MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – The following are five talking points from the weekend’s Premier League action:
COULD PEP TURN TO YOUTH TO DEAL WITH ‘WEAKEST LINK’
Pep Guardiola was at pains not to criticise his team after their 3-2 loss at Norwich City on Saturday, stressing the undeniable truth that they cannot win every game.
But there was no escaping the awareness that the central defensive partnership of John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi is hardly the ideal pairing for the champions.
“John and Nico have played together many times and been a huge part of what we have done, but (Vincent) Kompany is now in Belgium, (Aymeric) Laporte is injured and these are the defenders we have at this moment,” said the Spaniard.
Guardiola did point out, however, that Brazilian Fernandinho could drop deeper, as could Spanish midfielder Rodri. He also mentioned “younger players” as part of his back-up options given Laporte is likely to be out for six months.
Even if Guardiola is not ready to axe his current partnership, with the Champions League and League Cup coming into the fixture list this month, it would be surprising if the City boss did not try some other options.
Guardiola has not got a great track record at City of throwing in kids, but it might not be long until he gives a start to 18-year-old Spanish centre-half Eric Garcia.
A product of Barcelona’s La Masia academy, Garcia plays with a maturity beyond his age and, while he has had only one League Cup start, last December against Leicester City, he might soon find himself a little busier.
NORWICH A REFRESHING CHANGE
Promoted Norwich’s 4-1 loss at Liverpool on the opening day prompted many pundits to suggest there was a naivety to maintaining their attacking style in the top flight.
Of course, after their stunning win over City, Canaries coach Daniel Farke is basking in praise from the same commentators.
There will be plenty more ups and downs this season but it is refreshing to see a promoted side stick to their guns and play with the kind of ambition needed to produce a shock win.
ABRAHAM AN ENGLAND OPTION?
With seven goals in his last three games, Chelsea forward Tammy Abraham has answered the doubters who wondered if, after scoring 26 goals for Aston Villa in the Championship (second-tier) last season, he could deliver in the top flight.
Abraham has two England caps and appears to fit the profile of young talent that national team boss Gareth Southgate looks for. After featuring in the 2017 friendlies against Germany and Brazil, few would be surprised if he returns to the camp soon.
But Abraham surprised many when, after his impressive hat-trick at Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday, he was rather vague when asked if he still could choose to play for Nigeria for whom he qualifies through his father.
“I have heard the talk… When the time comes, the time comes,” he said. “We never know. You can never say never… whatever comes first really.”
He might want to bring back the dashing, attacking style of the past, but Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was happy enough with a slightly dull 1-0 home win against Leicester City.
He was particularly pleased with the performance of Scott McTominay, who delivered one of his best displays in the centre of the park, marrying aggression and work-rate with increasing maturity.
“He goes into tackles, challenges and fights. If there’s a team trying to intimidate us, he’s the first one there – he’s a leader. I wouldn’t want to go into a 50-50 with him,” said the United boss.
FAMILIAR PROBLEM FOR GUNNERS
Arsenal gave up a two-goal lead at Watford in a 2-2 draw at Vicarage Road as their opponents had 31 shots.
That is the most the Gunners have allowed since such statistics were first collected in 2003 and proof that Unai Emery has yet to fix his stuttering side’s biggest weakness.