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 4: Back in Business

Technically, it is called an international ‘break’ but no English clubs were actually taking a break during the two week hiatus from Premier League football.

With the transfer window having ended just last Thursday, a flurry of activity and rumors finally culminated thrillingly while everyone was supposed to be enjoying a ‘break.’ Renato Sanches and Wilfried Bony are Swansea bound, Alexis Sanchez is still in North London, Tottenham pulled in Serge Aurier from PSG, and Chelsea secured Danny Drinkwater’s signature from Leicester while experiencing the extent of Ross Barkley’s indecisive tendencies, among many other events.

The first 3 weeks of Premier League action were vital and thrilling, but that feels like a whole different world compared to the one we live in now.

Chelsea have regained full form, Manchester City look like world beaters, Manchester United have been breached, Tottenham are back, Liverpool are in shambles, and Crystal Palace continues to be historically bad.

Grab your tea, rejoice in the return of club football, and let’s get into the weekend’s headlines.

No Coutinho? Big Problem

Raise your hand if you predicted a 5-0 scoreline in favor of the home side in Saturday’s Manchester City-Liverpool clash.

Either stop lying and put your hand down or go buy a lottery ticket.

The heavyweight matchup of the weekend produced the most lopsided scoreline of the young season so far as the Sky Blues completely and totally dismantled a hapless, 10 man Liverpool side.

Coming off of a 4-0 thrashing of Arsenal before the break, Liverpool was humming on all cylinders. The goals were coming in waves, clean sheets were being kept, Arsenal were being humiliated at Anfield and all was right in Merseyside.

Then, all of a sudden, everything that could have gone wrong for Jurgen Klopp’s men did go wrong.

Jesus
Gabriel Jesus scores Manchester City’s 3rd goal of the day. Photo Courtesy of Rex Features

A tightly played first 20 minutes broke open into a 1-0 City lead by way of Sergio Aguero, scoring in his 6th straight home match vs the Reds. 10 minutes later, Sadio Mane was sent off for an inadvertent high boot that caught City keeper Ederson flush in the face. It was a scary and bloody scene that, when looked back upon now, represents how Liverpool were left by the full time whistle.

City would go on to easily score 4 more goals, registering 10 shots on goal, holding 70% possession and not allowing even a single Liverpool shot after Mane’s red card. It was a truly dominant display that left the Reds hobbling back to Anfield with tails tucked firmly between their legs.

So, just what in the world happened?

Early on, Liverpool consistently and fruitfully attacked Nicolas Otamendi down City’s left flank and created a flurry of early chances. Mohamed Salah was a true threat and the Reds recorded 6 early shots with 3 going on goal. The Aguero goal was a brilliant bit of passing by Kevin De Bruyne, but a Liverpool equalizer still felt imminent.

The Mane red card completely changed the game and peeled back the facade of an elite attacking club that Liverpool have put up over the course of the first 3 game of the season.

Up until this match, Philippe Coutinho felt like an add-on. Yes, he’s a world class talent, but with the way the Reds had been attacking, he wasn’t as vital as he might have previously seemed. Without Sadio Mane and Coutinho, Liverpool’s attack looked useless.

There was nobody to offset Mohamed Salah’s runs and spread the field out, there was nobody to provide quality service through to Firmino, there was nobody with the quality to break down a City defense that seemed completely comfortable holding possession and sitting deep until Liverpool themselves broke down.

Sane
Photo Courtesy of Sky Sports

Coutinho is a vital piece of Jurgen Klopp’s attacking strategy, as he helps break down a defense that sits deep and looks to counter attack. Sadio Mane is crucial to Liverpool’s attack because he is an explosive counter attacking player that can create chances out of thin air with pure athleticism and creativity.

Without either of them, Liverpool looked pathetic. Coutinho is badly needed, and Saturday showed exactly why.

West Ham and Arsenal….I Just Can’t Anymore

I stayed patient with both these sides for 3 weeks. But, after watching disheartening defeats leading into the international break for both the Gunners and Hammers, I finally gave up hope and declared them lost.

And now they come back and put up 3-0 and 2-0 victories respectively.

What in the blue hell am I supposed to think now?

Arsenal were in complete control all of Saturday afternoon against Bournemouth, out-shooting the Cherries 8-1 and holding 65% possession. Danny Welbeck scored a brace and Alexandre Lacazette continued his torrid start with another goal.

Welbeck
Welbeck celebrates his first goal of the afternoon. Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Everything that went wrong 2 weekends ago against Liverpool went right this weekend, as Arsenal appeared to play much more passionately, along with being far more organized and having an effective finishing product in the final 3rd. Lacazette’s was the only pretty goal, but ugly goals are far better than no goals when it comes to finishing.

As for West Ham, their 2-0 result over an upstart Huddersfield squad wasn’t nearly as convincing as Arsenal’s victory, but it sure was badly needed.

Did West Ham look good in their home debut Monday night? Absolutely not, but the 2-0 scoreline will go a long way in easing the ever increasing heat under manager Slaven Bilic’s seat.

West Ham
Photo Courtesy of AFP Photos

So, what do we think about Arsenal and West Ham? The Gunners sit 11th and the Hammers are still in relegation position even after this weekend.

With Arsenal, I don’t see them finishing in the top 8. Alexis Sanchez is completely disinterested, the same can be said about Mesut Ozil, Petr Cech looks over the hill and the back line can’t get out of their own way. This is a massive club that is its own worst enemy right now and is on the verge of disaster by the lofty standards of the Emirates. This win was huge, but don’t forget about the thrashing at Liverpool just yet.

As for West Ham, I’m not letting a 2-0 win sway me; they still look lost and haven’t proven otherwise.

The finishing product, the one thing that the Hammers should be good at, was severely lacking on Monday night, with Javier Hernandez, James Collins and Michel Antonio all as the lead offenders.

Defensively, this was much better from West Ham than what had been shown previously, but Huddersfield looked completely off their game tonight. The Terriers lacked their usual energy and the David Wagner high press was ineffective. Keeping a clean sheet is always a big morale boost, but don’t put too much stock into this one.

This was a great weekend for Arsenal and West Ham, but don’t let it totally change your perceptions of two struggling clubs.

August Tottenham is Gone, Look Out

The win didn’t occur at Wembley, but Tottenham and star striker Harry Kane have seemed to chase away the August ghosts that haunted them all throughout the first 3 games of the season.

Saturday’s Spurs squad looked a completely different bunch than the one seen as recently as two weeks ago against Burnley. Harry Kane registered his 100th Tottenham goal on an attempted cross that found its way into the back of the net, Christian Eriksen netted again, and Hugo Lloris kept his first clean sheet of the club season.

This was the Tottenham that we’ve become accustomed to seeing over the past 2 or so years. Relentless attacking quality, Harry Kane’s top class finishing ability, a stable, organized defensive trio, and a little sprinkle of Christian Eriksen’s magic.

Tottenham
Photo Courtesy of Rex Features

Spurs fired a warning shot to the rest of the league with this menacing performance over an Everton side made to look pathetic in the shadow of Mauricio Pochettino’s men. This is a good attacking team that isn’t going anywhere, regardless of how a shaky start might have pointed otherwise.

Tottenham is back and all they needed to do was get out of August.

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Where I Was Right Last Week:

Welp, for the first time in the now 4 weeks history of Tuesday Morning Tea I don’t think I was right about anything last week. I pronounced Arsenal and West Ham dead and for the time being, I was proven wrong. I called for a Crystal Palace bounce back and that flopped, I touted Swansea as a dangerous threat going forward and they were blanked by Newcastle.

So take your pick among all the places I was wrong last week, but none of those places include a correct prediction. My mom said there would be days like today…

Where I Was Wrong Last Week:

Where wasn’t I wrong last week? On top of that list above, I briefly mentioned that Liverpool might not need Philippe Coutinho anymore and that Tottenham could be in for “a dire reality check that their time fighting for the top 4 has already come and gone.”

Yikes.

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Team of the Week: Tottenham

Controversy!

Manchester City is the obvious choice here after a 5-0 thrashing of Liverpool broke an 0-5 run against the Reds for City, but I’m going with Spurs here because their 3-0 domination over Everton was just so badly needed.

While City had already shown their class this season with 7 points in 3 games, Tottenham had looked like a shell of its former self up until this past weekend. Mauricio Pochettino’s men recovered beautifully this weekend and picked up 3 points that were so badly needed.

Runners Up: Manchester City, Brighton

Player of the Week: Pascal Gross

Brighton, that team you probably forgot existed, recorded their first ever top flight goal and victory this weekend. Pascal Gross scored that first ever goal, sending the AmEx into absolute pandemonium. He then added another one later on to seal a 3-1 win for the Seagulls over West Brom.

Gross
Photo Courtesy of PA Photos

A tip of the hat to Brighton and Pascal Gross, well done lads.

Runners Up: Kevin De Bruyne, Harry Kane, Danny Welbeck, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting

Moment of the Week: Sadio Mane’s Red Card

In the game of the weekend, this was the moment that changed everything.

Liverpool’s star forward chased down a long ball for him, City keeper Ederson came out to cut down Mane’s chance and took a high boot straight to the side of the face. It was a vicious, if unintentional, foul that resulted in Mane being sent off with a straight red and receiving a 3 match ban after City’s 5-0 thrashing ended.

Mane
Photo Courtesy of Reuters and BBC

For the record, I believe it’s a clear red card and match suspension, regardless of whether or not Mane meant to maim Ederson’s face. But, either way, this was the biggest moment of the weekend and has sent City propelling towards the top and Liverpool spiraling down towards the bottom of the table.

Runners Up: Brighton’s First Goal, Harry Kane’s 100th Tottenham Goal, N’Golo Kane’s Goal vs Former Club Leicester

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10 Thoughts I Have

Manchester United are not invincible and Stoke peeled back the layers of what had looked like an impenetrable onion and shown the holes in the armor. United center backs Phil Jones and Eric Bailly struggled to mark the Stoke front 3 of Xherdan Shaqiri, Jese Rodriguez, and Eric Choupo-Moting, resulting in the latter scoring Stoke’s only 2 goals of the match. This was Manchester United’s first game against a front 3, and they struggled containing the movement and pressure of 3 strikers. The Red Devils will be fine for now, but when Liverpool comes to town in several weeks, it should be major trouble for Jose Mourinho’s side.

If you were potentially nervous about your team splashing big money on a striker this summer, have no fear. Between Romelu Lukaku, Alvaro Morata, and Alexandre Lacazette, the Premier League’s newest strikers have been the best so far. Lacazette has scored twice, Morata thrice, and Lukaku has bagged 4 tallies thus far. So far, big money has equalled big goals for Arsenal, Chelsea and United.

Morata
Photo Courtesy of Rex Features

At the risk of very easily being wrong, I’ll come right out and say that Crystal Palace will avoid relegation. Yes, the Eagles are the first team to lose their first 4 top flight matches without scoring a goal since 1920, but this side has too much quality, as they showed against Burnley. Palace attempted 23 shots and absolutely dominated the game but just couldn’t find the finish they so desperately needed. All they need is one goal and they’ll start flying.

Southampton are the most irrelevant team in the Premier League. I mean, how boring is this team? This weekend’s 2-0 defeat to Watford became the 3rd out of 4 Premier League matches in which Southampton has failed to score. The Saints have two 0-0 draws so far this season and are just generally boring to watch. If there’s ever a team that I often forget exists, it’s Southampton.

On the other side of this coin, what a start Watford are off to. Marco Silva has his side absolutely flying, and the Hornets have now outlasted West Brom and Huddersfield to be the last uncommon team still sitting in the top 4. I wouldn’t dare call for a potential ‘Leicester City’ type run, but Watford definitely have the look of a top half team. They defend well, play physically, and have some great finishing.

Speaking of Watford’s finishing, they scored the joint goals of the weekend. I’m packaging together Abdoulaye Doucoure and Daryl Janmaat’s super strikes because wow.

Other fantastic goals from this weekend include Leroy Sane’s left footed bender, Lacazette’s sublime finish, and another superb Alvaro Morata header.

After a promising start to the season that saw them collect 4 points from their first two matches, Everton have hit the skids in a major way and find themselves sitting 16th in the Prem table. They are in the middle of a nasty stretch of schedule that sees them take on Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United in consecutive weeks on top of Europa League. I still believe Everton are a top 7 side, but they need points this weekend against United in order to pull themselves back on track.

Manchester City have officially arrived as the class of the Premier League. This is a team still gelling together, but Saturday’s dispatching of Liverpool showed off City’s two best qualities, relentless attacking and sublime passing. Benjamin Mendy is a force in the left wingback spot, Leroy Sane showed his quality, Kevin De Bruyne bossed the midfield, and the most promising sight of all was Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus linking up for 3 goals between the two of them. City looked shaky in the past 3 weeks, but they’re here now and will only get better. The Prem is officially on notice.

Jesus and De Bruyne
Photo Courtesy of Sky Sports

Sunday is obviously a massive day next week, with Chelsea-Arsenal and Man U-Everton tilts highlighting the day, but the game of next weekend will be Watford vs Man City. Can Watford truly hang with the top 4? Can City continue their dominance? Will this be a trap game for City coming off of their win over Liverpool and a mid-week Champions League clash? I have City pulling out a 2-1 win, but Watford certainly won’t make it easy. I have this one circled several times.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

Tuesday Morning Tea Week 4: Back in Business

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