[lead dropcap=”yes”]With the first international break of the season out of the way, the Premier League resumes and for some of its most recognised stars, a chance to start afresh after a slow start to the season.[/lead]
We’ve seen Sergio Aguero at his ruthless, free scoring best and Diego Costa has combined his usual spiky nature with match winning goals, while teammate Eden Hazard has rediscovered his form from two years ago, dancing around opposition with ease once again, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic has started life in English football in predictably productive style.
Not everyone has found it so easy to revert back to form straight off the back of the summer break, however, as last season’s champions can so obviously attest to. A mixed beginning to Leicester City’s title defence has been typified by their main man’s own uneven start.
Riyad Mahrez scored a penalty on the opening day but missed one on gameweek three, and everything in between has paled in comparison to last season’s Player of the Year exploits. Having watched on as famed partner in crime Jamie Vardy scored in vintage Leicester fashion against Swansea City, Mahrez is in need of rediscovering his touch if his team are to truly kick into gear this season. We’re yet to see the Algerian winger influence games with that ability to bedazzle opponents using his quick feet and evasive turn of pace, and he needs to start leading by example to show why he was such sought after property in the summer.
Following up an unexpectedly successful season comes with new challenges and added pressures. When the adrenaline wears off and reality sets in, the obstacles ahead can seem more difficult to overcome, and one who has been guilty of a tepid start is that of Tottenham’s Dele Alli. Spurs have lacked a spark in their opening games and need last season’s Young Player of the Year to rediscover the form that caused so much excitement and helped the club achieve its best league campaign in the Premier League era.
Along with Harry Kane, Alli looks to have continued his languid Euro’s form and the pair appear to be suffering the after-effects of an emotionally draining title collapse. Kane, who has now gone nine games without a goal for club or country, had a similarly slow start this time last year, after an impressive breakthrough season in 2014/15. Alli can take solace in the knowledge that his teammate kicked on as autumn beckoned, but for now, doubts remain, and the pair will be under the spotlight until they are able to put a difficult summer behind them.
Goalless runs are an expected occurrence in a centre forward’s lifespan, even for the most accomplished of hitmen, and another player experiencing difficulty in front of the net is Romelu Lukaku – his own goal drought extends to 13 Everton games in all competitions. Ronald Koeman had made an encouraging start to life at his new club, and although the former Barcelona player said he wasn’t worried about Lukaku’s lack of goals, the striker’s body language suggests he’s feeling the heat of his barren streak.
One of the most consistent Premier League goalscorers over the last four years, Lukaku has progressed steadily into one of the most promising young marksmen in Europe. The demand for quality strikers from the continent’s biggest clubs was high this summer, and yet Lukaku’s name was not called. This might suggest that not everyone is quite sold on the Belgian, and, with a dearth of high calibre forwards available right now, it’s surprising he was not subject to mass bidding. Evertonians will have been delighted to keep hold of their imposing striker, but if the player’s true potential is to be realised he cannot afford for his profligacy to continue much longer.
A year can seem a long time in football. At the start of the 2015/16 season, Louis Van Gaal’s continual struggle to piece a coherent attack was ongoing and his players looked uneasy with their managers demands. The team lacked the presence expected of a Manchester United side, yet newly acquired Anthony Martial arrived unfazed as the most expensive teenager in world football and he wore the shirt with aplomb.
A year later, and the appointment of Jose Mourinho has caused significant reverberations around the club. Along with the signings of Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba, the landscape has changed almost unrecognisably from when Martial impacted on the team so handsomely. United as a whole are enjoying a honeymoon start to its new era, whilst the 20 year-old Frenchman has endured a difficult start to his second season at the club.
There won’t be any alarm bells ringing after three games but Mourinho has a tendency to be ruthless with underproductive wide men and he won’t hesitate to intervene if necessary. There was once petitioning from supporters to see Martial occupy a more central role at a time when everything he touched turned to gold, but that desire has been culled and with the likes of Marcus Rashford and Henrikh Mkhitaryan on standby, Martial’s place is far from guaranteed.