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article imageOctober: Five things we learned in the Barclays Premier League

By Tyrrell Meertins     Nov 2, 2014 in Sports
Here are the key Premier League conclusions during the month of October. Marouane Fellaini is finally delivering for Manchester United, Liverpool miss Daniel Sturridge, Southampton silence doubters and Aston Villa should be okay.
Fellaini slowly finding his way at United
Marouane Fellaini’s Manchester United career has been a rocky roller coaster ride. There’s been very little to commemorate, and the price tag that came with the Belgian’s last-minute move to Old Trafford last season, along with several underwhelming performances under David Moyes, nearly destroyed Fellaini’s United career.
The opening two months of Louis van Gaal’s tenure as United manager didn’t provide any glimmer of hope for the Belgian. However, injuries forced Van Gaal’s hand, and the Dutchman’s decision to deploy Fellaini closer to goal has reaped rewards in the Red Devils’ latest draws at West Brom and against Chelsea.
It’s evident that Fellaini isn’t nearly effective in a deeper role, and similar to his success with the national team, and his final year at Everton under Moyes, the Belgian poses a legitimate threat when he’s closer to the striker. Fellaini made an immediate impact at West Brom with a powerful equalizer, and the Belgian’s presence was beneficial with United continuously delivering crosses into the box.
The showdown against Chelsea served as United’s first real test under Van Gaal, and the Dutchman’s pragmatic approach nullified the Blues’ dominance in central areas. In particular, Fellaini effectively kept Cesc Fabregas quiet, and moved into pockets of space to receive the ball and push United forward. It was Fellaini who rose high and nodded Angel Di Maria’s stoppage time free kick into Courtois, which ultimately led to Robin van Persie’s equalizer.
Fellaini is a good Premier League player when he plays in an advanced position, and unlike Moyes, Van Gaal has gotten the best out of the Belgian in the past two games. In a deeper midfield two, Fellaini’s passes are too conservative, his offensive threat is scarce, and his protection of the back four is dodgy.
We’re finally seeing the best out of Fellaini in a United shirt, and the key to his much-anticipated success is his role on the pitch.
Southampton silencing the doubters
Many predicted Southampton would encounter a relegation battle following the sales of key players and manager Mauricio Pochettino. With the likes of Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Calum Chambers, Luke Shaw and Dejan Lovren moving to bigger clubs, the likelihood of Southampton finishing in the top half appeared insurmountable.
But as we approach November, Ronald Koeman’s side sits in second place, and has conceded a league best five goals this season. All this while losing three starters in their back line and implementing foreign talent in Graziano Pelle, Sadio Mane and Dusan Tadic. The trio has been exceptional throughout the opening months of the season, and they offer three different threats going forward. Pelle is an all-round striker that can poach goals in the box, but his link up play — as shown against Stoke — is superb. Mane offers pace down the flank, and Tadic’s positional and tactical awareness enables the tricky attacker to receive the ball in pockets of space — allowing Nathaniel Clyne to push forward — along with twisting and turning with pace in tight areas to create chances.
Ultimately, the mentality and tactical vision of Pochettino remains, as the Saints press higher up the pitch as a unit, aiming to force the opposition into mistakes. Likewise, Southampton have benefited from a favourable schedule thus far; Koeman’s men have cruised past equal or lesser opposition, but dropped points at Liverpool and Spurs. With matches against the title contenders and Manchester United awaiting in the upcoming weeks, Koeman’s side’s resolve will be put to the test.
A European berth is an attainable goal, but Southampton must edge the bigger clubs in head-to-head showdowns.
Liverpool misses Daniel Sturridge
It’s rare to criticize a team that went undefeated domestically in the month of October, but Liverpool’s victories have provided no signs of natural growth without Daniel Sturridge. The striker has battled calf and thigh injuries over the past two months, and Liverpool has failed to rediscover the form that was exhibited against Spurs at Anfield.
Sturridge’s absence has deprived Liverpool of natural pace upfront — a player capable of scoring goals but working the channels and creating space for Mario Balotelli. Balotelli’s work ethic and natural movement impedes Liverpool’s free flowing attack, and his finishing in attacking areas has been putrid.
Last season, Liverpool’s blistering attack overshadowed their mediocre midfield and leaky back line; meanwhile, Rodgers still failed to sign a proven leader in defence in the summer, and the additional midfield options are slowly adapting to his philosophy. Losses at Basel and to Real Madrid have tainted Liverpool’s Champions League campaign, and dismal performances against West Brom and QPR haven’t gone unnoticed.
For the most part quality has prevailed for the Reds this season, but with Jordan Henderson and Philippe Coutinho yet to improve their goal scoring rate, and Raheem Sterling being overused for club and country, the reliance on Sturridge for goals has vastly increased.
With a difficult November fixture list awaiting — trips to Newcastle, Crystal Palace, and Leicester, along with home matches with Chelsea and Stoke — and Sturridge expected to be out for an additional three weeks, Rodgers needs to find a formula that brings out the best in his players.
They’re too open when they attack, fail to score goals and the defence continues to make mistakes — in short, things have gone downhill since Sturridge’s injury.
Alexis the main man at Arsenal
Arsenal has dealt with their fair share of injuries to start the season, and similar to Liverpool, their results have been fairly disappointing.
Now nine points behind league leaders Chelsea, many — including Arsenal fans — have written off the chances of the Gunners claiming their first league title in over a decade. Wenger’s reluctance to bolster his defence and pickup a natural defensive midfielder in the summer backfired, and the injuries to Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud have thwarted Arsenal’s attacking options.
However, unlike last year, where Wenger mismanaged his big money signing Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez has been Arsenal’s bright spot in the early months of this campaign. The Chilean has scored eight goals in his debut campaign, and his versatility has proved beneficial to Wenger’s side.
Sanchez can operate on either flank, preferring to drift into half-spaces to receive the ball before evading a challenge on the half turn. Sanchez’s last two performances signified his overall threat in Arsenal’s attack. Pace and trickery saw the Chilean storm through the Hull City defence from the right flank to score the opener, and in stoppage time he clipped a lovely ball into Welbeck, who notched a late equalizer.
Last week against Sunderland, Sanchez pounced on two woeful defensive errors to claim three points for the Gunners, but with Santi Cazorla and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain struggling to hit top form, the Chilean has also transitioned into Arsenal’s creative hub.
Alexis’ ability to play a dual role will prove beneficial to the Gunners throughout the season, and with so many players unavailable at the moment, the Chilean is undoubtedly indispensable.
Aston Villa in trouble?
Aston Villa hasn’t scored a Premier League goal since September. Six games, zero goals, and no hope of progression for Paul Lambert’s men. An impressive away victory at Anfield was supposed to kick-start a quest for a top-half finish. But Villa’s poor form over the last month has seen Lambert’s men spiral downwards into a relegation scrap.
But is Villa really in trouble? This was tipped to be a difficult set of games for Lambert’s men, as they faced Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Everton. That’s five of the top seven teams of last year, with moments of brilliance (against City) and a defensive horror show (against Arsenal) playing a factor in their loss.
The most recent loss to QPR, however, sparked a few warning signs, but the loss of Fabian Delph’s energetic runs through midfield proved costly, as Villa’s midfield was static. Likewise, while Christian Benteke’s return has boosted Lambert’s attacking options, the Belgian is yet to reach the match fitness and sharpness required to torment Premier League defenders.
There will be pressure on Villa to gain results against sides in the bottom half moving forward, but Lambert’s side has the personnel to keep them clear of relegation this year. There’s no need to panic, yet.
More about BPL, Arsenal, Aston villa, Southampton, Alexis Sanchez
 
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