FanSided Premier League Week 4 roundtable

Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images
Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images /

In Week 4 of the Premier League, Manchester City beat Manchester United in the (you guessed it) Manchester derby, while Jack Wilshere made his first appearance for Bournemouth. FanSided’s soccer staff share their reactions in our weekly roundtable. 

Pep Guardiola’s Etihad project takes shape

Matthew Miranda, @MMiranda613

Premier League culture is 24/7 culture. 86,000 seconds a day is a lot of time to fill, so we dissect and overanalyze. Sometimes this helps us translate what we already suspect into more concrete facts. Anyone watching Manchester City’s 2-1 win against Manchester United Saturday knows City dominated for the majority of the match; that City ran 8.3 kilometers more than their opponent simply reinforces that. But sometimes, dissection leads us to lose sight of the bigger picture.

Pep Guardiola took the reins at Manchester City over the summer and a history of success was stripped away as the manager’s pedigree came into question. He led Barcelona on a legendary run — with the best player alive, maybe ever, on his side; didn’t he have to? Three league titles with Bayern Munich, annual Champions League semifinals — a child could lead Bayern to the Bundesliga title; semifinals, schemifinals: trophies or go home. See? No Messi, no rings. Pep has become more myth than man: the artist, the philosopher, the ideologue, the zeitgeist, the messiah.

An opening run of six wins from his first six matches with City has laid down the gauntlet and serves as resounding reminder: Guardiola is a winner, 24/7. And his impact on City is showing up in both their daily DNA and their big picture.

Last year Manuel Pellegrini struggled to bring out the best in David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne when they played together. Each midfielder works best in a central role, but under the Chilean there was only room for one, leaving the other in an outside and often less-impactful position.

Guardiola has had City in a 4-1-4-1, allowing both players freedom in the middle of the field. Silva has returned to form after struggling at times last season, while de Bruyne was the star of the derby, scoring the opening goal, hitting the post to set up Kelechi Iheanacho for City’s second and striking the woodwork again late in search of the killing blow. With the creative midfield humming centrally and Raheem Sterling and Nolito invigorated on the outside, City’s attack punches at a heavier weight than United’s or any of their other Premier League rivals’.

One of the bright spots of last year’s campaign was the play of Fernandinho, a revelation in midfield who has ascended to an even higher level under Guardiola. The Brazilian can control the action as a holding midfielder, joining Silva and de Bruyne in laying the game’s groundwork, or come forward and attack.

After the dominant opening half by City, United turned on the pressure in the second, leading Guardiola to pull Iheanacho for the defensive Fernando in the 53rd minute. “Fernando was the key player in the second half,” Guardiola said. “Fernando was the key player” was oft uttered last year, but he, and even more so Nicolas Otamendi — de Bruyne’s rival for man of the match — reached heights Saturday that, if repeated, will force them to be considered in a new light. These are just two of a number of players enjoying new life and success under the new boss.

Iheanacho’s start in the derby in place of the suspended Sergio Aguero was testament to Guardiola’s vision, so often analyzed with respect to X’s and O’s, but in this case fixed firmly on the big picture.

Titles are not won in September, but a six-point swing is useful any time of year. Legends aren’t made in a single season, but a six-game winning streak is as good a start as any. “I thought about many other options,” Guardiola said, “but I thought in the beginning to show to my players that I came to win the game.”

On the blackboard, on the field, and increasingly in the minds and games of his players, Pep’s effect is evident even at this early stage of his Etihad project. The here-and-now could be the early days of a remarkable run.

New club, same old Jack Wilshere

James Dudko, @JamesDudko

Jack Wilshere didn’t have long to show Arsenal what they’re missing on his Bournemouth debut. He came on as a second-half substitute in the Cherries’ 1-0 win over West Bromwich Albion, and had just 27 minutes to reveal the maestro within.

Unsurprisingly, the jury is still out on Wilshere at Bournemouth. There isn’t enough evidence yet to decide if the loan to the South Coast will actually prove a good thing for Wilshere’s career.

One thing is clear: the question is not what Wilshere can do for Bournemouth, but what Bournemouth can do for Wilshere.

It’s why Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger sent the playmaker to Eddie Howe’s relegation candidates. Wenger not only needs Wilshere to prove his fitness. He also needs the brittle 24-year-old to find his identity as a player.

So what did Wilshere’s cameo show Wenger?

Well, as cameos go, this was more Robert De Niro in Jackie Brown than Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now. In other words, Wilshere’s performance against the Baggies was tantalizing and always interesting, but far from a show-stealing turn.

He displayed the sort of nifty touches and clever ideas that come naturally to a player with his technical gifts. Wilshere also rotated positions in a way Wenger, a manager who likes his players to improvise, would have been proud of.

His best moment was creating a scoring chance with a sly nudge of the outside of his left foot to prod the ball into the path of Junior Stanislas. Sadly, the winger fluffed his lines and the chance was wasted. Yet, as a piece of individual skill and intuition, it showed off all that is good about Wilshere. All that has managers and fans believing this oft-injured and inconsistent little gem can eventually become a talisman for club and country.

Wilshere created what should have been a goal because he was playing as a No. 10. The problem for Wilshere is he’s never convinced anybody he’s a true No. 10.

He’s never convinced anybody what his natural position is.

Even in his first outing for Bournemouth, Wilshere kept Howe guessing. The pint-sized playmaker revealed he’d switched positions, per Sky Sports: ” I came on in the number 10 position and then moved to the right for the team. I can do that role and I can also play deeper. I am comfortable in all those positions.”

No, Jack, no. If you’re ever going to realize your potential you can’t treat every match as a personal game of musical chairs. Wilshere has to make a position his own.

His best position seemed obvious when he starred for Arsenal in 2010-11 as a halfway line conductor between Alex Song’s destructive tendencies and the artistry of Cesc Fabregas. But that was a younger Wilshere, one happy to supplicate himself to more senior members of the team.

The late-2012 onwards Wilshere has been an altogether more willful animal. Wilshere wants the ball and to tell everyone else where to run. Watching him in recent seasons it’s been easy to wonder if he’s directing traffic or trying to land a plane rather than playing soccer.

But Wilshere isn’t an all-seeing midfield general who conducts every phase of the game. It’s not his natural temperament to fetch and carry.

The real Wilshere is a flair player, one who shows his influence with a flourish — a defense-splitting pass or one of those gliding and dribbling runs he’s so good at.

Wilshere belongs in the final third, and Wenger knows it. He recently said as much: “He is most dangerous when you give him the ball in the final third.” Wenger afforded him that freedom as a roving, right-sided schemer in 2013-14, his best season since 2010.

Staying fit and playing games is the first priority for a player with such a rotten injury history. But getting on the pitch is only the beginning of Wilshere’s bid to prove he’s the player Wenger and many others believe he is.

He must use the loan at Bournemouth to grow into one position, a forward position. If not, Wilshere will return from the Cherries a jack of all trades, but a master of none.

Then he’ll be no further along at Arsenal than before he left.