Monday, 15 August 2011

Serg-ing Forward - Weekened Observations 14th-15th August 2011

A tale of three former Atletico Madrid players...

Well, I hate to say I told you so, didn't I? I'm pretty sure Sergio Aguero hasn't even unpacked his bags yet but in just a brief second half cameo at Eastlands on Monday, the little Argentine was already looking more at home in Manchester than half the cast of Coronation Street. 'Kun' was instrumental in Manchester City's comprehensive 4-0 win over Swansea helping himself to 2 goals and an assist as his 'welcome' to the Premier League proved to be far more fruitful than that of the Welsh side - his second goal in particular a thing of sheer erection-inspiring beauty.

Aguero not only made a mockery of the fabled 'settling in period' often said to be required by overseas players. He pretty much took the notion, doused it in petrol, attached a stick of dynamite & half-volleyed it straight into Mount Vesuvius. Very few debuts - as a substitute no less - have been more impressive. All of a sudden 38 million quid doesn't look so expensive.

Even people who had seen how good he was in Spain would be surprised at this instantaneous impact on English football. Needless to say he has not set the bar at near stratospheric levels. The expectation for repeat performances will be sky high. The sound of thousands of rattling keyboards up and down the country of people adding Aguero to the their fantasy football teams was probably about as loud as the cheers that greeted his stupendous long range strike.

It would be wise to stay grounded however. In the same way everyone is creaming over this performance, the criticisms will come in just as fast if he fails to repeat the heroics.

With all due respect to Swansea, this is a team many will be expecting to get relegated and we clearly tiring when Aguero was introduced. There's no sense in going too overboard here as many tougher tests will undoubtedly present themselves over the coming weeks/months. That said, there is little suggest that the little Argentine isn't up to the task.

Aguero aside, the multi-millionaires looked a great deal more like a team that has their eye on big prizes this season. Roberto Mancini certainly seems to have adopted a far more expansive approach than that which saw him labeled as 'negative' for much of last year. David Silva seemed to be at the heart of everything good City could conjure in an attacking sense while Yaya Toure's domination of the midfield actually looked quite frightening at times. Even Edin Dzeko looked lively and was duly rewarded with a goal for his efforts.

Again, it's hard to draw massive conclusions given they were playing a team with about as much Premier League experience as The Renford Rejects but there is no question that City have the best squad in the league. I see no reason at all why they shouldn't push United all the way in this season's title race.

Speaking of whom, the reds started their march towards a 20th Premier League crown on Sunday albeit with an unconvincing 2-1 away win at West Brom. I'm not sure how many times you can sit there and say "they weren't at their best, but they got the result". Remarkably, the champions scored twice despite only mustering one shot on goal. When a team underperforms you anticipate that one day they will eventually come unstuck. Not United. It almost seems as though winning without playing well is actually a deliberate tactic. I won't reel out the cliches about having a winning mentality because you can read about that elsewhere but it's difficult to deny the accuracy of this assessment. The worry again is how good will they be once again when they start playing well.

The match at the Hawthorns was a tale of two new signings. Ashley Young has slotted right into the United team. The former Villa man first assisted Wayne Rooney before forcing Steven Reid into conceding a crucial own goal that proved to be the winner. At the other end, David de Gea was busy doing his best Massimo Taibi impression as he allowed Baggies debutant Shane Long to score after allowing a shot to squirm under his body. Naturally this, along with his hairy moments in the Community Shield last week, has led to many, many criticisms of the former Atletico keeper with many writing him off already.

An overreaction perhaps? At 20 years old, to have even shown the ability to be considered good enough to start for the top team in the country suggests that he isn't quite the calamity many are already saying he is. Goalkeepers will always make mistakes. Young goalkeepers in particular. There isn't a keeper throughout history that has never dropped a major clanger. Watching the Spaniard last season, there was no doubt in my mind United had signed a great prospect. However, as I say, part of the learning process for young keepers will involve making mistakes and subsequently learning from them. Sir Alex only needs to cast his eye over to his old chum Arsene and the goalie problems at the Emirates to see that.

As such a fragile position, I've always questioned whether big sides with ambitions of winning trophies can ever really afford to take the risk of starting young keepers. Their errors will only serve to undermine any potential challenge. Between the sticks is the one area on the pitch where buying experienced, ready made players is an absolute necessity. If you are intent on nurturing a young keeper, loan moves away are surely the best option. That way he gets game time and crucially, is making the mistakes for someone else. If/when he's ready, then bring him back.

De Gea is clearly a very good goalkeeper but you have to wonder if he will sink or swim at Old Trafford. Between Peter Schmeichel and Edwin van der Sar, United have had two of the finest keepers since the inception of the Premier League. The young Spaniard will certainly have to some way before he is considered on equal footing with those two. Let's not forget the long list of failures that came between the Dane and the Dutchman who failed to make the grade. Someone ought to put a photo of Roy Carroll above De Gea's bed as a daily warning.

Also opening their campaign on Sunday were Chelsea whose 0-0 draw with Stoke was about as enjoyable as varicose veins. The game provided almost no noteworthy talking points. The home side provided the typical and expected physical menace that will make the Britannia a tough place to go to for number of away teams. Stoke's home ground is the equivalent of that dodgy pub you always fear going into because there's no guarantee you wont leave without a few shards of glass in your eye. That said, given their own physical prowess, Chelsea were able to stand up to any threat posed. Seeing John Terry and Ryan Shawcross 'marking' each other at set pieces was like watching two Silverback gorillas fighting over a banana.

All the talk beforehand was about new Chelsea manager Andre Villas Boas and what he will bring to this team. On evidence of Sunday, the answer would be very little. The blues were pretty much as they were under Carlo Ancelloti. There was no real difference in their approach. They still went about controlling the game in the same way but lacked anything productive in the final third. Anything they did manage to create, Asmir Begovic in the Stoke goal was equal to.

The much maligned Fernando Torres started ahead of Didier Drogba and actually looked like far more of a player than when he was lumbering around Stamford Bridge at the tail end of last season. The touch that deserted him seems to have returned. His off the ball movement and willingness to actually get involved in the game were all very encouraging but for all his endevour, he still couldn't score and if you spunk £50m on a striker, the least you should expect is for him to stick the ball in the back of the net.

Maybe he ought to watch Sergio Aguero to see how it's done.

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