This weekend of Premier League action saw the first juggernaut clash of the season; taking place between Pellegrini’s Manchester City and José Mourinho’s Chelsea. This match in particular produced some great displays and the other games did not disappoint either. Notable performers were found in Everton’s dissection of Southampton at St. Mary’s and within Swansea’s ranks as they defeated Newcastle United 2-0. See who makes my Premier League Team of the Week below, and please feel free to comment on the site’s forum or on twitter @TBRFootball .
Jack Butland: Following Asmir Begovic’s departure to Chelsea, Jack Butland has become Stoke City’s new number one goalkeeper and although he did concede twice against Spurs, he certainly did not fail to contribute. It must be said that the young Englishman did not have much of an opportunity with either of the shots that found their way past his clutches.
Fairly run of the mill stops were required at relatively early stages in proceedings but they were nonetheless far from straightforward. Saving down low from a shot by Christian Eriksen was made more difficult for Butland by being slightly off balance and he also pulled off a reaction save from Ryan Mason. Perhaps the best of the lot was when he thrust a left arm out to prevent heralded hitman Harry Kane from finding the back of the net before the forward was withdrawn.
Bacary Sagna: Potentially at the beginning of an unprecedented run in the Manchester City side, Bacary Sagna demonstrated what drew The Citizens into signing him in the first place from Arsenal. The left side of Chelsea’s team is well renowned for its efficiency in both offensive and defensive quarters. Hazard can frighten even the world’s best when on song and in Azpilicueta, The Blues have one of; if not the undisputed, best left-back in the Premier League. As a result, Sagna did not display a great deal of attacking intent on Sunday afternoon, rarely overlapping Jesus Navas and instead choosing to feed the Spaniard’s pace with passes down the line.
Where the Frenchman did excel however was in keeping the opposition at bay. Chelsea’s attackers are notorious for finding pockets of space where others cannot locate them and exploiting these to the maximum. It is notable how little impact Hazard had on proceedings, frequently having his dribbles shut down at source by Sagna. The former Arsenal full-back also used his speed and strength to great effect, chasing back to cover when his side were under threat of exposure late on. If he continues in this vein, I cannot see Pablo Zabaleta forcing his way back into contention any time soon.
Phil Jagielka: The Everton defender was one of the corner-stones in an exemplary display by The Toffees on their travels. He got his head to almost everything and kept Pellè startlingly quiet for much of the game. Southampton enjoyed a 55:45 possession majority and also completed more passes than the visitors, so Everton frequently found themselves looking to soak up pressure.
Jagielka completed 12 clearances and 6 interceptions, vastly more than his much sought after defensive colleague John Stones. The veteran centre-half showed his value to Roberto Martinez’s Everton side, retaining solidity and a no-nonsense approach when required, but still fully capable of launching attacks from the back with composed play.
Daley Blind: I will personally hold my hands up and say that when Van Gaal suggested that one half of his first choice centre-back pairing would be Daley Blind, I felt Manchester United’s defensive rigidity would suffer for it. However, he was not shown up against Spurs last week and produced an even better display on Friday evening when facing a variety of threats. With ten successful clearances to his name, his doubters were left rather red-faced.
The former Ajax defender; who has proved himself to be adaptable in many positions in the defensive area of the side, dealt surprisingly well against both the raw speed of Agbonlahor and then later in the match, a fresh Gestede who was raring to impress the Villa Park faithful. The former Blackburn striker has brutal power and despite boasting a healthy height advantage over the Dutchman, Blind used his superior game intelligence to boss situations and see out a potentially nervous final few minutes.
Jordan Amavi: Aston Villa’s £9 million summer signing from Nice built on a solid showing against Bournemouth in week 1 to become the Midlands side’s stand-out performer on Friday night. Exceedingly capable with either his right or left foot, Amavi operated at left-back and performed impressively against Matteo Darmian on that flank of the pitch. The Italian has proved himself to be no slouch defensively at this early stage in his career under Van Gaal but Amavi frequently had the beating of him.
The Frenchman also used his pace well to get back and shut out danger which occasionally manifested itself after the 21 year old had pushed on to try and force the issue in the attacking third. Amavi did well to oppose surging runs from Schneiderlin and Darmian in particular, showing surprising strength to partner a turn of pace. Five successful take-ons and an equivalent number of interceptions in the 90 minutes represent a well-balanced display, typical of a player who would certainly not look out of place in a side challenging for honours.
Fernandinho: At 30 years of age now, Fernandinho needs to be at the stage where he regularly exerts his influence on matches at the highest level. There is no doubt that he did this on Sunday against Chelsea in the first truly heavyweight clash of the Premier League season to date. Initially looking away from his goal, he patrolled in front of the Manchester City defence brilliantly at times. The Brazilian was energetic and aggressive to just the right level, making up for Yaya Touré’s disinterested approach and minimising the space available for Chelsea’s chief creative suspects to operate in. The former Shaktar Donetsk midfielder did not lunge into tackles or give away silly fouls, instead playing with exceptional intelligence and managing the flow of the game.
Although not able to boast the biggest of frames, he applied his bodyweight most effectively and to coincide with terrific tackling ability, Fernandinho stole possession back for The Citizens at vital moments. Whilst he excelled in the destructive elements of play; tackling successfully six times all over the park, his distribution was also far from poor; still reaching the 80% mark. Goal-scoring is hardly something that Fernandinho is recognised for, but that didn’t show with an assured first-time finish that he rifled past a hapless Begovic as proceedings drew to a close. This was a perfect way to reward the Brazilian for what had already been a noteworthy display.
Ross Barkley: With Roy Hodgson watching keenly from the stands, Ross Barkley will certainly have given the England manager food for thought as Euro 2016 qualifiers approach later in the year. Ross Barkley was able to display exactly the sort of performance which all Three Lions hope to see from him on a regular basis. Amazingly, this was the first time in the Premier League that the Everton youngster has both scored and provided an assist during the same match. You would imagine that he will go on to repeat this feat several times in the months ahead.
Still in the opening quarter of the match, the local-born hero produced a powerful surge that initiated Everton’s break which eventually resulted in Lukaku’s opener. The magnitude on his team’s goals only increased from that moment on. Making a break through the heart of Southampton’s helpless midfield climaxed in him setting up The Toffees’ Belgian striker for his second with a perfectly weighted through ball and the number 20 eventually got in on the act himself. Although he had missed a good opportunity in the first half to add a goal to the one he bagged in the season opener, he remained calm and collected towards the end of the match to double his tally for the campaign. If Barkley continues to finish in such a composed manner and add goals to his output on a consistent basis, he will surely become a shoe-in for England selection.
Santi Cazorla: The only thing missing from the Spaniard’s display in my eyes was a goal which would have capped off a sumptuously accomplished 90 minutes on a football pitch. Santi Cazorla rarely gave the ball away to a Crystal Palace player, achieving a 91% pass completion rate and only misplacing 7 of his 82 attempted passes. Not only was his delivery to teammates accurate, but incisive too. The former Malaga midfielder injected pace into attacks when necessary and frequently cut out many of Alan Pardew’s men from the game with a driven pass that isolated a striker one on one.
The diminutive number 19 showed clearly just how much of an increasingly complete player he has grown into when; after going 2-1 ahead with a quarter of the game to go, he was required to carry out defensive duties and was happy to chase back as if it was his natural game. Cazorla’s influence on Arsenal is the sort of factor which can transform the Gunners from perennial members of the top four to genuine Premier League title contenders.
Jefferson Montero: Swansea’s newest superstar found his way into my Team of the Week last time out and his performance against Newcastle absolutely justified a repeated inclusion. Demonstrating all of the attributes that a winger craves, Montero was a threat to Newcastle’s defence all afternoon, being on the receiving end of four fouls, of which two were notable for resulting in Janmaat being sent off.
Quick feet; and indeed an essence of stupidity on the Newcastle man’s behalf, resulted in an early bath for Daryl Janmaat. The Dutchman’s knowledge that Montero would look to beat him on every occasion seemed to make him overly aggressive, come to rash decisions, and never wanted to allow him to be too far from his attentions.
In addition to this significant impact on proceedings, he exhibited terrific end product yet again. Providing the assist for Ayew’s goal, an exact replica a few minutes later very nearly resulted in the same result for the Ghanaian forward. Montero also hit the post himself after escaping the clutches of a pair of Toon defenders with a jinking run. Should performances like this continue, the Ecuadorian will surely be in the sights of Champions League sides around Europe.
Romelu Lukaku: In what was very nearly the complete striker’s performance, Romelu Lukaku demonstrated the kind of unstoppable play that secured his original move to Chelsea from Anderlecht. To set Everton on their way to a comfortable away victory, the Belgian snapped up two very smartly taken goals. Sometimes his finishing previously classed as erratic but both strikes at St. Mary’s showed nothing of the sort.
Though the display was epitomised by his two goals, it was by no means the only reason for his inclusion in my Premier League Team of the Week. For the latter of his two goals, he possibly encapsulated his entire display. Nicking the ball away from the clutches of a Southampton midfielder, he fed Barkley before setting off at a frightening pace towards the Saints’ penalty area. Not allowing Wanyama to catch up, he ran on into space and finished first time into the bottom corner after collecting a return pass from the young Englishman. Lukaku’s determination in his play was particularly impressive, beating them not only in behind but also after dropping deeper into space. This could well be Lukaku’s true breakthrough year where he starts to be considered amongst the Premier League’s truly elite front men.
Sergio Aguero: Without question, Sergio Aguero is still the star man and poster boy for Manchester City and it is a testament to the player that he performed so brilliantly against Chelsea. Not only was he facing defenders of high quality but it was also his first start since the end of the last campaign having not been available for all of the pre-season period.
Aguero was a live-wire all game until withdrawal with just under ten minutes remaining and it was quite possibly his concerted threat in behind the Chelsea defence which caused Mourinho to sacrifice John Terry at the interval. Manchester City’s number 10 exhibited some rusty finishing initially; only to be expected at this stage of his preparation for a new season, but still found space between defenders with relative ease. The movement that he displayed was reminiscent of the Argentine in top form. With four chances falling his way before eventually slotting calmly beyond Begovic, it is clear that he is mentally at the peak of his game already. When the clinical touch returns imminently, Aguero will surely be banging in goals for fun once more, putting him at the top of the list for contenders for the Premier League’s Golden Boot.
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