TEAMtalk's Premier Picks

TT's Premier Picks: Rafael's artistry

Sunday 26th August 2012 21:18

Rafael: Offered United extra dimension

Rafael: Offered United extra dimension

Rafael's attacking threat and classy displays from Eden Hazard and Steven Pienaar feature in TEAMtalk's Premier Picks from the weekend action.

TEAMtalk picks out some of the key points from around the grounds on the opening weekend of the Premier League season.

Liverpool 2 Manchester City 2

Liverpool will be kicking themselves for not picking up three points after dominating large periods of their clash with the Premier League champions.

Twice the home side led and were good value for it, but twice defensive frailties allowed City to get back on level terms and leave Anfield with a point they scarcely deserved.

New Reds boss Brendan Rodgers is looking for his side to be more prolific in front of goal and although both goals against City came from set pieces, he will have been heartened by their efforts in the final third.

But suspended defender Daniel Agger was a big miss and confusion at the back was twice punished by City who were only too happy to take advantage.

Simon Crawford

Stoke 0 Arsenal 0

Arsenal drew a blank for the second successive week in the Premier League and the spectre of Robin van Persie will continue to haunt Arsene Wenger until Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski start finding the net.

The Gunners demonstrated they have learned how to cope with Stoke's style of play and dominated proceedings for the vast majority of Sunday's contest at the Britannia Stadium, but failed to regularly test Asmir Begovic despite their wealth of possession.

Another summer signing Santi Cazorla was hungry for possession but his final ball was not always accurate, while the fact the Gunners forced 11 corners without making a single one count is also a telling statistic.

Tony Pulis' Potters, meanwhile, managed just a solitary shot on target and did not win a single corner, which suggests they were some way below their combative best, albeit in a contest against one of the Premier League's leading lights.

Rob Parrish

Chelsea 2 Newcastle 0

After three impressive displays, you get the feeling Eden Hazard is a name we'll be hearing a lot of this season. Chelsea's new signing was the danger man again as the Blues beat Newcastle 2-0, dazzling once more with his movement, pace and skill. With a goal and six assists to his name after just three games, there's an early indication the Belgian could be one of the stars of the season, while he is also bringing out the best in Fernando Torres. The striker appears to be growing in confidence with every game and linked up with Hazard superbly for Chelsea's second goal.

Newcastle struggled in the opening half but were brighter in the second, with Hatem Ben Arfa looking dangerous when he was allowed to roam in midfield, showing his own skill as he created chances. He cut a similar figure to Hazard but didn't see as much of the game.

Rachel Griffiths

Aston Villa 1 Everton 3

Steven Pienaar was the star of the show at Villa Park as he inspired a confident Everton side to an easy three points. Manager David Moyes was quick to praise the South African star after the match for his performance and we can all see why the Scot was so keen to bring him back to Merseyside from Tottenham in the summer. Pienaar produced a wonderful opening goal after just three minutes with a precise curling effort from the edge of the area to silence the expectant Villa Park crowd. And the 30-year-old showed that he still has all the gracefulness of a ballerina, and pace and trickery of an electric eel during his 90-minute performance. Pienaar also pulled the strings in the attacking third and he had the Villa players chasing shadows at times during a superb individual display.

The rest of the side weren't bad either as they battered their opponents in a solid first-half display,

The Toffees secured their first victory at Villa Park for seven years and the last time that happened they went on to secure Champions League football. What are the chances of that happening again this season?

Raz Mirza

Manchester United 3 Fulham 2

Fulham enjoyed a dream start as Michael Carrick's defensive frailty was exposed by some quick feet as he conceded a free-kick on the left-hand side of the box. Fulham's decision not to play percentages by just whipping in a cross was rewarded as sharp movement from Damien Duff saw the Irishman turn home Bryan Ruiz's low pass into the near post. It was refreshing to see a team work something a little different from a set-piece in a dangerous position.

Rafael had arguably one of his best games for United and was a constant threat bombing forward from right-back. The Brazilian was rewarded with a first goal since December 2009, having moments earlier had a goal disallowed and he dovetailed superbly with Antonio Valencia. However, he remains susceptible defensively, with Fulham coming close to pulling a goal back just before half-time after Rafael had been caught out.

Moussa Dembele produced the type of performance in central midfield that demonstrated why Real Madrid are reported to have shown an interest. The Belgium international was strong both on the ball and off it in winning back possession. He rarely wasted a pass and his probing runs from deeper positions caused United's midfielders countless problems.

Sir Alex Ferguson's big pre-match decision was to drop Wayne Rooney to the bench and hand Robin van Persie his first start, and the United manager was fully vindicated. Van Persie scored an excellent equaliser and combined well with the rest of United's attacking unit. Rooney's subsequent injury, which was not one for the squeamish, is unlikely to be too much of a hindrance as he should only miss five games at the most. With Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez able to provide support, Rooney's absence actually eases a headache for Ferguson as Shinji Kagawa is thriving in the role of linking midfield and attack.

Mark Buckingham

Norwich 1 QPR 1

After being thumped 5-0 in their opening fixtures of the new season, Norwich and Queens Park Rangers could have been forgiven for feeling a little sorry for themselves upon their return to Premier League action.

There were, however, no signs that either team has allowed an early humbling to weigh on their mind, with an end-to-end encounter providing plenty of entertainment - albeit with little end product.

Chris Hughton has Norwich playing the same brand of football which served them so well under Paul Lambert and the lively Robert Snodgrass looks like being a shrewd addition to the Carrow Road ranks, with top-flight defences holding no fear for the Scotland international.

There are likely to be further additions to the QPR ranks before the summer transfer window slams shut on 31st August, with Mark Hughes continuing to chase a number of targets, so they too will feel that steady progress can be made from this point after opening their account.

Chris Burton

Southampton 0 Wigan 2

Wigan showed their cutting edge to take the points at St Mary's and leave the Premier League new boys still searching for their first points on their return to the top flight.

Southampton enjoyed plenty of possession in the first half but could not turn this into goals, although Nigel Adkins will take hope from his side hitting the crossbar in both halves.

For Wigan, Roberto Martinez will be particularly pleased that new signing Arouna Kone scored his first goal and will be looking for the striker to push on.

The Latics were comfortable at the end and, on this evidence, will be fine to secure their top-flight status once again this season.

Steve PassTottenham 1 West Brom 1

There was a new manager in the dug-out but it was same old Tottenham at White Hart Lane as Spurs surrendered late on to West Brom.

The hosts played some wonderful football in the first hour, with the recalled Rafael van der Vaart pulling the strings through the middle while Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon rampaged down the flanks. Ben Foster, though, remained relatively untested during a first period completely dominated by the hosts. The breakthrough - a deflected Benoit Assou-Ekotto shot from distance - actually came when West Brom appeared to have weathered the Spurs storm, with Van der Vaart having been withdrawn and the wingers strangely reluctant to stay in the wide areas where they had caused so many problems in the first half.

Emmanuel Adebayor, when he came on, posed more problems than Jermain Defoe but, if Andre Villas-Boas thinks he's got issues in attack, the manager will be equally as concerned at how his defence panicked in the presence of Romelu Lukaku, who ran Jan Vertonghen and William Gallas ragged in the late stages.

The West Brom substitute was too easily allowed the space to drive at the heart of Spurs' defence, who made two goalline clearances before James Morrison's late leveller. After a debut goal last week, Lukaku's cameo will further excite the Baggies fans, who will be desperate for Steve Clarke to unleash the Chelsea loanee from the start against Everton next week.

The Spurs faithful will be far less satisfied with the result, but their team's performance suggests not a great deal is wrong. The addition this week of some deep-lying creativity to compensate for Luka Modric's inevitable exit will greatly further Tottenham's prospects of a top-four finish - something they achieved last season after failing to win either of their first two games a year ago.

Ian Watson

Swansea 3 West Ham 0

You wouldn't have found many tipsters backing Swansea for anything more than a mid-table finish at the start of the season, but with two games gone, two wins, eight goals and two clean sheets, Michael Laudrup has taken over where Brendan Rodgers left off, and done so in some style.

New signing Michu looks a steal at £2million, while the return to form of Wayne Routledge is a huge boost for Laudrup with star winger Scott Sinclair looking set to join Manchester City in the imminent future.

Another man ready to fill that gap is Nathan Dyer, who was terrific against West Ham, his trickery, commitment and vision causing the Hammers problems all game.

West Ham's defensive frailties were frequent at the Liberty Stadium, and while this will go down as an off game, their mistakes will surely not be repeated again this season once Sam Allardyce has drilled into his team.

Jack Woodfield

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