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Premier League talking points: Sergio Aguero stars but concerns for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Sergio Aguero starred for Manchester City but there are concerns elsewhere for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Mauricio Pochettino. Here, we pick out some of the hits and misses of the weekend...
Last Updated: 27/08/19 8:18am
Solskjaer under pressure again
While most of his rival managers were bemoaning their luck over penalty calls which had been overlooked, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer might be wishing his Manchester United team had not been awarded another spot-kick.
After the furore surrounding Paul Pogba's saved effort on Monday night at Wolves, Marcus Rashford had the responsibility against Crystal Palace only to strike the post.
Manchester United's 4-0 win over Chelsea had brought optimism back to Old Trafford but one point from two games since then has darkened the mood once more. That initial victory already looks like the aberration - their only win in nine games now. There is pace in the side but United need more against diligent defences. Solskjaer has not found the solution.
With Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial both struggling with muscle injuries, even the much-discussed summer fitness regime looks flawed. Crisis is never too far away at Manchester United these days and the manager could already do with a win. If it doesn't come against Southampton, then expect some serious introspection in the international break.
Did Emery get it all wrong?
There had been a growing excitement about the Gunners' prospects after winning their first two games but the team's showing at Anfield has sparked a debate about just what progress looks like. Are they on the right track or repeating the same mistakes?
Unai Emery's decision to ask his team to pass the ball out from the back always appeared to be a risky game against Liverpool - arguably the best pressing team in Europe. Arsenal surrendered possession of the ball in their own defensive third no fewer than 13 times in the match. That is the most by any team in the Premier League this season or last.
Does Emery deserve credit for sticking to his principles? Inviting Liverpool onto them might have reaped rewards given that it left his forwards two against two up front. Had Nicolas Pepe not spurned his chance, this could have been hailed as an Emery masterstroke. Instead, he stands accused of repeating the mistakes of his predecessor. That's football.
Problems already for Pochettino
The warning signs had been there for Tottenham against Aston Villa but there was no escape against Newcastle as Joelinton's first-half strike earned Steve Bruce a valuable victory. "To concede another cheap goal on the transition like we did against Aston Villa worries me," Mauricio Pochettino told Sky Sports.
"We didn't create. We had the possession, we dominated, but we didn't create enough chances. We never found the capacity to break the defensive line." It wasn't just the performance weighing on Pochettino. With new signings injured and Christian Eriksen benched amid talk of a forthcoming exit, you sense there is a lot going on at Tottenham.
"For different circumstances, we have an unsettled group of players," he added.
Pochettino is clearly unhappy that the European transfer window is disrupting his dressing room long after the Premier League has window shut. It is already clear this could overshadow the early part of Spurs' season. He can only hope it does not set the tone.
Bruce hits back at his critics
Steve Bruce will want the result to change the tone of his season start. The Newcastle boss has found himself at the centre of a maelstrom not of his making but tell that to his stronger critics. Two games in and it was already open season on every aspect of his management. "We can't do a warm-up? Tactics? It's embarrassing some of the stuff," he told Sky Sports.
"The only way you can respond to it is with the team putting in a performance like that. The organisation was there for everyone to see. I have managed 900-odd games over 20 years. You would think there would be some respect. But I go back to the fact that whoever was going to replace Rafa was going to have a tough time."
Aguero in ominous scoring form
Sergio Aguero took his tally to 400 career goals in Manchester City's 3-1 win over Bournemouth, with 235 of them for his current club. The Argentine has never been named as the PFA player of the year but in this mood, he may never have a better chance to claim the individual prize.
Kevin De Bruyne is fit again, while David Silva is there to serve him for one final campaign. The pair set up a goal each for Aguero on Sunday, albeit fortuitously. De Bruyne scuffed a shot into his path, while Silva's mazy dribble was latched onto by the striker inside the box. When they are even assisting him by accident, you know you are in trouble.
It is four goals in three games for Aguero now. Gabriel Jesus had started the season with the shirt but with the Brazilian forward having succumbed to a hamstring injury that will keep him out until after the international break, the senior man looks well placed to be first choice for the foreseeable future. Aguero could be about to make this his season.
VAR implementation still an issue
There was some luck involved though. Handball decisions were the talk of the first fortnight of the season but over the weekend, it was another aspect of VAR's impact on penalty calls that came to the fore. Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham all had strong shouts turned down. The law might be clear but it is not obvious that it is leading to improved decisions.
Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta took a kick to the knee from Norwich's Marco Stiepermann inside the box. City captain David Silva had his foot trodden on by Bournemouth's Jefferson Lerma. Then Spurs striker Harry Kane was impeded by Jamaal Lascelles, the Newcastle skipper diving into his path. Not once was a penalty given.
For subjective decisions, VAR deems that when there is not enough evidence to overturn the original call, it sticks with the on-field decision. Is this encouraging referees not to flag - leaving it instead to their colleagues at Stockley Park? The curious consequence of such a high threshold is that incidents most would regard as penalties are still being missed.
An important win for Hodgson
Of course, there were two teams in action and a mention for Roy Hodgson's Crystal Palace as they defied the odds and their own form to pick up their first win of the season. The Eagles had not even scored a goal in their opening two games but this was a classic counter-attacking performance - earning them their first-ever Premier League win at Old Trafford.
Hodgson has not had the easiest of summers. The sight of Aaron Wan-Bissaka lining up for the opposition was one thing but the fact that the defender has not really been replaced is another. Supporters feel that the squad as a whole needed more strengthening and while Wilfried Zaha has stayed, Hodgson has been the one tasked with refocusing his mind.
All had not seemed well but this result is a welcome reminder that Hodgson can organise a team to good effect. On this evidence, Gary Cahill will help. Jordan Ayew has already matched last season's goal tally. "It was a long afternoon, a hot afternoon," said Hodgson afterwards. But it was a winning afternoon and a memorable one for the Palace fans.
Abraham is off the mark
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From the oldest manager in the Premier League to the youngest, Chelsea boss Frank Lampard also picked up his first win with a 3-2 victory over Norwich at Carrow Road. His side had to take the lead three times to ensure the result went their way and it was a huge afternoon for Tammy Abraham as well as his manager, the youngster scoring twice.
Abraham has been the subject of much scrutiny since being entrusted with the centre-forward role at Chelsea and the racial abuse he was subjected to after a penalty miss in the final of the Super Cup was disgraceful. The only consolation is that he was able to respond so quickly - both of his goals were brilliant finishes and this could be a turning point for him.
Abraham himself described Lampard as his inspiration but the truth is that it was his movement and clinical finishing on the day that inspired Chelsea to victory. "It will do wonders for his confidence," said Lampard. After his unjust treatment, the young striker deserved this moment. Hopefully, they will be the first goals of many.
Aston Villa up and running
It was a good weekend for teams picking up their first wins of the season. There were six of them in all - more than the previous weekend and only one fewer than the opening round of games. Liverpool and Manchester City might have already powered their way into the top two places but below them, it's a bun fight - only Wolves and Watford are yet to win.
As well as Bruce's bonus against Tottenham and the wins for Hodgson and Lampard, Brendan Rodgers' Leicester made good on the promise shown in their first two games by claiming the three points against Sheffield United thanks to Harvey Barnes' superb strike. Credit too to Manuel Pellegrini whose West Ham team got the better of Watford.
But perhaps the most important win was the one that Dean Smith earned for Aston Villa. Up against an Everton team that had yet to concede, Villa ticked some important boxes. Wesley scored the opening goal, his first in English football, and the clean sheet will add belief after being stunned by Bournemouth. All three promoted teams are now up and running.
What's happened to Watford?
That's more than can be said about Javi Gracia. The darling of the Watford fans for much of last season, his team are now the only ones in the Premier League without a point to their name. In fact, they are three points adrift at the bottom of the table despite a generous fixture list. Going down 6-1 on aggregate at home to Brighton and West Ham is not good.
It was the Hammers who beat them in an entertaining game at Vicarage Road on Saturday and while the margins are fine, the poor start means that people will begin to read things into that weak finish to the previous campaign too. It is six defeats in a row for Watford now. They have 31 points from their last 31 Premier League games - relegation form.
It's harsh given that the club's run to the FA Cup final obviously had an impact. Absurd given that last season was arguably Watford's second best ever. But this is a club that is not afraid to change manager if it needs to. Gracia will want to pick up some points against Newcastle next time out or risk his future being decided in games against Arsenal and Manchester City.