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.

 

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Tuesday Morning Tea Week 7: International Exodus Part 2

Tuesday Morning Tea Week 6: The Table Begins to Take Shape

On August 11th, I personally declared that the Premier League top 4 would shake out as follows: Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool. Tottenham, Arsenal and Everton would grab the Europa league spots and Watford, West Ham and West Brom would round out the top 10.

On the morning of August 22nd, after 2 weeks of league play, the top 4 of the Prem table read as follows: Manchester United, Huddersfield Town, West Brom, Watford.

Not anything close to what I had predicted.

Yes, it had only been 2 weeks, but the table was wildly shaken up and my Tuesday Morning Tea headline for that week reflected the “shook” table. Early season flukes happen every year, but watching Huddersfield win their first two game without conceding a goal along with West Brom and Watford jumping out to hot starts seemed far more surprising than usual.

Barely 5 weeks later, everything has shaken itself out and normality has taken hold.

City and United hold firm at the top, Chelsea is on the heels of those two with Spurs and Liverpool right behind. The traditional and expected powers have begun to take hold and slide into their presumed rightful places in the table. That doesn’t mean chaos can’t still ensue, but the Premier League world seems to be ordering itself out.

This past week, Manchester City continued their rampant run, Tottenham and Liverpool slithered to close wins over West Ham and Leicester and Alvaro Morata powered Chelsea to another breezy win. Here are your week 6 headlines:

Everton Begin Their Climb

What makes the Premier League unique from other leagues in the world is its level of competition from top to bottom. Week after week in England’s top flight is a fight, unlike other leagues where there is a clear hierarchy and those teams are rarely challenged by anyone outside the top 6.

That being said, the Premier League’s hierarchy is still as good as any in the world and they have punished Everton over the past 4 match weeks. There aren’t many clubs in the world that could say they would be able to handle Man City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Man U over the course of 4 straight weeks with midweek Europa League and Football League Cup games in between.

Everton is definitely not one of the few clubs in the world that can claim to be able to handle that type of schedule and it has brutalized them after a strong start to the season.

After an opening weekend win over Stoke and a hard fought away draw to Manchester City ran Everton’s early season record to 5 matches unbeaten with only one goal conceded, the Toffees looked to be making good on their summer of club record spending.

Prior to last week, that draw with Man City wasn’t just the last time Everton were able to grab points from a match, it served as the last time the Toffees were even able to score in any match, all competitions.

4 straight losses with 0 goals scored and 12 conceded sent Everton into a tailspin that found them sitting 18th in the Premier League table, 1 point behind West Ham and safety.

For a club that broke its own transfer record twice in one summer, sitting 18th just 5 weeks into the season is unacceptable. Everton knew as much and, now having stumbled their way out of the recently hellish schedule, looked to get back on track this past week.

And boy did they, in a big way too. 

Everton 1
Photo Courtesy of Reuters

Everton wasn’t close to their best on Saturday, but winning ugly is imperative to Premier League survival and that’s exactly what the Toffees did. Wayne Rooney was left bloodied by a first half elbow, Bournemouth went up 1-0 in the 55th minute, the Cherries out-shot Everton 4-3 and also held 55% possession, but Ronald Koeman’s side were still the ones leaving Goodison Park with the crucial 3 points.

“It is a totally different world after winning…this was a big win that will give everyone at our club a boost” Koeman said after the game and his comments seem spot on. After 4 straight league losses, Everton badly needed this win.

The Toffees are now up to 13th in the table and the outlook is a whole lot brighter on Merseyside. Amazing what just one win can do.

Coutinho is Back

Did you forget how good Philippe Coutinho was?

Personally having lost a lot of respect for him during his botched transfer demand to Barcelona, I realized this weekend that I had forgotten Coutinho’s class level. My goodness did he deliver a stark reminder to everyone this weekend.

In the wildest game of week 6, Coutinho led Liverpool to a nail-biting 3-2 win over Leicester City at the King Power Stadium. The Reds’ Brazilian starlet was his usual, brilliant self in the first 45 minutes, directly creating two goals off a perfect back post cross to Mohamed Salah and an unstoppable, vintage Coutinho free kick.

Coutinho
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Redemption was the first word that crossed my mind while watching Liverpool’s #10 fly all over the final 3rd of the pitch. Unlike other players coming off of failed transfers, Coutinho didn’t look disinterested in his current job, he didn’t plod around and mope like Mesut Ozil has been doing recently. He played and played hard.

Although their defending still leaves many, many worries surrounding the club, having Coutinho back in the side gives Liverpool a whole new lease on life and the best attacking quartet in England.

Coutinho fills every role that Mane, Firmino and Salah do not fill and is the exact missing piece they need. As evidenced by the opening goal, having Coutinho in the side allows Salah to make more slicing runs off the ball, an area he thrives in.

Firmino can now play as a true lone striker and not have to drop deeper and look to handle the ball more often than he needs to. And Mane now has another option on the counter attack and someone who can provide him quality service when he runs the left wing channels.

It will still take the 4 of them time to properly gel, but Saturday was an extremely promising day for Liverpool supporters. The club starlet is back in top form and that’s bad news for every other Premier League club.

Morata Bodies Chelsea to Another Dominant Result

Radamel Falcao, Mateja Kezman, Fernando Torres and others have all worn Chelsea’s supposedly cursed #9 jersey. Kezman scored 5 times before in his one disappointing season, Falco played in a mere 12 games during his almost career-ruining spell in England, and Torres was a shadow of his former self following a 50 million pound move from Liverpool.

In July, as Diego Costa’s impending Stamford Bridge exit became more and more likely, Chelsea bosses turned to Alvaro Morata in an attempt to end the #9 jersey hex.

Thus far, Morata has gone and told off all those ghosts with his treatment of the Blues’ #9 shirt thus far. By poaching a brilliant hat trick this weekend at Stoke City to push his season goal total to 6, Morata has jumped up amongst Sergio Aguero and Romelu Lukaku at the top of the Premier League goal scoring leaderboard.

Morata
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

The Blues’ club record transfer was in fine form once again Saturday, scoring 3 goals en route to another dominant Chelsea win. For Morata, the tallies in his hat trick were the first ones for him this season, within the Premier League, not scored with his head. Instead, Morata opted for 3 right footed finishes, demonstrating his talent on the counter attack, his pounce inside the box and his electric pace and quality on the ball.

For Chelsea, it sure must feel good to watch the man you spent 67 million pounds on come in and produce at such a high level so soon. On Saturday, he showcased a wide-ranging set of skills that affirm his status as one of England’s preeminent strikers.

As mentioned above, each goal all displayed a different facet of Morata’s game. The first showed his talent on the counter attack. The second showed his bursting pace and excellent close control, taking on three defenders from midfield before chipping a lovely right footed finish over the goalkeeper. The third was a result of fantastic positioning and pounce inside the box.

Morata 2
Morata’s third goal. Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Costa’s summer transfer saga combined with several high profile denials put a significant stain on Chelsea’s current club state. Seeing Morata produce at a world class level week after week does far more for the Blues than just help them win.

Morata’s importance extends beyond the game and into an ever expanding and increasingly important transfer market. If other players desiring moves from their current clubs are watching the way that Morata has developed at Chelsea as their record transfer, it can only promote the Blues as a top transfer destination.

For Chelsea as a whole, the top form of their star man has reflected the form of the entire team. Since losing an opening weekend home shocker to Burnley, Chelsea has gone 5 matches unbeaten and only conceded two goals. The Blues’ are flying high heading into a crucial week 7 showdown with Manchester City.

Morata has been brilliant thus far, but this week will serve as his biggest test yet. If he can continue his run of form against the Sky Blues, Chelsea will truly have a world class striker on their hands.

……….

Where I Was Right Last Week

In this very same section last week, I briefly mentioned how particularly important Philippe Coutinho was to Liverpool during this week’s slate of games against Leicester City. On Tuesday, when the Reds played the Foxes in a Carabao Cup matchup with Coutinho on the bench, Leicester won handily by a 2-0 scoreline. On Saturday, with Coutinho in the lineup, Liverpool won 3-2 behind two crucial first half goals generated by their #10. I’ve been harping on it for weeks, but this past week was a perfect example of how vital Coutinho is to this Liverpool squad. He will make or break the Reds’ top 4 prospects.

Where I Was Wrong Last Week

I touted the recent run of Newcastle as being indicative of their talents as a team. 3 straight wins, I figured, had them on track and rightfully fighting for a potential top 10 spot. I still believe Newcastle to be this type of team, but where I went wrong last week comes briefly in the final sentence of my thought on the Magpies. “They will likely roll over Brighton this weekend before a big home test against Liverpool” I said.

Brighton
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Brighton must have heard me because they flipped my prediction on its head in pulling out a well-played 1-0 home victory. Now, I wasn’t wrong in believing Newcastle to be the better team, they were more effective in every statistical category, but I was wrong in believing Brighton would roll over. If there’s one thing that we’ve learned from the newly promoted teams this year, it’s that they play hard and force opponents into a 90 minute fight. Huddersfield did it again this week and so did Brighton over Newcastle. I won’t make the same mistake again.

……….

Player of the Week: Oumar Niasse

Alvaro Morata is the easy choice here, but his 3 goals, while brilliant, were a reflection of Chelsea being the clearly better team on Saturday vs Stoke. Niasse’s game saving brace for Everton came out of nowhere and has saved the Toffees’ season for the time being. A 57’ substitute, Niasse pounced on two opportunities in the box and converted Everton’s only two SOG into the only two goals they needed to defeat a better Bournemouth side. There’s a new blue hero in Merseyside.

Runners Up: Alvaro Morata, Philippe Coutinho, Harry Kane

Team of the Week: Manchester City

Sane

It’s getting repetitive at this point, but another week passed and Manchester City blew past yet another poor victim, this time leaving Crystal Palace in an ever growing wake of utter destruction. The Sky Blues started slowly, needing a 43’ moment of magic from Leroy Sane to break down a previously stubborn Palace side. Once the first goal came, the floodgates opened and City put home 4 more for a 5-0 result. City’s last 3 league results are 5-0 over Liverpool, 6-0 over Watford and now 5-0 over Palace. Scintillating form.

Runners Up: Chelsea, Arsenal

Moment of the Week: Mignolet’s Penalty Save on Vardy

It’s only fitting that the game of the week produced the moment of the week. Having already blown a 2-0 lead and being on the brink of watching Leicester tie the game at 3-3, Simon Mignolet correctly read a Jamie Vardy penalty to make a crucial, game saving stop. Since coming to England, Mignolet has saved 8 of 15 league penalty opportunities against him, and this one salvaged the Reds 3 points instead of 1. In such a potentially tight race for the top 4, this could be looked back upon at the end of the season as one of the most important games and moment from Liverpool’s season.

Runners Up: Oumar Niasse’s Everton winner, Morata’s hat trick, Richarlison’s Watford winner

……….

10 Thoughts I Have

  1. I learned this weekend that Brighton has a significant advantage on their side in the chase for Premier League survival. The AmEx is a really difficult place to go play. Brighton has had 3 home games thus far, and aside from a hard fought 2-0 loss to table toppers Manchester City, the other two have been a 3-1 win over West Brom and now a 1-0 win over Newcastle. The south coast fans turn out in droves and give Brighton a raucous home field atmosphere that has proven to be extremely difficult to handle thus far.
  2. Bury me with this screen cap from Jurgen Klopp’s official postgame interview. The next great sports meme has been born.Screen Shot 2017-09-28 at 8.36.28 PM
  3. If Swansea can ever truly gel their attack, Tammy Abraham, Wilfried Bony and Renato Sanches will be absolutely filthy together. Secondly, the Swans’ home form this season has been terrible. This is the first time they have lost 3 consecutive Premier League home matches since January of 2014. Jekyll and Hyde form recently from Paul Clement’s bunch, consistently is badly needed.
  4. Major props to Watford for bouncing back from last week’s thrashing at the hands of Man City with this late 2-1 win over the Swans. The win mattered more than anything, but watching Andre Gray and Richarlison score the two goals had to have been comforting. Big ups to the Hornets.
  5. Fabian Delph, making his first appearance of the season for Man City, scored the goal of the weekend.
  6. Other notable tallies include Leroy Sane’s opener, Sergio Aguero’s bullet header, a Tomer Hemed overhead kick and Alvaro Morata’s superb solo run.
  7. I had the opportunity to watch Manchester United play twice this week, on Saturday against Southampton and in a midweek Champions’ League game against CSKA Moscow. In those games, I zoned in on Romelu Lukaku to try and understand just what makes him so great. The one thing I came away most impressed with was his physicality. Lukaku is listed at 207 pounds and he uses every ounce of it in the box. Few defenders in the world are able to deal with the Belgian striker’s brute physicality and he’s often able to manhandle the men trying to mark him. United have themselves an already talented player who is now learning to fully utilize his greatest aspect, size.
  8. Yes, they did take all 3 points from West Ham this weekend in a 3-2 win, but Tottenham’s performance thus far against teams in the bottom half of the table has to be worrying. Against Burnley, a 1-1 draw in which Spurs conceded late. Against Swansea, a hard fought 0-0 draw. And now, against West Ham, an unconvincing 3-2 win in which Tottenham played the final 20 minutes down a man due to a Serge Aurier red card. With Liverpool and Arsenal right on their heels, Spurs need convincing wins against the bottom half of the table. Their performance Saturday will not cut it.
  9. Your unsung hero of the weekend is Gareth Barry. With his start on Monday night, the 36 year old Englishman set a new all time Premier League record with his 633 league appearance, surpassing Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs in the process. Barry, ever the top class individual, expressed his disappointment following West Brom’s 2-0 loss at the Emirates, but Barry’s achievement should not go unnoticed. Its greatness is far beyond any words I could ever say and Gareth Barry will go down as one of the Premier League’s all time greats, a true legend. 

    Barry
    Photo Courtesy of BBC and Getty Images
  10. Week 7’s top matchup is Manchester City vs Chelsea. Aside from the Manchester Derby and United vs. Chelsea, this will be the Premier League’s most important fixture of the season. I have City winning by a 3-1 tally, but this could easily go either way. Game of the season thus far.
Tuesday Morning Tea Week 6: The Table Begins to Take Shape

Tuesday Morning Tea Week 5: Manchester Mania

There are 92 professional football teams in the English Premier League system. Out of those 92, 20 play in the top flight of the Premier League, competing for the most prestigious trophy that England has to offer. Those 20 teams are then spread among 14 different cities, London having the most teams of any city with 5. And out of those 14 cities, only one currently rules the Premier League roost.

Manchester.

Both of Manchester’s top flight teams are soaring, having claimed points from all 5 matches so far and having separated themselves from the rest of the pack as the class of England’s top league so far.

Between Manchester United and Manchester City, 32 goals have been scored and only 4 have been conceded. United started their season with 3 commanding wins in a row before faltering at Stoke in week 4 and getting back on track against Everton this past week, whereas City started slowly, drawing with Everton and struggling to beat Brighton and Bournemouth, but have since thrashed Liverpool 5-0 and Watford 6-0.

The two most expensive teams in the Premier League are delivering the best results thus far, proving that maybe money does buy success. All of that being said, here are this week’s headlines.

……….

City set the Pace

Wow.

I know that I haven’t been watching top level football for all that long, but I’ve never seen a two game stretch as dominant as the one City put together over the past week. A 5-0 home thrashing of Liverpool in week 4 was somehow one-upped this past weekend at Vicarage Road against a previously top 4 Watford side.

City 2
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

In any and every category you can possibly think of, City were rampant. Possession was 67-33 in favor of of the Blues, shots were 28-6 and shots on goal were 10-1, City passed at a 90% success rate and won 64% of the ariel duels.

Watford were in the game for maybe the first 20 minutes before City settled in and made a previously impenetrable Hornets defense look like a U-12 side playing herd-ball.

City controlled possession and were electric going forward, creating chance after chance after chance whenever they pleased. Watford seemed content to sit back in a tight defensive formation and then look to spring counter attacks, but every possible chance of a counter attack was snuffed out by City’s recently brilliant centre back pairing of John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi.

And the attack…oh my.

Kevin De Bruyne has continued his transformation into one of the world’s best central midfielders under Pep Guardiola and his service to the striker pairing of Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero was absolutely first class once again.

And about that striker pairing, it took Jesus and Aguero a few weeks to get themselves together but my goodness has that turned into an opposing defense’s nightmare.

The two of them have produced 8 goals on the season, including 5 in the past two games and they work damn near perfectly together. Jesus’ movement off the ball creates those ever valuable pockets of space that Aguero needs and that David Silva and De Bruyne provide service excellent through ball service to. Jesus and Aguero have realized that there are clearly enough goals to go around between the two of them and are now thriving in their partnership.

City
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

But the most potent part of City’s new attack are the additions of Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy as Pep Guardiola’s flying fullbacks.

Mendy and Walker do more running per game than any other City player and Watford had headaches upon headaches trying to deal with their pace and movement. Mendy in particular was electric on Saturday, making piercing runs up Watford’s left flank and then thumping dangerous crosses into the box every time.

Walker and Mendy give City an extra offensive dimension that they’ve never had before and that sets them apart from every other club in the Premier League and allow them to play the exact kind of football that Pep Guardiola envisioned when he first accepted the job back in May of 2016.

Let this week be the first official notice that Pep’s Manchester City have arrived, and they’ll only be getting better.

United Hold Serve

City’s 6-0 win on Saturday saw the Blues leap to the top of the table, putting pressure on their crosstown rivals to hold serve, which the Red Devils did in convincing fashion with a 4-0 thumping of a tumbling Everton squad.

While I believe City have announced themselves as England’s best team with their past week of dominance, United have been the Premier League’s best team over the entirety of the season so far, and after a lackluster performance against Stoke City in week 4, they showed that top form once again this past Sunday.

It took him nearly a full 90 minutes, but Romelu Lukaku eventually found the back of the net against his former club and celebrated like he’d never played for them. His goal came as United’s 3rd and served as only salt in Everton’s growing wounds, but Lukaku certainly deserved it and continued his early goal scoring tear, reclaiming the top spot on the Premier League scoring chart from Sergio Aguero.

Lukaku
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

This game marks United’s 4th clean sheet of the season and Everton never truly posed a threat. After a shaky performance last week against Stoke, the Red Devils’ centre back pairing of Phil Jones and Eric Bailly was far more effective this week against Everton’s front pairing of Wayne Rooney and Gyilfi Sigurdsson.

Almost silently, Henrikh Mkhitaryan has turned himself into one of the Prem’s attacking midfielders, maintaining his assist lead among all players with 5 and adding a goal to his tally this weekend.

Jose Mourinho saw his club slip up and struggle defending a front 3 against Stoke City last week but had his club clicking on all cylinders against Everton this week. Lukaku continues to thrive, Nemanja Matic was the MOTM this week and has been a godsend for the Red Devils and this just generally looks like a team in prime position to end a 5 year championship drought.

United and City are primed for quite a battle at the top this season. Buckle up.

Crystal Palace Set the Wrong Kind of History

In case you were convinced that sacking Frank De Boer after 4 winless and goalless games in favor of hiring Roy Hodgson would be the cure to Crystal Palace’s woes thus far, the Eagles have gone out and reminded you just how bad they are with a 1-0 loss this weekend at St. Mary’s.

Palace are completely dull in every facet of football at the moment and their current streak of 450 goalless minutes is the longest such drought by any club in the history of the Premier League, breaking Newcastle’s 2005-06 record.

Palace 1
Photo Courtesy of Reuters

This past weekend at Southampton, Hodgson switched the Palace formation from De Boer’s 3-5-2 of the previous 4 games into a 4-4-1-1 in hopes of creating a more direct chain of attack up to Christian Benteke. While Ruben Loftus-Cheek played well as the link between Benteke and the 4 man midfield, consistent danger still wasn’t created by the Eagles and Benteke flubbed the few chances he did have.

Hodgson insisted that his side played hard and never gave up, giving reason for optimism amid such a dismal goalless streak, but the issue with Crystal Palace is not whether or not they play hard, it’s whether or not they have the quality to score goals.

One could be optimistic about Palace if they so choose, I have sure tried my hardest over the past 4 weeks, but I just don’t see it anymore. Yes, Wilfried Zaha will be a game changer when he returns and yes, Palace are a mere 4 points away from safety, but this weekend continued a disturbing trend of not being able to finish.

As teams like Watford and Burnley have shown, it’s possible to not only survive, but thrive, while sitting back defensively and creating maybe 2 or 3 chances a game. Few teams in the Prem have an attack that can break down a deeply situated and tightly organized defense. But unlike Watford and Burnley, Palace haven’t made good on any of those precious chances that have been created.

Palace 2
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

The cure to Palace’s ills will not be Loftus-Cheek or Zaha or any player that hasn’t suited up for them yet this year or even Hodgson. Crystal Palace needs Christian Benteke to regain top form and begin cashing in on the chances created for him.

If the Eagles are able to somehow survive this year, Benteke will have led the charge, but don’t expect that potential comeback to begin this next week. A trip to the Etihad to face a mesmerizing City squad this upcoming Saturday is exactly the kind of thing Crystal Palace don’t need right now.

I don’t see Palace surviving this season in the top flight and Saturday in Manchester could get really ugly.

……….

Team of the Week: Manchester City

I snubbed them last week in favor of Tottenham, but not this week. I wrote about City above, but they looked to be a complete level above a previously top 4 Watford side. Incredible performance.

Runners Up: Manchester United, Newcastle

Player of the Week: Sergio Aguero

Why don’t we give Sergio Aguero the respect he deserves? City’s world class striker is now 2 goals away from the all time club record of 177 and is second in all time Premier League history in minutes per goal at 108.44 minutes per goal (City teammate Gabriel Jesus holds the record at 88.82 minutes per goal). Aguero has put together one of the best 6 year stretches in the history of English football and he has yet to even be nominated for a Player of the Year or Team of the Year. We shall under appreciate him no more.

Runners Up: Jermain Defoe, Nemanja Matic, Lukasz Fabianski

Moment of the Week: Jermain Defoe’s Winner vs Brighton

I have an immense amount of respect for Jermain Defoe and it felt so good to watch him finally get off the mark for Bournemouth this season. The fact that his first Cherries goal served as a winner against Brighton makes it all the more sweeter. Defoe’s goal made him just the 5th player to ever score in 17 or more different top flight seasons and, by scoring against Brighton, he has now bagged goals against 36 different clubs, just 3 away from Frank Lampard’s record of 39. Defoe is absolutely top class.

Runners Up: Aguero’s Hat Trick, Newcastle’s Winner, Lukaku’s Everton-revenge Goal Celebration

……….

Where I Was Right Last Week

I mentioned at the top of last week’s article that no Coutinho was a big problem for Liverpool and that bore out once again this week even though he made his first Premier League appearance as a 78th minute substitute for Dominic Solanke. Without Coutinho, Liverpool have no midfielders with the ability to break down a side that sits deep and looks to counter attack. Liverpool were able to generate 9 shots on goal but could only find the back of the net once thanks to a brilliant Mohamed Salah finish. The Reds need their star man in a bad way heading into a week where they will play Leicester City twice, a team notorious for sitting deep and looking to counter attack.

Where I Was Wrong Last Week

In true football fan fashion, I overreact to a different team every week and proclaim something outlandish about them that gets disproven the very next week.

On week 4’s version of Tuesday Morning Tea, I declared that Tottenham had left their August blues behind and were back to their rampant attacking ways. A 0-0 home draw against Swansea proved that Swansea may have left their August blues behind, but they still have yet to overcome their Wembley woes, now having won just 3 out of their past 14 games under the arches.

Tottenham dominated every facet of the game, controlling 75% possession, peppering Swans’ keeper Lukasz Fabianski with 8 shots on goal and 26 total shots, but couldn’t find a breakthrough.

Tottenham
Photo Courtesy of AFP

That 75% possession number is the highest single game number Tottenham have ever posted since Opta began tracking possession back in 2003, but obviously it means nothing because no goals were scored off of that possession, which has been typical of Spurs this season.

Harry Kane is as potent a goal scorer as the Premier League has, but when he hasn’t been scoring in the past, the likes of Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen, and Hueng-min Son have been there to pick up the slack. Those three have been sitting deeper in the midfield thus far this season and the typically free flowing Tottenham goal well has all but dried up recently.

Tottenham still have a ways to go before they get back to the form we’ve seen from them over the past few seasons.

……….

10 Thoughts I Have

  1. Now that the dust of the transfer window begins to settle, we get to see all the players who unsuccessfully demanded transfers try and make do with their current club situations. Alexis Sanchez, Eden Hazard, Philippe Coutinho and Virgil Van Dijk all made their league debuts this weekend. All 4 came off the bench and none made an impact worth talking about. It’s sad to see 4 top class players give poor effort because they are upset with their current club situation, but such is life in the mad, mad transfer world we currently live in.
  2. Each week of the season thus far, I have watched an upstart team win a big game and leap their way into the top half of the table and declared them there to stay. Burnley, West Brom, Watford and Everton have all been victims of my overreactive nature thus far and I’m gonna add another team to that list. Newcastle have wonderfully turned their season around and started playing like the side that we expected. Between them, Huddersfield and Brighton, the Magpies were the team everyone expected to easily avoid relegation and they are now playing up to those expectations. They will likely roll over Brighton this weekend before a big home test against Liverpool looms in week 7. Tip of the cap, though.
  3. I’ve talked at length about Manchester City’s destruction of Watford, but I haven’t actually yet given any thought to the Watford side of the coin. This was an upstart team sitting in 4th before their City thrashing, and while they were clearly exposed as a side not ready to hang with the top 4, this is still a top half club. Marco Silva’s men have been effective at sitting deep and counter attacking through the wide areas, they just had a rough day against a clearly superior club. Don’t let this totally change your opinion of the Hornets, though, just a mere blip on the radar.
  4. Antonio Valencia scored the goal of the weekend. Personally, I think Charlie Austin’s goal from two weeks ago is just a shade better because of the angle he shot from, but my goodness is this one brilliant too.
  5. Other top quality tallies include Sergio Aguero’s hat trick finalizer, Mohamed Salah’s wonderful equalizer and another Xherdan Shaqiri stunner.
  6. What in the world is going on with Everton right now? One minute, the Toffees are going toe to toe with Manchester City, earning a hard fought draw, and the next minute they’ve dropped 3 straight, conceded 7 goals in their past two matches and sit 18th in the table. Ronald Koeman continues trying to play a side game, using pace to attack down the flanks, but his side just doesn’t have the pace to do that. Everton need to control more possession and let Gyilfi Sigurdsson actually do the stuff that he’s good at instead of trying to play like a much more athletic team. Be what you are, Toffees, and stop losing.
  7. Lukasz Fabianski is the unsung hero of the weekend. With Swansea badly needing points from their Saturday tilt with Tottenham in order to avoid going down into the relegation zone, Fabianski made 8 crucial saves, including several denying Son from close range. The Swans played a very well disciplined defensive game, but Fabianski needed to be brilliant to salvage them a point and he was.
  8. I think it’s time to stop treating Huddersfield as if they don’t belong at this top level. The Terriers were back to playing their signature high energy, high intensity game and gave Leicester all sorts of problems. The Foxes were held to a mere 1 shot on goal and by the time the final whistle blew, it was Huddersfield manager David Wagner who was rueing a missed opportunity at 3 points. Huddersfield continue to play well week in and week out and it’s time for me to stop treating this as some sort of cute Cinderella story. The Terriers belong at the top level.
  9. One of the early storylines of the Premier League season was how many goals were being scored. This week featured three different 0-0 draws, as many as the first four combined weeks of the season produced. 10 of the 20 total goals scored this weekend were produced by the Manchester teams. I think this could be the start of a growing trend in England. More and more teams are playing a ‘sit back and wait to counter attack’ type of style instead of pressing high up the field to create turnovers and that turned this weekend into a mostly goalless defensive showcase.
  10. Your ‘under the radar’ matchup of this upcoming weekend is a solid tilt between Swansea and Watford. Renato Sanches, Wilfried Bony and a desperate Watford team all make up a solid recipe for an underrated but potentially scintillating matchup. I’ll be watching this one at 9 AM on Saturday.
Tuesday Morning Tea Week 5: Manchester Mania

Tuesday Morning Tea Week 4: Back in Business

Technically, it is called an international ‘break’ but no English clubs were actually taking a break during the two week hiatus from Premier League football.

With the transfer window having ended just last Thursday, a flurry of activity and rumors finally culminated thrillingly while everyone was supposed to be enjoying a ‘break.’ Renato Sanches and Wilfried Bony are Swansea bound, Alexis Sanchez is still in North London, Tottenham pulled in Serge Aurier from PSG, and Chelsea secured Danny Drinkwater’s signature from Leicester while experiencing the extent of Ross Barkley’s indecisive tendencies, among many other events.

The first 3 weeks of Premier League action were vital and thrilling, but that feels like a whole different world compared to the one we live in now.

Chelsea have regained full form, Manchester City look like world beaters, Manchester United have been breached, Tottenham are back, Liverpool are in shambles, and Crystal Palace continues to be historically bad.

Grab your tea, rejoice in the return of club football, and let’s get into the weekend’s headlines.

No Coutinho? Big Problem

Raise your hand if you predicted a 5-0 scoreline in favor of the home side in Saturday’s Manchester City-Liverpool clash.

Either stop lying and put your hand down or go buy a lottery ticket.

The heavyweight matchup of the weekend produced the most lopsided scoreline of the young season so far as the Sky Blues completely and totally dismantled a hapless, 10 man Liverpool side.

Coming off of a 4-0 thrashing of Arsenal before the break, Liverpool was humming on all cylinders. The goals were coming in waves, clean sheets were being kept, Arsenal were being humiliated at Anfield and all was right in Merseyside.

Then, all of a sudden, everything that could have gone wrong for Jurgen Klopp’s men did go wrong.

Jesus
Gabriel Jesus scores Manchester City’s 3rd goal of the day. Photo Courtesy of Rex Features

A tightly played first 20 minutes broke open into a 1-0 City lead by way of Sergio Aguero, scoring in his 6th straight home match vs the Reds. 10 minutes later, Sadio Mane was sent off for an inadvertent high boot that caught City keeper Ederson flush in the face. It was a scary and bloody scene that, when looked back upon now, represents how Liverpool were left by the full time whistle.

City would go on to easily score 4 more goals, registering 10 shots on goal, holding 70% possession and not allowing even a single Liverpool shot after Mane’s red card. It was a truly dominant display that left the Reds hobbling back to Anfield with tails tucked firmly between their legs.

So, just what in the world happened?

Early on, Liverpool consistently and fruitfully attacked Nicolas Otamendi down City’s left flank and created a flurry of early chances. Mohamed Salah was a true threat and the Reds recorded 6 early shots with 3 going on goal. The Aguero goal was a brilliant bit of passing by Kevin De Bruyne, but a Liverpool equalizer still felt imminent.

The Mane red card completely changed the game and peeled back the facade of an elite attacking club that Liverpool have put up over the course of the first 3 game of the season.

Up until this match, Philippe Coutinho felt like an add-on. Yes, he’s a world class talent, but with the way the Reds had been attacking, he wasn’t as vital as he might have previously seemed. Without Sadio Mane and Coutinho, Liverpool’s attack looked useless.

There was nobody to offset Mohamed Salah’s runs and spread the field out, there was nobody to provide quality service through to Firmino, there was nobody with the quality to break down a City defense that seemed completely comfortable holding possession and sitting deep until Liverpool themselves broke down.

Sane
Photo Courtesy of Sky Sports

Coutinho is a vital piece of Jurgen Klopp’s attacking strategy, as he helps break down a defense that sits deep and looks to counter attack. Sadio Mane is crucial to Liverpool’s attack because he is an explosive counter attacking player that can create chances out of thin air with pure athleticism and creativity.

Without either of them, Liverpool looked pathetic. Coutinho is badly needed, and Saturday showed exactly why.

West Ham and Arsenal….I Just Can’t Anymore

I stayed patient with both these sides for 3 weeks. But, after watching disheartening defeats leading into the international break for both the Gunners and Hammers, I finally gave up hope and declared them lost.

And now they come back and put up 3-0 and 2-0 victories respectively.

What in the blue hell am I supposed to think now?

Arsenal were in complete control all of Saturday afternoon against Bournemouth, out-shooting the Cherries 8-1 and holding 65% possession. Danny Welbeck scored a brace and Alexandre Lacazette continued his torrid start with another goal.

Welbeck
Welbeck celebrates his first goal of the afternoon. Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Everything that went wrong 2 weekends ago against Liverpool went right this weekend, as Arsenal appeared to play much more passionately, along with being far more organized and having an effective finishing product in the final 3rd. Lacazette’s was the only pretty goal, but ugly goals are far better than no goals when it comes to finishing.

As for West Ham, their 2-0 result over an upstart Huddersfield squad wasn’t nearly as convincing as Arsenal’s victory, but it sure was badly needed.

Did West Ham look good in their home debut Monday night? Absolutely not, but the 2-0 scoreline will go a long way in easing the ever increasing heat under manager Slaven Bilic’s seat.

West Ham
Photo Courtesy of AFP Photos

So, what do we think about Arsenal and West Ham? The Gunners sit 11th and the Hammers are still in relegation position even after this weekend.

With Arsenal, I don’t see them finishing in the top 8. Alexis Sanchez is completely disinterested, the same can be said about Mesut Ozil, Petr Cech looks over the hill and the back line can’t get out of their own way. This is a massive club that is its own worst enemy right now and is on the verge of disaster by the lofty standards of the Emirates. This win was huge, but don’t forget about the thrashing at Liverpool just yet.

As for West Ham, I’m not letting a 2-0 win sway me; they still look lost and haven’t proven otherwise.

The finishing product, the one thing that the Hammers should be good at, was severely lacking on Monday night, with Javier Hernandez, James Collins and Michel Antonio all as the lead offenders.

Defensively, this was much better from West Ham than what had been shown previously, but Huddersfield looked completely off their game tonight. The Terriers lacked their usual energy and the David Wagner high press was ineffective. Keeping a clean sheet is always a big morale boost, but don’t put too much stock into this one.

This was a great weekend for Arsenal and West Ham, but don’t let it totally change your perceptions of two struggling clubs.

August Tottenham is Gone, Look Out

The win didn’t occur at Wembley, but Tottenham and star striker Harry Kane have seemed to chase away the August ghosts that haunted them all throughout the first 3 games of the season.

Saturday’s Spurs squad looked a completely different bunch than the one seen as recently as two weeks ago against Burnley. Harry Kane registered his 100th Tottenham goal on an attempted cross that found its way into the back of the net, Christian Eriksen netted again, and Hugo Lloris kept his first clean sheet of the club season.

This was the Tottenham that we’ve become accustomed to seeing over the past 2 or so years. Relentless attacking quality, Harry Kane’s top class finishing ability, a stable, organized defensive trio, and a little sprinkle of Christian Eriksen’s magic.

Tottenham
Photo Courtesy of Rex Features

Spurs fired a warning shot to the rest of the league with this menacing performance over an Everton side made to look pathetic in the shadow of Mauricio Pochettino’s men. This is a good attacking team that isn’t going anywhere, regardless of how a shaky start might have pointed otherwise.

Tottenham is back and all they needed to do was get out of August.

……….

Where I Was Right Last Week:

Welp, for the first time in the now 4 weeks history of Tuesday Morning Tea I don’t think I was right about anything last week. I pronounced Arsenal and West Ham dead and for the time being, I was proven wrong. I called for a Crystal Palace bounce back and that flopped, I touted Swansea as a dangerous threat going forward and they were blanked by Newcastle.

So take your pick among all the places I was wrong last week, but none of those places include a correct prediction. My mom said there would be days like today…

Where I Was Wrong Last Week:

Where wasn’t I wrong last week? On top of that list above, I briefly mentioned that Liverpool might not need Philippe Coutinho anymore and that Tottenham could be in for “a dire reality check that their time fighting for the top 4 has already come and gone.”

Yikes.

……….

Team of the Week: Tottenham

Controversy!

Manchester City is the obvious choice here after a 5-0 thrashing of Liverpool broke an 0-5 run against the Reds for City, but I’m going with Spurs here because their 3-0 domination over Everton was just so badly needed.

While City had already shown their class this season with 7 points in 3 games, Tottenham had looked like a shell of its former self up until this past weekend. Mauricio Pochettino’s men recovered beautifully this weekend and picked up 3 points that were so badly needed.

Runners Up: Manchester City, Brighton

Player of the Week: Pascal Gross

Brighton, that team you probably forgot existed, recorded their first ever top flight goal and victory this weekend. Pascal Gross scored that first ever goal, sending the AmEx into absolute pandemonium. He then added another one later on to seal a 3-1 win for the Seagulls over West Brom.

Gross
Photo Courtesy of PA Photos

A tip of the hat to Brighton and Pascal Gross, well done lads.

Runners Up: Kevin De Bruyne, Harry Kane, Danny Welbeck, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting

Moment of the Week: Sadio Mane’s Red Card

In the game of the weekend, this was the moment that changed everything.

Liverpool’s star forward chased down a long ball for him, City keeper Ederson came out to cut down Mane’s chance and took a high boot straight to the side of the face. It was a vicious, if unintentional, foul that resulted in Mane being sent off with a straight red and receiving a 3 match ban after City’s 5-0 thrashing ended.

Mane
Photo Courtesy of Reuters and BBC

For the record, I believe it’s a clear red card and match suspension, regardless of whether or not Mane meant to maim Ederson’s face. But, either way, this was the biggest moment of the weekend and has sent City propelling towards the top and Liverpool spiraling down towards the bottom of the table.

Runners Up: Brighton’s First Goal, Harry Kane’s 100th Tottenham Goal, N’Golo Kane’s Goal vs Former Club Leicester

……….

10 Thoughts I Have

Manchester United are not invincible and Stoke peeled back the layers of what had looked like an impenetrable onion and shown the holes in the armor. United center backs Phil Jones and Eric Bailly struggled to mark the Stoke front 3 of Xherdan Shaqiri, Jese Rodriguez, and Eric Choupo-Moting, resulting in the latter scoring Stoke’s only 2 goals of the match. This was Manchester United’s first game against a front 3, and they struggled containing the movement and pressure of 3 strikers. The Red Devils will be fine for now, but when Liverpool comes to town in several weeks, it should be major trouble for Jose Mourinho’s side.

If you were potentially nervous about your team splashing big money on a striker this summer, have no fear. Between Romelu Lukaku, Alvaro Morata, and Alexandre Lacazette, the Premier League’s newest strikers have been the best so far. Lacazette has scored twice, Morata thrice, and Lukaku has bagged 4 tallies thus far. So far, big money has equalled big goals for Arsenal, Chelsea and United.

Morata
Photo Courtesy of Rex Features

At the risk of very easily being wrong, I’ll come right out and say that Crystal Palace will avoid relegation. Yes, the Eagles are the first team to lose their first 4 top flight matches without scoring a goal since 1920, but this side has too much quality, as they showed against Burnley. Palace attempted 23 shots and absolutely dominated the game but just couldn’t find the finish they so desperately needed. All they need is one goal and they’ll start flying.

Southampton are the most irrelevant team in the Premier League. I mean, how boring is this team? This weekend’s 2-0 defeat to Watford became the 3rd out of 4 Premier League matches in which Southampton has failed to score. The Saints have two 0-0 draws so far this season and are just generally boring to watch. If there’s ever a team that I often forget exists, it’s Southampton.

On the other side of this coin, what a start Watford are off to. Marco Silva has his side absolutely flying, and the Hornets have now outlasted West Brom and Huddersfield to be the last uncommon team still sitting in the top 4. I wouldn’t dare call for a potential ‘Leicester City’ type run, but Watford definitely have the look of a top half team. They defend well, play physically, and have some great finishing.

Speaking of Watford’s finishing, they scored the joint goals of the weekend. I’m packaging together Abdoulaye Doucoure and Daryl Janmaat’s super strikes because wow.

Other fantastic goals from this weekend include Leroy Sane’s left footed bender, Lacazette’s sublime finish, and another superb Alvaro Morata header.

After a promising start to the season that saw them collect 4 points from their first two matches, Everton have hit the skids in a major way and find themselves sitting 16th in the Prem table. They are in the middle of a nasty stretch of schedule that sees them take on Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United in consecutive weeks on top of Europa League. I still believe Everton are a top 7 side, but they need points this weekend against United in order to pull themselves back on track.

Manchester City have officially arrived as the class of the Premier League. This is a team still gelling together, but Saturday’s dispatching of Liverpool showed off City’s two best qualities, relentless attacking and sublime passing. Benjamin Mendy is a force in the left wingback spot, Leroy Sane showed his quality, Kevin De Bruyne bossed the midfield, and the most promising sight of all was Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus linking up for 3 goals between the two of them. City looked shaky in the past 3 weeks, but they’re here now and will only get better. The Prem is officially on notice.

Jesus and De Bruyne
Photo Courtesy of Sky Sports

Sunday is obviously a massive day next week, with Chelsea-Arsenal and Man U-Everton tilts highlighting the day, but the game of next weekend will be Watford vs Man City. Can Watford truly hang with the top 4? Can City continue their dominance? Will this be a trap game for City coming off of their win over Liverpool and a mid-week Champions League clash? I have City pulling out a 2-1 win, but Watford certainly won’t make it easy. I have this one circled several times.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

Tuesday Morning Tea Week 4: Back in Business

Week 3 Tuesday Morning Tea: Break Point

This international break is just the worst, isn’t it?

We’ve waited patiently all summer for club football to return and have gone through months of tedious transfer rumors all in the name of our favorite teams. And now, right when it gets going again, we have to watch more international football.

Don’t get me wrong, I love WC qualifiers as much as the next guy, but this break is just a total buzzkill. International football is happening virtually all summer, so it’s honestly not the thing we need more of right now. Just give me a few more weeks of club football before this break, that’s all I’m really asking.

That being said, the break isn’t a bad thing at all for some teams.

In week 3, Crystal Palace’s horrendous start continued, Tottenham couldn’t chase away their Wembley ghosts and Arsenal were a complete and total train wreck. For those 3 teams and others, this break will serve as a welcomed reprieve and an opportunity for them to evaluate just what in the hell has gone wrong so far.

However, for clubs like Manchester United and Huddersfield, who still haven’t conceded a goal yet, this international break is the same to them as it does to you and me…a total buzzkill.

So before all the World Cup qualifier action gets going later this week, lets recap the weekend that was in the Premier League. To start, here are your week 3 headlines.

……….

West Ham Are Lost

Hoo boy. Where do we even start with the Hammers.

Week after week I continue to insist that they’ll be just fine. “Between Chicharito, Zabaleta, Joe Hart, Ayew, Arnautovic, Michel Antonio and others, there is just too much quality in this squad for them to lose again” I convince myself.

But West Ham apparently views my faith in them as a challenge to keep getting worse.

I can understand an opening 4-0 defeat to an unstoppable Manchester United squad. I can also forgive a hard fought 3-2 loss at Southampton in week 2. But 3-0 to Newcastle? Nah, we gotta talk about this now.

west ham
Photo courtesy of Getty Images

This game was competitive for maybe the first 30 minutes. Then Newcastle netted their opener on an easy counter attack following a critical error made by 18 year old Declan Rice and it was all downhill from there for West Ham.

There was little to no structure in the Hammers’ attack, leaving Chicharito on an island up top making useless runs and barely seeing the ball. West Ham remarkably held 63% possession in the match, yet only managed 3 shots on goal and 1 chance. If the strategy was to control possession, dilly dally around the middle 3rd of the field and then give the ball away and allow counter attacks, then job well done because that’s all that West Ham did Saturday afternoon.

Slaven Bilic’s seat is hotter than ever and he needs to figure his group out. Chicharito is a world class striker out high, but he’s not a Romelu Lukaku-type that can create his own scoring chances. He needs quality service and consistent traffic in order to be successful. Andre Ayew, Arnautovic and Michel Antonio need to be better.

I have no idea what to do about the back line, they just look like a mess right now. Far too many porous turnovers, shoddy coverage and just a general lack of organization have caused the Hammers to concede 10 times already this season. Everything is awful, so good luck to Bilic, I suppose.

Quality analysis there, I know, but West Ham have been that bad this season. The international break will do them well, but good heavens do they miss Dimitri Payet right now. Unless things get turned around ASAP, Slaven Bilic will actually be sacked instead of just threatened. 

Chris Wood Continues Tottenham’s Wembley Woes

I should have known that things were going far too well, but I thought this was the week that Spurs would finally begin to solve their Wembley problem. Up a goal in the 92’, a crucial 1-0 result looked pretty secure.

Lol nope.

Chris Wood’s 92’ strike ended all of those hopes and sent Tottenham supporters crashing back down to the reality that their club has won 2 out of 12 matches at its now temporary home. 

Wembley woes, indeed.

Chris Wood
Photo Courtesy of Michael Zemanek

Spurs’ Wembley record, much like Harry Kane’s lack of an August league goal in his career, is a story line that just won’t go away. Last week against Chelsea could be forgiven, but after failing to win a home league match against Burnley for the first time since 1973-74 it’s time to recognize that something about this little Wembley curse has merit.

67% possession, 28 shots, 10 corners, a Dele Alli goal, and still Tottenham couldn’t bag the 3 points they so badly needed. And now they’ll have 2 weeks to stew over what went wrong.

On the final goal against Burnley, Kieran Trippier is mainly at fault for wandering too far up the pitch and then being nowhere to be found on the cover when Wood makes his run. This seems like a good time to remind everyone that Trippier was the reason Mauricio Pochettino insisted that Kyle Walker was expendable this summer. Yeah, 50 million pounds for Walker is great business, but Tottenham still haven’t spent that money and Trippier has looks poor in the season’s first 3 games, this mistake being a particular lowlight. 

Harry Kane’s August goal drought has reached new stages of cursed. So far, he has produced the most shots of any goalless Premier League player. Kane’s tally of 24 shots without a goal is more than double the next name on the list. And, funny enough, that next name is Christian Eriksen with 11 shots and no goals.

Spurs chose to remain quiet during the summer transfer frenzy, much to the chagrin of their supporters. So far, it appears as though the quality of teams around Tottenham has risen while they have remained stagnant and been passed up.

Wins against clubs like Burnley will not come easy anymore, and this could be a dire reality check for Spurs that their time fighting at the top has come and gone without any trophies to show for. 

#WengerOut

Yeah, so Arsenal had a bit of a rough weekend.

If you thought that the Gunners’ 1-0 loss to Stoke last week was a tough pill to swallow, boy oh boy did they have a bloody followup.

Liverpool didn’t just beat Arsenal 4-0, they destroyed the entire club, tore them apart and then left them on the pitch to burn. It was a red onslaught from the opening whistle and a disinterested Arsenal side had no answers. Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino did whatever they pleased and scored at will. The Reds generated 10 shots on goal against a sieve-like Gunners defense while conceding 0 shots on goal. 

Sanchez
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

In every possible way, Arsenal were absolutely pitiful.

Arsene Wenger’s choice 11 was head scratching to begin with, as he left out club record signing Alex Lacazette and Sead Koliasinac, who has been the best player in the squad thus far.  Also, he decided to play normal right back Hector Bellerin as a holding midfielder and normal holding midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at left back instead of Kolasinac. And then, when things began going south immediately, Wenger’s first substitution was Francis Coquelin.

That’s like serving plain Lay’s at a party when the guests begin to grumble about the Chex Mix being stale. It just showed how much Arsene Wenger seemed to not care about what should have been a massively important match.

Granit Xhaka and Mesut Ozil disappeared in the midfield again for the second week in a row, as did Nacho Monreal in the back. Hector Bellerin looked uninspired and lethargic in the midfield and put a cherry on top of his performance by gifting up a pathetic goal to Mohamed Salah.

And where was the Arsenal leadership when things were going bad? Where was Laurent Koscielny or Petr Cech to grab Ozil and Xhaka by the scruff of the neck and demand better when things started going bad? Where was the fire that Alexis Sanchez was supposed to bring back into the side on his much awaited return?

Things went from bad to worse when Arsenal just seemed to quit on the match before the halftime whistle even sounded. This wasn’t just a tactically shambled club, this was a squad in total disarray that looked like they wanted to be doing anything other than playing football.

Arsene Wenger.jpg
Photo Courtesy of Reuters

Arsenal look like they need a total reset. Wenger has grown out of touch with his tactics, there is no player leadership at this club, and the roster seems completely uninterested and uninspired.

Expect things at the Emirates to be very busy over the next two weeks, and not in a good way. Possibly more than any other club in England, this international break is crucial for the Gunners.

Will they take action and demand better from a squad dragging its feet everywhere like a pouty child or will they continue to let the players mope and produce poor results each weekend?

……….

Where I Was Right Last Week:

When Manchester City went down a man and a goal before halftime against Everton last Monday, I said that their second half performance would be indicative of the kind of team City was.

The Sky Blues banded together, put on an all out, 10 man attack assault, and salvaged a point while looking like they might end up possibly snatching all 3. It was a heartening display for club supporters who watched during the 2016-17 campaign as City often folded in tough games and were unable to win ugly football matches.

This week, that resolve showed once again and City won an ugly football match.

Heading into halftime tied at 1, Bournemouth seemed content with a draw and played like it in the second half, mucking the game up to the point where it became almost unwatchable.

However, unlike in the past, City remained patient instead of folding in the face of a physical game. Pep Guardiola’s men dominated possession and continued creating chances all the way until Raheem Sterling got a fortunate deflection on his winning goal in the 97th minute.

Sterling
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

From Mike Dean’s refereeing to Guardiola playing a back 4, many things about this match can be questioned, but City’s resolve and fighting spirit can not be. Finding a way to get 3 points out of matches like this is crucial in a title chase and the resolve shown on Saturday will only be good for City going forward.

In other news, I don’t know how much more I can say about Sadio Mane that I haven’t already said, but this man is turning into a bona fide superstar. Another week, another brilliant goal, 90.2% passing accuracy and a MOTM for Liverpool in their Arsenal thrashing on Sunday.

The Philippe Coutinho saga has not been fun for all involved, but the Liverpool attack has purred without their star Brazilian and Mane’s further emergence has everything to do with that. He was absolutely brilliant again this week and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Mane vs Benjamin Mendy at the Etihad in 2 weeks? Yes, please.

……….

Where I Was Wrong Last Week:

I continue to mis-place my faith in West Ham and Arsenal.

I insisted that West Ham’s attacking quality is just too good for them to keep floundering at the bottom of the table. They got shut out this week by Newcastle, of all teams.

I insisted that Arsenal has too much overall quality to be in the bottom half of the table for longer than a month. The two players that I pegged to spearhead a Gunners turnaround were Lacazette and Kolasinac.

Neither of them started during the horrorshow at Anfield on Sunday.

Arsenal and West Ham have somehow managed to get even worse this past week and I don’t know if I see things changing anytime soon for either of them.

……….

Team of the Week: Liverpool

This one was clear cut. The Reds played nearly perfect football to absolutely shred a pathetic Arsenal side on Sunday and that came after a midweek Champions League qualifying win over Hoffenheim to put Liverpool back in the group stage. Sadio Mane is electric, Mo Salah has settled in perfectly, Firmino played another outstanding game and Jurgen Klopp has his club buzzing after a rocky start.

Runners Up: Manchester United, Newcastle

Player of the Week: Kasper Schmeichel

Yes, a player from a losing team is the player of the week. Leicester’s star keeper was absolutely brilliant on Saturday as his side lost 2-0 to Manchester United. Schmeichel made several brilliant saves, including a spectacular one to deny Juan Mata in the first half, and stopped a Romelu Lukaku penalty early in the second half. Yes, United ended up winning, but Schmeichel’s performance was reminiscent of Leicester’s title run 2 years ago.

Runners Up: Any Liverpool Forward, Harry Maguire, Henrikh Mkhitaryan

Moment of the Week: Raheem Sterling’s 97’ Winner

For the second consecutive week, Sterling played the hero for Manchester City, only this time his heroics came much later in the game and included scoring a winner instead of just an equalizer. Sterling’s goal leaves City in 4th place heading into the international break, a much more comfortable outlook than the alternative of 8th place. Stoppage time winners are always special, but combined with the manager, bench and fan reaction, this one felt like it meant something just a little bit more.

Runners Up: Chris Wood’s Equalizer, Charlie Daniels’ Stunner, Miguel Britos’ Horror Challenge

……….

10 Thoughts I Have

  1. Everton are in the middle of an absolutely brutal stretch of their schedule. Their Premier League schedule has given them City and Chelsea in the past two weeks with Tottenham and United waiting to greet the Toffees on the other side of the break. This stretch, combined with the Europa League starting up its midweek schedule, will be telling for Everton. They want to be a top half club in the Premier League and this is the kind of schedule those teams face. Get used to it. 
  2. A milestone happened on Saturday at Old Trafford that will get overlooked but is still incredibly important. Henrikh Mkhitaryan equalled Ruel Fox’s Premier League record for most assists in the first 3 appearances of a season with 5. The Red Devils’ man struggled in adapting to the Premier League early last season and he certainly heard about it. Earlier this summer, there were criticisms about his weight. Mkhitaryan has been brutalized by the media during his time in England, but now that he’s playing at a world class level, it’s time to recognize it and appreciate what he’s doing. 
  3. What in the blue hell is happening with Crystal Palace right now? 2 weeks ago I teased that they could be the most talented side ever relegated. After losing their first 3 matches without scoring a goal, that thought is looking dangerously realistic. Palace have lost seven of their last 8 league matches without scoring a goal in each of those 7 and the answers don’t look readily available. Wilfried Zaha has nobody to provide service for, Christian Benteke looks hapless in the middle, and Jason Puncheon appears to have seriously lost a step. Tough times for the Eagles, who sit 19th. 
  4. On the other side of the coin, this was a massive win for Swansea. Coming into this match, the Swans had yet to even record a shot on goal this season, let alone actually scoring a goal. Star loanee Tammy Abraham finally got Paul Clement’s men on the scoreboard with a lovely finish just before halftime. A Wilfried Bony return from Manchester City looks imminent, and combining him with an in form Abraham up front provides Swansea with a fantastic attacking duo. This is a dangerous bottom half team right here. 
  5. Charlie Austin scored the undisputed goal of the weekend, month and season so far. The Bournemouth left back will never strike another football better than this.
  6. Other great goals this weekend include Gabriel Jesus’ opener for City, Cesc Fabregas’ 1-2 with Alvaro Morata, and another brilliant Sadio Mane tally.
  7. Watford are developing quite a reputation as the dirtiest club in England and Miguel Britos’ horrific challenge this weekend against Brighton only serves to further that. I haven’t been watching football for that long, but this was the worst challenge I have ever seen and is unacceptable. Watford have seen red 6 times since the start of last season and this was Britos’ 3rd red card since last season. Let’s hope we never have to see anything like this challenge again for a long, long time.
  8. If you still had doubts about Chelsea after last week’s late win over Tottenham, their 2-0 domination over Everton should subside those doubts. The champions put together a suffocating defensive performance reminiscent of the title winning side last season and held the Toffees without a single shot on goal. The only Everton threat came in the 88th minute when the game was already sealed in the Blues’ favor. The champions are fully back after their opening week failure and should only get better. 
  9. Peter Crouch is probably my favorite player in the Premier League. Skill wise, the big fella is probably past his prime but, as his equalizer against West Brom this weekend showed, the Potters’ super sub can still bag the occasional goal or two. Crouch is an absolute joy to watch on and off the pitch. He seems to never stop smiling while on the field, enjoying every second of football that he gets, and his social media accounts off the pitch have me in stitches. ‘Crouchinho’ is a treasure that must be appreciated while we still have the chance.
  10. Coming out of the international break, the obvious game of the weekend is a Liverpool trip to the blue side of Manchester. However, Everton-Tottenham is the fixture that I have pegged as match of the weekend. Both teams are coming off of tough results and are in desperate need of a win in order to put themselves back in good position to contend with the top of the table. Between the two of them, whoever wins this match will finish higher in the final standings than the other, #HotTake.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

Week 3 Tuesday Morning Tea: Break Point

Tuesday Morning Tea: The Table is Shook

The current top 4 in the Premier League table have 21 First Division titles among them. For one of the most prestigious leagues in Europe, such class at the top of the table this early in the season is to be expected. The best teams are showing their quality and all is right with the world.

Except that 20 of those aforementioned titles belong to table toppers Manchester United. The other 3 teams in the top 4 – Huddersfield, West Brom and Watford – only have 1 title between them, belonging to the Baggies’ 1919-20 squad.

So much for traditional powers ruling the top 4, I suppose.

Only 3 teams have collected all 6 possible points, those teams being United, West Brom and Huddersfield. Manchester United’s two wins were expected, but a pair of dominating 4-0 results have fans on the red side of Manchester buzzing over the team’s play thus far. Romelu Lukaku netted again in another top class display by the Red Devils.

West Brom was a team that I had pegged as a possible Europa League surprise candidate and Tony Pulis’ squad certainly has not disappointed so far, winning their first two games of a top flight campaign for the first time since 1977-78.

Robson Kanu.jpg
Photo Courtesy of Press Association

And the Huddersfield dream continues. Not only have the Terriers won their first two ever  top flight games, but they have yet to concede a goal and feature a +4 goal differential. Aaron Mooy scored an absolute sparkler to give Huddersfield a win over Newcastle on Sunday and the new boys still remain in Champions League position two weeks into the new season.

Early season results can be fluky – last season, Hull City won its first two games before going on to take 28 points from the next 36 matches – but the Prem table is currently flipped on its head. Some early table spots look easily sustainable while others absolutely don’t.

With all that being said, here are some teams that, 2 weeks into the season, aren’t where they belong.

……….

West Ham: Let’s start all the way down at the bottom of the table with a team clearly still trying to find its footing. After getting thumped 4-0 by a world-beating Manchester United side in their opener, West Ham badly needed a positive result this week against Southampton.

The result? An emotional rollercoaster of a game ending in heartbreak on a Charlie Austin stoppage time penalty that gave the Saints a 3-2 result. A brutal result for West Ham, but out of the rubble of another crushing defeat came two realizations.

When West Ham are good, they can play with anyone. But when West Ham aren’t nearly perfect, it’s an absolute disaster.

The bad at St. Mary’s was really bad. Jose Font looked clueless in the back, Marko Arnautovic gave away an absolutely awful red card (and the Moussa Sissoko comparisons are starting to fly for West Ham’s club record signing), and Pablo Zabaleta made a terrible mistake when giving away the final penalty.

The first Southampton goal exemplifies all of West Ham’s defense problems. A simple looking counterattack featuring Nathan Redmond and Manolo Giabbidini versus 6 Hammers turns into an easy Southampton goal. Redmond calmly holds the ball, not remotely pressured by Pablo Zabaleta, before sliding through a simple ball to Giabbidini, who easily sliced through the 3 centre backs on a straight line run and buried a quality finish. Disorganized, un-athletic, couldn’t be bothered to pressure the ball, down 1-0.

However, the attacking quality in this side is borderline great.

chicharito
Photo Courtesy of Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

Chicharito is a godsend. A fox in the box, he was the first to pounce on the only two loose rebounds that Fraser Forster surrendered and absolutely buried both of them. Chicharito just has a nose for goal and positions himself phenomenally to be able to capitalize on whatever chances come his way. West Ham finally have a true goal scorer, and a darn good one at that.

Michel Antonio and Declan Rice both played brilliantly in behind the Mexican striker, and combining them with an in-form Marko Arnautovic can create some serious problems. The Hammers are far better than they’ve played so far. If the back line can figure things out and Arnautovic can screw his head on straight, West Ham will challenge for a Europa League spot instead of being 20th.

Huddersfield: There’s a parade going on in West Yorkshire right now and I’m about to rain on it. Yes, Huddersfield’s schedule looks favorable for the next month or so, but this team will come back down to earth eventually. A September 30th visit to Wembley looks like the time that the Terriers’ bubble will finally burst.

In the moment, David Wagner is a magician. His side have yet to concede a goal yet, Steve Mounie looks like the signing of a lifetime, and Aaron Mooy has been a world beating midfielder thus far. The physical, counter-pressing style that Huddersfield play has caused quite a stir thus far, completely vexing both Crystal Palace and now Newcastle.

Wagner
Photo Courtesy of Huddersfield Town

They would do well to keep this up, but the Terriers just don’t have the depth and quality to play such an aggressive, energetic style week after week. The grind of a Premier League season will eventually wear them own and deeper, more quality teams will begin slicing them open with counterattacks.

Don’t get me wrong, I hope that Huddersfield can keep this magical run going for as long as possible. This type of story is great for the game of football and I love watching it happen. But 2nd in the table isn’t at all sustainable and they will tumble.

Arsenal and Chelsea: I don’t think you need me to tell you that Arsenal and Chelsea won’t finish 11th and 12th in the final Premier League table, but let me do it anyway.

Arsenal and Chelsea won’t be finishing 11th and 12th in the final Premier League table, you can bank on it.

While a 1-0 loss to Stoke this weekend was a brutal result for Arsenal, they have too much attacking quality to not challenge the top 4. Lacazette continued his early brilliance, scoring a clean goal that was wrongly called back on a questionable offsides, Sead Kolasinac played another fantastic game from the back line, and Olivier Giroud made a significant impact for the second week in a row as a super sub.

Everything else was bad in the game against Stoke, but Arsenal just have too much quality to be sitting in the bottom half for longer than a month. As for Chelsea, a massive statement win against Tottenham has them right back on track.

Like I said, you probably didn’t need me to tell you that Arsenal and Chelsea wouldn’t be finishing this low in the final table, but rest assured that it won’t be happening.

……….

Where I Was Right Last Week

Chelsea bounced back in a major way after an embarrassing opening week defeat to Burnley. While not convincing, a 2-1 away victory against Tottenham is a massive statement and a necessary result for a team in desperate need for something positive.

A back line that looked completely lost at times against Burnley re-discovered their 2016-17 title winning form and held a potent Spurs attack mostly silent aside from one quality Harry Kane chance. Take away Michy Batshuayi’s bullet header own goal and Chelsea would have turned in a clean sheet to go along with their fantastic defensive effort.

Alonso.jpg
Photo Courtesy of Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

David Luiz showed incredible quality while playing in a holding midfield role behind Tiemoue Bakayoko and N’Golo Kante. Add a playmaker like Eden Hazard into this squad and Chelsea are the title contenders that we all thought they would be.

The opening result was disheartening, but Chelsea are back, just like I said they would be, and sooner than I thought too.

Where I Was Wrong Last Week

Briefly, I mentioned that Manchester City’s defense spending would pay off. Last week against Brighton, Kyle Walker was the MOTM, this week he garnered a first half double yellow and left Manchester City a man down for the majority of the game.

Everton’s only goal was a flashback to the City defense of 2016-17. A simple counter attack turned into Dominic Calvert-Lewin skinning two Manchester City centre backs before finding an unmarked Wayne Rooney for an easy 7 yard tap in goal.

Walker
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Everything City did well last week against Brighton was done poorly today against Everton. The 3 centre backs were undisciplined and unorganized, as evidenced by the Toffees’ goal, and the wing backs struggled creating chances while going forward.

Benjamin Mendy is yet to appear for Pep Guardiola’s side and he will be a godsend when he finally does debut, but City still appear to have the same defensive problems that they did last year.

Another centre back is definitely in need.

……….

Team of the Week: Manchester United

What more can be said about the Red Devils. A pair of dominating 4-0 wins have them flying high atop the table. Nemanja Matic played another brilliant game, Paul Pogba and Henrik Mkhitaryan played like the big money midfielders they were brought in to be, and Romelu Lukaku was on target yet again. United look unstoppable right now.

Runners Up: Huddersfield Town, Watford, Chelsea

Player of the Week: Marcos Alonso

Chelsea’s flying left back may have saved their season with an incredible brace at Wembley on Sunday. Starting off with a brilliant free kick goal to give Chelsea a 23’ lead and finishing with an 88’ winner, Alonso was the unlikely hero that the Blues so desperately needed. With another huge match against Everton on the horizon, Alonso’s top class performance was just what the Stamford Bridge doctor ordered.

Runners Up: Aaron Mooy, Chicharito, Henrikh Mkhitaryan

Moment of the Week: Marcos Alonso’s 88’ Winner for Chelsea

It may have saved the defending champions’ season. A draw wouldn’t have been the worst thing ever, but after giving up an own goal just 3 minutes earlier it sure would have felt like it for Chelsea fans. Alonso has struck new life into a season that was pronounced dead by so many just a week ago, and what a strike it was.

Runners Up: Chicharito’s equalizer, Aaron Mooy’s opener, Wayne Rooney’s 200th Prem goal

……….

10 Thoughts I Have

  1. Sadio Mane continues to develop into one of the world’s premier wingers. Pace, creativity, relentless effort on and off the ball all describe the Senegal international’s game and he showed his class once again this week against Crystal Palace. Mane’s tireless effort all afternoon finally culminated in a game winning goal.
  2. And speaking of Liverpool, their transfer situation is an absolute mess. Firstly, I’ve lost an immense amount of respect for Philippe Coutinho due to the way he has handled his transfer request. Holding out for a move to Barcelona, Coutinho has refused to train and held out of the team with a “back injury”. Meanwhile, Virgil Van Dijk continues to alienate himself at Southampton in hopes of forcing a move to Anfield. Overall, Liverpool’s transfer window disaster reinforces the need for the Premier League window to end on the first day of the season.
  3. While Coutinho and Van Dijk – among others (Ousmane Dembele, looking at you) – hold out for desired transfer moves, Riyad Mahrez has been all class for Leicester. The Foxes’ best player has made it clear that he wants a move away from the King Power Stadium in hopes of playing consistent Champions League football, but Leicester have not been able to work out a deal yet. But instead of throwing a fit and holding out, Mahrez has fulfilled his Leicester duty and played top quality football thus far. With 2 more assists against Brighton on Saturday, Mahrez has only continued to up his value and reputation. This is how it’s supposed to be done.
  4. I called Burnley manager Sean Dyche a magician last week, and before anyone could read that sentence his squad got ‘West Brom’d’ in a 1-0 home loss. This isn’t to take anything away from West Brom, as they are playing fantastic Tony Pulis football right now, but Burnley looked nothing like the side that shocked Chelsea just a week ago. Sam Vokes’ finishing was abysmal, and when the Clarets weren’t flubbing chances, they were struggling to create them. Burnley need more week to week consistency if they hope to survive for a second straight season.
  5. Watford are in the top 4 and Etienne Capoue scored the goal of the weekend. The bees are buzzing. 
  6. Other notable goals from the weekend include Paul Pogba’s chip, Marcos Alonso’s free kick, Raheem Sterling’s half volley equalizer, and Aaron Mooy’s winner for Huddersfield. Do yourself a favor and go watch all of them.
  7. Everton played Man City almost to perfection on Monday night. The Toffees relentlessly pressed high up the field, putting pressure on the 3 centre backs, and got the performance of a lifetime from Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who caused problems all night long. Yet, playing the entire second half up a goal and a man, Everton were completely and totally dominated. City held nearly 75% possession and completed over 200 more passes before Raheem Sterling’s volley found the back of the net and salvaged a point for City. I’m still not sure if this game says more about Everton or City. From Everton’s view, they played exceptionally well against one of the best teams in the league and should have taken 3 points, but they didn’t. For City, they played horribly, yet found a way to salvage a point and almost come away with 3 while playing a full half down a man. Only time will tell.
  8. The sky is not falling on Arsenal, but what the hell happened to them this weekend at Stoke? 76% possession, outstanding performances from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alex Lacazette, yet the Gunners couldn’t come away with even a single point. Week 1 against Leicester, Arsenal scratched, clawed, and found ways to create chances and score. This week against Stoke, they looked overly cautious and seemed to be trying to create the perfect wonder goal instead of just firing on net. Dirty goals still count, fellas.
  9. Jese Rodriguez is absolutely sensational for Stoke. He joins the Potters on loan from Paris Saint-Germain and has already made a thunderous impact. His match winner against Arsenal was everything that will make him an instant Stoke fan favorite. Electrifying run, brilliant first touch, crackling finish, passionate celebration. Expect him to cause problems all season long.
  10. It only feels right to end this by talking about Manchester United because wow, what a start. They’ve scored 8 and have yet to concede. That speaks for itself, but coming off of a season in which Jose Mourinho’s side frustratingly drew a club record 18 matches, these results feel even more encouraging. The Red Devils’ next 5 games are against Leicester, Stoke, Everton, Southampton and Crystal Palace. Manchester United have been overshadowed all offseason by their crosstown rivals but have come out in pursuit of a 21st top flight title with blood in their eyes. These next few games should be a fantastic opportunity for United to distance themselves from the rest of the pack early.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

Tuesday Morning Tea: The Table is Shook

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.

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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.

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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