Monday, September 24, 2012

Three things: Chelsea may regret Lukaku absence

Three things we noticed from the EPL this week:

Chelsea might regret loaning out Romelu Lukaku

Romelu Lukaku arrived at Stamford Bridge before last season at a significant cost: a reported 18 million pounds from Belgian club Anderlecht. Barely eighteen when he arrived, the boy-mountain spent most of last season on the bench and hated it. Despite impressing on the Blues' pre-season US tour, Lukaku found himself “gaining first-team experience” at West Brom this year and the Blues look like they may regret his temporary departure. His spell in the Midlands has so far been telling.

The Blues pulled out a 1-0 win against an uncompromising Stoke City at home on Saturday where none of their myriad new tricksy attacking types were able to really trouble the brutally efficient Stoke defense. While this new look can produce some wonderful football, the Blues appear to be missing a second look.

If those short-ish types aren't firing in the goals then the club – like the team they've attempted to emulate, Barcelona – seems to lack offensive versatility. Barca had to pay heavily to get Zlatan Ibrahimovic, as Chelsea did for the talented Lukaku; it costs money for big, strong and skilled. Perhaps with their dearth of options, it's time to explore what Lukaku can create for the Stamford Bridge unit.

Arsenal are looking good

Despite needing a late goal from Laurent Koscielny to snatch a draw, the Gunners played impressively at the Etihad Stadium. Champions Manchester City were penned back time and again by a quality combination of youth and experience; indeed, they may not have scored themselves if not for a mistake by third-string goalkeeper Vito Mannone.

Lukas Podolski, while not scoring bagfuls, has been impressive while Gervinho, not new signing Olivier Giroud, may eventually be the cetnre-forward to replace Robin van Persie.

Key to this solid start has been the central defensive partnership of Per Mertesacker and Koscielny. Only weeks ago we were suggesting Mertesacker's greatest contribution may come as stability from the bench, but he's been the Premiership's outstanding centre-back throughout the first four games and the club hardly missed resident Belgian Thomas Vermaelen.

Aston Villa – relegation fodder?

Maybe Paul Lambert began drinking his own Kool-Aid, but the world's most boring man may have bitten off more than he could chew in Birmingham. Even though last weekend provided some encouraging signs, Aston Villa struggled mightily in their 4-1 defeat to the defensively-inept Southampton. This year, Lambert just doesn't have the talent to work with in order to avoid a relegation battle.

This season's reinforcements have mostly come from lower divisions, like Matthew Lowton who only months ago was playing in League One. Although they may end up becoming quality players, these lower-tier recruits have acclimatise to the Big Show. After shedding most of the high-earners from their wage bill, Villa appear shorn of quality all over the park – comparing their squad from now to five years ago is simply amazing.

Unless you're Roberto Martinez, you can't sell your best players each year and expect to maintain your Premiership status. Hang on – now their constant inquiries as to his availability suddenly makes more sense.

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