Usually, when poring over the weekend that was in the Premier League, I find myself looking for trends. Who scored goals? Which teams won? Were they all from the same area? Were there a lot of goals? Were there not a lot of goals?
This weekend’s trend was clean sheets; most everyone did the laundry in week 12.
Out of the 8 games where there was a winner, 7 of those winning teams kept clean sheets and the 8th, Manchester United, won by 3 goals. Bournemouth, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Burnley, Watford and Manchester City all won by at least two goals while keeping the opposition off of the scoresheet.
In the most important match of the weekend, Arsenal defeated Tottenham by a 2-0 scoreline in the North London Derby, somewhat surprisingly asserting their dominance over the region by dismantling a stunned Tottenham side. The defeat kicks Spurs down to 4th in the table and leaves them 11 points back of league leaders Manchester City.
City, threatening to run away with things at this point, relatively easily dispatched Leicester this weekend courtesy of a dominant display of passing excellence and another Kevin De Bruyne stunner. However, the Sky Blues suffered another critical injury, as centre back John Stones went down with a pulled hamstring and looks to be out for 6 weeks. Unfortunately for the English defender, he was in the form of his life and had become a rock at the back for Pep Guardiola’s rampant side thus far.
City’s two closest challengers, Chelsea and Manchester United, both breezed their way to victory by scoring 4 goals in commanding respective performances. Elsewhere, Watford and Burnley both pitched 2-0 shutouts over West Ham and Swansea City respectively, continuing the battle between the two for Europa League spots.
And, aside from those games, here are your weekend headlines:
One of these days, I’m going to take a look at the Prem table and be able to correctly assess where teams stand and where they’re going to finish. This season clearly isn’t going very well for me, aside from the top 6, which I’m currently PULVERIZING in my predictions.
Just two match weeks ago, Bournemouth were coming off of a 1-0 loss to Chelsea and found themselves sitting in 19th, just below Swansea and in some pretty deep relegation fear. Eddie Howe’s bunch were struggling to score and had only two league wins on the season up to that point.
Times appeared dire on the south coast but the Cherries have suddenly and, a bit shockingly so far, turned it almost completely around. After a tight 1-0 win over Newcastle before the international break, Bournemouth came out on Saturday and trashed a helpless Huddersfield side 4-0, even playing the entire second half down a man after Simon Francis was shown red for a poor challenge on Rajiv van La Parra.
That card hardly stopped a rampant Cherries’ side, though, as Callum Wilson completed a second half hat trick and Bournemouth sent Huddersfield out of Vitality Stadium with tails firmly tucked between legs.
Now up to 13th in the table and with their scoring legs underneath them, the Cherries’ appear to have evened out and are in the midst of a crucial stretch of play. Before a holiday period that sees them play United, Liverpool and Manchester City in 3 straight weeks, Bournemouth play their next 4 games against Swansea, Burnley, Southampton and Crystal Palace.
In a season that began as a fight to escape relegation and is now rapidly turning into a possible top half fight, Eddie Howe’s side must take as many points as possible from these next four games, all of which suddenly appear winnable when considering Bournemouth’s recent form.
In particular, Callum Wilson’s form this weekend served as a promising sign of potential things to come for the Cherries. The oft injured Englishman made just his second league start since an ACL tear in February and marked the occasion with an outstanding hat trick.
Highlighted by a wonderful volleyed finish on the second goal, Wilson gave Bournemouth the attacking bite that they needed after the team had yet to score more than 2 goals in any game over all competitions.
Wilson formed a dynamic partnership with Josh King up front and those two, combined with Jordon Ibe and an in-form Harry After – who scored brilliantly for Bournemouth’s 3rd goal – now give the Cherries a quality attacking presence.
As Heath Ledger’s Joker once said, “all insanity takes, sometimes, is just a little push.” In this case, “insanity” means a winning run, and Bournemouth have gotten their little push from Callum Wilson and two straight wins.
We’ll see if they keep it going or if I’m wrong, yet again, about my predictions with a bottom half team.
Scintillating Salah Leads Liverpool
Take a look at the Premier League scoring chart real quick.
See that name at the top? The one you weren’t remotely expecting to be there at the start of the season?
Yeah, that’s Mohamed Salah leading the Prem with 9 goals so far this season.
I repeat, Mohamed Salah is leading English football’s top division with 9 goals.
Not bad for the Chelsea dropout, eh?
Liverpool’s Egyptian superstar was at his electrifying best on Saturday against Southampton, scoring two goals to bring his season total up to 9 and take the top spot on the Prem scoring chart. So, what about Salah has evolved to get him to the point he’s at right now and what is causing this goal surge?
A first reason, as Eden Hazard candidly pointed out this week in an interview with The Guardian, is that Salah “did not get his chance at Chelsea” under Jose Mourinho during his stint with the club in 2014. Jurgen Klopp backed that claim up by saying that “If Salah were better at Chelsea, he wouldn’t be here with us right now.”
There can be no denying that Salah’s lack of first team football at Chelsea and the fact that he’s been able to play consistent first team football since leaving Stamford Bridge has helped elevate his game to the level that Chelsea thought it would be when they first signed him from FC Basel. However, it’s a mere part of Salah’s evolution.
In reality, his stint playing in Italy at AS Roma helped Salah harness the elements of his game that are now shining so brightly at Anfield and Jurgen Klopp merely deploys the Egyptian in perfect harmony with Sadio Mane to create the best pairing of wingers in the Premier League on this side of Sane and Sterling in Manchester.
Salah’s blistering pace and high football IQ allow him to make piercing runs through a defense and his wicked left foot and uncanny penchant for superb finishes help him convert those piercing runs into goals, something that’s becoming more and more common.
Liverpool’s star winger is at his best when allowed to roam freely in the offensive half. Sarah is not a strong defender, so his strength comes from being kept in the final third. He’s a brilliant counter-attacker and a defense always has to be keeping tabs on him because he can strike at any given time.
On Saturday, his full range of skills were on display. The crackling finish that gave Salah his first goal of the game was evidence of his stunning left foot. The second goal came courtesy of a smart, perfectly timed run through 2 Saints’ centre backs before a sublime, one-touch finish.
After falling through at Chelsea, Salah’s transfer to Anfield this summer was considered risky because the Egyptian was already labeled a Premier League flop. Instead of flopping, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has helped to highlight the best aspects of Salah’s game, which has only made them stronger and turned him into one of the finest and most dangerous attacking players in the world.
On the eve of a matchup with his former club, Salah’s importance to Liverpool is possibly greater than ever. This weekend, look for Chelsea to possibly use Davide Zappacosta as a roving winger assigned to keep Salah on the outside and prevent him from cutting inside, where he does his most dangerous goal-scoring work.
Regardless of the result, Mohamed Salah has turned into a superstar at Liverpool and his evolution appears to only just be getting started. Don’t be surprised if he actually finishes on top of the Premier League goal scoring chart.
He’s certainly taken a long road to the top.
Disaster at the Hawthorns
I mentioned earlier how wrong I typically am about predicting the middle and bottom of the Premier League table and 2017-18 West Brom thus far have been a perfect example of my incompetence.
After week 3, when the Baggies were sitting 3rd in the table with 7 points after 3 matches, I declared that this was a “legitimate Europa League candidate” due to their gritty defensive style and opportunistic offense led by Hal Robson-Kanu and Jay Rodriguez.
9 match weeks later, West Brom have yet to win another game in all competitions, only pulling 3 points from their 9 league matches over that time. It’s been a consistent string of pathetic performances from the Baggies that ultimately culminated in a 4-0 defeat to Chelsea this past Saturday and Tony Pulis’ successive sacking on Monday morning.
When the Welshman was appointed manager of West Brom back in January of 2015, he was saddled with one task and one task only; keep the club in the top division of English football. You may say many things about Pulis as a manger, but he is excellent at his job of keeping teams in the top flight.
He proved it at Stoke City and he proved it over his nearly 3 year stint at West Brom. However, Pulis was fired because his style has a clear ceiling to it and that ceiling was exposed over this horrific 9 game stretch at the Hawthorns.
Pulis’ signature style proved to be his ultimate undoing. He can organize a deep-block defense in his sleep and, early in the season, that strategy only gave up 1 goal over West Brom’s first 4 games in all competitions. However, as the season has gone on, the Baggies have been cracked by teams more consistently, and if West Brom doesn’t hold their opponent to 1 goal or less, there’s virtually no chance of them being able to get points.
Only twice this season have Pulis’ bunch scored more than 1 goal and those games ended in a draw with West Brom and a loss to Manchester City. There is no ability of this team to get forward, they are built to play with the lead and have rarely been doing that this season.
Saturday against Chelsea was the low point of West Brom’s season thus far, being completely and totally sliced open by a clearly better team in every aspect. The Baggies were only able to muster 1 shot on goal and it was easily handled by Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois.
West Brom surrendered 7 shots on target to a rampant Chelsea side that literally went where they wanted and did whatever they wanted to. Led by an in-form Eden Hazard, the Blues sliced and diced a helpless Baggies’ defense en route to the 4 goal tally and, 2 days later, Pulis was out of a job.
West Brom, after starting the season so promisingly, now find themselves 17th in the table, just 1 point clear of the drop zone. Interim manager Gary Mergson will now have the unenviable task of trying to pick up the pieces of this squad and then keep them in the 1st division for next season.
Survival will be the name of the game at the Hawthorns for the rest of the season and the Europa League is a long lost dream at the moment. In the future, never listen to me when I predict middle-lower end teams in the Premier League based on their early season success.
The road back for West Brom doesn’t start promisingly this week as they will have to travel to North London for a matchup against an angry Tottenham team coming off of a midweek victory over German powerhouse Borussia Dortmund.
The Baggies already have the recipe for success instilled in them. They have shown excellent defensive structure at times and know that Jay Rodriguez and Hal Robson-Kanu can be effective strikers. Mergson’s job will mainly involve finding a way to effectively use his troops as counterattackers instead of trying to control possession.
A much easier thing said than done, but it still must be done nonetheless in order to avoid true disaster in the West Midlands.
Team of the Week: Liverpool
Chelsea and Bournemouth both produced more dominant scorelines than the Reds’ 3-0 dispatching of Southampton, but no team dominated their game as thoroughly as Liverpool did on Saturday. 21 shots for, only 4 conceded (and zero on goal). Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino controlled every aspect of the game and showed how dangerous Liverpool’s attack can be when fully gelled. If only the defense could match…….
Runners Up: Chelsea, Arsenal, Burnley
Player of the Week: Eden Hazard
It’s taken a little while, but Chelsea’s Belgian superstar is officially back. Hazard has looked just a shade off over the course of his season thus far, but his two goals and relentless pressure against West Brom on Saturday give him the edge in this category over Bournemouth’s hat trick hero, Callum Wilson. In 71 ruthless minutes, Hazard roamed freely, passed with aplomb, finished when necessary, terrorized with his signature close control and dribbling and garnered a 9.81 rating from WhoScored.com. I rest my case, Hazard is back.
Runners Up: Callum Wilson, Mohamed Salah, Kevin De Bruyne
Moment of the Week: John Stones’ Injury
Hoo boy, this is a big one.
Typically, the ‘Moment of the Week’ category is reserved for a game changing goal or a feel-good moment or a great save or something like that, but John Stones’ injury can’t be ignored this week. The heartbeat of Manchester City’s stunningly good defense thus far, Stones has been in the form of his life this season and is turning into an elite centre back right before our eyes. Seeing him pull up lame with a bad hamstring and then learning that the Englishman could be out for up to 6 weeks is brutal news for City. Already thin on defense, they’ll now have to make do without one of the most significant keys to their blistering start to the season so far. Just a horrible blow.
Runners Up: Callum Wilson’s hat trick, Peter Crouch’s record breaking 143rd substitute appearance
Where I Was Right Last Week
I lauded Peter Crouch last week for his ability to just keep scoring goals, even at 36 years old. This week, the big guy made his 143rd career appearance as a substitute, the most of any player in Premier League history. It’s a remarkable achievement and, considering that I’ve noted him all season, I’m gonna claim a piece of this history for myself, thank you very much.
Also, I wrote a blurb about how “toothless” Swansea City have been recently and, wouldn’t you know it, they didn’t score last weekend against Burnley and put up a pretty pathetic display. The Swans are now 19th in the table, 2 points from safety and their season keeps deteriorating into a fight for survival.
And, prognosticating Ryan forecasted that, “Facing Burnley won’t be easy for Swansea but it would go a long way if they could steal one. They won’t, though…..”
Look at me.
Where I Was Wrong Last Week
I said that Spurs would come out of the North London Derby with a 3-1 win and wow, was I wrong about that. Arsenal outplayed Tottenham in every facet and destroyed Mauricio Pochettino’s bunch by a 2-0 scoreline. Yikes for my prediction last week.