Premier League Talking Points: Matchday 4

Matt Janzer from Missoula, USA
Matt Janzer from Missoula, USA /

1) Have Chelsea turned the corner?

After labouring through the first two weeks of the season with only a point to show for their efforts, doubts were beginning to surround Chelsea and their hopes of retaining their Premier League crown.

In last weekend’s Sunday evening contest with West Bromwich Albion, Chelsea finally started to look like a team capable of challenging for the title—eventually going on to win 3-2 at the Hawthorns. Inspired largely by the electric debut of Pedro—signed from Barcelona for £21m—Chelsea ditched their early season offensive apathy and instead looked a real threat going forward. While many were sceptical of Pedro’s position in the attacking midfielder/winger pecking order, he has already established himself as a undroppable member of the team.

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Defensive concerns still abound though. After being substituted at half-time against Man City, John Terry added to his recent woes by receiving a red card this week, raising further questions about his long-term stranglehold at the heart of Chelsea’s defence.

West Brom created numerous chances throughout the game along with a missed penalty early on by James Morrison. At no point was it a comfortable victory for the visitors and improvements will need to be prompt if we are to see a return to the trademark stifling José Mourinho defense.

This weekend they face in-form Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge. Both teams will want to enter the international break with a good performance, but much more will be expected of Chelsea who will want to continue last week’s offensive form, coupled with a renewed sense of competence at the back.

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2) Who will score the goals for Manchester United?

Three games into the Premier League season and it’s difficult to see where United’s goals are going to come from. Through matches against Tottenham, Aston Villa, and Newcastle United, Louis van Gaal’s charges have only managed to bag two goals in the process.

Granted, in these three games the Red Devils haven’t conceded a single goal, which augers well for a team plagued by defensive instability last season. But for a team to truly contend in this division, there must be a player others can turn to as the lynchpin of the attacking third—the player who will unlock a defence and bag a winner when all efforts appear futile.

Both Memphis Depay and Wayne Rooney have performed exceptionally in the two-legged Champions League qualifier against Club Brugge—Memphis secured a brace in the first leg, with Rooney bagging a hat-trick in Wednesday night’s return game—but neither have looked intimidating forces in the Premier League. Van Gaal has publicly backed Rooney as the team’s primary offensive threat, but he will need to start displaying some offensive consistency in the league.

It is no surprise that United continue to be linked with almost every big name striker in Europe—Barcelona’s Neymar the latest to be rumoured, though this reaches the ‘never going to happen’ echelon of football gossip.

United need help up front if they are to mount a realistic title challenge. But in lieu of any incomings, they’ll hope that one of their current star players gets going in Sunday’s game against Swansea.

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3) Is Scott Sinclair the man to temporarily fill Aston Villa’s striking vacancy?

Now, I get it. If Scott Sinclair is the answer then it’s probably best to just avoid the question. But with Villa’s lack of proven striking talent he could be the best placed to fill that void—at least on a temporary basis.

So far this season, Villa have tried both Jordan Ayew and Rudy Gestede as the lone central striker in a front three. While Gestede powered in a header as a substitute against Bournemouth on the opening day to help his team take all three points, he was a nullified threat in last week’s loss to Crystal Palace.

Ayew, a £9m summer signing from FC Lorient has looked way off the pace in the season’s early goings, and doesn’t seem ready, or particularly well suited, to lead the line in the Premier League.

Following Christian Benteke’s £32.5m departure manager Tim Sherwood must surely recognise the need to strengthen in this area of the pitch.

A protracted pursuit of Emmanuel Adebayor appears to have collapsed, though could be resurrected before Tuesday’s deadline.

In the interim though, while Ayew finds his feet, and Gestede works out how to use them, it could benefit Villa to try Sinclair through the centre.

Primarily deployed as an inside forward, Sinclair’s usage on the left largely negates Sherwood’s desire to use the full width of the pitch. Sinclair rarely tries to beat his man for pace down the channels, instead often electing to back his defender towards the goal, before cutting inside and into the area, for a shot or crossing opportunity.

Sinclair has proven adept at finding good positions in the box, as proven by his three goals midweek that helped Villa come from behind to beat Notts County 5-3 after extra time.

Sinclair will certainly start at the weekend—it’d be difficult to drop him after a midweek hat trick, irrespective of the standard of the opposition—but it could be a worthwhile strategy to experiment with him through the middle of the pitch.

If you can’t try new things at home against this Sunderland team, then we all might as well give up.

A bit like this Sunderland team appear to have done.

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4) Which want-away stars sit out of their respective clubs’ fixtures in advance of Tuesday’s transfer deadline?

With this weekend’s slate of fixtures being the last before the summer transfer window closes on Tuesday at 6pm, we could see some hints at potential transfers for a number of players.

We’ve seen many occasions where players have been pulled from fixtures in advance of potential transfers  for fear of the player suffering an injury that scuppers any potential move and financial windfall. Players have also been left out due to the manager deeming them as mentally ‘unfit’ to perform in light of intense media speculation.

Of course, David de Gea is expected to continue warming a seat in the stands while Sergio Romero starts in-goal, so it’d be tough to read too much into his continued absence. Rumblings persist that the Spaniard will eventually complete a move to Real Madrid following a summer-long saga.

Everton have been the recipients of numerous bids from Chelsea for star defender John Stones. With the most recent bid rumoured to be around £35m, Everton are clearly holding out for something approaching the mammoth mark of £40m.

With Stones slapping in a transfer request earlier this week, there is a sense of inevitability with this one that Chelsea will get their man. Deemed the heir-apparent to Terry’s reign in the Chelsea backline, previous history suggests that they will meet Everton’s demands in pursuit of the England international.

Roberto Martinez stuck with Stones in his starting line up midweek against Barnsley in the Capital One Cup as a stubborn defiance of the pressure exerted by Chelsea; however, the wanted man struggled and seemed affected by the intense speculation about his future so could miss out this weekend.

Saido Berahino is another that has been vocal about his desire to leave West Brom. Like Stones, Berahino lodged a transfer request this week that was swiftly rejected by the club. Berahino missed last week’s game against Chelsea in favour of new signing Salomón Rondón, and was also not included for the cup game against Port Vale.

A £21m bid from Spurs was rejected by the club, who have placed a £25m price tag on the young striker’s head.

Tottenham have since completed the signing of Bayer Leverkusen forward Son Heung-min in a deal reportedly worth £22m.

While Son can play attacking midfield, and occupy the wings, it seems highly likely that funds allocated for the purchase of Berahino have instead gone elsewhere.

If Spurs’ interest has ended, it is difficult to see another team with the combination of need and funds to acquire a player like Berahino.

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5) Was last week’s game representative of a rejuvenated Bournemouth or a lacklustre West Ham?

Ok, so this is technically two questions in one. But both bear looking out for.

Last week’s 4-3 victory for Bournemouth at Upton Park raised a lot of questions of both teams.

For Bournemouth it was their first victory in the Premier League, achieved in an extraordinary game of attacking instincts and defensive calamity. Callum Wilson scored a hat trick to lead the Cherries to a well-earned win, easing some of the question marks concerning his ability to score goals in the Premier League in the process.

With the pressure of securing that first win now off their backs, Bournemouth should now be able to enter games with a heightened sense of assuredness at their presence in the top division. Eddie Howe’s men struggled in the opening two games of the season to really create, and take, their chances, falling to 1-0 defeats to both Aston Villa and Liverpool. But now, with four goals under their belt—albeit along with three conceded—Bournemouth should take confidence heading into their home game against a free-flowing Leicester City.

West Ham are just a bit all over the place at the moment aren’t they? While the 4-3 defeat will undoubtedly sting, it’s the manner of the defeat that should truly concern new boss Slaven Bilić

West Ham were sloppy from the opening whistle; with loose passing, and lackadaisical defending, the Hammers weren’t able to impose themselves on the game until after the break.

Indeed the game was characterised by numerous errors in the West Ham backline. Aaron Cresswell, last season’s club player of the year was the chief architect of West Ham’s misfortune, being undone by Wilson for his first, and gifting him his second with a heavy touch.

New signing Angelo Ogbonna is one of a rare breed: a first half substitute. Indeed the 27-year old defender was hauled off after an extremely rocky 35 minutes with his club already 2-0 down as Bilić desperately attempted to jolt his team out of their daze.

Add to that Carl Jenkinson’s red card that gifted Bournemouth a penalty and Wilson his hat trick and the errors were widespread.

West Ham take on Liverpool this weekend, and will be eager to show some sense of cohesion and concentration throughout the team. Of particular interest is who will get the nod across defence in light of last week’s horror show.

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