Look, we all know that eventually, Chelsea are going to straighten out. There’s an argument that they already have, unbeaten in their last three, though that doesn’t match the levels their supporters have become accustomed to over the past 18 years or so. But Mauricio Pochettino is too good of a manager, and their underlying numbers are too strong for them to be laughable for too much longer. So best to enjoy the last remaining moments of it while we can.
Chelsea thoroughly deserved their 2-0 lead against Arsenal on Saturday. While they still don’t have a striker worth anything and have given up on even playing one, moving Cole Palmer into a false No. 9/10 role with Raheem Sterling and Mykhaylo Mudryk playing something of a split striking pair had Arsenal flummoxed. Palmer certainly relished it, with a 96 percent successful pass rate for the match. Arsenal couldn’t find Sterling for most of the match, as he varied between being a right-winger, a central striker and everything in between.
The player who seems to have really benefited from it all is Connor Gallagher, who has Moises Caicedo and Enzo Fernandez behind him and Palmer ahead of him, leaving him just about free to do anything. He created four chances on Saturday, linking with Palmer and setting up the two wingers-turned-forwards at his whim.
But it’s still Chelsea, and more to the point, it’s Chelsea in 2023 which means they can chuck it away at a moment’s notice. Step up, Robert Sanchez:
Once Arsenal got their first goal, there was little doubt that this version of Arsenal would find a second. Which they did when Malo Gusto fell asleep on Leandro Trossard at the far post:
Chelsea certainly backed up in the second half. After Mudryk’s accidental goal (the only way he’s going to score these days) early in the second 45, they managed one more shot on target the rest of the match. Pochettino didn’t have any firepower on the bench, kind of shocking considering the money spent, while Mikael Arteta was able to fire Kai Havertz, Trossard, Emile Smith-Rowe, and Eddie Nketiah off his. Pochettino only had Nicolas Jackson, and he spent 24 minutes on the field praying no one would give him the ball.
Chelsea will get better and the return of Cristopher Nkunku will help. But without anyone ruthless enough to make that midfield’s dominance count, Chelsea will more often than not let opponents hang around. And considering their still fragile state of mind from last season, anyone hanging around is a threat to haul them in.
What else from the weekend?
4. Don’t start a geriatric at right back.
Two of the early-season title challengers got a boost from their opponents starting players at the right back position that needed an oxygen tank a quarter of an hour in. The day started with Liverpool’s Luis Diaz absolutely roasting Everton’s Ashely Young in the Merseyside Derby, getting the latter sent off before 40 minutes were even on the clock:
While Everton were pretty brave with 10 men and only lost thanks to Michael Keane forgetting he has arms (usually he forgets he has legs, so give him points for variety), they were always doomed going down a man.
A couple hours later, Man City saw Jeremy Doku lining up across from Brighton’s James Milner, and rang the dinner bell:
Doku completed five successful dribbles out of six attempts and won eight of 10 ground-duels, all because he was getting to face-up to a fossil. Milner was hauled off at halftime to save his own life,
3. Did you know Ollie Watkins is one of the best strikers in Europe?
After Villa thumped West Ham at home on Sunday, this was a stat making the rounds:
Villa’s next three games are against Luton, Forest and Fulham, which means they should be dancing right around, or in, the Champions League places in the middle of November. It’s also important to remember that they’re doing this while missing two of their most important players for the whole season in Tyrone Mings and Emilano Buendia, and Jacob Ramsey won’t play until next month either. Yes, Villa have gotten thwacked by the two top teams – Newcastle and Liverpool – they’ve played this season. But both were on the road and a team can still go far by beating all the teams they should beat. Given the way Villa are playing, that list is growing.
2. Why did we need Phil Neville?
One of NBC’s strengths in soccer coverage was how little the roster of the studio show changed., It started with just the Two Robbies (Earle and Mustoe) and Kyle Martino. When Martino left, Tim Howard stepped in. Everyone knew what they were getting and a familiarity and camaraderie was certainly built. Arguably, it was the best sports studio show going, because it didn’t feel the need to be anything more than three guys, plus Rebecca Lowe, we know very well just telling us what they see.
The roster has expanded a bit in recent seasons. Danny Higginbotham joins in, and he’s very good. Stephen Warnock is also very good, if also being the man with the most mismatched voice to his body in the history of television.
But seriously, Phil Neville?
We know Neville is a dope. Once he was canned from coaching the England women’s team, they lost two games in two years, and one of those was the World Cup Final. His spell as manager of Inter Miami, which he only got because he’s Beckham’s buddy, was a disaster. Sure, he’s polished enough, but who wants to hear anything he has to say? Don’t do this again.
1. Another banner weekend for VAR
These get old to write, but it happens every weekend and is tilting results. Again, it’s not technology that’s the problem. It’s the people using it. You may look at these two instances and think that they’re both penalties:
But they’re not. In the first, Michael Keane is simply running and leaves his arm out there. He’s looking right at Luis Diaz, he knows a cross is coming in, and this is the position you almost always see defenders put their arms behind their backs to avoid this exact situation. He may not move his hand toward the ball, but leaving it out there is basically the same thing. He can argue proximity only to a point given all the build up to it.
Meanwhile, Arsenal’s William Saliba is jumping to the ball, can’t see where Mudryk is, and has the ball deflect into his arm from a distance of eight inches. It is impossible to jump toward this ball in the air without one’s arms coming up, especially given the odd angle of it. He’s not looking at Mudryk, as Keane was, he’s trying to play the ball.
Sadly, there is no way to word the handball rule in order to distinguish these two, and on replay after replay, both are going to look worse and worse than they actually were. Surely common sense has to play a role, the problem is that everyone’s common sense is different than the next guy’s.
Which is the way he wants. Well, he gets it.
Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate and on Bluesky @Felsgate.bsky.social
Original source here
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