Tuesday Morning Tea Week 14: Part 2, Weekend Edition

My goodness, what a week.

I proclaimed the midweek slate of games to be the best in the season and, while I still believe that, this weekend sure gave it a run for all of its marbles.

Manchester United and Arsenal played in possibly the most eventful match of the season, seeing 4 goals, 14 David De Gea saves and a Paul Pogba red card – among other things. Manchester City held yet another late show, trailing at halftime before scoring twice in the 2nd half – capped by a David Silva goal in the 83rd minute to snatch their 13th straight win.

Elsewhere, Tottenham lost Davinson Sanchez to a red card and surrendered yet another draw, this time to Watford. Liverpool kept rolling with a 5-1 win over Brighton, while Everton have now won 2 straight in preparation for next weekend’s Merseyside Derby.

At times, this Premier League season has been a bit anticlimactic. Big matches have disappointed in terms of excitement and Manchester City have taken complete control of the title race thus far. This week reminded me, and hopefully everyone else, why we love this league.

Without further adieu, here are your headlines from the weekend that was:

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David De Gea is Superman

So, the Emirates got set on fire last Saturday.

In a barn-burningly wild game that saw 20 total shots on goal, a Paul Pogba red card and Jesse Lingard absolutely body the ‘Milly Rock’ after scoring his first of two goals on the evening, David De Gea comes away as Manchester United’s hero in a crucial 3-1 victory.

By making 14 saves, including an absolutely stunning double on Lacazette and Alexis Sanchez, United’s Spanish starlet put himself in the history books, equalling the Premier League record for most saves in a single game. His being awarded man of the match on Saturday evening is possibly the easiest man of the match award in any game all season long.

De Gea
Photo Courtesy of Premier League Official Photographers

I remember when Tim Howard saved 14 of 16 shots against Belgium in the World Cup and instantly became America’s new ‘Secretary of Defense’ and a national hero in a sport that we didn’t particularly care about at that point in time (things have certainly changed…..). However, just about all of Howard’s 14 saves were routine to the point where he would’ve been ashamed to not have made all 14 stops.

The majority of De Gea’s 14 saves on Saturday were absolutely mental, some defying logic and sense. There was the double against Lacazette and Sanchez, several more robs of Arsenal’s #9, a wonderful diving stop on Hector Bellerin, a phenomenal reaction save off of an inadvertent Romelu Lukaku deflection and I haven’t even gotten halfway into De Gea’s save total from Saturday.

All told, it was an absolutely superb afternoon from the world’s best goalkeeper (yup, I said it….fight me, Manuel Neuer) and he stole a victory for Manchester United in a game they likely shouldn’t have won as handily as they did.

Arsenal out-did the Red Devils in every possible facet on Saturday. The possession numbers ran 76%-24% in favor of the Gunners, Arsenal put up 33(!) total shots to only 8 total Man U shots, while Arsenal also put 16 shots on goal vs only 4 from United. The only difference was the finishing quality, and Manchester United made no mistake in front of goal, converting 3 out of those 4 shots into goals.

Lingard
I detest Manchester United normally, but I can’t deny that this may be the most hype picture I’ve seen all season long (photo courtesy of Getty Images)

While De Gea was possibly the sole reason that the scoreline didn’t finish 7-3 in favor of Arsenal, the rest of the Red Devils deserve a lot of credit for the game they played. Although they only had 25% of the ball, United were constantly moving forward when the chances arose and had a high shot frequency relative to their possession numbers. They finished strongly and did well to exploit the Gunners’ weakness on the right side of defense.

Arsenal fought like hell, but David De Gea gave everyone a reminder of his quality this weekend and Manchester United now roll into a massive weekend derby against Manchester City with momentum and confidence.

Performance of the season.

 

Claude Puel Leads the Midseason Manager Pack

You would have to imagine that being thrust into the managerial job of a professional football team midway through a campaign is possibly the most difficult thing in all of football.

The Premier League is no stranger to the manager merry-go-round, and this season has already seen Slaven Bilic, Frank De Boer, Tony Pulis, Craig Shakespeare and Ronald Koeman sacked from their respective clubs.

For West Ham, Crystal Palace, West Brom, and Everton, there have been varying degrees of success in their post-(insert previous manager) eras. But, for Leicester City, it cannot be denied that new coach Claude Puel has already had an incredibly positive influence.

Puel
Photo Courtesy of Premier League Official Photographers

The Frenchman has only tasted defeat once in his 6 games in charge of the Foxes and now has the team playing at a level we haven’t seen since the title run in 2015-16. This weekend was just another brilliant Leicester performance with Puel’s influence written all over it.

One of the most significant changes that Puel has made with Leicester is that he’s been much more adaptable in his game-planning for specific teams.

For example, in the midweek against Tottenham, the Foxes sat back and let Spurs control 70% of possession before using the pace and creativity of Riyad Mahrez and Demarai Gray to launch lethal counter attacks. Using Tottenham’s penchant for occasionally lazy passing in the midfield against them, Leicester pulled out a 2-1 win.

This weekend, against Burnley, Leicester knew that they could hold more possession and control the attack a little bit more. So the Foxes maintained 53% possession and attacked down the flanks, avoiding Burnley’s exceptional centre back pairing of Ben Mee and James Tarkowski by attacking the much weaker fullbacks. The approach worked well enough and Leicester pulled out yet another victory.

Leicester
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

It seems so simple that the solution for Puel to solve all of Leicester’s woes was just to be more malleable in his game plans, but that’s how it is at the King Power right now, I guess. Riyad Mahrez is back at his world-class best, Demarai Gray is an emerging superstar, the defense is back to its organized and disciplined best and Harry Maguire has been a godsend since coming over from Hull City, scoring once and assisting 3 times this season.

Another complete team effort pushed Leicester into the top 10 for the first time this season and with 3 straight games coming up against Newcastle, Southampton and Crystal Palace on the horizon, the Foxes’ recent run of form certainly appears sustainable.

This is a dangerous team right now and Claude Puel deserves a ton of credit for the job he’s done to get them back on track.

 

Liverpool Are Rolling

With their 13th straight win this weekend, Manchester City have equalled the Premier League record in terms of consecutive victories in a single season. With their exceptional run of form so far this season, it could be easily forgiven if you assumed that the Sky Blues were playing the best football of any English side right now.

But, you’d be wrong.

Liverpool, since losing 4-1 on October 22nd to Tottenham, have yet to taste defeat and their only non-win was a 1-1 draw with Chelsea during match week 13. During that time, the Reds have won every single match by at least 3 goals, including this weekend’s 5-1 thrashing of Brighton. 

Liverpool
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

So, yeah, Liverpool are the best English side going right now. And, with a 7-0 Champions League dispatching of Spartak Moscow today, there don’t appear to be any signs of slowing down.

The biggest change for Liverpool since losing to Tottenham back in October has been a locational alteration in attack. Against Spurs, Liverpool favored the right flank when going forward, attacking from there 51% of the time according to WhoScored.com. This allowed Tottenham to pretty easily funnel the Reds into a corner, taking away the pace and creativity of their wingers and forcing them to try and out-physical the likes of Jan Vertonghen, Davinson Sanchez and Serge Aurier.

As you can probably guess, this didn’t go well for Jurgen Klopp’s men, so they made a change. In every game since the Wembley loss, Liverpool have attacked through the middle more than 35% of the time, making it their primary focus when going forward.

This change has allowed the Reds to maximize Philippe Coutinho’s creativity while giving him two blazing fast wingers on either side and Roberto Firmino in front. The front 4 of Liverpool has truly turned into a dynamic and interconnected front 4 instead of just 4 wonderfully skilled attacking players that didn’t know how to play together.

The goals are now flowing for Liverpool and they have looked unstoppable at times going forward. Leading the way, Mohamed Salah is as close to unstoppable right now as any player in England and leads the league in goals with 12 and Coutinho is back into his blistering form and earned a perfect 10/10 rating from WhoScored.com against Brighton this weekend.

Liverpool 2
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

With the Merseyside Derby and a visit to the Emirates on the near horizon, Liverpool are raging their way through all comers at the moment and have the look of the most dangerous English team going. The Reds have had their struggles this season but they appear to have sorted them out and are now in peak form.

Look out, everyone else.

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Team of the Week (Part 2): Liverpool

5 goals past Brighton, 7 goals past Spartak in the midweek Champions League, 3 past Stoke in the midweek Prem. Nobody playing better than the Reds right now, fascinating matchup coming up this weekend against a suddenly revived Everton squad. But, for now, Liverpool rule the roost.

Runners Up: Everton, Leicester City

 

Player of the Week (Part 2): David De Gea

When I tell you that I thought nobody would be able to touch Wayne Rooney’s midweek performance, I sure as hell believed that. David De Gea turned in the performance of the season on Saturday evening against Arsenal and has easily bested Rooney’s sublime hat trick. For a goalkeeping display, it doesn’t get any better than what Manchester United’s #1 did.

De Gea Double
Photo Courtesy of Reuters

Runners Up: Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Eden Hazard, Philippe Coutinho

 

Moment of the Week (Part 2): De Gea’s Stunning Double Save

Just in case you haven’t gone and checked out what David De Gea did on Saturday, here’s the highlight of his evening. Everything about this sequence is absolutely mental and it doesn’t get any better from a goalkeeper. Arsenal pelted the Man U net with 16 shots and, if either one of these shots had gone in, the game would have been 2-2 and had a completely different feel to it. Instead, De Gea pulled a rabbit out of a hat – twice – and kept United in front. My word, what a player.

Runner Up: David Silva completes another Man City late show

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10 Things I Think

  1. I think I was spot on with my Everton prediction after their midweek victory over West Ham. I said that the good feelings at Goodison would roll through the weekend after a 2 goal victory over Huddersfield and, what do you know. the Toffees won 2-0. Somehow, Everton have dragged themselves up to 10th in the table with these two straight wins. Remarkable turnaround. 

    Everton
    Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
  2. I’ve neglected them recently, but no more. Swansea are the worst team going right now and absolutely deserve to be at the bottom of the table. 8 goals scored all season leaves them at the bottom of the scoring charts with Crystal Palace and there just isn’t any fight in the Swans right now. A 3rd minute Wilfried Bony goal should have been the catalyst for a spirited performance against Stoke. Instead, it caused the team to sit back even more than usual and they had lost that lead by halftime. I don’t know how they turn this around, but they’ve got to find a way. 

    Swansea
    Photo Courtesy of Reuters
  3. Manchester City have powered through several key injuries so far this season to Benjamin Mendy, Sergio Aguero, Ilkay Gundogan and Vincent Kompany. However, the loss of John Stones may finally be the straw that collapses the camel’s back. Ever since Stones went out against Leicester, not only have City not kept a clean sheet but they have looked like a shell of the former defensive monster that was rolling over teams by 5-0 and 6-0 margins. City are struggling on set pieces without their big centre back and his passing influence out of the back is also badly missed. December 30th, Stones’ targeted return date, can’t get here soon enough for Pep Guardiola.
  4. I think Wilfried Bony scored the goal of the weekend with this wonderfully composed and powerful volley. Exceptional control and pace on this ball for the Ivorian to open his 2017-18 goal account. Brilliant
  5. Other notable goals include David Silva’s terrific volleyed finish and an electric Liverpool counter attack finished off by Roberto Firmino.
  6. In a game that finished 1-1, you would have assumed that Watford had hung on over Spurs to salvage a home point while the visitors pushed for a winner. Instead, it was the home side at Vicarage Road that were playing the contest on the front foot. After a 52nd minute Davinson Sanchez red card, the Hornets sensed blood in the water of a recently dismal Tottenham team and pressured hard. Abdoulaye Doucoure hit the post with an exceptional drive, Richarlison very nearly drew a penalty, and 45% of the 2nd half play occurred in Spurs’ defensive half. Strange times right now when you see Watford being the clear aggressor against Tottenham, but such is life. 

    Spurs
    Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
  7. Speaking of Watford, Abdoulaye Doucoure is very quietly blossoming into one of the Premier League’s finest centre midfielders. His performance against Tottenham this weekend included 52 of 56 successful passes, 4 tackles, 2 interceptions, a game high 13 time winning the ball back and his 2nd half shot that rang off the post. The 24 year old Frenchman’s relentless work ethic reminds me of a taller N’Golo Kante, but Doucoure’s thunderous finishing ability can set him apart from the snack sized French midfielder. Between him and Richarlison, Watford have some young superstars in their squad right now. 

    Doucoure
    Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
  8. If West Brom want to survive relegation this season, they have to embrace ugly results and ugly football. Tony Pulis’ biggest mistake this season before being fired was that he tried to appease his fans instead of sticking with his stubborn and frustrating defensive style. West Brom attempted to go forward more and were subsequently opened up on the counter attack, which led to the run of poor form that got Pulis sacked. Interim manager Alan Pardew would be smart to learn from the mistakes of his predecessor and stay true to that defensive style. Yes, it will include some maddening and ugly 0-0 games (like the one this weekend against Crystal Palace) but it will also include the Baggies’ best chance at surviving relegation. 

    West Brom
    Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
  9. I don’t know who came knocking for him this summer, but Chelsea are reaping the benefits of not selling Eden Hazard to Real Madrid, Barcelona, AC Milan or whoever else wanted the star Belgian. Hazard is back in top form right now, evidenced by the 2 goals he scored against Newcastle this weekend and his perfect 10/10 rating from WhoScored.com. Chelsea have a busy month and a half ahead – between the Prem, Champions League and FA Cup – and keeping Hazard in peak condition will be extremely conducive to the Blues’ success during that period. 

    Hazard
    Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
  10. Folks, we may be witness to the biggest Manchester Derby in history this upcoming weekend. Manchester City have a date with destiny, as a victory over their crosstown rivals would give them 14 consecutive this season and break the Premier League all-time record for consecutive wins. Manchester United have a chance to finally get themselves back in the title race by handing City their first loss of the season. Mourinho vs Pep is a rivalry that dates back to their days at Real Madrid and Barcelona and it always promises fireworks. Paul Pogba, before his red card suspension, had a controversial quote in which he wished injury on sever City players. Vincent Kompany has gone on record saying he “hates” United “with all my blood and guts” and always wants to win the Derby just a little more than any other game. What a game we could be in store for.
Tuesday Morning Tea Week 14: Part 2, Weekend Edition

Tuesday Morning Tea Week 14: Condensed Midweek Edition

Normally, Tuesday Morning Tea, as you could probably guess, comes out on Tuesdays after a Premier League weekend concludes. The holiday schedule is throwing a wrench in my normal plans, so expect to begin seeing some condensed midweek editions of Tuesday Morning Tea during the hectic holiday period.

This midweek, we saw 32 goals in 10 games, two teams hold shutouts and score at least 4 goals, and a Burnley-Tottenham table swap. Here are your headlines:

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Raheem Sterling Does it Again

What a player Raheem Sterling is turning into.

With 10 Southampton defenders packed into the box, desperately trying to hold onto what would have been a massive 1-1 draw, Manchester City’s man for the moment found a way through the Saints’ defense to score his most important goal so far this season.

City 1
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Man City were not at their best on Wednesday, not even close. But, as NBCSN studio host Kathryn Tappen said after the game ended, “championship teams find a way to win the games that they don’t play their best in.”

City’s normally lethal bite in front of net was inexplicably missing on the night, as the Sky Blues pelted Fraser Forster with 12 shots on goal but were only able to score on 2 of them. Pep Guardiola’s side maintained their typically gaudy possession numbers (74%-26%) but just couldn’t find their way through Southampton’s stubborn and disciplined back line.

City 2
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Give the Saints a lot of credit too. One week after gaining an undeniable degree of confidence by thrashing Everton 4-1, Mauricio Pellegrino had his side ready to push City to the limits. Left back Ryan Bertrand in particular played an outstanding game, both on defense and going forward up the left flank.

But, in the end, Raheem Sterling’s persistence and tremendous finishing ability proved the difference. Sterling has now scored 5 league goals this season that have given Manchester City points, with this one being the latest episode in his ever growing collection of movie-like moments.

With 40 points through 14 matches, Manchester City are now the best Premier League club to ever start a season. There were several changes to the team, but the squad that City trotted out against Southampton on Wednesday featured a team that they could have put out in 2016-17.

City 3
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

The evolution of players like Raheem Sterling has been the difference between City’s form last season and their incredible run so far this season. The English winger has now scored 13 goals, his best ever tally from any single season ever.

His latest game winner gave a massive boost to an underperforming City squad and helped them keep their remarkable winning streak alive. It also gave a hefty gut punch to all chasing teams that thought they might be able to close a little bit of ground on the table toppers.

Possibly the most important moment of the season so far.

City 4
Photo Courtesy of Premier League Official Photographers

 

Vintage Leicester Continue Tottenham Slide

Last week, following a disappointing 1-1 draw with West Brom, I talked about Tottenham’s alarming recent slide down the Premier League table. I wasn’t willing to sound the alarm bells just yet after that loss because they fought back to a draw, to their credit, and it was just a 3 game winless slide at that point.

After this loss to Leicester, I’m inching closer to pressing the panic button at Wembley.

Spurs 1
Photo Courtesy of Premier League Official Photographers

Firstly, let’s give the Foxes a ton of credit. New manager Claude Puel has made some tremendous changes to the team and has gotten Leicester back into the playing style that won them the title just two seasons ago.

Tuesday’s home victory over Spurs was a perfect example of that style, as Leicester’s two goals came on the counter attack, one brilliantly finished by an incredible Jamie Vardy volley lob over Hugo Loris and the other being a magnificent Riyad Mahrez solo effort.

Vardy’s goal included a 12 pass build-up out of the back, a far cry from what’s been seen lately at the King Power Stadium. Instead of trying to rush a long pass forward, Leicester showed a lot of patience, precision and poise in their passing out of the back against Tottenham. It was a clear sign of Claude Puel’s influence on the club and bodes well for the Foxes going forward.

Leicester City
Photo Courtesy of Premier League Official Photographers

But, as much credit as Leicester deserve, Tottenham are just flat out poor right now. Sure, they miss Erik Lamela – who made a bright return after subbing for Christian Eriksen in the 77th minute – and Victor Wanyama, but this is the same side that drubbed Real Madrid 3-1 in the Champions League and couldn’t muster up enough to score 2 goals against a Leicester side that has conceded 25 so far this season.

Say what you will, but Tottenham’s recent slide in the Premier League comes down to one thing; the players just don’t care about the league as much.

In the past, Spurs have been right in the thick of title races, finishing 3rd to Leicester two seasons ago and 2nd to Chelsea last season. This season, they currently find themselves 7th after 14 games and are 16 points off of Manchester City’s blazing pace on top of the table.

Meanwhile, in the Champions League, Tottenham has clinched the top spot in Group C, going undefeated through a gauntlet that includes German powerhouse Borussia Dortmund and the 2-time defending UCL champions, Real Madrid. Quite simply, Spurs just care more about the Champions League than the Premier League at the moment, and it’s showing on the field week in and week out.

The effort level from Mauricio Pochettino’s side wasn’t there on Tuesday against Leicester City, it wasn’t there last Saturday against West Brom and it certainly wasn’t there 2 weeks ago against Arsenal in what should have been a fiery North London Derby. It’s incredibly disheartening to see such a talented Spurs team play so lackadaisically in the league, but they’re clearly worried about bigger things.

Spurs 2
Photo Courtesy of Premier League Official Photographers

The defensive shape, normally stout and disciplined, is routinely showing lazy cracks down the middle – Davinson Sanchez was particularly poor against Leicester on Saturday, but Jan Vertonghen certainly didn’t help things at all. And, when push came to shove and Tottenham were trailing 2-0 at halftime, they couldn’t muster up a goal until a fiery Erik Lamela came off the bench and was the creator behind a 79th minute Harry Kane tally.

The biggest revelation from this midweek slate of games was that Tottenham aren’t title contenders this season.

Originally, I had them finishing 6th in the league, well below the top 4 due to a poor summer and the Champions League grind catching up to them. In September, when Harry Kane was putting literally every kick he took into the back of the net, it felt like I might be wrong. But, a few weeks later, Tottenham are being bludgeoned by teams who simply care more and they’ve fallen out of the title race by December.

Spurs 3
Photo Courtesy of Premier League Official Photographers

For the club’s supporters, it’ll be nice to look up and see the overwhelming degree of success that’s been achieved in the Champions League so far, but that won’t be able to wash over this poor run of form that will ultimately take Tottenham out of the running for a Champions League spot next year.

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Team of the Week (Part 1): Arsenal

Huddersfield played Manchester City as tough as they possibly could have on Sunday and stymied the league leaders for most of the afternoon with a spirited defensive effort. Arsenal sliced through that same Terriers defense like a hot knife through butter on Wednesday night en route to 5 goals. Mesut Ozil did whatever he wanted to, assisting two goals and scoring one of his own, Alexis Sanchez was his normally dynamic and electric self, and Olivier Giroud came off the bench and turned in a vintage performance while securing a 2nd half brace. It was a top class all-around display from the suddenly rampant Gunners who continue to quietly climb their way up the table after a rocky start to the season.

Runners Up: Everton, Liverpool, Leicester City

 

Player of the Week (Part 1): Wayne Rooney

A hat trick that included one of the most brilliantly audacious goals that you’ll ever see. This was the easiest award I’ve handed out all season. The best day of the season at Goodison Park happened on Wednesday and Rooney was at the forefront. And trust me, we’ll get to that goal later.

Runners Up: Ashley Young, Raheem Sterling, Mesut Ozil

 

Moment of the Week (Part 1): Raheem Sterling’s 90+6’ Winner

Another no-brainer in the awards section today, Sterling’s winner against Southampton may have been the biggest moment of the season, let alone this midweek slate of games. A gut punch to the pack chasing City and an incredible boost to the Sky Blues. A moment for the ages in a historic season so far at the Etihad. Absolute scenes.

Runners Up: Rooney’s hat trick, Jamie Vardy’s opener

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10 Things I Think

  1. I think that this was the best and most entertaining slate of games that I’ve watched all season long. There’s just so much to talk about and take away from Tuesday and Wednesday and it’s not fair that I have to compress it into this laconic midweek article. More of this for the whole holiday period, please
  2. I was almost perfect in my Burnley vs Bournemouth prediction last week. I said that the game would finish 2-0 in favor of the Clarets with goals from Chris Wood and Robbie Brady. The actual final was 2-1, but the Burnley goals were scored by Chris Wood and Robbie Brady, in that order. Sometimes I’m just spot on and this was so close to being one of those times. 

    Burnley 1
    Photo Courtesy of Reuters
  3. And, speaking of Burnley, they’re now up to 6th in the table and just continue to quietly go about their business. Sean Dyche is putting on an absolute show with the players that he has. Burnley are routinely stubborn and damn near impossible to break down defensively. The only teams to put more than one goal past the Clarets in a league match this season are Manchester City and Chelsea, and Burnley won 3-2 over Chelsea just for good measure. This is a remarkable side putting together a remarkable season and they’re unfortunately getting overshadowed by the top 6 that they have now penetrated. No more should they be overlooked, this team is for real and will put together another masterclass against Leicester this weekend, winning 2-1 at the King Power. 

    Burnley 2
    Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
  4. Wayne Rooney scored the goal of the midweek, week, month, season, year and possibly the best Premier League goal of the decade. This one is up there with Luis Suarez’s 2013 dipper, it’s that good. 

    Rooney
    Photo Courtesy of Premier League Official Photographers
  5. Other notable tallies include what I was originally planning on putting as the goal of the midweek in Jamie Vardy’s incredible chip volley, Riyad Mahrez’s superb left footed curler, and Raheem Sterling’s winner because I just can’t get enough of it.
  6. Also, there were some incredible goals scored in the match between Manchester United, highlighted by Ashley Young scoring one of the best braces you’ll ever see. This left footed thunderbolt is incredibly struck and his free kick goal is as precise and good as you’ll ever see. On top of that, Jesse Lingard sliced through the Watford defense to score a phenomenal 4th goal for United to seal the contest. THERE WERE SO MANY GOOD GOALS THIS MIDWEEK I JUST CAN’T HANDLE IT. 

    Manchester United 1
    Photo Courtesy of Premier League Official Photographers
  7. Arsenal were as lethal on Wednesday against Huddersfield as they’ve been in at least the last two seasons. It boggles my mind why Arsene Wenger has yet to consistently start Lacazette, Ozil and Sanchez in a front 3 every chance he gets, but they’re just superb together. The 3 of them compliment each other so well and they sliced the Terriers to pieces on Wednesday night to the tune of a season high 5 goals. The Gunners are now up to 4th in the table and looking as dangerous as ever. For a club with so much turmoil throughout the summer and early fall, I tip my cap to the turnaround currently happening at the Emirates. It’s been remarkable to watch. 

    Arsenal
    Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
  8. And, speaking of turnarounds, how about Everton for you? The Toffees have gone from Southampton punchline to the talk of Merseyside in a matter of 36 hours. On Tuesday night, it was announced that Sam Allardyce had been hired as the new permanent manager at Goodison Park. And then, with Big Sam in attendance on Wednesday night, Everton thrashed West Ham 4-0 behind a sublime hat trick from Wayne Rooney. Goodison was as loud as its ever been and rocked all through the night as the boys in blue walked all over David Moyes’ overmatched Hammers side. Suddenly, Everton are up to 13th in the table and have all sorts of hope surrounding the club. Optimism has been rare this season for the Toffees, but Wednesday served as the latest and greatest episode for club supporters to try and latch on to. My prediction? It’ll last through the weekend after Everton dispatch Huddersfield 3-1. 

    Everton
    Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
  9. Manchester City have won 12 straight league games. The Premier League record is 13, held jointly by last season’s Chelsea squad and the invincible Arsenal squad of 2003-04, which City should tie this weekend against a hapless West Ham side. If the Sky Blues are able to defeat the Hammers on Saturday, it would set up a date with destiny on December 10th against Manchester United. The narratives just write themselves for that matchup. The biggest Manchester Derby ever? Possibly, but we have to get there first. I HAVE ALL MY FINGERS CROSSED. 

    Man Derby
    Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
  10. The biggest matchup this weekend, without a doubt, is Manchester United taking a Saturday evening trip to the Emirates to take on a suddenly hot Arsenal side that have won 5 of 6. Aside from this game having massive implications on the table as a whole, it’s a huge chance for Arsenal to possibly convince wantaways Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez that staying through the season is in their best interests. My prediction is a 1-1 draw, with Arsenal opening up the score before halftime and United equalizing through Marcus Rashford in the 2nd half. That scoreline seems boring, but that doesn’t take anything away from this being the best matchup of the weekend.

Usually, I end the article after the 10th thing that I think, but this midweek slate was just too good to end right there and I need to say a few more things.

Enjoy these kinds of games, folks. Raheem Sterling’s goal will be one that we look back on at the end of the season and point to as a major reason why City were able to hold off their challengers and win the Premier League title.

Wayne Rooney out-did phenomenal goals from Ashley Young (x2), Jamie Vardy and Jesse Lingard to score the best goal of the season. Any of those other 4 tallies that I mentioned would have won ‘goal of the week’ in probably any other week, but not this one.

Leicester took us all back to 2015-16 with a vintage performance that reminded us of a simpler, more beautiful time in our world. Burnley continued improbably climbing the table and Abdoulaye Doucoure scored his 5th goal of the season – only Leroy Sane (6) has more among wingers in the Premier League – and continued to blossom into a superstar for an upstart Watford team.

I have yet to even mention Mohamed Salah scoring his 11th and 12th goals of the season in a 3-0 Liverpool rout of Stoke City, while West Brom and Newcastle quietly played a fantastically entertaining 2-2 draw that featured a spirited Magpies comeback in front of a raucous St. James Park crowd.

It’s matches like these that remind me why I love doing this and why I will continue doing it in the future. Football can be brutal to watch sometimes and taxing to follow, but payoffs like this make it all worth it.

Thank you, Premier League. I’ll see you Saturday.

Tuesday Morning Tea Week 14: Condensed Midweek Edition

Tuesday Morning Tea Week 11: Scintillating Sunday

Sometimes, I sit back and question why I would wake up at 6:30 on a Sunday morning. After all, it’s my only day to sleep past 8 AM, so why would I waste it by waking up that early just to watch English soccer that doesn’t affect me at all?

That questioning is fulfilled by Sunday slates like the one in week 11. I mean, what an unbelievable quartet of games to christen the Lord’s day.

Starting the day off was a surprisingly fantastic matchup between Tottenham and Crystal Palace. The Eagles came to play on Sunday and should have come away with a point, but it was Spurs who played the full 90 minutes and were rewarded with all 3 points.

Next up was Manchester City hosting Arsenal in an entertaining 3-1 fixture. Then, to cap it all off, Manchester United and Chelsea played to an electric 1-0 result in favor of the Blues while Watford and Everton played the game of the weekend, with the Toffees picking up a crucial 3-2 win.

Saturday’s action was pretty typical of the league so far this season. Some late goals, some great goals, some good action, but mostly boring and inconsequential results between mostly boring and inconsequential teams. Sunday’s action was almost the complete opposite, with incredible action between extremely relevant sides that made me care about games I wouldn’t otherwise have cared about.

Example ‘A’ is the fact that I wasn’t remotely planning on being entertained by a 6:30 matchup between Spurs and Crystal Palace, but holy cow was I wrong about that one; what a game it turned out to be.

With all of that said, pardon me while I might talk extensively about the games on Sunday and only briefly mention Saturday’s events. So if you tuned out after Liverpool-West Ham ended on Saturday afternoon, here’s a spoiler alert for you, I guess.

In addition to that spoiler alert, here are your weekend headlines. Class is in session.

………………..

 

“We’re Just a Rich West Brom”

Entering the weekend, I – much like almost anyone else – had Manchester United vs Chelsea circled as my fixture of the matchweek. The entertaining Sunday affair ended with a 1-0 win for the home side, the lone tally coming courtesy of an Alvaro Morata header because how else do Chelsea score…?

The result for Antonio Conte’s side will go a long way in calming down some of the talk surrounding the Italian manager’s job security at Stamford Bridge. Meanwhile, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has now last all 3 of his side’s fixtures at the Bridge since he was jettisoned as club manager before signing at Old Trafford.

Mourinho
Photo Courtesy of Premier League Official Photographers

The Blues gladly welcomed back star midfielder N’Golo Kante and he may as well have pivoted the entire match just with his gritty presence. The dynamic Frenchman won the ball back 11 times for his side, more than any other player in the game, and was crucial in denying service up towards a mostly silent Romelu Lukaku.

And, for Manchester United, Lukaku’s struggles were a microcosm of their whole day in London this past Sunday. The big Belgian striker was unable to manage even one single touch inside the opposing penalty area and spent the afternoon with embittered looks on his face, kept well in check by a brilliant Andreas Christensen.

Lukaku.jpg
Lukaku vs Christensen (Photo Courtesy of Premier League Official Photographers)

The Red Devils’ frustration was almost perfectly summed up by a Monday morning caller on Ian Wright’s BBC radio show. The United fan, named Hasson, furiously dismissed his side’s Sunday disappointment with a soundbite for the ages.

“We’re nothing more than a rich West Brom right now,” Hassan said before continuing, “I’m just really angry at that diabolical performance. When we’re struggling, we bring on a tree in Fellaini, lump it forward and just hope for the best. We’re playing boring, horrific football.”

But although they are undeniably hilarious, Hassan’s criticisms are well merited and do have some substance.

Since taking over as manager at Old Trafford, Jose Mourinho has played 10 games against the ‘big 6.’ In those 10 games, the Portuguese boss holds a record of 0-5-5, with all 5 of those draws being of the 0-0 variety.

Say what you will about how well Mourinho’s bus parking can work at times, it’s not entertaining at all. Losing or drawing is one thing, but on a club with the prestigious and prodigious attacking talent that Manchester United have, it’s unacceptable to be boring and fans are beginning to lash out.

The Red Devils’ last 4 league games have featured a scoreless draw to Liverpool, a loss at Huddersfield, a 1-0 win over Tottenham and a 1-0 loss to Chelsea. In such a tight race at the top of the table against a currently rampant Manchester City squad that show no signs of slowing up any time soon, this stretch of poor form from United could prove to be the difference between 1st and 2nd place at the end of the season.

De Gea
Photo Courtesy of Premier League Official Photographers

United were out-classed in every way on Sunday by a much better and more fearless Chelsea squad. Jose Mourinho’s ‘park the bus’ strategy has played itself out and is clearly failing against the top teams in the league. Will the ‘Special One’ be able to adapt to his changing circumstances or will he stay stubborn as ever and potentially sink his squad’s rapidly evaporating title chances?

For my money, there’s no way Mourinho’s ego will let him adapt his style. He’ll just continue insisting that his squad is struggling because of injured players, which might be true, but it’s not an excuse anymore.

United should win their next two matches against Newcastle and Brighton purely on class alone, but a week 13 trip to Vicarage Road to take on Watford should prove as a make-or-break game for Mourinho’s squad. Will they or won’t they adapt? Time will tell…

 

Take 2 on the Everton Comeback Story…?

Do me a favor and rewind the season 5 weeks back to match week 6. Everton were coming off of 3 straight shutout losses to Chelsea, Tottenham and Man U – a brutal stretch of games for any team in the Prem – but had just beaten Bournemouth thanks to two late goals from Oumar Niasse.

Niasse
Photo Courtesy of Premier League Official Photographers

After that win, I proudly declared that Everton were “back on track in a big way.” The Toffees, to reward my faith, went on to go 0-2-6 in their next 8 matches over all competitions. The firing of Ronald Koeman seemed to be the culmination of early season frustration so far at Goodison Park and Everton entered this weekend 19th in the table with a pathetic goal differential of -13.

Greeting them on Sunday was an upstart Watford team sitting 8th in the standings at the time, 2nd behind Burnley in the battle of all non-big 6 teams. 64 minutes into the weekend tilt, Everton found themselves down 2-0 to a thus far dominant Watford side and seemingly digging themselves deeper into the already abyssal hole being dug at Goodison Park.

But then, something magical happened. Oumar Niasse received a fortuitous bounce in front of the Hornets’ net and, try as he might, was unable to miss. Suddenly, the score was 2-1 and Everton were back in the game. 7 minutes later, in the 74th minute, Dominic Calvert-Lewin headed in off of a corner kick and the Toffees had tied it.

Calvert-Lewin.JPG
Photo Courtesy of Premier League Official Photographers

Oh but it got better from there for the home side.

After an announced 12 minutes of stoppage time – that number is outrageous, but that’s how wild this game was – Leighton Baines only needed 1 of those extra minutes to both win and score a penalty.

After Tom Cleverly somehow missed a penalty of his own in the 99th minute of the game, Baines’ goal was able to stand tall as the winner in one of the wildest games all season and certainly the most important result of Everton’s season thus far.

The Toffees came from two goals down to win at home in the Premier League for just the second time ever, the first being a 1994 game against Wimbledon. Interim manager David Unsworth’s side now find themselves 15th in the table, 2 spots clear of the danger zone.

Baines 2
Photo Courtesy of Premier League Official Photographers

With their next four games being against Crystal Palace, Southampton, West Ham and Huddersfield, this appears to be the perfect time for Everton to have potentially gotten themselves back on track.

5 weeks ago, I thought the Toffees were set to begin their comeback to relevancy after a comeback victory over Bournemouth. At the risk of being wrong about an Everton comeback for the second time in a span of 2 months, now is the time that the Toffees begin to dig out of the hole at Goodison Park.

Everton will find themselves in the top half of the table after this upcoming 4 game stretch concludes, a much more confident and formidable foe. All it took was a 2 goal comeback over a top half team instead of a one goal comeback over a bottom half team, I suppose.

Take 2.

Action.

 

It’s Time to Talk About Brighton

We’ve avoided it up to this point while lauding and heaping praise on the other two newly promoted sides having success, but it’s time to stop ignoring Brighton and acknowledge that this is a team and a story worth being excited about.

Following this past weekend’s 1-0 win over Swansea City, the Seagulls (my favorite nickname in the Prem, by the way) find themselves sitting 8th in the standings with an even goal differential and hopes of not just avoiding relegation, but maybe finishing in or around the top half of the table.

Four straight league games without defeat, two away wins in a row at West Ham and now Swansea, disciplined defending and renewed confidence in attack have the Seagulls flying into the top half 11 weeks into the season. This certainly isn’t a storyline that I think any of us were planning on experiencing this late into the campaign.

Brighton
Photo Courtesy of Reuters

After losing the first 4 games of their debut season in the top flight, Chris Hughton’s side have recovered in a big way, with the Seagulls suffering defeat just once over the last 6 matches by following a simple formula of organized, methodical defense and opportunistic attacking.

Brighton’s front 3 of Glenn Murray, Pascal Gross and Anthony Knockaert are able to give opposing defenses problems with wily, smart movement and great chemistry. They certainly don’t have the most skill or pure ability of any attacking trio anywhere in the world, but they’re no less dangerous and know exactly when to pounce on sleeping defenses.

Such was the case on Saturday when Murray scored the only goal of Brighton’s match with Swansea. Knockaert received a pass with plenty of space out on the right wing before picking out Murray in the box for a simple cross that the veteran Englishman meekly slotted home with a re-direction off of his thigh.

The Swans, playing on the front foot up to that point in the game, shut off for maybe 30 seconds defensively and were made to pay for it. Murray was left unmarked at the back post and ran directly in between the two Swansea centre backs who had lazily left way, way too much room in between them.

It was such a simple goal, but a clinical one from Brighton’s standpoint. Murray’s savviness, combined with the service and creativity of Knockaert and Gross are making goals like this increasingly common for the Seagulls, who have employed a combination of simplistic attacking quality with renewed confidence to give opposing defenses headaches.

Murray now has 27 league goals for Brighton since the beginning of last season, a tally only bested by Harry Kane among all players to play both seasons at either of the top two levels in English football.

Brighton are winning in all sorts of different ways now, having scored in 7 of their last 8 matches while still holding clean sheets in 3 of the last 6. This past weekend’s match against Swansea featured a meager 15 shots, the fewest combined of any game in the Premier League season, and the Seagulls were able to comfortably come out on top, a testament to their disciplined defensive ways.

Brighton 2.jpg
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

I mentioned earlier in the season how I’d underestimated the fight and desire levels of newly promoted teams and Brighton are proving just how wrong I was. This is not a particularly talented team, but boy do they fight like hell every single time out.

The Seagulls have ridden a wave of surprise results all the way up to 8th in the table but they may have lost an important quality; they won’t be able to sneak up on unsuspecting opponents. Brighton will now be given the respect they deserve and taken seriously as a top half contender.

This is the tough part for Chris Hughton’s squad. They’ve announced their presence and are in the top half of the table 11 match weeks into the new season, but can they stay at that level?

I want to believe so, but I need more confirmation first. A convincing victory over Southampton and a point against Manchester United would do that for me in Brighton’s next two games.

But, for now, snaps for the Seagulls. This is a story worth following and worth talking about because absolutely nobody expected anything like it. May the Cinderella ride at the AmEx only continue on the up and up.

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Where I Was Right Last Week

I lauded new Leicester manager Claude Puel for allowing his squad to return to their counter-attacking ways in their week 10 matchup with Everton. This week against Stoke didn’t yield 3 points, but the two Foxes’ goals were both scored on…you guessed it…the counter attack.

The first came courtesy of a thumping Vicente Iborra strike off of a Wes Morgan flick on header, while the second came off of a lovely solo run and effort from club starlet Riyad Mahrez. There are some things that need to be tightened up defensively at the King Power, but Leicester look back to their old attacking ways under Puel, which is great news for supporters.

Also, I wrote a sentence last week that read, “the Clarets’ [Burnley] upcoming matchup at St. Mary’s against Southampton pits two notoriously stingy sides against each other, but I’d put a lot of money on Burnley coming out on top.”

Well, guess who beat Southampton on Saturday by a 1-0 scoreline. Thank you very much. 

Also, I lauded Liverpool as last week’s team of the week before writing, “the attacking Reds are back and should thrash West Ham this week as well

GUESS WHO THRASHED WEST HAM THIS PAST WEEKEND. Thank you very much again.

 

Where I Was Wrong Last Week

This is a bit of a technicality, but I still got it wrong so…..

I mentioned the key battle in Manchester City vs Arsenal as being Alexis Sanchez vs Kyle Walker on the right wing. Arsene Wenger apparently didn’t read Tuesday Morning Tea last week because he ignored my strong suggestion of starting Lacazette-Ozil-Sanchez as a front trio in favor of keeping the Frenchman on the bench and playing Sanchez in a centre forward role.

It didn’t work at all and only once Lacazette was off the bench and on the field were Arsenal able to sustain some sort of attack. That being said, because Sanchez was in a centre forward role, he and Walker didn’t see that much of each other on Saturday, with John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi handling the pacy Chilean instead.

Like I said, a technicality, but still one that I was wrong about.

…………………….

 

Team of the Weekend: Chelsea

Whether unfairly or not, Antonio Conte’s job may have been on the line this weekend. His Chelsea squad responded accordingly with a convincing 1-0 win over Manchester United. The Blues generated 8 shots on target while conceding only 2 to the Red Devils and were in complete control of the game from start to finish. Chelsea still find themselves 9 points behind leaders Manchester City, but a victory this weekend was crucial for the club and they got the job done.

Chlesea
Photo Courtesy of Premier League Official Photographers

Runners Up: Brighton, Liverpool, Burnley

 

Player of the Weekend: Leighton Baines

The leading charge of the Everton comeback, Baines swung in the cross that resulted in the Toffees’ second, equalizing goal while also slotting home the winning penalty in the 91st minute, setting a club record with his 24th made penalty shot in the process. Everton’s longest tenured player led the fight that may have saved their season for the time being. There will be many more performances like this one needed in the future, but Baines brought about the start.

Baines
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Runners Up: Kevin De Bruyne (every freaking week) Glenn Murray, Paulo Gazzaniga

 

Moment of the Weekend: Tom Cleverley’s Penalty Miss

As huge as Everton’s win was for the Toffees, there’s another side to the coin. After what was a stunning win against Arsenal, Watford had lost 2 straight league matches entering Sunday’s tilt at Goodison. Up 2-0, they seemed to be in perfect position to redeem all their previous woes, but that lead evaporated. However, after everything, Richarlison won Tom Cleverly a 99th minute penalty and the Hornets seemed like they just might be able to salvage this one. Instead, Cleverly’s miss capitulates Watford’s poor run of form and sends them spiraling further down the rabbit hole.

Cleverley
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Runners Up: Peter Crouch’s Stoke equalizer, Alvaro Morata’s Chelsea winner, Rajiv van La Parra’s Huddersfield stunner

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10 Thoughts I Have

  1. PETER CROUCH IS BACK!!! Pulled off the bench by a desperate Mark Hughes in the 69th minute, the big guy did what he always does and snuck his way to the back post to head in an equalizing goal and salvage a point for Stoke City. At 36 years old, the former Liverpool striker is clearly on a downswing of his career, but he…just…keeps…scoring…goals. Apparently, an England recall is a serious possibility for the in-form Crouch and honestly, few things would make me happier. I just love him so much…keep on keeping on, Peter Crouch. 

    The big guy
    Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
  2. Man, oh man did Wilfried Zaha have the missed chance of the weekend. Having rounded Tottenham keeper Paulo Gazzaniga and being in brilliant position to break a 0-0 deadlock between Crystal Palace and Spurs, Zaha rushed his shot and put the ball wide of the yawning cage. In a game where the Eagles certainly deserved a point, Zaha had a chance to give them the lead and maybe shock Wembley. Instead, he missed and left his club with the same feeling they’ve had all season long. More cellar-dwelling at Selhurst Park.
  3. Riyad Mahrez is giving everyone a clinical reminder of just how great he is. Leicester’s Algerian star has two goals and two assists in his last four games and is approaching the world class form he was in while being a lynchpin in Leicester’s title run of just two seasons ago. As I’ve mentioned before, I have an immense amount of respect for the way that Mahrez handled his transfer request, quietly going about his business and not whining about not being able to move to a bigger club. Now that he’s approaching his best form again, he’s a complete joy to watch. Hat tip, Riyad. 

    Mahrez
    Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
  4. Rajiv van La Parra scored the goal of the weekend with this absolute screamer. Huddersfield have had many magical moments so far, this one is up near the top.
  5. Other notable tallies include Kevin De Bruyne’s left footed opener, Xherdan Shaqiri’s beautiful finish off of a lovely first time flick on, Mohamed Salah continuing his hot streak and a magnificent Riyad Mahrez solo effort.
  6. Your unsung hero of the weekend is Heung-min Son. In the process of breaking Crystal Palace hearts by scoring the only goal in Tottenham’s 1-0 win on Saturday, Son now stands alone as the Premier League’s highest goalscorer from Asia with 20 league tallies. Spurs’ superstar South Korean has been nothing short of magnificent since being signed for 22 million pounds from Bayer Leverkusen in the summer of 2015 and will only continue getting better. What a milestone, though. 

    Son
    Photo Courtesy of Rex Features
  7. Manchester City won an extremely important game this weekend in an extremely important way. Only being able to hold 52% possession against Arsenal, City had to adapt their playing style to match the game and did so wonderfully. Instead of pressing higher and trying to force their way into holding more possession, the Sky Blues let Arsenal come to them and then were lethal on the counter attack. The pace of Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling caused problems for Arsene Wenger’s back 3 all day long and Kevin De Bruyne was a brilliant orchestrator for the City machine on Sunday. Last season, Pep Guardiola’s squad had no backup plan if they weren’t able to control 65% possession or more and they were caught out too often by teams able to possess the ball. This game was an example of City’s adaptation and the main reason why they will run away with the league by Christmas. Just so, so good right now. 

    City
    Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
  8. Swansea City are absolutely toothless right now and it confuses the hell out of me. Tammy Abraham can’t find the mark, Wilfried Bony has been silent since his deadline day return and Renato Sanches isn’t influential enough to save all of them right now. Paul Clement’s bunch are completely devoid of confidence at the moment, something the manager mentioned after his side’s latest loss to Brighton on Saturday. The Swans have managed just 22 shots on target over their first 11 games, the fourth lowest total through 11 games in Premier League history. Swansea just needs to find a way to generate more shots on net and the goals will come. Facing Burnley in 2 weeks certainly won’t help, but if the Swans can steal one it will go a long way for their confidence. They won’t steal one, though… 

    Abraham
    Photo Courtesy of Premier League Official Photographers
  9. Sam Vokes’ 81st minutes header was the most underrated goal of the weekend. Firstly, the header itself is phenomenally taken by the Welshman and secondly, it won Sean Dyche’s upstart Burnely squad yet another league game. The Clarets are now up to 7th in the table and continue to frustrate teams week in and week out with their terrifically organized and stubborn defensive ranks. This isn’t a club with the talent and structure to beat the top teams in the league – Chelsea was a fluke – but it’s a club structured to beat literally everyone else in the league, which bodes extremely well in the fight for Europa League spots. 

    Vokes
    Photo Courtesy of Reuters
  10. After this latest international break ends, the big match to watch in week 12 is a Monday night tilt between Brighton and Stoke City…………………………man, I can’t even say that with a straight face. Obviously it’s the North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham. If you have anything else scheduled on your Saturday morning at 6:30 AM, cancel it and watch the best rivalry in English soccer. Should be a barnburner, but I have Spurs coming out on top via an entertaining 3-1 scoreline.
Tuesday Morning Tea Week 11: Scintillating Sunday

Tuesday Morning Tea Week 10: The ‘Big 6’ Reign Begins

Take a quick look at the Premier League table and you might be bored with what you see.

Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool all make up the top 6 in the standings and, for the first time this season, I can actually and honestly say that I’m not at all surprised with what’s going on in England. The ‘big 6’ have finally separated themselves and make up the top 6 in the table for the first time this season.

5 out of the 6 teams won this weekend and the only reason that all 6 didn’t win was because Tottenham had to play United. For as competitive a league as the Prem has been thus far, it’s starting to sift itself as we all planned when the season started. Entering week 11, only 6 teams have a positive goal differential and I’ll bet you can never guess who those 6 teams are.

We’ve passed the quarter pole of the 2017-18 season and there will now be several split up battles the rest of the way. The battle for the top between the Manchesters, Tottenham and Chelsea, the Champions League battle between the ‘big 6’, the Europa League battle between upstarts like Watford, Burnley and Newcastle and the relegation battle at the bottom.

City are now 5 points clear at the top after extending their season opening league unbeaten streak to a club record 10 games with a tight win over West Brom 3-2. Liverpool handed down the most decisive victory of the weekend with a 3-0 hammering of Huddersfield, Wilfried Zaha salvaged a deserved point for Crystal Palace with a 97’ equalizer against West Ham while Brighton and Southampton drew 1-1 in the most irrelevant game of the weekend.

Those are your weekend quick hits, here are the headlines:

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No Harry Kane? Big Problem for Spurs

Coming into this past weekend’s showdown with Manchester United, Tottenham have been in rampant form, with 4 consecutive league wins and a spotless Champions League record that includes a victory of German powerhouse Borussia Dortmund and an away draw with Real Madrid.

That form has matched the quality of Spurs’ ace striker Harry Kane, who bagged 13 goals across all competitions in the month of September and is currently the Premier League’s top scorer with 8 goals in 9 appearances. As Kane goes, so goes Tottenham.

Which goes a long way in explaining why Mauricio Pochettino’s bunch sputtered their way to a crucial 1-0 defeat at the hands of Manchester United this past Saturday. Tottenham managed 4 shots on goal, but none of them were remotely dangerous and the only real chance that Spurs had was steered wide by an otherwise hapless Dele Alli.

It’s been several weeks since Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola referred to Tottenham as “the Harry Kane team” in a Champions League press conference and Pochettino was rightly outraged at the time. In form, Spurs are much more than just the England striker, with Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen buzzing around the midfield and creating dangerous chances, a quality defensive shape at the back and Hueng-min Son flying around the wings.

Martial
Photo Courtesy of PA

But Saturday actually gave some merit to Guardiola’s claim. Spurs looked wholly toothless without Kane, unable to finish anything in the final 3rd or menace the United defense enough to create consistent chances.

Yes, Tottenham are more than just Harry Kane, but with the superb form that he’s been in recently, it’s been pretty clearly shown that everything about them keys off of his individual brilliance.

To further drive that point home, Kane returned for a midweek Champions League clash with Real Madrid. Tottenham trashed Los Blancos by a 3-1 scoreline without Kane’s name appearing on the scoresheet. He’s simply that damn influential.

Spurs need their ace striker to have any hope of winning the league and this past weekend was possibly the worst time to be without him and Tottenham paid for it dearly.

Claude Puel Era at Leicester off to a Sparkling Start

In the past 12 months, Leicester City have had an Italian and an Englishman in charge of the club. Both have been fired and now in steps plan C, the Frenchman.

Puel, the former Southampton boss, was appointed prior to Leicester’s weekend clash with Everton and met with some derision due to his Saints’ side of last season only being able to muster up 41 league goals. Playing a home match against a seemingly desperate Everton side – also under brand new (interim) management – there were a lot of anxious eyes on the Frenchman’s Foxes debut.

He passed his first test with flying colors.

Leicester City provided the world with a throwback to the shock title winning side of just two seasons ago in a convincing 2-0 victory over a hapless Everton team. The Toffees has more of the ball, spent most of the game in the Leicester end, held a much higher line than the Foxes, consistently had attacking players in advanced positions, and still lost by two goals – both given up on lightning quick counter attacks.

It was textbook, trademark, vintage Leicester.

Vardy.jpg
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

The problems that got former managers Claudio Rainieri and Craig Shakespeare fired surrounded the fact that neither of them seemed willing to play the style that had won Leicester the league title. Both wanted to hold more possession, play more advanced positions and get on the front foot.

That’s just not how Leicester City succeeds, and Puel – much to his credit – has seemingly immediately realized that and gone back to a tried, true and successful approach.

The man of the match was Demarai Gray, who turned in a stunningly good performance. The 21 year old Englishman was fantastic in his own end and looked constantly ready to pounce on loose balls and spring furious counter attacks. His blistering pace created the first Leicester goal on a counter attack, taking an Everton free kick in the Foxes’ half and then winning 3 separate take-ons before dishing off to Riyad Mahrez, whose cross was finished at the back post by Jamie Vardy.

Gray’s relentless energy and blazing pace create matchup headaches for any opponent and he should be vital on the counter attack for Leicester as this season goes along. If Puel can find a way to work Kelechi Iheanacho and his itching nose for the net into the front line, Leicester will reasonably fight be fighting for a Europa League spot.

Combining a re-born attack with a defense that looked wholly impenetrable against Everton on Saturday bodes well for the former champions. As has been noted, Everton dominated the second half, holding close to 75% possession and generating 10 shots, but only 2 of them were put on goal and a Wes Morgan-led Leicester back line rarely looked like they would be breached.

The Foxes’ performance this weekend was a harbinger of the future to come. Keep your eyes in Stoke this weekend because the Potters might get trashed on Saturday. Leicester are back.

Arsenal Finally Use Their Weapons

Barely 2 weeks after I proclaimed them a “pitiful, bloody mess,” Arsenal have resurrected themselves all the way up to 5th in the Premier League table and appear on the verge of putting together a quality run of form. The catalyst for this recent re-birth in North London can be drawn from the playing of a brand new front 3.

Finally, after 8 weeks of squabbling and politicking, Arsene Wenger has played Lacazette-Ozil-Sanchez on top of his 3-4-3 formation for two straight league matches. Conveniently, Arsenal have won both of those league matches.

Arsenal have always been able to use the relentless pace, movement and creativity of Alexis Sanchez to create problems for opposing defenses, but when combined with the precision passing of Mesut Ozil and the piercing runs and deft finishing ability of Alexandre Lacazette, the Gunners now have a truly dynamic and threatening attack.

Ramsey
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Ozil in particular, amid criticism of his character from all corners of the world – including me – is having a terrific season going forward. He is now tied with Man City starlet Kevin De Bruyne for the most chances created this season with 30.

Playing a front 3 does several important things for Arsenal. Firstly, it allows Alexis Sanchez to play as a wide winger instead of a centre forward. The Chilean has not been at his best this season when forced to play centrally below Lacazette because it mostly negates his strongest qualities.

When in a wider role, Sanchez is better able to use his incredible dribbling ability, electric pace and penchant for cutting inside. In combination with that, Lacazette’s strongest qualities are also accentuated because Sanchez being a constant wide threat allows him to make his signature off-ball runs. And adding the cherry on top of the Arsenal attacking sundae is Mesut Ozil providing world class service to both of them.

Sead Kolasinac has been Arsenal’s best player so far this season and saved them this weekend with a 51’ equalizer. With a front 3 running wild in front of him, he will now be able to solely patrol the left side of the Gunners’ formation without having to worry about covering the middle of the field in attack. He was absolutely brilliant against Swansea City on Saturday while playing in his left side role, as his touchmap against the Swans shows.

Kolasinac
Touchmap courtesy of BBC Sports

Arsenal have seemingly righted the ship with 3 straight comeback victories in all competitions over Everton, Norwich City and Swansea City. Their new formation and mettle will be in for a stern test this weekend as the Gunners travel to the Etihad for a crucial Sunday match against table-toppers Manchester City before the international break.

The matchup to watch in this game will be Alexis Sanchez vs Kyle Walker on the right flank. City will look to press high up the field and try to pin back Arsenal’s attackers on the negative side of the field while pelting away at a still weak back 3. Sanchez will be Arsenal’s key man on counter attacks and it will be up to Walker to handle the Chilean’s pace and creativity on the right wing.

Arsene Wenger’s squad are currently tied for the final Champions League spot with Chelsea heading into their matchup with City and this weekend’s game could be make or break for the Gunners in their quest to reclaim a spot in Europe’s top competition.

If Arsenal are able to hand City their first league defeat of the season, this new front 3 will have been at the heart of the play.

………………..

 

Where I Was Right Last Week:

“Everton are a mess” was the sentence I wrote before talking about how the Toffees currently have the look of a U17 side. Another 2-0 loss to Leicester in which next to nothing was created has done nothing to sway me from my position. Crystal Palace are currently off the hook as ‘most talented team to be relegated’ because Everton have taken the reigns of that sleigh.

Where I Was Wrong Last Week

I incorrectly mentioned briefly that Tottenham and Crystal Palace were playing last week. They didn’t, that’s this week. My bad

Other than that one minor miss, I wasn’t wrong about much of anything else last week. Snaps for me.

………………..

 

Team of the Week: Liverpool

It took 50 minutes for the Reds to breach Huddersfield’s stubborn defense on Saturday, but once Daniel Sturridge found the back of the Anfield net, Liverpool were well on their way to producing a final result that matched the way they played.

After looking mostly pathetic in a 4-1 defeat at the hands of Tottenham last week, Jurgen Klopp’s men flipped the prior narrative on its head en route to the most dominant performance of the weekend. 73% possession, 16 shots vs only 1 Huddersfield shot allowed and only 2 Terriers’ corner kicks.

An utterly dominant display of football by the Reds.

Runners Up: Leicester City, Chelsea, Arsenal

 

Player of the Week: Joe Hart

Crystal Palace put 9 dangerous shots on target in a Saturday barn-burner with West Ham and Joe Hart was able to make 7 spectacular saves. In the 96th minute, the Hammers were on the verge of an improbable victory almost solely because of Hart’s heroics.

The England #1 turned in a performance reminiscent of some of his younger Manchester City days. Hart made several terrific saves, including a mental sequence of reactions in front of the net.

Maybe there were other players who turned in cleaner performances than Hart, but the West Ham keeper was spectacular and no player was more influential in attempting to win his team a game this weekend than Joe Hart.

Runners Up: Demarai Gray, Sead Kolasinac, Wilfried Zaha

 

Moment of the Week: Anthony Martial’s Manchester United Winner

The most important goal of the weekend.

The finish was nothing spectacular and the overall goal was incredibly simple, but no moment had bigger overall impact than Anthony Martial winning a crucial game for Manchester United with his 81st minute tally.

Only 3 players touched the ball on the goal. De Gea cleared the ball, Lukaku flicked a header into the path of Martial and the Frenchman finished past a sprawling Hugo Lloris. The Red Devils have taken full control of 2nd place for the time being and are in position as the most significant challenge to Manchester City’s title quest.

Runners Up: Wilfried Zaha’s 96’ equalizer, the Watford-Stoke fight, Jamie Vardy’s Leicester City opener

………………..

 

10 Thoughts I Have

  1. Sean Dyche – aka ‘Ginger Mourinho’ – has Burnley, yes Burnley, legitimately competing for a Europa League spot. With another victory this weekend against fellow upstart Newcastle, the Clarets are up to 7th in the table while only scoring 9 goals all season, 3 of which came in one victory over Chelsea. I’ve talked at length before about how sharp Burnley’s defensive shape is, but it’s worth mentioning again. This is an extremely stubborn side that just rarely ever breaks down. The Clarets’ upcoming matchup at St. Mary’s against Southampton pits two notoriously stingy sides against each other, but I’d put a lot of money on Burnley coming out on top
  2. Honestly, there wasn’t much else to care/write about. Next weekend, though? HOO BOY
  3. Chelsea vs Manchester United? YES PLEASE
  4. Arsenal vs Manchester City? Oh hell yeah
  5. Everton vs Watford? Don’t scoff, might be a quality match
  6. Even West Ham vs Liverpool should be a quality game
  7. I’ll see y’all next weekend with a ton of stuff to talk about
  8. Also, name me another soccer pundit that will use the word y’all
  9. Hire me, please
  10. Someone?
Tuesday Morning Tea Week 10: The ‘Big 6’ Reign Begins

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.
Tuesday Morning Tea Week 9: Definite, Decisive, Divisive

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 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

Week 3 Tuesday Morning Tea: Break Point

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

……….

West Ham Are Lost

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

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

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

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

west ham
Photo courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Wood Continues Tottenham’s Wembley Woes

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

Lol nope.

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

Wembley woes, indeed.

Chris Wood
Photo Courtesy of Michael Zemanek

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

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

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

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

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

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

#WengerOut

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

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

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

Sanchez
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

In every possible way, Arsenal were absolutely pitiful.

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

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

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

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

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

Arsene Wenger.jpg
Photo Courtesy of Reuters

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

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

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

……….

Where I Was Right Last Week:

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

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

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

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

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

Sterling
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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

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

……….

Where I Was Wrong Last Week:

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

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

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

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

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

……….

Team of the Week: Liverpool

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

Runners Up: Manchester United, Newcastle

Player of the Week: Kasper Schmeichel

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

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

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

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

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

……….

10 Thoughts I Have

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

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

Week 3 Tuesday Morning Tea: Break Point

Tuesday Morning Tea: The Table is Shook

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

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

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

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

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

Robson Kanu.jpg
Photo Courtesy of Press Association

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

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

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

……….

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

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

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

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

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

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

chicharito
Photo Courtesy of Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

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

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

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

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

Wagner
Photo Courtesy of Huddersfield Town

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

……….

Where I Was Right Last Week

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

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

Alonso.jpg
Photo Courtesy of Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

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

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

Where I Was Wrong Last Week

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

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

Walker
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

Another centre back is definitely in need.

……….

Team of the Week: Manchester United

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

Runners Up: Huddersfield Town, Watford, Chelsea

Player of the Week: Marcos Alonso

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

Runners Up: Aaron Mooy, Chicharito, Henrikh Mkhitaryan

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

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

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

……….

10 Thoughts I Have

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

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

Tuesday Morning Tea: The Table is Shook