Tuesday Morning Tea Week 9: Definite, Decisive, Divisive

There were no draws this week.

Each and every one of this weekend’s 10 Premier League fixtures ended with a single victor standing tall. Not even Southampton vs. West Brom could produce a draw during week 9, a truly remarkable feat to cap off a wild English Saturday.

Growing up, my biggest beef with football was that games could end in a tie. In America, we’re raised to believe that ties are stupid and useless and, for the most part, they are. It sucks to tie with an opponent and not have a definitive answer to the question, “which team is better?”

That being said, even now that I’m neck deep in an endless love affair with football, I still am not the biggest fan of draws, to say the least. So you can imagine my excitement when literally none of the Premier League games ended in that fashion.

What thrill.

The football gods smiled down upon us with a weekend full of winners, shocks and redemption stories. Here’s the best of week 9:

……….

The Champions Reign on Watford’s Parade

Nervous moments at Stamford Bridge have been momentarily alleviated following Chelsea’s 4-2 win over an upstart Watford side on Saturday that brought NBCSports announcer Peter Drury to proclaim the victory, “a great big, blue pile of relief.”

For a Chelsea side that had lost two straight games entering week 8’s crucial clash with Watford, the result certainly means more than the way that it was procured. But the Blues would be smart to not look particularly deeply into this one if they want to truly enjoy it.

Watford outplayed Antonio Conte’s side in every aspect of the game for 80 minutes. The Hornets created chances, out-possessed Chelsea in the midfield, were clean and composed at the back and looked to be in ideal position to possibly snatch a late winner and another improbable victory.

But Chelsea showed something on Saturday that they haven’t shown all year, that championship fight that brought the trophy to Stamford Bridge last season in the first place. Still missing midfield maestro N’Golo Kante and finding themselves trailing 2-1 with a mere 20 minutes remaining, the Blues fought back and produced a result that could possibly turn their season around.

Azpilicueta
Photo Courtesy of PA

Michy Batshuayi, despite only playing 30 minutes, was the MOTM for Chelsea and ended up scoring the equalizer on a deftly flicked header. Then, with a comfortable result in tow, the champions decided to keep pushing and, after a lovely stretch of build-up play between Davide Zappacosta and Eden Hazard, Cesar Azpilicueta got on the end of a cross to put the Blues in front before Batshuayi added a 94’ tack-on tally to seal the 4-2 victory.

After being dominated by Manchester City before the international break and then losing a shocker to Crystal Palace in week 7, Chelsea needed this result in a bad way. It wasn’t the best of performances from the champions – quite far from it, in fact – but Antonio Conte’s seat has cooled for the moment and Chelsea have mitigated at least several of the doubts surrounding Stamford Bridge for the time being.

With Manchester United looming on the horizon, the Blues were reasonably in danger of falling out of the title race by Thanksgiving if they had lost to Watford on Saturday. They’ll need another good result this upcoming week against a suddenly reinvigorated Bournemouth side, but Chelsea now have the momentum they need.

Liverpool’s Defensive Nightmare Continues

Boy, the red half of Merseyside sure must have been feeling pretty good after a midweek 7-0 Champions League demolition of Maribor (Slovenia).

It only lasted 3 days, though.

Barely 4 minutes into a crucial Sunday afternoon tilt at Wembley, Liverpool’s shambolic defensive form reared its ugly head after apparently staying home from the midweek Slovenia trip.

Harry Kane was allowed to run onto a harmless looking chip from Kieran Trippier after Dejan Lovren misjudged the flight of the ball and Joe Gomez lazily played the ruthless Tottenham striker onsides. Kane then, as he is wont to do, sliced open the Liverpool back line with a series of calm dribbles before rounding catching Simon Mignolet off his line and slotting home the opening goal.

Liverpool
Photo Courtesy of EPA

It was a pathetic sequence from the Reds, one that would almost be eerily replicated merely 10 minutes later. Off of a long Hugo Lloris goal throw, Lovren again misjudged the ball flight, this time allowing Harry Kane to run in behind him unmarked with nearly 40 yards to goal. Alberto Moreno and Gomez then both failed to mark the sprinting run of Hueng-min Son, who was played through brilliantly by Kane and easily finished to double Spurs’ lead.

Lovren was pulled off after 31 minutes, but not even that could save Liverpool from conceding a 3rd before halftime as Dele Alli pounced onto a lazy Gomez header while 5 other Reds watched on listlessly. The entire second half of this game was a mere formality after Dele’s goal, Liverpool were dead in the water and everyone knew it.

I’m simply impressed that the scoreline ended with only 4 Spurs’ goals.

For a team that has the ability to put home 7 Champions League goals, Liverpool’s defense is utterly pathetic. There’s no way around that fact anymore, as the Reds find themselves currently 8th in the table and having conceded 16 league goals, 5th worst in the league.

Everything defensive about Jurgen Klopp’s side was unacceptable on Sunday and Liverpool are legitimately in danger of falling into the bottom half of the table if they don’t radically figure something out. Lovren can’t be playing centre back, it’s time to start Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joe Gomez needs to be better and Mignolet can’t keep his way out of a paper bag.

Fixtures against Huddersfield and West Ham over the next two weeks serve as a great opportunity for the Reds to begin mending their gashing wounds, but this is a team on the verge of significant trouble.

Rough times all around Merseyside.

Huddersfield Shock the World

1952.

Prior to Saturday, the last time Manchester United lost a football match to Huddersfield Town occurred in the year 1952. In what has been a dream season so far for the Terriers, they produced a dream result to go along with it.

Facing the Red Devils at home for the first time since 1970, Huddersfield took advantage of several glaring defensive miscues and an overall lack of effort to produce the result of the season so far and, quite possibly, one of the most surprising results of all time.

The first Huddersfield goal came courtesy of a Juan Mata turnover and a wonderful Tom Ince and Aaron Mooy counterattack before the Aussie finished off a loose rebound. Laurent Depoitre then took advantage of a Victor Lindelof error, as the Swedish defender misjudged a goal kick, before calmly rounding David De Gea and firing Huddersfield into a 2-0 lead.

Despite a nervy second half that featured Manchester United holding nearly 85% possession, the Terriers were able to hang on and end their current run of 6 league games without a victory.

In 2017, Huddersfield, making their first ever Premier League appearance in English football, just secured a victory over 2nd place Manchester United, the most successful club in the history of English football.

Mooy
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

What a world we live in, man.

From a United standpoint, this is devastating. With crosstown and title rivals Manchester City currently running rampant and tearing every team in sight apart, the Red Devils badly needed these three points in order to keep pace. Now, not only do Jose Mourinho’s side find themselves trailing the Sky Blues by 5 points, but they find themselves trailing the Sky Blues by 5 points with consecutive fixtures against Tottenham and Chelsea on the horizon.

With as well as City are playing right now, a 5 point cushion, even this early in the season, could be all they need and United have dealt themselves a critical blow in the chase for Old Trafford’s 21st league title.

From a Huddersfield perspective, this is the greatest win in their club’s history.

Yes, the team won a three-peat of first division titles in 1924, 1925 and 1926, but I wasn’t alive for those and neither were you so hush up.

There aren’t any words I can say that will put the magnitude of this result into its proper context, but it is truly incredible. United held 78% total possession of the ball, generated 9 shots and 8 corners while only holding the Terriers to two total shots, but boy did they sure make them count.

I almost couldn’t believe it was happening as I watched it. Statistics say that the Red Devils’ clearly outplayed the hosts, but Huddersfield were clearly the team that wanted this victory. Manchester United were stagnant and listless off the ball, bland and uninspired on it and Huddersfield out-hustled and out worked them at every twist and turn.

The result of the weekend, the result of the year. One for the ages.

……….

Where I Was Right Last Week:

I mentioned the fact that Manchester United’s goalless draw at Anfield should be reason for concern on the red side of Manchester because of the way that the Red Devils played Liverpool and that concern bore itself out this week in the aforementioned loss to Huddersfield.

United played on the back foot for the first half and paid the price for it, finding themselves down two goals at halftime. I will never not be critical of Jose Mourinho’s ‘park the bus’ strategy because he plays with teams that should never be parking the bus and sitting on the back foot.

Manchester United’s strength is its attacking talent, and to see them waste the likes of Rashford, Mata, Lukaku and Mkhitaryan week in and week out by sitting back and trying to keep clean sheets is pathetic. It’s the reason why Manchester City finds themselves suddenly running away with the league.

Where I Was Wrong Last Week:

Boy oh boy there are quite a few places where I was wrong.

I’ve recently lauded Watford’s Richarlison and although he did register an assist and now has had a hand in more goals than any other Watford player this season, he missed two glaring sitters that would have all but clinched a victory for the visitors on Saturday against Chelsea. The 20 year old still has a ways to go before reaching peak stardom.

Richarlison
Richarlison’s misses came on either side of the Watford equalizer. Photo courtesy of Getty Images

I’ve routinely called Southampton the “most irrelevant team in the Premier League” and even went so far as to say that I didn’t expect a single exciting moment from their tilt with West Brom on Saturday. Sofiane Boufal apparently took it upon himself to prove me wrong by scoring a wondrous solo goal. Bravo, Saints.

Boufal 1
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

I mentioned that fixtures against Manchester United and Liverpool provided “no reprieve for a stumbling Huddersfield team” and the Terriers shocked the world to prove me wrong. Huddersfield have created their own reprieve with the stunning result over United and potentially flipped their season around. Cap tip, gentlemen.

………..

Player of the Weekend: Michy Batshuayi

Batshuayi didn’t have the best weekend performance – Harry Kane, step right up – but he certainly had the most important. Almost singlehandedly salvaging a crucial 3 points for Chelsea, the defending champions may look back upon this weekend as one that saved their Champions League hopes. The Belgian striker’s 61st minute introduction completely changed the game and saved it for the Blues. Critics can be quiet for at least a week at Stamford Bridge.

Batshuayi
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Runners Up: Harry Kane, Glenn Murray, Alexis Sanchez, Riyad Mahrez

Team of the Weekend: Huddersfield Town

This kind of result is what it takes to pull the top spot away from another Manchester City masterclass. But, Huddersfield deserve this title after pulling out the victory over United. What a win, what a day in West Yorkshire.

Runners Up: Manchester City, Brighton, Tottenham

Moment of the Weekend: Cesar Azpilicueta’s Chelsea Winner

Stamford Bridge can be a ruthless atmosphere. In their first game after winning a freaking Premier League title, Chelsea were booed off at halftime during the 2017 season opener. However, the eruption after Azpilicueta’s incredible 87th minute match winner proved how much Stamford Bridge loves their Blues. The ground in London was shaking and Chelsea may have saved their Champions League campaign.

Runners Up: Sergio Aguero scores #177, Mikel Merino’s 86’ Newcastle winner, Aaron Mooy’s Huddersfield opener

………..

10 Thoughts I Have

  1. Everton are an absolute mess right now and I have to look myself in the mirror every day and think about how stupid I was for picking them to finish above Tottenham in the final table. Seriously, never listen to anything I say ever again because of how stupid a prediction that was. The Toffees got absolutely trashed on Sunday afternoon by a recently despondent Arsenal side and a hapless Ronald Koeman is now out of a job. There is a lot of talent in this side but they play with the organization and effort level of a U17 side. The entirety of Merseyside had a horrid weekend, but Everton took the cake. Expect more of the same this weekend during a visit to the King Power to face Leicester. 

    Everton
    Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
  2. On the bright side of that match, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez provided reminders to the world of the quality that they possess. Sanchez put 7 shots on goal, scored, assisted and was his normal, electric self going forward. Ozil scored what ultimately proved to be the winning goal and was his normal, intelligent, creative self, assisting his 43rd Premier League goal since joining Arsenal in 2013, more than any other player in that timespan. The Gunners’ top duo has gone through a recently languid stretch amid a swirl of transfer rumors, but Sunday was a reminder of just how good they can be. This is what Arsenal need going forward. Whether or not they can consistently expect it is a different story entirely.
  3. There’s no way it’s a coincidence that Crystal Palace were dominated over the last 15 minutes of their match against Newcastle and conceded an 86th minute winner after taking off Wilfried Zaha 77 minutes in. Zaha and Andros Townsend were the two best players on the St. James pitch Saturday afternoon in Newcastle and Rueben Loftus-Cheek’s introduction for a subbed out Zaha proved to be the difference maker between the Eagles getting a point out of their tilt. Leave him on for a full 90, Roy Hodgson, you’ll desperately need it this weekend against Tottenham.
  4. It took me a while to fully appreciate the greatness of his goal and I almost went against him, but Sofiane Boufal scored the goal of the weekend. Oh my lord what an incredible solo effort, this is rare. 

    Boufal 2
    Photo Courtesy of Reuters
  5. Other notable goals include a Wayne Rooney curler, Leroy Sane’s finish off another brilliant Kevin De Bruyne pass and Jose Izquierdo’s magnificent curler.
  6. Leroy Sane is blossoming into a world class winger right before our eyes. After a somewhat disappointing first season in Manchester, the German has taken his game to another level and was the MOTM on Saturday in the Sky Blues’ Burnley domination. His electric pace has always been there, but it’s now being combined with intelligent runs – such as the one on his goal – great interplay and a newfound finishing ability. It certainly helps to play with world class talents like Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva, but Sane stepping his game up to another level is a main reason why Manchester City’s attack is running so rampant right now. Expect another big week out of the 20 year old against Ahmed Hegazi and a stumbling West Brom defense. 

    Sane
    Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
  7. And speaking of West Brom, boy do they miss Hal Robson-Kanu up front. Since Robson-Kanu’s last game on August 19th, the Baggies have yet to register a win and are just struggling to finish at crucial times. Jay Rodriguez and Ben Livermore can provide quality service, but there’s just currently no one that can finish for Tony Pulis’ club. The West Brom manager did say that Robson-Kanu should be fully fit for this weekend’s clash with Manchester City and the Baggies desperately need that to be true. Without Robson-Kanu, look for the Sky Blues to press ridiculously high and potentially stage a Saturday humiliation at the Hawthorn’s.
  8. Mauricio Pochettino has started playing Dele Alli in a much deeper role than he’s previously used to and that has freed up Son Hueng-min to become Harry Kane’s main sidekick, as shown in Sunday’s Liverpool thrashing. Son is now the first one to get forward along with Harry Kane to receive the through balls of Christian Eriksen and he was rewarded with the second Tottenham goal, his 19th Premier League goal to become the joint highest scoring Asian-born player in Premier League history. Watching Alli play in a deeper role is a fascinating dynamic of this Tottenham side, one that I believe takes away his best playmaking assets but I don’t expect to see it change this weekend against Manchester United. In a game that I believe Tottenham will still win, be on the lookout for Alli and Nemanja Matic, as those two will go toe-to-toe. Whoever comes out on the high side of that battle will decide the game.
  9. Riyad Mahrez is doing his best to singlehandedly save Leicester City from relegation danger and he won them the match this weekend against Swansea. The Foxes’ Algerian was ever-present on Saturday, casting minds back to his top class form during the 2015-16 season with piercing through balls, mad creativity and brilliant moments of craft. He was the architect of both Leicester City goals, even though he was only credited with one assist and, if the Foxes do end up avoiding relegation, can be pointed to as the main reason why. 

    Mahrez
    Photo Courtesy of PA
  10. Week 10’s game of the weekend is Tottenham vs Manchester United, no doubt about it. The battle for second place thus far will be reaching a fever pitch on Saturday morning as the two top candidates thus far will clash at Old Trafford for the first time this season. I mentioned Nemanja Matic vs Dele Alli as the key battle of the game and although I don’t necessarily believe Alli will win that battle singlehandedly, his supporting cast will help him enough to generate a 2-1 Spurs win. Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku will trade goals before Eriksen puts home a late winner. This one is definitely worth the early wake up call.
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Tuesday Morning Tea Week 9: Definite, Decisive, Divisive

Tuesday Morning Tea Week 8: USMNT Failure Therapy

Few sports days have ever felt as rough as my Tuesday night.

Not only did the women’s volleyball team at my college fall agonizingly short of an upset victory over the top ranked team in the conference, but the United States Men’s National Team found a way to trigger literally the only possible scenario that could have made them miss the World Cup.

Entering the final day of the CONCACAF Hex, the USMNT had a 92% chance at qualifying for the 2018 World Cup and it seemed a mere formality. Inexplicably, the Yanks found a way to lose to Trinidad & Tobago – the Hex bottom feeders – while Panama picked up a 3-2 win over table toppers Mexico and Honduras beat Costa Rica.

Those results combined with each other to push the United States down to 5th in the final Hex standings and out of the World Cup for the first time since 1986. Disappointed doesn’t even begin to describe it and it took me until Saturday to even want to think about football, let alone watch it again.

In the grand scheme of things, a United States soccer loss barely even registers on the “significant problem scale,” but it still didn’t feel good to experience. In that way, the Prem served as a return to normalcy for me this weekend and a return to my deep appreciation for the beautiful game.

That being said, what a weekend it was. Crystal Palace got off the schneid in a serious way, scoring 2 goals and getting their first win of 2017 over the defending champs. City put 7 past Stoke City, Watford dramatically beat Arsenal with a stoppage time goal and Craig Shakespeare was fired after Leicester woke up this morning in the relegation zone.

Here are your weekend headlines.

……….

 

The Manchester’s Separate at the Top

After finding themselves tied atop the Premier League table after the past 4 match weeks, the Prem’s two Manchester teams finally broke up and we now have a true table topper. Manchester City, on the back of a 7-2 thrashing of Stoke City, have snatched the table topping spot while Manchester United fell off the top perch by way of a 0-0 goalless draw at Anfield.

De Gea
David De Gea makes the save of the weekend to keep the tie against Liverpool scoreless. Photo Courtesy of Reuters

But not only did the two separate in the standings, there was a clear line drawn in the sand this week that is impossible to ignore. For the time being, City have truly established themselves as the class of the Premier League, while United have fallen into the ‘best of the rest’ category.

Manchester United’s only record blemish prior to this weekend was a 2-2 week 4 draw at the hands of Stoke City, the same Stoke City that was just trashed this weekend. Manchester City, unlike their cross-city counterparts, dispatched the Potters with little difficulty, slotting home 7 goals in a performance that manager Pep Guardiola hailed as, “maybe the best I’ve seen since coming to England.”

City
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Several hours before the Sky Blues’ demolition derby, United and Liverpool were playing to a scoreless draw at Anfield. To Jose Mourinho and the Red Devils’ credit, it was a defensive masterclass to keep Liverpool off the scoresheet on Saturday, but compare the scoreline of City and United and you can see the line drawn in the sand this weekend.

While United had to ‘park the bus’ in order to keep Liverpool from scoring, City were able to put 5 past the Reds while still keeping the clean sheet. Granted, Liverpool did only have 10 men for the final 60 minutes when facing City, but the point still stands.

Manchester City’s attacking talent is completely and totally unmatched in England and the stiffest challenge to their title hopes, United, had their seeming invincibility questioned once again this weekend.

The two teams who have given the Red Devils’ trouble this season have been Stoke and Liverpool. The one commonality between those two squads is that they each play a front 3. United struggle against a front 3 and just you wait until Manchester City’s current trio of Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling come for a visit to Old Trafford.

Sane
Photo Courtesy of PA

Although the table is still tight at the top, there’s clearly a top dog in the yard right now and Manchester City continue to separate themselves week after week. The only difference between past weeks and this week was that United faltered while City continued running rampant.

The Manchester’s have separated and, barring some unforeseen injury or collapse at the Etihad, don’t expect the gap to close anytime soon.

Kevin De Bruyne Deserves His Own Headline

In case you were wondering just how Manchester City have managed 29 goals from their first 8 league games – the highest tally since Everton put home 30 in 1894, the year City were founded – you needn’t look any further than the Sky Blues’ burgeoning Belgian superstar, Kevin De Bruyne.

With 3 more assists on Saturday, De Bruyne has now been involved in 18 goals over his last 18 games with City, scoring 3 and laying off 15. After starting the season quietly, not scoring a single goal in all competitions until City’s September 27th Champions’ League tie with Shakhtar Donetsk, De Bruyne’s brilliance is now fully shining through without the goals needing to be scored.

Attempting to understand the genius of a player playing this damn well right now would be impossible. De Bruyne is simply a freak on the football pitch right now, absolutely unstoppable and untouchable in all he’s doing. But to appreciate the genius of City’s Belgian star, one needs to look no further than the pass he made to set up the Sky Blues’ second goal on Saturday.

I’ll pick up the play after Leroy Sane has just dropped the ball back to De Bruyne about 20 yards away from goal at the edge of the box and on the angle. As he receives the pass, there is a potential lane for a right footed shot to be taken, but De Bruyne opts to settle instead of looking for a goal immediately.

De Bruyne Goal 1
De Bruyne receives the pass from Sane about 20 yards out from goal

6 Stoke defenders are in the box and De Bruyne has 5 passing options. Sane is to his left, Gabriel Jesus and David Silva are in front of him, Raheem Sterling is available on a short, back post cross and Kyle Walker is also available for a cross-corner diagonal run. However, pay attention to where De Bruyne is facing as he receives the pass; he’s looking right at Leroy Sane, which is important because it will be that last time the Belgian sees Sane in this sequence.

De Bruyne Goal 2
De Bruyne’s 5 passing options and right footed shot option

After opening up towards Walker on the far side and taking a touch towards the middle of the field, De Bruyne swivels himself and prepares for a potential shot or field switching pass. Meanwhile, Sane has doubled back in order to begin making another run. Now seems like a good time to remind you that De Bruyne can’t see Sane because, and this is important, he’s facing the other direction.

De Bruyne Goal 3.png
De Bruyne puts his no-look pass through to Sane

In a flash, De Bruyne sweeps his right foot around the ball and threads it through 3 Stoke players along with David Silva and Gabriel Jesus in order to perfectly find Sane on the end of his run. Sane then easily finds Raheem Sterling across the mouth of goal and the Englishman easily taps in.

De Bruyne Goal 4
De Bruyne takes 5 Stoke defenders out of the play with one pass

With one pass, De Bruyne takes 5 Stoke defenders out of the play and sets up a Manchester City goal. The questions of “why” or “how” are impossible to answer because a pass like this is just absurdly genius to begin with.

De Bruyne Goal 5
Sterling taps in for Manchester City’s 2nd goal of the day

In a single instant, De Bruyne managed to open his body one way, open up space for a potential shot or 3 different passes and then, at the last second, make a perfectly weighted blind pass into an area he didn’t know his teammate would be running into because, and this is important, HE COULDN’T SEE HIM BECAUSE HE WAS FACING THE OTHER DIRECTION.

City’s attack has pumped itself into overdrive recently, and creative brilliance like this from the Sky Blues’ Belgian superstar are an obvious contributor to City’s recently rampant run of form.

Kevin De Bruyne is playing at a level head and shoulders above every other attacking player in the Premier League and it’s about time I recognized it.

Crystal Palace Shock Chelsea

Sometimes, in the game of football, you just have to throw all logic out the window and let yourself be shocked. Crystal Palace’s Saturday victory – yes, victory – over the defending Premier League Champions, Chelsea, is one of those moments where you just need to let yourself be shocked.

A team that went winless in its first 7 games without even scoring one single goal just beat the reigning champs to get off the schneid. It makes absolutely no sense, even when you try and stop to think about it for longer than 5 seconds. Crystal Palace winless start put them in the wrong kind of history book, giving the Eagles’ the longest run of goalless and pointless games to begin a season in English football history.

But it’s all over now and I don’t know what to think.

How did this happen? Just how in the hell did Chelsea let this happen? How did a team with Eden Hazard, Michy Batshuayi and Cesc Fabregas leading its attack allow themselves to be outclassed by Crystal freaking Palace.

By the numbers, this wasn’t a game that Chelsea dominated. This wasn’t a game where Palace snatched an early lead before pinning themselves back in front of their own goal and simply defending the whole time. The defending champions were outshot 15-14, out-possessed 57%-43% and outclassed by a team that hadn’t scored in 640 minutes.

In the history of English football, only 1990-91 Halifax Town of the now defunct fourth tier have gone longer than 640 minutes without scoring. Chelsea just conceded two goals to the team in second place on that list.

From Palace’s point of view, what a result this is in more ways than one. Obviously, opening the season goal account is a relief and getting the first points and win of the season are also relieving, but Wilfried Zaha’s return provides even more reason for optimism at Selhurst Park than this win.

Zaha
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Zaha used his typically brilliant close control dribbling, excellent pace and vision to give Chelsea’s normally sterling back 3 significant problems all day long. His reward for a day of terrorizing Gary Cahill, Cesar Azpilicueta and David Luiz was scoring the winning goal.

Palace’s returning Ivory Coast international formed a dangerous partnership with Andros Townsend and the Eagles finally have some hope in their long, upcoming fight to avoid relegation.

For Antonio Conte, all of the postgame talk surrounded the injuries his side have suffered recently. “We played this game without three important players and that’s just not straightforward,” Conte mused. “We had a difficult day, but we need to also understand the situation.”

Yes, Chelsea were without midfield maestro N’Golo Kante and star striker Alvaro Morata for this game and also lost Victor Moses to a supposed hamstring injury during the first half, but pulling out the injury excuse card on a team like this is unacceptable. Conte’s side, much like in the season opening match against Burnley, looked uninspired for long stretches of this tie and the attack inexplicably lacked any finishing product.

I still believe that this is the 3rd best team in the Prem but Chelsea’s recent run of form is disturbing, to say the least. The Blues need to get back to the defensive identity that won them a title last season and they need to do it soon because the current squad at Stamford Bridge is a shell of its former self.

To Crystal Palace I say this; my hat is tipped, there’s still a long way to go, but what a game and what an effort. The Prem needed a little bit of shock and this match served as more than just a little bit of shock.

Without doubt, the result of the weekend.

……….

 

Where I Was Right Last Week:

Richarlison is a player, man. Just a week after I lauded Marco Silva for beating much bigger clubs like Inter Milan and Ajax to the 20 year old Brazilian’s signature, Watford’s young star turned in another game changing performance against Arsenal. The youngster won the Hornets Troy Deeney’s game equalizing penalty and swung in the initial ball that Tom Cleverly eventually finished in the 92nd minute to snatch Watford a stunning win over the Gunners. Richarlison is clearly Watford’s best and most dangerous attacker on the field at any and all times and Vicarage Road have themselves a blooming Brazilian superstar, just like I’ve been saying.

Also, I talked about it earlier, but pat on the back for me after declaring Kevin De Bruyne the Premier League’s finest player two weeks ago. He certainly backed me up on that claim with his performance this week. What a player.

Where I Was Wrong Last Week:

Last week I mentioned that Manchester City’s impressive record of clean sheets matters more than their impressive goal scoring record in the chase for Pep Guardiola’s first English title. Although it ended up being a formality, City did concede this week right after I lauded their recent defensive form because apparently I just can’t be right about everything.

I mention the two goals as a formality not only because of the fact that the game still ended in a 5 goal deficit for the Potters, but the tallies also weren’t indicative of poor defending but mores simple strokes of luck. Mame Diouf’s opener for Stoke took an inadvertent deflection off of Fabian Delph’s leg before vaulting over a helpless Ederson and the second goal came as a result of an unintentional Kyle Walker re-direction into his own net.

So yes, City conceded their first league goal since August 26th against Bournemouth and doubled their goals allowed over the entire season. But, they were formalities and it didn’t much matter in the end.

Technically I was wrong, but I don’t particularly feel that wrong.

……….

 

Player of the Weekend: Wilfried Zaha

After setting the wrong kind of history by becoming the only team in English football history to go their first 7 games pointless and goalless, there wasn’t much hope going forward for Crystal Palace. But if there was any sense of optimism at Selhurst Park following this latest international break, Wilfried Zaha’s return was the reason.

Zaha 2
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Zaha did not disappoint in his first Palace start since May, scoring the winning goal past Thibaut Courtois to go along with a game high 3 shots on goal, 2 successful take-ons and a 9.18 whoscored.com game rating. The Ivory Coast international pulled the Eagles’ attack together and was a significant contributor in giving Palace a badly, badly needed first victory of the season. The player of Crystal Palace’s season thus far.

Runners Up: Kevin De Bruyne, Gabriel Jesus, Heurelho Gomes

Team of the Weekend: Manchester City

I wrestled with this decision for a while but ultimately decided to go with the team that played the best this weekend, Manchester City, instead of Crystal Palace, the team who produced the best result of the weekend.

I’ve already written about City’s result at length, but their 7 goals are the most scored by any Premier League club so far this season, besting the Sky Blues’ own record of 6 tallied two weeks ago against Watford. City have out-scored opponents 24-2 in the last 5 league matches and are simply unstoppable right now.

It’s getting mundane to keep putting them as the team of the week, but until I’m swayed otherwise it will continue this way.

Runners Up: Crystal Palace, Swansea City, Watford

Moment of the Weekend: Tom Cleverly’s 92’ Watford Winner

In a season where Watford find themselves in Champions League position after week 8, Tom Cleverly provided a signature moment for the Hornets in a potentially special 2017 campaign.

Cleverly
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

In a game that saw Arsenal mostly outclass Marco Silva’s Watford side, out-shooting them 6-2 and out-possessing them 64%-36%, Watford won because they simply wanted it more in the end. Tom Cleverly’s 92’ minute winner put a bow on top of everything for the Hornets and came as a result of Watford’s clear urgency moving forward.

After about a 30 yard strike deflected its way into the box and pinged around off the foot of Troy Deeney and the chest of Per Mertesacker, it was Cleverly who eagerly pounced on the loose ball and slotted home a well-composed finish while the Arsenal players watched on lazily, seemingly untroubled by the clearly dire situation that was happening in their own penalty area.

In that one sequence, Watford asserted themselves near the top of the table, broke North London Gunner hearts and provided the moment of the weekend.

……….

 

10 Thoughts I Have

  1. Huddersfield Town have very quietly gone into a tailspin recently. Since beginning the season with 7 points from their first 3 games, the Terriers have only been able to procure 2 points from their last 5 games while only managing to score 1 goal in that time. The fact that the only thing manager David Wagner can think to praise about his team in the postgame presser is “bravery and confidence on the ball” shows the worries in West Yorkshire. And with Manchester United and Liverpool both coming to town in the coming weeks, there doesn’t seem to be a reprieve in sight for the Terriers. Tough times at the Kirklees. 

    Huddersfield
    Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
  2. The Premier League prides itself on being a top-to-bottom competitive league, one where anything can happen in any given weekend. While that did happen with Crystal Palace beating Chelsea, there were really only 5 games that ended up being worth talking about this weekend. Burnley-West Ham, Spurs-Bournemouth, Brighton-Everton, West Brom-Leicester and Southampton-Newcastle were all fixtures where I find myself grasping at straws to find something important that happened. Not good for the league when half the games in a match weekend are irrelevant and boring.
  3. Riyad Mahrez deserves a lot of credit this weekend. After missing an absolute sitter in the 51’ by blasting a left footed strike clear over a yawning cage from about 7 yards out. After being denied his oft-requested transfer desire away from the King Power and playing on a team that still finds themselves in the relegation zone, it seems easy for Mahrez to mail it in and go through the motions on a daily basis. In this match, he showed a lot of spirit and fight while coming back for that crucial equalizer. The Algerian is a true professional and shows it week in and week out. 

    Mahrez
    Photo Courtesy of Lindsey Parnaby/AFB/Getty Images
  4. Fernandinho scored the goal of the weekend. No question about it. A 30 yard stunner. Strikes don’t get much sweeter than this.
  5. Other notably excellent tallies from the weekend include Nacer Chadli’s free kick for West Brom, a superb Manolo Gabbiadini solo effort, Kevin De Bruyne’s no look pass to set up Raheem Sterling and also De Bruyne’s pass to set up Leroy Sane.
  6. On the note of Gabbiadini, his 2 goals rescued a point for Southampton and gave them their first home goal over the team’s past 8 matches at St. Mary’s. Aside from that, the Saints and Newcastle played a thrilling match on Sunday morning. I still believe that Southampton is the most irrelevant team in the league, but occasionally they put together performances like this and make me think, “hey, maybe there is something of note to this team.” With West Brom coming to town next week, though, I don’t expect anything thrilling from that matchup but this was a nice one week reprieve of excitement from the Saints.

    Gabbiadini
    Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
  7. Arsenal are a pitiful top half team at the moment. The Gunners can beat any team in the bottom half but can not and will not beat any team in the top half. This creates a hauntingly average team that won’t be winning any trophies or playing any significant football towards the end of the season. This past week against Watford, Arsenal and 13 first division titles and 13 FA cups seemed satisfied with a draw against the Hornets. In a game that they had dominated, the Gunners sat back in the final 10 minutes and played as if they didn’t care, which I would bet was true for some of them (hello, Mesut Ozil). Watford won the game simply because they had more urgency down the stretch. Arsenal’s effort and character week in and week out are utterly pathetic. Not much more to say about it than that. The Gunners are a mess. 

    Bellerin
    Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
  8. Often, Manchester City catch flack for having a lack of finishing ability. They have, in the past, too often relied on the individual brilliance of Sergio Aguero to finish off fantastic build-up plays. Saturday proved that the Sky Blues’ other forwards can very much pick up the slack that Aguero leaves in his absence. Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sane have 16 goals between the three of them this season and are absolutely running rampant at the moment. Yes, Aguero is still important, but those 3 are currently forming the best attacking trio in England in the Argentine’s absence.
  9. Chelsea got jumped and exposed this past week at the hands of Crystal Palace. Playing without N’Golo Kante, the Blues looked like a totally different side. They were out-possessed by the Eagles and just looked far more stagnant and pedestrian than usual. If they aren’t at their best this week, they’ll suffer another loss, this time at home against Watford. The Hornets are playing top football at the moment and their M.O. is out-working opponents, which they did to Arsenal this past weekend. Antonio Conte needs his side at their absolute best to avoid embarrassment next week. And if Watford win at Stamford Bridge? Expect all hell to break loose and Conte to possibly lose his job.
  10. Tottenham-Liverpool is the easy choice for top game of week 9, but my choice is Everton-Arsenal. The Gunners and Toffees both suck to watch right now because they play with a lack of heart and character, but put them together in a game of potentially desperate teams and you could have a quality match. Although the game is at Goodison Park, I believe Arsenal will pull out a tight 2-1 win simply by way of having more attacking quality. Both teams badly need a result from this game and it should – key word…should – be a good match.
Tuesday Morning Tea Week 8: USMNT Failure Therapy

The Vibe Tribe: How Principia Re-Wrote the History Books on Saturday

“Well, if this is it then we’re going down swinging”

Deep into the 4th set of a Saturday slugfest with defending conference champions Greenville, Principia’s junior captain Sophia Hathaway muttered the game changing words to herself as Allyson Mitchell went back to serve with her Panthers leading the set 19-13 and the game two sets to one.

Having already played 4 hours of volleyball at this point in the day and with their backs to the wall against one of the best D3 teams in the nation, it appeared as though Principia had given everything and was set to come up short. Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be today.

At this point, watching from behind the baseline with notepad in hand and heart pounding, I began wondering how I was going to formulate a recap of the day’s events after what was shaping up to be a sobering 4 set loss to Greenville. I mean, 300 wins for head coach Mary Ann Sprague is cool, but that would sure feel a bit muted after a loss like this.

A Devon Marunde serve broke my train of thought and snapped me back into the game at hand just in time to watch Principia neatly tidy up a Greenville swing and return fire with one of their own. On that very same point, with Principia now down 19-14, a thunderous kill courtesy of Sophia Hathaway would begin a defining comeback that encapsulated September 30th, 2017 and cemented its status as one of the greatest days in Principia volleyball history.

……….

A week before Saturday’s events transpired, I was approached by assistant coach Heather Fairbanks with a proposition. “Next Saturday should be Mary Ann’s 300th win up at Eureka” she told me, “and I think you should be there to cover it.”

Me?

An event like that?

Seriously?

I’m all in.

Over the week between that conversation and the actual games, I crunched numbers and discovered that yes, Mary Ann would be in line for her 300th win on Saturday morning against Iowa Wesleyan in the first game of a double header that would culminate against defending conference champions, Greenville.

Now, with a potential win over the SLIAC’s other Panthers would give coach Sprague her 301st win, joining Lee Suarez as the winningest coach in Principia Athletics history. For whatever reason, while 300 wins seemed like a formality, that 301st and record setting win was the big number that I had in mind when officially putting together my plans to travel up to Eureka for the magic day.

From the second I walked into the Red Devils’ gym on Saturday morning, I could feel a palpable sense of importance in the air. Something special was set to happen today, but that wan’t meant for just anyone. Today was meant to be Prin’s day, and nothing was going to be able to take that away.

Game 1 was never in doubt.

From the opening serve of the game that sliced its way between two Tiger defenders for a first point ace, Principia set the tone of the day and announced that win #300 for their beloved head coach would not be denied.

Sophia Hathaway convened the matchup with 7 straight serving points, highlighted by 3 aces, while Emily Tippetts further christened things with a game high 13 kills before Cha Cha Fisher adjourned with a game-ending and 300th win clinching kill.

With the entire team possessing the knowledge that coach Sprague was sitting on 299 wins, it just wasn’t possible that they would let a victory over conference bottom feeders Iowa Wesleyan slip away.

“We wanted the ‘W’ either way” said Hathaway after the game, “but knowing that made us want to play even harder.” For a team that, after that historic win, sat at 14-2, playing “even harder” than a normal effort level should be a scary thought for any other team in the conference.

But, for as special as the first game was and for as much history as it made, the main event of the day was still yet to come. Yeah, it was a cool win, but it sure wouldn’t have felt as cool if Greenville had come through and stomped out the fire in Principia’s second game of the day.

And, in game 1, stomp out the fire was exactly what Greenville did.

The orange and black Panthers came out swinging, piling up 17 first set kills, (compared to only 9 for the blue and gold Panthers), en route to a 25-19 victory, doing part 1 of 3 to dampen the Principia mood, still high after that first win of the day.

“To be honest, I think [the first win] made us a little cocky in terms of how our attitude shifted from game 1 to game 2” said Hathaway when asked about the slow start against Greenville.

Set 2 flipped the script.

One of the biggest keys to Principia’s game all season long has been hitting efficiency. The blue and gold Panthers have only lost one set this season when swinging above a .200 hitting percentage and a second set tally of 12 kills and 0 errors soared past that magic number to register a .343 hitting percentage.

Suddenly, after that 25-14 second set win, a would be blowout now felt like an evenly matched dogfight. Winning a set by 11 points over the defending conference champions is helpful within the canon of trying to win a volleyball game, but the second set awoke something inside Principia that they hadn’t had in the first set.

Confidence.

“I think we were apprehensive about competing with them because they have always been a really strong team” senior captain Cha Cha Fisher commented when asked about what changed between the first and second sets. “Once we realized we could play with them and had the confidence to play our game, we came out strong.”

From the second set onward, Principia began showcasing the game that has brought them such early season success so far; phenomenal defensive positioning and digs, scrappiness, scrambling, clever and calculated attacks and reliable serve receiving.

However, after Greenville comfortably won the 3rd set 25-16, the magic appeared to have run out and reality appeared to be setting in. A tired group of Panthers struggled their way through the early stages of the 4th set and suddenly found themselves down 19-13, with hands on knees, desperately in need of a side out against Allyson Mitchell.

……….

In any sport at any level, truly special teams always have signature wins. Whether that be a big upset victory, a significant comeback or a hard fought overtime win doesn’t particularly matter.

As Devon Marunde went back to the serving line with her team down 19-14, I sure wasn’t thinking about how this could potentially be one of those signature wins for a Principia team that, thus far, had won a bunch of games, yet none that I truly considered to be any more special than all the others.

And then the comeback began.

An angry Sophia Hathaway slashed three straight kills right into the heart of the Greenville defense and suddenly it was 19-17. Was this really happening? Was this really the same team that had just had hands on knees, looking defeated and downtrodden while searching for any semblance of offense they could find?

As I kept asking questions, Principia kept providing answers and the score kept getting closer. 19-18, 19-19, 20-19; this was really happening and I couldn’t believe it. Devon Marunde had served the blue and gold Panthers all the way back into this game and suddenly Greenville were the ones metaphorically wobbling on the ropes.

Unsurprisingly, the orange and black Panthers weren’t even close to done, quickly ending Marunde’s magical serving run at 6 straight points, but not before Principia had improbably taken the lead.

In her own words, a team mentality of “do it for her” helped Principia’s sophomore setter calmly put together her game changing serve run. “Oh gosh that was fun!!” Marunde said excitedly before continuing, “when I got back there, all I was thinking about was how badly I wanted this [the win] for our team and how much I was willing to give to get us there.”

After trading points back and forth until the score was tied 23-23, Sophia Hathaway stepped back and served out the set, giving the blue and gold Panthers a frantic and miraculous 4th set victory, tying the game up at 2 sets apiece.

“Going into that 5th set, we didn’t feel relieved or accomplished because we knew there was still more work to be done,” said Hathaway. “But seeing the grit and determination in everyone’s eyes and based off how we won the 4th set, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that we would win the game.”

Principia came out firing in the 5th set in an attempt to minimize the drama and make good on Sophia Hathaway’s between-set feeling. 5-1, 8-2, 8-5, 10-8, the score went up and down and did its best to mimic the pulse of my thumping heart while watching the most exciting live sporting event I’ve seen in quite some time.

Much like they’d done all game, the blue and gold Panthers stepped up when it mattered and pulled ahead in the closing points, ending the deciding 5th set on a 5-1 run to seal up a scintillating 5 set win over the defending conference champions.

Signature win does not even begin to describe it. Against a Greenville team that Principia has not beaten since 2008 (yeah, 2008) the blue and gold Panthers were able to buck a seemingly automatic historical trend and squeak out the most crucial win of the season thus far.

Having lost their last 20 games against Greenville, it would have been easy to understand an apprehension or timidness from Principia entering the game. However, as junior libero Mia Gill pointed out, having the confidence to know that they were just as good a Panther team as their mascot counterparts made all the difference in such a tight matchup.

“When we realized that we could not only keep up with them, but play well enough to force them into making mistakes, we were able to take the game and recreate it at our speed,” said Gill when asked about what change allowed Principia to be so successful. “I don’t know man…I just love these girls.”

And therein lies the biggest takeaway from such a historic and momentous day. Above all else, this team loves each other, and that means everything in what has been the best start in the history of Principia volleyball through 18 games.

Of the 9 players that I interviewed immediately after the Greenville victory on Saturday, all 9 mentioned, at some point, their love for team and teammates and how much that has helped the team come together and play so darn well thus far.

The team moniker of the ‘vibe tribe’ continues to show through in every set, every pass, every win. “Hah that came from Emily [Tippetts]” said Gill when I asked her about it. “She always says it whenever we’re in sync together on the court and everything is aligned. Good pass, good set, huge kill…that’s the vibe, man. Also, the fact that Love literally carries our team only adds to the ‘vibe’ idea that we try to emulate.”

With Saturday’s signature win, (yes, I officially have given it the ‘signature win’ label), the ‘vibe tribe’ has now announced themselves as a serious player in the SLIAC. This is no longer a cute story of a happy little Principia team having some early season success, this is a tightly knit, scrappy group of young women who are playing beyond any and all expectations except their own.

“Our team sets such high standards for each other and we know that this is the level of play we can reach,” said junior outside hitter Noelle Shoemake. “Today we just put it all together.”

On a day of destiny, in which a legendary head coach was set to enter the history books, Principia not only set the expected history, but continued to write their own history book.

Here’s hoping that September 30th, 2017 was merely an opening chapter.

The Vibe Tribe: How Principia Re-Wrote the History Books on Saturday

Tuesday Morning Tea Week 7: International Exodus Part 2

Usually, Tuesday Morning Tea covers the hot topics from the Premier League weekend that was. However, over this past week in the Prem, the weekend was just a small part of the week that was.

The Premier League had just about as interesting a mid-week as I’ve ever seen.

Of the 5 English teams in the Champions’ League, there is a combined 8-2-0 record and 4 out of the 5 teams are currently leading their groups. On Tuesday, Manchester City and Tottenham both picked up shutout wins over Shakhtar Donetsk and APOEL respectively while Manchester United and Chelsea both picked up wins over CSKA Moscow and Atletico Madrid respectively.

No Premier League team has won the Champions League since Chelsea in 2012 and there’s only even been one semifinalist since that year in Manchester City during the 2015-16 campaign.

A positive start to this year’s Champions League campaign for the 5 Premier League teams is an extremely positive sign for all involved, considering the Prem’s desire to be considered the best and most competitive league in the world.

Also occurring midweek were two significant blows to the title hopes of current table toppers Manchester City.

This past Thursday morning, it was announced that a knee injury previously thought much less serious would now need surgery and end up costing Benjamin Mendy 9 months of the season. Pep Guardiola’s new left back that had already integrated himself beautifully and turned himself into a vital part of the City system would not not be available until April.

In addition to that, City striker Sergio Aguero was involved in a car accident in Amsterdam that broke several of his ribs and will cost him 6 weeks of the season. So in the span of merely a day, Manchester City lost two crucial cogs in their title chasing system and suddenly looked vulnerable entering a critical weekend clash against Chelsea.

That clash, along with Crystal Palace’s continued downfall, a Tottenham domination, another Liverpool frustration and more evidence that Arsenal might not be as dead as we think they are highlighted this weekend action.

Here are the headlines.

City Lose Key Cogs, Still Thrash Chelsea

As mentioned in the open, the losses of Benjamin Mendy and Sergio Aguero were devastating midweek blows to Manchester City’s newly blossoming title hopes. But, based on the way City played Chelsea on Saturday, you would have never known those two were gone.

A 1-0 scoreline is highly flattering for the defending champs and doesn’t nearly tell the story of how thoroughly the Sky Blues dominated Antonio Conte’s side.

Stones:De Bruyne
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

In a game that required a tactical shift from the previous games, Pep Guardiola put on a masterclass in football managing. Having blazed past their past three opponents by scoreline of 5-0, 6-0 and 5-0, City’s attack has been rampant recently. But Chelsea was never going to be overawed or unprepared to handle the Sky Blues’ attack, so Guardiola needed to adjust.

Chelsea were able to beat Manchester City twice last season by sitting deep in a 3-4-3 formation, keeping their shape and simply waiting for City to become impatient and make a mistake in attack. Chelsea’s counterattacks were lethal and sliced City open in 2016/17, leaving the Sky Blues’ dumbfounded and defeated.

This game was completely different and showed the full evolution of Pep’s Manchester City.

Instead of growing impatient after nearly 65’ without a goal, City made several substitutions and kept hammering away at Chelsea’s back 3, forcing that group to break down and make the mistake.

The breakthrough finally came in the 67’ courtesy of a Kevin De Bruyne left footed thunderbolt and everything after the City opener was a mere formality. Chelsea knew they were defeated and simply tried to prevent a second and third goal which, to their credit, they did successfully.

De Bruyne
Photo Courtesy of Rex Features

The biggest difference between City last season and City this season has been the consistent brilliance of John Stones and he was on display again Saturday, comfortably repelling away any and all Chelsea counterattacks. With his renewed confidence and class at the back, City know that teams can’t beat them on the counter now and that just makes the Sky Blues’ gaudy possession numbers that much more devastating to opponents.

On Saturday, City needed to prove their strength and resilience without Aguero and Mendy and they did it in grand fashion. If you still had doubts about whether or not City was the best in England, let this victory dispel them.

All aboard the City hype train, it’s for real this year.

Wilfried Bony Scores No Goal for Swansea

Stoppage time losses always suck, and Swansea City – although they probably already knew it – discovered (re-discovered, probably) that fact this past weekend. But, before West Ham’s Diafra Sahko could break all the Swansea hearts in the 90’ minutes of their Saturday tilt, there was another realization that needs to be brought up.

The Swans can’t score.

Since defeating Crystal Palace 2-0 on August 26th, the Swans have scored 1 goal in 4 league matches and have only garnered 1 point from those matches, courtesy of a draw with Spurs two weeks ago. And, considering Crystal Palace’s run of form so far, shutting them out is becoming a Premier League rite of passage more than an actual accomplishment.

Now, any team only scoring 1 goal over the span of 4 weeks is a problem, but when you consider that Swansea City brought in Portuguese and Bayern Munich wonder kid Renato Sanches, as well as old flame Wilfried Bony, at the transfer deadline, it’s especially disturbing that they can’t find the back of the net.

Renato Sanches
Photo Courtesy of Reuters

Those two paired with Tammy Abraham and Jordan Ayew should be forming one of the most formidable attacks in the whole league, but it just isn’t working right now. For one reason or another, the Swans cannot generate anything going forward.

The trio of Abraham, Ayew and Bony had a combined 3 touches inside the West Ham penalty area between them. I’ve heard great things about Renato Sanches since he’s arrived at Swansea, and he was fantastic on Saturday, but all he really does is dish passes around the midfield and use his outstanding close control to alleviate pressure off the back line whenever things get hairy.

Swansea have no one to provide consistent, quality service to their lethal forward trio and it’s causing a serious dry spell at the Liberty. For the entire season, the Swans have 10 total shots on goal, and unless Paul Clement can figure something out to give his side more bite in attack, Swansea City will be in for another relegation battle completely unbefitting of their talent level.

Burnley win again, Move up to……wait a minute….6th?? Hold on….WHAT??

So, we should probably start paying attention to Burnley.

After pulling out yet another tightly formed defensive masterpiece during Sunday’s 1-0 win at Everton, Sean Dyche has his Burnley side up to 6th in the table and off to their best ever league start. The win gave the Clarets 8 points on the road this season, more than they had all of last season, and those 8 road points have come at Stamford Bridge (Chelsea), Wembley (Tottenham), Anfield (Liverpool) and now Goodison Park

There’s something pretty serious going on with the Clarets and nobody seems to be paying attention to it.

“You know when you go down against Burnley it is tough” Everton manager Ronald Koeman said after the game, “They drop back and are good defensively, organizationally and physically strong.”

Tarkowski
Photo Courtesy of PA

Aside from a week 2 loss to West Brom, Burnley have yet to be defeated in all comps and Chelsea’s 2 goals from their week 1 loss are the most the Clarets have conceded all season. This is a terrific defensive team that continues to frustrate the league’s best on a weekly basis.

This past week, Everton held 64% possession, generated 25 shots, 5 going on goal and also had 9 corners. None of that resulted in a goal and although the Toffees certainly had chances, Burnley didn’t truly feel as though they were going to concede.

These numbers are a perfect representation of what Burnley does defensively to so much success; they remain tightly packed in at the back and frustrate the hell out of opposing attacks. But, typically, when a team looks to pack in tightly at the back, the best way to combat that is with piercing runs and through balls (much like Manchester City does) yet Burnley are solid in defending that as well.

The Clarets’ centre back pairing of Ben Mee and James Tarkowski have more blocks between the two of them (30) than 16 of the other 19 Premier League teams. If Liverpool and Philippe Coutinho can’t break you down for more than 1 goal, you’re definitely doing something right in your defensive shape and Burnley certainly are.

As for the goal they scored, a 24 pass build up to Jeff Hendricks’ 15 net-ripping strike is the most build up passes of any Burnley goal in their Premier League history. It was a clinic in patient midfield passing before a cracking diagonal ball sliced Everton open and allowed the Burnley front three to carve their way through the Toffee’s back four, culminating with the Hendricks goal.

Burnley 2
The 24 pass build-up to Burnley’s goal. Courtesy of BBC

 

Burnley have yet to be defeated on the road this season, a run of 4 straight games which marks their longest since a 6 game unbeaten run in 1966. Now up to 6th in the table at the second international break, this is turning into more than just a cute story of a happy relegation team that was able to surprise Chelsea on the opening weekend.

Burnley are dangerous and we need to take notice.

……………….

Team of the Week: Manchester City

Another week, another Manchester City masterclass, another Ederson clean sheet, another world class Kevin De Bruyne performance, another week that sees City on top of the table at the end of it. Rinse, repeat, get ready for it again in two weeks when Stoke City visits the Etihad.

Runners Up: Tottenham, Burnley

Player of the Week: Harry Kane

There aren’t any superlatives left in the English language to describe the greatness of Harry Kane during this past month. His 13 goals in September equal the best ever monthly totals of Lionel Messi (13 in March 2012) and Cristiano Ronaldo (13 in October 2010). And, in combination with his lethal finishing right now, Kane passed at a 92.9% success rate on Saturday, right in line with his season number of just over 90%. Simply top class right now.

Kane
Photo Courtesy of Reuters

Runners Up: Kevin De Bruyne, Richarlison, Alexis Sanchez, James Tarkowski

Moment of the Weekend: Peter Crouch’s Stoke Winner

I’ve said it before and it’s worth saying again, Peter Crouch is an international treasure and my second favorite player in the Premier League (congratulations, Benjamin Mendy). Crouch came on as a sub in the 70’ for Stoke before poking home a fortuitous winner in the 85’ to remind the world that, “I haven’t actually retired yet!” as he would mention after the game. Anything Peter Crouch is just fantastic, and considering that this goal makes him the oldest player to score in the Premier League this season (36 years 243 days) it’s worthy of the ‘moment of the weekend’ tag.

Crouch
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Runners Up: Richarlison’s Watford equalizer, De Bruyne’s wonder strike, Coutinho’s Liverpool opener

……….

Where I Was Right Last Week

Harry Kane is the best striker going in England right now, but that isn’t due to a lack of trying from Romelu Lukaku. Manchester United’s Belgian beast was at his physical best again on Saturday against Crystal Palace and was rewarded with a goal in the waning minutes of another comfortable Red Devils’ victory. As I mentioned last week, Lukaku’s size and physicality make him such a menace to deal with inside the box, and he required two Crystal Palace defenders at all times, freeing up the rest of United’s free flowing attack to pelt Wayne Hennessy and the rest of the Eagles’ defense. There has only been Man U match this season in which Lukaku has not found himself on the scoresheet and his form is a key reason why United are so rampant right now.

Where I Was Wrong Last Week

I jumped the gun last week and incorrectly thought that just because of a solid victory over Bournemouth, Everton were back in form and thus could begin their climb up the table. Saturday’s game against Burnley showed some signs of life, but another problem cropped up for the Toffees. In past games, Everton has sat on the back foot and looked to counter attack, but against Burnley they held 63% possession and played almost the entire second half in the attacking third, which is a very positive sing. However, with only 4 out of 25 shots going on net and none finding the back of the net, Everton seriously lack finishing product or quality. The problems continue to mount and there is still a ways to go on Merseyside.

Also last week, I pointed out that Tottenham’s recent run of form against teams from the bottom half of the table was alarming and that Huddersfield could give them problems if we were to assume that historic trends repeat themselves. Not only did Spurs totally and completely thrash David Wagner’s bunch this past week, but they’ve sent Huddersfield plummeting from 6th in the table to 11th now. So, a 4-0 win over a now bottom half team on the same week I called them our for struggling against said bottom half teams. Fair play, Spurs.

……….

10 Thoughts I Have

  1. Kevin De Bruyne is the best attacking player in the Premier League right now. His season thus far has him in the driver’s seat for the PFA Player of the Year award and he has completely taken his game to a new level in 2017-18. On Saturday against Chelsea, De Bruyne completed more key passes (6) and more passes in the opposition’s end (47) than any other player, not to mention scoring the winning goal. With Eden Hazard directly on display opposite De Bruyne, Manchester City’s Belgian put on a masterclass display that showed his full evolution and clearly set him head and shoulders above Hazard right now and at the top of the Premier League.
  2. Also, the fact that City haven’t conceded a league goal since August 27th isn’t getting enough attention. The attack is scintillating, but my goodness has the Sky Blues’ defense been fantastic as well. And, further, captain and club emotional leader Vincent Kompany hasn’t played in any of those games. John Stones has elevated his game to a superstar level and City have not seemed remotely fazed by any offense they’ve faced since last conceding to Bournemouth. A complete team
  3. What is there left to say about Crystal Palace? No team in the 129 year history of English football (at any level) has ever lost their first 6 league matches without scoring a goal. Palace’s loss to United on Saturday extended that streak to 7 games. With a visit to Stamford Bridge on the horizon, that streak isn’t likely to end anytime soon. Just horrifically bad right now and that joke I made in week 1 about Palace potentially being “the most talented team ever relegated” is looking soberingly accurate. 

    Crystal Palace
    Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
  4. The 10 minute stretch during which both goals were scored on Sunday at St. James Park was Liverpool in a nutshell. After threatening to score for about 5-10 minutes, a superb 25 yard curling effort from Philippe Coutinho broke a scoreless deadlock and looked to open the floodgates for the Reds. But, a mere 8 minutes later, Liverpool’s centre backs pathetically defended a one man counter attack and Newcastle had their equalizer. A magical moment in attack, no urgency following the goal, then a defensive collapse. A Merseyside story in 3 parts.
  5. Kevin De Bruyne scored the goal of the week. Each of his last 5 City goals have come from outside the box and this one was utterly superb.
  6. Philippe Coutinho scored the second best goal of the weekend, followed up by Salomon Rondon’s terrific opener for West Brom and Harry Kane’s second goal of the day against Huddersfield.
  7. Watford have themselves quite the player in 20 year old Brazilian starlet Richarlison. His 95’ equalizer to salvage a point for Watford at the Hawthorns now gives him two consecutive games with a stoppage time goal, last week’s against Swansea being the winner. The 12 million pound deadline signing has proven to be Watford’s most dangerous attacking player thus far with 3 goals in his first 8 appearances and he was the Hornets’ most consistent forward threat on Saturday against West Brom. Considering that Marco Silva beat the likes of Ajax, Manchester United and AC Milan to Richarlison’s signature only makes him all the more special to a middle-market club like Watford.
  8. Alexis Sanchez was back in top form for Arsenal on Sunday against Brighton. After injuries and a long, dramatic transfer spell kept Sanchez sidelined for nearly the first month and a half of the season, this weekend was the first sure sign that the Gunners’ world class Chilean is still world class. Sanchez created twice as many chances as any other player on Sunday (6) and also had twice as many shots (8) as anyone else. Everyone at the Emirates will be pleading with him to stay in January and beyond. 

    Sanchez:Arsenal
    Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
  9. The fact that Kelechi Iheanacho has yet to start a league game for Leicester City serves to explain part of the reason why the Foxes have gotten off to such a poor start this season. Iheanacho was brought in to form a lethal front pairing with Jamie Vardy, especially on the counter attack, yet Craig Shakespeare continues to try and play a 4-5-1 instead of a 4-4-2 that can highlight the strengths of his 2 strikers. A scoreless draw with Bournemouth isn’t a good sign, but Iheanacho should be a positive solution, if Shakespeare chooses to use him.
  10. After the international break ends, the clear top match of week 8 is Manchester United’s visit to Anfield. This one could be a classic case of strength versus strength, as both teams look to get forward and out-score each other. Should be well worth the 6:30 AM Saturday wake-up call.

 

Tuesday Morning Tea Week 7: International Exodus Part 2