United hit back with crushing victory

Manchester United needed to win. The Red Devils were under intense media scrutiny, and all eyes were turned towards Old Trafford as they came up against reigning champions Leicester City. Losses to Manchester City and Feyenoord were followed up by a spiritless defeat at Watford, and the critics were lining up. They simply needed to respond.

The game started fairly evenly, with both sides jostling for possession and looking to find a way through. There was the odd chance here and there, but neither side realistically looked like breaking the deadlock. After a while, nerves looked to be showing for United, who could well have conceded after some defensive errors. Leicester looked to be slightly ahead, but it was not to last.

It was Daley Blind who provided the spark. United won a corner, and the Dutchman looped the ball into the box. It was, in a word, perfect. The out-swinging corner hit Chris Smalling on the edge of the six-yard box, and the header flew towards the bottom corner, in a place where Ron-Robert Zieler couldn’t reach it.

Near miss: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (centre) misses the target with a volley.

After the goal, United took the game by the scruff of the neck in an emphatic manner. The chances came in quick and fast. Marcus Rashford was played through after Jesse Lingard’s pressure opened Leicester up on the break, but the shot was well wide. A minute later, Rashford had another chance as Paul Pogba’s header allowed him to try an overhead kick. He missed. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, normally so clinical in front of goal, made a rare mistake with a volley after Pogba’s beautiful chip over the top.

Pogba was pulling the strings all over the park, moving into more advanced positions and letting his skills do the talking. He had been under more pressure than anyone after a string of poor efforts following his world record move, and he needed to change something. On this day, everything went right. He barely made a mistake as he sprayed the ball around the park, and his deft chips over the defence opened Leicester up time and again.

Pogba was again at the heart of the second goal, which came less than ten minutes before the break and triggered an incredible surge which rendered the second half unnecessary. Juan Mata was the catalyst, finding Pogba on the edge of the box with surgical precision. Pogba then made one of the passes on the game, chipping the man in front of him off a step and finding Jesse Lingard, who brought the ball to ground under some pressure. Mata kept running through, and his first time finish was unstoppable as it flew past Zieler into the back of the net.

Goal: Paul Pogba (second from right) heads in Manchester United’s fourth goal.

United weren’t finished yet. This time, they caught Leicester out with a corner, leaving Rashford with one of the easiest chances he will ever get. Blind seemed to be in no hurry to play in the corner, and Leicester bought it hook, line and sinker. Mata caught his two markers napping as he received it on the near post, and he played it past Zieler to find Rashford directly in front inside the six-yard box. If he had missed, it would have been a miracle.

United continued to attack, and soon they had won another corner. Blind’s delivery was, once again, perfect, and this time he picked out Pogba as the Frenchman made his way into the box. Pogba was minded by Christian Fuchs, and the diminutive left back didn’t have a shot against the size and strength of the most expensive player in the world. Pogba drove the header into the bottom corner, leaving United with an unassailable advantage.

Three goals in the space of five minutes had left Leicester without any hope, and all illusions that Claudio Ranieri would try for a result (if it was even possible to get one) were shattered when he removed Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy at half time. Leicester were shell-shocked, but United saw no reason to push the matter any further, and they played without any real intensity. They didn’t need to.

Leicester pulled one back on the hour, with Demarai Gray netting his first career Premier League goal with a strike of incredible quality. The young winger took on Jesse Lingard outside the area before drilling it into the top corner from range. David de Gea had no chance as the ball bent away from him, but it didn’t matter. It was the best goal of the game, but it was to have no bearing on the result.

United were content to take the air out of the game, and Leicester just wanted it to end. They had suffered enough embarrassment for one day. The win was emphatic, and it signalled a return to form for United after a fortnight of disappointments. Whether it will last only time will tell, but no-one would have beaten United on this day. They were purring, and could simply do no wrong. They needed to win. They did.

Manchester – Old Trafford
Manchester United 4 (Smalling 22, Mata 37, Rashford 40, Pogba 42)
Leicester City 1 (Gray 60)
Referee: Mike Dean

Manchester United (4-2-3-1): de Gea – Valencia, Bailly, Smalling, Blind; Herrera, Pogba; Lingard (Carrick 78), Mata (Young 87), Rashford (Rooney 83); Ibrahimovic.
Leicester City (4-4-2): Zieler – Simpson, Morgan, Huth, Fuchs; Mahrez (King 46), Amartey, Drinkwater, Albrighton (Schlupp 62); Vardy (Gray 46), Slimani.

Top 5
1. Paul Pogba (Manchester United)
Pogba was in control from the start, pushing up into dangerous positions and creating chances aplenty with his wonderful skill. His increased licence to roam worked wonders, and he barely made a mistake as he sprayed the ball around in attack. He was the commander for United, and he made life incredibly difficult for Leicester.
2. Ander Herrera (Manchester United)
Herrera was the yin to Pogba’s yang, collecting the ball deep in midfield and feeding it to his partner in central midfield. He was excellent throughout, and his ability to win the ball back created numerous chances for his teammates. He formed a brilliant combination with Pogba, and will look to keep that up in weeks to come.
3. Juan Mata (Manchester United)
Mata was everywhere in attack, moving from left to right as he saw fit. He worked his way into plenty of dangerous positions, and scored an excellent goal after combining well with Pogba and Lingard. He had plenty of energy as he moved around the pitch, and will take plenty of confidence from his performance.
4. Daley Blind (Manchester United)
Blind was excellent throughout, setting up three goals with his devastatingly accurate corner kicks. He pulled the strings from left back, hitting long passes down the line and finding Pogba in the middle when he needed to, and he can take confidence from an excellent performance.
5. Demarai Gray (Leicester City)
Gray was a shining light in an otherwise forgettable afternoon for Leicester, and he scored their only goal with an excellent strike from range. He came on at half-time and gave a spark that was lacking in the opening period, and he caused problems for United with his pace and liveliness.

Hull outclassed in destructive performance

It was the goal that said it all. The game was done, Arsenal having already sealed a crushing victory, and play had slowed to its lowest ebb. Arsene Wenger’s men were content to pass the ball around in midfield, letting the clock run out. It was against this backdrop that Granit Xhaka finished off a masterful performance in style. He received the ball deep in Hull’s half from Mohamed Elneny, and he dribbled towards goal looking for an option. No-one presented themselves, so he shot. The ball found the top corner from thirty yards, but there was little acknowledgement of the stunning goal. Instead, Xhaka merely raised his hand to the crowd, with a few teammates coming together to join him in celebration. This goal, and the reaction, summed up Arsenal’s night in a nutshell: minimum effort, minimum fuss.

The game had started fairly evenly, with both teams controlling the ball well and neither side looking like making any errors. Even still, Arsenal soon established their superiority, creating some dangerous chances and throwing plenty of bodies forward at every opportunity. They had the first goal within twenty minutes, with Francis Coquelin proving the catalyst. The Frenchman collected the rebound from his own blocked shot before playing a nice pass to Santi Cazorla, who in turn found Theo Walcott. Eldin Jakupovic dived well to parry the resultant cross, but the ball fell to Alex Iwobi, whose shot deflected off Alexis Sanchez on its way into the back of the net. Minimum effort, minimum fuss.

Teamwork: Theo Walcott (left) celebrates Arsenal’s second goal with Alex Iwobi.

The goal breathed new life into Arsenal, and soon Hull had no answer to the dynamic passing of the Gunners. They cut through their opponents like a breadknife slicing through butter, with minimum effort and minimum fuss. Andrew Robertson made a costly mistake when he accidentally provided Sanchez with a perfect through ball, and Hull were lucky to escape as the left-back slid in to save the goal. Minutes later, Mesut Ozil should have scored after Jakupovic saved brilliantly to deny Iwobi, but the German proceeded to miss an open goal. Hull should have been conclusively out of the contest minutes before half time when Jake Livermore was given his marching orders for a handball inside the box, and the Tigers were left to face a penalty. Sanchez stepped up to take it with confidence, but he could not add a second as Jakupovic dived well to make an excellent save.

Hull were lucky to only concede once in the first half, but it did not end there. Arsenal were brimming with confidence, and they continued to play the ball around in their forward half easily, seemingly oblivious to the presence of their opposition. There was always someone there, someone ready to receive the next ball in the chain, and it was only a matter of time before they added a second. It was Walcott who delivered, playing the ball to Iwobi before running through to receive a beautiful back-heeled pass. Walcott was one-on-one with Jakupovic, and there wasn’t much the keeper could do as the ball was chipped past him into the back of the net. Minimum effort, minimum fuss.

Take cover: Andrew Robertson (in orange) ducks as Alexis Sanchez blasts the ball past him for Arsenal’s third goal.

There was no contest as the second half progressed. Hull weren’t just out for the count; the hosts had been knocked out for a long time. Occasionally they would look dangerous on the break, but Arsenal would stop their attack and hit back savagely, running wild before meeting resistance on the last line of defence. Anything Hull could do, Arsenal could do better. Then Hull scored, and it looked as if the game was about to change dramatically. Petr Cech was the culprit, the keeper taking out Dieumerci Mbokani in the box after an incisive pass from Ryan Mason. The penalty was belatedly awarded, and Robert Snodgrass was all class as he clinically drilled the ball into the back of the net. It was 2-1 with ten minutes to go, and it looked as if Hull had somehow manufactured a contest.

They hadn’t. Sanchez scored again less than five minutes later after collecting the rebound from another Jakupovic save, and he had no trouble blasting the ball past the defenders standing on the line, who were there more in hope than anything else. Arsenal were content to slow the pace of the game down to that of a Sunday walk, and Xhaka’s stunning strike was merely icing on the cake after a scintillating performance. Minimum effort, minimum fuss.

Hull – KCOM Stadium
Hull City 1 (Snodgrass 79 pen)
Arsenal 4 (Sanchez 17, 83, Walcott 55, Xhaka 90+2)
Referee: Roger East

Hull City (4-1-4-1): Jakupovic – Elmohamady, Livermore, Davies, Robertson; Clucas; Snodgrass, Huddlestone (Mason 58), Meyler, Diomande (Maguire 42); Hernandez (Mbokani 77).
Sent-off: Livermore 40.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Cech – Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Coquelin, Cazorla (Xhaka 66); Walcott (Perez 88), Ozil, Iwobi (Elneny 77); Sanchez.

Top 5
1. Eldin Jakupovic (Hull City)
Jakupovic was in top form despite conceding four goals, rebuffing Arsenal time and time again and making them work for everything. He saved a penalty and made multiple top-drawer saves as he looked to keep Hull in the match, and if he had not been there the scoreline would have looked much worse. He played brilliantly, and can take confidence from his performance.
2. Francis Coquelin (Arsenal)
Coquelin was at the heart of everything for the Gunners, making incisive runs into the box and distributing the ball wherever he saw fit. He was in excellent touch, and he caused plenty of problems for Hull with his control and ability to pick holes in the defence.
3. Alex Iwobi (Arsenal)
Iwobi finished the game with two assists, and he was unlucky not to score himself on a number of occasions. His back-heel to set up Walcott for Arsenal’s second goal was pure class, and he created plenty of problems for Hull with his skill and ability to find the ball in dangerous positions. He played very well, and should continue to hold his place in the team.
4. Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal)
Sanchez netted twice, and while he did miss a penalty he probably shouldn’t have been taking he was exceptionally dangerous and was a nightmare for the Hull defence. He dropped back and pushed forward wherever necessary, and whenever he touched the ball he looked as if he was going to do something. A class performance.
5. Sam Clucas (Hull City)
Clucas was one of the hardest working players on the pitch, rebuffing Arsenal on a number of occasions with his ability to go in and win the ball in tough spots. He didn’t have much of an influence when Hull went forward, but his defensive play was top rate and he can hold his head high after a strong performance.

City hold on to clinch thrilling derby win

The simultaneous arrival of Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola in Manchester was always going to create great contests, and the two arch-rivals served up an incredible game in their first derby match at the helm of their new sides. Derby matches between Manchester City and Manchester United had dropped off in quality in recent times, but Guardiola and Mourinho were bound to change things. They did, and in doing so they turned the most hyped game of the season into a thriller, filled with skill, goals and plenty of tension.

For the first half-hour, however, it looked to be no contest at all. City played like a shiny new sports car, purring into gear with slick passing moves which cut swathes through the United defence. Kevin de Bruyne was the architect, the Belgian giving it off when he saw fit and making wonderful runs in behind. Meanwhile, United looked more like a battered old SUV. They were sluggish, and they were closed down whenever they looked to enter City’s half. It was only a matter of time before City opened the scoring.

They did it just before the fifteen-minute mark, with Aleksandar Kolarov the architect. The Serb seemed trapped in his defensive corner, surrounded by two United players and under some pressure. There was only one option available, and he hoofed it downfield with all the strength he could muster. Kelechi Iheanacho was there, and he flicked the header on towards Daley Blind, who stayed unmoving. It was a costly error. The Dutchman left the door open, and de Bruyne glided through it with his usual ease. He took a couple of touches to control it, and he had no issues stroking the ball past David de Gea into the back of the net. City had the lead, and they didn’t look done by any stretch.

Frustration: Wayne Rooney (in red) wrestles for the ball with Pep Guardiola.

United didn’t seem to have a shot. They were down a goal, but recovery did not look likely. Guardiola did not push his men back, and City continued to use the pockets of space available to them. When United attacked, it was abysmal. Henrikh Mkhitaryan was lethargic on the right wing, losing the ball almost every time he got it and providing no service for Zlatan Ibrahimovic up front. Wayne Rooney was getting flustered, wrestling with Guardiola and committing plenty of fouls. Meanwhile, on the left wing, Jesse Lingard was a disaster. His selection was unexpected, and once in the team it was as if he was not on the pitch at all.

The second goal came shortly after the first, with de Bruyne again setting things in motion. He found the ball in the box and turned his opponent before going for the shot. He drilled it into the post, but it fell for Iheanacho, who would have found it harder to miss the follow-up attempt. The ball rebounded to the Nigerian on the edge of the six-yard box, and he did not miss. Iheanacho stopped for a moment, before coming to the realisation that it actually was that easy. City led 2-0.

United were floundering, before they were handed an incredible lifeline which they grabbed with both hands. The goal came from nowhere, and it marked the turning point in this incredible match. David Silva conceded a free kick after sliding in on Antonio Valencia, and it seemed as if Rooney’s hopeful hack into the penalty area would be easily saved. It wasn’t. Claudio Bravo, who had been assured and steady in goal for forty minutes, crashed into John Stones as he looked to catch it, dropping the ball and giving Ibrahimovic a chance. He scored in a way only Ibrahimovic can, letting it bounce before smashing it past the defenders on the line with a powerful side-kick. It was the lifeline that United desperately needed.

Suddenly they were a new side, attacking with vigour and creating plenty of chances. Rooney picked off a poor back pass from Stones, and City were lucky that Bravo was able to hold on to Ibrahimovic’s header. A minute later, Bravo was at it again, this time haring off in pursuit of a ball which he was not quite able to get. He was caught out in a big way, especially when Lingard made his only real contribution of the match to beat Sagna and feed Ibrahimovic on the edge of the box. Stones was there, and he blocked it on the line, but the warning was clear. United were back in the contest, and City needed to lift their game.

Desperation: Eric Bailly (left) and David de Gea look to deny Nicolas Otamendi.

Mkhitaryan and Lingard were removed at the break, and United came back out with a renewed vigour. Ibrahimovic was in dangerous positions whenever they went forward, and City’s defence was no match for the dribbling skills of Marcus Rashford. The teenager held them in a trance as he moved with the ball, and he looked more dangerous in transition than any of his teammates. Bravo nearly coughed it up again minutes later, when he held onto the ball for too long and managed to present Rooney with a golden opportunity. He slid in to stop the United captain, limiting the damage, but it was another big mistake on a forgettable debut.

 

The game opened up as City lifted their level to match their rivals. It was pulsating, end-to-end football, as both sides looked to hit each other on the break. United had a goal disallowed after another brilliant run from Rashford, who held Bacary Sagna on a string before drilling it past him into the back of the net. It was to count for nothing, however, as the ball clipped an offside Ibrahimovic on the way through, the minute deflection costing United their leveller. City kept the pressure on, and after de Gea was forced to make some excellent saves to deny Fernandinho and Nicolas Otamendi they had another brilliant chance when Leroy Sane fed de Bruyne on the break. The Belgian hit the post and the ball rolled across the face, coming tantalisingly close to the goal that would have sealed it.

Soon that counter-attack was not happening, and the game was just City letting United heave long balls into the box. Rooney slung in ball after ball, but it was to no avail. City were solid in defence, and they would not be denied an exceptional victory. It was a great battle, and hopefully it sets the tone for derbies to come. If it does, then we have a lot to look forward to as Mourinho and Guardiola continue to leave their mark on the Premier League.

Manchester – Old Trafford
Manchester United 1 (Ibrahimovic 42)
Manchester City 2 (de Bruyne 15, Iheanacho 36)
Referee: Mark Clattenburg

Manchester United (4-2-3-1): de Gea – Valencia, Bailly, Blind, Shaw (Martial 81); Fellaini, Pogba; Mkhitaryan (Herrera 46), Rooney, Lingard (Rashford 46); Ibrahimovic.
Manchester City (4-1-4-1): Bravo – Sagna, Stones, Otamendi, Kolarov; Fernandinho; Sterling (Sane 60), de Bruyne (Zabaleta 90), Silva, Nolito; Iheanacho (Fernando 53).

Top 5
1. Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City)
Much of Manchester City’s early dominance can be traced back to de Bruyne, who took advantage of the space he was presented with to create plenty of chances for himself and his teammates. He scored the first goal and set up the second, and he was unlucky to be denied by the woodwork on a number of occasions. His set piece delivery was as good as ever, rounding off an exceptional game.
2. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Manchester United)
Ibrahimovic was United’s only scorer, and he found himself in plenty of dangerous positions. He created plenty of problems for City’s defence with his height, positioning and ability to find space in the box, and he was unlucky not to score more. He was ever-present in attack for United, and can hold his head high after a strong performance.
3. Fernandinho (Manchester City)
Fernandinho was a solid presence in midfield and defence for City, dropping back in the closing stages and denying United with his ability to win the ball in dangerous spots. He was good in the air throughout, and had some great chances at the other end when he was able to push forward.
4. Marcus Rashford (Manchester United)
Rashford came on to replace the struggling Lingard at the break, and he was a game-changer for United. He was a dangerous presence on the left wing, and he was in complete control as he made dangerous runs into the box. He had a goal disallowed in unfortunate circumstances, and was one of United’s best.
5. Leroy Sane (Manchester City)
Sane came on at a time when City were coming under increasing pressure, and his introduction had an immediate impact. He used all of his pace as he looked to get away on the break, and he created plenty of problems for anyone who tried to mark him. He alleviated some of the strain on the City defence, and will take confidence from his efforts.

Spurs salvage a point from defensive wreck

Spurs were out of the contest. For the first hour, anyway. Playing against Liverpool, who were coming off a spectacular flop against newly-promoted Burnley, things were not looking good. They were 1-0 down, not creating any chances, and being exposed time and time again in defence. An injury to Kyle Walker threw Mauricio Pochettino’s pre-match plans out the window, and in the centre of the park Victor Wanyama and Dele Alli were unable to keep the ball out of their opponent’s hands. Tottenham’s attack received no delivery, and the defence was more than a little shaky.

Eric Dier had started the match playing in central midfield, but he was moved into right back after Walker went off. Throughout the ninety minutes it was like watching Jekyll and Hyde; sometimes he was composed, most of the time he gave the ball away in very bad positions. Jan Vertonghen was not much better. He looked frazzled when he came under pressure from Senegalese winger Sadio Mane, who nearly took Spurs apart on a number of occasions with his pace in behind. Toby Alderweireld was a rock at the heart of the defence, and Michel Vorm was ensuring not many goals were scored, but those two couldn’t do everything.

Under pressure: Eric Dier (left) is challenged by James Milner.

Liverpool, on the other hand, looked completely rejuvenated. Coming off a loss in which they had over 80 percent of possession, they had learned from their mistakes. Mane had come in for Daniel Sturridge, a player who wants to be at the heart of absolutely everything and had expressed annoyance at playing on the right wing. Mane tore Tottenham to shreds on a number of occasions, sliding in behind Danny Rose and beating Vertonghen for pace. He received good support from Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino, both of whom had been out of action against Burnley, and he generally boosted everything about Liverpool’s attack. Against Burnley they had played with all the pace of a funeral procession. Now, they played with purpose, taking advantage of the extra space available and looking for more opportunities through quick ball movement.

Liverpool had a plethora of great chances in the first half as they were able to exploit the extra space in Tottenham’s defence. No longer suffocated by Burnley’s rigid defensive structure they found their niche against a side who looked to attack them back, and they had nearly opened the scoring within five minutes. Vorm made an excellent save to deny Coutinho from close range after Firmino had played him through, with a well-placed foot trapping the ball on the line and allowing the Dutch keeper to gratefully reel it in.

Mane looked most dangerous on the break, when Tottenham players lost the ball after some errant passing. Vorm was up to the test, even as Mane broke the defensive line on multiple occasions. Vorm risked being booked or even sent off more than once by coming off his line to clear the ball, but he was able to keep it level. Finally, just minutes before the break, Liverpool broke the deadlock. They scored from the spot, with a very soft penalty being awarded to Firmino after a minute clip on the heels from Erik Lamela. The contact was there, but ultimately the Brazilian fell after tripping over his own feet. Either way, the penalty stood, and James Milner was there to stroke it home.

If Pochettino was hoping that his side would recover after the break, he was very much mistaken. After a brief settling in period, the game resumed its familiar rhythm, but with a slightly different beat. Liverpool had reached their zenith, and it was in this short period just after half time that they came closest to sealing a win. Things happened very quickly for Jurgen Klopp’s men. Joel Matip brushed the bar after getting his head to Milner’s corner, and shortly afterwards Vorm had to make an excellent save to deny Nathaniel Clyne, who had marauded into the box from right back. Then came the disallowed goal.

Georginio Wijnaldum, who had been much improved due to increased time on the ball, intercepted yet another poor pass from Dier and started off down the left wing. He had plenty of support, but he kept running to the edge of the area before feeding Adam Lallana with an excellent through ball. Lallana played Mane on the near post, and the ball was promptly blasted into the back of the net. It appeared to be the death knell for Spurs, the sign that Liverpool had finally sealed the victory. But the linesman’s flag said otherwise. It was a very tight call, with Lallana in an offside position by the barest of margins, and it gave Tottenham the lifeline that they needed. Perversely, the disallowed goal acted as a turning point in the match, as Spurs sputtered into gear, albeit belatedly.

Finish: Danny Rose (in white) levels the score.

It was Wanyama and Alli who stepped up. The solid pairing in central midfield started to cope with Liverpool’s pressure, and the attack found more of the ball and more space. Harry Kane started to pick it up in dangerous positions, and Vincent Janssen looked like a big threat. The hosts started to look like their former selves, stringing together great passing moves and creating some excellent chances. Lamela’s free kick had to be tapped over the bar by Simon Mignolet, and another top-drawer save had to be made moments later as Alderweireld got a head to Christian Eriksen’s corner. Spurs were starting to probe again, and suddenly it looked as if they could punish Liverpool for their missed opportunities. They did.

It started with a brilliant ball over the top from Alderweireld, with Milner completely misjudging it as it flew over his head to the feet of Dier. Milner was beaten again with a good touch, and while Lamela could not get a solid connection on the cross the ball fell to Rose at the back post. It was not an easy finish, but the left back made it look easy. He bundled the ball past Mignolet, and Matip, who had gone in behind to protect the line, had no chance as the shot rolled in next to the post. Liverpool looked to get an equaliser straight away, but the moment had already passed: Liverpool’s momentum was gone.

Liverpool had some chances late as the game opened up, and Alderweireld had to make an incredible challenge to deny Lallana in injury time. The Belgian was Tottenham’s last line of defence, and he risked a penalty by sliding in and blocking Lallana’s effort straight of the boot. The game trailed on, with some meaningless substitutions and a yellow card to Matip only delaying the finish as injury time drew to a close. Liverpool were the better side on the day, but they could not capitalise on the opportunities they created, and Tottenham’s porous defence did not prove costly in the end.

London – White Hart Lane
Tottenham Hotspur 1 (Rose 72)
Liverpool 1 (Milner 43 pen)
Referee: Robert Madley

Tottenham Hotspur (4-2-3-1): Vorm – Walker (Janssen 28), Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Rose; Dier, Wanyama; Lamela, Alli, Eriksen (Winks 90+3); Kane (Onomah 83).
Liverpool (4-3-3): Mignolet – Clyne, Matip, Lovren, Milner; Lallana (Stewart 90+4), Henderson, Wijnaldum; Mane (Sturridge 88), Firmino, Coutinho (Origi 69).

Top 5
1. Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham Hotspur)
Alderweireld was excellent at the heart of Tottenham’s defence, staying unfazed under heavy pressure and often covering up the defensive mistakes of his teammates. He created the goal with a pinpoint pass over the top of Liverpool’s defence, and he made a brilliant challenge to deny Lallana as the game drew to a close.
2. Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
Mane made all the difference for Liverpool after coming into the side to replace Sturridge. He cut swathes through Spurs with his pace and ability to get in behind, and he was unlucky not to score. He was the most dangerous attacking player on the ground, and he will be a big threat as the season progresses.
3. Joel Matip (Liverpool)
Matip provided a much-needed solidity for Liverpool in central defence, making life very difficult for Spurs and ensuring that not much got through. He was a significant threat at set pieces, and he came very close to scoring after beating his man in the air early in the second half. He played well in his Premier League debut, and he will want the good form to continue.
4. Danny Rose (Tottenham Hotspur)
Rose was Tottenham’s best attacking player, and while Mane often caught him out when his teammates carelessly lost possession he was fairly solid in defence as well. He created problems for Liverpool with his ability to go forward and put in incisive crosses, and he finished with excellent precision when he was given the opportunity.
5. Michel Vorm (Tottenham Hotspur)
Vorm had less to do in the second half as Liverpool’s influence waned, but he was excellent in goal throughout and did well to only concede once. His decision making was first-rate, and he saved a number of goals by coming off his line and clearing the ball away. He will only start until Hugo Lloris comes back, but he will take comfort from his early season form.

Disorganisation proves costly as Burnley take the points

If ever there was a game where the stats did not tell the full story, this was it. A quick glance at the stats sheet for the game between Burnley and Liverpool shows that Liverpool had over 80 per cent of possession, registered 26 shots (Burnley had 3), and won a staggering 12 corners to their opponent’s one. You could easily be forgiven for thinking that Liverpool won the match easily. Instead, they lost 2-0, with the hosts going ahead early and managing to keep their opponents at bay through some excellent defensive work.

The game was barely ninety seconds old when Burnley took the lead, with an aimless pass from Nathaniel Clyne intercepted by Andre Gray. The ball was played to the edge of the area, where Sam Vokes turned away from Dejan Lovren and blasted the ball past Simon Mignolet into the back of the net. The home fans were in complete ecstasy; Liverpool fans everywhere were in shock. Eventually the Liverpool defence was able to get past Burnley’s forwards, and they had soon taken control of the tempo. They were dominating possession, and it seemed as if they would eventually break Burnley down.

They couldn’t. Liverpool’s attack was a mess, the kind of mess which comes about when there are no boundaries. Sometimes the Reds had no centre forward, sometimes they had three, and it seemed as if Jurgen Klopp had instructed all of his forwards to roam free. Philippe Coutinho was everywhere and nowhere at the same time, moving around in Liverpool’s front third like a bee buzzes from flower to flower, hitting one sideways pass after another. James Milner, picked to start at left back over Alberto Moreno, permanently parked himself on the left wing. He had almost no defensive work to do, but he was fairly useless in attack when he received the ball.

Daniel Sturridge had come in for the game, replacing an injured Sadio Mane on the right wing. At least, that was where he was meant to play. Sturridge is always interesting to watch when he is picked as a winger, and by the end of the first half he was essentially operating as Liverpool’s main striker. Georginio Wijnaldum and Adam Lallana were given licence to push into attack from midfield, but neither had a significant impact on the match.

Then there was Roberto Firmino. The Brazilian, who was named at centre forward by Klopp, was nowhere to be seen. With as many as three of his teammates pushing into his position he drifted to the outer, and he barely touched the ball in the first half. In the second, although he was still technically playing as a striker, he started bobbing up deep in midfield. Liverpool’s attack was a picture of chaos throughout, especially when compared to Burnley’s pacey counter-attack.

Jump for joy: Andre Gray celebrates scoring Burnley’s second goal.

Burnley scored again just before the break, with new signing Steven Defour feeding Gray on the counter. The Belgian ran halfway up the field as Gray went with him, the star striker struggling to keep himself onside. Eventually he managed to get it right, and he received the ball on the edge of the area. He took one touch to get past Jordan Henderson, and his second touch brought him past Ragnar Klavan. Lovren was looking to close him down, but the shot came too quickly. It was an excellent strike, and Mignolet couldn’t get a glove to it as the ball found its way into the bottom corner.

Up to this point the Reds had been fixated on trying to get through Burnley’s defence, but they completely ignored the fact that the lethargic tempo with which they conducted their attack was the reason for their inability to do so. As the game went on the crosses kept coming in from Milner on the left, but Coutinho gave up on playing through balls in an attempt to beat Michael Keane and Ben Mee. He started shooting every time he found himself in a somewhat dangerous position, missing the target with almost every attempt. His teammates took up his lead, and soon Liverpool were taking shots from thirty yards out whenever they could not break through Burnley’s solid structure. The result was inevitable, and by the end it was quite clear who played the better game. Liverpool entered the Turf Moor brimming with confidence after a stunning performance against Arsenal. They left with their tail between their legs after a lethargic attacking effort, leaving Jurgen Klopp with a number of unanswered questions.

Burnley – Turf Moor
Burnley 2 (Vokes 2, Gray 37)
Liverpool 0
Referee: Lee Mason

Burnley (4-4-2): Heaton – Lowton, Keane, Mee, Ward; Boyd, Marney, Defour (Gudmundsson 56), Arfield; Gray (O’Neill 90+3), Vokes (Jutkiewicz 82).
Liverpool (4-3-3): Mignolet – Clyne, Lovren, Klavan, Milner (Moreno 77); Lallana (Grujic 78), Henderson, Wijnaldum; Sturridge (Origi 65), Firmino, Coutinho.

Top 5
1. Andre Gray (Burnley)
Gray started the game brilliantly, cutting out an errant pass from Clyne and setting up the first goal of the game after less than two minutes. He continued to threaten throughout, causing massive problems for both Lovren and Klavan as he looked to get in behind the Liverpool defence. He showed plenty of skill and composure, and looks set for a big season.
2. Dean Marney (Burnley)
Marney formed a solid partnership with Steven Defour in the centre of midfield, doing plenty of defensive work and making life difficult for Liverpool with his balls in behind the defence. He worked harder than anyone else on the field, and he was still giving his all when the final whistle blew.
3. Dejan Lovren (Liverpool)
Lovren was a rare plus in an otherwise poor performance for Liverpool, making some excellent stops to deny Gray and holding Liverpool’s defence together as Burnley looked to hit them on the break. He looked composed throughout, and he can hold his head high after a strong performance.
4. Michael Keane (Burnley)
Keane was a rock at the centre of Burnley’s defence, making interception after interception as Liverpool looked to break through. His positioning was first-rate, and he ensured that the Reds could not get past him. He had less to do in the second half as Liverpool took more shots, but he didn’t make a mistake and will take great confidence from his performance.
5. Matthew Lowton (Burnley)
Lowton was exposed to most of Liverpool’s attack, and his work shutting down Milner was excellent. He didn’t give Liverpool any free space, and he made some crucial blocks to deny them as they looked to score. He showed great composure under pressure, and his efforts will go a long way as he looks to keep his place in the team safe from Tendayi Darikwa.

Where did it all go wrong for Leicester City?

As the opening day of the season drew closer, things kept looking better and better for Leicester City. Shock champions of the Premier League last season, they were ready to start their campaign against a Hull City side embroiled in political issues and ravaged by a pre-season injury crisis. All the advantages lay with the Foxes going into the big day, with the champions possessing a better side and a working bench. Yet they still lost. It was a shocking defeat, and it left many asking where it came from. Yet the truth is that while Hull were undoubtedly the better side on the day, Leicester were tactically inadequate, and it cost them dearly. Manager Claudio Ranieri could not adapt to the clever approach adopted by Mike Phelan, and ultimately Hull City won as a result. This article will look at the three big problems Leicester faced on the opening day, highlighting the issues that need to be rectified if they are to find success this season.

1. Long ball doesn’t work well as a tactic, and Hull showed why.
Leicester won the Premier League last season with what was essentially a glorified version of kick-and-chase, their tactics centring around defence and the ability of Jamie Vardy to slip in behind when long balls were slung forward from the back half. They looked to do the same against Hull, but Phelan was ready for them. Leicester’s system failed them on two fronts, both allowing Hull to gain a foothold in the game and being woefully inefficient in attack. Leicester had the better, more skilled set of players, and had they pressed Hull harder in the opening stanza it is likely they would have cracked the newly-promoted Tigers. They didn’t. Hull could pass around the back for as long as they wanted to, not having to worry about Vardy and Ahmed Musa, who didn’t really try to press them. This was Ranieri’s biggest mistake. The Tigers fielded a side full of inadequacies, with Jake Livermore, a midfielder, playing as a makeshift centre half. Yet the Italian was content to cede possession to his opponents, which allowed Hull to settle comfortably into the rhythm of the game.

Furthermore, Ranieri’s long ball approach was effectively countered by the Tigers. Graham Taylor, who found incredible success at Watford thirty years ago using a combination of long balls and pressing, diagnosed the flaws in his strategy against better quality teams, and later admitted to being surprised that these issues were not exposed earlier. The issue with his system, he said, was that if a team could keep possession under pressure they could do whatever they liked. This game highlighted these inadequacies perfectly. Vardy was taken out of the game as Phelan dropped his centre halves deeper to reduce the space in behind the defence, and both Livermore and Davies were good enough to shut down the English international. They were also good enough to keep the ball as Leicester pressed desperately in an attempt to find an equaliser, and they were able to push Leicester back into their own half time and time again.

2. Ranieri stuck to his guns and showed no creativity when inspiration was needed.
Leicester came into the match with a clear plan, but when it began to unravel Ranieri did not change his approach. Shinji Okazaki aside, the substitutes he brought on were uninspiring, and the use of Daniel Amartey only weakened a midfield which was already struggling to cope with the loss of N’Golo Kante. Amartey later moved into defence as cover for the substituted Danny Simpson, and Danny Drinkwater, who had already toiled without support from Andy King, was left to contend with David Meyler, Tom Huddlestone and Sam Clucas on his own. Ranieri made no attempt to change his delivery for Vardy, and the mindless long balls kept flying into Leicester’s front third and flying back out again as Hull intercepted them. Leicester needed a new approach which better involved players like Riyad Mahrez, but they only followed their initial plan more rigorously as the game progressed. Mahrez had a devastating impact in the first half, but as Leicester went behind he saw less and less of the ball as the champions became desperate. Ranieri and Leicester panicked, and they could not cope with playing from behind.

3. There were communication problems in defence, and these need to be addressed.
From the start, warning signs were there for Ranieri, but nothing was done and the defence continued to look shaky when the ball was played into the box. Robert Snodgrass provided excellent delivery from set pieces, but he was aided by the lack of communication between centre backs Luis Hernandez and Wes Morgan. Hernandez should move out of the side when Robert Huth returns from injury, but the lack of communication in the German’s absence raises some big questions about the quality of Leicester’s pre-season. There were multiple instances of the two defenders letting aerial balls past them, each leaving it for the other to clean up, and while Kasper Schmeichel was able to plug most of the gaps the Danish keeper was only able to do so much. Leicester’s lack of defensive organisation was always going to cost them with the quality of Snodgrass’ delivery, and the issues that exist down back need to be fixed.

In the end, Leicester still have a good side, and after such an early wake-up call they should respond next week as they look to get back to their winning ways. Hull City were disciplined and smart, and the Tigers have posed plenty of difficult questions which the Foxes will need to answer if they are to have any chance of contending for European spots this season. Their confidence will have taken a large hit, but Leicester are not done yet and they could well use this loss as a stepping stone for bigger and better things. They have the personnel, and if these key questions are answered Leicester will be very tough to beat.

Hull break all the rules as Leicester go down

Nobody could have picked this. Eldin Jakupovic gratefully clutched the ball to his chest, Mike Dean blew his whistle and one of the greatest upsets in the history of the Premier League was confirmed. It was a fairytale, full of suspense and drama with a touch of injustice added in on the side. Hull City had undergone a torrid off-season, with the most successful manager in their history walking out less than a month out from kick-off and an injury crisis ruling out all but thirteen of their senior players. The owners of the club had fallen out bitterly with the fans, and the fans were planning a big protest at this match. That protest was soon forgotten as the Tigers showed spirit and class to defy all odds and win.

Leicester City came into the game as defending champions, with such stars as Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez. Wily Italian Claudio Ranieri led the Foxes to greater heights than they had ever reached before, and they were brimming with confidence against a Hull City team in turmoil. The real question going into this match was not who was going to win, but how much Leicester were going to win by.

The reigning champions looked to play this game according to their model, but this time Hull were ready for them. Vardy, who took the league by storm last year, was beyond ineffective, with ball after ball being picked up by Jake Livermore and Curtis Davies. He looked lost, like he didn’t belong on the pitch. Mahrez dazzled the crowd with some occasional touches of brilliance, but the Algerian struggled to penetrate the determined defensive front. Hull were allowed plenty of breathing space, and they established a firm foothold in the game.

The warning signs were there for the champions. While Hull looked unable to create many chances, alarm bells should have rung as Robert Snodgrass wreaked havoc with his well-placed set pieces. He delivered the ball into dangerous positions, and while he did not have many chances the threat was ever-present. The Foxes started to ramp things up as the first period drew to a close, but Hull kept knocking them back.


Beaten: Jamie Vardy (left) and Jake Livermore challenge for the ball.

The first real chance came when Christian Fuchs was played through after an excellent passing move. It was atypical of the Premier League champions, a far cry from the direct approach which brought them so much success last season. Even still, a marauding Fuchs was able to penetrate Hull’s defence, and Jakupovic did well to keep him out. Then it fell to Vardy, who was confronted with an open goal. Livermore threw himself in front of the shot, and it bounced away. The threat was still not gone. Jakupovic had recovered, but now Mahrez was streaming into the box, driving the Hull defence closer and closer towards their own goal as they backpedalled to keep pace with the right winger. It didn’t matter in the end, as the left footed effort on goal went well wide. More than ever, it looked a matter of when, not if.

Then Ahmed Musa got involved, giving Vardy a brilliant chance to open the scoring. A careless pass back to Davies was the issue, as the Nigerian swooped in to pick it off. He sprinted down the right before centring it for Vardy, but the star of last season could not convert. The ball flew over the bar, and Hull survived again.

Then came the goal. Leicester should have seen it coming, but they didn’t. Snodgrass whipped in the corner, and Wes Morgan, solid as a rock last season, was beaten in the air. Davies managed to get his head to the ball, and Kasper Schmeichel needed to make a brilliant save to keep the score at 0-0. The deadlock only lasted for a few seconds, however, as Abel Hernandez received the rebound. The Uruguayan attempted to control it with his chest, but he got a bad bounce and it looped up over his head. He had the same idea as Adama Diomande, and the two went up for the bicycle kick in unison. It was hard to tell who scored; possibly Hernandez, possibly Diomande, most probably a combination of the two; but it didn’t matter. Hull had the lead, and the fans were back behind their team.

Leicester came out after the half with the goal fresh in their minds, and it was not long before they levelled. Less than half a minute of the second half had elapsed when Demarai Gray was falsely awarded a penalty, with the replays showing that Tom Huddlestone had in fact fouled the pacey youngster outside the area. It didn’t matter to Leicester, and Mahrez stepped up to drill the ball past Jakupovic, who never stood a chance. Leicester had the equaliser, and it looked as if the Tigers were going to be overrun.

It didn’t happen. Ranieri allowed his team to settle back into their old rhythm, giving Hull plenty of breathing space and failing to challenge the newly-promoted Tigers. The fans had plenty of spirit, and a chorus of boos rang out over the KCOM Stadium every time the ball fell to Gray on the left wing. Then Hull went back ahead, and there was no more need for the boos. The injustice had been corrected.

The game had died down, but a rare mistake from Schmeichel opened the door for Hull. Ahmed Elmohamady intercepted the Danish keeper’s long throw towards the left wing, and the right back streamed forward with pace. He put the ball in, and all the Leicester players in the immediate vicinity flung themselves at the ball in an effort to contain it. There was no organisation, and while Danny Simpson managed to get his body to the ball Snodgrass had all the time in the world inside the area. He delivered, sending his shot hurtling into the bottom corner.

From that point onwards the game adopted a familiar rhythm. Ball after ball would go in, seeking out Vardy up front, and ball after ball would fly back the other way, with the Hull defence booting it forward wherever they could. Mike Phelan had only one senior player on his bench, and the former Manchester United assistant was not making any changes. The starting eleven fought with everything they had, knowing all the while that no bench support would come. Shinji Okazaki was a breath of fresh air for the champions, but Ranieri’s other changes were uninspiring at a time when Leicester needed inspiration. Leicester came in riding a wave of excitement and expectation, but on this day they looked sluggish and predictable. Hull came in to the game with a plan, and they came out of it with one of the biggest victories in their history as a club. They have silenced the doubters, and no matter how this season plays out they will remember this day forever. For one moment at least, the backroom dealings and political issues were forgotten, as Hull City celebrated a famous victory.

Hull – KCOM Stadium
Hull City 2 (Diomande 45+1, Snodgrass 57)
Leicester City 1 (Mahrez 47 pen)
Referee: Mike Dean

Hull City (4-3-3): Jakupovic – Elmohamady, Livermore, Davies, Robertson; Meyler, Huddlestone, Clucas; Snodgrass, Hernandez, Diomande.
Leicester City (4-4-2): Schmeichel – Simpson (Ulloa 83), Hernandez, Morgan, Fuchs; Mahrez, King (Amartey 68), Drinkwater, Gray (Okazaki 68); Vardy, Musa.

Top 5
1. Robert Snodgrass (Hull City)
A class above. Snodgrass was in complete command throughout, providing excellent delivery from set pieces and eventually scoring the winner with a perfectly executed half-volley. He used all of his experience in the closing stages to ensure that the Tigers finished the match well, and he showed brilliant skill and composure as he secured a famous victory for his team.
2. Curtis Davies (Hull City)
Davies was in top form in central defence, making a number of critical interceptions as Hull looked to peg their opponents back time and time again. He provided a significant attacking threat with his ability to win the ball in the air, and he will be very pleased with his performance.
3. Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City)
Mahrez scored Leicester’s only goal with a penalty early in the second half, and his skill on the ball was impressive as he looked to break through. He came very close on a number of occasions with his ability to find space, and he showed some very positive signs in an otherwise disappointing day for the Foxes.
4. Adama Diomande (Hull City)
Diomande scored the opening goal of the game with a well-executed bicycle kick just before half time, and the Norwegian striker was a significant threat for Hull on the break. He showed good pace and skill, and he caused plenty of problems for Leicester with his ability to transition between attack and defence.
5. Ahmed Musa (Leicester City)
Musa was one of the quickest players on the field, and he put Hull City under a lot of pressure with his skill and pace. He pressed the Tigers hard from start to finish, and created plenty of opportunities with some well-placed passes. He was one of Leicester’s best, and showed plenty of positive signs on debut for the club.