There were a host of new names in action on the opening weekend of the new Premier League season. Adam Bate picks out the performances of Liverpool forward Iago Aspas and Southampton defender Dejan Lovren for a closer look.
By Adam Bate - Follow @GhostGoal
Last Updated: 19/08/13 11:14am
They are two very different players but Liverpool forward Iago Aspas and Southampton defender Dejan Lovren both impressed in their first Premier League outings...
There was a fluidity to Liverpool in their 1-0 win over Stoke City at Anfield and much of that was down to Iago Aspas. The summer signing from Celta Vigo showcased his short passing ability on his Premier League debut and Stoke never really got to grips with his clever touches and movement in the hole.
That ability to find space and provide an added subtlety to Liverpool's play was exactly what Brendan Rodgers had hoped he was buying - and the reason for his excitement about the player in pre-season, during which he described Aspas as the man to "give another dimension to our attacking play."
That was in evidence on Saturday and the interaction with Philippe Coutinho was particularly impressive. The pair created five chances each from open play against the Potters - that was more than any other player besides Chelsea's Eden Hazard on the opening weekend.
|Opening weekend - Chances created (open play)|
Given that Hazard and Coutinho played the full games, while Aspas was removed with 20 minutes remaining, it's an indication of the creativity that the Spaniard can bring to the team. Rodgers was certainly delighted.
"Iago Aspas is a real bright and clever player," he said afterwards. "In and around the edge of the box, he wants to shoot, he wants to combine with people and that's something that's important for us. I thought for 70 minutes he was excellent. Tactically he understands the game and what we're trying to do here."
Indeed, Aspas is perhaps the embodiment of Rodgers' vision for Liverpool with his preference for short passing - so difficult to do well in the final third. With one exception, every pass that the 26-year-old played on Saturday was a short one.
The lay-off for Daniel Sturridge's opener was typically simple but Aspas found the space to receive the ball from Lucas Leiva and the awareness to pass the ball on. Making it look easy is, of course, part of the skill.
With Willian a reported Liverpool target and the prospect of Luis Suarez returning to the team once his ban has been served, there could well be plenty of competition for places in the attacking zones. But Iago Aspas certainly made his case on the opening day.
While Aspas made an impression with his cute passing and elusive movement, subtlety was not the modus operandi of Southampton centre-back Dejan Lovren. But the Croatia international defender was equally effective on his Saints debut, helping the visitors to a clean sheet and a 1-0 win at West Brom.
Given that the team didn't manage a shut-out on their travels until January last season that's no mean feat. Improving the centre of defence was a priority for Mauricio Pochettino in the summer and in Lovren he has acquired a player who appears to be a good fit for Premier League football.
"We're very clear about our goals and Lovren was one of them," said Pochettino at the time. "He is quality as a player, has a presence on the field and he's good at solving difficult situations. I think his qualities will really suit the Premier League."
It certainly seemed that way at the Hawthorns. Just ask Shane Long, the Baggies forward who was on the receiving end of Lovren's elbow in one aerial duel. He showed good strength and won the battle of the debutants with Albion forward Nicolas Anelka.
"He's been very good this afternoon," said Sky Sports pundit Trevor Francis on commentary. "He makes good interceptions and has been very solid." The only other centre-backs to win three tackles and make three interceptions on the opening weekend were Robert Huth and Sylvain Distin - perhaps as good an indication as any that Lovren favours the physical side of the game.
But more than that, he can play. Lovren's composure on the ball was an asset for Southampton with a series of sweeping passes suggesting he is capable of turning defence into attack and shifting the point of attack well. Even at a reported £8.5million, the 24-year-old could prove a canny addition.