Business as Usual for Top Two

28th August 2019

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It was business as usual for Liverpool and Manchester City who won again at the weekend, scoring 6 goals between them. Liverpool looked highly impressive in their 3-1 victory over Arsenal at Anfield, so much so that they were even being accused of doping on an Everton fan forum. Yes their energy and work rate does look superhuman at times but i think we all hope that theory isn't true. Mohamed Salah looked back to his very best scoring goals again and Liverpool look very strong. They have an intensity this season that looks even better and hungrier than the last. Perhaps losing the title last season and in the way they did has given them a second wind for this one? They are not a team that look like losing.

Manchester City had to work hard to get victory over Bournemouth, they were cruising 2-0 as half time approached but a fantastic strike from a freekick by Harry Wilson meant that the game was back on at 2-1. However the sting in the tail came from the great Sergio Aguero who got his 2nd goal of the game and the winning one in the second half.

Liverpool and City's victories didn't mean that we were about to see a predictable weekend of football in England though. Tottenham who had started the season with a 3-1 win over Aston Villa and then a very respectable 2-2 draw away to Manchester City were expected to easily beat Newcastle in London, given that the Magpies had lost their two opening games with reports also suggesting that some players did not know their roles under manager Steve Bruce. You could almost taste the heavy defeat for Newcastle and envisage Bruce's weathered beaten face as he would look for an excuse as to why his team shipped 5 goals - not so. A JoeLinton debut goal was enough to beat last seasons Champions League finalists as Newcastle clearly had a game plan, they got the early goal and then defended and frustrated Tottenham who were just not clicking. It felt like a genuine shock result and after the game Bruce with his weathered face that was gleaming with delight was interviewed and talked like a kid who had just found Hamley's. It was in fact sheer relief for Bruce who was under serious pressure after seeing his side lose 3-1 the week before to newly promoted Norwich.

But if you thought Newcastle beating Tottenham was a shock - think again! How about Crystal Palace who had started the season poorly travelling up to Manchester United and beating them 2-1? Palace had taken an early lead through Jordan Ayew and in the first half United had no shots on target, repeat that again, no shots on target. It probably did happen under Sir Alex Ferguson, but you'd be hard pressed to find that statistic with the legendary Scot in charge, especially at home and especially to this Palace side. The young Daniel James pounced for a goal in the final minute which seemed to have earned United a desperate point. Not so, Palace were not done and grabbed their winner through Patrick van Aanholt. It was only the defenders 29th goal of his entire career, and maybe just maybe it was written in the stars, the Dutch player will be celebrating his 29th birthday this week.

Palace of course went to Manchester and caused a shock last season with a 3-2 victory over Manchester City, they have history doing this. But take out the surprise result this match has implications. For Roy Hodgson he will be hoping that this will be a spring box for the club to kick start their season. For his opposite number you start to wonder if their opening weekend 4-0 victory over Chelsea wasn't simply a false dawn. United seem to have many problems and perhaps Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has bought some players for the future which is all very good, but he needs results today. One wonders if the club acted too hastily in selling Romelu Lukaku without replacing him. Marcus Rashford and Antony Martial are fine players but it is questionable if they can keep up the consistency needed for the whole season.

Talking of Lukaku he kick started his career at Inter Milan in style as he scored the clubs 3rd goal of their 4-0 victory over Leece. But the talking point was in the Juventus game, the champions beat Parma 1-0 but Cristiano Ronaldo had a goal ruled out by VAR. Introduction of the new technology seems divided amongst professionals. Pep Guardiola seems to criticise it every other week and only a few days ago in a Turkish football match, the VAR team could be seen ordering a takeaway, ouch! But back to Ronaldo's disallowed goal and there seems to be something deeper here that hopefully one day will be reviewed. The question is, was Ronaldo offside? The answer is yes he was, but it appeared to be by millimetres. So in theory what is the offside rule rooted at? That a player shouldn't goal hang, just forgetting the game and sticking close to the goal keeper waiting for the ball to be punted up, that makes sense that a law would be introduced for that. But the offside rule feels obsolete when we are punishing a player for being offside because their big toe is just in front, or it's there nose, or a quiff of hair. In this instance and with the pace of the game now, that player is not playing the referee or the back four, he doesn't know that the finger nail he forgot to cut for a few weeks is the difference between him being off or not. It may sound controversial but to stop all of these marginally offside rules, how about saying the player has to be half a yard offside for a goal not to count?

The big story in Spain was the arrival of Antoine Griezmann. Shocking for Barcelona in his debut when the club lost to Athletic Bilbao, the pressure was on him to have a good game when Barca hosted Real Betis at the Camp Nou. Again no Lionel Messi or Luis Suarez which only shone the light of attention on the Frenchman even more, but his quality rose to the top as he scored a brace in the clubs 5-2 victory over Betis. They had been losing the game and the fans had been losing their patience with Griezmann. Thankfully for him the night ended well. But the night did not end well for Real Madrid who could only draw 1-1 with Valladolid at home. It finished with manager Zinedine Zidane using expletives to explain how his team defended. Could be a long season ahead for the Frenchman.

Whilst Barcelona and Real Madrid usually steal the headlines, just watch out for Diego Simeone's Atletico Madrid. Stacked full of hard working quality players, they keep on winning if not scoring goals and exciting youngster Joao Felix was on hand again to set up the clubs winner. Kieran Trippier's career for the club has started well, in defence and with no goals conceded, he is one of the rare Englishmen that has taken a dive into the unknown and showed his cajones, as they say locally. He will inevitably only improve as a player and will be a massive asset for Gareth Southgate and England.

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