August 21, 2017

FREE KICKS: The champs are here!

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

After a disastrous half to open the season which resulted in a loss to Burnley last week, Chelsea bounced back and showed the form that won it the Premier League title in a landslide last year.

The Blues put in their maximum effort against London rival Spurs on Sunday, absorbing all that Tottenham could throw at them and taking a 2-1 victory at Wembley in which the visitors scored all three goals. If not for Michy Batshuayi’s own goal – which would’ve been considered a marvelous header had it been into an opponent’s net – this game likely would’ve ended either 1-0 or 2-0 for Chelsea.

Antonio Conte’s side, which was missing several key players in both attack and defence, were solid through the middle of the pitch and the strategy of using David Luiz to clog up the midfield and limit the influence of Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen was a master stroke of genius. It forced the play out wide, where Spurs really missed the injured Danny Rose and sold-on Kyle Walker at the fullback spots.

We also would be remise to not mention that Hugo Lloris didn’t look good in net for Tottenham and both goals should’ve probably been stopped.

On Marcos Alonso’s free kick, while it was nicely hit and looked a beauty, had Lloris not strayed as far to his left as he did, it was a stoppable shot which didn’t nestle into the top corner. You can’t use the excuse that he was thinking that Willian would take the shot, either, because the Brazilian would’ve been aiming for the same spot.

On Alonso’s second, Lloris simply didn’t get down fast enough to stop the shot – but maybe he shouldn’t have even been trying that. It would’ve been a much easier stop had he stuck out his foot instead.

While this win was Chelsea’s first points of the season, you can’t forget how well it played in the second half against Burnley last week. Down to 10 men for the entire second half – and later down to nine men – the champs nearly tied the game up late, which would’ve been an astounding draw considering the circumstances.

So, you can’t go writing off Chelsea at all because despite its 1-1-0 record, this is a team that looks almost as dangerous as last year and will only be getting better with more players coming back from injury and likely some more being bought before the transfer deadline.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

With a goal and two assists this week and a big hand in guiding Manchester United to its second 4-0 win to start the season, Paul Pogba is the choice here.

Pogba has been worth the big price that United paid to bring him back last season and should continue to be one of the most influential players on the title race this season. With Nemanja Matic in the fold, the Frenchman has been able to get forward more this year without having to worry about his defensive duties as much, though he’s not slacking in that area, either.

Oh, and Eric Bailly’s goal could’ve easily been Pogba’s if he had headed it just an inch or so lower.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

West Ham has signed 31 strikers since 2010 and 20 of them have failed to score more than three goals. That shouldn’t be a problem for Chicarito, who bagged a brace in West Ham’s loss to Southampton. The Mexican is a pure poacher and will clean up any rebound in the box, it feels like … What a bone-headed foul by Marko Arnautovic that clearly deserved a red card. His elbow to the back of Jack Stephens’ head was clearly pre-meditated. The Austrian seemingly brought that stereotypical Stoke mentality to East London with him … With Jese Rodriguez joining Stoke (and immediately playing the hero), that means the Potters have the most Champions League winners on its roster with five. The others are Darren Fletcher (with Manchester United), Bojan (Barcelona), Xherdan Shaqiri (Bayern Munich) and Ibrahim Afellay (Barcelona). In case you’re curious, Chelsea has four, Manchester City three, Man U two and Arsenal and Liverpool one each … Chelsea was the first champion to concede three times in its opening game of the next season … Was Arsenal screwed on that offside call that disallowed a goal by Alexandre Lacazette? He looked dead even with the last defender and the ball also came off a Stoke player … The Gunners had 77.3% possession in their 1-0 loss, which is the most they’ve had in a game since 2003-04 … After scoring in the fifth minute last week, Leicester’s Shinji Okazaki upped the ante by scoring just 51 seconds into this week’s game against Brighton … Jamie Vardy limped off at the end of the game, but reports are that there’s no cause for concern … Liverpool and its fans got two pieces of great news this weekend: First, the club actually beat a bottom-tier team with a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace – a game many thought would a high-scoring affair. Then, reports were that Barcelona are calling off its interest in Philippe Coutinho, who has yet to play this season while injured. Reds brass were adamant they wouldn’t sell the Brazilian and look to be sticking to their guns … Gylfi Sigurdsson made his Everton debut against City as a sub. With his sale to the Toffees, he is now the first, third, fourth, 10th and 63rd most expensive Icelandic player ever sold … Wayne Rooney became the second player in the Premier League era to reach 200 goals and did so against his former noisy neighbour. It’s not Rooney’s first milestone goal against City, either. He reach 50, 150 and now 200 against the Sky Blues … Kyle Walker has to be upset with his sending off. I wouldn’t have shown him his second yellow for that shoulder-bump foul, especially after he receiver his first caution just two minutes prior. It’s also his first sending off in his 200th game.

THE LAST WORD

Before we all go handing the title to Manchester United for its brilliant start or saying that HuddersfieldTown won’t be facing a relegation battle this season, let’s just remember that we are just 1/19th into this season.

While a lot has happened, a lot more certainly will, too.

You have to look at the fixtures and see that, sure, United scored four goals in the opening two games for the first time in 110 years, but they also did so against two teams that are far inferior to them and this week’s opponent, Swansea, will probably finish as a bottom-five club.

As for the pesky Terriers, they’ve only faced a CrystalPalace team that’s still working on its new formation and a Newcastle side that already has some reported internal problems.

So let’s settle down until at least the second international break before we go making staggering proclamations that we’ll see the Terriers in Europe next season.

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