cause the wall of Saints to break in the 55th minute. The United attack of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Elanga had the Southampton defense sitting deep which allowed Dalot to cut the ball back to Fernandes who scored his first goal of the season in style.

The goal upped United’s belief in the match as they pushed for another but were unable to find a breakthrough. Casemiro made his debut from the bench in the 80th minute but United had to withstand an onslaught from Southampton to end the match. While the team has the work rate to make it through the first 60 minutes or so, closing games out isn’t their strong suit yet. It took a clearance off the line from Dalot deep into stoppage time from a Kyle Walker-Peters shot to preserve the clean sheet, but an ugly win is still a win and given United’s struggles to start the season and their long road losing streak, even ugly wins have been hard to come by, especially away from home.

But the room for improvement is clear for Te Hag’s men. Southampton outshot Manchester United nine to zero after the 60th minute but United escaped as they only put two shots on target. Some was by design as ten Hag’s team was able to sit deep while the Saints forced the issue but with a one goal lead Manchester United need an attacking threat on the counterattack to close out games. Cristiano Ronaldo was introduced into the game in the 68th minute but he didn’t provide that, not taking a single shot while he was on the pitch. Anthony Martial might be a preferred option going forward but he is once again nursing an injury, as he has for so much of his career. 

Ultimately, i’s a good result to end the losing streak, but United will need to improve in big ways before they can be declared anything close to back.

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