Tuesday Morning Tea Week 13: The Calm Before The Storm

37 points.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are your week 13 headlines:

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Sensational Southampton Crack the Top Half

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

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

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

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

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

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

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10 Thoughts I Have

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday Morning Tea Week 11: Scintillating Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

………………..

 

“We’re Just a Rich West Brom”

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

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

Mourinho
Photo Courtesy of Premier League Official Photographers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

De Gea
Photo Courtesy of Premier League Official Photographers

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

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

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

 

Take 2 on the Everton Comeback Story…?

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

Niasse
Photo Courtesy of Premier League Official Photographers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baines 2
Photo Courtesy of Premier League Official Photographers

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

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

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

Take 2.

Action.

 

It’s Time to Talk About Brighton

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

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

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

Brighton
Photo Courtesy of Reuters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brighton 2.jpg
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

…………………

 

Where I Was Right Last Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Where I Was Wrong Last Week

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

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

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

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

…………………….

 

Team of the Weekend: Chelsea

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

Chlesea
Photo Courtesy of Premier League Official Photographers

Runners Up: Brighton, Liverpool, Burnley

 

Player of the Weekend: Leighton Baines

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

Baines
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

 

Moment of the Weekend: Tom Cleverley’s Penalty Miss

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

Cleverley
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

………………………

 

10 Thoughts I Have

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday Morning Tea Week 5: Manchester Mania

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

Manchester.

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

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

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

……….

City set the Pace

Wow.

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

City 2
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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

And the attack…oh my.

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

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

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

City
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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

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

United Hold Serve

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

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

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

Lukaku
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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

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

Crystal Palace Set the Wrong Kind of History

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

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

Palace 1
Photo Courtesy of Reuters

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

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

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

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

Palace 2
Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

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

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

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

……….

Team of the Week: Manchester City

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

Runners Up: Manchester United, Newcastle

Player of the Week: Sergio Aguero

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

Runners Up: Jermain Defoe, Nemanja Matic, Lukasz Fabianski

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

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

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

……….

Where I Was Right Last Week

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

Where I Was Wrong Last Week

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

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

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

Tottenham
Photo Courtesy of AFP

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

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

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

……….

10 Thoughts I Have

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