THE EXCITEMENT CONTINUES
The excitement levels reached new heights again this past weekend as Premier League matches continued. As with the opening weekend, there were a few surprising results but as you already may have known (if you read the first two installments of this journal) the focus here is on the top six teams from last season.
As I predicted last week, there were wins for Manchester City and Arsenal – even though the Gunners' win was far from straightforward at the end – against Bournemouth and Leicester City respectively. As expected the match between London rivals, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspurs, ended in a stalemate although Chelsea would feel they should have won considering they dominated every aspect of the match. Liverpool had to settle for a point at home to Crystal Palace on Monday night and Manchester United have now lost seven of their last nine Premier League matches (W1 D1) after their 4-0 humbling at the hands of Brentford in west London on Saturday afternoon.
WHAT WE LEARNED FROM LAST WEEKEND
1. MANCHESTER CITY: It was an easy three points in the end for the champions against Premier League returnee Bournemouth. Such was the ease of the win that City could afford to take their feet off the gas and still win comfortably. A worrying aspect of the match however was their big-money striker Erling Haaland having just eight touches of the ball in his seventy-four minutes on the pitch. Interestingly, one of those touches was to set up Ilkay Gundogan for the opening goal. Pep Guardiola defended his star striker during his post-match conference saying “He plays the most difficult job in the world," Guardiola said of the 22-year-old. "When you are a striker and in the defensive areas, teams like Bournemouth have three central defenders and two players in front and you are in the middle, how can you survive in that?
"It's so difficult. We know it. We'll find many situations. It's just a question of time. With the right moments, the right movements, and with the quality of the players we have behind him to assist him we'll find him. I don't have any doubts about that.
"We have seen it in the past with other teams. We have to be patient." Source: skysports.com
Scott Parker set his team up with three central defenders and two holding midfielders so it was always going to be difficult for Haaland, who’s young and relatively new to the league, to navigate through but as his coach rightly said there are going to be many more games for the Norwegian to prove his worth. Manchester City has now won 11 out of 11 matches against the Cherries extending their 100% record against them in the process.
I’m sure Pep Guardiola would choose to play them every week if he could because they are his easiest opponent by a country mile. And it’s not often you say this about a Pep Guardiola team but he made just one change from the team that won at West Ham, Riyad Mahrez for Jack Grealish.
As it is in the Premier League, the action never stops. And so, Manchester City will travel to St. James Park to face an in-form Newcastle United team. Eddie Howe’s team has started the season the same way they finished the last one, on the front foot. The Magpies won quite comfortably against Nottingham Forest before then grinding out a draw at the Amex Stadium last weekend. Eddie Howe will be under no illusion as to the enormity of the dangers posed by the defending champions when they come to town on Sunday. Newcastle United has made St. James Park something of a fortress under Eddie Howe. They have lost just one of their last five home matches (W4) and they can be forgiven for that loss as well because it came against a buoyant Liverpool side that scored very early on in the game. They certainly will be going into their match on Sunday with so much confidence even though against such formidable opponents as Manchester City.
Manchester City, however, is unbeaten in their last six Premier League fixtures against Sunday’s opponents (W5 D1) winning comfortably 5-0 the last time these two met albeit it was at the Etihad. City is unbeaten in their last 19 away Premier League matches (W15 D4). The last time they fell short on their travels was against Tottenham in August 2021. Newcastle will surely be set up to be difficult to break down on Sunday and try to hit City on the counter.
I doubt they will be strong enough a challenge for City though but like I always say nothing is a given in the Premier League. Excited to see how this one pans out.
2. LIVERPOOL: This couldn’t have been the way Jurgen Klopp or his Liverpool players had planned to start the season – with back-to-back draws. To put in layman’s language, the last time they failed to win any of their first two league matches and still went ahead to win the league was 40years ago. With the way City has started the season, it’s doubtless to say Liverpool cannot afford any more slip-ups even this early in the season because they are already four points off the pace. Liverpool did very well last season by converting their dominance into goals and points, but against Palace, it wasn’t to be. They were quick out of the blocks – as they always are in front of the KOP – but it was Palace who took the lead against the run of play just past the half-hour mark after Wilfred Zaha got the better of Nat Phillips, who was making his first PL start in 16 months. As if the task of clawing their way back into the game against a well-organized Palace team wasn’t hard enough, that task was made even harder by Darwin Nunez getting himself sent off after retaliating to something Palace defender, Joachim Andersen did to him. They did get the equalizer their efforts merited but ultimately had to settle for just a share of the spoils meaning they have two points to show from their first two league matches with a trip to Old Trafford on Monday next on the agenda. It’s too early to write Liverpool off or take them out of the title race but they have to get their acts together and fast or the title race might be over before it takes flight. They have not been helped by injuries or the ‘witches’ as alluded to by Klopp during his post-match interview with as many as seven first-team players unavailable due to injuries. Jurgen Klopp did say he hoped to have at least two of those back before the trip to Manchester on Monday.
Maybe a trip to Old Trafford is just about what Liverpool needs to get their season back on track with the Mancunians not in the best of form either. Liverpool has won the last three matches against their bitter rivals by an aggregate score of 12-2. The Reds won the corresponding fixture last season 5-0 so they would be so high on confidence heading into Monday night. Confidence is a luxury that Manchester United doesn’t have at the moment having recorded their worst ever start to a league campaign in sixty years. They were put to the sword last time out at the Brentford Community Stadium with the hosts racing into a 4-0 first-half lead after the visitors capitulated. Lisandro Martinez, United’s 5ft 9” summer recruit, was targeted by both Brighton and Brentford to devastating effect with Thomas Frank openly admitting to that strategy post-match. Maybe that’s a route that Jurgen Klopp, and indeed the rest of the league, might want to take if his team finds the going tough on Monday night. The Argentinian was hooked at halftime at the weekend in favor of Raphael Varane and that move seemed to pay dividend as United kept a clean sheet during the second half. I think playing a back three should be an option that Erik Ten Hag should look at with the way they are leaking goals left, right and center. Liverpool has lost just twice in 15 away PL matches (W9 D4) failing to score just once in that run (against Leicester City in December). Since losing to Manchester City in November, United has lost just twice – against Wolves last season and Brighton two weeks ago – in 14 league matches at Old Trafford (W8 D4). That run included wins against Arsenal and Spurs. To get anything on Monday night, however, Ten Hag’s men would have to work their socks off in and out of possession something they didn’t do much of during their annihilation at the hands of Brentford last weekend.
3. CHELSEA: Understandably, the overriding emotion at Stamford Bridge following the Chelsea vs. Tottenham Hotspurs match was anger. The Blues are justified to feel hard-done-by after Spurs, arguably, scored two contentious goals. The Blues were able to rally and retake the lead after Tottenham’s first equalizer, which was given even with Richarlison, who was in an offside position, seemingly in the line of Mendy’s sight. And then there’s that infamous hair-pull by Christian Romero on Marc Cucurella. Both Anthony Taylor – the on-field official – and Mike Dean who was on VAR duties have come out to admit their error but I guess it is too little too late from a Chelsea perspective. When you take your mind away from the officiating though you’d agree with me that it was a spectacle to behold. If the aim before the match for Chelsea was to make a statement against a direct competition then I think they made that statement in emphatic style on Sunday as they outplayed Spurs almost for the entirety of the match little wonder their north London neighbors celebrated the draw with fervor. The Blues’ lack of trouble in front of goals reared its ugly head again on Sunday and I believe they still need an out-and-out goal scorer if they want to challenge for the title or keep their place in the top four for that matter. Pierre-Emerick Aubamayeng has been muted as a possible target for them and I think he fits the bill. He’s a proven Premier League player who certainly knows where the goal is and he had a successful spell at Dortmund playing under Thomas Tuchel. The German tactician has spoken glowingly of him when he gets the chance. This could be a match made in heaven for both parties.
Chelsea travels to West Yorkshire to take on Leeds United on Sunday afternoon. The Blues picked up more points on their travels last season than they did at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea has lost just one of their last five away league matches (W3 D1) a run that included the corresponding fixture – the Blues last Premier League away match from last season – which Chelsea won comfortably 3-0. Leeds United has started this season with one win and one draw from two but their form at Elland Road must improve if they don’t want to spend as much time around the relegation zone as they did last season. Jesse Marsch set up his side to match Chelsea’s 3-4-3 formation when the two sides met back in May but have set up his team in a 4-2-3-1 formation for their first two matches of the new season. Whichever way he sets his team up on Sunday, he must drill it into his players to fight for the points even if they might ultimately lose it. Tuchel has started the trio of Mason Mount, Kai Havertz, and Raheem Sterling in attack for both PL matches in interchangeable roles and is unlikely to change them for this match especially as the treatment room at Cobham keeps swirling with numbers. Chelsea has conceded more goals at home than any other team since the start of April (14 in 7 matches) a stat that is sure to give Leeds hope but I can’t see past a Chelsea win here.
4. TOTTENHAM HOTSPURS: Tottenham got a get-out-of-jail card from the pair of Anthony Taylor and Mike Dean at Stamford Bridge last Sunday but the important thing is they got the point from the game even if they were far from being at their best in west London. The match was fiery, it was entertaining, and it was everything we hoped it would be. Four points out of a possible six is not a bad way to start the season for Antonio Conte’s men. And the goals seem to be flowing as well with six from the first two matches. Spurs, however, couldn’t live with the movements of the Chelsea players almost throughout the match. The pair of Jorginho and the majestic Kante ran circles around the Spurs’ players in midfield and the front three caused a lot of trouble with their fluid movements. Tottenham has now won once in 38 away matches (D13 L24) against Chelsea. Chelsea has collected 20 points out of a possible 24 against Spurs in the last 8 matches (W6 D2)
Tottenham welcomes Wolverhampton Wanderers to the Tottenham Hotspurs Stadium on Saturday at lunchtime. Wolves are on a nine-game winless streak (D3 L6) but they did win the at north London club in February. Wolves have lost four of their last five away Premier League fixtures (D1). Tottenham have won four of their last home fixtures (L1) scoring 13 goals and conceding just 3 goals. Tottenham will have to score early because the longer the game goes the higher Wolves’ confidence will grow.
5. ARSENAL: It was a quick-fire double (23, 35) from Gabriel Jesus to open his Arsenal account for the season against Leicester City at the Emirates Stadium. The Brazilian surely loves to play against The Foxes. He has now scored against them 9times in the Premier League making them his favorite opponents. They did put up a fight in the end but ultimately the Gunners did enough to stave off a late fight back from Leicester City who scored twice for the second game running but they have just a solitary point to show for their troubles. Arsenal certainly didn’t have all their way at the Emirates on Saturday.
Arsenal will be looking to make it three wins out of three when they travel to the Vitality Stadium later today to face Bournemouth. Bournemouth has only ever won once against Arsenal in all competition (D2 L9). Bournemouth has won just five of their last fifteen PL matches at home (D3 L7). Arsenal has either lost or won their last 15 away PL matches (W8 L7) winning the last four in a row by an aggregate score of 7-2. Confidence at the Emirates will be sky high with the way they have started the season and Mikel Arteta’s team would know this is a winnable fixture and will feel disappointed with anything less than a win this evening.
6. MANCHESTER UNITED: The shock continued for Erik Ten Hag and his Manchester United team. It was always going to take a little bit of time for the Dutchman to implement his style at Old Trafford but one thing that wouldn’t have been on the agenda was the way has been taken apart by two ‘mid-level’ teams. Ten Hag made three half-time substitutions against Brentford and that seemed to stop the rot but even he would know that nothing is working just yet but the tactician doesn’t have the luxury of time as the games keep coming thick and fast. One major area of concern for United is the central midfield with the likes of Fred and McTominay not cutting it most times but the impending arrival of serial winner, Casemiro from Real Madrid will lift spirits at Old Trafford. The Brazilian may not arrive in time for their next fixture on Monday but his presence in the team will certainly boost confidence as there aren’t many better at shielding the defense.
The visit of Liverpool is certainly not what Erik Ten Hag would have hoped for given their predicament but it is what it is. Manchester United have been pretty decent at home despite their loss of form. They have won 8 of the last 15 at Old Trafford (D3 L4) but the last time they welcomed Liverpool to Old Trafford they were outscored 5-0. Liverpool has failed to score once in their last fifteen PL matches (W9 D4 L1) losing just the one in that run. One thing that may give United just a glimmer of hope is the fact that Liverpool is also looking for their first win of the season after managing two draws from their opening two fixtures of the season. Liverpool and Manchester United will start the weekend in 12th and 20th position respectively and depending on other results this weekend Liverpool may be even lower in the table by kick-off on Monday Night Football.
Thank you guys for taking out the time to read and see you guys next week as I take another look at the performances and results involving last season’s top six teams. Until then, stay safe. Ciao!
© 2022 Ayodeji Akanni Itasanmi