Tuesday Morning Tea Week 15: Derby Weekend

Derby’s are special.

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

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

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

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

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

Here are your weekend headlines:

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Manchester is Blue and the Title is Too

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

Oh, they passed. You better believe they passed.

City 1
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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

Otamendi
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

Lukaku
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

Manchester is blue and the title is too.

 

Tottenham Break Winless Streak in Style

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

So, yeah, it’s been a while.

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

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

Tottenham
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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

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

 

Chelsea Shocked at London Stadium

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

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

Chelsea 2
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chelsea 1
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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Player of the Week: Steve Mounie

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

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

 

Team of the Week: Manchester City

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

Runners Up: Huddersfield Town, Burnley, Swansea City

 

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

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

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

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10 Things I Think

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday Morning Tea Week 14: Part 2, Weekend Edition

My goodness, what a week.

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

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

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

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

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

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David De Gea is Superman

So, the Emirates got set on fire last Saturday.

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

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

De Gea
Photo Courtesy of Premier League Official Photographers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Performance of the season.

 

Claude Puel Leads the Midseason Manager Pack

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

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

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

Puel
Photo Courtesy of Premier League Official Photographers

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

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

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

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

Leicester
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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

 

Liverpool Are Rolling

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

But, you’d be wrong.

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

Liverpool
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

Liverpool 2
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

Look out, everyone else.

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Team of the Week (Part 2): Liverpool

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

Runners Up: Everton, Leicester City

 

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

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

De Gea Double
Photo Courtesy of Reuters

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

 

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

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

Runner Up: David Silva completes another Man City late show

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10 Things I Think

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday Morning Tea Week 13: The Calm Before The Storm

37 points.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are your week 13 headlines:

……………………

 

Sensational Southampton Crack the Top Half

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

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

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

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

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

Southampton 2
Photo Courtesy of Premier League Official Photographers

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

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

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

Southampton 1
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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

And speaking of Manchester City……

 

Manchester City Win the Game of the Weekend

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

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

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

Huddersfield 1
Photo Courtesy of Premier League Official Photographers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manchester City 1
Photo Courtsy of Getty Images

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

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

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

Manchester City 2
Photo Courtesy of Premier League Official Photographers

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

 

A North London Shuffle

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

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

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

Arsenal 1
Photo Courtesy of Premier League Official Photographers

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

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

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

Tottenham 1
Photo Courtesy of Premier League Official Photographers

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

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

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

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

Arsenal 2
Photo Courtesy of Premier League Official Photographers

 

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

……………………

 

Player of the Weekend: Charlie Austin

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

Runners Up: Raheem Sterling, Mohamed Salah, James Tarkowski

 

Team of the Weekend: Huddersfield Town AFC

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

Runners Up: Southampton, Watford, Manchester City

 

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

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

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

……………………

 

10 Thoughts I Have

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday Morning Tea Week 9: Definite, Decisive, Divisive

There were no draws this week.

Each and every one of this weekend’s 10 Premier League fixtures ended with a single victor standing tall. Not even Southampton vs. West Brom could produce a draw during week 9, a truly remarkable feat to cap off a wild English Saturday.

Growing up, my biggest beef with football was that games could end in a tie. In America, we’re raised to believe that ties are stupid and useless and, for the most part, they are. It sucks to tie with an opponent and not have a definitive answer to the question, “which team is better?”

That being said, even now that I’m neck deep in an endless love affair with football, I still am not the biggest fan of draws, to say the least. So you can imagine my excitement when literally none of the Premier League games ended in that fashion.

What thrill.

The football gods smiled down upon us with a weekend full of winners, shocks and redemption stories. Here’s the best of week 9:

……….

The Champions Reign on Watford’s Parade

Nervous moments at Stamford Bridge have been momentarily alleviated following Chelsea’s 4-2 win over an upstart Watford side on Saturday that brought NBCSports announcer Peter Drury to proclaim the victory, “a great big, blue pile of relief.”

For a Chelsea side that had lost two straight games entering week 8’s crucial clash with Watford, the result certainly means more than the way that it was procured. But the Blues would be smart to not look particularly deeply into this one if they want to truly enjoy it.

Watford outplayed Antonio Conte’s side in every aspect of the game for 80 minutes. The Hornets created chances, out-possessed Chelsea in the midfield, were clean and composed at the back and looked to be in ideal position to possibly snatch a late winner and another improbable victory.

But Chelsea showed something on Saturday that they haven’t shown all year, that championship fight that brought the trophy to Stamford Bridge last season in the first place. Still missing midfield maestro N’Golo Kante and finding themselves trailing 2-1 with a mere 20 minutes remaining, the Blues fought back and produced a result that could possibly turn their season around.

Azpilicueta
Photo Courtesy of PA

Michy Batshuayi, despite only playing 30 minutes, was the MOTM for Chelsea and ended up scoring the equalizer on a deftly flicked header. Then, with a comfortable result in tow, the champions decided to keep pushing and, after a lovely stretch of build-up play between Davide Zappacosta and Eden Hazard, Cesar Azpilicueta got on the end of a cross to put the Blues in front before Batshuayi added a 94’ tack-on tally to seal the 4-2 victory.

After being dominated by Manchester City before the international break and then losing a shocker to Crystal Palace in week 7, Chelsea needed this result in a bad way. It wasn’t the best of performances from the champions – quite far from it, in fact – but Antonio Conte’s seat has cooled for the moment and Chelsea have mitigated at least several of the doubts surrounding Stamford Bridge for the time being.

With Manchester United looming on the horizon, the Blues were reasonably in danger of falling out of the title race by Thanksgiving if they had lost to Watford on Saturday. They’ll need another good result this upcoming week against a suddenly reinvigorated Bournemouth side, but Chelsea now have the momentum they need.

Liverpool’s Defensive Nightmare Continues

Boy, the red half of Merseyside sure must have been feeling pretty good after a midweek 7-0 Champions League demolition of Maribor (Slovenia).

It only lasted 3 days, though.

Barely 4 minutes into a crucial Sunday afternoon tilt at Wembley, Liverpool’s shambolic defensive form reared its ugly head after apparently staying home from the midweek Slovenia trip.

Harry Kane was allowed to run onto a harmless looking chip from Kieran Trippier after Dejan Lovren misjudged the flight of the ball and Joe Gomez lazily played the ruthless Tottenham striker onsides. Kane then, as he is wont to do, sliced open the Liverpool back line with a series of calm dribbles before rounding catching Simon Mignolet off his line and slotting home the opening goal.

Liverpool
Photo Courtesy of EPA

It was a pathetic sequence from the Reds, one that would almost be eerily replicated merely 10 minutes later. Off of a long Hugo Lloris goal throw, Lovren again misjudged the ball flight, this time allowing Harry Kane to run in behind him unmarked with nearly 40 yards to goal. Alberto Moreno and Gomez then both failed to mark the sprinting run of Hueng-min Son, who was played through brilliantly by Kane and easily finished to double Spurs’ lead.

Lovren was pulled off after 31 minutes, but not even that could save Liverpool from conceding a 3rd before halftime as Dele Alli pounced onto a lazy Gomez header while 5 other Reds watched on listlessly. The entire second half of this game was a mere formality after Dele’s goal, Liverpool were dead in the water and everyone knew it.

I’m simply impressed that the scoreline ended with only 4 Spurs’ goals.

For a team that has the ability to put home 7 Champions League goals, Liverpool’s defense is utterly pathetic. There’s no way around that fact anymore, as the Reds find themselves currently 8th in the table and having conceded 16 league goals, 5th worst in the league.

Everything defensive about Jurgen Klopp’s side was unacceptable on Sunday and Liverpool are legitimately in danger of falling into the bottom half of the table if they don’t radically figure something out. Lovren can’t be playing centre back, it’s time to start Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joe Gomez needs to be better and Mignolet can’t keep his way out of a paper bag.

Fixtures against Huddersfield and West Ham over the next two weeks serve as a great opportunity for the Reds to begin mending their gashing wounds, but this is a team on the verge of significant trouble.

Rough times all around Merseyside.

Huddersfield Shock the World

1952.

Prior to Saturday, the last time Manchester United lost a football match to Huddersfield Town occurred in the year 1952. In what has been a dream season so far for the Terriers, they produced a dream result to go along with it.

Facing the Red Devils at home for the first time since 1970, Huddersfield took advantage of several glaring defensive miscues and an overall lack of effort to produce the result of the season so far and, quite possibly, one of the most surprising results of all time.

The first Huddersfield goal came courtesy of a Juan Mata turnover and a wonderful Tom Ince and Aaron Mooy counterattack before the Aussie finished off a loose rebound. Laurent Depoitre then took advantage of a Victor Lindelof error, as the Swedish defender misjudged a goal kick, before calmly rounding David De Gea and firing Huddersfield into a 2-0 lead.

Despite a nervy second half that featured Manchester United holding nearly 85% possession, the Terriers were able to hang on and end their current run of 6 league games without a victory.

In 2017, Huddersfield, making their first ever Premier League appearance in English football, just secured a victory over 2nd place Manchester United, the most successful club in the history of English football.

Mooy
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

What a world we live in, man.

From a United standpoint, this is devastating. With crosstown and title rivals Manchester City currently running rampant and tearing every team in sight apart, the Red Devils badly needed these three points in order to keep pace. Now, not only do Jose Mourinho’s side find themselves trailing the Sky Blues by 5 points, but they find themselves trailing the Sky Blues by 5 points with consecutive fixtures against Tottenham and Chelsea on the horizon.

With as well as City are playing right now, a 5 point cushion, even this early in the season, could be all they need and United have dealt themselves a critical blow in the chase for Old Trafford’s 21st league title.

From a Huddersfield perspective, this is the greatest win in their club’s history.

Yes, the team won a three-peat of first division titles in 1924, 1925 and 1926, but I wasn’t alive for those and neither were you so hush up.

There aren’t any words I can say that will put the magnitude of this result into its proper context, but it is truly incredible. United held 78% total possession of the ball, generated 9 shots and 8 corners while only holding the Terriers to two total shots, but boy did they sure make them count.

I almost couldn’t believe it was happening as I watched it. Statistics say that the Red Devils’ clearly outplayed the hosts, but Huddersfield were clearly the team that wanted this victory. Manchester United were stagnant and listless off the ball, bland and uninspired on it and Huddersfield out-hustled and out worked them at every twist and turn.

The result of the weekend, the result of the year. One for the ages.

……….

Where I Was Right Last Week:

I mentioned the fact that Manchester United’s goalless draw at Anfield should be reason for concern on the red side of Manchester because of the way that the Red Devils played Liverpool and that concern bore itself out this week in the aforementioned loss to Huddersfield.

United played on the back foot for the first half and paid the price for it, finding themselves down two goals at halftime. I will never not be critical of Jose Mourinho’s ‘park the bus’ strategy because he plays with teams that should never be parking the bus and sitting on the back foot.

Manchester United’s strength is its attacking talent, and to see them waste the likes of Rashford, Mata, Lukaku and Mkhitaryan week in and week out by sitting back and trying to keep clean sheets is pathetic. It’s the reason why Manchester City finds themselves suddenly running away with the league.

Where I Was Wrong Last Week:

Boy oh boy there are quite a few places where I was wrong.

I’ve recently lauded Watford’s Richarlison and although he did register an assist and now has had a hand in more goals than any other Watford player this season, he missed two glaring sitters that would have all but clinched a victory for the visitors on Saturday against Chelsea. The 20 year old still has a ways to go before reaching peak stardom.

Richarlison
Richarlison’s misses came on either side of the Watford equalizer. Photo courtesy of Getty Images

I’ve routinely called Southampton the “most irrelevant team in the Premier League” and even went so far as to say that I didn’t expect a single exciting moment from their tilt with West Brom on Saturday. Sofiane Boufal apparently took it upon himself to prove me wrong by scoring a wondrous solo goal. Bravo, Saints.

Boufal 1
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

I mentioned that fixtures against Manchester United and Liverpool provided “no reprieve for a stumbling Huddersfield team” and the Terriers shocked the world to prove me wrong. Huddersfield have created their own reprieve with the stunning result over United and potentially flipped their season around. Cap tip, gentlemen.

………..

Player of the Weekend: Michy Batshuayi

Batshuayi didn’t have the best weekend performance – Harry Kane, step right up – but he certainly had the most important. Almost singlehandedly salvaging a crucial 3 points for Chelsea, the defending champions may look back upon this weekend as one that saved their Champions League hopes. The Belgian striker’s 61st minute introduction completely changed the game and saved it for the Blues. Critics can be quiet for at least a week at Stamford Bridge.

Batshuayi
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Runners Up: Harry Kane, Glenn Murray, Alexis Sanchez, Riyad Mahrez

Team of the Weekend: Huddersfield Town

This kind of result is what it takes to pull the top spot away from another Manchester City masterclass. But, Huddersfield deserve this title after pulling out the victory over United. What a win, what a day in West Yorkshire.

Runners Up: Manchester City, Brighton, Tottenham

Moment of the Weekend: Cesar Azpilicueta’s Chelsea Winner

Stamford Bridge can be a ruthless atmosphere. In their first game after winning a freaking Premier League title, Chelsea were booed off at halftime during the 2017 season opener. However, the eruption after Azpilicueta’s incredible 87th minute match winner proved how much Stamford Bridge loves their Blues. The ground in London was shaking and Chelsea may have saved their Champions League campaign.

Runners Up: Sergio Aguero scores #177, Mikel Merino’s 86’ Newcastle winner, Aaron Mooy’s Huddersfield opener

………..

10 Thoughts I Have

  1. Everton are an absolute mess right now and I have to look myself in the mirror every day and think about how stupid I was for picking them to finish above Tottenham in the final table. Seriously, never listen to anything I say ever again because of how stupid a prediction that was. The Toffees got absolutely trashed on Sunday afternoon by a recently despondent Arsenal side and a hapless Ronald Koeman is now out of a job. There is a lot of talent in this side but they play with the organization and effort level of a U17 side. The entirety of Merseyside had a horrid weekend, but Everton took the cake. Expect more of the same this weekend during a visit to the King Power to face Leicester. 

    Everton
    Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
  2. On the bright side of that match, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez provided reminders to the world of the quality that they possess. Sanchez put 7 shots on goal, scored, assisted and was his normal, electric self going forward. Ozil scored what ultimately proved to be the winning goal and was his normal, intelligent, creative self, assisting his 43rd Premier League goal since joining Arsenal in 2013, more than any other player in that timespan. The Gunners’ top duo has gone through a recently languid stretch amid a swirl of transfer rumors, but Sunday was a reminder of just how good they can be. This is what Arsenal need going forward. Whether or not they can consistently expect it is a different story entirely.
  3. There’s no way it’s a coincidence that Crystal Palace were dominated over the last 15 minutes of their match against Newcastle and conceded an 86th minute winner after taking off Wilfried Zaha 77 minutes in. Zaha and Andros Townsend were the two best players on the St. James pitch Saturday afternoon in Newcastle and Rueben Loftus-Cheek’s introduction for a subbed out Zaha proved to be the difference maker between the Eagles getting a point out of their tilt. Leave him on for a full 90, Roy Hodgson, you’ll desperately need it this weekend against Tottenham.
  4. It took me a while to fully appreciate the greatness of his goal and I almost went against him, but Sofiane Boufal scored the goal of the weekend. Oh my lord what an incredible solo effort, this is rare. 

    Boufal 2
    Photo Courtesy of Reuters
  5. Other notable goals include a Wayne Rooney curler, Leroy Sane’s finish off another brilliant Kevin De Bruyne pass and Jose Izquierdo’s magnificent curler.
  6. Leroy Sane is blossoming into a world class winger right before our eyes. After a somewhat disappointing first season in Manchester, the German has taken his game to another level and was the MOTM on Saturday in the Sky Blues’ Burnley domination. His electric pace has always been there, but it’s now being combined with intelligent runs – such as the one on his goal – great interplay and a newfound finishing ability. It certainly helps to play with world class talents like Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva, but Sane stepping his game up to another level is a main reason why Manchester City’s attack is running so rampant right now. Expect another big week out of the 20 year old against Ahmed Hegazi and a stumbling West Brom defense. 

    Sane
    Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
  7. And speaking of West Brom, boy do they miss Hal Robson-Kanu up front. Since Robson-Kanu’s last game on August 19th, the Baggies have yet to register a win and are just struggling to finish at crucial times. Jay Rodriguez and Ben Livermore can provide quality service, but there’s just currently no one that can finish for Tony Pulis’ club. The West Brom manager did say that Robson-Kanu should be fully fit for this weekend’s clash with Manchester City and the Baggies desperately need that to be true. Without Robson-Kanu, look for the Sky Blues to press ridiculously high and potentially stage a Saturday humiliation at the Hawthorn’s.
  8. Mauricio Pochettino has started playing Dele Alli in a much deeper role than he’s previously used to and that has freed up Son Hueng-min to become Harry Kane’s main sidekick, as shown in Sunday’s Liverpool thrashing. Son is now the first one to get forward along with Harry Kane to receive the through balls of Christian Eriksen and he was rewarded with the second Tottenham goal, his 19th Premier League goal to become the joint highest scoring Asian-born player in Premier League history. Watching Alli play in a deeper role is a fascinating dynamic of this Tottenham side, one that I believe takes away his best playmaking assets but I don’t expect to see it change this weekend against Manchester United. In a game that I believe Tottenham will still win, be on the lookout for Alli and Nemanja Matic, as those two will go toe-to-toe. Whoever comes out on the high side of that battle will decide the game.
  9. Riyad Mahrez is doing his best to singlehandedly save Leicester City from relegation danger and he won them the match this weekend against Swansea. The Foxes’ Algerian was ever-present on Saturday, casting minds back to his top class form during the 2015-16 season with piercing through balls, mad creativity and brilliant moments of craft. He was the architect of both Leicester City goals, even though he was only credited with one assist and, if the Foxes do end up avoiding relegation, can be pointed to as the main reason why. 

    Mahrez
    Photo Courtesy of PA
  10. Week 10’s game of the weekend is Tottenham vs Manchester United, no doubt about it. The battle for second place thus far will be reaching a fever pitch on Saturday morning as the two top candidates thus far will clash at Old Trafford for the first time this season. I mentioned Nemanja Matic vs Dele Alli as the key battle of the game and although I don’t necessarily believe Alli will win that battle singlehandedly, his supporting cast will help him enough to generate a 2-1 Spurs win. Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku will trade goals before Eriksen puts home a late winner. This one is definitely worth the early wake up call.
Tuesday Morning Tea Week 9: Definite, Decisive, Divisive

Tuesday Morning Tea Week 8: USMNT Failure Therapy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are your weekend headlines.

……….

 

The Manchester’s Separate at the Top

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

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

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

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

City
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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

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

Sane
Photo Courtesy of PA

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

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

Kevin De Bruyne Deserves His Own Headline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crystal Palace Shock Chelsea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zaha
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

Without doubt, the result of the weekend.

……….

 

Where I Was Right Last Week:

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

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

Where I Was Wrong Last Week:

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

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

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

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

……….

 

Player of the Weekend: Wilfried Zaha

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

Zaha 2
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

Team of the Weekend: Manchester City

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

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

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

Runners Up: Crystal Palace, Swansea City, Watford

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

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

Cleverly
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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

……….

 

10 Thoughts I Have

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday Morning Tea Week 7: International Exodus Part 2

Usually, Tuesday Morning Tea covers the hot topics from the Premier League weekend that was. However, over this past week in the Prem, the weekend was just a small part of the week that was.

The Premier League had just about as interesting a mid-week as I’ve ever seen.

Of the 5 English teams in the Champions’ League, there is a combined 8-2-0 record and 4 out of the 5 teams are currently leading their groups. On Tuesday, Manchester City and Tottenham both picked up shutout wins over Shakhtar Donetsk and APOEL respectively while Manchester United and Chelsea both picked up wins over CSKA Moscow and Atletico Madrid respectively.

No Premier League team has won the Champions League since Chelsea in 2012 and there’s only even been one semifinalist since that year in Manchester City during the 2015-16 campaign.

A positive start to this year’s Champions League campaign for the 5 Premier League teams is an extremely positive sign for all involved, considering the Prem’s desire to be considered the best and most competitive league in the world.

Also occurring midweek were two significant blows to the title hopes of current table toppers Manchester City.

This past Thursday morning, it was announced that a knee injury previously thought much less serious would now need surgery and end up costing Benjamin Mendy 9 months of the season. Pep Guardiola’s new left back that had already integrated himself beautifully and turned himself into a vital part of the City system would not not be available until April.

In addition to that, City striker Sergio Aguero was involved in a car accident in Amsterdam that broke several of his ribs and will cost him 6 weeks of the season. So in the span of merely a day, Manchester City lost two crucial cogs in their title chasing system and suddenly looked vulnerable entering a critical weekend clash against Chelsea.

That clash, along with Crystal Palace’s continued downfall, a Tottenham domination, another Liverpool frustration and more evidence that Arsenal might not be as dead as we think they are highlighted this weekend action.

Here are the headlines.

City Lose Key Cogs, Still Thrash Chelsea

As mentioned in the open, the losses of Benjamin Mendy and Sergio Aguero were devastating midweek blows to Manchester City’s newly blossoming title hopes. But, based on the way City played Chelsea on Saturday, you would have never known those two were gone.

A 1-0 scoreline is highly flattering for the defending champs and doesn’t nearly tell the story of how thoroughly the Sky Blues dominated Antonio Conte’s side.

Stones:De Bruyne
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

In a game that required a tactical shift from the previous games, Pep Guardiola put on a masterclass in football managing. Having blazed past their past three opponents by scoreline of 5-0, 6-0 and 5-0, City’s attack has been rampant recently. But Chelsea was never going to be overawed or unprepared to handle the Sky Blues’ attack, so Guardiola needed to adjust.

Chelsea were able to beat Manchester City twice last season by sitting deep in a 3-4-3 formation, keeping their shape and simply waiting for City to become impatient and make a mistake in attack. Chelsea’s counterattacks were lethal and sliced City open in 2016/17, leaving the Sky Blues’ dumbfounded and defeated.

This game was completely different and showed the full evolution of Pep’s Manchester City.

Instead of growing impatient after nearly 65’ without a goal, City made several substitutions and kept hammering away at Chelsea’s back 3, forcing that group to break down and make the mistake.

The breakthrough finally came in the 67’ courtesy of a Kevin De Bruyne left footed thunderbolt and everything after the City opener was a mere formality. Chelsea knew they were defeated and simply tried to prevent a second and third goal which, to their credit, they did successfully.

De Bruyne
Photo Courtesy of Rex Features

The biggest difference between City last season and City this season has been the consistent brilliance of John Stones and he was on display again Saturday, comfortably repelling away any and all Chelsea counterattacks. With his renewed confidence and class at the back, City know that teams can’t beat them on the counter now and that just makes the Sky Blues’ gaudy possession numbers that much more devastating to opponents.

On Saturday, City needed to prove their strength and resilience without Aguero and Mendy and they did it in grand fashion. If you still had doubts about whether or not City was the best in England, let this victory dispel them.

All aboard the City hype train, it’s for real this year.

Wilfried Bony Scores No Goal for Swansea

Stoppage time losses always suck, and Swansea City – although they probably already knew it – discovered (re-discovered, probably) that fact this past weekend. But, before West Ham’s Diafra Sahko could break all the Swansea hearts in the 90’ minutes of their Saturday tilt, there was another realization that needs to be brought up.

The Swans can’t score.

Since defeating Crystal Palace 2-0 on August 26th, the Swans have scored 1 goal in 4 league matches and have only garnered 1 point from those matches, courtesy of a draw with Spurs two weeks ago. And, considering Crystal Palace’s run of form so far, shutting them out is becoming a Premier League rite of passage more than an actual accomplishment.

Now, any team only scoring 1 goal over the span of 4 weeks is a problem, but when you consider that Swansea City brought in Portuguese and Bayern Munich wonder kid Renato Sanches, as well as old flame Wilfried Bony, at the transfer deadline, it’s especially disturbing that they can’t find the back of the net.

Renato Sanches
Photo Courtesy of Reuters

Those two paired with Tammy Abraham and Jordan Ayew should be forming one of the most formidable attacks in the whole league, but it just isn’t working right now. For one reason or another, the Swans cannot generate anything going forward.

The trio of Abraham, Ayew and Bony had a combined 3 touches inside the West Ham penalty area between them. I’ve heard great things about Renato Sanches since he’s arrived at Swansea, and he was fantastic on Saturday, but all he really does is dish passes around the midfield and use his outstanding close control to alleviate pressure off the back line whenever things get hairy.

Swansea have no one to provide consistent, quality service to their lethal forward trio and it’s causing a serious dry spell at the Liberty. For the entire season, the Swans have 10 total shots on goal, and unless Paul Clement can figure something out to give his side more bite in attack, Swansea City will be in for another relegation battle completely unbefitting of their talent level.

Burnley win again, Move up to……wait a minute….6th?? Hold on….WHAT??

So, we should probably start paying attention to Burnley.

After pulling out yet another tightly formed defensive masterpiece during Sunday’s 1-0 win at Everton, Sean Dyche has his Burnley side up to 6th in the table and off to their best ever league start. The win gave the Clarets 8 points on the road this season, more than they had all of last season, and those 8 road points have come at Stamford Bridge (Chelsea), Wembley (Tottenham), Anfield (Liverpool) and now Goodison Park

There’s something pretty serious going on with the Clarets and nobody seems to be paying attention to it.

“You know when you go down against Burnley it is tough” Everton manager Ronald Koeman said after the game, “They drop back and are good defensively, organizationally and physically strong.”

Tarkowski
Photo Courtesy of PA

Aside from a week 2 loss to West Brom, Burnley have yet to be defeated in all comps and Chelsea’s 2 goals from their week 1 loss are the most the Clarets have conceded all season. This is a terrific defensive team that continues to frustrate the league’s best on a weekly basis.

This past week, Everton held 64% possession, generated 25 shots, 5 going on goal and also had 9 corners. None of that resulted in a goal and although the Toffees certainly had chances, Burnley didn’t truly feel as though they were going to concede.

These numbers are a perfect representation of what Burnley does defensively to so much success; they remain tightly packed in at the back and frustrate the hell out of opposing attacks. But, typically, when a team looks to pack in tightly at the back, the best way to combat that is with piercing runs and through balls (much like Manchester City does) yet Burnley are solid in defending that as well.

The Clarets’ centre back pairing of Ben Mee and James Tarkowski have more blocks between the two of them (30) than 16 of the other 19 Premier League teams. If Liverpool and Philippe Coutinho can’t break you down for more than 1 goal, you’re definitely doing something right in your defensive shape and Burnley certainly are.

As for the goal they scored, a 24 pass build up to Jeff Hendricks’ 15 net-ripping strike is the most build up passes of any Burnley goal in their Premier League history. It was a clinic in patient midfield passing before a cracking diagonal ball sliced Everton open and allowed the Burnley front three to carve their way through the Toffee’s back four, culminating with the Hendricks goal.

Burnley 2
The 24 pass build-up to Burnley’s goal. Courtesy of BBC

 

Burnley have yet to be defeated on the road this season, a run of 4 straight games which marks their longest since a 6 game unbeaten run in 1966. Now up to 6th in the table at the second international break, this is turning into more than just a cute story of a happy relegation team that was able to surprise Chelsea on the opening weekend.

Burnley are dangerous and we need to take notice.

……………….

Team of the Week: Manchester City

Another week, another Manchester City masterclass, another Ederson clean sheet, another world class Kevin De Bruyne performance, another week that sees City on top of the table at the end of it. Rinse, repeat, get ready for it again in two weeks when Stoke City visits the Etihad.

Runners Up: Tottenham, Burnley

Player of the Week: Harry Kane

There aren’t any superlatives left in the English language to describe the greatness of Harry Kane during this past month. His 13 goals in September equal the best ever monthly totals of Lionel Messi (13 in March 2012) and Cristiano Ronaldo (13 in October 2010). And, in combination with his lethal finishing right now, Kane passed at a 92.9% success rate on Saturday, right in line with his season number of just over 90%. Simply top class right now.

Kane
Photo Courtesy of Reuters

Runners Up: Kevin De Bruyne, Richarlison, Alexis Sanchez, James Tarkowski

Moment of the Weekend: Peter Crouch’s Stoke Winner

I’ve said it before and it’s worth saying again, Peter Crouch is an international treasure and my second favorite player in the Premier League (congratulations, Benjamin Mendy). Crouch came on as a sub in the 70’ for Stoke before poking home a fortuitous winner in the 85’ to remind the world that, “I haven’t actually retired yet!” as he would mention after the game. Anything Peter Crouch is just fantastic, and considering that this goal makes him the oldest player to score in the Premier League this season (36 years 243 days) it’s worthy of the ‘moment of the weekend’ tag.

Crouch
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

Runners Up: Richarlison’s Watford equalizer, De Bruyne’s wonder strike, Coutinho’s Liverpool opener

……….

Where I Was Right Last Week

Harry Kane is the best striker going in England right now, but that isn’t due to a lack of trying from Romelu Lukaku. Manchester United’s Belgian beast was at his physical best again on Saturday against Crystal Palace and was rewarded with a goal in the waning minutes of another comfortable Red Devils’ victory. As I mentioned last week, Lukaku’s size and physicality make him such a menace to deal with inside the box, and he required two Crystal Palace defenders at all times, freeing up the rest of United’s free flowing attack to pelt Wayne Hennessy and the rest of the Eagles’ defense. There has only been Man U match this season in which Lukaku has not found himself on the scoresheet and his form is a key reason why United are so rampant right now.

Where I Was Wrong Last Week

I jumped the gun last week and incorrectly thought that just because of a solid victory over Bournemouth, Everton were back in form and thus could begin their climb up the table. Saturday’s game against Burnley showed some signs of life, but another problem cropped up for the Toffees. In past games, Everton has sat on the back foot and looked to counter attack, but against Burnley they held 63% possession and played almost the entire second half in the attacking third, which is a very positive sing. However, with only 4 out of 25 shots going on net and none finding the back of the net, Everton seriously lack finishing product or quality. The problems continue to mount and there is still a ways to go on Merseyside.

Also last week, I pointed out that Tottenham’s recent run of form against teams from the bottom half of the table was alarming and that Huddersfield could give them problems if we were to assume that historic trends repeat themselves. Not only did Spurs totally and completely thrash David Wagner’s bunch this past week, but they’ve sent Huddersfield plummeting from 6th in the table to 11th now. So, a 4-0 win over a now bottom half team on the same week I called them our for struggling against said bottom half teams. Fair play, Spurs.

……….

10 Thoughts I Have

  1. Kevin De Bruyne is the best attacking player in the Premier League right now. His season thus far has him in the driver’s seat for the PFA Player of the Year award and he has completely taken his game to a new level in 2017-18. On Saturday against Chelsea, De Bruyne completed more key passes (6) and more passes in the opposition’s end (47) than any other player, not to mention scoring the winning goal. With Eden Hazard directly on display opposite De Bruyne, Manchester City’s Belgian put on a masterclass display that showed his full evolution and clearly set him head and shoulders above Hazard right now and at the top of the Premier League.
  2. Also, the fact that City haven’t conceded a league goal since August 27th isn’t getting enough attention. The attack is scintillating, but my goodness has the Sky Blues’ defense been fantastic as well. And, further, captain and club emotional leader Vincent Kompany hasn’t played in any of those games. John Stones has elevated his game to a superstar level and City have not seemed remotely fazed by any offense they’ve faced since last conceding to Bournemouth. A complete team
  3. What is there left to say about Crystal Palace? No team in the 129 year history of English football (at any level) has ever lost their first 6 league matches without scoring a goal. Palace’s loss to United on Saturday extended that streak to 7 games. With a visit to Stamford Bridge on the horizon, that streak isn’t likely to end anytime soon. Just horrifically bad right now and that joke I made in week 1 about Palace potentially being “the most talented team ever relegated” is looking soberingly accurate. 

    Crystal Palace
    Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
  4. The 10 minute stretch during which both goals were scored on Sunday at St. James Park was Liverpool in a nutshell. After threatening to score for about 5-10 minutes, a superb 25 yard curling effort from Philippe Coutinho broke a scoreless deadlock and looked to open the floodgates for the Reds. But, a mere 8 minutes later, Liverpool’s centre backs pathetically defended a one man counter attack and Newcastle had their equalizer. A magical moment in attack, no urgency following the goal, then a defensive collapse. A Merseyside story in 3 parts.
  5. Kevin De Bruyne scored the goal of the week. Each of his last 5 City goals have come from outside the box and this one was utterly superb.
  6. Philippe Coutinho scored the second best goal of the weekend, followed up by Salomon Rondon’s terrific opener for West Brom and Harry Kane’s second goal of the day against Huddersfield.
  7. Watford have themselves quite the player in 20 year old Brazilian starlet Richarlison. His 95’ equalizer to salvage a point for Watford at the Hawthorns now gives him two consecutive games with a stoppage time goal, last week’s against Swansea being the winner. The 12 million pound deadline signing has proven to be Watford’s most dangerous attacking player thus far with 3 goals in his first 8 appearances and he was the Hornets’ most consistent forward threat on Saturday against West Brom. Considering that Marco Silva beat the likes of Ajax, Manchester United and AC Milan to Richarlison’s signature only makes him all the more special to a middle-market club like Watford.
  8. Alexis Sanchez was back in top form for Arsenal on Sunday against Brighton. After injuries and a long, dramatic transfer spell kept Sanchez sidelined for nearly the first month and a half of the season, this weekend was the first sure sign that the Gunners’ world class Chilean is still world class. Sanchez created twice as many chances as any other player on Sunday (6) and also had twice as many shots (8) as anyone else. Everyone at the Emirates will be pleading with him to stay in January and beyond. 

    Sanchez:Arsenal
    Photo Courtesy of Getty Images
  9. The fact that Kelechi Iheanacho has yet to start a league game for Leicester City serves to explain part of the reason why the Foxes have gotten off to such a poor start this season. Iheanacho was brought in to form a lethal front pairing with Jamie Vardy, especially on the counter attack, yet Craig Shakespeare continues to try and play a 4-5-1 instead of a 4-4-2 that can highlight the strengths of his 2 strikers. A scoreless draw with Bournemouth isn’t a good sign, but Iheanacho should be a positive solution, if Shakespeare chooses to use him.
  10. After the international break ends, the clear top match of week 8 is Manchester United’s visit to Anfield. This one could be a classic case of strength versus strength, as both teams look to get forward and out-score each other. Should be well worth the 6:30 AM Saturday wake-up call.

 

Tuesday Morning Tea Week 7: International Exodus Part 2

Tuesday Morning Tea Week 6: The Table Begins to Take Shape

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

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

Not anything close to what I had predicted.

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

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

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

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

Everton Begin Their Climb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And boy did they, in a big way too. 

Everton 1
Photo Courtesy of Reuters

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

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

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

Coutinho is Back

Did you forget how good Philippe Coutinho was?

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

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

Coutinho
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

Morata Bodies Chelsea to Another Dominant Result

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

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

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

Morata
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

……….

Where I Was Right Last Week

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

Where I Was Wrong Last Week

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

Brighton
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

……….

Player of the Week: Oumar Niasse

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

Runners Up: Alvaro Morata, Philippe Coutinho, Harry Kane

Team of the Week: Manchester City

Sane

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

Runners Up: Chelsea, Arsenal

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

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

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

……….

10 Thoughts I Have

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

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