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Midweek Musings: 10 EPL thoughts at the International break

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Gareth Wheeler
10/10/2013 11:35:53 PM
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The International break disrupts Premier League play again this weekend at a time when proceedings are gaining momentum. This is the second international break in the last month – so much for continuity. Through seven matches, the logjam remains atop the table, with just four points separating first from seventh place. Just as intriguing, only three points stand between ninth place Manchester United and Norwich City, sitting in 18th and in the relegation zone.
 
No need to wax poetic this week. To keep your BPL palate satiated, 10 Premier League thoughts heading into the International dates.
 
1. The Premier League is still buzzing from Adnan Janusaj's two-goal debut saving Manchester United's blushes last weekend. I've been planning a 'Belgian of the Week' section in this space, and Janusaj would fit the bill as worthy winner for Matchday 7. The excitement surrounding the 18-year-old is understandable. I've been writing about the young player's talent for months. His wonderful left foot (he scored with his right foot as well in the 2-1 win), his confidence taking on players, his silky smooth distribution; there's a whole lot to like. It must be remembered this is just one standout performance and Janusaj has a ways to go. He'll have to work on his frame and speed – two glaring physical attributes that will most certainly come in time. Consistency of performance and greater understanding of the game will reveal itself. Whatever may come of Janusaj, remember these are early days. Janusaj was playing at the Dallas Cup with Manchester United's youth team short months ago. He's jumped from playing in front of hundreds into the cauldron of the Premier League. The narrative, knee-jerk as ever, has been over the top. Comparisons to other young greats (he shares the same date of birth as Cristiano Ronaldo) are far too premature. As is the assumption he's set to pack up and leave Old Trafford at season's end, just as Paul Pogba forced the club's hand in his move to Juventus. Pogba has been candid that his inability to win over the manager forced a move. A new contract for Janusaj is a near certainty. So leave any panic to the alarmist in your life. Janusaj also put to bed any immediate discussion about his international future, denying a call-up to Belgium for World Cup qualifiers, and instead focusing on securing regular first team football at United. Janusaj is taking his rise in stride, and so should we. By the looks of it, he has star quality. But it's easy for young players to fall off the rail under greater expectations and scrutiny. Even at United, in 2009 Federico Macheda scored a wonder goal winner at Aston Villa in the third minute of time added on at 17 years of age, drawing instant acclaim. Now 22, Macheda has failed to find his way and has been subject to numerous loan moves that haven't helped his game. Let's give Janusaj some time before making any bold declarations of what he is and what he will be.
 
2. Wayne Rooney spoke publicly for the first time since his summer of discontent, claiming he's happy with his football and settled at Manchester United under David Moyes. Rooney claims his soured relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson stemmed from the former manager playing Rooney in the midfield, a position he did not want to play. The 27-year-old admitted his stance was selfish. Although now 'settled', Rooney stopped short of committing his long-term future to the club. At this point, the conversation about Rooney's future is irrelevant. Rooney, when fit, has been the top player for Moyes over the first two months. His work rate has been outstanding, and movement on and off the ball has been better than it has in years. A motivated Rooney is what this team needs. He has found a proper role under Moyes and regained his edge he has lacked in recent times. As long he maintains top form and continues to hold his place in the side playing off Robin van Persie along the front line, United will pay him whatever he requires to keep his spot in the side. No player is bigger than the club. But no player is more important over this transition period for Moyes than Rooney. Just 47 goals away from Sir Bobby Charlton's club record of 249, such a prestigious record at the biggest club in the world is something neither club nor player can ignore. It won't be just Rooney acting selfish, the club will too. It may not be a perfect marriage, but it's one that works.
 
3. An unsung hero is emerging at Arsenal. The deadline day big money acquisition of Mesut Ozil stole the headlines. But the addition of Mathieu Flamini has been another true difference maker. Flamini returned to Arsenal after five years at AC Milan. At the time, it seemed the Frenchman would be a role player. His importance cannot be understated, forcing Jack Wilshere up the park in a less familiar role, and the move has paid off in spades. Flamini fits the mold of a quiet, no-nonsense central midfielder who will allow the players around him to play. He's efficient, tactically sound and his runs and passes are simple. He's not all action and will never be a box-to-box, end-to-end presence. That's not what Arsenal needs anyway. Flamini had only two wayward passes in the 1-1 draw on the weekend at the Hawthorns and has started every match in the Premier League and Champions League with the exception of his debut. The substance here doesn't require flash. It seems like Flamini has been around forever, yet he's only 29 and has plenty of game left. It's these types of character moves, bringing team players into the squad that wins trophies. The acquisition was understated, or even an afterthought, but bringing Flamini back to the Emirates has been a stroke of genius by Arsene Wenger.
 
4. Football has never been more attack oriented. Fluid, dynamic attacking players reflect the way the game is going, and top teams are being rewarded for more adventurous play. Southampton is a team who added attacking flair in the summer with a club record move for Dani Osvaldo from Roma. The Premier League has been an adjustment for the Italian international, scoring one goal thus far. But patience can be preached with Osvaldo while the team boasts the top defensive record in the BPL. Southampton have only conceded two goals this season; that's six fewer than league leaders Arsenal. And go figure, Southampton sits fourth in the Premier League. Team defending and shape has been efficient under Mauricio Pochettino. The team conceded 60 times last campaign with only five teams having a worse goal against record. A less flashy off-season move was the purchase of centre-back Dejan Lovren from Lyon, who has shored up things along the back line alongside the underrated Jose Fonte. The tandem, in combination with centre-midfielders Victor Wanyama and tackle-machine Morgan Schneiderlin have given strength down the spine. The true starring figure has been goalkeeper Artur Boruc, arguably the top player at his position in the league thus far. 19 saves, many of the highlight reel variety and five clean sheets have provided strength in goal for a team with a core of young players dependent on leadership at the back. The Saints will be hard pressed to keep up their current form. But the competitive nature of this team shouldn't surprise.

5. Spurs slip up at home to West Ham to the tune of a 3-0 loss was the shock result of the weekend. It was all a mess for Andre Villas-Boas side, forcing the issue in attack and allowing sloppy play to seep into the team's defensive performance in the second half. Spurs hadn't conceded more than a goal in a match all season and for the complete breakdown to come against a scoring deficient West Ham is entirely surprising. Other than a wonderful individual effort by Ravel Morrison, the other West Ham goals were defenders being muscled off the ball, failing to get in proper position, and losing concentration; all more mental issues than anything else. As far as squad selection, AVB elected to hand Jermain Defoe a rare start and it backfired. Defoe seems a player more suited to life in Cup competitions rather than a player to rely upon in the Premier League. Once Roberto Soldado came on, there was too little action from the Spaniard. He's a talented goal scorer, but he needs to become more active in his play. Superior movement off the ball is required for Soldado to be a reliable big match option for Spurs. This team is good enough to be at the top of the table. How they respond from this setback will say a lot about the true makeup of the team. It's time to grow up.
 
6. There need be growing worry about the durability of Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany. The centre-back is the most important player to City's title credentials, yet he can't stay fit. Kompany will miss Belgium's World Cup qualifiers and faces another spell on the sidelines after leaving City's 3-1 win over Everton after just 34 minutes with a quad injury. This is Kompany's second injury requiring missed action of the season. Over the last 18 months, Kompany has dealt with three separate calf injuries, a hamstring and groin issues. Kompany is just 27 years old and supposed to be in peak physical condition. As the injuries mount, so does the concern. Short term, City has a big match with Chelsea at the end of the month. If not fit, Jose Mourinho will look to expose the back line with team speed in high positions. But longer term, another top centre-back need be recruited to manage Kompany's minutes more effectively. Manchester United had to do so with the greatest of care with Rio Ferdinand after a myriad of injury issues. The problem for Manuel Pellegrini is he doesn't have requisite cover at the back at present time. Joleon Lescott continues to be a nightmare and unable to play adequately alongside Matija Nastasic. The thought of Javi Garcia playing out of position in big matches is one that would have other teams salivating. As good as City is in attack, they need a fit Kompany to maintain proper structure and lead from the back in all competitions.
 
7. The raves reviews of Liverpool's standout early play continue to ring in. There is a lot to like about the Luis Suarez/Daniel Sturridge partnership in attack, no matter how over the top the praise has become. The movement off the ball is most impressive, with neither player taking up a true high position. The inter-play and the freedom manager Brendan Rodgers has given the duo is what's making it so fluid. The preference of each player is to drift out to the left, but they are doing so with great patience and positional awareness. Rodgers is making all the right moves at the back as well. Against Crystal Palace, Rodgers deployed three at the back, showing intent to attack. The formation works with Steven Gerrard and Lucas playing deeper in holding midfield positions. The variety to which Liverpool can play at a high level is impressive. The formations are flexible and the players don't seem effected by the various tactical changes. Hats off to Rodgers as he continues to get the most out of what he has.
 
8. There are only 20 managerial jobs in the Premier League. When a job comes available, it's hard to turn down the opportunity. That opportunity knocked for Gus Poyet at Sunderland, and the Uruguayan jumped at the chance to take the job. Good luck, Gus. You're going to need it. Poyet did a wonderful job at Brighton, bringing the club to the brink of Premier League promotion. After a controversial falling out, it's plain to see why Poyet wanted back on the job as soon as possible. Problem being, this Sunderland team may be the worse place for the next step in his managerial career. Although it's just seven games in, Sunderland are stuck on one point and face a tough go of it, with Swansea away before meeting fierce rival Newcastle in a statement match in the coming weeks. Sunderland brought 14 new players to the club in the summer, and it's far-fetched to believe a new manager can bring this group of relative unknowns closer together, forming a chemistry and identity while navigating through murky waters. Don't look for the bank to re-open for transfers in January. Poyet was known for wanting complete control of transfers at Brighton. Director of football Roberto de Fanti and chief scout Valentino Angeloni were instrumental in the busy summer business working hand in hand with Paolo Di Canio. The gentlemen can say they will all be on the same page. But until further evidence, it's all lip service. Fact is, the team isn't good enough. Neither are the players. The passionate supporters of the Black Cats deserve better than the current climate. Poyet will have to pull a rabbit out of his hat to get this one right.
 
9. Cardiff City promotion was a wonderful story of perseverance for the Welsh club. The good vibes have continued into this Premier League season. The magical 3-2 home victory over Manchester City provided some of the scenes of the season. Now stories of discontent and questionable decision-making behind the scenes threaten the goodwill and could derail positive strides on the field. First came reports last weekend of players banning owner Vincent Tan from the locker room over a row about unpaid bonus payments. Then on Tuesday, head of recruitment and right-hand man of manager Malky Mackay, Iain Moody was replaced by a 23-year-old friend of the owner's son, with no said footballing experience. The latest rumours have Mackay being asked to leave his position; something the manager refuses to do. The players clearly play for their manager. Any such move would shake the club to its core. Cardiff City stadium was a fortress in winning the League Championship last campaign. Cardiff supporters have already endured the owner changing the colours from their tradition blue to red. Now discontent is taking the dysfunction to intolerable levels. This is certainly a situation to monitor. It would be an absolute shame if the club's historic rise to the top tier unravels as such.
 
10. A BBC State of the Game study revealed English footballers account for less than a third of minutes played in the Premier League thus far this season. The figure is substantially lower in comparison to other nationals playing in their respective leagues across Europe. These latest findings will raise the voice of the disheartened masses about the state of the game in England. A national team struggling through World Cup qualifying with little success in recent memory combined with a league whose biggest stars reside from other countries doesn't sit well with the proud footballing nation. Add Jack Wilshere's 'patriotic' call for what it means to be English and represent country, expect a reaction calling for limitations on foreign players in the Premier League. This line of thinking couldn't be more off base. It's not about putting restrictions or foreign players. It's about proper development from within the country. This starts at the youth level. It's the way the players are being taught to play the game. It's the startling lack of top trained and progressive thinking English coaches. It's about redeveloping the identity of how England should play as a nation, bringing the country up to modern standard with a refreshed tactical and skill development approach. The reason why more English players aren't playing at the top level is they aren't good enough. It's the hard to swallow reality of where the bulk of English players stand at the current time. There's something ironic about a call for restrictions on foreign players in a league that benefits so significantly from their global popularity and the financial windfall stemming from their reach and the relatable nature of their product.

You can reach Gareth at gareth.wheeler@bellmedia.ca or follow him on Twitter, @WheelerTSN

Wayne Rooney David Moyes (Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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