What CAN we learn from Week 1 of the Premier League?
A relatively recent development in the evolution of clickbait has been the rise of ‘5 things we learnt’ articles, produced and published suspiciously soon after the final whistle of high profile games. ‘Suspicious’ because learning implies 1) knowing things that were not known before and 2) will be applicable in the future. It would be hard to learn five things from many games, particularly so soon after they finish. This all being said, is there anything that we can say we have learnt for certain from this first round of Premier League matches?
Daley Blind can play at centre-back
Though perhaps United will defend heavily up the pitch in order to accommodate him. Apart from very occasional moments when positional choices seemed that of a midfielder than a centre-back, he performed very well there. His recent comments responding to criticism of him in that position – “people always say I don’t have the height or power but I think I’m clever enough and smart enough” – are absolutely correct.
Just as with a striker, it is intelligence that is the key to the position, knowing where and when to move, rather than sheer size and power. If John Terry was a foot shorter than he is, he would still be a very good central defender because his awareness, positioning, and communication are superb. The worry with Blind is whether he knows the position well enough to deal with more threatening opposition, and what his inclusion in the first line-up of the season means for United’s other centre backs.
Seeking solely to contain Manchester City from the start of the game without an attacking threat is a bad tactical move
It might seem logical to defend so deeply against big teams to try and scrape a point, but West Bromwich Albion showed that it didn’t work. Defending so deeply without any attacking threat is inviting your opponents onto you. Manchester City are skilful and patient, and know that luck will spin their way if they keep working hard against an opposition that is retreating further and further back. And luck going their way was exactly what happened on Monday night, with a Yaya Touré shot getting a flick and a deflection and ending up in the West Brom net.
City’s second was perhaps less about the tactic itself and more its application, with Touré permitted to float through the Albion midfield. West Brom were far better when they were more aggressive and attacking later in the match. As they say, the best form of defence is attack.
Football isn’t fair
This isn’t something we learned, though some of us may have forgotten it. By rights, Arsenal should not have lost 2-0 to West Ham; Stoke deserved a draw against Liverpool, who certainly did not deserve three points; and Rooney should have been punished for spending too long on the ball in front of goal but was instead let off the hook with a Kyle Walker own goal.
Football is back, nothing is fair, and we’ve learnt very little. Just as we like it then.