Tuesday Morning Tea Week 15: Derby Weekend

Derby’s are special.

In America, we call it a rivalry and the fierceness often depends upon whether or not the teams are winning. For example, when the Yankees or Red Sox suck, that rivalry isn’t any fun and it’s just some normal games.

What I love about Premier League derby’s is that they are always intense and hard-fought, no matter if one or both of the teams is winning or not. That being said, it certainly doesn’t hurt when the teams are winning and the game really matters.

This weekend saw the London Derby between West Ham and Chelsea, the Merseyside Derby between Liverpool and Everton, and the Manchester Derby between City and United. All 3 were hotly contested and produced significant results.

West Ham, in one of the shock results of the season, gave David Moyes his first victory as manager and defeated Chelsea 1-0. Everton, on the back of a controversial late penalty scored by Wayne Rooney, drew with Liverpool 1-1 and Manchester City all but wrapped up the title with a dominating 2-1 display over Manchester United.

Elsewhere, Leicester and Newcastle played a brilliantly entertaining game that went the Foxes’ way after an unfortunate Magpies own goal. Burnley kept rolling with a 1-0 win over Watford, Swansea won their first game since the calendar said ‘October’ and Huddersfield easily handled Brighton 2-0.

Here are your weekend headlines:

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Manchester is Blue and the Title is Too

If you still had any doubt about who the best team in England is, Sunday should officially cement Manchester City’s status as the top dog in the yard. Having won 13 straight games and only dropped points in 1 of 15 games so far, a trip to Manchester United was the last true test on City’s 2017 docket.

Oh, they passed. You better believe they passed.

City 1
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Manchester City won the Derby on Sunday afternoon in every way possible. The 2-1 scoreline was possibly flattering towards Manchester United and it’s amazing to think that it could have been 2-2 if not for Ederson making an absolutely remarkable double save in the 85th minute of action.

Pep Guardiola out-classed Jose Mourinho once again, maintaining his spotless record against the Portuguese manager since the two came to England at the beginning of last season.

Mourinho had a clear plan, sucker City forward and then play long balls over the top to Marcus Rashford and the other pacy United attackers. Guardiola was perfectly happy to push his team as high up the pitch as possible and then trust his centre backs to stop counter attacks. Nicolas Otamendi had a fantastic day in City defense, making 3 interceptions and 4 clearances while not giving away a single foul all day.

Otamendi
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

The thing that it didn’t seem Mourinho was prepared for was just how little of the ball his side would have. If not for a late push in both halves from Manchester United, City might have held 80% possession throughout the full 90 minutes. As it stands, the possession numbers read 65%-35% in favor of the boys in blue, but that seems favorable to the Red Devils.

When City had the ball, they were probing the United defense, making them run and eventually break down on a pair of set pieces. When City didn’t have the ball, the blue shirts were flying all over the pitch, making ferocious efforts to get it back as soon as possible. United didn’t seem to be prepared for quite how tenacious and aggressive City were going to be, and it cost them.

In each of the other major battles, City came out on top of them all.

Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva bossed the Red Devils’ defensive midfield pairing of Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic. No City player touched the ball more than De Bruyne and Silva at 103 touches and 92 touches respectively, and United paid for their inability to silence the Sky Blues’ dynamic midfield pairing.

On the other side of the pitch, Romelu Lukaku was bullied all day long by Vincent Kompany and Eliaquim Mangala. The big Belgian only had 20 touches in a full 90 minutes of work, the fewest of any United player, and contributed significantly to both City goals with shoddy set piece clearances.

Lukaku
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Manchester City are now 11 points clear at the top and it’s not even Christmas yet. The Sky Blues have garnered 46 points from 16 games, the joint-highest total ever in that span, and have now set the all-time Premier League record for consecutive wins in a single season with 14 straight W’s.

United, meanwhile, have just lost at home to their bitter rivals and now find themselves all but out of the title race in early December. City have one hand on the title and there’s not a damn thing that their red rivals can do about it.

Manchester is blue and the title is too.

 

Tottenham Break Winless Streak in Style

If you don’t count the Champions League, it’s been a while since there was a winning feeling at Wembley. Winless in their last 4 games, Spurs haven’t pulled down a full 3 points since defeated Crystal Palace 1-0 all the way back on November 5th.

So, yeah, it’s been a while.

But the winless streak is no more after this past weekend’s 5-1 thrashing of a helpless Stoke City. Everyone got in on the action for Spurs, with Heung-min Son scoring the 2nd goal of the day, Harry Kane bracing the 3rd and 4th, and Christian Eriksen slamming home Tottenham’s 5th.

After a week in which Mauricio Pochettino called out his players to “show their true quality,” his boys responded in motivated fashion.

Tottenham
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Spurs were rampant going forward in every way. The counter-attack was just as ruthless and precise as we’ve come to expect, and the open play attack was just as lethal. Tottenham’s passing, in particular, stood out on Saturday afternoon as Spurs completed 696 passes with a sparkling 89% accuracy.

There are still some warning signs that Pochettino and Tottenham can’t ignore from this matchup. The goal given up was due to poor goalkeeping by Hugo Lloris along with a marking error by Eric Dier. Those errors may seem small in the context of a 5-1 victory, but there were far too many of those individual errors by white shirts on the day and those mistakes have made the difference between winning and losing during this mini 4 game streak.

With a visit from Manchester City on the horizon next weekend, Tottenham can’t afford those types of mistakes again and they need to be even better than they were Saturday to have a hope of defeating the rampant Sky Blues.

This was a nice way to end a winless streak for Spurs, but the warning signs are still there and need to be addressed. Tottenham aren’t out of the woods just yet, not even close, but they’ve begun cutting down some vines in their way.

 

Chelsea Shocked at London Stadium

If Manchester United’s loss to Manchester City this weekend dropped them out of the title race, as Jose Mourinho said in his postgame presser, than Chelsea’s 1-0 loss to West Ham on Saturday also dropped them out of the title race.

The Blues have now dropped 16 points through 16 games this season, a far cry from their form of last season that saw them only drop 21 points all season long. Now trailing Man City by 14 points, Chelsea’s title defense is all but officially finished and they have nobody to blame for it but themselves.

Chelsea 2
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

With defeats on the docket already to far inferior teams like Burnley and Crystal Palace, Chelsea have made a habit this season of playing down to poor competition and letting valuable points slip away. This loss was no different, with West Ham snatching an early lead and then holding onto it against a seemingly indifferent Blues’ side.

It took 55 minutes for Chelsea to even record a shot on goal and it was just 1 of 2 on the day. Only 2 shots in a full 90 minutes of football flat out isn’t good enough and West Ham, much to their credit, made Antonio Conte’s side pay for it.

“We played tired,” the Italian manager admitted about his team. “We created chances but were not able to score. There is still a fight to be had this season for the Champions League,  but we are disappointed.”

Five of Antonio Conte’s 9 Premier League defeats as Chelsea manager have come in London derbies, with West Ham joining Arsenal, Crystal Palace (x2) and Tottenham as crosstown Chelsea poachers.

All season long, the Blues have been possibly the quietest of the top 4 teams. They haven’t been out of a Champions League position since week 3 and that doesn’t appear set to change anytime soon, but their hopes of pulling in a successive Premier League title appear over.

Chelsea are what they are at this stage. They have proven their quality with wins over Tottenham, Manchester United and a 2nd place finish in a tough Champions League group, but have also proven their inconsistency with losses to Burnley, last place (at the time) Crystal Palace and now last place (at the time) West Ham.

With a midweek game away at Huddersfield right on the horizon, there could be another disappointing shortcoming in the works if the Blues aren’t careful and for a side so talented, this feels like a team on the verge of collapse.

Chelsea 1
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Real Madrid has already begun courting the likes of Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois, Antonio Conte’s job is on the ropes, 50 million pound summer signing Tiemoue Bakayoko is being heavily criticized from all corners, and Alvaro Morata hasn’t scored a goal in all competitions since November 18th.

Tough times at Stamford Bridge for the Prem’s most volatile club.

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Player of the Week: Steve Mounie

Huddersfield have had to wait nearly 4 months for their record signing to score his first goal at the John Smith’s Stadium, but it was certainly worth the wait. Mounie turned in an exquisite performance on Saturday against Brighton, scoring twice in a 2-0 Terriers win. The Beninese international has been a crucial cog in a surprisingly good Huddersfield side so far this season and it was nice to see him be rewarded this weekend with two home goals that saw the Terriers’ faithful erupt in jubilation.

Runners Up: Nicolas Otamendi, Son Heung-min, Marko Arnautovic

 

Team of the Week: Manchester City

They all but clinched the title this weekend with a tremendous display at Old Trafford. Pep Guardiola’s upstart world-beaters have dispatched their greatest rival and biggest test of the season so far and are now 11 points clear before Christmas. Their name is being carved onto the trophy as we speak.

Runners Up: Huddersfield Town, Burnley, Swansea City

 

Moment of the Week: Ederson’s Death-Defying Double Save

David De Gea’s stunner last week was probably better, but holy smokes does Ederson’s double effort in the 85th minute of the Manchester Derby give the Spaniard a run for his money. After saving a point blank Romelu Lukaku drive with his face/throat, Ederson popped right back up and sprawled himself out to deny Juan Mata as well. It was a crucial juncture in the game and denied Manchester United’s best scoring chance of the day, securing all 3 points for Man City in the biggest game of the season so far.

Runners Up: Newcastle 86’ own goal, Christian Benteke’s penalty farce

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10 Things I Think

  1. Don’t be surprised if Leicester City finish higher than Tottenham or Arsenal in the final standings. After such a rough start to the season under Craig Shakespeare, Claude Puel has the Foxes back playing their best football and Riyad Mahrez is grabbing games by the scruff of the neck again like he did during the 2015-16 title campaign. This is an extremely dangerous team, winners of 3 straight and only becoming more difficult to defend as they increase in confidence. Watch out, Southampton and Crystal Palace this week. 

    Leicester.JPG
    Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
  2. I might be alone in this boat, but I thought it was nice to see Marko Arnautovic finally get off the mark for West Ham and score his first goal this weekend against Chelsea. Arnautovic has floundered thus far in London after moving from Stoke, but he was rewarded with a goal this weekend for a string of good performances he’s turned in recently. Slaven Bilic played the Austrian in 6 different positions before being fired, which isn’t conducive to success in any way. Since arriving, Roy Hodgson has given Arnautovic 4 straight starts as an attacking centre midfielder, a position he has thrived in. West Ham’s Austrian star is finally off the mark and he should only get better. 

    Arnautovic
    Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
  3. I think Olivier Giroud is completely under appreciated among Gunners fans. Arsenal’s French marksman scored his 17th goal as a substitute in the 88th minute on Sunday, rescuing a 1-1 draw for his side against a tough Southampton team. Only Jermain Defoe (23) has scored more Premier League goals as a substitute than Giroud, and the Frenchman’s 17th goal for Arsenal pulls him level with former Manchester United hero Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in terms of substitute goals for one club. Giroud has been there time and time again for Arsenal and it’s time he got the credit he deserved. 

    Giroud
    Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
  4. And, speaking of Jermain Defoe, Bournemouth’s English poacher scored the goal of the weekend with this stupidly good volley. Defoe doesn’t even take a look at the net, this is purely instinct and muscle memory. A remarkable goal.
  5. Other notable tallies include Mohamed Salah’s Liverpool opener, Marko Arnautovic’s West Ham winner, and the ‘would-have-been goal of the week’ scored by Riyad Mahrez’s rocket left foot.
  6. I think Gabriel Jesus was the most underrated cog in Manchester City’s derby victory this weekend. The striker played nearly all 57 of his game minutes in a wide role, essentially as a false #9, in order to give Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva more space to operate in. It was a subtle tactical adjustment by Pep Guardiola, but it was fascinating to watch Jesus play wide. He didn’t touch the ball much and didn’t have a very tangible influence on the game (other than putting Marcos Rojo on skates in the first half with some dribbling trickery) but his willingness to play wider allowed De Bruyne and Silva to boss the midfield like they did. Jesus has been hailed as the perfect modern striker because of his intelligence on the pitch and this was just another example of that. 

    Jesus
    Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
  7. I think St. James Park possesses the most lively and impressive atmosphere in the Premier League. Rafa Benitez has routinely pointed out the influence that his teams’ supporters can have on the club, and it was evident on Saturday afternoon against Leicester City. When Newcastle opened the scoring in the 5th minute, the place erupted and the noise could be heard all the way in Wales. Before the game, while Newcastle were celebrating the club’s 125th birthday, the Magpies’ fans brought their A game in the tifo department, unfurling newspaper headlines and banners all over the park. It was an incredible scene and one that I felt was worth mentioning here. 

    St. James
    Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
  8. I think Jose Mourinho’s post-match interview is indicative of where his club stands in relation to Manchester City. After being thoroughly taken apart by the Sky Blues, Mourinho insisted that it was the referee’s fault his side lost, claiming that Ander Herrera deserved a penalty and that it was “an important mistake” that it wasn’t given. The Portuguese manager went even further, claiming that Man City are “protected by the luck and the gods of football are behind them.” Winners focus on winning, losers focus on winners. You be the judge of what Mourinho and United are. 

    Mourinho
    Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
  9. I think that Christian Benteke is the goat of the week (goat as in scapegoat, not GOAT). Tied 2-2 in the 92nd minute of a crucial game against Bournemouth, Crystal Palace won themselves a penalty and looked as if they just might be able to pull out all 3 points. Curiously, up stepped Christian Benteke – instead of Luka Milivojevic, who had already scored a Palace penalty earlier in the afternoon – and, of course, the Belgian striker’s pathetic effort was saved by Bournemouth goalie Asmir Begovic. After the match, Roy Hodgson admitted that Benteke taking the penalty was a decision made by Benteke and Benteke only. Palace were cost 2 points because of the mistake and it could bite them at the end of the season during their fight for survival. A crucial mistake and a crucial miss from a horribly out of form Benteke. 

    Benteke
    Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
  10. Another 2-game week in the Premier League begins on Tuesday with the best midweek clash between Watford and Crystal Palace. Palace’s penchant for playing a wide open game has produced some of the most entertaining ties of the season, as has Watford. There could be some serious fireworks in this game, and I see a 2-2 draw with goals from Zaha, Doucoure, Andre Gray and Luka Milivojevic.
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Tuesday Morning Tea Week 15: Derby Weekend

Tuesday Morning Tea Week 9: Definite, Decisive, Divisive

There were no draws this week.

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

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

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

What thrill.

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

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The Champions Reign on Watford’s Parade

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

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

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

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

Azpilicueta
Photo Courtesy of PA

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

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

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

Liverpool’s Defensive Nightmare Continues

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

It only lasted 3 days, though.

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

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

Liverpool
Photo Courtesy of EPA

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rough times all around Merseyside.

Huddersfield Shock the World

1952.

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

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

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

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

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

Mooy
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

What a world we live in, man.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Where I Was Right Last Week:

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

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

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

Where I Was Wrong Last Week:

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

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

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

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

Boufal 1
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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Player of the Weekend: Michy Batshuayi

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

Batshuayi
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

Team of the Weekend: Huddersfield Town

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

Runners Up: Manchester City, Brighton, Tottenham

Moment of the Weekend: Cesar Azpilicueta’s Chelsea Winner

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

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

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10 Thoughts I Have

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday Morning Tea Week 8: USMNT Failure Therapy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are your weekend headlines.

……….

 

The Manchester’s Separate at the Top

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

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

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

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

City
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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

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

Sane
Photo Courtesy of PA

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

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

Kevin De Bruyne Deserves His Own Headline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crystal Palace Shock Chelsea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zaha
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

Without doubt, the result of the weekend.

……….

 

Where I Was Right Last Week:

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

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

Where I Was Wrong Last Week:

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

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

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

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

……….

 

Player of the Weekend: Wilfried Zaha

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

Zaha 2
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

Team of the Weekend: Manchester City

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

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

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

Runners Up: Crystal Palace, Swansea City, Watford

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

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

Cleverly
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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

……….

 

10 Thoughts I Have

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday Morning Tea Week 7: International Exodus Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the headlines.

City Lose Key Cogs, Still Thrash Chelsea

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

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

Stones:De Bruyne
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

De Bruyne
Photo Courtesy of Rex Features

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

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

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

Wilfried Bony Scores No Goal for Swansea

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

The Swans can’t score.

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

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

Renato Sanches
Photo Courtesy of Reuters

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

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

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

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

So, we should probably start paying attention to Burnley.

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

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

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

Tarkowski
Photo Courtesy of PA

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Burnley are dangerous and we need to take notice.

……………….

Team of the Week: Manchester City

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

Runners Up: Tottenham, Burnley

Player of the Week: Harry Kane

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

Kane
Photo Courtesy of Reuters

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

Moment of the Weekend: Peter Crouch’s Stoke Winner

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

Crouch
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

……….

Where I Was Right Last Week

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

Where I Was Wrong Last Week

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

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

……….

10 Thoughts I Have

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

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

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

 

Tuesday Morning Tea Week 7: International Exodus Part 2

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