Friday, August 14, 2015

The European Through Ball Vol. 3

In today's edition of the European Through Ball, United win again without breaking into third gear, Bayern start the Bundesliga in typically dominant fashion and Monaco have a lucky escape against Lille.

Aston Villa 0 Manchester United 1
  • Juan Mata and Adnan Januzaj were the two most technical players on the pitch. They posses the innate ability to do something extra with the ball at their feet, marrying it with a lightness of touch and vision that brings finesse to their team's play. The only moment of true inspiration in the game came when the two combined for United's winning goal. With the Red Devils creating options to overlap on the left wing, Mata picked Januzaj in the box with an exquisite pass that flummoxed the home defence. The young Belgian then sidestepped Micah Richards with a clever turn before finishing via a deflection. It wasn't synonymous with the rest of the game, but it was a winning moment worthy of a bigger match.
  • There is a sense amongst the British press that despite his tactical deficiencies Tim Sherwood will at least make Aston Villa fun to watch after the mundane reign of Paul Lambert. On the evidence of their first two matches though it seems we won't see much different from the Villains. For someone who advocated entertaining football in his stints as a pundit, Sherwood didn't seem to have any ideas to breach United's defence. The only player who caused any moments of anxiety for the visiting defence was left-back Jordan Amavi, when he galloped forward to create some attacking forays down the left. The centre of the park had wilful running and endeavour but little in the sense of penetration or possession. With time running out, Villa resorted to lumping the ball into the box to utilize Rudy Gestede's aerial prowess. This hit-and-hope philosophy clearly posed no challenges to Chris Smalling and Danny Blind. Sherwood might say a variety of things to curry favour with the press, but for neutrals and fans alike it seems Villa Park will once again be home to perspiration rather than inspiration.
  • So how did United's new signings do in their second game? Memphis Depay looked like he was slowly developing an understanding with Luke Shaw down the left, but didn't do much otherwise. He could have opened his account for United but missed a good chance after Mata found him with a through ball. Morgan Schneiderlin wasn't exceptional but seems to be adjusting to the rhythm of his new teammates, while Bastian Schweinsteiger was more at ease in the centre of the park compared to the outing against Spurs. Matteo Darmian and Sergio Romero were once again solid without the need for anything spectacular against Villa's average attack. Sterner tests lie ahead before we can start making some concrete judgements on Van Gaal's new buys.
Bayern Munich 5 Hamburg 0
  • That Bayern Munich opened their defence of the Bundesliga with a comprehensive win at home is hardly a surprise. That Arjen Robben, Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller would create and score was hardly a surprise. So the only intrigue about Bayern's season opener was how new signings Arturo Vidal and Douglas Costa would fit into Pep Guardiola's tactical scheme. The Chilean was his usual energetic self providing an extra option in the box when Bayern had the ball while relentlessly pressing and tackling without it. It was Costa who caught the eye though. Comfortable on either wing, the Brazilian consistently beat his marker with pace and trickery. His comprehensive attacking display was highlighted by a beautiful curling cross with the outside of his left foot to assist Muller as well as a nice curling finish to get a goal of his own. Costa will have tougher assignments, but it seems Bayern finally have a decent backup option in case Ribery or Robben get injured when it comes to crunch time in the season.
  • Meanwhile Hamburg look like they are in for another season of strife. Surviving by the skin of their teeth last time around, Bruno Labbadia faces a tough task even if he just wants to have a slightly better season. Albin Ekdal will bring some goals from midfield and the Swede might well have more of an impact against other teams in the Bundesliga. Ideally a fully match-fit Marcelo Diaz along with Ekdal should at least ensure Labbadia gets some much-needed tenacity in the middle of the park. However, the signing of Emir Spahic to partner the erratic Johan Djourou at the back doesn't bode well, nor is the arrival of Sven Schipplock the most ideal solution to the goalscoring problems the team faced last season. It seems like staying in the league is the only realistic ambition for this proud club.
Monaco 0 Lille 0
  • Leonardo Jardim might well be right to prioritize next week's crucial Champions League playoff against Valencia. After all, it's the club's only shot of getting to the group stages of Europe's premier competition whereas the league provides plenty of opportunities to catch up. However, it was still a strange decision to start neither Stephan El Shaarawy nor Anthony Martial in the home opener after both played well in the victory at Nice. In stead the unproven Guido Carillo started, depriving Monaco of a genuine attacking threat in the box. As well as the Portuguese trio of Joao Moutinho, Bernando Silva and Ivan Cavaleiro played in midfield, they just weren't able to trouble the brilliant Vincent Enyeama in Lille's goal. By the time Martial and El Shaarawy came on, Monaco simply didn't have any rhythm to trouble Lille's defence. Tipped by many to be PSG's closest challengers this season, Jardim can't afford such selection errors too many times if Monaco are to repeat the successes of last year's campaigns in Ligue 1 and Europe.
  • You won't get a tougher start to the season than playing the champions at home and then the third place team away in your first two league fixtures. That has been Lille's lot this campaign, but the Northerners can be happy with the performances if not the points. Herve Renard's men were unfortunate to lose against PSG in the season opener and had their fair share of chances to win comfortably against Monaco. Goalscoring is clearly going to be a problem that Renard will have to grapple with for most of the season, but the dual Cup of Nations winner has at least got Lille playing with verve and intensity that was missing for the majority of last season. Lille should have a comfortable season in mid-table, but if Renard can inspire his men to perform consistently, a Europa League spot may not be out of the equation.