Liverpool showed just how far short they are at Burnley this weekend, while David Moyes only enhanced the doom and gloom around Sunderland.
Reality check for Reds
Liverpool were brought back down to earth at Burnley on Saturday, but at least Jurgen Klopp is aware of just how much work he still has ahead of him.
The opening weekend win at Arsenal and the style in which it was achieved lured many observers into predicting a title challenge for the Reds. But their defensive faults remained evident at the Emirates and, at Turf Moor, they were exposed in sharp focus by the Premier League new boys.
Klopp blamed “poor decision-making and timing“, which was correct. But those traits were not just limited to individuals or units of Klopp’s outfit; the entire team was guilty.
Liverpool conceded three at Arsenal, with only Simon Mignolet’s penalty save preventing a fourth. The same frailties were on show in Lancashire, even though Alberto Moreno wasn’t. Nathaniel Clyne and Ragnar Klavan both showed themselves up when Burnley breached the visitors’ defence, which is clearly in need of at least one, probably two more signings before the window shuts in nine days.
In attack, Liverpool were blunted by a well-drilled, immaculately-organised rear guard, with Sean Dyche’s men happy to allow their visitors 81 per cent of the possession. That they failed to make any use of that should come as a huge concern for Klopp, who accepted the need to devise a plan to conquer teams who, like Burnley, will happily stand back to watch the Reds play their pretty passes in front of them.
The contrasting natures of last week’s win and Saturday’s defeat will always provoke extreme reactions and, of course, Liverpool, like most of their rivals are far from fully cooked as they feel their way into the season. Perhaps it was an off-day, certainly for the likes of skipper Jordan Henderson. But their listless display and their consistency of inconsistency carried over from last season highlights how far short the Reds remain, certainly in comparison to their Manchester rivals.
Moyes’ pessimism won’t help Sunderland
Sunderland fans will have been left flat enough after their Wear-Tees derby defeat, but the comments of their new manager will have taken the wind out of them further still.
One look at the pre-match team-sheet told you Sunderland are in for a tough time and David Moyes confirmed that after the final whistle when he was asked whether the Black Cats’ supporters would be right to be fearful of another season scrapping at the bottom.
“They would probably be right because that’s where they’ve been every year for the last four years.
“So why would it suddenly change? I think it will be (another relegation battle). I don’t think you can hide the facts, I think that will be the case, yes.”
Moyes may be attempting to provoke his board into loosening the purse-strings in the coming days, but his typically downbeat tone – however realistic – will do his players and their supporters no good whatsoever.
Even if Moyes is allowed to recruit, he has shown time and again that he will stick to what he knows; playing it safe by recruiting players he’s managed previously, none of whom have impressed recently at their former clubs. Donald Love, Paddy McNair and Steven Pienaar will not improve Sunderland’s prospects, while Adnan Januazaj must be cleverly managed if he is to stop his plummet towards mediocrity.
Moyes drove United fans mad with his limited ambition and talk of ‘aspiring to reach Manchester City’s level’. It seems the Scot has not learned his lesson. Of course, the new manager has only been in place for a month and more reasoned judgement will come on September 1. But it appears Moyes is already shifting the blame little more than a week into the season. Sunderland’s plight requires vision and imagination – qualities Moyes has rarely demonstrated.
Phelan fine for Tigers’ job
Almost everyone, including most of us at TEAMtalk, had written off Hull long before the start of the season. With their manager walking out amid an injury crisis and protests over the club’s ownership, who were refusing to spend because they were trying to sell the club, it was not unreasonable to expect the Tigers to struggle.
But two games in, they sit at the top of the table after two wins, the first coming over champions Leicester before Swansea were turned over on their patch this weekend.
Caretaker boss Mike Phelan deserves huge credit, and if he is auditioning for the permanent job, it is hard to see how he could impress any further, given the resources available to him. With no first-team recruits and only 13 senior players, Phelan has organised and motivated his team to two deserved victories.
Of course, Phelan learned from the best. He spent over a decade under Sir Alex Ferguson’s wing, but while his predecessors as assistant boss at Old Trafford – Steve McClaren, Rene Meulensteen, Carlos Queiroz and Brian Kidd – all secured big-time managerial jobs, Phelan has yet to be given the same opportunity.
That quartet of Fergie’s former right-hand men all demonstrated that great coaches do not necessarily make successful managers. But Phelan was always seen as a buffer between the players and Ferguson, while the likes of Muelensteen did wonderful things with bibs and cones. The 53-year-old has demonstrated his man-management qualities, which is a huge part of being a Premier League manager, and the Hull players are going flat out for Phelan. Any new owner who may wish to install a more glamourous name in the dug-out will be taking a huge gamble that their man can hold the same sway in the Tigers’ dressing room.