There are 92 professional football teams in the English Premier League system. Out of those 92, 20 play in the top flight of the Premier League, competing for the most prestigious trophy that England has to offer. Those 20 teams are then spread among 14 different cities, London having the most teams of any city with 5. And out of those 14 cities, only one currently rules the Premier League roost.
Both of Manchester’s top flight teams are soaring, having claimed points from all 5 matches so far and having separated themselves from the rest of the pack as the class of England’s top league so far.
Between Manchester United and Manchester City, 32 goals have been scored and only 4 have been conceded. United started their season with 3 commanding wins in a row before faltering at Stoke in week 4 and getting back on track against Everton this past week, whereas City started slowly, drawing with Everton and struggling to beat Brighton and Bournemouth, but have since thrashed Liverpool 5-0 and Watford 6-0.
The two most expensive teams in the Premier League are delivering the best results thus far, proving that maybe money does buy success. All of that being said, here are this week’s headlines.
City set the Pace
I know that I haven’t been watching top level football for all that long, but I’ve never seen a two game stretch as dominant as the one City put together over the past week. A 5-0 home thrashing of Liverpool in week 4 was somehow one-upped this past weekend at Vicarage Road against a previously top 4 Watford side.
In any and every category you can possibly think of, City were rampant. Possession was 67-33 in favor of of the Blues, shots were 28-6 and shots on goal were 10-1, City passed at a 90% success rate and won 64% of the ariel duels.
Watford were in the game for maybe the first 20 minutes before City settled in and made a previously impenetrable Hornets defense look like a U-12 side playing herd-ball.
City controlled possession and were electric going forward, creating chance after chance after chance whenever they pleased. Watford seemed content to sit back in a tight defensive formation and then look to spring counter attacks, but every possible chance of a counter attack was snuffed out by City’s recently brilliant centre back pairing of John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi.
And the attack…oh my.
Kevin De Bruyne has continued his transformation into one of the world’s best central midfielders under Pep Guardiola and his service to the striker pairing of Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero was absolutely first class once again.
And about that striker pairing, it took Jesus and Aguero a few weeks to get themselves together but my goodness has that turned into an opposing defense’s nightmare.
The two of them have produced 8 goals on the season, including 5 in the past two games and they work damn near perfectly together. Jesus’ movement off the ball creates those ever valuable pockets of space that Aguero needs and that David Silva and De Bruyne provide service excellent through ball service to. Jesus and Aguero have realized that there are clearly enough goals to go around between the two of them and are now thriving in their partnership.
But the most potent part of City’s new attack are the additions of Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy as Pep Guardiola’s flying fullbacks.
Mendy and Walker do more running per game than any other City player and Watford had headaches upon headaches trying to deal with their pace and movement. Mendy in particular was electric on Saturday, making piercing runs up Watford’s left flank and then thumping dangerous crosses into the box every time.
Walker and Mendy give City an extra offensive dimension that they’ve never had before and that sets them apart from every other club in the Premier League and allow them to play the exact kind of football that Pep Guardiola envisioned when he first accepted the job back in May of 2016.
Let this week be the first official notice that Pep’s Manchester City have arrived, and they’ll only be getting better.
United Hold Serve
City’s 6-0 win on Saturday saw the Blues leap to the top of the table, putting pressure on their crosstown rivals to hold serve, which the Red Devils did in convincing fashion with a 4-0 thumping of a tumbling Everton squad.
While I believe City have announced themselves as England’s best team with their past week of dominance, United have been the Premier League’s best team over the entirety of the season so far, and after a lackluster performance against Stoke City in week 4, they showed that top form once again this past Sunday.
It took him nearly a full 90 minutes, but Romelu Lukaku eventually found the back of the net against his former club and celebrated like he’d never played for them. His goal came as United’s 3rd and served as only salt in Everton’s growing wounds, but Lukaku certainly deserved it and continued his early goal scoring tear, reclaiming the top spot on the Premier League scoring chart from Sergio Aguero.
This game marks United’s 4th clean sheet of the season and Everton never truly posed a threat. After a shaky performance last week against Stoke, the Red Devils’ centre back pairing of Phil Jones and Eric Bailly was far more effective this week against Everton’s front pairing of Wayne Rooney and Gyilfi Sigurdsson.
Almost silently, Henrikh Mkhitaryan has turned himself into one of the Prem’s attacking midfielders, maintaining his assist lead among all players with 5 and adding a goal to his tally this weekend.
Jose Mourinho saw his club slip up and struggle defending a front 3 against Stoke City last week but had his club clicking on all cylinders against Everton this week. Lukaku continues to thrive, Nemanja Matic was the MOTM this week and has been a godsend for the Red Devils and this just generally looks like a team in prime position to end a 5 year championship drought.
United and City are primed for quite a battle at the top this season. Buckle up.
Crystal Palace Set the Wrong Kind of History
In case you were convinced that sacking Frank De Boer after 4 winless and goalless games in favor of hiring Roy Hodgson would be the cure to Crystal Palace’s woes thus far, the Eagles have gone out and reminded you just how bad they are with a 1-0 loss this weekend at St. Mary’s.
Palace are completely dull in every facet of football at the moment and their current streak of 450 goalless minutes is the longest such drought by any club in the history of the Premier League, breaking Newcastle’s 2005-06 record.
This past weekend at Southampton, Hodgson switched the Palace formation from De Boer’s 3-5-2 of the previous 4 games into a 4-4-1-1 in hopes of creating a more direct chain of attack up to Christian Benteke. While Ruben Loftus-Cheek played well as the link between Benteke and the 4 man midfield, consistent danger still wasn’t created by the Eagles and Benteke flubbed the few chances he did have.
Hodgson insisted that his side played hard and never gave up, giving reason for optimism amid such a dismal goalless streak, but the issue with Crystal Palace is not whether or not they play hard, it’s whether or not they have the quality to score goals.
One could be optimistic about Palace if they so choose, I have sure tried my hardest over the past 4 weeks, but I just don’t see it anymore. Yes, Wilfried Zaha will be a game changer when he returns and yes, Palace are a mere 4 points away from safety, but this weekend continued a disturbing trend of not being able to finish.
As teams like Watford and Burnley have shown, it’s possible to not only survive, but thrive, while sitting back defensively and creating maybe 2 or 3 chances a game. Few teams in the Prem have an attack that can break down a deeply situated and tightly organized defense. But unlike Watford and Burnley, Palace haven’t made good on any of those precious chances that have been created.
The cure to Palace’s ills will not be Loftus-Cheek or Zaha or any player that hasn’t suited up for them yet this year or even Hodgson. Crystal Palace needs Christian Benteke to regain top form and begin cashing in on the chances created for him.
If the Eagles are able to somehow survive this year, Benteke will have led the charge, but don’t expect that potential comeback to begin this next week. A trip to the Etihad to face a mesmerizing City squad this upcoming Saturday is exactly the kind of thing Crystal Palace don’t need right now.
I don’t see Palace surviving this season in the top flight and Saturday in Manchester could get really ugly.
Team of the Week: Manchester City
I snubbed them last week in favor of Tottenham, but not this week. I wrote about City above, but they looked to be a complete level above a previously top 4 Watford side. Incredible performance.
Runners Up: Manchester United, Newcastle
Player of the Week: Sergio Aguero
Why don’t we give Sergio Aguero the respect he deserves? City’s world class striker is now 2 goals away from the all time club record of 177 and is second in all time Premier League history in minutes per goal at 108.44 minutes per goal (City teammate Gabriel Jesus holds the record at 88.82 minutes per goal). Aguero has put together one of the best 6 year stretches in the history of English football and he has yet to even be nominated for a Player of the Year or Team of the Year. We shall under appreciate him no more.
Runners Up: Jermain Defoe, Nemanja Matic, Lukasz Fabianski
Moment of the Week: Jermain Defoe’s Winner vs Brighton
I have an immense amount of respect for Jermain Defoe and it felt so good to watch him finally get off the mark for Bournemouth this season. The fact that his first Cherries goal served as a winner against Brighton makes it all the more sweeter. Defoe’s goal made him just the 5th player to ever score in 17 or more different top flight seasons and, by scoring against Brighton, he has now bagged goals against 36 different clubs, just 3 away from Frank Lampard’s record of 39. Defoe is absolutely top class.
Runners Up: Aguero’s Hat Trick, Newcastle’s Winner, Lukaku’s Everton-revenge Goal Celebration
Where I Was Right Last Week
I mentioned at the top of last week’s article that no Coutinho was a big problem for Liverpool and that bore out once again this week even though he made his first Premier League appearance as a 78th minute substitute for Dominic Solanke. Without Coutinho, Liverpool have no midfielders with the ability to break down a side that sits deep and looks to counter attack. Liverpool were able to generate 9 shots on goal but could only find the back of the net once thanks to a brilliant Mohamed Salah finish. The Reds need their star man in a bad way heading into a week where they will play Leicester City twice, a team notorious for sitting deep and looking to counter attack.
Where I Was Wrong Last Week
In true football fan fashion, I overreact to a different team every week and proclaim something outlandish about them that gets disproven the very next week.
On week 4’s version of Tuesday Morning Tea, I declared that Tottenham had left their August blues behind and were back to their rampant attacking ways. A 0-0 home draw against Swansea proved that Swansea may have left their August blues behind, but they still have yet to overcome their Wembley woes, now having won just 3 out of their past 14 games under the arches.
Tottenham dominated every facet of the game, controlling 75% possession, peppering Swans’ keeper Lukasz Fabianski with 8 shots on goal and 26 total shots, but couldn’t find a breakthrough.
That 75% possession number is the highest single game number Tottenham have ever posted since Opta began tracking possession back in 2003, but obviously it means nothing because no goals were scored off of that possession, which has been typical of Spurs this season.
Harry Kane is as potent a goal scorer as the Premier League has, but when he hasn’t been scoring in the past, the likes of Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen, and Hueng-min Son have been there to pick up the slack. Those three have been sitting deeper in the midfield thus far this season and the typically free flowing Tottenham goal well has all but dried up recently.
Tottenham still have a ways to go before they get back to the form we’ve seen from them over the past few seasons.
10 Thoughts I Have
- Now that the dust of the transfer window begins to settle, we get to see all the players who unsuccessfully demanded transfers try and make do with their current club situations. Alexis Sanchez, Eden Hazard, Philippe Coutinho and Virgil Van Dijk all made their league debuts this weekend. All 4 came off the bench and none made an impact worth talking about. It’s sad to see 4 top class players give poor effort because they are upset with their current club situation, but such is life in the mad, mad transfer world we currently live in.
- Each week of the season thus far, I have watched an upstart team win a big game and leap their way into the top half of the table and declared them there to stay. Burnley, West Brom, Watford and Everton have all been victims of my overreactive nature thus far and I’m gonna add another team to that list. Newcastle have wonderfully turned their season around and started playing like the side that we expected. Between them, Huddersfield and Brighton, the Magpies were the team everyone expected to easily avoid relegation and they are now playing up to those expectations. They will likely roll over Brighton this weekend before a big home test against Liverpool looms in week 7. Tip of the cap, though.
- I’ve talked at length about Manchester City’s destruction of Watford, but I haven’t actually yet given any thought to the Watford side of the coin. This was an upstart team sitting in 4th before their City thrashing, and while they were clearly exposed as a side not ready to hang with the top 4, this is still a top half club. Marco Silva’s men have been effective at sitting deep and counter attacking through the wide areas, they just had a rough day against a clearly superior club. Don’t let this totally change your opinion of the Hornets, though, just a mere blip on the radar.
- Antonio Valencia scored the goal of the weekend. Personally, I think Charlie Austin’s goal from two weeks ago is just a shade better because of the angle he shot from, but my goodness is this one brilliant too.
- Other top quality tallies include Sergio Aguero’s hat trick finalizer, Mohamed Salah’s wonderful equalizer and another Xherdan Shaqiri stunner.
- What in the world is going on with Everton right now? One minute, the Toffees are going toe to toe with Manchester City, earning a hard fought draw, and the next minute they’ve dropped 3 straight, conceded 7 goals in their past two matches and sit 18th in the table. Ronald Koeman continues trying to play a side game, using pace to attack down the flanks, but his side just doesn’t have the pace to do that. Everton need to control more possession and let Gyilfi Sigurdsson actually do the stuff that he’s good at instead of trying to play like a much more athletic team. Be what you are, Toffees, and stop losing.
- Lukasz Fabianski is the unsung hero of the weekend. With Swansea badly needing points from their Saturday tilt with Tottenham in order to avoid going down into the relegation zone, Fabianski made 8 crucial saves, including several denying Son from close range. The Swans played a very well disciplined defensive game, but Fabianski needed to be brilliant to salvage them a point and he was.
- I think it’s time to stop treating Huddersfield as if they don’t belong at this top level. The Terriers were back to playing their signature high energy, high intensity game and gave Leicester all sorts of problems. The Foxes were held to a mere 1 shot on goal and by the time the final whistle blew, it was Huddersfield manager David Wagner who was rueing a missed opportunity at 3 points. Huddersfield continue to play well week in and week out and it’s time for me to stop treating this as some sort of cute Cinderella story. The Terriers belong at the top level.
- One of the early storylines of the Premier League season was how many goals were being scored. This week featured three different 0-0 draws, as many as the first four combined weeks of the season produced. 10 of the 20 total goals scored this weekend were produced by the Manchester teams. I think this could be the start of a growing trend in England. More and more teams are playing a ‘sit back and wait to counter attack’ type of style instead of pressing high up the field to create turnovers and that turned this weekend into a mostly goalless defensive showcase.
- Your ‘under the radar’ matchup of this upcoming weekend is a solid tilt between Swansea and Watford. Renato Sanches, Wilfried Bony and a desperate Watford team all make up a solid recipe for an underrated but potentially scintillating matchup. I’ll be watching this one at 9 AM on Saturday.