Quick Six: City rebukes United, Sunderland sacks Di Canio, and the other storylines from the Premier League weekend
1. COULDN’T HAVE BEEN WORSE FOR MOYES, MANCHESTER UNITED
It’s not just that they were blown out. Or allowed four goals. Or did both of those things against a club that is among their biggest rivals. It’s that all those goals came in 50 minutes, and at the points where his side needed to be strongest -- right before halftime, in the opening minutes of the second -- David Moyes’s team capitulated. If he didn’t have 15 years of successful coaching experience, we’d swear Moyes was out of his depth today. And maybe he was.
The impact of Sunday’s 4-1 loss at Manchester City will build on Deadline Day, when a disastrous close to the summer transfer window cracked faith in the Moyes-Ed Woodward tandem. Poor performances against Chelsea and Liverpool had already shaken the foundation, but with the club embarrassed on Sept. 3, fans started seeing implications that transcended the field. This was not the United they’ve known.
Now the embarrassment creeps onto the pitch, though having suffered through a 6-1 loss in this derby two years ago, United fans know how to deal with that. What they don’t know how to deal with is the doubts. What experience does a Red Devil fan have with the uncertainties of an unproven, under-performing boss?
Part of the today’s story should really be able Manchester City: about Kun Agüero’s greatness; about Yaya Touré's persistent influence; about Vincent Kompany’s influence. But we’re in uncharted waters with United, meaning their troubles are going to dominate headlines.
Until Moyes can prove he’s the right man for the job, that’s where the story will stay: In the headlines.
2. PAOLO DI CANIO WINS PREMIER LEAGUE SACK RACE
Sunderland looked to be in bad shape while Di Canio was putting his squad together, but we all gave him an evil genius benefit of the doubt. After the first game of the year, where Sunderland lost at home despite giving up only one shot on goal, we gave home some more time. And the draw at Southampton? That was okay, too. But multi-goal losses at Crystal Palace and at home to Arsenal produced a momentum that made Saturday’s 3-0 loss at West Brom untenable. Di Canio is not the guy you want bossing a fledgling operation.
This was the time to make a move. It’s been a disappointing start, but they’re only three points from 17th place. There’s still time to salvage the season, especially if your plan hinges on giving a new boss three months to evaluate talent ahead of a winter overhaul. But you can’t let Di Canio stick around and berate the team into the ground and expect a winter turnaround.
So that’s what’s next for the Black Cats: A new boss. What’s next for Di Canio? Having started his managerial career at Swindon Town, he’s shown he’s not afraid of more humble surroundings. Somebody, somewhere in the Football League will give him another chance. And having managed only 12 games at the top level (2-7-3 record), it’s unlikely Di Canio’s been made to believe he can’t be a good Premier League boss.
3. ARSENAL, TOTTENHAM TAKE DIFFERENT ROUTES TO THE TOP
North London occupies the top of the table after five rounds, Arsenal’s superior goal difference giving them first place ahead of Spurs, but both teams are off to identical 4-1-0 starts. That, however, is where the similarities end.
With 11 goals in five games, Arsenal’s ridden the league’s second-best attack to the top, their 3-1, Sunday win over visiting Stoke showing an added dimension to their game. A team that normally lacks a set piece threat has become dangerous thanks to Mesut Özil, whose dead ball service led to goals from Aaron Ramsey, Per Mertesacker, and Bacary Sagna. Geoff Cameron’s first Premier League goal prevented a clean sheet, but Arsenal still won comfortably.
Those three goals are more than half of Spurs’ haul through five games, yet André Villas-Boas’s team still posted their fourth win in five with a 1-0 result Sunday at Cardiff. It took a full 90 minutes to break through, but a game dominated by Spurs to the tune of 64 percent possession, 29-6 edge on shots, 12-0 advantage in shots on goal was decided by a piece of at-the-death brilliance finished by Paulinho.
It was only Spurs’ fifth goal of the year, something we’ve talked about before. They’re not converting control into chances, giving them huge room for improvement. That’s both scary (they can be so much better) and a cause for concern.
4. FOUR CENTRAL DEFENDER GAMBIT SEES LIVERPOOL FALL TO SAINTS
Brendan Rodgers was left longing for Luis Suárez’s return after Liverpool was shutout at home by Southampton, but had the Reds started their normal back line, perhaps Suárez’s absence wouldn’t have been as noticeable. Instead of picking José Enrique and Andre Wisdom at fullback, Liverpool’s manager went with central defenders in those roles: Mamadou Sakho on the left; Kolo Touré on the right. As Southampton retreated into their own end to play on the counter, Liverpool missed the option of throwing more attacking players forward, providing width that could have loosened Southampton’s defense.
The refereeing didn’t help. As Liverpool pressed early, seeking to break through Saints’ compact set up, Neil Swarbrick swallowed his whistle was Southampton’s physicality frustrated Daniel Sturridge. The referee’s 15 fouls tied with Mark Clattenburg at Cardiff City-Southampton for the fewest whistles among this weekend’s matches.
Regardless, this is a game that Liverpool would have expected to win, and in failing to do so, they’ve given back the advantage they earned by getting full points against Manchester United. Perhaps Luis Suárez would have made the difference, but on Saturday, he shouldn’t have needed to.
5. MOURINHO CONFESSING HE DOESN’T KNOW HOW TO COACH HIS SQUAD
By now you’ve read the excuse. Chelsea, who were 1-3-2 in their last six before Saturday’s visit from Fulham, don’t have a squad that plays Mourinho’s style, the returning coach has noted. He’s essentially having to break them in, taking the early part of this season identifying who does (and in the case of the omitted Juan Mata, does not) fit into his approach. The implication: Chelsea are going to be slow out of the gate.
They were slow out of the gate again on Sunday, controlling play but failing to breakthrough during the first 45 minutes of their West London Derby. An early second half goal from Oscar eased the tension before a late tally from John Obi Mikel produced a comfortable 2-0 win. Still, this was an unconvincing performance against a bad team, one that could have gone another way if a Basel-esque squad were visiting Stamford Bridge.
The outcome played into Mourniho’s thesis, but we shouldn’t be so quick to believe the coach’s complaints. If we accept the common premise that great coaches adapt to their talent, then why isn’t Mounrinho better adapting to his? That isn’t to say that a new boss shouldn’t impose his style on a team, but he should be able to see when his style won’t improve a squad. He should have at least one alternative approach.
Perhaps Mourinho sees that but, like last year at Real Madrid, is looking long-term. Perhaps he’s willing to sacrifice September, October, and November with the hopes his team will be more responsive in March, April, and May.
But if that’s the case, the excuse isn’t the players’ limitations. It’s the manager’s inflexibility.
6. EVERTON: UNDEFEATED BUT STILL UNPROVEN
Perhaps the Toffees would found a way to beat Chelsea even if the Blues defense didn’t break down last week. And maybe they beat West Ham on Saturday if Mark Noble doesn’t get sent off. They haven’t lost this season, so maybe we should be giving Roberto Martínez’s team the benefit of the doubt. They are, after all, the only team in the league without a loss.
But to revert back to comparison from point two, Everton’s start is more like Tottenham’s than Arsenal’s. Whereas the Gunner have gone out and made people believe they have reached a certain level, Spurs have survived their shortcomings and remain a bit unproven. We’ll know more about them one they hit their next obstacle.
Everton, recording their second win in a row on Saturday, did what every good team needs to do: Take advantage of the opportunity they were presented. And they did the same thing when Chelsea came to Goodison. Whether they can start generating opportunities of their own and start winning games on more than their opponent’s mistakes has yet to be seen.