Tuesday 16 October 2018

Seven things we learned from the weekend Premier League action

The Premier League title race is starting to take shape with Manchester United losing their first game of the season in a calamitous way as they fell to Huddersfield for the first time since 1952.

Manchester City are five points clear as a result of that as Chelsea and Arsenal overcame poor starts to their matches to beat Watford and Everton.

That result put Everton back into the relegation zone while West Ham are also struggling near the bottom.

Here are seven things we learned from this weekend's Premier League fixtures…

Managers on the brink

We've already had two managerial sackings this Premier League season and now it looks like we are on the verge of getting two more as Slaven Bilic and Ronald Koeman both suffered yet another flat and disappointing defeat.

West Ham's owners had a meeting regarding Bilic's future on Saturday and it appears that he will be given a stay of execution and will be made to prove himself in the Hammers' next two games. It is likely that the owners will be using that time to sound out a possible replacement however.

Koeman is more complicated as Everton will need to pay a significant sum to sack him and given he is – or was – considered a future Barcelona manager, there is every chance he could turn it around. Although if results don't pick up soon then he could find himself on his way out of the club given the Toffees are in the relegation zone with nearly a quarter of the season done.

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Koeman: Increasing pressure Photo: Getty

No hope of progress until Klopp fixes his defence

Which brings us nicely to Liverpool's defence - or lack of. This was just another reminder that, until Klopp fixes his backline, Liverpool stand no chance of effectively challenging for silverware both on the domestic and European level. Lovren was just one issue among many today for the visitors. The sheer amount of space afforded by Liverpool inside their own final third to Tottenham was quite simply baffling, with Pochettino's men taking full advantage of these emerging pockets to hit their opponents hard on the counter-attack.

Kane's second, and Tottenham's fourth, reinforced the lack of cohesion and decisiveness in Liverpool's backline. Mignolet's failed attempt to punch clear Kieran Trippier's free-kick was not dealt with by any of the visiting defenders, enabling Kane to eventually find the back of the net with a well-taken strike inside the six-yard box. It was a moment that summed up Liverpool's defensive performance as a whole: erratic, unassured and calamitous.

Tottenham riding wave of confidence

Mauricio Pochettino's men reaffirmed their place among the game's elite after holding Real Madrid to a 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu earlier this week. It was a result that highlighted just how far Tottenham have come in recent months as they continue to push on in search of silverware.

Unsurprisingly, then, Spurs hit the ground running at Wembley today as they fired two goals past their opponents in the opening 12 minutes. Decisive, lighting-quick going forward and ruminating with a glow of self-belief, Tottenham couldn't have asked for a better start - and this against a side whose wage bill is double their own.

There was no fear or respect shown by Pochettino's players as they set about deploying their well-thought out game plan, adding two more goals to the scoreline through Alli and Kane later on. Spurs may have briefly let Liverpool back into the game through Salah's strike but, on the back of their most eye-catching moments from today's victory, there's no doubt the north Londoners are, when at their best, on a different level. The meeting with Manchester City is going to be a big one.

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Harry Kane (left) scored twice against Liverpool on Sunday.

Wenger puts his faith in Arsenal's big guns - and is rewarded

Arsenal's biggest and best players have all seen their fair share of action this season but this is the first time Alexandre Lacazette, Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey have all started in the same line-up. Although their performance as a unit was not without its flaws, victory today at Goodison Park suggested Arsenal's big guns remain just that.

Indeed, it was Arsenal's second which reaffirmed what the likes of Ozil and Sanchez are capable of when they're operating on the same wave length. Meeting his Chilean teammate's sublime delivery, Ozil timed his run to perfection to nod the ball past the outstretched Jordan Pickford in a seamless run of play that handed Arsenal a deserved lead.

Still, there were times when Wenger's main men struggled for dynamism and ruthlessness. Lacazette (who would later make up for his early profligacy) should have put his side ahead in the first 10 minutes after losing his man in the Everton box with a clever spin only to fire his shot down the throat of Pickford. Ramsey, too, missed a golden opportunity on goal from inside the hosts' penalty area (he similarly made up for this). But given Arsenal's second and third goals were scored after a combination involving Lacazette, Ozil and Sanchez, the signs suggest that the synergy remains between these key players. Wenger's show of faith was undoubtedly rewarded.

Ederson has the heart of a lion… but his defence leaves him with a lot to do

Manchester City's summer signing has won praise for his assured performances this season, and immediately acquired a reputation as one of the bravest goalkeepers in the league when he threw himself in the direction of Sadio Mane's boot to make a clearance during City's win against Liverpool.

His bravery was on full display once again against Burnley, as he dived low to prevent Chris Wood from opening the scoring.

It was a superb piece of goalkeeping and not every keeper would have thrown themselves so quickly at Wood's feet to prevent the shot.

40-minutes into this match and Burnley still hadn't technically touched the ball in City's box, as Ederson had plucked it off Wood's toes before he had the chance to shoot. But it was a misleading stat. Burnley had a few chances on the counter in the first-half and they all came about because of City's high defensive line.

Kyle Walker's positioning was poor on more than one occasion and Kevin de Bruyne was also guilty of overplaying the ball in his own half, which led to Burnley racing through on Ederson's goal.

Similar to last week against Stoke, this was a fine attacking performance from City but their sometimes-shaky defence will give their title rivals some slight hope.

Is this United's 'blip'?

Pep Guardiola spoke on Friday of how he was expecting Manchester City to have a “blip” soon, as they did last season, and he was looking forward to seeing how his side reacted to it. Well, it seems as though United are well and truly about to find out how they will react.

Since the international break, where Marouane Fellaini picked up an injury to further destabilise the midfield, United have looked a shadow of their selves from the first seven games of the season. They looked limp and clueless in attack against Liverpool and were the same against Huddersfield, although you can add defensively inept as well.

And it's not about to get any easier, with last season's runners-up Tottenham up next before a trip to Stamford Bridge to face last season's champions. Time for Mourinho to earn his money.

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Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho was not impressed by his team at Huddersfield

Chelsea won but they are short of confidence

Against Roma in the Champions League on Wednesday, Chelsea sat so deep that at times it seemed like the Italian side were the home team. It was the same against Watford. For much of the game, Silva's side enjoyed the majority of possession, with Chelsea happy to sit deep and rush forward on the counter-attack.

Injuries to a number of midfield players have forced Conte to adapt his tactics, but this ultra-conservative approach isn't doing him any favours and the lack of attacking play means that it's difficult for his side to build any confidence.

It was telling that when Conte was forced to throw on Willian and Michy Batshuayi with Chelsea chasing the game, his team improved considerably. They began winning the midfield battle and scored three times in the last 20 minutes. His side are a long way from their form of last season and perhaps throwing more players further forward is the answer.

Independent News Service

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