Premier League hits & misses: Erik ten Hag's Man Utd starting to click? Erling Haaland and Julian Alvarez bring hunger – Sky Sports

  • September 17, 2022

Plus: Douglas Luiz has revolutionised corner kicks; Fabio Carvalho impresses for Liverpool; Alexander Isak bringing the entertainment back to Newcastle; West Ham get back to the West Ham way; Bournemouth show battling qualities; Wolves misfire again
Thursday 1 September 2022 22:37, UK

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Erik ten Hag might be onto something. After those miserable two matches to start his time as Manchester United manager, the visit of Liverpool followed by tricky away fixtures at Southampton and Leicester looked so dangerous for the Dutchman.
Instead, it is three wins in a row and three games in which his players have been committed to the cause. There is a platform on which he can build and, crucially, he appears to have identified those players whom he can trust to take the team forward in the short term.
Once again he named an unchanged side without Cristiano Ronaldo and Harry Maguire and once again it paid off. There are new heroes now. Bruno Fernandes has the armband, his name sang at full-time. Lisandro Martinez has Maguire’s spot on the left of defence.
‘Argentina’ they chanted from the away end at the King Power Stadium. Martinez’s combative approach wins over supporters quickly and he has soon formed a connection with the equally tenacious Tyrell Malacia playing outside him. It is an improvement.
The newfound spirit was perhaps summed up in the second half when Diogo Dalot managed to deny Harvey Barnes a corner. Immediately, he was up and slapping the chest of the Manchester United centre-backs. Encouragingly, there is a bite to this team again.
Scott McTominay provided that in midfield, a dominant presence for the 45 minutes, and ahead of him there are promising signs too. The moment of quality that separated the sides featured excellent work from Fernandes, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho.
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Rashford, in particular, was better here, showcasing some one-touch lay-offs that suggested he might be regaining his confidence. Anthony Elanga has brought energy and there is, of course, the impending introduction of Antony on that right side to add a new dimension.
That will please Ten Hag – the fact that it is easy to envisage Antony and Casemiro, brought on here, being slotted into this side now. The fear was that the signings would have to make sense of the system. Now they can be added from a position of relative strength.
Perhaps there is even the possibility of a refocused Ronaldo contributing to the team in the coming months now the uncertainty over his future can be parked until after the World Cup. From nowhere, United have some positives. And that feels long overdue.
Adam Bate
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Five games. Five wins. Arsenal are flying high at the top of the Premier League and the atmosphere around the club is best it has been in a long, long time.
There have been criticisms of over celebrating wins and many stating that the opposition the Gunners have beaten haven’t been up to much, but after beating Aston Villa 2-1, this is their best start since the 2004/05 season, and that’s got to be worth celebrating for Arsenal and their fans.
“Arsenal have done really well so far but their big test comes next Sunday against Manchester United at Old Trafford,” former Arsenal star Paul Merson told Sky Sports earlier this week.
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“It’s going to be the acid test for this Arsenal side. If they can go and beat United, then you start to think that this could carry on.”
Of course, the fixtures have been kind to Arsenal so far this. Of course, there is still a long, long way to go this season, and of course, there will be ups and downs and bigger tests to come for Arteta’s men.
That starts on Super Sunday when they face Erik ten Hag’s United but win and then the excitement can really start to build for Arteta, his players and the Arsenal supporters.
Oliver Yew
‘I’m not sure I’ve seen that many corners scored in my life,’ said Steven Gerrard after watching Douglas Luiz score his second goal directly from a corner in a little over a week.
The Aston Villa boss admitted his frustration with his side’s 2-1 defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates on Wednesday was preventing him from ‘waxing lyrical’ about the Brazilian’s brilliant effort but there will be plenty of superlatives coming Douglas Luiz’s way.
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It became apparent his Carabao Cup goal from the arc at Bolton was no fluke when Villa’s blocking routine from the training ground was revealed. And a similar combination of precision from Douglas Luiz and positioning from his team-mates – including Boubacar Kamara shutting out Aaron Ramsdale – saw the feat remarkably replicated against Arsenal.
Later in the half, an inspired Leon Bailey wasn’t far off scoring from a corner on the other side. Suddenly Villa’s corners are looking as dangerous as free-kicks.
In an era of set-piece coaches and clubs looking for any gain they can find, Douglas Luiz may just have opened up a whole new avenue of attack.
Peter Smith
“We have two strikers with incredible quality,” said Pep Guardiola afterwards. Talk about an understatement. Julian Alvarez found the net twice on his full debut for Manchester City in their 6-0 win over Nottingham Forest and Erling Haaland still managed to outscore him.
The two new arrivals bring that box threat – that ability to smell the goal, according to Guardiola – and though the City head coach had talked of resting Haaland to play Alvarez, this was a reminder that he could always pair them. It can be a ruthless combination.
“They are both incredible finishers and in games like today that is so important. Against teams that will defend deep, having the two guys there who have that incredible smell to score goals will help.” Just their presence at the club might help Man City too.
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Guardiola was wary not to criticise Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko when asked if the new signings had brought greater hunger to the team. But he took the point. “They are nice people, nice guys, but sometimes a team has to shake a little.”
He spoke of how Haaland is around the academy players in the canteen, the buzz that it has brought to everyone the club. Haaland never was able to win the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund. Alvarez is in Europe for the first time. Both are 22. Their time is now.
“I have that feeling that they want to prove themselves to the world in the toughest league in the world. They have that ambition. This is an extra energy for all of us.” Even him? “A little bit. They change me. They improve me. I have to improve myself in front of them.”
There are still issues to address if they are to retain this Premier League trophy. Guardiola believes his team must do better in dealing with set pieces and transitions. But with these two around, it will matter a little bit less. There is leeway when you are as potent as this.
Adam Bate
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“We’ve shown up today for the fans, they’ve helped us so much, I want to say a big thank you to them because without them this wouldn’t be possible,” an elated Fabio Carvalho said, barely catching his breath as he was interviewed on the Anfield pitch by BT Sport’s Des Kelly.
Carvalho has only just turned 20 – on Tuesday in fact – but through the white-hot atmosphere he bared his teeth to show he is ready to take his Liverpool career in his stride.
It is a club steeped in history and stoppage-time winners, a record-extending 40th in the Premier League era, and Carvalho has shown he has the stomach to score when it matters.
The Portuguese is versatile, hard-working and fiercely ambitious. Here, he became youngest Liverpool player ever to score a 90th-minute winning goal in the Premier League, surpassing Robbie Fowler against Arsenal in April 1995.
On Carvalho, Klopp said: “That’s already his second goal. He’s a fantastic boy, we changed pretty much everything, very offensive orientated but he can also play there. If a boy is as good as he is then he needs the moment.”
With Diogo Jota still watching on from the sidelines, Carvalho’s goals will be vital if Liverpool are to keep on the coat-tails of the early pacesetters Arsenal and usual suspects Manchester City.
You get the feeling there will be many more to come.
Ben Grounds
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The Newcastle players will have felt crestfallen as they boarded the team bus and headed on their long journey back to Tyneside.
Jurgen Klopp would stick the boot in, claiming the dramatic denouement at Anfield was the ‘perfect response to time-wasting’. Howe naturally didn’t see it the same way.
“It’s a Premier League game,” he contested. “With so much at stake, we had players who were fatigued. We had one day less recovery than Liverpool and we’ve given everything to every game so far, there was no gamesmanship from our side there were just tired bodies.
“In the second half, we wanted to slow the game down, they wanted to quicken it up. There were natural frustrations against two polar opposite needs.”
If Newcastle were content to take their time during breaks in play, Alexander Isak certainly was in no mood to make a slow start to life in the Premier League.
Howe described the club’s new £60m record signing as a ‘special player’ and that was evident from his 64 minutes on the pitch before he was taken off as a precaution following a dead leg.
Isak became the sixth Swedish player to score on his Premier League debut, and first since Zlatan Ibrahimovic for Man Utd against Bournemouth in August 2016.
It was at Anfield where Kevin Keegan’s Entertainers were famously beaten in similarly dramatic fashion by Stan Collymore 26 years ago. Isak showed he is ice cool in front of goal, even without the first-choice supporting cast of Allan Saint-Maximin and Callum Wilson.
Having wasted no time in repaying the club’s huge outlay, there is comfort for Newcastle fans in knowing they will certainly be entertained with Isak in the side.
Ben Grounds
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This felt like the West Ham we have become accustomed to under David Moyes. After a slow start against Tottenham, they kicked into gear with an aggressive and dangerous performance. That energy and bite got the crowd involved at the London Stadium – an absolute must for a home team in a London derby of this magnitude.
“It’s not easy to play against West Ham,” Tottenham boss Antonio Conte remarked afterwards.
That is usually the case but that edge and conviction in West Ham’s play has been missing so far this season with Brighton and Nottingham Forest taking maximum points off them whilst although the result was good in their 1-0 win at Aston Villa there were still huge flaws in their rhythm and chemistry.
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That returned here as the Hammers grew in stature as the game wore on. In this was a 100-minute game rather than 90, then West Ham would have been a fair bet for stealing the points.
Tomas Soucek was back to his battering-ram best, Michail Antonio chased lost causes and provided the platform for West Ham to build from and Declan Rice was his usual calm, collected and classy self in midfield. You’d be hard pushed to find a better spine than that in the Premier League when all are on song. And when you throw Moyes’ new additions into the mix – Lucas Paqueta was introduced on 67 minutes and added extra spark – there is certainly more hope for another exciting season than what it seemed a few weeks ago.
Lewis Jones
“A massive learning curve.” That was how Steve Cooper described Nottingham Forest’s 6-0 thrashing by Manchester City. The result, he added, was a lesson in “just how ruthless” the Premier League can be.
In truth, though, Forest are unlikely to be subjected to anything quite as emphatic as this until the next time they face Pep Guardiola’s side. City look in a league entirely of their own right now.
For that reason, Cooper is right to say Forest “won’t be defined” by what happened at the Etihad Stadium.
He will look back on their defending for the goals and think they should have done better. So will the players themselves. But the reality is that any side would have struggled to live with City in this kind of mood.
The real lesson to take from this game is in appreciating the greater importance of fixtures like Saturday’s, when Forest welcome Bournemouth to the City Ground. After that, it’s Leeds and Fulham.
That run of games presents Forest with an opportunity to quickly put events at the Etihad Stadium behind them. They are not the first side to leave it with their tails between their legs and they will not be the last.
Nick Wright
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It has been a tumultuous five days for Bournemouth. A 9-0 hammering at Liverpool on Saturday was followed by Scott Parker becoming the first Premier League manager of the season to lose his job.
It would have been no surprise to see the Cherries devoid of confidence and ideas as they welcomed Wolves to the south coast on Wednesday evening, but interim boss Gary O’Neil can be proud of his side’s battling performance.
His players responded with a well-earned point against a Wolves outfit – albeit still winless after their opening five games – full of technical quality. The Cherries showed fight, determination and energy to keep the visitors out. Led by the valiant Lloyd Kelly, who produced a superb goal-line clearance late on to deny Daniel Podence, the hosts deserved a draw.
Bournemouth won 20 of their 24 attempted tackles at the Vitality Stadium. Wolves won just 11 of their 26. The home side also made eight defensive interceptions during the match and given the nature of their defeat at Anfield only four days ago, keeping a clean sheet was an admirable response.
“The players showed commitment, bravery and togetherness during a tough moment, so I’m proud of that,” O’Neil said afterwards.
Despite conceding 16 goals in the Premier League already this season, only two teams – Manchester City and Brighton – have managed more clean sheets than Bournemouth’s two so far this campaign.
If they are “ill-equipped” to compete in the top flight this term, they certainly showed they can dig out results. That will please their next permanent manager.
Dan Sansom
The fortunes of Raul Jimenez in front of goal sums up Wolves’ misfiring start.
After having five shots at goal against Bournemouth – two on target – the striker has now gone 11 Premier League games without finding the net, his longest streak without scoring for the club.
Indeed, questions have been asked of Jimenez as to whether he has been the same player since he fractured his skull two years ago, but his current run of form combines with Wolves’ lack of efficiency.
They have had the fifth-most amount of shots (69) in the Premier League but 30 of them have been off-target, the third-worst record. Their xG of 5.69 has them 13th while on chances created (55), Wolves are fourth.
No wonder head coach Bruno Lage is remaining level-headed, believing “the goals will come”, not least, perhaps, following the arrival of 6ft 7in striker Sasa Kalajdzic.
Wolves are strong in the final third with the likes of Adama Traore, Pedro Neto, Daniel Podence Hwan Hee-chan, Goncalo Guedes and marauding midfielder Matheus Nunes to call upon. They will start firing soon. Stay patient.
David Richardson
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