It wasn't because Manchester United lost at home to Aston Villa, or that it was just by 1 goal or that United had 28 goal attempts and the lions share of possession, it was how the game in reality played out that would have sounded alarm bells at the club. Stats in football have gone through the roof since OPTA signed a deal with Sky Sports to provide every missed chance, time on the ball, corners, throws ins and free kicks during a game. OPTA is celebrating its 25th year in business and 23 of those have been contracted under Sky. And yet as Manchester United and Aston Villa proved at the weekend, stats can be very misleading.
Sure United with their frightening plethora of strikers created many chances, but Villa honestly played them off the park. The superb counter attacking, at times just felt like Villa attacking, they were bossing the game at Old Trafford. Neat one twos, creating the better chances, this is what manager Dean Smith sees in his dreams, and it became a reality at Old Trafford. Villa were that good. So when Kourtney Hause brought the 'house' down with two minutes to go and headed Villa into a much deserved lead everything seemed right with the world. The better team were going to win the game. But United were awarded a penalty for a soft hand ball in injury time, the irony of a penalty being awarded to United could not be lost on some who had been following the news this week that manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had dragged up once again- that United were getting fewer penalties this season because of what some one said about them. That some one was Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. And yet 24 hours later United got their penalty. Bruno Fernandes was adamant in taking it and a few seconds later that match day ball could have claimed like Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos before it, to have reached the edge of space. Villa got their victory and the screw is starting to turn on Solskjaer.
Solskjaer seems like a good man and he is a United man through and through but his tactical nous was exposed again at the weekend. Time is not your friend in the Premier League and when you see the likes of Antonio Conte and Zinedine Zidane out of work that can only add to the worry of a meeting in the board room. The Villa defeat was United's 3rd from their last four games.
Never ever rule out Pep Guardiola and Manchester City who were arguably the under dogs to go to Chelsea a team who beat them in last seasons Champions League final and get a win, but get a win they did. City have ended Chelsea's unbeaten record and are right back in the mix with a 1-0 victory through the impressive Gabriel Jesus. Liverpool are top of the league but only by 1 point as they were held away to Brentford in an end to end game that typifies why the Super League cannot ever be allowed to happen. Heavily odds on before the game the 2020 champions were held to a 3-3 draw by the Bees who simply never gave up, what an advert for English football.
The North London derby witnessed Arsenal beat Tottenham 3-1 and the Gunners were 3-0 up by half time. Arsenal look back on track now but after a bright start Tottenham look all lost at sea….
Finally there is the news that FIFA are pushing for a World Cup every 2 years and they are recruiting some of the games legends to force that home. One of them in his new FIFA role is known to Premier League fans and that is Arsene Wenger. It is unfortunate to see Wenger's character act like this. A man who loves the game and is steeped in tradition and loyalty that he flatly refused to leave Arsenal three times whilst Barcelona, Real Madrid and PSG tripped over themselves for his signature now seems to be trying to justify his empowered position with FIFA by backing a sudden change to the World Cup. Was Wenger not once a man who wanted to protect players? Yet a UEFA report suggests that under new proposals players would play more games and have less rest. A World Cup every two years may sound great in name but makes little sense and feels like over kill. One every 4 years makes the competition unique, where winning countries can state how they are deserved champions for a period of time.
True football like everything is evolving and change can be a good thing, sadly this feels like a bloated and cash backed exemption. Mr. Wenger either retire from the game or get back to what you really love doing and coach again, but please no more World Cup talk.