• Bob Bradley’s debut didn’t end in a victory for Swansea, but its performance against high-powered Arsenal gave the coach a good idea at what he needs to work on with his new squad.
By Peter Berlin
October 15, 2016

When the camera inevitably focused on Bob Bradley early in the game at the Emirates, the Swansea coach cut an imposing figure dressed all in black. Then he looked at his watch. Perhaps he was checking not the time but the step measurement to see how far he had stalked. But it did seem that 16 minutes into his pioneering Premier League career, Bradley was wondering just how much longer this would go on. Maybe he was bewildered that his team had lasted this long without conceding.

The match had started like a routine Arsenal dismemberment of an outclassed foe. Over the next 74 minutes, and before Arsenal won 3–2, it turned into one of the more surreal Premier League games, largely because of the way Granit Xhaka was punished for two moments of idiocy. This was nothing to do with coaching. 

Arsenal penned Swansea back from the start and set about slicing apart the defense with quick, surgical passing. Somehow it took Arsenal 27 minutes to score. When it added a second, six minutes later, it looked as if Swansea was toast. Theo Walcott scored both from close range, helped by gifts from the Swansea defense. For the first, Jordi Amat chested the ball into Walcott’s path. For the second, Federico Fernández missed a clearance. On the sideline, Bradley was probably thinking that at least he knew what he would be working on in training.

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Yet one of Bradley’s first selection decisions was about to pay off. He had started Gylfi Sigurdsson in the center of attack. After 38 minutes, Xhaka gave possession away in front of the Arsenal box. Sigurdsson then rocketed the ball past Petr Cech.

Bradley emerged from the locker room at the start of the second half still gesticulating and issuing instructions. His team, which had started the first half off crouched in defense, came out ready to trade punches.

Mesut Özil found the jaw first, restoring Arsenal’s two-goal lead. Three minutes later, Bradley took off a midfielder, Leon Britton, and threw on a striker, Borja “Bastón” González. Within six minutes, Borja had scored. Bradley can only dream that all his choices will turn out so well

At that point, Xhaka made the game more interesting. Beaten for pace Modou Barrow, the Swiss midfielder, whacked the winger from behind. It was a particularly blatant expression of the cynical logic of modern soccer. Xhaka was prepared to trade a violent piece of “anti-football” for a yellow card. Referee Jon Moss wasn’t in on the deal. When he did produce a card, Xhaka looked strangely bemused. He shouldn’t have been. He’s been sent off eight times in two seasons. He knows what a red card looks like. He will think twice before “taking one for the team” again. So perhaps will every other player in the Premier League. Though no doubt some will take the position that fans prefer to see them hacking rather than watch attacking players running with the ball.

The last 20 minutes, were a crazed slugfest. Swansea besieged and bombarded the Arsenal goal. Every so often, Arsenal’s 10 men broke away and, if they did not stray offside, found Walcott who wasted a string of chances to complete his hat trick.

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Swansea ended the game with a tiny edge in possession. In a match of more than 800 completed passes, Swansea made only 10 fewer than the Gunners. Arsenal enjoyed a slight edge in shots. 

The defeat will have left Bradley knowing he has clear weaknesses to work on and marked strengths to work with.

“That game had many different parts,” Bradley told the BBC. “Defensively the first two goals were not handled well, but we gave ourselves a real chance. After the week of training we have just had and the mentality of the team, for me we are going to become a good team.”

A new manager would hardly say that his new team was awful, but Bradley has a history reviving ailing sides, and on Saturday, Swansea showed it has a pulse. But with previously winless Stoke finally winning and West Ham eking out victory with 10 men at Selhurst Park, the defeat dropped Swansea into the relegation places. The clock is ticking.

Football is Football 

Pep Guardiola could only smile and shake his head after Manchester City drew, 1–1, at home to Everton.

City enjoyed 72% possession of the ball. It outshot Everton 19–2, and two of those shots were from the penalty spot. Kevin de Bruyne and Sergio Agüero both missed kicks. That means City has missed four of eight PKs this season. Agüero missed two penalties in one Champions League match against Steaua in August and on Tuesday he also missed for Argentina against Paraguay.

In the end, Nolito cancelled out Romelu Lukaku’s goal for Everton. But this was a game it should have won.

“We did everything,” Guardiola told Sky TV. “We played amazing. But we didn’t win. We missed penalties and missed chances. They had one chance. We did absolutely everything. Sometimes it’s how it is.”

“Football is football,” he said with a rueful smile, but in the locker room, De Bruyne and Agüero were probably wondering how many hundred practice penalties Guardiola will make them take.

Same Old Spurs

Tottenham salvaged a 1–1 draw with an 89th minute goal against a tough and disciplined West Brom team determined to defend its lead. The Spurs showed admirable resilience and preserved the only unbeaten record in the Premier League. That’s where their good news ends.

Tottenham slipped to third place but it has 18 points from eight matches and remains just one point off first. That looks like a much better start than last season when the Spurs were eighth on 13 points after eight games, but appearances can be deceiving. Looked at another way, Tottenham is exactly the same. The scores have varied slightly, but so far Tottenham has managed the same results against each opponent as it did in equivalent fixtures last season.

Saturday provided a chance to make an improvement against a team that damaged Tottenham’s title chase last season. Tottenham led West Brom, 1–0, in both matches only to end up with a 1–1 draw, dropping four points to a team that finished in 14th place.

The small difference this time was that West Brom scored first, inevitably through Nacer Chadli, who moved from Tottenham in the summer. For most of the game, Tottenham dominated. Like City, it enjoyed a 72% possession. Ben Foster was brilliant in the West Brom goal but Tottenham was also typically wasteful.

“In football, the chances you create, you need to score,” Mauricio Pochettino, the Spurs manager, told Sky. His team is missing Harry Kane.

After Saturday it might also be missing an equally important player. Toby Alderweireld suffered a right leg injury and was carried off on a stretcher. He had started every Premier League match since joining Tottenham in the summer of 2015 when he rapidly turned a shaky defense into the best in the division. The Spurs have depth at centerback, including the U.S. youth international Cameron Carter-Vickers, yet if Alderweireld has suffered serious damage, he could prove a bigger loss than the two points.

Too Foxy

At the end of last December, when Leicester was sitting second in the Premier League on 39 points, Claudio Ranieri insisted on talking about his team’s need to reach 40 points and ensure it was safe from relegation.

On Saturday, Leicester gave another awful first-half performance on Saturday before losing, 3–0, at Chelsea. The loss dropped it to 13th in the table with just eight points after eight games.

Chelsea was impressive but Leicester, so tight defensively last season, struggled to cope. The first goal, a tap in for Diego Costa, was the fifth Leicester has allowed from a corner this season. It conceded seven all of last season. Then Leicester blew two chances to clear a ball straight down the middle and Eden Hazard skipped through to score. In attack, the Foxes did not manage a single shot on target.

After the match, Ranieri told Sky TV that, “Our approach was not so good.”

Maybe his team selection has something to do with that. The manager left Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani on the bench muttering about “rest.” Yet the message, to the team as much as to anyone else, was clear. The Premier League is not the priority. Both will almost certainly start against Copenhagen on Tuesday. If Leicester wins, as it won its Champions League matches immediately after being routed at Liverpool and Manchester United, it will be pretty much sure up a place the knockout rounds after just three group games.

Leicester has its league title, but Ranieri might calculate that emulating Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa by following an unexpected English title with an even more unlikely European crown would be a more glorious achievement. Leicester fans would agree. He mustn’t forget about 40 points. If it’s never too late to talk about avoiding relegation, maybe it’s never too early.

Red Menace

The Monday night showdown between Liverpool and Manchester United has been accompanied by a fanfare which seems a bit overblown for an encounter between the teams lying fourth and seventh in the standings.

Yet Saturday’s results with three of the top five teams dropping points, has given the old enemies added incentives. Suddenly this is not a damage limitation exercise. If Liverpool wins by three goals, it would jump into first place. If United wins by two, it would scramble into the top four.

With Chelsea also within three points of the lead, the race has suddenly tightened up.

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