Goal.com Singapore’s En Lim assesses the weekend’s action as EPL newbies Eden Hazard and Shinji Kagawa justify their hefty price tags
By En Lim
Chelsea, Swansea, Everton and West Brom. Not quite the usual top 4 one would expect to see in the EPL table, but merely a sign of which teams have been quickest off the blocks in the first two weeks of the season.
The new signings impress
Chelsea’s dominance in the opening weeks of the season have been all thanks to new signing Eden Hazard. The Belgian has made a sensational start to life in the EPL, contributing at least one assist per game and is fast becoming the lynchpin of the Chelsea squad. Hazard’s penalty and subsequent assist ensured that the Blues maintain a perfect start to the campaign with a 2-0 win over Newcastle.
The Geordies tired-out by their midweek Europa League encounter in Greece were unlucky and slow off the blocks as the likes of Demba Ba, Papiss Cisse and Hatem Ben-Arfa simply had no answer to chief tormentor, Hazard’s moments of genius.
Matching Hazard’s phenomenal start is Shinji Kagawa at Manchester United. While all the headlines in United’s narrow 3-2 win over Fulham will be about their defensive woes, Robin van Persie’s stupendous goal on his home debut, and Rooney’s terrible injury, United fans will be quick to point out that Kagawa was instrumental in this must-win game at Old Trafford.
The Japanese playmaker arrived in England with a glowing reputation, and after glimpses of his quick feet and visionary passing against Everton, Kagawa capped off an excellent showing with the easiest of goals as the Old Trafford faithful roared to welcome him, knowing full well their title challenge is back on track.
Kagawa’s goal also brought Fulham back to reality, after the London side took a shock lead just two minutes in. As the Cottagers continue to build a squad without Clint Dempsey, coach Martin Jol will take away positives from this loss in that in Bryan Ruiz, his side seems to have ready-made replacement, as the Costa Rican was a constant thorn in the United defence.
Defence, they make or break your team
A good defence in a game of football goes a long way to ensuring victory. Scoring is one thing, but if your team is leaking goals, that becomes more of a bane than a boon; and over the weekend, Liverpool, West Ham and Tottenham became victims of defensive lapses, paying the price for errors made.
Despite dominating the game against reigning champions Manchester City, Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool side let slip their lead twice in the match due to defensive lapses, in particular a schoolboy error by Martin Skrtel, who turned from hero to zero for the Reds.
Dominant in possession and playing a tactically disciplined game as favoured by Rodgers, Liverpool almost snatched victory from a less-than-impressive City side, who once again needed midfield supremo Yaya Toure to drag them back into the match.
The Reds will certainly rue the loss, but it would also serve as a wake-up call to them that should they wish to challenge for a top 4 position, such lapses in concentration are a definite no-no.
Like Rodgers, Andre Villas-Boas was also denied his first victory for his new team, as his Tottenham side conceded an injury-time equaliser to allow West Brom to snatch a point at the death.
The Spurs defenders’ inability to clear the ball out of their own half proved extremely costly as West Brom’s James Morrison nicked in and swept the ball into the net to salvage a point for the Baggies. AVB now has his work cut out as he seeks to get through what seems to be a pretty miserable start to his Spurs career.
If the defensive lapses were bad at Anfield and White Hart Lane, they were certainly not as woeful as those at the Liberty Stadium. Fresh from making a winning return to the EPL, West Ham completely fell apart against a sublime Swansea side, who made the most of the Hammers’ defensive errors to record a 3-0 victory.
James Collins and Jussi Jaaskelainen were both at fault for goals conceded in the first half. The Swans were certainly on song as they demonstrated slick passing and quick counter-attacks that West Ham had no answer to. With eight goals scored and none conceded, Swansea could challenge for a Europa League spot should their good form continue in the months ahead.
While defence proved to the downfall for some teams, Wigan recorded its first points of the season thanks to a heroic display by goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi. The Omani international saved his team time and again against Southampton with excellent saves from Rickie Lambert and Adam Lallana’s attempts on goal, to ensure that the Latics register their first victory of the season.
The Saints’ never-say-die attitude has been admirable, but Nigel Adkins’ side appears to be in trouble as with two losses on the trot and Manchester United up next, they face an uphill battle to extend their stay in the EPL beyond one season.
The A-teams in trouble
Southampton however are not the only team in trouble, as Paul Lambert’s Aston Villa succumbed to their second successive defeat in a 3-1 loss to Everton, ensuring that Lambert’s name is now probably odds-on to be the first managerial casualty of the new season.
Villa was completed outplayed by the Toffees who easily carved open the Villa defence with excellent passing, led by Belgian midfield maestro Mauroane Fellaini who once again proved to be the hero. With this, Everton now sits pretty in joint-second with Swansea in the League table marking an amazing start to the new season for David Moyes’ side.
Arsenal meanwhile appears to be misfiring despite having a wealth of talent upfront. It is most peculiar that an attack boasting the likes of Lukas Podolski, Oliver Giroud, Theo Walcott and Gervinho have been unable to find the net yet, as the Gunners continue to seek their first goal of the season.
As much as they believe that the void left behind by RVP can be filled by one of those men, the reality is none have stepped up to the plate. Arsene Wenger’s side need to get their act together and start scoring, lest they lag behind the Champions League chasing pack.
First points on the block
In a match to restore pride after suffering 5-0 maulings last weekend, Norwich and QPR battled to a 1-1 draw at Carrow Road to gain their first points of the season. Uninspired after last weekend, the teams started cagily as they were wary of suffering yet another humiliating defeat.
Norwich looked good for a victory after taking the lead, only to be denied all three points by a controversial penalty in which QPR’s Bobby Zamora appeared to have encroached the penalty box before strike partner Djibril Cisse took his spot kick.
Although it ended all square, both teams appear to be in deep trouble just two games in, and will likely be involved in a relegation dogfight this season if they continue to spurn scoring opportunities and put in lackadaisical displays as such.
Goal of the week: Robin van Persie (Man Utd). First home game, first shot, first goal. RVP’s sublime finish brought United back into the game versus Fulham. The Dutchman’s excellent left foot half-volley from a Patrice Evra cross made sure he started life at Old Trafford with a bang.
Player of the week: Eden Hazard (Chelsea). With a great price tag, comes a very heavy expectation to perform. With four assists and a goal in three games, Hazard has made a sensational start to life at Stamford Bridge, and his sparkling performance in midfield was the reason why the Blues managed to iron out a victory against a resilient Newcastle side.