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Monday, 17 August 2015

Weekend Football Thoughts 2015 (August 14-17)

The second round of the Premier League fixtures for the new season are in the books and it has been an inconsistent start for a number of teams as players try to shake off the pre-season rust.

I will try and put down a few thoughts on Monday evening for the majority of the season, but it isn't always possible with other factors in life. In the main I hope I do get the time to do this more regularly as the season progresses.

Wayne Rooney's opening two games have to be a concern for Manchester United
When Robin Van Persie was allowed to move on and Radamel Falcao's loan at Manchester United was terminated, the Number 9 position in the line up was clearly reserved for Captain Wayne Rooney.

The player was clearly happier with the new role he was likely to be given in Louis Van Gaal's system and both Rooney and his manager proclaimed that the striker could top 20 goals for the club this season.

The first two games have been anything but justification for those remarks though as Rooney has struggled to really get his teeth into his new position. That has to be a concern for Manchester United with the limited options behind the England striker who turns 30 this year and who is someone I truly believe has had his best years.

Failing to score isn't the concern from the first two games- the poor touch, failing to hold the ball up, misplaced passes, all the elements that the most forward player in this system has to be able to do effectively. I've always been critical of the Rooney first touch, but it seems to really be letting him down early in this campaign, while the Tottenham Hotspur own goal in the first game came after Rooney had dithered on the ball in front of goal.

That looked like a player a little short of confidence and his lack of real pace doesn't help his cause and I do think Van Gaal has to dip into the transfer market and buy competition for the forward places. No one can really expect Javier Hernandez, who has been linked with a move away, nor James Wilson to challenge Wayne Rooney for a starting berth and I think the competition might be the only way to revive Rooney.

It has been a big surprise to me that Van Gaal hasn't looked to reinforce the striker position having lost Van Persie and Falcao, especially with the pace he has openly talked about in press conferences. There are two weeks to the transfer window and this might be the big piece of business United have yet to conclude along with the whole David De Gea debacle which really should have been sorted months ago.

Dick Advocaat under severe pressure at Sunderland
I wonder if Dick Advocaat wishes he could go back a couple of months and stay retired after seeing his Sunderland team beaten by a combined 7-3 aggregate in their first two games against Leicester City and Norwich City.

They were considered one of the favourites for relegation and losing to two supposed rivals for the bottom places in the Premier League has really strengthened the concerns of the fans. Advocaat doesn't look like he is going to be able to turn things around after the first two games and I do think the veteran should begin to think about changing his mind and retiring once again.

The players are not responding to his methods and there seems to be little heart for the fight at the moment at the Stadium of Light. Sunderland have barely survived in the top flight over the last couple of years and while the fans are clear that the owners are perhaps more to blame, Advocaat is likely the fall guy and he would probably be grateful for that at the moment.

Defensively Sunderland have been awful and I was stunned to learn this squad commands the 8th highest wage bill in the Premier League. Too many average players on big money is not going to bring out the heart and character Advocaat will want and I can see him walking away if the transfer window shuts without reinforcements.

Inconsistent results in the Premier League might be the norm
The Premier League is routinely described as the most competitive League in the World and I have to say that I can't argue with that, although I can't put a positive spin on things.

So many average teams means there are going to be a lot of inconsistent results and that has been the case in the opening two weekends of the League. Even the top teams in the Premier League are not so strong that they can expect to beat teams in the bottom half without any stress and that makes it fun for the neutral but tough for those who attempt to predict scores.

Everton failing to beat Watford at home and then winning at Southampton; West Ham United winning at Arsenal but losing at home to Leicester City; Norwich City losing at home to Crystal Palace but winning at Sunderland. Aside from Arsenal and Sunderland, the other teams mentioned are not that much different in terms of quality on any given day and that will make it difficult to predict the games.

However, some of that might also have something to do with the early Premier League start and August is notoriously a difficult month as teams try to integrate new players and the whole returning to fitness is a bigger 'equaliser' than at any other time of the season.

Are there some serious problems at Stamford Bridge?
If the rumours are to be believed, Jose Mourinho is not happy at Stamford Bridge with the manager cutting an angry and frustrated figure in the first two weeks of the season.

Forget the whole spat with the doctor from last week against Swansea, Mourinho was allegedly moody and distant BEFORE the game, a far cry from the manager that took Chelsea to the title in May.

Everyone had to expect some type of response from Chelsea after the week they had when they visited Manchester City, but they could have been 1-0 down inside sixty seconds and the eventual 3-0 scoreline wasn't that flattering considering the home team could have been 5-0 up after thirty minutes.

Jose Mourinho was right to point out Chelsea were better in the second half, but the big story was his withdrawal of John Terry at half time.

It looks to have been the second indirect message to the owner Roman Abramovich that Chelsea need to make some big moves ahead of the transfer window closing in two weeks time. There is little doubt that Chelsea have seemingly stood still while rivals Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United have strengthened, and perhaps the whole Mourinho-Abramovich relationship is ready for the second big split after the way the first Mourinho era ended at Stamford Bridge.

Is John Terry in trouble? Not under Mourinho as far as I am concerned, and I think his tactical remarks at the end of the game as to why Terry was withdrawn makes sense. I fully expect their Captain to be playing next weekend and wouldn't be surprised at all if Terry was to score the winner at West Brom to underline his position in the squad.

That game at The Hawthornes is a huge one for Chelsea to try and get their season back on track, but they do look like facing another difficult week in the press going into that game.

So are there some serious problems at Stamford Bridge? I think there are, especially if Mourinho doesn't get the players in that he wants before September 1st. The rumours surrounding his unhappiness at Chelsea can't be ignored when you think of the start his team have made and it looks like a big two weeks coming up for Mourinho and his side.

Another defeat at West Brom though and maybe the tension between Mourinho and owner comes to a head in a similar fashion as it did in 2007.

Bournemouth are great to watch, but is it enough to keep them in the Premier League?
When it came to deciding which of the three promoted teams would do best in the Premier League back in May, I think Bournemouth would have had a lot of supporters.

They played some great football in the Championship and looked like a team that could potentially follow the Swansea City path to establishing themselves in the Premier League.

The first two games might have changed a few minds though as Norwich City are a squad full of Premier League experience, while Watford's owners, the Pozzo family, have made a lot of investment in that squad to get them ready for the top flight.

Both Norwich and Watford have at least two points from their opening two games and have looked like they can equip themselves with the Premier League, but Bournemouth have lost both games by the same 0-1 scoreline.

For all the pretty football they have played against Aston Villa and Liverpool, and credit Eddie Howe for sticking with his methods, Bournemouth have not been able to take the chances presented. Callum Wilson has a lot of pace, but has to show he can score goals at the highest level, while the side have looked great until the final third. Defensively it was always a concern as to whether they will get enough clean sheets and I do wonder if the lack of investment might haunt Bournemouth this season.

They have taken the Burnley approach as to not over-spend in a bid to survive in the Premier League, but instead look to set themselves up for the future even in the face of relegation.

I don't want to rule out my own belief that Bournemouth are good enough to survive off the back of two defeats... However, I do think Howe will be thinking along the same lines as me in wanting to perhaps revisit this at the second international break of the season in October.

At that point, Bournemouth will have faced West Ham United, Leicester City, Norwich City, Sunderland, Stoke City and Watford in the Premier League- if The Cherries can get 11 points from a possible 18 they will restore confidence and really begin to settle into the top flight. If they can't, Bournemouth might already be looking ahead to a long season where they spend the majority of time in the bottom three.

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