Skip to content

Quick Six: Januzaj’s breakout, best striker tandem, and other Premier League storylines

Oct 6, 2013, 9:35 PM EDT

1. A NEW STAR IS BORN AT UNITED?

Out of the darkness came a new hero, an unlikely 18-year-old thrust to instant stardom amid the uncertainty that’d enveloped the start of David Moyes‘s tenure. Can Adnan Januzaj really be the savior he’s being portrayed as after his two goals in Sunderland delivered Manchester United from   potential disaster?

Here’s teammate Michael Carrick after United’s 2-1, come-from-behind victory:

“In some ways I think he’s gone on the big stage now,” he said. “We noticed a big improvement with him [in pre-season] and he just looked a proper player. At half-time we told him to get in the box a bit more because there were chances for him.

“He’s got so much ability, he’s got a great attitude. He can be anything he wants to be – he’s that good.

“It’s just a start, I’m sure he’s not going to get carried away with it.”

Many outlets have taken the “anything he wants to be” part and ran with it. After all, narratives  have to be fueled, never mind Carrick was perfectly sanguine will delivering his player speak. Januzaj is a teammate, he’s young, and he was just coming off a two-goal performance. Of course you’re going to get some distortable quotes out of Carrick.

With Januzaj, there’s as much sizzle as steak right now. It’s impossible to miss the potential in the Belgian/Albanian/Serbian/Kosovar (he’d be eligible to represent any of those nations), but Januzaj’s new star’s also a function of United’s current plight. He’s the contract to the conflict between expectations and form.

That conflict was apparent on Saturday. For the first 45 minutes, a Sunderland team that was hard work and little else was the better side. In the second half, Manchester United woke up. In time, this will look like a good win — three points where other sides may get none — but considering what Manchester City and Arsenal showed on their trips north, United’s Black Cat test illustrated just how far behind they are.

[MORE: Sunderland 1-2 Manchester United: Januzaj's second half double lifts Red Devils.]

2. SUÁREZ, STURRIDGE SHINE, BUT ONE PIECE MISSING FOR LIVERPOOL

Whether they maintain this level or not, Liverpool’s Luis Suárez and Daniel Sturridge are the Premier League’s best striking duo at the moment. The tandem combined for two Liverpool goals in the Reds’ 3-1 win over visiting Crystal Palace, and after the weekend’s dust settled, Liverpool sat second, with only goal difference keeping them from the top.

Brendan Rodgers seems eager to temper any undo enthusiasm, though:

“It reminded me of a performance I had when I first became a manager, when I knew it had to be about more than just winning. At Watford we beat Swansea 2-0 at Vicarage Road. Everyone was elated and it was named the performance of the week but I was so disappointed because we didn’t keep the ball well. This was like that. Our movement and combinations in the final third was good but the lack of control behind that was very disappointing.”

It’s harsh, but there were obvious weaknesses in the Reds’ side on Saturday. Against one of the league’s worst teams, Liverpool too often allowed Crystal Palace to hit their defensive line with speed, the Eagles’ lack of execution (and talent) in the final third the only thing that kept this match from turning into a shootout.

That problem gets solved to a certain extent when Lucas Leiva returns. Without their suspended ball-winner, Liverpool moved Jordan Henderson in from right-wing back, pairing him at the base of midfield with Steven Gerrard. The result was unconvincing. Thankfully, they were only playing Crystal Palace.

The issue does, however, inform the debate as to whether Liverpool are title contenders. Or Champions League contenders, for that matter. With the Reds off to a 5-1-1 start, there are a lot of discussions surrounding the team, all of which come down to quality and depth. Even if you think the Reds have the quality to compete with the preseason contenders (a tough but not impossible argument to make), Saturday illustrated how thin they are. Lose one guy and things don’t exactly fall apart (they did still win 3-1, after all), but holes start to surface.

[MORE: Liverpool 3-1 Crystal Palace: "SAS" on the scoresheet again as Reds romp.]

3. MAYBE POCHETTINO WAS RIGHT ABOUT SOUTHAMPTON

Mauricio Pochettino didn’t say he was going to get Southampton into Champions League this year, and to the extent he said it was a goal, he did so in relation to Europa League. Teams don’t really shoot for the latter, the Saints boss explained. Champions League is everybody’s ambition.

Of course, people ran with it. That’s what happens. A coach of a club like Southampton even mentions Champions League? It goes at the top of the story. Southampton must be targeting Champions League! Welcome to the soccer world.

After this weekend’s action, however, Pochettino’s words took on a different context, with Southampton’s 2-0 win over Swansea vaulting the Saints into fourth place – above Manchester City, Tottenham, and Manchester United.

Seven weeks into the season, it’s too early to know whether Southampton can keep this up, even if a win at Liverpool and five clean sheets provide some reason to think this form can persist. But beyond that Liverpool win, there aren’t many eye-opening results among this year’s score lines. The schedule just hasn’t been that hard.

Don’t overlook Sunday’s result, however. Three years ago, Swansea were Southampton, albeit with a different style. They were the team whose results outstretched their stature while their methods underscored their results. They were the club giving reason to believe there was staying power behind their run.

Sunday’s game may have been a symbolic passing of that torch, with Swansea stumbling to 15th place. Then again, it might be us reading too much into early season results. Regardless, Pochettino continues to give us reason to talk about Southampton.

[MORE: Southampton 2-0 Swansea: Saints go fourth with fifth clean sheet.]

4. MARTIN JOL: STILL WAITING TO EXHALE?

If Martin Jol didn’t win, he was probably gone. We didn’t have any proof, but everything about Fulham’s situation told us the Dutch boss was in a win-or-else situation. His team was drastically under-performing, form that extended from that persisted from the end of last season. They were coming off a bad loss at home (to Cardiff City) and the new owner is coming to town with his NFL team this week. If Jol didn’t beat Stoke at home, Shahid Khan was unlikely to see a silver lining to this cloud he inherited as coach.

Thanks to Darren Bent‘s 83rd minute goal, Jol’s likely to get a reprieve, his team having beaten the visiting Potters 1-0. The question is whether he should. Fulham still sit 18th and are coming off a victory that was more obligatory than convincing. A one-goal win at home to visiting Stoke with the squad Jol has? That’s seems like a minimum standard, not a reason to let up. If we had doubts about the Cottagers before, what about the Stoke result makes us believe Fulham are on the right track?

When you’re struggling, you’re thankful for every win you get, so it’s understandable Fulham and their fans have loosened their grips since Saturday. But once the international break’s over, the reality may set in. A one-goal home win over Stoke is obligatory. It’s not progress.

[MORE: Fulham 1-0 Stoke City: Cottagers snare needed win.]

5. BACK TO EARTH FOR EVERTON

How good are Everton? Now we know. Their 3-1 loss at Manchester City wasn’t just their first in league since Roberto Martínez took over. It was a reminder of the limitations he’s inherited.

Take the first goal Everton allowed, a great piece of work from David Silva to Yaya Touré to Álvaro Negredo. The speed, timing, and execution of the move was world-class. It took world-class talents to execute it, and it would have taken world-class talents to stop it. Manchester City had them. Everton did not. Goal, Citizens.

City’s second goal was a brilliant piece finish from Sergio Agüero, who beat Tim Howard far post from a sharp ankle. Everton doesn’t have the type of talent that can finish that ball, and the closest player they have is on loan from Chelsea.

Then there was the penalty that led to the third goal, with Seamus Coleman judged to have taken down Pablo Zabaleta. Coleman’s a fine player, but he didn’t have enough to stay in front of Zabaleta without leaning into him. You could argue that the penalty was soft, but another defender may have avoided that position to begin with.

Not many, though. Most defenders are going to get caught by that Zabaleta run, just as very few strikers will finish like Aguero and only a series of elite players can complete City’s first goal.

But that’s the difference between that level and Everton’s. The Toffees have very good players and a seemingly excellent coach, but sometimes, talent wins out.

[MORE: Manchester City 3-1 Everton: The last of the unbeatens fall.]

6. FOR SPURS, LACK OF GOALS WORSE THAN THE WEST HAM LOSS

The scoreline’s troubling: 0-3 at home to West Ham United. That Spurs could only put four shots on Jussi Jääskeláinen should be just as worrisome. This is a team that came into the game with six goals in six games, and on Sunday, André Villas-Boas‘s squad didn’t do enough to improve that record.

Yes, be concerned about the lopsided nature of the loss, but also grasp this basic fact: Until this team starts scoring goals, they can’t be considered a serious contender for the league’s top four spots. Once it happens, we can make an assessment about this crew Levy, Baldini, and Villas-Boas have assembled. Right now, we have no idea what that end product will look like. .

In the interim, Spurs have given away three points they should have had. What are the odds they’ll want those back at year’s end? Especially if Liverpool challenges for top four? And Southampton proves as pesky as their rhetoric?

Today’s game was only one result. These things happen. Six goals in seven games? That’s the bigger problem.

[MORE: Tottenham 0-3 West Ham: Three second half goals give Hammer upset.]

Latest Posts
  1. Diego Costa remains a doubt for Chelsea amid illness, groin strain

    Oct 23, 2014, 11:45 AM EDT

    With Costa struggling to make the bench, plus Remy out, Chelsea are running out of strikers.

  2. All eyes on Origi: Tim Howard, Everton wary of on-loan Liverpool forward

    Oct 23, 2014, 11:04 AM EDT

    Belgium v USA: Round of 16 - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Getty Images

    Howard: “I know what he likes to do, but that doesn’t mean I will always be capable of stopping him.”

  3. MLS Atlanta urges David Beckham, Miami to share stadium with Dolphins

    Oct 23, 2014, 10:22 AM EDT

    Cincinnati v Miami Cincinnati v Miami

    Atlanta Falcons owner urges Beckham to link up with Miami Dolphins to sort out MLS stadium mess.

  4. Everton fans reportedly attacked by gang in Lille ahead of Europa League clash

    Oct 23, 2014, 9:36 AM EDT

    FBL-EUR-C3-EVERTON-SUPPORTERS FBL-EUR-C3-EVERTON-SUPPORTERS

    A gang of 100 local men reportedly ambushed Everton fans outside city center pub.

  5. Report: Dutch star Dirk Kuyt heading to Southampton

    Oct 23, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT

    Will Saints swoop to sign former Liverpool star?

  6. Reality check: Outclassed by Real Madrid, what now for Liverpool?

    Oct 23, 2014, 8:34 AM EDT

    Liverpool’s players react to Real Madrid humbling, as growing pains continue to spiral out of control.

  7. After winless October, USA drop out of top 20 in latest FIFA rankings

    Oct 23, 2014, 7:54 AM EDT

    Klinsmann Getty Images

    After two draws in October, the USA drops six places in latest world rankings.

  8. Galatasaray’s 3-D Tifo has demanded all others to step their game up

    Oct 22, 2014, 11:04 PM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 10.48.58 PM

    How did the Galatasaray supporters pull off this Tifo before Wednesday’s match against Borussia Dortmund? How?!?

  9. Thursday’s Europa League preview: Spurs go Greek, Everton faces Lille

    Oct 22, 2014, 10:10 PM EDT

    Britain Soccer Europa League AP

    The pair of Premier League clubs remaining in the competition face quite different tests on Thursday.

  10. PST’s MLS Rookie of the Year: Shipp, Hagglund, Akindele or Birnbaum?

    Oct 22, 2014, 9:25 PM EDT

    Nick Hagglund; Michael Bradley AP

    Perhaps it isn’t the sexiest year for rookies in Major League Soccer, but there’s a quartet of names set to stick around for a while.

  11. Arsene Wenger: We went big and it paid off against Anderlecht

    Oct 22, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT

    Belgium Soccer Champions League AP

    “I had hope, it maybe didn’t look like it, but it happened,” Wenger said.

  12. It’s official: World No. 3 Colombia to face USMNT in London on Nov. 14

    Oct 22, 2014, 7:23 PM EDT

    James Rodriguez AP

    “So overall, it’s a squad with a lot of experience playing at the highest level, and this will be another great benchmark for us,” Klinsmann said.

  13. Brendan Rodgers remarks on Balotelli and Pepe’s halftime shirt swap

    Oct 22, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT

    Britain Soccer Champions League AP

    Of course many are claiming this “is the beginning of end” for Balotelli on Merseyside. That seems a bit much.

  14. VIDEO: Top 10 goals of the MLS season (heading into the final weekend)

    Oct 22, 2014, 5:40 PM EDT

    Erik Hurtado AP

    Here’s the bar, Week 33 of Major League Soccer: Please feel free to raise it.

  15. UEFA Champions League roundup: Madrid clubs, Borussia Dortmund roll

    Oct 22, 2014, 4:47 PM EDT

    Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, AP

    We are at the halfway point in Groups A-D, and some English clubs are concerned about their fortunes to be sure.

  16. Three things we learned as Real Madrid rout Liverpool

    Oct 22, 2014, 4:41 PM EDT

    Ronaldo and co. rolled into Anfield and issued Liverpool a harsh reality check. Ronaldo and co. rolled into Anfield and issued Liverpool a harsh reality check.

    It was a night to forget for the home side, as Real ruled at Anfield. Here’s what we learned.

  17. Arsenal’s Podolski, Gibbs break Belgian hearts in left-for-late win

    Oct 22, 2014, 4:36 PM EDT

    Belgium Soccer Champions League AP

    The 21-year-old Honduran international did what a dangerous Alexis Sanchez couldn’t, but Arsenal was rescued late.

  18. Michel Platini denies making ebola comments which angered African Confederation

    Oct 22, 2014, 2:54 PM EDT

    Platini Getty Images

    The CAF claimed Platini said something he didn’t, and it hurt his feelings.

  19. Setting the scene at Anfield, as Liverpool host Real Madrid in UEFA Champions League

    Oct 22, 2014, 2:14 PM EDT

    FBL-EUR-C1-LIVERPOOL-REALMADRID FBL-EUR-C1-LIVERPOOL-REALMADRID

    Here’s what it’s like at Anfield, as Liverpool host Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League.

Featured video

PST Extra: Can United beat Chelsea?