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12th Sep 2016

The 4 biggest talking points from the Premier League weekend as Pep gets the better of Jose

Pep vs Jose, who Leicester are missing most, and Liverpool's new key man

Tony Barrett

The Premier League roared back to life this weekend after the international break, kicking off with the most anticipated Manchester derby for years.

But there was drama up and down the fixtures list as Liverpool christened their spanking new stand with a 4-1 spanking of champions Leicester, Arsenal got a late victory against Southampton and Spurs thrashed Stoke 4-0.

West Ham let a two-goal lead slip to lose 4-2 at home to Watford, and Diego Costa was once again the hero/villain of the piece (delete as appropriate) in a 2-2 draw for Chelsea at Swansea.’s Tony Barrett was on hand to watch it all and has picked out the biggest talking points of the weekend.

Mourinho can park the bus but Guardiola is the master coach

during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on September 10, 2016 in Manchester, England.

Jose Mourinho knows his old adversary Pep Guardiola is the superior coach (Pic: Getty)

As the two most outstanding managers of this generation, Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola can both lay legitimate claim to being the very best of their era. How the rest of us rate them is down to personal choice but as with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo there is an acceptance on either side of the debate that true greats are not easily separated.

But when it comes to coaching, to the basic principle of work on the training ground leading to collective and individual improvement and sometimes complicated concepts being taken on board, Guardiola is on another level to Mourinho.

Arriving in the Premier League having had no previous exposure to it, save for Champions League assignments against some of its members, and with a need to develop a knowledge of some of the teams, managers and players he would come up against, the expectation was the Guardiola might need some time for his methods to become effective. The reality, as the opening 40 minutes of Manchester City’s derby win over Manchester United demonstrated so magnificently, is that he has needed very little.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: Kelechi Iheanacho of Manchester City (R) celebrates scoring his sides second goal with his Manchester City team mates during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on September 10, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

They’ve started like a train: Kelechi Iheanacho celebrates Man City’s second goal in the derby win over Manchester United (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images) 

Not only have the City players responded positively to Guardiola’s coaching on an individual basis, Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling most notably, as a group they are already putting their manager’s philosophy into practice; the scale of their improvement providing further evidence to support the theory that Manuel Pellegrini was letting them down last season rather than vice versa.

Mourinho, by contrast, remains a game management specialist rather than an inspirational coach and the limitations of being one but not the other were laid bare by both City’s first half dominance and United resorting, legitimately and understandably, to direct football as the game got away from them.

There is no reason why Mourinho might not come out on top in the latest instalment of his duel with his former colleague and friend, after all he has triumphed against superior coaches in the past with his willingness to do almost anything to win and ability to shape events in favour of his team making him the kind of adversary who can overcome his own comparative weaknesses in most circumstances.

But, as an astute observer of the game who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of his rivals, Mourinho will know that Guardiola is a superior coach and must find ways of counteracting his advantage, something he failed to do on Saturday, or else United will not be able to match their rivals over the course of the season.

Firmino is emerging as one of the Premier League’s best players

during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Leicester City at Anfield on September 10, 2016 in Liverpool, England.

Roberto Firmino celebrates scoring against Leicester on Saturday (Pic: Getty)

Somehow, Roberto Firmino’s ongoing emergence as arguably Liverpool’s best and most influential player has been largely overlooked over the last 12 months, but after his stunning performance against Leicester City at the weekend the secret is finally starting to get out.

While most of the attention is drawn to Philippe Coutinho or Daniel Sturridge, Firmino has made the most of others hogging the limelight by quietly going about the business of being effective and productive.

Aside from Sturridge, he is Liverpool’s best finisher. Aside from Coutinho, he is Liverpool’s most creative player. Even before he had opened the scoring on Saturday, the Brazilian had already dazzled Anfield with the kind of touch play for which Mesut Ozil is renowned.

From taking dropping balls out of the sky with his instep with maximum ease and minimum fuss, to threading short passes through gaps to open up spaces in and around the penalty area, Firmino’s technique means his lack of searing pace does not hinder him as it does others who operate in a similar role.

On this very day last year, Firmino’s troubled start to his Liverpool career was laid bare when he failed to make any impact whatsoever in a 3-2 defeat to Manchester United. Taken off after 65 minutes having been deployed in an orthodox winger’s role that did not suit him, Firmino’s struggle to both establish himself in English football and to convince Brendan Rodgers of his quality was there for all to see.

What has changed since then? The most obvious difference is Jurgen Klopp, who knew him from the Bundesliga and rated him highly enough to make him a focal point of the Liverpool team. The turning point came when Firmino was used as a false number nine against Chelsea in Klopp’s third game in charge, a 3-1 win over Chelsea, and his manager continues to find a place for him in Liverpool’s biggest games, even at Sturridge’s expense on occasion.

BASEL, SWITZERLAND - MAY 17: Roberto Firmino of Liverpool laughs with manager Jurgen Klopp during a Liverpool training session on the eve of the UEFA Europa League Final against Sevilla at St. Jakob-Park on May 17, 2016 in Basel, Switzerland. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Jurgen Klopp has put the physical and proverbial arm round the shoulder with Firmino (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Another more recent improvement has been prompted by the arrival of Sadio Mane whose pace, directness and constant involvement frees up the kind of space that Firmino thrives in. That was clear once again as Liverpool ran amok against Leicester, with Firmino providing further evidence in support of his manager’s theory that the club’s transfer committee had produced an outstanding piece of business when they signed the 24-year-old from Hoffenheim in June 2015.

There is still room for improvement, though, as there are periods in games when Firmino can be detached from the action but such passages are becoming less frequent as Klopp continues to get much more out of him than his predecessor had been able to. Those who believe Liverpool have one Brazilian star should think again. Firmino deserves to be spoken about in the same glowing terms as Coutinho.

Leicester are already missing Steve Walsh

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 03: Steve Walsh assistant manager of Leicester City looks on prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Southampton at The King Power Stadium on April 3, 2016 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Steve Walsh has left Leicester for Everton (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Leicester’s defeat at Anfield was a damaging setback but it paled into insignificance and in some ways was made possible by the ones they suffered at nearby Goodison Park during the summer.

Claudio Ranieri’s side are yet to face Everton this season but they have already lost to them – not once, but twice. Steve Walsh’s decision to become director of football at the Merseyside club was a significant loss in itself given the role he had played in identifying several of the players who helped Leicester defy logic en route to becoming champions. His absence has already told with Everton signing one of the very few players who could have proved to be an adequate replacement for N’Golo Kante.

One of Walsh’s first moves upon his arrival at Everton was to urge them to meet Idrissa Gueye’s buyout clause and they duly heeded his advice, paying Aston Villa £7.1 million for a defensive midfielder who had been powerless to prevent them from being relegated last season.

On the surface, it seemed a strange move. Villa had been so open and so easy to play against that the idea of a player who operated in a position that is designed to stop the opposition from playing becoming a key component of a team with European aspirations did not stack up for many.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 06: Idrissa Gana Gueye of Everton in action during the pre-season friendly match between Everton and Espanyol at Goodison Park on August 6, 2016 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

Idrissa Gueye in action for Everton (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

Walsh was adamant that Gueye would make a positive difference to Everton, though, and the early signs are hugely promising with the 26-year-old emerging as one of the key factors behind Ronald Koeman’s promising start at Goodison Park.

Walsh’s vision again appears to be yielding rewards for his employers, only this time it is Everton and not Leicester who are reaping the benefits. As Liverpool tore through Leicester’s midfield and defence, often at will, the Kante-sized holed that they were exploiting was there for all to see. While replacing the France international with a player of equal standard was always likely to prove impossible, had Walsh still been in situ they might still have been able to replace him with a player of similar style. Gueye would have been ideal. Only Kante made more interceptions and more tackles last season and Koeman has already recognised the qualities that he brings.

Gueye is not on Kante’s level – not many are – but he is very good at what he does and he would have been ideal for the way Ranieri sets up his team. As it is, Leicester are currently too easy to get at in central areas, as highlighted by the space that Liverpool exploited against them, and without a Kante or a Gueye they may need to adopt a more compact playing style because they cannot afford to suffer more defeats like Saturday’s and still harbour any hopes of mounting a respectable defence of their title.

We should enjoy Costa while he is still here

SWANSEA, WALES - SEPTEMBER 11: Diego Costa of Chelsea reacts during the Premier League match between Swansea City and Chelsea at Liberty Stadium on September 11, 2016 in Swansea, Wales. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Diego Costa – we’ll miss him when he’s gone (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

It usually takes one to know one, but in the case of Gary Lineker and Diego Costa it doesn’t. “Shouldn’t really admit this considering some of his antics, but I do enjoy watching Costa,” Lineker tweeted during yesterday’s 2-2 draw between Chelsea and Watford. “He’s bloody hilarious.”

Lineker, a footballer so angelic that choirboys use him as an example, deriving pleasure from Costa’s antics might seem strange, but maybe he is just speaking a truth that far too many in football are too scared to admit. In a game that continues to be sanitised by endless scrutiny, crackdowns on physicality and academy graduates with no rough edges, Costa stands alone as a throwback to the days when centre forwards would see physical confrontation with defenders as part of their job description.

When Costa first arrived in this country I stated on Twitter that they were signing “a thug and a snide,” and added that “anyone who says they wouldn’t want him in their team is deluded.” The latter statement was ignored by many Chelsea fans while the first brought their opprobrium showering down on me as if I had suggested their team would be better off wearing claret and blue.

Costa is a thug, in a football sense at least, and he is most certainly a snide but there won’t be many who have played the game at any level who do not see those traits as qualities, especially when they belong to a centre forward capable of scoring heavily and driving opponents to distraction.

SWANSEA, WALES - SEPTEMBER 11: Diego Costa of Chelsea (2R) scores their second goal during the Premier League match between Swansea City and Chelsea at Liberty Stadium on September 11, 2016 in Swansea, Wales. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

The other side to Costa’s game (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

It seems that barely a game passes without Costa coming close to being sent off or his actions prompting someone to claim that he should have been dismissed. He is an anarchic nark and there are times when he does overstep the mark, at times by a considerable distance, leaving those of us who admire him feeling guilty and compromised. But in the main, he makes the football matches that he is involved in worth watching and there are not enough players that we can say that of in the Premier League.

When Costa leaves Chelsea and heads back to Spain, which he wanted to do in the last transfer window, he will be missed and our loss will be their gain.

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