Kevin Nolan’s enforced absence will benefit West Ham
Mauro Zarate scored a cracking opening goal against rudderless Crystal Palace, setting West Ham on course for a convincing 3-1 victory. The Argentine played in the hole behind Carlton Cole, and linked up excellently with his team mates, always willing to collect the ball and turn. He looked threatening throughout and the effortless flow from midfield to attack, helped by the outstanding Kouyate, was the smooth tonic that the Hammers fans had been craving. One presumes that Kevin Nolan’s shoulder injury, which is now reportedly going to keep the West Ham skipper out for 6 weeks, allowed for Zarate to start in this position. Nolan has made a career scavenging on the scraps in tight areas; he has a knack for poaching grubby goals, particularly when playing in tandem with a big, strong striker. But therein lies the majority of Nolan’s worth, and when he isn’t scoring for whatever reason, he offers precious little else. He is not a particularly gifted playmaker, he cannot dribble around defenders, and he does not contribute much defensively. It wouldn’t be a stretch to think that most West Ham fans will be glad his injury will likely give Zarate an extended run in his place.
Stewart Downing’s beautiful goal, the Hammers’ second, was a handsome run where, after cutting inside from the right, he expertly guided the ball into the far bottom corner. Commentators everywhere remarked how Downing has always been capable of such fine moments, yet has seldom delivered them. Zarate was already attracting the attentions of the defence, drawing defenders away from the ball and creating space in the middle. This may have allowed Downing the room to cut inside, and probably gave him the time to size up his shot. Maybe the reason why Downing hasn’t scored many like that in the claret and blue is because he’s been playing with Kevin Nolan.
United’s defence at sixes and sevens, and no, those aren’t the ages of their centre backs
Manchester United finished their laboured 1-1 draw with Sunderland with Tyler Blackett (age 20), Michael Keane (21) and Phil Jones (22) as their central defensive trio. Keane had come on in place of the injured Chris Smalling, who himself hadn’t looked particularly comfortable playing in van Gaal’s novel 3-4-1-2 system. To put their inexperience in perspective, the combined ages of United’s three centre halves was less than that of Sunderland’s two, John O’Shea and Wes Brown. Even with Marcos Rojo’s arrival held up by work permit delays, this is a position that a club of United’s stature should never have allowed themselves to be placed in. After knowing for months that they would lose Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, as well as being fully aware of the relative deficiencies of Smalling and Jones, for them to have dithered for so long in securing reinforcements can only be seen as reckless. With Ashley Young utterly ineffective going forward as wing back, and then utterly inept when defending, van Gaal’s back line was never comfortable against a team that only narrowly avoided relegation last season. Sunderland went away feeling like they should have won the match, and the other teams watching will be salivating at the prospect of facing United, unless new signings, and a lot of them, are bought and bedded in quickly.
Lamela shaping up for a blinder
Eric Lamela had a torrid time last season, bullied by the Premier League defences, crestfallen and devoid of confidence. How much difference a year can make. The Argentine was a Tottenham’s most eye catching player against Queens Park Rangers, and that was with Nacer Chadli scoring twice. He was a constant thorn in Rio Ferdinand’s side, slipping around the Rangers’ defenders at will, shimmying and swerving and generally looking a completely different player than last year’s version. Having had trouble settling in England, a process that was probably not helped by Tim Sherwood’s tenure, the arrival of countryman Mauricio Pochettino might be the comforting arm-around-the-shoulder that Lamela needs. His assist for Chadli’s second goal, Spurs’ third, was sublime, a tippy-toed run around two defenders and a perfectly weighted cross, clipped back across his body. Though he didn’t get on the score sheet himself, the fans will be ecstatic about his performance, even though his real test will be against teams better than QPR. He is their record signing, the player most Tottenham fans were desperately hoping wouldn’t flop. He is shaping up to be one of their biggest assets this season and will be celebrating a goal or two soon enough, if he can stop Eric Dier from hogging all the goals, that is.