Liverpool is still Liverpool.
It was a diminished side that took the pitch at Anfield compared with last year’s title contenders. 30-goal superstar Luis Suarez is gone, and new additions Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic were unavailable because of injury. Plus, Brendan Rodgers ran out a relatively conservative 4-2-3-1 with Steven Gerrard protected by his pivot partner Lucas Leiva, a true defensive midfielder. But it looked for all the world like a Liverpool match anyway. Liverpool created a gorgeous quick hit goal on a long pass by Jordan Henderson to Raheem Sterling. The move covered over 50 yards in about eight seconds, breaking open an unprepared defense just as Liverpool did so often last year.
But also just as last year, when the Reds conceded 50 goals, the defense and midfield remain a problem. Southampton packed four midfielders into more central areas, prevented Gerrard from picking out passes and controlled much of the second half. A lovely headed pass by Raheem Sterling found Daniel Sturridge for an easy goal, while Southampton could not convert its opportunities, and the Reds still won. This is not a strong defensive side, particularly in central midfield, and the team will go as far as the attack can carry it.
Cesc Fabregas is going to be fun.
Chelsea’s new $50 million signing dominated his first match. Playing in central midfield against a Burnley side which put little pressure of him, Fabregas picked out clever passes all day. He was one of two players to complete a pair of through-ball passes in his first game of the season. And he did this with one of those through-balls.
The vision. The touch. Without question it was the best-worked goal of the week. It’s not surprising that Fabregas is establishing himself at the heart of a title-contending midfield. He was one of the most dangerous passers in La Liga last year, with fantastic numbers in both expected assists and through-balls. While Burnley made things easy for Fabregas, this was the sort of performance his stats in La Liga projected he would put together in the Premier League.
You can take the Pulis out of Palace…
Two days before the season began, Crystal Palace lost its manager as Tony Pulis stepped down. In its opening match against Arsenal, Pulis’s fingerprints were still all over his erstwhile club’s performance. His teams traditionally defend deep, conceding lots of opposition possession but breaking up play with physical tackling, and they attack quickly with long passes and crossing from the flanks. On opening day against Arsenal the style Pulis had drilled remained in place even with the man gone. Every EPL team attempted at least 120 passes in their defensive half, with the exception of Palace who attempted just 92. The Eagles won 23 of 33 attempted tackles. Only Southampton attempted more tackles, and no one was successful in more attempted tackles.
With Malky Mackay now reportedly taking over the job from caretaker Keith Millen, it will be interesting to see whether and how quickly Mackay imposes his own style on the team. For now, Crystal Palace appear well drilled to play its old manager’s style until changes are made.
All data provided by Opta unless otherwise noted.