By Neil Leverett
- Liverpool and Arsenal share early Premier League lead, ahead of Gameweek 3’s head-to-head at Anfield
- Manchester City held by Spurs after stoppage-time VAR controversy
- Sheffield United and Norwich City earn first wins of season, as Watford sit bottom of table, having failed to score also thus far
PREMIER LEAGUE, UK – As controversy reined over the second weekend of the 2019/20 Premier League campaign, what did we learn from Gameweek 2 of the new season?
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VAR honeymoon over
VAR continues to divide opinion over its’ addition to the modern game, but after an opening weekend’s rousing success which was commended for its’ rapid decision-making process, the Video Assistant Referee has been attacked from all sides by fans and the media alike on Gameweek 2.
The subjective nature was always likely to split the Premier League fraternity like an atom, but few are keen to embrace the new system that will make the game fairer in the long run. Manchester City however, may not have the same viewpoint.
Again on the ‘wrong’ end of a decision against Spurs for the second time in four months, Gabriel Jesus‘ celebrations with his last-gasp winner were curtailed, after the goal was ruled out due to Aymeric Laporte‘s adjudged handball from the preceding corner. Pep Guardiola would also have been bemused by the spot kick not given for a clear foul on Rodri.
City’s perceived further injustice versus North London opposition will have kept the FA’s VAR team off the Christmas card list, but the game has sorely needed a shot in the arm of democracy. Yes, there are problems to be ironed out and inconsistencies to be eradicated, but like it or not VAR is here to stay and those against it need to move into 2019.
Pukki will deliver
As a player we tipped to star in Gameweek 2, remarkably, Teemu Pukki now sits joint top of the scoring pile on four goals already with Raheem Sterling, after the Norwich hitman followed up Sterling’s opening weekend hat-trick with a triple of his own, at home to a hapless Newcastle United.
Whilst the Canaries striker will not be afforded the grace of facing the Magpies’ defence every week, a Premier League hat-trick is not to be sniffed at, just a week after netting on his top flight debut at Anfield.
Pukki had his doubters at his ability to deliver at the top level, but the Finn has eschewed any concerns to one side, with not only the same clinical finishing from last season’s Championship winners, but his movement and above all intelligence, will leave defences across the league with real problems when facing the Norfolk outfit.
Daniel Farke‘s men may have their own defensive issues – especially on the road this season – but when it comes to entertaining at Carrow Road this term, Norwich are going to be a awkward customer to face, especially if Pukki continues in this scoring vein.
When Arsenal made the season-long acquisition of Real Madrid midfielder Dani Ceballos in the summer, the deal was regarded by many as something of coup given his exploits for Spain’s U-21 side in the European Championships. After his showing against Burnley on Saturday, those sentiments have been proved to be everything and more.
As the 23-year-old notched a double of assists against the Clarets, it with the combative but majestic Madrid man who starred for the Gunners, giving those watching on echoes of their former favourite son in Cesc Fabregas.
Controlling the midfield with touches of genius – including superb awareness to steal the ball from the Burnley defence to put through Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for host’s eventual decisive winner – Ceballos had the home fans purring with delight on his full league debut for the club.
Rightly winning Man of the Match, his next assignment of Liverpool will present a far sterner test, but the Spaniard will unlikely be daunted by the vociferous wall of the Kop this weekend, and Ceballos is one to watch in the coming weeks at the VERY least.
Eagles, Hornets have problems
Switching the attention to the opposite end of the table, the early stance of both Watford and Crystal Palace will have fans of said respective clubs shifting a little nervously in their seats.
Whilst the Steve Bruce’s Newcastle have arguably looked the poorest at the back, it is the goal-less status of both Watford and Everton after 180 minutes of the new term, that present early problems for Eagles and Hornets alike.
With Brighton & Hove Albion’s surprise bounce in the new season, for neither side in the shadows of the capital to have opened their goal account in 2019/20 will be of huge concern.
For Roy Hodgson‘s Palace the after-effects of Wilfried Zaha gate seem to be lingering, and whilst keeping out a strong-looking Everton last weekend, the South Londoner’s status as a top flight side will not be retained by clean sheets alone – which against a steely Sheffield United was not attained. The visit to Old Trafford this coming weekend could see Palace’s issues double in number.
In the the case of Watford, the Pozzi family have never been shy to pull the managerial trigger in Hertfordshire and whilst manager Javi Gracia deserves a measure of loyalty after his highly creditable tenure at Vicarage Road, an approaching London derby versus West Ham United must end in a positive result for the Hornets.
Fortress Bramall Lane?
And, on the subject of the Blades, Sheffield United’s first home Premier League game in 13 years was crowned from a hard-fought win in Yorkshire. As we suggested before the weekend, Chris Wilder will drill his side not to concede at home- as they did – and John Lundstram‘s second-half strike was enough to see the Blades with four points from a possible six – the best tally of all three promoted sides from last term.
Their home of Bramall Lane remains one of the iconic top flight grounds still, and now returned to it its’ Premier League status, the same South Yorkshire environs are one of the most intimate in the country.
The Blades will no pushovers on their travels as they showed at Bournemouth on day one, but at home the top six sides will know they’ve been in a game – winning or not – when the players depart the Steel City.
In the short term, the visit of Leicester City this weekend will see the Blades’ rather old-fashioned back line tested by the likes of Jamie Vardy and Ayoze Perez, but there is nothing to say that the Sheffield club will not still be unbeaten come Saturday teatime.
Premier League Gameweek 3 begins on Friday night, as Aston Villa host Everton at Villa Park, kick-off 8pm UK time.
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