Two dreadful first half mistakes from Jussi Jaaskelainen and James Collins led to Swansea goals and with a 2-0 halftime lead the Welsh side were able to cruise to a second consecutive win that puts them top of the Premier League.
Angel Rangel got the opener on 20 minutes when Jaaskelainen bundled his shot across the face of goal into the West Ham net. It initially looked like an own goal but replays showed Rangel’s shot would have likely snuck in the back post. Nine minutes later an errant back pass from James Collins allowed Michu through on goal and the new signing dutifully tucked home the Swans’ second of the afternoon and the Spaniard’s third in two games.
West Ham looked to fight back with direct balls into lone striker Carlton Cole and through set pieces. They did create a few dangerous chances on the stroke of half time but a goal line clearance and key stops from Michel Vorm kept them off the score sheet.
Swansea started the second half much the stronger side and stretched their lead to 3-0 through Danny Graham in the 64th minute. From there the Hammers knew they were beaten and were humiliated by spells of of Swansea possession in which the Welsh side completed 30 to 40 passes. Swansea finished with 60% of possession and completed 540 passes to West Ham’s 292.
West Ham set out to keep things tight and compact at the back with a 4-5-1 formation. Mohamed Diame defended the highest of the Hammers’ center midfield three and along with Cole and wide players Matthew Jarvis and Kevin Nolan pressed Swansea right around the midfield line. When they won possession they looked to spring attacks with long, direct balls into Cole and down the left side through Jarvis. It looked as though Allardyce had set out to get the ball wide to Jarvis to hit crosses into the back post towards Cole or Nolan. It nearly worked in the opening minutes when a beautifully shaped Jarvis ball went just over Nolan’s head at the back post.
Swansea played their usual possession-based style, looking to work the ball through seams in the West Ham defense. They had plenty of the ball early on but struggled to turn that possession into dangerous goal scoring opportunities. The turning point came when Dyer slipped Rangel through on the right hand side of the box. The Spaniard struck a low shot across the face of goal that Jaaskelainen probably should have been able to gather. It struck the keeper on the inside of his arm and deflected into the back of the net.
After Collins’ under hit back pass gave Michu an easy tap in it was all over. Swansea were content to work possession from side to side in the second half and West Ham couldn’t get any pressure on the ball. In the rare instances the Hammers did win back possession they lacked any creative presence in the center of midfield and continued to hit long balls over the top for Cole, often with no West Ham player within 20 yards of him. Of the game’s top ten players in terms of passes completed, nine were from Swansea. Like Tony Pulis at Stoke, possession and compiling a lot of short passes are not crucial to Allardyce’s direct style but they struggled to even keep the ball long enough to get it wide for crosses to be delivered into the box. From their opening two games it’s clear they’ll be looking to get the ball in the box and trying to take advantage of knock downs within 12 yards. The bulk of their goals look like they’ll be scrappy ones and from set pieces.
Swansea continue to look very good on the ball. Unlike last year however, when they struggled to turn possession into goals, the Swans have been able to thread balls in behind the defense and create genuine chances. Danny Graham should have had another goal and this one could have easily ended 4-0. It’ll be interesting to see how they fare against stronger opposition but it’s been a positive start for Michael Laudrup whose side has been a pleasure to watch.
I put together this preview of this weekend’s Premier League matches as a sort of scouting report for fantasy Premier League players. It’s a little vague and unfocused but hopefully you can pluck a useful thing or two from it. Best of luck and enjoy the games.
Saturday, August 25
West Ham (8) at Swansea (2): After dominating QPR 5-0 at Loftus Road in their opening fixture, Swansea players will certainly look an attractive option to fantasy managers in gameweek 2. New Swans midfield signing Michu racked up 2 goals, an assist and a clean sheet for 18 points making him the highest single game scorer in gameweek 1 (Hazard and Ivanovic played two games for Chelsea). After beginning the season with a £6.5m price tag, he’s now up to £6.8. Still, this could be a steal for a player who scored 15 league goals for Rayo Vallecano last season. Fellow midfielder Nathan Dyer scored 16 points and was tied with Mladen Petric as the second highest single game scorer. Dyer is currently only £5.8m. Swansea should be motivated by a noisy crowd at the Liberty Stadium in their first home fixture of the season. I don’t expect West Ham to be all that adventurous going forward in their first away fixture since gaining promotion. Sam Allardyce will likely try to keep things tight at the back and knock a lot of direct balls forward. This should mean Swansea find space more difficult to come by against a crowded defense. Facing a newly promoted side at home, Swansea players could prove to be good signings but I don’t expect to see anywhere near the outpouring of goals we saw against QPR. If not a lot of other players in your league have Michu I’d pick him up now. This is not the gameweek to pick up any West Ham attacking players as I expect them to be quite cautious going forward. Expect a low scoring game- starting a Swansea defender could be a smart choice this weekend.
Everton (7) at Aston Villa (16):This game will see last season’s third best defense take on last season’s second worst attack. Both sides picked up where they left off last season in gameweek 1: Everton shut out Man United in a 1-0 win while Villa failed to score in their opening loss at West Ham. Starting an Everton defender or two may be a safe bet in this one. Villa’s crowd should give them a boost although the team finished with the second fewest home wins in the league last season behind Wolves. I don’t expect many goals from this one and would be hesitant to transfer in a forward from either side this week.
Fulham (3) at Manchester United (15): Fulham new boy Mladen Petric was the only forward to score twice last week and added an assist for an impressive score of 16 in the Cottagers 5-0 win over Norwich.- He scored 7 points higher than any other forward. However, Man United away will pose a very different challenge than Norwich at home for the Croatian, even with United’s injury woes at center back. If you have him on your roster I’d consider giving him a go but he wouldn’t be my first choice if you’re looking to bring in a new forward for the gameweek. Despite failing to score at Everton and looking a bit off the pace, United forwards and midfielders could do some damage at Old Trafford this weekend. New midfield signing Shinji Kagawa looked menacing at Everton and with last season’s two leading scorers likely to partner at forward in front of him, Kagawa is a real threat to pick up an assist or two. The Guardian has reported Sir Alex Ferguson will give Van Persie his first start so the Dutchmen could be an excellent signing as well. It will be interesting to see how the Dutchmen will line up positionally alongside Rooney. You’d expect one to play deeper than the other but I’d expect both to get their fair share of chances tomorrow.
QPR (19) at Norwich (20): A battle of two teams beaten 5-0 in their season openers. Only the three relegated teams conceded more than QPR and Norwich last season and they did little in gameweek 1 to suggest this season will be any different. If at the start of the season you picked up any defenders from these two sides, you didn’t do your homework. I really don’t know what to expect from this game. Perhaps after their humiliating 5-0 opening day defeat at home, Mark Hughes will look to provide extra cover at the back in QPR’s first away game. Adel Taarabt could maybe play a starring role in this for QPR???? Possibly Grant Holt will score????? I’ve got nothing here.
Wigan (17) at Southampton (13): Southampton proved in their 3-2 defeat at Manchester City they’ll be able to score goals in the Premier League. They scored more goals than any Championship side last season with 86. Against the adventurous 3-4-3 formation Wigan will line up in under Martinez, Southampton will certainly get some decent scoring chances. They’ll be pushed on by a raucous home crowd in their opener at St. Mary’s. After falling behind 2-0 to Chelsea in the opening seven minutes last weekend, Wigan impressed with some slick passing moves but rarely looked like threatening with any kind of end product. They’ll also likely be without Victor Moses as Martinez has confirmed Wigan have accepted a bid from Chelsea for the talented forward/winger. Still, with two capable attacking sides I think this one could be open and produce some goals. Rickie Lambert, last season’s Championship golden boot winner, may be a good signing as could midfielder Adam Lallana. At only £5.5m Wigan forward Franco Di Santo could be a decent option as well.
Reading (12) at Sunderland (10): Sunderland were nice and organized in their season opening 0-0 draw with Arsenal at the Emirates but offered no attacking threat whatsoever and completed only 35 passes in the attacking third. They’ll certainly be more adventurous going forward against newly promoted Reading at home. Steven Fletcher has joined the Black Cats from Wolves this morning and is expected to be used right away this weekend. He’s available for a fantasy price of £7m. That’s not a cheap forward signing by any means but in all likelihood he’ll play nearly every game for Sunderland and should score double digits. He could well be a factor this weekend. Reading have had a busy week after their opening draw against Stoke and an unlucky 4-2 loss to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Fatigue could be a factor at the Stadium of Light as this will be their third game in eight days. Pavel Pagrebnyak showed his aerial ability with his headed goal against Chelsea and at £5m he should prove to be good value.
West Brom at Tottenham: West Brom’s season got off to a brilliant start under new manager Steve Clarke with a 3-0 home win over Liverpool. They picked up an outstanding goal from Zoltan Gera before capping the victory off with a penalty from Peter Odemwingie and a header at the back post from on loan striker Romelu Lukaku. Andre Villas-Boas’ Spurs will look to avenge their opening day defeat to Newcastle. Spurs have sealed a permanent move for Emanuel Adebayor and he should be given the start right away despite a decent performance from Jermain Defoe last weekend in which he got Spurs’ only goal. Despite the Baggies’ impressive performance in the opening week, I think there were signs for concern at the back for Clarke. Suarez didn’t have a terribly difficult time finding space to get himself in good goal scoring positions and had he been more ruthless with his finishing it would have been a different game. Adebayor is coming off a terrific season on loan at Spurs and I expect he and Bale to cause serious problems for the West Brom back four. Adebayor is a good signing this weekend and I like Spurs in this game.
Newcastle (6) at Chelsea (1): Newcastle got the better of Chelsea in this fixture last season, an incredible brace from Papiss Cisse the difference in a 2-0 win for the Magpies. Surprisingly, Cisse played 77 minutes in Newcastle’s Europa League playoff tie in Greece last night. It is of course early in the season and the Senegalese striker had the summer off, but nonetheless two competitive games of football in three days is taxing for anyone and it’ll be interesting to see if he shows signs of fatigue tomorrow. He’ll be partnered alongside fellow Senegalese striker Demba Ba, who got the game winner in Newcastle’s opening day 2-1 win over Tottenham. Chelsea’s defense and goalkeeper Peter Cech hardly looked convincing in the side’s 4-2 win over Reading in midweek and with attacking quality Newcastle have in Hatem Ben Arfa, Cisse, Ba, Yohan Cabaye, and Jonas Gutierrez, it could be a difficult evening defensively for the Blues. I’d go ahead and start any Newcastle attacking players you’ve got. If you’re looking to pick up one of the forwards I’d go with Ba as he’ll be fresher. John Terry is expected to miss out with neck soreness. This may actually be a blessing in a very thinly veiled disguise for Chelsea. Gary Cahill and David Luiz are more suited to coping with Newcastle’s pacey forwards than the much slower Terry. Luiz-Cahill will be the third center back pairing in three games for the Blues but it was those two who anchored the defense in the Champions League final victory. Right back Branislav Ivanovic is the lading fantasy point scorer with 24 after scoring in the Blues’ first two games but he struggled mightily to cope with the pace of Jobi McAnuff in midweek and may be hesitant to get forward leaving space down the right for Ben Arfa. Eden Hazard was tremendous in his first two Premier League games, earning fantasy assists on 5 of Chelsea’s 6 goals (3 direct assists, 2 earned penalties). The certain battle between the Belgian attacking midfielder and Newcastle holding midfielder Cheik Tiote should be fascinating. Hazard has already been given some rough treatment in his first week in the Premier League and in Tiote he faces last season’s most yellow carded player. Might the powerful Ivorian send an early message Hazard’s way with a strong early tackle? Hazard claims he’s used to being on the receiving end of tackles and is up for the test. We’ll likely found out tomorrow. I think this is another game with a good possibility both teams will find the net. If you have forwards or midfielders that are expected to start from either side I’d probably go with them tomorrow, though Fernando Torres continues to look unconvincing in a Chelsea uniform. I don’t think I’d drop him just yet though.
Sunday, August 26
Arsenal at Stoke City: Since Stoke City earned promotion into the Premier League for the 2008-2009 season, they have been beaten by Arsenal only once at the Britannia Stadium in their 5 meetings, a 3-1 league defeat in February 2010 (remembered for Ryan Showcross’s horrific tackle on Aaron Ramsey). They’ve beaten the Gunners three times, drew once and never failed to score in those 5 games. Arsenal have long been accused of struggling against physical sides and Wenger will come into tomorrow knowing full well his players will be on the receiving end of some rough treatment. Arsenal will be without center back Laurent Koscielny through injury. I have Ryan Shawcross and Thomas Vermaelen on my own team and am not overly optimistic about the prospects for either- I think both teams will score goals tomorrow. Santi Cazorla looked fantastic for Arsenal last weekend but it’ll be interesting to see how he copes with the physicality of Stoke. I could certainly see Stoke trying to intimidate the Spaniard early with a strong tackle. This is another game I’m struggling to offer any meaningful advice on. I’d say if you have attacking players from either side I’d go ahead and start them. I’m worried about defensive players from both sides, particularly how well the Stoke players maintain their discipline when Arsenal dominate possession. A Shawcross red card is never out of the question.
Manchester City (5) at Liverpool (18): Brendan Rodgers tenure as Liverpool manager got off to a rocky start with a 3-0 defeat at the Hawthornes to West Brom and things won’t get much easier for the Northern Irishman as defending champions Man City visit Anfield Sunday. They’ll be without starting center back Daniel Agger after he was unlucky to get sent off in the opener. It looks like Rodgers will call on 34 year-old Jamie Carragher to take his place, though Sebastian Coates is another option. They’ll be up against last season’s most potent offense though City will be without Sergio Aguero after he picked up a knee injury. Carragher looked a bit over his head in last night’s Europa League clash with Hearts so it’s difficult to imagine how he’ll cope with the likes of Tevez, David Silva, Nasri, Balotelli and Yaya Toure. City’s defense did look suspect in the side’s come-from-behind 3-2 home win over newly promoted Southampton which may provide Liverpool with some encouragement. However, Luis Suarez will have to be much more productive in front of goal after he wasted several golden chances last week. After his wasteful performance in front of goal against WBA, and with consecutive difficult fixtures to City and Arsenal on the horizon, I’m tempted to recommend transfering Suarez for another striker if you have him. He’s scored just once in 6 Premier League games against Arsenal and Man City. However, he does always seem to put himself in positions to score, regardless of the opponent, so if he can find his finishing boots he may still prove to be a valuable fantasy player over the next couple of weeks.