Tuesday Morning Tea Week 15: Derby Weekend

Derby’s are special.

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

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

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

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

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

Here are your weekend headlines:

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Manchester is Blue and the Title is Too

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

Oh, they passed. You better believe they passed.

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Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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

Otamendi
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

Lukaku
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

Manchester is blue and the title is too.

 

Tottenham Break Winless Streak in Style

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

So, yeah, it’s been a while.

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

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

Tottenham
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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

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

 

Chelsea Shocked at London Stadium

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

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

Chelsea 2
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chelsea 1
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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Player of the Week: Steve Mounie

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

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

 

Team of the Week: Manchester City

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

Runners Up: Huddersfield Town, Burnley, Swansea City

 

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

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

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

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10 Things I Think

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday Morning Tea Week 13: The Calm Before The Storm

37 points.

Through 13 league games, table toppers Manchester City have 37 points. No team has ever accrued more in the history of English football. As NBCSN pundit Robbie Mustoe pointed out after City’s victory over Huddersfield Town on Sunday, “Soon, it’s going to be time to start talking about this maybe being the best club team in English history.”

Clearly, there’s a long way to go before that talk can really gain steam, but Pep Guardiola’s squad are sure making a strong case this season. City’s tight 2-1 victory over Huddersfield on Sunday of this past weekend set several club records and continued a stunning start to the Sky Blues’ season.

11 consecutive away wins in all competitions is a club record, 26 straight unbeaten games in all competitions is a club record, 18 consecutive wins in all competitions is a club record, 11 consecutive Premier League wins matches a club record.

Look, I don’t think you need me to tell you that Manchester City are a phenomenal side, but their run of form so far this season is something rarely, if ever, seen before. But more on that later.

This past weekend represented the last breath that Premier League clubs can comfortably take before the craze of the holiday schedule. Next week features 4 different match days and each club will play 2 games. Then comes Champions League before match week 15, the League Cup resumes during match week 16 and then the Christmas madness ensues.

The Premier League’s holiday schedule has long been the butt end of many jokes by players in other leagues around the world due to its game frequency, particularly around Christmas and New Years, meanwhile other players are relaxing on holiday.

Needless to say, it’s a brutal element of the English top flight and one that truly separates contenders and pretenders. Match week 13 was the final bit of calm before the holiday schedule storm, so let’s enjoy some peace before things get crazy.

Here are your week 13 headlines:

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Sensational Southampton Crack the Top Half

If I were to make a list of the Premier League teams that we aren’t talking about enough, it would be easy for me to start with Burnley and Watford, the two teams putting up the most stiff resistance to the reign of the big 6.

Southampton is the newest addition to that list after match week 13.

With a 4-1 thrashing of Everton, the Saints have not only bagged their highest goal tally of the season but are now up to 10th in the table, tied with Brighton at 16 points.

Back in week 6, I called Southampton “the most irrelevant team in the Premier League” because their boring style and penchant for 0-0 draws just literally gave me nothing to talk about. I mean, aside from this week’s victory, what have the Saints given us to talk about? Manolo Gabbiadini scored a brace once…..so there was that, I guess.

But anyway, Southampton joined the parade of teams wrecking Everton this past weekend and now find themselves in the top half of the table. On the back of a Charlie Austin brace, Mauricio Pellegrino’s squad broke free of match week 12’s frustrating 3-0 loss to Liverpool and will now carry a strong degree of confidence into a midweek matchup with Manchester City.

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Photo Courtesy of Premier League Official Photographers

“We deserved to win today,” Pellegrino said afterwords. “It’s been frustrating at times this year, but today we played a really good game, converted our chances and our players played really hard. I’m really pleased with the team.”

Southampton, a team plagued by the lack of a true goalscoring threat all season, showed out with 4 tallies on Sunday, their most since scoring 4 on the last day of the 2016 season – in a twist of irony, that 4-1 win over Crystal Palace was Southampton’s last game under then boss Ronald Koeman, fired by Everton just over a month ago.

Charlie Austin scored two lovely goals with his head and the Englishman’s constant ariel threat served as a significant deciding factor in the game because Everton just had nothing to defend him with.

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Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Southampton dominated every facet of the game on Saturday, peppering 17 shots while only conceding 5, garnering 7 corners to only 1 Everton corner and even holding 67% possession over a team that relies on being able to maintain ball control in the midfield.

Normally, a Southampton win isn’t something remotely worth talking about in the greater fabric of the Premier League, but I owe it to them this week. It’s not often that the Saints score 4 goals in one game, and the occasion warrants a headline in Tuesday Morning Tea.

So, good on you Southampton. I still believe you’re mostly irrelevant, but now you have one shining moment in the sun. May you enjoy the 2 days of sunshine before Manchester City throws a massive blanket over it on Wednesday.

And speaking of Manchester City……

 

Manchester City Win the Game of the Weekend

What a contest we saw at John Smith’s Stadium on Sunday afternoon between Manchester City and Huddersfield Town. If you had this as the game of the weekend, take a bow and go buy yourself a lottery ticket.

During his Friday presser, Pep Guardiola pointed out that this game against Huddersfield would be “tricky and difficult” for his squad. Many rolled their eyes at Guardiola’s relentless competitive nature, but he was spot on with his prediction and clearly knew exactly what he was talking about.

Huddersfield put together nearly a perfect game plan to stymie City’s high flying attack and executed it to perfection for the entire first half before a Christopher Schindler header deflected in off of Nicolas Otamendi just seconds before the halftime whistle.

Huddersfield 1
Photo Courtesy of Premier League Official Photographers

In the second half, City pushed forward about as hard as a team possibly can and were rewarded with the two goals that they so desperately desired courtesy of a Sergio Aguero penalty and a Raheem Sterling tap in.

The Terriers fought like hell and put up the most stiff resistance that City have faced all season in any competition but were ultimately undone and broke underneath the immense weight of the Sky Blues’ relentless pressure. Manchester City won an away Premier League match after trailing at half-time for the first time since 1995 and maintain their 8 point lead atop the table after Sunday’s scare.

“If you want to win the title you cannot expect easy games,” Guardiola pointed out after the game. “We have to live these kinds of situations and we spoke at half-time about how we are going to react. We competed amazingly and I’m very pleased with the team.”

Many pundits are shaming Manchester City’s lack of bite in front of goal, but Huddersfield deserve an immense amount of credit for the way that they were able to frustrate and impede the City attack, especially in the box.

Of their 336 successful passes in the 2nd half, the Sky Blues weren’t able to connect on a single one in the Huddersfield penalty box. Terriers’ centre backs Christopher Schindler and Mathias Jorgensen maintained perfect symmetry and synergy all afternoon long and kept City just a hair off on through balls.

Manchester City v Huddersfield
The 2nd Half Touchmap (courtesy of BBC)

Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva, normally able to pierce through any defense while playing their attacking trio on net, tried everything they could to break through the opposing defense but couldn’t find the formula. Only when Gabriel Jesus came on in the 80th minute did City get that little extra bit of bite that they needed to score the winning goal, tapped in by Raheem Sterling off of a Jesus shot and Jonas Lossl save.

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Photo Courtsy of Getty Images

Huddersfield maintained an extremely high work ethic on defense, keeping their tight shape and frustrating the league leaders all afternoon before the visitors finally managed to break through. It was a heroic defensive effort that came up agonizingly short but leaves much reason for optimism in West Yorkshire.

It was the kind of game that the Terriers played against Manchester United and can create belief among the team and supporters that this is a team that can stay at the top level and possibly snatch wins from the big boys in the league.

For Manchester City, it’s an ugly but extremely important win. Manchester United experienced the same kind of defensive performance from Huddersfield but were unable to break through and ultimately succumbed to the Terriers’ shape and stubbornness. City have continued their historic winning run and proven that they are a team of high character by winning this game. The scenes on the field after the game showed how much this win meant to the Sky Blues.

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Photo Courtesy of Premier League Official Photographers

Their historic run of 18 straight wins in all competitions marches onwards into the holiday craze.

 

A North London Shuffle

Two match weeks ago, Tottenham Hotspur sat 3rd in the table with 23 points, just above Chelsea and below Manchester United. With Harry Kane leading the league in goals at that point and all cylinders clicking, it appeared as though Spurs were ready to take off and challenge the supremacy of the two Manchester clubs.

Now, after a somewhat shocking 2-0 defeat to arch rivals Arsenal and a disappointing 1-1 home draw with hapless West Brom, Tottenham are now 5th in the table with 24 points, just below Arsenal.

A week after claiming North London supremacy on the pitch, Arsenal has also claimed it in the table.

Arsenal 1
Photo Courtesy of Premier League Official Photographers

For Arsenal’s part, they took all 3 points from a hard fought game at Turf Moor against a stubborn Burnley side this past Sunday. After a match week 7 defeat to Watford, I declared Arsenal “an absolute mess that may miss the Europa League.” They have responded by winning 4 out of their past 5 league games, the only loss being an understandable 3-1 defeat to rampant Manchester City.

The Gunners now enter the holiday period in Champions League position after a rocky start to the season. Alexis Sanchez, scorer of the decisive 92nd minute penalty against Burnley, is back in top form wreaking havoc on opposing defenses. Combine Arsene Wenger’s star Chilean with a much steadier defense and Alexandre Lacazette’s consistent excellence and you have the winning combination that has propelled Arsenal into the top 4.

Tottenham, meanwhile, have run into the same skids that saw them drop home points to Swansea City and Burnley while losing to Chelsea during a bad 3 game stretch back in August. Spurs appear to have lost their offensive bite in league play recently, with just 2 goals scored over their past 4 games.

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Photo Courtesy of Premier League Official Photographers

Harry Kane has been absolutely outstanding this season, but he can’t do everything and the English striker is getting next to nothing from his supporting cast. Dele Alli has been almost damningly absent recently and got bullied this weekend, committing 5 turnovers and only winning 1 ariel duel.

The lack of key passes being made by Spurs right now is leading to a lack of quality chances and has created a disturbing trend. In each of their past 4 league games, Tottenham have had at least 15 more shots than shots on goal, meaning that the players sense a lack of bite in front of net, but can’t find consistent quality chances.

Next week, Spurs will play Leicester City and Watford, both away, while Arsenal will face Huddersfield and Manchester United, both at home. North London has shuffled itself in the table and the upcoming week will prove crucial in deciding which team ultimately finishes in the last Champions League spot.

Manchester City has separated at the top of the table while United and Chelsea have cut themselves out as the only clear and true challengers. The battle for the final spot in the top 4 is underway in full force and has taken a turn in Arsenal’s favor in recent weeks.

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Photo Courtesy of Premier League Official Photographers

 

We’ll see whether the teams keep shuffling or if this is a continuing trend.

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Player of the Weekend: Charlie Austin

With two brilliant headers and the presence of a constant ariel threat, Charlie Austin has now given the south coast renewed optimism that maybe, just maybe, Southampton already have the required goal-scoring threats that they have craved for so long already in the team. The English striker formed a fantastic partnership with Boufal and Steven Davis up front and the Saints now have some mojo going into a Wednesday tilt with Man City.

Runners Up: Raheem Sterling, Mohamed Salah, James Tarkowski

 

Team of the Weekend: Huddersfield Town AFC

I know, I know, I know…they lost. But believe me when I say that no team played as well or fought as hard as Huddersfield this weekend. If the Terriers were playing literally any other team in the Premier League this past weekend, I have no doubt that they would have secured at least 1 point, if not all 3. It was a stubborn and sterling defensive effort undone by one small mistake and then a bit of misfortune. But neither of those instances should take away from the defensive masterclass that David Wagner’s scrappy club put on.

Runners Up: Southampton, Watford, Manchester City

 

Moment of the Weekend: Mamadou Sahko’s 92’ Winner

Crystal Palace have had a tough go this season. Things started with a 7 game winless and goalless run in league play, a feat which no team in the history of English football has done. Following that and the sacking of Frank De Boer, Palace have garnered points from 4 of their last 5 league matches and Mamadou Sahko’s late winner over Stoke City provided an electrifying moment in what has been a depressing season thus far at Selhurst Park. Just listen to the reaction after he scored, it’s remarkable.

Runners Up: Raheem Sterling’s winner, Mohamed Salah’s revenge goal

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10 Thoughts I Have

  1. I think that Manchester United are in for the fight of their season at Vicarage Road on Tuesday against Watford. The weakest point in the Red Devils’ defense so far this season has been left back Chris Smalling. Brighton’s Pascal Gross terrorized the veteran Englishman this past weekend and was a constant threat for the visitors. Now, replace Gross with Watford’s Richarlison and it’s easy to see how Smalling could be in for a looooooooong day. I can easily see Watford winning this game behind a brilliant performance from their Brazilian wunderkid. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. 

    Richarlison
    Photo Courtesy of Goal.com
  2. Mohamed Salah is the closest player to Kevin De Bruyne in the PFA Player of the Year race at the moment. The Egyptian now leads the Premier League with 10 goals, 40% of Liverpool’s season total. He’s easily the best attacking winger in the league right now and, in my eyes, is the only player challenging Manchester City’s Belgian superstar for the Player of the Year title. 

    Salah 1
    Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
  3. And, speaking of De Bruyne, I believe that this Raheem Sterling postgame quote perfectly encapsulates the evolution of one of the world’s finest players. “As an attacker, I know that all I have to do is make the right movements and runs and Kevin will find me.” Speaks for itself, doesn’t it?
  4. Xherdan Shaqiri scored the goal of the weekend with this solo stunner. What a superb run and finish.
  5. Other notable tallies include Mohamed Salah’s revenge goal, Gyilfi Sigurdsson’s cracking equalizer and Steven Davis’ lovely finish for Southampton.
  6. I was very impressed with West Brom’s fight this weekend. After Tony Pulis’ midweek firing, it would’ve been understandable if the Baggies came out limply on Saturday and got thrashed by Tottenham. However, the team showed an impressive amount of resolve and character in securing a hard fought 1-1 draw that featured an impressive opening goal from Salomon Rondon. With a home game coming up against a struggling Newcastle United squad this Tuesday, West Brom have a legitimate chance to really get themselves back on track after such a rough stretch. I think they’ll beat Newcastle before at least securing a point against Crystal Palace. Props to you, boys. 

    West Brom
    Photo Courtesy of Premier League Official Photographers
  7. Everton and West Ham are playing a midweek matchup that could go two ways. Either we’re gonna see a game with at least 5 goals or a game with none, there really isn’t an in between. Everton have conceded 28 times this season, tops in the league, while West Ham have conceded 26 times, just below the Toffees’ total. On the surface, it’s a boring and useless game, but don’t sleep on the fact that it could turn into an absolute barnburner.
  8. Newcastle, amid turmoil regarding who is set to own the club in 2018 and beyond, have lost 4 straight league games and are the worst Premier League club not currently wearing blue on Merseyside. After consecutive 1-0 defeats to Burnley and Bournemouth, the Magpies have now been thrashed by Manchester United and Watford to the tune of 4-1 and 3-0 defeats. This most recent loss was particularly disheartening because Newcastle were able to launch some offense, posting 12 shots, 2 on goal and garnering 6 corners, but nothing was even remotely threatening. Rafa Benitez’s club has no attacking talent that can be relied on and is consistently getting beaten up by far superior clubs. It’s a disheartening stretch from a club in turmoil. Tough times in Newcastle. 

    Newcastle
    Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
  9. Brighton’s Matthew Ryan made the save of the weekend with this phenomenal double save to deny Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba. It might go unnoticed in the overall scheme of an otherwise uneventful game in a mostly uneventful weekend, but it shouldn’t.
  10. The best midweek matchup is an underrated matchup between upstart Bournemouth and Burnley. The Clarets have yet to lose a league match this season away from home and Bournemouth have avoided defeat in 4 of their last 5. This is an extremely important game for both sides and it should be extremely entertaining. I have Burnley coming out with a 2-0 victory courtesy of goals by Chris Wood and Robbie Brady, but don’t let that sway you from not watching.
Tuesday Morning Tea Week 13: The Calm Before The Storm

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 5: Manchester Mania

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

Manchester.

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

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

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

……….

City set the Pace

Wow.

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

City 2
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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

And the attack…oh my.

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

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

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

City
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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

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

United Hold Serve

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

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

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

Lukaku
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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

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

Crystal Palace Set the Wrong Kind of History

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

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

Palace 1
Photo Courtesy of Reuters

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

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

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

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

Palace 2
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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

……….

Team of the Week: Manchester City

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

Runners Up: Manchester United, Newcastle

Player of the Week: Sergio Aguero

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

Runners Up: Jermain Defoe, Nemanja Matic, Lukasz Fabianski

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

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

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

……….

Where I Was Right Last Week

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

Where I Was Wrong Last Week

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

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

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

Tottenham
Photo Courtesy of AFP

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

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

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

……….

10 Thoughts I Have

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