What we learned on matchday 2

Potter’s instant impact

Many people (including me) were critical of Brighton’s appointment of Graham Potter at the start of the summer. To many his credentials did not, at least on paper, merit him being given a Premier League job even after a supposedly fantastic season guiding a young Swansea side to mid-table. Well many (including me) might be eating humble pie after the impressive start that the Seagulls have made to the new Premier League season.

Admittedly, there are better teams in the division than West Ham and Watford but Brighton’s performances have sent out a signal that they are going to be a different proposition to last season. Most notably, they have secured the majority of possession in both of their games and have had 21 shots during that time (16 in the home game against West Ham). Both statistically and aesthetically Brighton appear to have addressed their main area of concern from the previous campaign: a chronic lack of creativity.

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4 points from fixtures against teams that finished in comfortable mid-table positions represents a great start for Potter. Leandro Trossard and Neal Maupay look to be shrewd acquisitions and with an ever-reliable defensive line that includes Lewis Dunk, Shane Duffy and Matt Ryan the seagulls already look set to better last season’s flirt with relegation. While tougher tests lie ahead, Potter will hope that points on the board, early in the season might inspire his side to new heights in the clubs’ recent history.

Geordie Shore-up needed

Whilst Graham Potter has breathed new life into Brighton, the opposite is true of Steve Bruce at Newcastle. After the majority of Magpies fans showed their disapproval at his appointment by Mike Ashley, Bruce would have known that a quick start was essential this season so he can be forgiven for being filled with dread after only two games. Losing 1-0 at home to an Arsenal side that looks set to be very close to the top 4 this season is respectable, but capitulating against a newly-promoted (albeit very decent) Norwich side is less forgivable.

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The worrying aspect for Toon fans is that going into the fixture, many of them would have forseen this coming. No team wants to play a newly-promoted side in their first away game, but Bournemouth’s result at Aston Villa showed that it’s possible to beat the occasion. Newcastle never looked like getting anything out of the game once they went 1-0 down to Teemu Pukki’s thunderous volley and if Norwich had really had their shooting boots on it could have ended up as a complete rout. After shipping 4 goals in two games, and being cut open with worrying ease at Carrow Road, Bruce’s immediate priority is to shore up the backline; they need to become hard to beat.

In his interview with the BBC after the game, Bruce re-iterated that “the Newcastle job was never going to be easy”. Statements such as that, two games into a season are as pointless as they will be lamentable to the Toon Army. He knew what he was getting into, and he was very happy to do so, and he’s mistaken if he thinks that statements such as that will take the pressure off him. With an away day at Spurs to come next, Bruce might have to practice his excuses again.

James Maddison – a star in the making

It would be fair to say that James Maddison had a pretty successful first season at Leicester last year after his transfer from then-championship side Norwich. A player who achieved 7 goals and 7 assists in his first Premier League season at the age of 21 should be more apparent on our radar, but Maddison’s successful season didn’t receive the kind of plaudits that perhaps it should have done, other than from Leicester fans. After his man-of-the-match display against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, it is unlikely that Maddison will be flying under the radar for much longer.

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Maddison is fast becoming Leicester’s MVP, the heartbeat of the team in which most of their attacks go through. A fine dribbler with a deceptive turn of pace, he is able to go past defenders and spring quick counter attacks; which has suited Leicester’s style of play perfectly. He is not just a good dribbler, he is very good technically and has a good eye for a pass which was reflected in his 7 assists in his first Premier League season. This technical ability is also reflected in him being the preferred choice of set-piece taker. He still needs to improve his decision-making at times, but because of his willingness to make mistakes he is rarely out of the game. If he can start making the right decision on a more regular occasion he will become one of the best players in the league over the next few seasons.

What is also so impressive about Maddison is his character and apparent leadership qualities that make him look like a certainty for the future captaincy of Leicester. Constantly talking to his teammates and always looking to take the ball and make something happen, he shows courage in every game he plays. In his post-match interview, he was refreshingly honest and apologetic about his glaring blaze over the bar when it was 1-1, preferring to focus on how he could have done better than the rest of his man-of-the-match display.

It’s not just on the field that Maddison’s impressive character is apparent. After leaving Norwich, he kept in touch with a 5-year old girl with cancer that he had met during his time at Carrow Road. Even after she tragically passed away, he attended her funeral and subsequently dedicated a Leicester goal against Burnley to her memory.Touchingly, he then wore a custom set of boots during the Euro under 21 tournament which had a picture of Sophie on them. A class act off the pitch as well as on it.

VAR – A bumpy ride ahead

We’re only two weeks into the new season but it’s already clear that the introduction and bedding-in of this new technology will provide a bumpy ride for fans, players and managers. Even after two matchdays it’s already clear that the Premier League as we know it, will never be the same again. I’ve previously analysed it’s pros and cons of the new technology but one thing that I hadn’t considered was it’s potential impact on the matchday experience for fans at the game.

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You have to feel for any Man City fans that attended both Saturday’s game against Spurs, and the Champions League quarter final 2nd leg game against the same opposition last season. Not because the decisions went against their team, because technically the correct calls were made. No, because on both occasions they experienced one of the most beautiful feelings in football – scoring an injury-time winner and all the euphoria it brings with it. Except for on these occasions, it was to be snatched away from them by marginal calls that were only made because of the introduction of VAR.

To emphasise how farcical the situation was on Saturday, not a single Spurs player protested Gabriel Jesus’ goal and many were almost laughing when the goal was overturned. Similarly the facetious chants from the Spurs fans of “VAR my lord, VAR” showed how decisive yet unexpected the VAR intervention was. The most obvious question from this incident was this; is the pursuit of always making the ‘correct’ decision more important than the experience of those paying to attend the games? Whilst it’s important to ensure that the right decisions are made, surely it can’t be at the detriment of the experience of the paying public? At least whilst watching it on TV, we were able to get a sense of what was going on, but the surprise that filled the Etihad stadium when there was a VAR review left a sour taste in the mouth of those there and us watching. Hopefully there won’t be many more like it.

As discussed on the Sunday Supplement panel, the introduction of VAR is likely to be the biggest single change to top-level football for a generation; it’s impact really can’t be understated. The irony of the first two weeks of VAR in Premier League games shouldn’t be lost on us. VAR was supposed to increase the accuracy of decisions; thus reducing the controversy that had impacted the previous 100+ years of English football. If the first two weeks are anything to go by, the controversy may be around for a long time to come.

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