By Chris Worrall
Are Leicester on to something long-term?
Leicester’s extraordinary start to the domestic season has been a delight to their own fans and to many neutrals; their brand of fast, attacking football blends with frequent claw-back victories to give them and their manager Claudio Ranieri an almost roguish, swashbuckling charm. Doubters will point to other strong starts by lowly sides – most notably Phil Brown’s Hull – that were just premature bursts before long-term decline. For Leicester however, things could be a little bit different.
While the nickname ‘Tinkerman’ has long been used as a criticism, Ranieri’s ability to change both his personal and tactical set-ups have been key to his side’s excellent start. This flexibility of both shape and approach has only failed once thus far – against a hugely impressive Arsenal – and is often the reason they have managed to come from behind; changes in formation have often been the factor that has unleashed Jamie Vardy so effectively on tiring defences. His nickname may have negative connotations, but Ranieri’s ability to consistently tweak his side to keep getting results could make Leicester’s strong start into something much longer term.
Is Emperor Van Gaal even wearing clothes?
Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United seem to perpetually be on the edge of finally becoming good. Having seemingly left the bad days of Moyes far behind and having lavished extensively on reconstructing the team, the jury is surprisingly still out on whether or not there has been extensive improvement. Brief bursts of excellence – last season’s derby-day victory or Martial’s debut in a convincing win against Liverpool – are all-too quickly smothered by stretches of dourness, such as this weekend’s drab goalless draw with Crystal Palace.
Compared to his predecessor, Van Gaal has been given time and resources to construct both a squad of players and a footballing approach that is – despite his own reservations – undoubtedly his. There are flashes of good, and the quality of player that has been attracted to the club does speak of a growth in the club’s stature since the relative dark days of Moyes. However, for a club that sat atop the Premier League tree for so long, it seems strange that the rebuilding process is taking quite so long. Many seem the think Van Gaal is the man for that job, but the time taken on the project already suggests it may a while yet before Manchester United are well and truly back.
Watford and Norwich quietly impress
While Bournemouth look to be struggling in the deeper waters of England’s top flight, their fellow newly-promoted sides look to be faring rather better. Watford, while thus far reliant on Ighalo’s goals, are impressively solid and a real challenge for every team that has faced them so far this season. Norwich meanwhile, while defeated at the Etihad following a hammering in the north-east, boast a tactical flexibility that promises survival despite recent problems. Their defeat to Manchester City was far from conclusive and their adaptation in the aftermath of a heavy loss shows a pragmatism that could serve them well, or at least better than their more attack-minded promoted colleagues on the south coast.