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:

……….

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.

……….

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.

………..

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

………..

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.
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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 6: The Table Begins to Take Shape

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

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

Not anything close to what I had predicted.

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

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

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

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

Everton Begin Their Climb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And boy did they, in a big way too. 

Everton 1
Photo Courtesy of Reuters

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

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

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

Coutinho is Back

Did you forget how good Philippe Coutinho was?

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

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

Coutinho
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

Morata Bodies Chelsea to Another Dominant Result

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

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

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

Morata
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

……….

Where I Was Right Last Week

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

Where I Was Wrong Last Week

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

Brighton
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

……….

Player of the Week: Oumar Niasse

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

Runners Up: Alvaro Morata, Philippe Coutinho, Harry Kane

Team of the Week: Manchester City

Sane

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

Runners Up: Chelsea, Arsenal

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

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

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

……….

10 Thoughts I Have

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

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

Tuesday Morning Tea Week 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

Top 5 Most Intriguing Champions League Group Stage Matches

Dortmund vs. Real, anyone? No? How about Bayern Munich-Atletico Madrid? Barcelona-Man City?

The annual contesting of the UEFA Champions League is always something to look forward to on the football calendar, and after some lackluster – and, frankly, unnecessary – play in games, the group stage is all set. The 8 pools were set up today, and there are some seriously good fixtures on the slate.

Now, I just want to point something out really quickly. How weird is it to not see Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea or Wolfsburg in the Champions League draw? It’s pretty weird for me. Anyway, let’s get straight into the most interesting group stage matches.

Group F: Borussia Dortmund vs Real Madrid

Starting off with a bang, the reigning champions draw German powerhouse, Borussia Dortmund in an opening matchup that should be filled with enough fireworks to go around.

Real Madrid UCL
Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Real need no introduction. They sport a front line that includes the best player in the world and Cristiano Ronaldo. Luka Modric – as if he needed any more of an introduction – made some noise at the European Championships with his sparkling play on the Croatian national team alongside Ivan Perisic.

Madrid’s squad last season was as deep and strong as we have ever seen, and the addition of Alvaro Morata and a presumably much stronger and reinvigorated James Rodriguez will make them just as dangerous.

On the other side are my dark horses in this tournament. Dortmund gave traditional juggernaut, Bayern Munich, all they would handle all the way through the Bundesliga season in 2015-16. And, sensing a potential changing of the guard, Dortmund went out and spent over $110 million on 8 transfers.

Highlighting the group is former Dortmund star, Mario Gotze – who was swiped away from the aforementioned Bayern Munich. Alongside Gotze is another German national, Andre Schurrle, and a couple of 19 year old prodigies, Ousmane Dembele and Emre Mor. The new stable of strikers will join Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and form an incredibly formidable attack.

Borussia Dortmund Squad
Dortmund Squad. Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Now, all of those glamorous transfers were mostly made out of necessity, as Dortmund lost Ilkay Gundogan, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Mats Hummels, but I believe the strong attack will make them an incredibly dangerous team that could potentially make huge waves with an upset here.

Also, remember the last time these two teams matched up in the Champions League with Los Blancos as a heavy favorite? Yeah, watch out for Dortmund.

Group A: Arsenal vs. Paris Saint Germain

On the surface, this matchup seems like a very even matchup between French and English powerhouses, but, unfortunately, this is probably the most predictable of the fixtures i’m going to be highlighting. Does that mean it’s not going to be entertaining? Absolutely not.

Make no mistake, this is an offensive GEM of a match. Brilliant players are all over the pitch from both sides. Theo Walcott, Angel di Maria, Granit Xhaka, Adrian Rabiot, Marco Verratti, David Luiz, Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, Calum Chambers; the quality on the pitch – with regards to strictly offense – is remarkable.

Now, if this match had taken place a year ago, PSG would run away with it. The French champions were firing on all cylinders with Zlatan Ibrahimovic heading up the attack, but now that he’s gone? I still favor PSG, but the Gunners do have a shot in both legs.

Both clubs will advance to the knockout round – considering that FC Basel and FC Ludogorets round out group A – and that could be the only way this matchup isn’t a spectacular scoring fest. But I’m going to pretend that both clubs go full bore and we get some lovely, high scoring football.

Group E: Bayer Leverkusen vs Tottenham Hotspur

Here’s the one you disagree with. You can’t agree with me on everything, but I really like this matchup.

Chicharito vs Alderwierld? Yes, please.

I really don’t care what you say, this game is worth watching just to see what kind of magic Chicharito pulls out of his hat against Mauricio Ponchettinho’s bunch.

Chicharito
Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Also, who knows, maybe Tottenham regains the form that made them the Premier League runners up from just a season ago and put on an offensive clinic led by Harry Kane and Dele Alli.

Maybe not, but still, the offensive potential in this game is too good to ignore. All hail Chicharito.

Group D: Bayern Munich vs Atletico Madrid

Holy nuts, whoever put this matchup together clearly wants to cut the riffraff and get straight down to the business of separating the best football clubs in Europe.

A rematch of one of the two semifinals from last year’s Champions League, both teams remain mostly unchanged, with the only significant transfer between the two being Bayern’s heist of Mats Hummels from their German rivals, Borussia Dortmund.

The fact that both of these clubs remain mostly unchanged is reason for excitement because holy wow what a matchup this is.

Antoine Griezemann and Yannick Carrasco have had their coming out parties, and they join Fernando Torres on a club that has silently competed in two of the last three Champions League finals. And guess what, Atletico is set to be just as good as they’ve ever been.

Griezmann and Carrasco
Photo courtesy of ESPN FC

On the other side are the German champions and their stable of ridiculous talent. From Manuel Neuer to Robert Lewandowski, Bayern is almost stupid stacked with talent. Kingsley Coman, Renato Sanches, Arjen Robben (forget about him?), Arturo Vidal, David Alaba, Thomas Muller, Julian Green; it’s almost unfair how talented this Bayern side are.

FC Bayern Munich v FC Shakhtar Donetsk - UEFA Champions League Round of 16
Photo by Lukas Barth for Getty Images

I didn’t need to hype this match up any more than it already was, but Bayern-Atletico twice in the group stage? Thank you, God.

Group C: FC Barcelona vs Manchester City

And now, your main event of the group stage.

Pep Guardiola’s main task at Manchester City has been made crystal clear: win the Champions League. He’s been given all of the money the clubs has to offer, and completely free reign to go get any player his heart desires in the name of winning the Champions League.

Following two squash matches against clearly overmatched Romanian side Steaua Bucuresti, City are through to the group stage where they draw the title favorites, Barcelona.

Nolito and Delph
Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Barca return to the Champions League with a vengeance following their failed pursuit of the first back-to-back title win in UCL history. But, while Barca stood pat this summer and didn’t really get any better – in their defense, it’s hard to get better when your attacking trio is Neymar, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi – Manchester City went out and just about owned the transfer market.

In total, City brought in 9 transfers for just over $240 million, highlighted by Everton defender John Stones, Barcelona starting keeper Claudio Bravo, and Shalke wonder boy Leroy Sane. The talent on the field will be evident, and this will be an extremely tightly contested matchup, but let’s get to the off-field storylines that really make this a game worth watching.

The aforementioned Pep Guardiola has been clear that his ultimate goal at City is to win the Champions League, and to do that he has to go through his former club. The City boss made his name at Barcelona, and knocked them out of the Champions League last season while with Bayern Munich. Revenge will be in the air and Pep will be hungry to prove his side belongs in the upper echelon of elite football powerhouses.

As I mentioned in the transfers section of this blurb, Claudio Bravo is Manchester City’s new keeper, and the former Barcelona #1 will be making his homecoming during the leg of this matchup contested at the home of the Spanish champions. Also, the last time Bravo and Lionel Messi squared off, the Argentinian fired a now infamous penalty shot high over the bar of Bravo’s Chilean goal to give Chile their 2nd straight Copa America title over Argentina.

Soccer: 2016 Copa America Centenario-Argentina at Chile
Photo by Adam Hunger for USA Today Sports

So, on top of the fact that this is as good of a football matchup as you can possibly get, the extra storylines make this fixture as much of a ‘can’t miss’ as the Champions League group stage has to offer.

……….

Considering the madness that football has provided us with lately, we could be staring down the barrel of a Benfica-Leicester City Champions League final. Would you rather see something like a Bayern-City final? Of course you would, but for the first time in a while, I can’t confidently guarantee that we’ll see traditional powerhouses in the semifinals and final. Strap in, this could get wild.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

Top 5 Most Intriguing Champions League Group Stage Matches