Citizens Above All

Aston Villa 0-1 Manchester United

Louis van Gaal is buying time. He brought six new players to the team this summer, pushed Ángel Di María out of the club and is completely prepared to do the same with David De Gea, whose absence at this point can only be explained by his impending transfer to Real Madrid. With this many changes being made to the squad in span of just two months, it’s obvious that Red Devils are not going to play top-class football until every new piece of a footballing puzzle falls right into place. That process might take several weeks to complete and before it happens, it’s extremely important for MU to collect points despite utterly unimpressive performances – like the one they displayed on Friday. With Spurs, Villa, Magpies and Watford all lined up to face United at the start of this season, 12 points are an imperative – and, somehow, the team is slowly cruising towards this goal.

From the managerial point of view, drawing an opponent like Villa at this stage of a season is almost as good as a blessing. For the last five Premier League campaigns, MU were unbeaten by The Villans and they’ve actually won 8 out of 10 previous encounters with Claret and Blue eleven. Wayne Rooney, freshly moved back to the lone striker slot, has put thirteen EPL goals in the back of AV’s net. Apparently, those states – or maybe Ashley Young’s average game against Spurs – made van Gaal confident enough to introduce some changes on the pitch and put Adnan Januzaj into the fray. The lad, who had a brief spell of good form under David Moyes, was recently pushed back into total irrelevance, as he disappointed his boss every time he played. Now, out of the blue, he wasn’t just coming back in the starting eleven – he was actually put into the #10 slot; possibly for the first time in his career!

LvG’s eccentricity could’ve costed him if this was any other team to play against, but let’s face it: it was just Aston Villa; pretty much the same Aston Villa we knew for the majority of the last campaign, when Christian Benteke took time healing an injury and his teammates could not score to save their lives. Obvious lack of attacking quality haunted Tim Sherwood’s lads once again and it didn’t take long before the game started heading for only two possible outcomes: either a 0-0 draw or a narrow win for MU. Ironically enough, Januzaj, aka the eventual goalscorer, did a lot out there to secure the nil-nil outcome. Indecisive and way too confident in his dribbling skills, he’d needlessly give the ball back to the home side, forcing Morgan Schneiderlin to prove himself once again. For many, the winning goal will erase all the weaknesses of his performance; however, to me, kid shouldn’t play as #10 ever again.

All in all, United at the moment are closely resembling Chelsea circa 2004-05. On a positive note: very strong backline with Smalling playing the best football he has ever shown and Schneiderlin / Darmian fitting in immediately. On a negative? The only player decent enough attacking player van Gaal has right now is Juan Mata – and even now, he’s unlikely to get a chance to move back to his favourite position of trequartista. Other than him, the team is surprisingly short of offensive quality. Memphis Depay did not pay back a penny from his massive transfer fee yet. Marouane ‘The Battering Ram’ Fellaini is injured, cutting down the long ball ideas. After the summer break, van Gaal shows limited trust in Ander Herrera’s abilities. And, last but not least – Wayne Rooney. The 2015-16 Rooney is certainly not Rooney we used to know and admire. No, this MU team still has lots and lots fixing ahead of it.

Crystal Palace 1-2 Arsenal

This was more of a no-brainer than the previous game. It’s been over 20 years since easy customers from Selhust Park scored their last win against Gunners – so long ago that even nestor Arsene Wenger wasn’t around yet when it happened. And although Alan Pardew has lifted Palace to the best EPL position in club’s history, he also lost 7 out of 10 encounters with top 5 Premier League clubs last season. Persuading Yohan Cabaye to join the team and then outplaying Norwich 3-1 at Carrow Road might’ve been a double confidence boost, but let’s face it: The Eagles are currently a textbook mid-table team; a team too strong to go down against weaklings but too weak to really threaten the upper echelon of the league. Against Arsenal, they fielded exactly the same, defensive-minded formation that Norwich used a week ago to their own demise. And, though it was close – the history repeated itself.

Alas, it did not come without few bumps. Palace played a failure of a striker in form of Connor Wickham and ended up fairly toothless upfront, but their central midfielders put in a lot of solid, defensive work yesterday and partially exposed Gunners’ shortcomings. Cabaye’s input look particularly positive. He made more interceptions than any other EPL player this weekend and tackled Aaron Ramsey fiercely to subtly undermine the Welshman’s impact. Alongside with the ex-Newcastle and PSG playmaker, James McArthur did not disappoint either and the omission of Mile Jedinak did not really lower the standard of Palace’s play in the middle of the park. But, sadly, it was the flanks that failed them. Bolasie, tipped by some to be the revelation of the season, has made literally one successful action in the entire first half only to be subbed off during the break. And Zaha? He was just a Don Quixote out there.

A team as classical in the style of attacking as CPFC had to suffer greatly from the lack of quality down the wings. Bellerin and Monreal pretty much dominated the wide areas and since Pape Souaré was rather difficult to get around while attacking through the middle, Gunners’ offensive actions switched to the sides of the pitch – ending up with both goals being scored after crosses from those areas. Those who were cursing Wenger for benching Walcott again in favour of Giroud were proven wrong this time. After just 15 minutes of play, the Frenchman has found himself at the end of Özil’s cross and opened the score with quite impressive, improvised shot. Six minutes later, one more good move from the German playmaker has sent Alexis Sánchez through on goal on a counterattack. Everyone, including Pardew, already saw the ball in the back of the net. And then? Of course – Alexis messed up…

Fortunately for Arsenal, Özil did not lower his standard after that and actually worked even harder once Eagles bagged an equalizer. If he really is a small player in big games and big player in small games – well, at least he fulfilled the second part of that definition yesterday. With 98% pass accuracy, he assumed a direct control over the game in the second half and eventually, Gunners broke through again to collect three points. Palace can only blame themselves: they did not draw conclusions from the first half when Sánchez was allowed to hit a free header from the inside of the box. The Chilean popped up again in a similar situation, compensating the lack of height with his pace, as he bamboozled his markers once again and used Delaney to put the winning goal away. Selhurst Park is still waiting for a win over their London colleagues. For how many more years yet?

Manchester City 3-0 Chelsea

‘El Cashico’, as some people call it, did not really go according to the plan. Following the previous, disappointing performance of his lads against Swansea, Jose Mourinho was expected to shut the shop and fight for a draw in the lair of his potentially greatest rivals to the Premier League crown. The comical accusations he threw at Eva Carneiro and his medical staff were one thing, but underneath the surface of meaningless media gossip, everyone expected The Special One to straighten things up with his players. After all, the likes of Ivanović, Hazard and Fàbregas all had stinkers in the opening game of the season and surely needed few harsh words with the boss. Well, surprise: apparently, no real re-evaluations were made because when Iva, Eden and Cesc appeared at Etihad, they were once again, second-best to the team in front of them.

Mou always believed in a consistent starting 11. Even after individual disasters, he would gladly give the offender another chance and more often that not be rewarded with much better display. But not this time. In a rare case of prolonged crisis, all three pillars of Chelsea team have failed him two times in a row. Fàbregas could not really deal with Fernandinho – the same Fernandinho who took part in Brazilian 1-7 catastrophe and had a forgettable 2014-15 season. Ivanović had exactly the same problems with Sterling as he had last week with Montero – he was outpositioned and outdribbled; luckily for him, Sterling’s final ball and finishing are still developing, so he didn’t do as much damage as he could’ve done. And Hazard? 0 goals, 0 assists, only 2 chances created and only 3 dribbles. In the wake of recent events, The Blues could really use Antoine Griezmann instead.

First half was quite horrific for the visitors. Due to the lack of communication and pace at the back, they allowed Agüero to fire at least four shots from decent positions before the Argentinian eventually punished them for all that light-heartedness. Kun, along with David Silva, had a field day out there, often times running in-between three or four opponents and still managing to hold on to the ball. The Spanish maestro was in his element again, creating 3 chances, completing 3 crosses and finishing the opposition off with 2 assists in the span of just six minutes. Ironically enough, they both wrapped up the game just when Chelsea were gaining a little bit of momentum – a momentum that prompted Mourinho to declare that his team was better than City in the second half and lost undeservedly. How many more poor excuses for rubbish results can this man conceive?

Chelsea have now West Brom and Crystal Palace ahead of them. No more alibis this time: another bad game against opposition like this should result with an immediate benching of a slumping players. In fact, some of them deserve the bench already; Ivanović in particular, as he remains a shadow of a player who once scored a match-winner in Manchester. Minutes after troublesome performance at Etihad, CFC announced the signing of Baba Abdul Rahman from Augsburg. The lad is a natural left-back, meaning that he could potentially free up César Azpilicueta from his current duty and allow the Spaniard to replace Ivanović as the right-back. Other than that – something needs to be done regarding further squad improvements. If Chelsea weren’t really buying this summer, they need to consider it right now, because their depth is worryingly poor. Cuadrado and Falcao as game-changing bench factors? Good joke.

As for City – they’re in heaven now. Vincent Kompany is back on top of his game, already scoring twice in 2 games. Eliaquim Mangala doesn’t leak anymore. After being more-miss-than-hit last year, Jesús Navas looks very sharp. Yaya Touré must’ve had few sips from the fountain of youth because his play is back to the 2013-14 standards. But the main, widely overlooked star is Aleksandar Kolarov. Last season, the Serbian watched Gaël Clichy rising above him; today, his rival is struggling with an ankle injury while he plays one cracker of a game after another. A killer free-kick taker, Kolarov shined as an attacking wing-back in the first half and had a bit more conservative game after the break. Still, late in the game, it was his tackle that stopped a dangerous counterattacking chance for Chelsea. Where will this team end up once Sterling fully gels with the rest of players? Champions, I guess…

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