The reemergence of Manchester United’s arrogance spells danger for their Premier League rivals, while Liverpool’s attacking verve and ongoing left-back problems, together with Joe Hart’s Manchester City future, are also discussed.
Manchester United have that swagger about them again
Manchester United have got ‘that look’ about them again, haven’t they.
Yeah, OK, few will regard a 3-1 success at Bournemouth as a strong indicator they’ll be title challengers on the result alone – but it was the manner of the display that suggested there’s that air of arrogance about them once again. It was there in spades under Sir Alex; it was partially what made them the dominant force they were for so many years, but it faded dramatically under David Moyes and never recovered under Louis van Gaal.
Now, under Jose Mourinho, that swagger is back.
True, Bournemouth had done their best to match their visitors in the early exchanges, and yes, but for some more David De Gea brilliance late on, there could have been a nervy finish. And if you want to be really pedantic about things, yes, there was a strong element of fortune about Juan Mata’s opener.
However, once Wayne Rooney had nodded Man Utd into a two-goal lead, there was only ever going to be one winner.
Zlatan, of course, put the gloss on the result by scoring their best goal of the day with his first of, quite likely, many in the Premier League. And it’s his
arrogance belief in his own ability that probably best sums up this new era at Old Trafford.
If anyone epitomises that, it’s him. Mourinho is no shrinking violet, either. He’s already spoken about the ‘Red Family’ and he’s a master at fostering that team and supporter unity – it’s part of his make-up and one of the reasons why he’s one of the game’s elite managers.
It’s that bravado that makes them so hated by rivals, but generates that feeling of self-belief within their own camp. Mourinho knows how to harbour that – and he also knew the signing of Zlatan would give them that presence on the pitch too. For that reason alone, the Swede could prove the signing of the season….
Zlatan also gives them an aerial presence in attack that they’ve lacked for a number of years too.
Those that disagree with this assessment, or suggest it’s far too soon to judge, will again point out it was ‘only Bournemouth’. In reply, I’ll point out that United lost this same fixture 2-1 last season. A progress, of sorts.
Adding to Manchester United’s optimism will be the way in which Eric Bailly has started so positively in the centre of defence. And lets not forget the win was achieved with Paul Pogba and Chris Smalling absent, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan playing only a cameo role late on.
Their squad had gaping holes in it last season and often had to rely on kids. This season, their strength in depth – as well as their swagger – could well give them the edge.
Liverpool delicious – but title tilt will be determined by defence
It was billed as the match of the weekend, and Arsenal v Liverpool certainly didn’t disappoint. An early contender for match of the season too will have the bods at Sky patting themselves on the back as their £5.14bn new TV deal with the Premier League kicked-off in style.
For all Arsenal’s frailties, the match will be remembered best for Liverpool’s attacking verve and the movement of their attacking quintet.
Philippe Coutinho, with his two goals – one a sumptuous free-kick – made the Brazilian the headline act. But he was ably supported by Sadio Mane, Gini Wijnaldum, Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino alongside him – none of whom would be considered strikers, but all of whom carry a considerable goal threat.
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I spoke about team unity with Mourinho and Man United earlier, and Jurgen Klopp too is another of those managers who, as a player, you’d run through a brick wall for. He criticised himself for getting involved with the celebrations for Liverpool’s fourth, but in all truth, it’s something supporters just love to see from their manager. Again, it illustrates that belief and that connection between the playing and coaching staff.
The result could prove huge already in the race for a place in the top four this season, but will also have Liverpool fans dreaming of what might be this season…. the lack of European football meaning the Premier League is the club’s major focus this term.
However, for all the good that Liverpool did going forwards, their defensive frailties have to be a cause for huge concern. ‘Slick, quick, but still fragile’ was how we described them in our Power Rankings – and it’s hard to disagree with that assessment.
The scourge of most of Liverpool’s problems is left-back Alberto Moreno, who looks, on Sunday’s evidence, even worse a player than he did last season. Gary Neville, back as a co-commentator on Sky Sports, said the Reds ‘might as well start a goal down with him at left-back’.
You can see why Klopp has experimented with James Milner – injured on Sunday – at full-back and until they sign a new left-back, the veteran midfielder probably represents their best option in the position.
But surely the win in North London will have at least reminded Klopp of the desperate need to sign a replacement. Deals for Ben Chilwell hit a dead end, while the Reds boss says he ‘won’t pay over the odds’ for the players, seemingly in reference of Cologne’s Jonas Hector. But whatever fee may be required to sign a left-back, I’d almost say it’s a position Liverpool can’t afford not to strengthen. A £20m fee now could be the difference between fourth and fifth, and who knows – if they show the same attacking intent over the season – the difference between a title push and being among the also-rans.
Flight or fight for Hart?
Joe Hart finds himself in a difficult spot at Manchester City and faces a very serious decision over his future.
Having been dropped for the narrow 2-1 win over Sunderland on Saturday, it’s safe to says he’s not rated by new manager Pep Guardiola, who clearly doesn’t feel the England man is good enough with his feet and have the ability to play in the sweeper-keeper role made most famous by Manuel Neuer.
And with reports suggesting a deal for Claudio Bravo is close, Hart could well find himself a huge career crossroads. Does he stay and prove his new manager wrong, or does he accept that his face no longer fits at the club and accept a new challenge elsewhere?
Much will probably depend on whether City do in fact sign a new goalkeeper. Hart would likely back himself to eventually win back his place against Willy Caballero, but a new £20million signing? Probably not…
Hart has enjoyed a trophy-laded decade at the club and he’s been as much a cornerstone of the club as Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero, but it would be hardly surprising to see him join Everton before the transfer window is out.