7 truths: Pep pays price for pathetic penalty practice plan
From City's woeful penalty taking to the title race falling towards Liverpool, we take a look at how Saturday in the Premier League shook out.
Guardiola's men pay penalty for age-old training mistake
Manchester City paid a heavy penalty at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday afternoon. City were at their free-flowing best, but somehow failed to overcome Everton - mainly due to two missed penalties that set the tone for the day. The Toffees' Dutch goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg was hailed as the hero having saved both efforts one in the first half from Kevin de Bruyne and the other in the final half hour as Sergio Aguero was denied as the home side trailed 1-0.
What was remarkable about the two missed penalties was not so much Stekelenburg's reflexes, but two other things which made the misses particularly bad.
First was the fact that both shots were hit rather tamely into the middle-right of the goal, at waist height. Short of side-footing it straight at the keeper, neither De Bruyne nor Aguero could have made it much easier for Stekelenburg if they'd tried.
Whoops, he missed it again - Sergio Aguero misses a penalty for Manchester CityReuters
Second, and worse, was the unconvincing technique in taking them. De Bruyne looked lacking in confidence as he stood over the ball, very much the beta male; and Aguero was, if anything, even worse. His stuttering, stalled run-up was agonizing to watch even before his foot met the ball, making it looks as if he was trying to impersonate the manner in which De Bruyne's earlier effort had missed. He ended up mimicking it perfectly, sending the ball at the exact same height and weight for Stekelenburg to make a second comfortable stop. City did later find an equaliser, but a only drew a match in which a 5-1 scoreline would not have flattered Pep Guardiola's side.
The manager's reaction, however, was pitiful: penalty practice is pointless, he suggested, since you can't recreate the pressure.
What utter rubbish. Practice is done precisely because of the pressure, the repetition of the discipline critical in giving players confidence to execute a good penalty when the chips are down. All sports work this way. Find us a professional golfer who doesn't practice two-foot putts, and we'll show you a professional golfer who misses a lot of two-foot putts.
We honestly thought this sort of nonsense had been buried at the 1998 World Cup, when Glenn Hoddle's bleating about England not practising penalties because "you can't recreate the pressure" was laughed out of court. But now Guardiola has trotted out the same nonsense.
Not that the meticulous Spaniard will leave it there, of course: he will learn from this. The smart money is on City working tirelessly on spot kicks before Wednesday's trip to the Camp Nou; what might be more tricky is deciding who takes the next one.
Arsenal reaping the benefits of Walcott's hard work
If Manchester City's penalty takers need an inspirational guest speaker to extol the virtues of practice, they could do a lot worse than give Theo Walcott a call. Obviously there would be a lot (!) of contractual issues to solve, but right now there isn't a better example of the principle of work hard-get better.
Walcott was once again outstanding as Arsenal shrugged off the red card for Granit Xhaka to come through a gruelling match against Swansea with a 3-2 win which sees them climb level on points with stuttering City.
His well-publicised summer resolve to get in the gym and smarten up his act is paying dividends we'd never have thought possible. It makes you wonder which other high-profile players might yet surprise a lot of people if they re-dedicate themselves to their craft. Without Walcott's contributions Arsenal would be nowhere near the top of the table with eight matches gone; is it too far-fetched to imagine a similarly re-invigorated Wayne Rooney do something similar for United before the season it up?
Alderweireld's injury just when they need him most could derail Tottenham's season
Toby Alderweireld played 38 league games for Tottenham last season; Alderweireld committed nine fouls in the whole of said season. Tottenham had the meanest defence in the Premier League last season. Tottenham have conceded four goals in eight games this season. Alderweireld had, up until he was injured with 60 minutes gone against West Brom, played in every Tottenham game. He is utterly integral to Spurs. However, his defensive contribution only tells half the story.
Alderweireld has the passing range of a deep-lying midfielder and it is the Belgian centre-half who is often sets motion the speedy attacks that Tottenham have become renowned for. Spurs will not only miss his defensive nous, but also his speed of though in attack. They better hope that his injury is not as serious as it looked. He will be a huge miss.
Barcelona have a new hero for about five minutes..and then he's back in Messi’s shadow
Just when Rafinha Alcantara must have thought he had finally cracked it, Lionel Messi made a stunning – and goalscoring – return to action in Barcelona’s thrashing of Deportivo at the Camp Nou. Rafinha put on an exhibition with a stunning brace and an all-round masterclass. He has already scored more La Liga goals in five appearances for Luis Enrique’s men this season, with three, than in the previous two seasons combined.
But just as he hit his hot streak, Messi came on – and scored within three. A wonderful, but very fleeting, era of excellence from the ‘new Messi’. The big question will be this, however: can the club's prospective 'new Messis' develop and fulfil their potential as long as they original Messi is keeping them in the shade?
Sunderland winning race to the bottom yet again
15-16-13-10-13-17-14-16-17. That’s Sunderland's sequence of finishes in the Premier League over the past nine seasons.
Time after time they've timed their runs to perfection to save themselves from the chop, with just one solitary top-half finish to show for their troubles. Already, they look like needing another miracle escape – not just because of the fact that they have just two points so far, but because they lost to the top flight's second-worst team - Stoke City – in a manner so abject as to make them look more like a mid-table League One side than a Premier League outfit.
The verdict of the journalist covering the match for Eurosport was simple, stark and unarguable: "Sunderland are just so bad."
Leicester's season-long lap of honour could end in disaster
We can now say, with some certainty, that Leicester will disappear from whence they came. Saturday's match against Chelsea showed in comprehensive fashion that whatever alchemy Claudio Ranieri stumbled upon is no longer working. Last season's gold has turned back to base metal.
That leaves Leicester City with something of a problem. The club, quite rightly, threw money at their star performers from the 2015-16 season, paying the likes of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez £100,000-a-week to stick around – ostensibly to try to recreate the magic, but in reality to enjoy a season-long lap of honour.
Chelsea's Brazilian-born Spanish striker Diego Costa (L) vies with Leicester City's German defender Robert Huth (R) during the English Premier League football match between Chelsea and Leicester City at Stamford BridgeAFP
They haven't been able to hit the heights this season; and in retrospect, why would we ever think they might have been able to? Defending a league title is hard at the toughest of times, and Leicester's rivals have spent amounts of money unparalleled in footballing history to try to close the gap.
Could it get even worse than that, in the form of relegation? Looking at the likes of Hull and Sunderland so far this season, probably not. But eight points from eight matches means it isn't out of the question. Manchester City were the last champions to get relegated, a 'feat' which they managed back in the 1940s, at a time when footballers were paid 'man in the street' wages; Leicester have Vardy and Mahrez on £5 million-a-year each this season, and should the unthinkable happen they could head down to the Championship with all manner of serious financial problems.
Stage set for Liverpool to join race for the title
Considering how high-profile Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp are in English football, the Reds' Premier League season has been pretty low key so far. Their relatively slow start to the season saw to that.
But they entertain Manchester United on Monday with things looking very different than they did in late August: four consecutive league wins have come just as Manchester City and Tottenham have faltered. And somewhat incredibly, they know that a win on Monday night will see them join City and Arsenal at the top of the table. A three-goal win would put them top of the pile on goal difference – and given the morale boost they'd get from such a result against Jose Mourinho's United, it would also give them a huge momentum boost.
Klopp and MourinhoEurosport
There may not be any "great European nights at Anfield" to look forward to this season. But the stage couldn't be set for a bigger Premier League night at Anfield on Monday. What's more, United will be only too aware of all this – and all the more desperate to stop their arch-rivals getting one over on them, while simultaneously knowing that a two-goal win would lift them into fourth place above Liverpool. Monday night's crackerjack match just looks like getting bigger and bigger…
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Telling the truth today were Toby Keel, Des Kane, Dan Quarrell and Marcus Foley