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 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.
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.
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.
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 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
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
- 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.
- Bury me with this screen cap from Jurgen Klopp’s official postgame interview. The next great sports meme has been born.
- 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.
- 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.
- Fabian Delph, making his first appearance of the season for Man City, scored the goal of the weekend.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.