Tuesday Morning Tea: Week 1 Overreactions

Author’s Note: This is the first of what I hope to turn into a weekly series that recaps the weekend Premier League Action. Growing up in St. Louis, I didn’t have much exposure to European football when I was younger, so I’m almost brand new to the scene. I hope to bring a unique American perspective and analysis to this world that I’ve come to love so much while not sounding like too much of an idiot.

$1 billion.

Think about just how much money that is. It’s more than you or I will ever have combined between us in 12 lifetimes. It’s more money than the total GDP of 14 countries. It’s a mind boggling number.

$1 billion is a spending threshold that Premier League clubs flew past during the summer transfer window. Exorbitant transfer fees were tossed around like nobody’s business and Premier League clubs were most consistently involved.

Highlights include Manchester City breaking their own record for most expensive defender ever by purchasing fullback Kyle Walker from Tottenham for 50 million pounds. Then, a mere week later, City broke that record by signing fullback Benjamin Mendy for 52 million pounds from French champions AS Monaco.

Normally stingy Arsenal splashed a club record 52 million pounds on French goal machine Alexandre Lacazette from Lyon. Manchester United brought Everton striker Romelu Lukaku over the Toffees for an initial 75 million pound fee. Even middle and lower end clubs like Watford, Huddersfield, Everton and West Brom splurged club records on transfer fees.

This is probably me being new to football, but the relentless stream of rumors has made this summer seem particularly long. So after a long summer full of Premier League headlines, the league finally returned on August 11th.

New boys Huddersfield Town are currently in Champions League position, defending champs Chelsea were embarrassed at Stamford Bridge, and goals abounded throughout week 1’s fixtures. Here are some overreactions.

Huddersfield are Here to Stay

First off, congratulations to Huddersfield Town. Making their debut in England’s first division, the Terriers stormed their way to a 3-0 win over Crystal Palace. In a season that was completely unexpected, a debut win is an incredible moment that club supporters will never forget.

That being said, I still believe it’s an overreaction to immediately believe that Huddersfield will be able to breeze their way to relegation survival.

There is definite quality in this side, though. Aaron Mooy is class on the ball and can boss a midfield in the mold of someone like Manchester United’s Nemanja Matic. Huddersfield does play a distinct style that can catch underprepared squads by surprise, as evidenced by what happened to Palace on Saturday.

The Terriers press high up the field and rely on relentless pace and athleticism to make up for a lack of ball control and consistent structure. Against Palace, Huddersfield’s speed was on full display, and striker Steve Mounie had a day, scoring his first Premier League brace.

Huddersfield
Photo Courtesy of Reuter

The positives from this win are obvious. It’s an incredible moment for a long-suffering fanbase that never thought they would witness this day. But against teams that can match their athleticism, Huddersfield will be sliced open at the back.

This was fun, but reality will set in eventually.

Everything About Chelsea

To put it kindly, Stamford Bridge has never been known as a patient place and Chelsea’s traditional lack of patience is already being tested just one week into another title defense.

Seeing parallels to the disaster that was Chelsea’s last Premier League title defense, it seems easy to understand why the club and its supporters should panic. But knee jerk reactions are exactly what isn’t needed in this situation.

Yes, an opening 3-2 home defeat to Burnley is incredibly embarrassing. But that scoreline doesn’t reflect what happened.

Down 3-0 at half, Chelsea were booed off by the home fans. Captain Gary Cahill was sent off in the 13th minute for a rash challenge and the Blues never seemed to recover from that shock.

Chelsea 1.jpg
Gary Cahill sees red (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

Burnley, to their credit, took full advantage of a Chelsea side in disarray and bagged 3 tallies before the halftime whistle, including a Stephen Ward thunderbolt that has my vote for goal of the weekend.

However, a 10 man Chelsea side controlled the 2nd half. Alvaro Morata’s substitution completely changed the game and culminated in him netting his first Premier League goal minutes after entering.

It’s easy to see this game and immediately assume that Chelsea will be well out of the title picture by November and in shambles by Christmas, but that’s just not the case.

In reality, this is a team that was missing it’s best player, a key cog in its midfield, and only got 30 minutes out of its best striker. Burnley caught the champions by surprise, but put Eden Hazard, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Morata on the pitch for a full 90 minutes and Chelsea are just fine.

For once, Stamford Bridge needs to have some patience.

Arsenal and Liverpool are Doomed

File this one under the same category as “the sky is falling at Stamford Bridge.”

Behind Chelsea’s defeat, Liverpool’s scintillating 3-3 draw at Vicarage Road was the most surprising result of the weekend. The fact that a Watford side, without club record signing Andre Gray in the squad, was able to bag 3 goals and generally have their way with the Liverpool defense is startling. But it’s not as startling if you consider how the side would look with Virgil Van Dijk in the middle.

Yes, that’s a massive if, but the Dutch center back would bring much needed stability and size to a Liverpool defense lacking in both. 2 of Watford’s 3 goals were scored off of set pieces, with the Reds appearing helpless on both occasions. Van Dijk defends set pieces as well as any center back in the world and could almost single handedly solve this problem.

Again, this is all a massive if, but Liverpool’s attack was electric even without Philippe Coutinho. All Jurgen Klopp’s side needs is some stability at the back and you can bank on another top 4 finish.

Liverpool
Photo Courtesy of PA

As for Arsenal, I would be more encouraged by the fact that the Gunnars actually won an opening weekend match than by the scoreline they needed to do it.

Leicester consistently looked dangerous going forward, as they should all season, and the goals scored by the Foxes were mostly born by taking advantage of an Arsenal defense in disarray.

Yet, even while giving up 3 disheartening goals, Arsenal scored twice after the 80th minute to snatch a rare opening weekend victory. Olivier Giroud is the Premier League’s best super sub, Lacazette is the real deal, and Schalke transfer Sead Kolasinac was an absolute beast.

Arsenal
Photo Courtesy of ESPNFC

Arsene Wenger can worry about the holes his side showed later, Arsenal grabbing the 3 points is the most important part of this match and should ease nerves over the club’s future in its first year without Champions League football in over 2 decades.

……….

Team of the Weekend: Huddersfield Town

This one was pretty obvious. The Terriers won their first ever Premier League game by a 3-0 scoreline. It was a result for the ages and seeing Huddersfield at the top of the table, even if for less than a day, is a moment that club supporters will never forget.

Runners Up: Manchester United, Manchester City, Burnley

Player of the Weekend: Romelu Lukaku

On the heels of an excellent preseason, 2 goals on his Old Trafford debut continues Romelu Lukaku’s ascension through the Premier League ranks. The Belgian relished the opportunity to play for what he called “the biggest club in the world” and he’s wasted no time delivering on his immense promise. I don’t have a farm, but if I did, I would be betting it on Lukaku for the Golden Boot.

Runners Up: Steve Mounie, Sam Vokes, Kyle Walker, Sead Kolasinac

Moment of the Weekend: Wayne Rooney’s Return

After 13 seasons away, the Premier League’s all time second leading scorer returned to his boyhood club and marked the occasion with a match winning goal. The ovation was thunderous and the moment will go down in Everton’s long history. After spending a club record during the summer transfer window in a desperate attempt to break through to the top 6, Rooney’s goal provided a bright opening act in what club supporters hope to be a special season.

Runners Up: Giroud’s winner, Watford’s stoppage time equalizer, the final whistle at Selhurst Park

10 Thoughts I Have

1. Manchester City’s defense spending will pay off. Kyle Walker was the Man of the Match during City’s opener at Brighton, and the Seagulls hardly appeared to pose anything that could be considered a scoring threat. Yes, it’s Brighton, but City pressed high, was excellently organized at the back and looked a world different from the disarrayed side that took the field most of last year. Add in Benjamin Mendy when he’s fit and Pep Guardiola has a scary looking squad.

2. Yes, I said that Burnley’s Stephen Ward scored the goal of the weekend, but Sadio Mane’s opener for Liverpool was incredible. Losing Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona would be a huge bane on Liverpool’s title hopes, but if Saturday was any indication of the type of player Mane can turn into, the Reds have something special. (start watching at 0:33 for Mane’s goal). 

3. STEPHEN WARD SCORED THE GOAL OF THE WEEKEND. (start at 1:12)

4. Wayne Rooney made all the headlines for Everton, but goalie Jordan Pickford will stand out as the club’s best transfer. Pickford had a fantastic summer, playing a huge part in the England’s 3rd place finish at the 2017 U21 European Championships. Pickford made a fantastic save in Everton’s opener against Bournemouth and already appears worth the club record fee that the Toffees paid for him.

5. Nemanja Matic is just what the doctor ordered for Manchester United. He absolutely bossed the game against West Ham, controlling possession, passing accurately, and creating valuable space for the likes of Paul Pogba and Juan Mata to work. Last season, Pogba struggled with defensive responsibilities and was limited in his ability to create going forward. Matic is exactly the kind of player that Pogba needs in behind him and will be a godsend for Jose Mourinho’s squad this season.

6. Sead Kolasinac will be overlooked, beaten out by the higher profile likes of Lukaku, Morata, Lacazette and Salah, but he’ll have a legitimate case as the best Premier League transfer of the summer. Kolasinac was a beast going forward for the Gunnars, easily the best player on the pitch at any given time. Combine that with the fact that he’s only 24 years old and came over on a free transfer from Schalke and Arsenal have an incredible bargain on their hands.

7. Crystal Palace might be the most talented team ever relegated. With an attack featuring Wilfried Zaha, Christian Benteke, Yohan Cabaye and Manchester United signee Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Palace have the quality of a team that should comfortably avoid relegation. However, every major flaw that Palace have was put on full display while they got thrashed by Huddersfield and it looks to be a struggle for the Eagles to avoid relegation.

8. Sean Dyche is magic. The man on the touchline that expertly and surprisingly guided Burnley to safety in 2016-17 was back at it again this weekend. Dyche lost his best striker, Andre Gray, yet still managed to pick apart the defending champions. His Burnley side were well prepared for a raucous atmosphere and appeared the calmer and more poised of the two sides, pouncing all over a disarrayed Chelsea side to generate a shocking 3-2 win. All hail the Premier League’s best manager.

9. With a transfer window where they have literally brought in 0 players, Tottenham have seemingly been forgotten about in the July frenzy. Their 2-0 win over Newcastle, while pedestrian, was imperative. Spurs have watched quietly all summer as every club around them has gotten better and questions still surround the club. But a convincing opening weekend result was exactly what Mauricio Pochettino’s side needed. Next week’s massive tilt against a desperate Chelsea side will go a long way in telling us just what kind of team Tottenham are.

Tottenham.jpg

10. Manchester City’s depth will win them the league. Struggling for a breakthrough against Brighton 60 minutes into the game, City manager Pep Guardiola turned to his substitutes. Would he bring on the savvy of Yaya Toure, the pace of Leroy Sane, creativity of Bernardo Silva, or 17 year old starlet Phil Foden? Guardiola chose Sane, and City opened the scoring 5 minutes later, never looking back. The bench options that Pep Guardiola has at his disposal are incredible when you consider the 4 that I mentioned above combined with Raheem Sterling, a soon returning Ilkay Gundogan, and record signing Benjamin Mendy. City’s depth especially stands out when compared to other title contenders. In the grind of a Premier League season, Manchester City have built a squad with quality coming out of its ears and that will be the ultimate difference in 2017-18’s title chase.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

Tuesday Morning Tea: Week 1 Overreactions

Ryan Riffs: The Premier League

It’s been a while since I ventured into ‘Ryan Riffs’ territory, but I’m back, and we’re venturing into even more new territory with this venture. This, I’m hoping, will be the first of many articles diving into British Premier League soccer, among other soccer. So, let’s do it.

Traditionally, the Premier League has been a hierarchy, with a certain few teams running a monopoly at the top of the table with only a brief interruption from a random club here and there. Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool have been the traditional big boys in the British schoolyard. Usually, you would pick one of those teams, and 100% of the time you would be right.

Then, along came Manchester City.

Man City Title Win
Photo by Getty Images

In 2011-12, the Citizens became the first club outside the ‘Big Four’ listed above to win the Premier League title since 1994. The very same season, Tottenham broke into the top 4, and a chain of chaos was set in motion capped off by Leicester City winning the Prem this past season.

The Foxes were listed at 5000-1 in the oddsmakers book before the season, but they took those odds rode them all the way to the most improbable title run in the history of sports. Leicester City confirmed, last season, what everyone now knows; the Premier League will be absolute chaos.

Leicester City Title Win
Photo by Getty Images

Seriously, any number of 6 teams have a legitimate shot to win the title, with clubs like West Ham and Everton having an outside shot. Never before have traditionally bottom feeding clubs been able to look themselves in the mirror and say, “Hey, we actually have a shot.” It’s beautifully hectic and impossible to predict.

So, now that we’re on the same page – ha ha ha, writing puns….please love me – let’s get into my Premier League thoughts, just two weeks into the season.

……….

Manchester United are back. Following their 2012-13 title win, United have fallen down the table, eventually finishing outside of Champions League contention for the first time since 1995 – along with Chelsea, coincidentally. But, unfortunately, the empire of Old Trafford is back, and in a big way.

Last season, United were a mess of a team. Full of underachieving attackers, old, slow midfielders, a shoddy defense, and a whack-job of a manager, it’s pretty amazing that they even were able to end the season in 5th.

United has addressed all of those concerns during this offseason in astounding ways, and they are as dangerous as ever. Beginning with the signing of manager Jose Mourinho to helm the team, you could make the argument that Man U replaced the incompetent Louis Van Gall with the most brilliant manager in the world – I prefer Pep Guardiola, but that’s a different argument for a different time. And Mourinho immediately went to work hauling in droves of talent.

Mourinho’s first signing was designed to address the Red Devils’ poor 2015-16 defense, and what a signing it was. Eric Bailly has come in and immediately impressed, with some calling him “the perfect Mourinho defender.” Needless to say, Jose really likes him, and he has certainly contributed during the early part of the season.

Next up was the casual entrance of one, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. And when I say casual, I mean not at all. In typical Zlatan fashion, he made a grand entrance to Old Trafford and brought all of his traditional style and flair. So far, Ibra has scored 3 Premier League goals in his first two games, as well as the winning goal in the Community Shield final. Not too shabby.

Mourinho’s cap to the summer was literally the biggest transfer of all time; Paul Pogba. The former United academy star turned Juventus star returned home to the tune of just over $118 million, breaking the world record transfer fee held by Real Madrid for Gareth Bale. Pogba returned to the club that brought him up and, in the eyes of many, catapulted Manchester United to the assumed top of the Premier League’s predicted final standings.

So, in short, United needed better defense, a creative midfielder, a proven scorer, and a capable manager. What they got was Eric Bailly, Paul Pogba – only the most creative midfielder I’ve ever seen – Zlatan freaking Ibrahimovic and Jose Mourinho. Yeah, I’d say the Red Devils are back to being the football powerhouse we all know them as.

Zlatan and Pogba
Photo courtesy of Zlatan’s Instagram, God bless that man.

So far, United has beaten Bournemouth and Southampton by a combined tally of 5-1, with their next fixture being another away game against upstarts Hull City – we’ll get into them soon.

They will presumably squash Hull and now have 3 dominant Premier League wins to open the Mourinho era. But don’t get too excited, the first major test – and boy, what a test it is – for the new look Red Devils comes in the Manchester Darby at Old Trafford on September 10th. What a clash that should be.

……….

And speaking of the early season Manchester Darby, that game is between the two clear Premier League title favorites. As wide open as I made things sound in my opening riff, the signing of Pogba to United and the impending signing of Claudio Bravo to Manchester City – combined with the new arrival of John Stones – have separated these two from the rest of the pack.

Chelsea have looked good so far, with Antonio Conte’s defensive structure making them look very hard to crack combined with Eden Hazard and Diego Costa’s early season brilliance. But Chelsea just don’t seem to have the extra gear of talent that United and City can press out onto the field on a consistent basis.

The same goes for Liverpool, who’s opening fixture with Arsenal was a brilliant offensive display that coincided with Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mane announcing their arrival with authority, but their offensive arsenal – we’ll get to them in just a second – is limited, and they can’t defend for their lives. Jurgen Klopp’s bunch will be fun to watch, but don’t count on them finishing atop the table.

And Arsenal, what do we even say about them. Another silent summer of Arsene Wenger apparently forgetting that his defense is absolute trash and not making any transfers. That has resulted in a confusing 0-1-1 start, including a thrilling 4-3 loss to Liverpool that exposed every defensive fault you could ever think of, and a 0-0 draw with Tottenham that showed every offensive flaw you could ever think of.

Arsenal, as much as their seemingly star studded roster would have you believe, is not a serious title threat. In fact, they are legitimately in danger of finishing outside of a Europa League spot.

Yeah, this is a strange time in football.

Because I feel inclined to touch on the reigning runner ups, Tottenham aren’t title contenders either. As exciting as their offensive talent seemed last season – with Harry Kane’s 25 goal season and Dele Alli’s breakout – Tottenham’s lack of consistency and inexperience will doom them. The top 4 is not in their future, but they should still be a fun offensive club. When Spurs and Liverpool face off? Tune in.

All of that was basically a really long way of me undermining my entire first riff on how unpredictable the Premier League is. Manchester City and Manchester United have separated themselves as legitimate title favorites.

I talked about United at length, and City’s depth and offensive firepower are incredible. Between Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne, Nolito, Kelechi Iheanacho, David Silva and a suddenly remarkable Raheem Sterling, City can and will put up lots of scoring this season.

Man City Squad
Photo courtesy of BBC

The question has always been defense.

New manager Pep Guardiola’s late pre-season addition of John Stones has seemed to fix some of those questions, with Stones playing a very sturdy fullback position. And, to boot, it is expected that former Barcelona #1 Claudio Bravo will join the team on a transfer tomorrow.

If that happens, it would be a huge boost as one could argue that Bravo is the ‘sweeper keeper’ in Europe – an aspect that Guardiola relies on, and is the thing that is resulting in Joe Hart’s saddening and impending exit.

September 10th will be the first day that really gives us an idea of what the Premier League landscape will look like, with the top two title contenders facing off at Old Trafford in a power shifting matchup that will have a lot of eyes on it.

Regardless of the result of that one match, it should be a wild Prem season. Buckle up.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

Ryan Riffs: The Premier League