10 Aug Why Man City look vulnerable, and how new Premier League rules are double-edged
Onside/Offside is back! Each week, Luis Miguel Echegaray discusses the latest from the soccer world, including standout performances, games you might have missed and what to keep an eye on in the coming days. This week, it’s LME’s Premier League special! Get ready for some bold opinions.
Why it’s time to dethrone Manchester City
Let me begin this week’s Onside/Offside by putting it out there: Man City will not win the title again.
“How dare you, you nincompoop. We are unstoppable,” say City fans, I imagine. To be fair, if we base this prediction on last season, then I am indeed a nincompoop and arguing against Man City’s quest for a fourth consecutive league trophy is a dangerous, foolish position. Pep Guardiola’s side remains the football version of Mechagodzilla (I implore you to watch 1974’s Japanese masterpiece “Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla,” for reference) and the rest of the league plays the role of petrified citizens, unable to defeat the monster.
So don’t get me wrong: City is still City, but there are factors that make me think the club won’t win the league this season. For one, despite City’s talented squad, the departures of Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez matter. If Bernardo Silva leaves, my point gains that much more traction. I also think the league’s top half of the table is the strongest it’s ever been. Yes, a few more pieces are needed for some of those contenders, but I think the challenges for Champions League and European spots will make for fantastic drama — and an added headache for the defending champions.
Manchester United and Newcastle United are looking to challenge for the title, Liverpool will not want to repeat another non-top four finish and the appointment of Mauricio Pochettino makes for an unpredictable Chelsea. Meanwhile Brighton, Aston Villa and Ange Postecoglou’s Tottenham (with or without Harry Kane) all have a part to play… and then there’s Arsenal, who had a great summer — notably with the arrival of Declan Rice. I also think Mikel Arteta and his squad have learned last season’s lessons after dropping points late in the season to hand City the league. The Gunners are going to push City to the limit.
My final point here is psychological. Once you accomplish the historic feat of winning a treble, cultivating the motivation to reach that height again, in the next campaign, can be difficult. Time will tell, and though it’s a fool’s errand to defy Guardiola’s genius, all I’m saying is this: it’s time to fight Mechagodzilla.
Why Arsenal’s Community Shield win is a ‘big deal’ for Arteta’s side
Craig Burley and Kieran Gibbs explain why Arsenal’s Community Shield victory over Man City is important for the club.
Welcome to the Premier League, Luton Town
The last time Luton Town were in the first division was in 1991-92. Now, 31 years later, here they are in the Premier League. Their story is a beautiful example of what the English football pyramid can represent. It was only nine years ago that they were promoted from the National League — England’s fifth tier — and now look at them as they’ll be taking a trip to the south coast against Brighton for their first-ever Premier League match on Saturday.
Their stadium, Kenilworth Road, is one of the most unique grounds and at a capacity of 10,356, it will be the smallest in the league. It has not been approved yet to host matches — their opening home match against Burnley was postponed — as it doesn’t meet broadcasting and facility requirements, but the aim is for it to open in September.
In a way, the ground is a good way to preview how Luton will do this season. They are proud and resilient, but being a newly promoted club entering untested waters, they are also limited in what they can do.
Luton Town, who were non-League in 13-14, are now in the Premier League. Incredible doesn’t even describe it. Kenilworth Road stadium hosts a little more than 10,000. Oak Road End is so unique. You go through turnstiles between houses + their back gardens pic.twitter.com/VYHsHLxQIG
— Luis Miguel Echegaray (@lmechegaray) May 27, 2023
The challenges for recently promoted clubs who struggle are always the same: an inexperienced squad, staying injury-free during the season and winning at home. The last one is key and as Nottingham Forest showed last season, a massive need for survival is making sure your home is your fortress. I wonder then, when Kenilworth Road is upgraded, if they can use their small size to an advantage and make sure any visitor knows they’re not in friendly waters.
If Kenilworth Road, with all its rich history and packed atmosphere, can be as formidable and impenetrable as Storm’s End castle from “Game of Thrones,” then maybe that can aid their objective of staying up.
Here comes Aston Villa
You really didn’t think I was going to write a Premier League preview without an Aston Villa segment did you?
My beloved Aston Villa Football Club is back. Manager Unai Emery placed the blueprint last season and now, with the addition of Ramon “Monchi” Verdejo as president of football operations alongside an ambitious game plan led by owners Wes Edens and Nassef Sawiris, Villa have a clear set of objectives: Europe, Champions League qualification, trophies.
Adding Moussa Diaby, Pau Torres and Youri Tielemans has strengthened the squad, while striker Ollie Watkins will look to continue his form from last season. Douglas Luiz is one of the most underrated midfielders in the league, and the academy continues to develop young talent. These are some of the reasons why Villa will contest for more this season, but it begins and ends with Emery, who has transformed this club. Players attend training as if it was a university. They are prepared, ready to learn and improve. Nothing is taken for granted, no detail is too small. Everything is studied and applied on the training ground under the careful eye of the Basque manager.
The other component is that Emery wants the team to feel like a family. Teams are doing more bonding sessions. Players are encouraged to socialize outside of training and if a new member arrives, everything is done to make sure they feel welcome. These are all ingredients Emery is adding to his pot. The hope is that this season, it turns into a Michelin-starred meal. Midfielder Emiliano Buendia’s horrible ACL injury has created a cloud over the start of the season but this won’t — and can’t — deter the project. If there is a manager that is prepared for any adversity, it’s Emery.
There was a time when I would shy away from raising expectations, as I was worried it would come back to humble the club I have supported since I was 12 years old. Now it’s time to live up to expectations, it’s time for this once-European champion to truly compete.
Why new Premier League time rules are double-edged
Starting this season, time-wasting regulations across the EFL will mean that referees will add minutes on time lost due to goal celebrations or any other sort of in-game antics. If we base the outcome on what we saw at both men and women’s World Cups, then expect matches to run longer. In addition, there could possibly be more bookings for kicking the ball away or anything that wastes time as a result of a player’s behavior.
I deliberated on whether this issue should be an Onside or Offside — despite the fact that there are arguments for both, I opted for the latter simply because there is a need for context. No one wants to see time-wasting in a match, especially a trailing opposing team who may need every minute to change their fortunes in a game. And I welcome any regulation to dismantle unsportsmanlike behavior. If we use the NBA as an example, you can see how tolerance is streamlined. All an NBA player needs to do to receive a technical is over-celebrate or over-react to an official and a swift whistle will come their way.
But the problem with soccer is deeper, as Man United’s Raphael Varane said this week. And there’s the rub. The football calendar is too packed. Players are physically and mentally tested on a regular basis, so to create regulation where every game now might be longer due to an emotional reaction is counterproductive.
Yes, let’s crack down on time wasting and silly antics by players but at the same time, these athletes are playing too much football and in the long run, it will affect their mental and physical well being, and eventually, their performance on the pitch.
Wolves, oh Wolves
This is an ongoing conversation as the transfer window doesn’t close until September 1, but you can still make an assessment on how a club performed in the market based on the lack of incoming players during an entire summer. Premier League clubs need to strengthen every preseason to keep up. Some clubs overspend, others fail to act at all. Some attack early while others leave it for the last hour of deadline day. Whatever the game plan, the important thing is the need to have one in the first place and sometimes, this lesson is never learned. And when clubs have to adhere to Financial Fair Play’s regulations, this game plan has to be created in advance.
According to reports, the agreement to part ways was done last month, due to the fact that Lopetegui was not allowed to sign any players in order to meet FFP’s restrictions. Reportedly, the club first told him he could make transfers if he avoided relegation, but then they said these transfers could only be free agents. That was too much for the Spanish manager, so a decision to leave was made in July, but he agreed to stay until a suitable replacement was found (enter former Bournemouth coach Gary O’Neil).
Wolves made two mistakes. First, by not staying true to their word in regards to helping Lopetegui (twice) and then by not anticipating this problem when they signed him as manager.
Now here comes O’Neil, who worked wonders with Bournemouth last season to avoid relegation, so he is entering a similar situation at Wolves. But to take over a club in these circumstances, with such inconsistency from ownership, might be too high of a mountain for any head coach, no matter how talented they are.
Postecoglou rubbishes talk of Kane to Bayern deadline
Tottenham’s Ange Postecoglou addresses talk of Harry Kane leaving the club for Bayern Munich.
I have written about the Harry Kane non-saga saga before so I won’t go too long again. I’ll only say this: Spurs owner Daniel Levy left it too late.
Finally agreeing to Bayern Munich’s fee — 72 hours before Spurs’ first game of the season, days after Kane was named captain against Barcelona in a friendly — means that the Tottenham chairman has done Postecoglou a huge disservice. Had this been sorted earlier in the summer, Tottenham’s preseason under their new manager would have been clearer.