City show defensive frailties once more as Liverpool emerge as early favourites to retain their crown

City showing worrying signs already

‘For me, they were lucky. We did a lot of good things to win the game. A team like Leicester comes here and plays with 11 guys behind the ball. It’s not the way I like to play.’ That is what Manchester City midfielder Rodri had to say to BBC Radio 5 live after his side’s 2-5 defeat to Leicester on Sunday.

It is certainly an interesting perception from a man who arrived at City last season from Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid, a team well-known for often putting 11 men behind the ball. Whether or not Leicester did get lucky, there is no doubt that City were the architects of their own downfall.

Three needless penalties were given away, all by defenders, all correct decisions. Maybe that was a one off. So too, could James Maddison’s incredible strike have been. Yet City simply shouldn’t be coming away from games like this losing by a three goal deficit, and Vardy’s second goal was inexcusable from a Manchester City point of view.

After full back Timothy Castagne’s run was untracked, he was able to receive the ball with time and produce a low cross into the box towards Jamie Vardy. Eric Garcia was in a relatively acceptable position to deal with the pass, yet he seemed to allow Vardy far too much space to produce a cheeky flick over Ederson and into the net. Without doubting Garcia’s footballing abilities, in his short Manchester City career so far, his mistakes have epitomised one of City’s main problems – specific defensive errors.

For all of John Stones’s ability, the £50m spent on his services has proved hugely unsuccessful due to his error prone performances, and the similar amounts of money paid for Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy also appeared to have been spent on defenders who simply aren’t good enough at defending, despite what they may bring going forward – after all, both were culpable for mindless penalties given away at the weekend.

City appeared to have the chance to sign Virgil Van Dijk a few seasons ago but considered him too highly valued as he was only going to be a backup for Stones and Otamendi at the time – a clearly fatal error.

Van Dijk could have been what Jerome Boateng was to Pep’s Bayern or Gerard Pique was to Pep’s Barca – but better. Who knows what City would have won if they had signed him; not only would he drastically improve their biggest weakness, runaway champions Liverpool would have been without their best defender, and don’t forget that Liverpool had plenty of defensive troubles themselves before Van Dijk’s signing.

It remains to be seen whether City’s expensive signing of Ruben Dias from Benfica for a fee in the region of £63m can turn around their defensive woes but it seems as though they have already missed out on Kalidou Koulibaly from Napoli. Unfortunately for the ‘Cityzens,’ a lot needs to change if Man City are to deliver the success that is expected of them.

Kane shows why he is still underrated whilst Bale makes shock Spurs return

Tottenham’s Harry Kane was widely regarded as one of Europe’s best strikers a few years ago. In 2017, he bagged an incredible 56 goals in 52 appearances for Spurs and England. Perhaps it has been his injuries or fatigue, but Kane’s stock has fallen recently, and he deserves far more credit than he gets. His goalscoring rate may have fallen slightly, but 18 Premier League goals in 29 games last season is still a relatively impressive return. 

However, it has been his unselfish playmaking contributions catching the eye recently. Kane has always had more to his game than just being a poacher but recently he has shown his creative qualities more than ever, highlighted by his incredible performance against Southampton where he assisted all four of Heung-min Son’s goals (whilst adding another for himself and having two more goals disallowed). 

As superb as Son’s running and finishing was, none of his goals would’ve been possible without Kane’s superb vision and perfectly weighted passes, and as these two are showing just how strong their on-field connection is, the prospect of former hero Gareth Bale joining the attacking line is mouth-watering. 

Bale’s recent antics, whilst not being included in Zinedine Zidane’s plans at Real Madrid, have been nothing short of comical, but as funny as it was to see him pretending to sleep in the stands and lifting up a flag reading ‘Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order,’ his lack of playing time and questionable attitude could be worrying for Spurs fans.

Slow start for new look Chelsea 

It was always clear that with so many new signings, it would take the Chelsea squad time to gel effectively and become the side they are capable of being. However, being 3-0 down to West Brom after 27 minutes probably wasn’t in the script. 

Of course, it is far too early to judge Frank Lampard and his side’s performance so far – Christian Pulisic, Ben Chilwell and Hakim Ziyech are all still yet to feature. But is it fair to already rule them out of the title race? 

After Man City and Liverpool’s exploits in recent seasons, it seems almost certain that at least 90 points will be required to lift the Premier League crown. Dropping 5 points in their first 3 games is already worrying and it took a remarkable turnaround to rescue a point to West Brown, not to mention that Reece James’s long-range wonder goal and Kurt Zouma’s deflected strike against Brighton in their only win of the season so far perhaps didn’t merit all 3 points against a Brighton side that would have felt that they deserved at least a point. 

There are also still many questions for Frank Lampard with regards to his system – will Werner always play out wide with Abraham or Giroud central, even when Pulisic and Ziyech return? Will Lampard choose Mason Mount or Kai Havertz to play in the number 10 role? Which pairing will start out of Kante, Jorginho and Kovakic? 

The quality of Chelsea’s squad this season is unquestionably exceptional, but their defensive issues may still be a problem and Lampard has many key decisions to make in order to get the best out of the attacking talent at his disposal.

Brighton’s Lamptey shines amid rumours of Bayern move 

After making his debut for Chelsea last season in a 2-1 victory over Arsenal, Tariq Lamptey, recently turned 20 years old, is now drawing attention from clubs like Bayern Munich while he stars as Brighton’s right back. 

At Chelsea since the age of 8, he was given his first opportunity with the first team by manager Frank Lampard, known for giving young players a chance despite his relative inexperience as a manager. However, Lamptey appeared to be behind Reece James and Cesar Azpilicueta in the pecking order to be Chelsea’s starting right back and thus made the move down south to Brighton on the winter transfer deadline day. 

Since then he has essentially shown Chelsea that they have made a big mistake, most notably by putting in a superb performance against his former club in a 1-3 defeat on the opening day of this season. Ironically, it was current Chelsea right back Reece James that stole the headlines with his long-range stunner and subsequent man of the match, but Lamptey’s performance was arguably more deserving of the accolade. 

In the two games since, Lamptey has continued to demonstrate his blistering pace and skill down the right flank, so much so that his very few performances in the Premier League have already attracted the attention of current Champions League winners Bayern Munich. 

Unfortunately for Lamptey, England currently boast an array of impressive options and right back, but if he continues in his current form and ends up making the move to Germany, his hat could well be thrown into the ring for the rescheduled Euro 2020 this summer.

Bizarre handball decisions ruining football

Upon being asked if he would instruct his players on how to not fall foul of the new handball interpretations, Aston Villa manager Dean Smith responded, ‘No not at all because I don’t know how to not fall foul of it.’ 

Perhaps the most controversial penalty that has been given so far this season was when Andy Carrol headed onto the arm of Eric Dier, ultimately giving Callum Wilson the chance to equalise from the spot, meaning that Spurs dropped two points. After a similar incident between the same two players just minutes before went unpunished, Carrol again headed the ball onto Dier’s outstretched arm. Dier was facing the opposite way and was no more than two yards away from Carrol. Many would agree that Dier’s arms were not in an unnatural position; he needed to have them outstretched in order to jump high enough. 

The rule states that it is an offence if the ball touches the hand or arm of a player who has their arm outstretched beyond their shoulder, and the rule also includes the fact that it is still an offence if the ball touches the player’s hand or arm directly from the head or body of another player that is close. 

On this evidence, the decision was correct. However, common sense must be applied to the handball law as it is applied to the rest of the refereeing decisions. Everyone knows that Eric Dier did nothing wrong and handball should not have been given. Football laws are often ambiguous and can be interpreted in different ways, so it would be refreshing to see common sense being applied in these situations, although you can hardly blame the referee making the decision in this instance; the laws need to change. 

Slightly less well documented was the handball decision recently given against Matt Doherty against Southampton – as Spurs ran out 2-5 winners it wasn’t talked about too much as it didn’t influence the outcome of the game, but a penalty was awarded after the ball flicked off the foot of Harry Winks onto the arm of Matt Doherty, who was less than a yard away and already had his arm in the position that it ended in before the ball hit it. This is another clear example of where common sense will tell anyone who understands football that it clearly should not have been a penalty. 

Another big problem with the handball law in my opinion is the relatively recent law that says that it is an offence if a player scores a goal or creates a chance immediately after the ball has touched their or a team-mate’s arm even if it was accidental. This has improved from last season where the law was that if the ball had touched the arm of a player at any point in the build up of the goal then the goal should be disallowed. 

It seemed bizarre that when the ball brushed the arm of Phil Foden (who was unaware as he was lying on the ground) before Riyad Mahrez dribbled past two more players to score against Liverpool last season, the goal was disallowed, or when the ball came into miniscule contact with LIonel Messi’s arm before his disallowed second goal against Napoli last season. This is a clear situation of where common sense should have been applied: although the law states that both goals should have been disallowed because the ball touched a player’s arm, did they affect the outcome of the situation and were they obvious enough to waste minutes of the game analysing? Would the opposition have complained if the goal had been given? 

As aforementioned, the rule has now been changed so that the goal will only be ruled out if the goal or chance occurs immediately after the ball touches the hand, but this still does not seem right. Why should Messi’s goal against Napoli have been ruled out at all? It did not assist him when controlling the ball, it did not even contribute anything to the goal, yet not only was time wasted in forensically analysing whether it had made contact with the arm or not, Barcelona had a perfectly good goal ruled out. 

Furthermore, why should this law only apply to if a goal is scored or a chance is created? Why is a handball only a handball in certain situations? With this logic, the ball could brush a defender’s arm in the area and nothing would be given, and it could then immediately brush an attacker’s arm in the area in exactly the same foul and it automatically becomes an offence. 

Overall, I believe that it should only be handball if the defender deliberately touches the ball with their arm or hand, unless the ball hits their arm or hand to give them a significant advantage. For example, if a player tries to set up his team-mate with a dangerous through ball and it is blocked by an opponent’s arm, whether it was intentional or not, handball should be given. 

In light of the recent incidents involving Eric Dier, Victor Lindelof, Joel Ward and Matt Doherty, there has been lots of media attention with regards to these bizarre handball decisions. Surely, surely this means we will soon see change.