Saturday, January 23, 2021

EPL GW2 Three Things We Learned

EPL GW2 is now in the books and it was another roller coaster of incredible play, appalling moments, and another round of VAR controversy. So let’s jump straight into our review of the top 3 things that happened over the weekend.

The New Handball Rule Is Going To Ruin The Game

I featured a long piece on VAR last week and even said I would try not to talk about it every week. However, anyone who paid even a cursory look at the Premier League this week will have been left in no doubt about the main talking point. So instead of focussing on VAR, we will talk about the handball rule element.

For those completely out of the loop, Man City scored a 90th-minute winner through Gabriel Jesus, only to see it disallowed by VAR owing to this new wrinkle in the handball rule. While VAR played its part, it wasn’t really at fault in this instance. The rule has been specifically changed to mean that if the ball strikes the hand or arm of an attacking player in the build-up to the goal, the goal will be disallowed.

This is key. Not might be disallowed, but WILL. 100% of the time.

Given the recent history between these two clubs, with Spurs going through in the Champions League quarter-final thanks to a goal that deflected off of Fernando Llorente’s arm, it was an ironic twist.

Last season this goal would have stood…even with VAR. So the new rule is the issue. And the new rule is the epitome of stupidity. To make such an egregious change to the laws without extensive testing seems asinine. And in just two-weeks, we’ve already seen two game-winning goals disallowed because of this rule.

Now I know the argument because I’ve used it myself here, but VAR will work best in places where the rules are black and white. So the rule change makes some logical sense. But one of the problems is that it doesn’t apply to defenders as well.

We’ve already seen a couple of incidents through EPL GW2 where defenders in walls have blocked free-kicks with their arms this season. VAR has checked and not overruled the referee’s decisions of no penalty. Why? Because the rules are different. Which, again, is asinine.

I’m on record, many times, as being pro-VAR to get big decisions in big games right, and I still stick by that opinion. But if the new handball rule is an indication of where the beautiful game is headed, it may just destroy the beautiful game.

Sheffield United Fans Are What The Premier League Is All About

It might not have been the splashiest, sexiest fixture of EPL GW2, but it probably was my favourite. After 12 years out of the Premier League, Sheffield United are back with a win in just their second game.

They were out passed, outclassed at times, and had just 42.5% of possession. But when they had the ball they were direct and actually outshot Palace 15 to 6. And of course, the most important statistic was the score.

Now this game wasn’t all roses for the Blades, but it is exactly what they need on the pitch. A battling win against a bottom half team. And make no mistake Crystal Palace are in the same relegation battle as Sheffield United.

Through two games Palace look as toothless as can be, which is hardly surprising the Christian Benteke leading the line. With four goals in his last forty-nine league games since the start of the 2018/18 season, the fact he still has a place in the team is something to behold.

But this isn’t about the game, it’s about the spirit. The joy of seeing fans who love their team supporting them through thick and thin. And there hasn’t been a lot of thick in the last dozen years. To see fans tearing up over their team scoring in the second game of the season, against a team like Palace, is what football is all about. Or it should be.

EPL GW2 : Sheffield United Fans Are a Joy To Watch © Action Foto Sport/NurPhoto via Getty Images
EPL GW2 : Sheffield United Fans Are a Joy To Watch © Action Foto Sport/NurPhoto via Getty Images

So good luck to the Blades fans this season, and whatever happens keep enjoying the experience because, in truth, things will likely get very rocky as the season wears on.

All Is Not Rosy In The Chelsea Gardens

It’s only EPL GW2 so this is no time to panic…but Chelsea look to be in a troubling spot. For the third game in a row this season (if we include the UEFA Super Cup), they started looking very strong, and slowly weakened as the game went on.

During the first half on Sunday, it looked like they could walk away with the game. They were composed on the ball and looked every bit a top-four team. Just like they had for large spells of the first half at Old Trafford.

However, Chelsea are struggling to take chances despite some great play going forward. Giroud, while not a goal machine, is a quality Premier League forward and should not struggle over the course of a season. Tammy Abraham as his backup is not very experienced but has skills in bunches and will, eventually, hit his straps and bang in upwards of 12 goals. Probably.

Its Not Been The Best Start For Chelsea © REUTERS/Phil Noble
It’s Not Been The Best Start For Chelsea © REUTERS/Phil Noble

The worry for Chelsea is that Abraham struggles to get his confidence and just can’t prove that potential. It’s happened before in the Premier League…Diego Forlan anyone? An incredible player who struggled to find his scoring boots regularly in the EPL.

Defensively, Kurt Zouma does not look like a Premier League Defender. Their depth is shocking after Gary Cahill leaving, although they have been strengthened by the departure of David Luiz. And then there’s Frank Lampard.

Some of his decisions are a little odd. Kante is still not playing in his best position. There’s too much chopping and changing of formations. Now, this is early season so Frank probably just needs to find his feet, learn his best team, and what his squad has to offer.

But at the moment, Chelsea is a situation to keep your eye on. They will need to be patient to see how this works out, and that maybe their biggest problem. If things are going well at Christmas, will Roman be patient? Does he have any choice given the transfer ban? All very intriguing questions.

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