ANALYSIS: Liverpool punish Pellegrini’s haphazard Hammers

Alan O’Brien 

Manuel Pellegrini got everything he wanted upon assuming the Hammers helm. The Chilean was empowered to rebuild West Ham United’s squad from scratch, without board interference. Armed with his handpicked director of football, Mario Husillos, Pellegrini captured ten signings at a net cost of over £80 million. But two obvious questions resulted: how quickly could the newbies bed in, and how quickly could David Moyes’s boys adapt to a progressive style of football? It’s impossible to answer either just yet, but after Sunday’s opener at Liverpool the early signs are far from promising. Continue reading

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ANALYSIS: Magpies ill-starred as Spurs counterpress stalls on the startline

Alan O’Brien 

Rafa Benítez may be right when he says that “everything is wrong” off the pitch at St James’s Park. On it, however, the Spaniard continues to work wonders. Newcastle United coped with Mauricio Pochettino’s counterpress better than most sides will this season. Foiled twice by the woodwork, the Magpies were ultimately unlucky to emerge empty-handed. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Pogba ball progression enlivens predictable Prem opener

Alan O’Brien 

New season, same old Manchester United. By presiding over another expected-goals defying victory, José Mourinho picked up right where he left off. But luckily for him, Claude Puel’s Leicester City haven’t changed much either. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Prodigal Pellegrini can have no excuses

Alan O’Brien 

In an era of dwindling managerial autonomy, Manuel Pellegrini stands almost alone. Prior to assuming David Moyes’s mantle, the Chilean demanded sole responsibility to remake troubled West Ham United in his own image. Owners David Gold and David Sullivan, still smarting from last season’s unrest, were only too happy to oblige.

Pellegrini was empowered to handpick a director of football, in former Malaga co-conspirator Mario Husillos, who set about dispensing a near-£100-million transfer kitty in the manner of his master’s choosing. Husillos acquired 10 players, of which nine are first-team ready. For Pellegrini, therefore, the heat is on: instant success, of the kind secured at Villareal and Malaga, is a must. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: City cleave Chelsea’s work-in-progress press

Alan O’Brien 

By his own admission, Maurizio Sarri’s methods can take time to bed in. The exacting coach took just seven points from his first 10 games in charge of Empoli. And his prior posting at Sorrento, where he expected his players to memorise just the 38 set-piece drills, lasted all of six months. But the Neapolitan hit the ground running at his hometown club, and Chelsea fans will be hopeful that this abject Community Shield showing is not a harbinger of early-season pain to come. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Spectre of Villas-Boas hangs over Sarri

Alan O’Brien 

A little over six years ago, Chelsea’s André Villas-Boas experiment ended in tears. Seduced by Pep Guardiola’s tiki taka, Roman Abramovich had replaced the dependable Carlo Ancelotti with one of the Catalan’s young imitators. But Villas-Boas’s high-pressing game proved anathema to a squad long accustomed to defending in their own half. And player power unseated the then-34-year-old after only 27 league games, seven of which ended in defeat. The nadir, a 5-3 home defeat to Arsenal, saw centre-backs John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic brutally exposed to Arsene Wenger’s pacey front three. Continue reading

OPINION: Emery must swallow his pride to succeed at Arsenal

Alan O’Brien 

After 14 years of protracted decline under Arsene Wenger, Arsenal fans are entitled to feel excited. Unai Emery, a so-called serial winner, represents a welcome new dawn for Gunners supporters. Unlike Wenger, the Basque has not adhered rigidly to one true style of play throughout his managerial career.

In three full seasons at Sevilla, armed with a counterattacking 4-2-3-1, Emery won the Europa League every time. At PSG, however, Emery found European success elusive with a possession-based, pressing-oriented 4-3-3. Which of those masks the former midfielder chooses to wear, and when, will ultimately decide his Emirates Stadium fate. Continue reading

Guardiola and self-doubt: the Klopp effect

Alan O’Brien 

When ideology meets pressure there is usually only one winner. History is littered with raging socialists whose left-wing zeal quickly moderated upon assuming any significant responsibility. In Greece, Alexis Tsipras’ Syriza party stands as the most recent high-profile example. Anti-establishmentarianism quickly morphed into fiscal rectitude when the time came to stick or twist. Continue reading

Ascendant Arsenal pierce Palace lines with ease

Alan O’Brien 

It took 30 harrowing minutes for Roy Hodgson to give up the 4-4-2 ghost here. Four goals down when the stable door was finally closed, the Arsenal horse had already bolted, lived a full life in the wild, and expired of natural causes. Continue reading