Quick Six: Top stories from the Premier League weekend

1 Comment

1. UNITED TOPS ARSENAL: SOMETIMES HOLDING SERVE IS PROGRESS

The ends where more impressive than the means, an early goal and some trademark David Moyes conservatism giving Manchester United a 1-0 win over Arsenal in the weekend’s big game, but consider how the Red Devils’ performed in their other big tests. They lost at Liverpool, were drawn at home by a docile Chelsea, and were blitzed in the season’s first Manchester Derby. Perhaps Sunday’s wasn’t title-wining form, but it was still progress. It was the biggest win of the still-maturing David Moyes era.

[RECAP: Manchester United 1-0 Arsenal: Van Persie header the difference as Moyes earns signature win]

Even more convincing: Manchester United are now unbeaten in nine, are up to fifth place, and are only five points back of first (still Arsenal). There’s obviously room to improve, but while struggling to find their way under their new boss, United has managed to avoid digging too deep a hole. When they start performing to their potential, they should still be within reach of the top – in position to defend their title.

2. WEARING DOWN: CONTENDERS FALL AFTER QUICK TURNAROUND

The six Premier League teams who played mid-week in Europe went 1-3-2 this weekend, and if it wasn’t for two facing each other at Old Trafford, the circuit’s Champions and Europe League participants may have gone winless. Perhaps the upcoming international break had players looking ahead, or maybe the accumulation of nearly three months of play hit hardest now, when a break was needed most? Or maybe it’s just coincidence that all of Manchester City, Arsenal, and Tottenham lost on the same weekend, with Chelsea needing a get out of jail free penalty to salvage a result at Old Trafford.

[RECAP: Chelsea 2-2 West Bromwich Albion: Hazard the hero as Chelsea survive massive scare – video]

Arsenal’s was certainly the most palatable of the results. Nobody’s going to fault them for losing at Manchester United. City and Spurs, however, lost 1-0 to teams that started the weekend in the table’s bottom half, a description that could have been applied to Chelsea had it not been for Eden Hazard’s stoppage time penalty conversion.

Even Swansea, struggling on a number of levels, gave up three goals to Stoke City. The Potters entered the weekend with seven goals in 10 games, yet at the Liberty Stadium, they were on the board twice within 25 minutes.

[RECAP: Swansea City 3-3 Stoke City: See-saw match ends in draw after Swansea comeback]

Maybe it’s just a coincidence: all these teams playing in Europe stumbling this weekend. Regardless, it seems these teams could use the upcoming break.

3. FORGED OR FORTUNE? NEWCASTLE PULLS SECOND STRAIGHT UPSET

Fourteen saves. That’s what it took for Tim Krul to turn Newcastle’s upset over Chelsea last week into the start of a streak. Today at White Hart Lane, they were outshot (31-8), out-possessed (65-35), and were nearly “passed off the park” (521-284), yet thanks to Loic Remy’s 13th minute goal, the Magpies still won. Their 1-0 victory in North London moves them into ninth place.

[RECAP: Tottenham 0-1 Newcastle: Krul’s heroics continue Spurs struggles in front of goal]

But whereas last week Alan Pardew seemed to have orchestrated the upset, this week’s win came down to an old formula anybody could pull off: Score first and hang on for dear life. It rarely works, but for the occasionally over-matching, nearly beyond hope underdog with no chance of playing with their opposition, it’s their only option.

Newcastle doesn’t quite fit that description, so it’s unclear what we can infer from their use of that approach. Judging on one match alone, you’d say this isn’t a very good team, yet they had good fortune against Tottenham. In the bigger picture, Newcastle may just be finding new ways to win. At this point, they’ve won more than they’ve lost.

4. LIVERPOOL ADDS TO JOL’S, FULHAM’S WOES

After disappointment last week at Arsenal, Liverpool bounced back, and resoundingly so. Three goals by the 36th minute and another just after halftime had the Reds up four by the 54th minute, Fulham providing the antidote to any potential post-Emirates blues. Moving away from their 3-5-2 formation, Liverpool went on to win, 4-0.

[RECAP: Liverpool 4-0 Fulham: Suarez doubles gives Reds easy win – video]

The bigger story is Martin Jol, who has somehow survived to the point where his team is bad enough to lose by four, fall to 18th, and that only re-ignites debate about his future. The Cottagers have now lost four in a row, giving up 13 goals in the process. One of those losses was at second-division Leicester (League Cup).

It’s hard for most of us to say somebody should be fired. We usually don’t know the reasons why they’ve stayed on. But it is fair to say most managers who’ve produced Jol’s results would have been gone by now.

5. GOOD WEEKEND FOR CELLAR DWELLERS

The three clubs that came into the weekend in the Premier League’s drop all got results, and while that only helped one climb out of the relegation spots, teams people had started to see as hopeless gave supporters new reason for home.

That may be a slight exaggeration in the case of Crystal Palace, the south London club still without a permanent coach, yet after a 0-0 against visiting Everton, the Eagles earned their second result of the season. Though they only saw 28 percent of the ball, they also only gave up two shots on goal. Only Phil Jagielka’s test of the Selhurst woodwork threatened Palace’s result.

[RECAP: Crystal Palace 0-0 Everton: Palace get first point in eight matches – video]

Sunderland, 19th coming into the weekend, had the most encouraging result, their 1-0 win over visiting Manchester City giving them their second win of the season. Deploying a 4-5-1, the Black Cats were set up to take advantage of Phil Bardsley’s early goal, with City earning a 24-5 edge in shots en route to their fourth loss of the season. Though the win couldn’t carry them out of 19th, Sunderland’s now up to seven points on the season.

[RECAP: Sunderland 1-0 Manchester City: Bardsley goal, staunch defending earn Poyet another Sunderland win]

Norwich, on the other hand, was able to climb out of the drop after their 3-1 win over West Ham United, a victory that should keep Chris Hughton in a job. Though the Canaries boss has inspired a general feeling of ennui among Norwich’s fan base, he produced a much-needed result on Saturday, the team’s three goals sure to temporarily placate supporters longing for the more goal-laden days under Paul Lambert.

[RECAP: Norwich City 3-1 West Ham United: Canaries comeback bags crucial win – video]

6. NO SLOWING DOUBT-DEFYING SOUTHAMPTON

There have been a few analysis pieces (from Opta, among others) suggesting Southampton are likely to regress, the quality of their shots producing a higher-than-expected number of goals from their positions. Saints, the theory holds, will see future totals fall in line with expected results, meaning fewer goals.

Leave it to Hull to help disprove that hypothesis. The Tigers have been fine this year, collecting 14 points in 10 games, but if there was a candidate for regression at St. Marys on Saturday, it was them. With early goals from Morgan Schneiderlin, Rickie Lambert, and Adam Lallana, Saints had put off their fall by halftime, with a late goal from Steven Davis giving Southampton a 4-1 win.

[RECAP: Southampton 4-1 Hull City: Saints are flying high – video]

Third place, having allowed only five goals, there’s little you can take away from Saints’ results. But conceding at a rate of less than half a goal per game is not going to continue. They’ll give more. And ft their attack really is apt to regression. Southampton will eventually fall.

Until then, Saints will continue to prove us wrong.

Klopp hails players in blowout, downplays squad rotation

Leave a comment

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain isn’t bothered by Jurgen Klopp‘s squad rotation at Liverpool.

“The front four have been on fire, they are not bad,” he said after the Reds battered Bournemouth 4-0 on Sunday.

[ RECAP: Bournemouth 0-4 Liverpool ]

“Everyone’s a quality player and the rest of us have to sneak our noses in there. Squad rotation is important, keeps us fresh.”

Klopp was a little more critical of his squad, saying the changes had more to do with how the Reds performed against West Brom than a need to keep players fresh.

“I like them but against West Brom they didn’t hit the target. I don’t change my mind in three minutes, but we have to be consistently good because we are Liverpool.”

The manager especially loved how well Liverpool started, as Bournemouth didn’t have a chance to get moving. Klopp gets plenty of criticism, but he almost always has his finger on the pulse of his club. Sunday was a big win for the manager and his club, even if it was somewhat expected.

Making sense of the table in a Man City world

Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
2 Comments

There are natural advantages to being atop the table deep into a Premier League season, the most evident being the ability to enter into any match against a challenger knowing a draw will likely be fine.

But what about being ahead of the field by double digits?

Perspective is a major challenge when a team is as doing as well as Manchester City. Pep Guardiola‘s men have drawn just once in 18 matches, and hold a 11-point lead on Manchester United, 14 points better than third place Chelsea.

Speaking of the Blues, manager Antonio Conte raised an interesting point after Chelsea beat Southampton on Saturday. Conte says City’s crazy run has colored over his team’s fine results, as last season’s champions are 8-1-1 since losing two-straight in October.

[ MORE: WBA 1-2 Man Utd | Bournemouth 0-4 Liverpool ]

Four losses is four losses — United has three — but it’s an interesting notion. Both sides have lost to City at home, but otherwise will finish the weekend boasting multiple match leads on the field when it comes to second- and third-place.

Is this much different from recent years? Consider the following seasons after 18 weeks.

Remember: Manchester United has 41 points, and Chelsea 38 (And United has been missing its World XI class player for all but eight games. Some of his doing, some not).

2016-17

Chelsea led the table with 46 points, six better than Liverpool and seven ahead of Man City. Spurs, who would finish second, had 33 points with a match-in-hand. That 13-point gap closed to seven.

2015-16

Leicester was atop the table with 38 points, just two better than Arsenal and three ahead of Man City. They’d finish 10 points better than Arsenal’s 71.

2014-15

Chelsea (45 points) held a three-point advantage on Man City and 10 on third place Manchester United. The Blues would finish eight points ahead of City.

2013-14

Liverpool and Arsenal were dead even with 36 points, one better than eventual champions Man City. The title winners finished two ahead of Liverpool, four free of Chelsea, and six past Arsenal.

So… both United and Chelsea would be leading the Premier League in two of the past four seasons, which is certainly notable.

I don’t want to belabor the Pogba point too much, especially since the most recent absence comes from a red card suspension, but what if United had him for all those matches? Do they find a goal in the 0-0 at Liverpool? Get a point from the 1-0 loss at Chelsea? Flip the script on the 2-1 loss at Huddersfield Town?

Let alone the City loss.

But again, seasons like this one from City remind us of the challenges of framing seasons when one campaign is oh-so-dominant.

Liverpool mashes Cherries

Leave a comment
  • Coutinho, Salah score beauties (video)
  • Cherries winless in six
  • Reds unbeaten in nine
  • Robertson key on left side

Liverpool ran a red-hot first half to an easy 4-0 win over Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium on Sunday.

Mohamed Salah and Philippe Coutinho scored highlight reel goals, with Dejan Lovren and Roberto Firmino pitching in flying headers, as the Reds moved into the Top Four with 34 points.

Bournemouth sits 16th, a point ahead of the relegation zone, and witnessed a match much different than last season’s 4-3 win over Liverpool at the same venue.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Joe Gomez curled a shot wide of the goal in the fourth minute. A Nathan Ake foul six minutes later gave Liverpool a free kick just outside the 18, and Philippe Coutinho struck a sweet effort off the inside of the post… and out.

Coutinho nearly put a chance home moments later, so it was not surprise when he scored the match’s first goal. A mazy dribbled past two Cherries ended with a shot across his body and inside the near post. Wonderful stuff. 1-0.

Lovren had 2-0 within six minutes, hitting the deck with a diving header goal after Roberto Firmino saved a corner kick on the line at the back post.

Jermain Defoe timed his run well for a 1v1 with Simon Mignolet, but his shot caromed off the far post.

It would’ve been 3-0 were it not for an outstanding reaction save from Asmir Begovic as Mohamed Salah attempted to cap off a terrific team play in the 43rd minute.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Salah got his goal in stunning fashion, bodying off a defender before dribbling past two more to finish with an off-balance belt past Begovic.

Substitute Ryan Fraser had a chance to pull one back in the 56th minute, but rang it wide of the near post.

The Reds raised their advantage to four on another Robertson started move, with Firmino heading a Coutinho cross beyond Begovic.

Mourinho on muted celebrations from Lukaku, himself

Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

There’s a lot of buzz about celebrating, and not celebrating, when it comes to Manchester United.

Star striker Romelu Lukaku‘s post-goal actions were muted for a second-straight week, and manager Jose Mourinho appeared nonchalant on the bench.

[ RECAP: WBA 1-2 Man Utd ]

For Lukaku, that could be down to his status as a former West Brom player (and to be sure he was quite energetic in support of Jesse Lingard‘s insurance goal).

As for Mourinho, this is a man who was quite critical of Man City’s celebrations after winning a derby at Old Trafford. And Jose isn’t one to let a story line die unnecessarily.

Here’s Mourinho when asked about Lukaku’s non-celebration, from the BBC:

“Maybe he looks to the bench and sees his manager doesn’t celebrate. Maybe he loves West Brom. Maybe he remembers the team that helped him early in his career.

“I will celebrate if my team scores a winning goal in the last minute. But you have to have more maturity and keep your feet on the ground. If some guys want to be kids until the last day of their careers or if they want to act to the cameras then they can. But if we score an important goal then I can do anything.”

On one hand, I get it. On the other hand (and a third if I can find one), be okay with having a bit of fun, Jose.

United is back to within 11 points of leaders Man City, and it’s a massive mountain to climb for the Red Devils. Yet Ander Herrera, who was terrific again on Sunday, said the directive is simple: control what you can.

“We won three titles last season, which was very good. It is true that the top of the table is difficult to reach right now but this is Premier League, you never know. Our aim is just to keep winning games.”

The side’s 41 points through 18 matches would’ve been enough to lead the Premier League in two of the previous four seasons. No one’s going to tell United to be content with where they stand, but it’s been a fine season for Mourinho’s men so far.