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.

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Tuesday Morning Tea Week 14: Condensed Midweek Edition

Tuesday Morning Tea Week 8: USMNT Failure Therapy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are your weekend headlines.

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The Manchester’s Separate at the Top

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

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

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

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

City
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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

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

Sane
Photo Courtesy of PA

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

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

Kevin De Bruyne Deserves His Own Headline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crystal Palace Shock Chelsea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zaha
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

Without doubt, the result of the weekend.

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Where I Was Right Last Week:

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

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

Where I Was Wrong Last Week:

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

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

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

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

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Player of the Weekend: Wilfried Zaha

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

Zaha 2
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

Team of the Weekend: Manchester City

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

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

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

Runners Up: Crystal Palace, Swansea City, Watford

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

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

Cleverly
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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

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10 Thoughts I Have

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ryan Riffs: The Premier League

It’s been a while since I ventured into ‘Ryan Riffs’ territory, but I’m back, and we’re venturing into even more new territory with this venture. This, I’m hoping, will be the first of many articles diving into British Premier League soccer, among other soccer. So, let’s do it.

Traditionally, the Premier League has been a hierarchy, with a certain few teams running a monopoly at the top of the table with only a brief interruption from a random club here and there. Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool have been the traditional big boys in the British schoolyard. Usually, you would pick one of those teams, and 100% of the time you would be right.

Then, along came Manchester City.

Man City Title Win
Photo by Getty Images

In 2011-12, the Citizens became the first club outside the ‘Big Four’ listed above to win the Premier League title since 1994. The very same season, Tottenham broke into the top 4, and a chain of chaos was set in motion capped off by Leicester City winning the Prem this past season.

The Foxes were listed at 5000-1 in the oddsmakers book before the season, but they took those odds rode them all the way to the most improbable title run in the history of sports. Leicester City confirmed, last season, what everyone now knows; the Premier League will be absolute chaos.

Leicester City Title Win
Photo by Getty Images

Seriously, any number of 6 teams have a legitimate shot to win the title, with clubs like West Ham and Everton having an outside shot. Never before have traditionally bottom feeding clubs been able to look themselves in the mirror and say, “Hey, we actually have a shot.” It’s beautifully hectic and impossible to predict.

So, now that we’re on the same page – ha ha ha, writing puns….please love me – let’s get into my Premier League thoughts, just two weeks into the season.

……….

Manchester United are back. Following their 2012-13 title win, United have fallen down the table, eventually finishing outside of Champions League contention for the first time since 1995 – along with Chelsea, coincidentally. But, unfortunately, the empire of Old Trafford is back, and in a big way.

Last season, United were a mess of a team. Full of underachieving attackers, old, slow midfielders, a shoddy defense, and a whack-job of a manager, it’s pretty amazing that they even were able to end the season in 5th.

United has addressed all of those concerns during this offseason in astounding ways, and they are as dangerous as ever. Beginning with the signing of manager Jose Mourinho to helm the team, you could make the argument that Man U replaced the incompetent Louis Van Gall with the most brilliant manager in the world – I prefer Pep Guardiola, but that’s a different argument for a different time. And Mourinho immediately went to work hauling in droves of talent.

Mourinho’s first signing was designed to address the Red Devils’ poor 2015-16 defense, and what a signing it was. Eric Bailly has come in and immediately impressed, with some calling him “the perfect Mourinho defender.” Needless to say, Jose really likes him, and he has certainly contributed during the early part of the season.

Next up was the casual entrance of one, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. And when I say casual, I mean not at all. In typical Zlatan fashion, he made a grand entrance to Old Trafford and brought all of his traditional style and flair. So far, Ibra has scored 3 Premier League goals in his first two games, as well as the winning goal in the Community Shield final. Not too shabby.

Mourinho’s cap to the summer was literally the biggest transfer of all time; Paul Pogba. The former United academy star turned Juventus star returned home to the tune of just over $118 million, breaking the world record transfer fee held by Real Madrid for Gareth Bale. Pogba returned to the club that brought him up and, in the eyes of many, catapulted Manchester United to the assumed top of the Premier League’s predicted final standings.

So, in short, United needed better defense, a creative midfielder, a proven scorer, and a capable manager. What they got was Eric Bailly, Paul Pogba – only the most creative midfielder I’ve ever seen – Zlatan freaking Ibrahimovic and Jose Mourinho. Yeah, I’d say the Red Devils are back to being the football powerhouse we all know them as.

Zlatan and Pogba
Photo courtesy of Zlatan’s Instagram, God bless that man.

So far, United has beaten Bournemouth and Southampton by a combined tally of 5-1, with their next fixture being another away game against upstarts Hull City – we’ll get into them soon.

They will presumably squash Hull and now have 3 dominant Premier League wins to open the Mourinho era. But don’t get too excited, the first major test – and boy, what a test it is – for the new look Red Devils comes in the Manchester Darby at Old Trafford on September 10th. What a clash that should be.

……….

And speaking of the early season Manchester Darby, that game is between the two clear Premier League title favorites. As wide open as I made things sound in my opening riff, the signing of Pogba to United and the impending signing of Claudio Bravo to Manchester City – combined with the new arrival of John Stones – have separated these two from the rest of the pack.

Chelsea have looked good so far, with Antonio Conte’s defensive structure making them look very hard to crack combined with Eden Hazard and Diego Costa’s early season brilliance. But Chelsea just don’t seem to have the extra gear of talent that United and City can press out onto the field on a consistent basis.

The same goes for Liverpool, who’s opening fixture with Arsenal was a brilliant offensive display that coincided with Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mane announcing their arrival with authority, but their offensive arsenal – we’ll get to them in just a second – is limited, and they can’t defend for their lives. Jurgen Klopp’s bunch will be fun to watch, but don’t count on them finishing atop the table.

And Arsenal, what do we even say about them. Another silent summer of Arsene Wenger apparently forgetting that his defense is absolute trash and not making any transfers. That has resulted in a confusing 0-1-1 start, including a thrilling 4-3 loss to Liverpool that exposed every defensive fault you could ever think of, and a 0-0 draw with Tottenham that showed every offensive flaw you could ever think of.

Arsenal, as much as their seemingly star studded roster would have you believe, is not a serious title threat. In fact, they are legitimately in danger of finishing outside of a Europa League spot.

Yeah, this is a strange time in football.

Because I feel inclined to touch on the reigning runner ups, Tottenham aren’t title contenders either. As exciting as their offensive talent seemed last season – with Harry Kane’s 25 goal season and Dele Alli’s breakout – Tottenham’s lack of consistency and inexperience will doom them. The top 4 is not in their future, but they should still be a fun offensive club. When Spurs and Liverpool face off? Tune in.

All of that was basically a really long way of me undermining my entire first riff on how unpredictable the Premier League is. Manchester City and Manchester United have separated themselves as legitimate title favorites.

I talked about United at length, and City’s depth and offensive firepower are incredible. Between Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne, Nolito, Kelechi Iheanacho, David Silva and a suddenly remarkable Raheem Sterling, City can and will put up lots of scoring this season.

Man City Squad
Photo courtesy of BBC

The question has always been defense.

New manager Pep Guardiola’s late pre-season addition of John Stones has seemed to fix some of those questions, with Stones playing a very sturdy fullback position. And, to boot, it is expected that former Barcelona #1 Claudio Bravo will join the team on a transfer tomorrow.

If that happens, it would be a huge boost as one could argue that Bravo is the ‘sweeper keeper’ in Europe – an aspect that Guardiola relies on, and is the thing that is resulting in Joe Hart’s saddening and impending exit.

September 10th will be the first day that really gives us an idea of what the Premier League landscape will look like, with the top two title contenders facing off at Old Trafford in a power shifting matchup that will have a lot of eyes on it.

Regardless of the result of that one match, it should be a wild Prem season. Buckle up.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

Ryan Riffs: The Premier League