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Sarri: I am very worried after Wolves defeat

While hardly one for the purists, Manchester United and Arsenal served up an entertaining encounter on Wednesday evening as the two sides contested a frantic 2-2 draw at Old Trafford.

With the scores level and both teams chasing the game, United sent Marouane Fellaini on for the final 20 minutes in the hope that the midfielder's famed physical presence would make an impact.

Fellaini duly obliged, though perhaps not in the precise manner Jose Mourinho had envisaged.

Indeed, apparently overcome by a sudden bout of hair envy (having recently had his own afro sheared off), Fellaini set about unceremoniously stopping Matteo Guendouzi in his tracks by grabbing a handful of his counterpart's own tousled locks.

The Belgian was subsequently reprimanded by referee Andre Marriner but somehow managed to escape a booking.

Still, that didn't stop viewers from having their say on social media.

Marouane Fellaini waits until he cuts his hair to start pulling the hair of others...

Fellaini trying to steal what he once had. #MUNARS pic.twitter.com/oIBIzhzeHL

"Marouane Fellaini can only stop 19 year old midfielder by pulling him back by the hair in game otherwise marred by 6 yellow cards and 2 injuries" is the perfect description of Jose Mourinho's brand of football at Man United #MUNARS

fellaini cut his hair now he's jealous of guendouzi's flowing locks, you hate to see it

Fellaini is Mourinho's iPad.Much better ways to parent but it's just so damn convenient.

Marouane Fellaini-Guendouzi gate brought back memories. When Robert Huth Fellaini's hair, the gift Louis van Gaal delivered: "Only in sex masochism it is allowed." #mufc #afc pic.twitter.com/hfL3ez4nKh

Having watched Leicester defender Robert Huth yank Fellaini's afro during a game toward the tail end of the 2016-17 season, Van Gaal admonished the act before exclaiming that hair-pulling is only acceptable as part of "sex masochism."

Please accept our sincerest apologies for sullying yours and everybody else's day in one fell swoop.

The 2018-19 Premier League season has a markedly different feel from 2017-18. This is a campaign of identities, of philosophies, of ideologues.

The change has been evident at the top, where Chelsea's Maurizio Sarri and Arsenal's Unai Emery have stamped their authority upon their sides with remarkable speed. In midtable, Everton finally have a clear playing identity under Marco Silva, and Watford appear more settled under Javi Gracia.

But the pattern is also evident among bottom-half sides, which is the biggest transformation from last season. In 2017-18, the Premier League's weaker sides boasted plenty of attacking talent but little in the way of a cohesive style. The three relegated clubs -- West Bromwich Albion, Swansea and Stoke -- offered the likes of Salomon Rondon, Jay Rodriguez, Daniel Sturridge, Andre Ayew, Jordan Ayew, Tammy Abraham, Xherdan Shaqiri, Eric Choupo-Moting and Peter Crouch. These are players capable of providing a moment of magic, or scoring semi-regularly. Behind them, though, it was difficult to deduce much of a plan.

This time around, the situation is different. The three promoted sides -- Fulham, Wolves and Cardiff -- have little attacking firepower. Only the Fulham duo of Aleksandar Mitrovic and Andre Schurrle are comparable to the aforementioned players. Cardiff have few attacking threats worth mentioning, while Wolves' performance from goalkeeper to midfield has largely been excellent but their lack of finishing has prompted their recent poor run of form, which came to an end with the win at home to Chelsea.

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Yet it's easy to grasp these sides' general idea, and the same can be said about almost every team in the bottom half. Rafael Benitez's Newcastle are quick, compact and sometimes dangerous on the break. Huddersfield are energetic and good at pressing. Crystal Palace are organised and narrow and break into the channels. Burnley are based around direct balls. Perhaps the only exception is Southampton -- and, sure enough, they've taken action by firing Mark Hughes, who struggled to implement a clear game plan, and appointing Ralph Hasenhuttl, who promises to bring high-tempo, aggressive pressing football. Everyone has an identity.

In fact, among the bottom-half sides, only Fulham (Mitrovic, seven) and West Ham (Marko Arnautovic, five) possess a centre-forward who has scored more than four goals.

On one hand this shouldn't be much of a story -- worse sides are scoring fewer goals. But it's not simply that they're scoring less than better sides, it's that they're scoring less than they should from their number of chances. Based on expected-goals statistics (xG), Cardiff and Newcastle should have scored five more goals, Wolves and Crystal Palace seven more, and Southampton no fewer than nine more.

A lack of goals in itself sometimes suggests a lack of creativity, but a lack of goals in relation to xG figures indicates a lack of finishing quality. The obvious solution for these five sides, then, is to sign another striker when the transfer window opens in January.

English clubs have traditionally relied far too much upon the January transfer window to provide a midseason boost, overlooking structural issues. The most dramatic January transfer windows usually involve a mass exchange of strikers. The 2011 window, which involved interconnected moves featuring Fernando Torres and Andy Carroll, on a day when Liverpool had already signed Luis Suarez, was a classic example.

Last January featured, effectively, a triangular deal between Arsenal, Chelsea and Dortmund involving Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Olivier Giroud and Michy Batshuayi. Other strikers on the move in January included Jurgen Locadia, Cenk Tosun, Alexis Sanchez, Islam Slimani, Andre Ayew, Sturridge and Theo Walcott. It's debatable whether any of these players improved the fortunes of their new sides.

But this year seems right for these clubs to be investing. Perhaps they will be fighting over the same strikers, but realistically they're in very different situations.

Cardiff don't have much spending power, and you suspect they could look to get a loanee in. Manager Neil Warnock surely needs extra firepower -- whether a target man to play his part in Cardiff's long-ball game, or a runner to provide extra mobility. Beggars can't be choosers, and Warnock will be desperately trying to find a proven player at this level.

Newcastle's spending depends almost entirely upon the ownership of the club, with Mike Ashley still supposedly considering selling up. A potential new owner might be keen to invest immediately, to get supporters onside and increase the chances of Premier League survival. More than any other English club, Newcastle have a proud tradition of prolific strikers.

Wolves are in a different situation because Raul Jimenez, while somewhat lacking goals himself despite netting against Chelsea, has played an effective role at laying on chances for runners from deep. If anything, Wolves lack a goal-scoring winger rather than a striker. Diego Jota's goal against the Blues was his first of the season. He needs to provide more over the next month, or might find himself replaced.

Crystal Palace, meanwhile, know that Christian Benteke will return from injury around Christmas, and may feel it's worth persevering with the Belgian. After 15 goals in his debut campaign in 2016-17, Benteke was absolutely wretched last season, missing a staggering number of presentable chances, but his track record over his Premier League career suggests he could come good again. Using Andros Townsend and Wilfried Zaha up front, with Benteke the Plan B, seems most likely.

And then there's Southampton, whose finishing has been the most problematic. Saints seem less likely to invest: Danny Ings started the campaign excellently, and after a brief injury layoff should return this weekend. Manolo Gabbiadini and Charlie Austin might get fresh opportunities under the new regime, while Michael Obafemi has had a good impact when handed chances and might be suited to Hasenhuttl's energetic style. Last January's dreadful mistake in signing Guido Carrillo might also dissuade them from dipping into the January window.

The emphasis upon transfer spending, and "having a good window," has become somewhat overblown, and last season's fight against relegation was more about having a clear playing style, which is why Huddersfield stayed up ahead of more expensively assembled sides.

But this time around, there's a serious lack of striking quality among those battling relegation. It seems unlikely we'll see many more managerial changes, and therefore astute business in the winter window might prove the difference between survival and relegation.

Manchester United defender Matteo Darmian has told ESPN Brasil there are no rifts between the players and manager Jose Mourinho.

Following the 2-2 draw at Southampton on Saturday, there were reports Mourinho had clashed with Paul Pogba in the dressing room, while he has regularly been critical of his players after matches this season.

But, speaking after the 2-2 draw against Arsenal, Darmian said there are no issues, and that everyone is working together in an attempt to achieve the best results possible.

"Between us [there are] no problems -- between the manager and the players," the Italian said. "So we have to keep working. Try to work harder and try to do what we are doing to try to win as many games as possible."

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Is there such a thing as peaking too early? Given all that Kylian Mbappe, just 19, has accomplished, we might soon find out.

ESPN+ is America's home for a host of professional soccer leagues from around the world, highlighted by Italy's Serie A, Major League Soccer, UEFA Nations League and English FA Cup. |
ESPN+ schedule

Deliberate isolation. Petty feuds. Constant turmoil. The Manchester United manager wouldn't have it any other way, writes Sam Borden.

Is there such a thing as peaking too early? Given all that Kylian Mbappe, just 19, has accomplished, we might soon find out.

United came into the match against Arsenal with no win in three Premier League matches, while their opponents were unbeaten in 19; and while Darmian said he and his teammates had targeted a win beforehand, they were ultimately satisfied with a draw, having twice come from behind.

"I think that it was not the result that we wanted before the game," he said. "But today was a tough game. We started very well but we conceded two goals.

"I think we had two good reactions after their goals and at the end it was a draw. Now we have to think game by game and try to win a lot of matches because this period is very important. A lot of games are coming and you have to be ready.

"Everyone who played did very well. It was not enough today but now we have to be focused in the next game. You know that when results are not what we want the feelings are not very good. But we have to keep working."

Arsenal boss Unai Emery has said Manchester City midfielder David Silva encouraged him to seek a job in the Premier League.

Emery's contract was not renewed after two seasons in charge of Paris Saint-Germain and was appointed as manager of the London club in May.

"At the end of last season, I met David Silva in an elevator in Valencia and he said: 'Coach if you can, you should go to England,'" Emery told Cadena Cope radio after Wednesday's 2-2 draw at Manchester United.

Silva, who worked under Emery for two seasons at Valencia before signing for City in 2010, was not the first to sing the praises of the Premier League to the Spanish coach.

Editors' Picks


Watch on ESPN networks in the U.S.
ESPN+ is America's home for a host of professional soccer leagues from around the world, highlighted by Italy's Serie A, Major League Soccer, UEFA Nations League and English FA Cup. |
ESPN+ schedule



Jose Mourinho's Last Stand
Deliberate isolation. Petty feuds. Constant turmoil. The Manchester United manager wouldn't have it any other way, writes Sam Borden.




Kylian Mbappe and the curse of the World Cup
Is there such a thing as peaking too early? Given all that Kylian Mbappe, just 19, has accomplished, we might soon find out.

ESPN+ is America's home for a host of professional soccer leagues from around the world, highlighted by Italy's Serie A, Major League Soccer, UEFA Nations League and English FA Cup. |
ESPN+ schedule

Deliberate isolation. Petty feuds. Constant turmoil. The Manchester United manager wouldn't have it any other way, writes Sam Borden.

Is there such a thing as peaking too early? Given all that Kylian Mbappe, just 19, has accomplished, we might soon find out.

"I remember when [Spanish goalkeeper] Cesar arrived at Valencia after a season at Tottenham and he told me that if one day I could, I should go to the Premier League," Emery said.

And the 47-year-old has no regrets over making the switch to the Emirates Stadium.

"I can only say very positive things of my stay here from the first day up to now," Emery said. "I have found a lot of support when it comes to the day-to-day.

"They are very respectful. The coaching staff is very happy here. It's a very competitive league. Each team has good qualities and I'm really enjoying it."

Wednesday's result left Arsenal in fifth place in the league standings, 10 points adrift of defending champions City.

"It's very difficult," Emery said, when asked if any team can challenge City for the title this season. "He [Pep Guardiola] has created an incredible team.

"They play marvellous football. They are proving in England that they are very difficult to beat."

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