Summer Series

What we learned in the Summer Series

31 Jul 2023
Chelsea, Summer Series

Goals galore, Aston Villa's flexibility and Brighton's regeneration. Alex Keble reviews the US-based tournament

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Alex Keble looks at the lessons learned following the conclusion of the final matches of the Premier League Summer Series in the United States.

Goals galore

Chelsea have been inaugural crowned Summer Series champions after a 2-0 victory over Fulham gave them a table-topping seven points from three matches.

It was certainly a successful tournament from the US fans’ perspective, with 35 goals across the nine matches delivering an average of almost four goals per match.

The clubs themselves will feel quite differently from one another, even if the tournament succeeded in building up fitness ahead of the Premier League campaign.

Diaby helps Villa develop tactically

Aston Villa’s club-record signing Moussa Diaby scored in both of the matches in which he featured, netting the second goal in a 2-0 win over Fulham and playing a crucial role in Villa’s 3-3 draw with Brentford, a match in which Unai Emery's side reversed a 2-0 deficit in the space of only 11 minutes.

Diaby provides Emery with pace, a vital quality that he lacked last season. The Villa head coach makes use of fast transitions, encouraging his team to break quickly into the final third whenever possible.

In Diaby he now possesses a player with the dribbling speed to further improve Villa.

See: How Diaby adds new dimension to Villa

Flexibility key for Emery

Diaby also showed his versatility, excelling during the Summer Series as a left-winger and also as a partner to Ollie Watkins.

"With Diaby the most important thing now is where is his best position on the pitch,” Emery said after the Brentford match.

"Trying to understand when we have to find him going in behind and when he can drop to try to help us building up and stealing the ball. Both things, going in behind and dropping to get on the ball and help us keep possession is very positive - because today he did both.”

That positional flexibility can only help Emery’s plan to add variety to the way Villa play, something we saw in his use of centre-backs operating as full-backs in the matches against Fulham and Brentford.

Ezri Konsa played as a right-back against Fulham before Pau Torres operated as a left-back against Brentford, a move which allowed Villa to shift to a back three when they had possession. It was a Pep Guardiola-like move.

Pochettino invests in youth

The most obvious lesson from Chelsea’s success in the United States was how well Nicolas Jackson has settled in. The 22-year-old stole the show against Brighton & Hove Albion with a goal and two assists inside 11 minutes, also scoring Chelsea’s goal in the 1-1 draw with Newcastle United.

But more interesting was a first look at how Mauricio Pochettino intends to navigate an extremely difficult job while amid a mass clearout of his squad. Pochettino's selections in the USA suggest he will put trust in the club’s young players.

Ian Maatsen, a 21-year-old who played left-back on loan at Burnley last season, was given significant minutes in a number of positions, including that of a right-sided forward. His intelligent movement and eye for a progressive pass have clearly caught Pochettino's attention.

See: Maatsen relishing new roles for Chelsea

We also saw Carney Chukwuemeka start two of the three matches and look commanding at the heart of midfield. This will be a huge relief to Chelsea supporters concerned by the number of midfielders departing Stamford Bridge this summer.

These are very early days for Pochettino, but already the outline is drawn and there are clear similarities to his time at Tottenham Hotspur.

Chelsea are using a 4-2-3-1 formation with inverted wingers, flying overlapping full-backs, and hard pressing from the front. And, like at Spurs, the revolution is being led by the kids - nine young players yet to make their competitive debut for Chelsea were given minutes across the three matches.

Defensive reinforcements needed at Newcastle

Eddie Howe will be pleased with his team’s performances on the whole, although superb displays from emerging talent Elliot Anderson, coupled with a record of five goals conceded across the three matches, tells a story of where Newcastle’s issues lie.

Anderson scored two late goals against Brighton to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 victory on Saturday and cap a brilliant tournament for him personally, having also scored the opener in a 3-3 draw with Villa.

Alongside Alexander Isak, Anthony Gordon, Harvey Barnes, and Miguel Almiron, Howe now has an abundance of talent to play either side of Callum Wilson.

The same cannot be said at the other end of the pitch. Newcastle are reportedly in the market for a centre-back and a left-back and it was easy to see why, particularly against Villa.

That match was defined by the defensive chaos caused by Howe’s experiment with a 3-4-3 formation, which was hurriedly abandoned for the rest of the Summer Series, but it will unnerve Newcastle supporters that their team was out-shot 19-14 by Brighton and 12-9 by Chelsea.

Another Brighton regeneration on the cards

Every year Brighton lose their most valuable players to other clubs, and every year they seem to improve. Evidence from the Summer Series suggests this season will be no different.

Joao Pedro, signed from Watford, was the standout player in the 4-3 defeat to Chelsea, scoring one and assisting another in Philadelphia. He was used either as a No 10 or a winger at his old club but featured as a No 9 – and wearing nine on his shirt, too – across the Summer Series.

In the next match the star was Simon Adingra, who scored both goals in a 2-0 win over Brentford. Adingra scored 11 goals last season on loan at Belgian side Royale Union Saint-Gilloise and will, like Joao Pedro, challenge Danny Welbeck for a starting spot up front.

But scoring goals has never been a problem under Roberto De Zerbi. Instead, Brighton must find a way to replace Alexis Mac Allister and, possibly, Moises Caicedo. Judging by the number of minutes he was given in the Summer Series, Billy Gilmour is the preferred choice to partner new signing Mahmoud Dahoud in the centre.

Fulham and Brentford struggle defensively

Going into the tournament it looked as though Fulham and Brentford would find it difficult without their main strikers, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Ivan Toney. Instead, the problems have come at the back, although fortunately both Thomas Frank and Marco Silva have already made moves to address this in the transfer market.

Fulham conceded twice in all three of their Summer Series matches, which explains why Silva has been trying to strengthen his central defence. They announced the signing of centre-back Calvin Bassey from Ajax last Friday and were reportedly hoping to add Southampton’s Mohammed Salisu, although the move appears to have been hijacked by Monaco this week.

As for Brentford, club record signing Nathan Collins only started one of their three Summer Series matches, therefore there is hope they will be in better defensive shape when the Premier League begins.

Nevertheless one point from three matches, and eight goals conceded, was below expectations heading into a new Premier League season.

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