RANKING EARLY SEASON OPTIMISM LEVELS
Slow your roll.
With just two games gone for each team in the 2016-17 Premier League season, hasty conclusions are already being made about how each will fare this season.
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Many fans are despairing, some are over the moon and others are just sitting back with their arms folded still waiting to be impressed enough to comment.
Below is a look at the general set of emotions being felt at each club right now as expectation levels are being set after the opening two weeks of the season.
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First up, it’s time to say “yo, curb your enthusiasm” to these guys…
The clubs feeling… Sky-high
Manchester United – With Pogba shining on his debut, two wins under their belt and Zlatan scoring three times, it is all looking good for Mourinho’s men. The fans are loving it but they’ve only played Bournemouth and Southampton so far. So, steady on, United fans.
Hull City – Well, who can blame fans of the Tigers? Two wins from two after beating Swansea and they have just 13 fit senior players to pick from. Remarkable start from caretaker manager Mike Phelan. Now, all they need to do is sign a few more players.
Middlesbrough – Another newly promoted team who has had a great start to life in the PL. ‘Boro beat north east rivals Sunderland away from home and Aitor Karanka‘s side have four points on the board and look very tough to break down.
Burnley – Oh yeah, another one of the new boys has a grin like a Cheshire cat. After beating Liverpool at home on Saturday, Sean Dyche‘s side showed they can dig in and defend and with Vokes and Gray up top they have players who can finish the limited chances they created. Strong start for the Clarets.
Chelsea – Antonio Conte is basically using the same squad as last season with N'Golo Kante replacing Cesc Fabregas and Michy Batshuayi coming off the bench for late heroics. They’ve won both games 2-1 with Diego Costa scoring late on to increase the feel-good factor but Conte knows there’s serious work to be done. Chelsea look much more solid than last season, which isn’t difficult…
Manchester City – Pep Guardiola has won two from two as City’s boss and you get the sense his side has yet to get out of second gear. Their 4-1 win at Stoke showed things are coming together and once they get Claudio Bravo in, plus Ilkay Gundogan and Vincent Kompany back fit, this will be a fine team. City’s fans are trying not to get ahead of themselves but already have this song for Pep.
Liverpool – Ah, the life of a Liverpool fan. Last week they beat Arsenal and everyone was tipping them to be a dark horse for the PL title. This week they lose to Burnley. Klopp’s side have to improve defensively but as we expected they are very good going forward. They’ll bounce back.
Everton – Ronald Koeman has gone about his business very quietly this summer and although they lost John Stones, the Toffees have made some savvy buys. Yannick Bolasie, Idrissa Gueye, Ashley Williams and Maarten Stekelenburg have improved their team, plus Romelu Lukaku is staying for now and they have four points on the board. Not bad at all RoKo.
Tottenham Hotspur – Spurs snatched a 1-1 draw away at Everton late on and a late win at home against Crystal Palace 1-0. Mauricio Pochettino‘s men are grinding out results. Harry Kane and Dele Alli have yet to get going but remember, Mousa Dembele will return from his ban soon and the UEFA Champions League group stage is approaching fast. That said, Spurs fans have yet to reach the intense optimism levels of last season. Let’s give it a few weeks and check back.
Watford – A decent draw away at Southampton on the opening day was followed by a late collapse at home to Chelsea. Not disastrous for the Hornets but you get the sense fans were hoping to see a little more from new manager Walter Mazzarri. Very much a case of the jury still being out.
Leicester City – One point on the board and they looked good value for it against Arsenal at home. Claudio Ranieri‘s side did not look solid at Hull in their shock opening day defeat but that improved against Arsenal. There’s still a nagging sense around the KP that the Foxes may finish midtable at best given their upcoming UCL exploits.
West Ham – Giving up a late winner to Chelsea hurt in their opener but a late win against Bournemouth at their new London Stadium home sort of made up for that. They’ve missed Dimitri Payet, Andre Aywe, Manuel Lanzini and Andy Carroll which has put a dampener on things. Hammers fans are focused mostly on their new stadium and getting into the Europa League right now.
Swansea City – An away win at Burnley on the opening day was deserved and they huffed and puffed at home against Hull but lost to two late strikes. Not an awful start to the season for Francesco Guidolin but interesting to see how they cope with the loss of Ayew and Williams throughout the season.
In the doldrums
Arsenal – Arsenal have failed to win any of their opening games as they have just one point on the board. Arsene Wenger continues to come under criticism for not buying a new center back or striker this summer. That said, Ozil, Giroud and Koscielny have now returned and things should improve from here. Should being the main word.
Southampton – Claude Puel‘s side also have just one point on the board and the diamond in midfield isn’t working. Saints look like they lack firepower after selling Mane and Pelle this summer. They should probably revert to a 4-2-3-1 formation, and quickly.
Bournemouth – The Cherries have looked toothless in attack and spending big on promising youngsters like Jordon Ibe and Lewis Cook was a bold move from Eddie Howe. You wonder if losing senior players in Elphick and Ritchie has hit Bournemouth hard this summer. Tough start.
Sunderland – David Moyes is already talking about a relegation battle, which is not good. A plethora of young Manchester United players have arrived so far but with Lamine Kone on the way out, all of a sudden the Black Cats look very weak at the back. Transfers are badly need in the next week.
Stoke City – The Potters have one point from their opening two games and they looked out of their depth against Man City. That is no disgrace but once again the problem seems to be scoring goals for Stoke. Mark Hughes will be looking to sign a striker in the final days of the window as fans are feeling like a top 10 finish could be out of the question.
Crystal Palace – Christian Benteke arrived for a club-record fee which has most fans elated but after losing their opening two games of the season 1-0, Alan Pardew‘s side must improve drastically. Remember, they’ve won just two PL games in 2016 after a horrendous run at the back end of last season.
West Brom – They won at Palace on the opening day but gave up a 1-0 lead at home against Everton which will annoy Tony Pulis massively. He is trying hard to bring in new players but Baggies fans know what to expect by now. Strap in for a relegation battle and hope for the best.
REFS CRACKING DOWN
Players and managers were warned before the season that things would change so they can have no complaints. To be fair to them, they haven’t complained much.
The Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) visited each PL club to go over new rules which specifically looked to crack down on tussles between players in the penalty box, players crowding officials and any act of dissent towards match officials among other things.
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This weekend we saw a whole host of incidents involving the new, more stringent, laws. In Manchester City’s win at Stoke we had two penalty kicks awarded by Mike Dean, one against Ryan Shawcross for holding Nicolas Otamendi in the box and then Shawcross won a PK as Raheem Sterling made no attempt to play the ball and shoved Shawcross in the box.
In Chelsea’s win at Watford forward Diego Costa was shown a yellow card for hurling abuse at referee Jonathan Moss after Watford’s goal, with the new dissent rules being taken seriously by refs as Craig Pawson also yellow carded Harry Arter in Bournemouth’s defeat at West Ham as the Cherries midfielder also picked up another yellow late on to get a red.
There were still plenty of contentious calls, though, as Costa should have received a second yellow just moments after he was booked. The Chelsea striker, who, of course, went on to score the game-winner, took a terrible dive on the edge of the box and for the second game running he was very lucky to stay on the pitch.
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In Leicester’s 0-0 draw with Arsenal Mark Clattenburg got two big calls wrong (even though he correctly failed to award a PK when Danny Drinkwater went down in the box in the first half, as replays later showed Laurent Koscielny had timed his tackle to perfection) in the second half. First Francis Coquelin should’ve been sent off for a second yellow as he clattered into Riyad Mahrez in the second half when he was already booked, then late on Hector Bellerin clearly tripped Leicester’s Ahmed Musa as he surged into the box but Clattenburg, who had a clear view, waved played on. Leicester should’ve had a penalty kick to win the game.
There will always be big decisions refs get wrong but at least we are now starting to see levels of consistency when it comes to holding in the box and bookings for dissent. Usually when these new directives are given to officials at the start of the season we see a flurry of cards and then after a few months things go back to usual. I for one hope the refs stick with it as getting rid of grappling in the box and dissent towards officials will benefit the PL greatly.
FEEL-GOOD FACTOR BACK AT OLD TRAFFORD
Once again, it was fun to go to a Manchester United game. On Friday as I went behind-the-scenes in the city to get a flavor of what the new era of “Friday Night Football” in the PL is all about.
Maybe it was because it was the first Friday night football of the new season. Maybe it was because Paul Pogba made his return. Maybe it was because it was Jose Mourinho’s first PL home game in charge.
It was probably a combination of all three and more as Mourinho’s side beat Southampton 2-0 in a fairly comfortable display to keep their perfect start going. Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in each half to kill off Saints and United did what they had to do to get another win.
It wasn’t the most exciting game to watch but there was a real buzz and sense of excitement around Old Trafford. That hasn’t been there since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013. Under David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal it was so often doom and gloom. Even when the team won it often wasn’t pretty but with the razzmatazz of the world’s most-expensive player on show, plus Zlatan doing the business and Mourinho on the sidelines, it all slotted together nicely at the Theatre of Dreams. Optimism is in the air.
[ MORE: Why Pogba can be United’s savior ]
Pogba, 23, showed glimpses of how integral he can be to this team, while Mourinho singled out many others for praise and seemed almost annoyed that he has such a large and talented squad to choose from as he rattled off the names of international players who were in “smart Paul Smith” suits rather than dressed in their kit and in the 18-man squad for the win over Southampton.
[ MORE: Premier League stats ]
Speaking in his press conference after the game, Mourinho also reserved special praise for Marouane Fellaini. The Belgian midfielder was thought to be on his way out of Old Trafford this summer after three stagnant and mostly regressive seasons since his move from Everton.
Mourinho has found a way to get the best out of the snarling central midfielder as he swept up expertly alongside Pogba and did all of the dirty work. Apparently Mourinho’s phone call to Fellaini did the trick:
“Maybe a simple phone call can make a difference,” Mourinho said. “A player that was feeling not loved. A player that the season and when the market opened, everybody was saying he was leaving and was not a player for me. Maybe a simple phone call the day after my presentation as Manchester United manager changed a lot because I told him, forget everything you read. For me you don’t leave for sure. Then I think the more organised the team play, the easier for the players to feel confident. He is playing well, with Carrick, with Herrera, with Paul. I think he is full of confidence but I have so many good players.”
STATS OF THE WEEKEND
From our good friends at Opta, here are some intriguing stats from this weekend in the Premier League:
- Ryan Shawcross is the first PL player to concede and win a penalty in the same game since Theo Walcott in August 2011.
- Liverpool posted the highest possession figure for a losing side in the PL since 2003/04 (80.6%).
- Hull are only the second promoted side in Premier League history to win their opening two matches of a season (Bolton in 2001/02 the other).
- Crystal Palace have won just two of their 21 Premier League games in 2016 (W2 D5 L14).
- Antonio Conte has lost just one of his last 32 league games as a club manager (W29 D2).
- New signing Yannick Bolasie is the first player since Gaston Ramirez in 2014/15 to play the same opposition in his first two appearances of the season.
- Leicester are on a 20-game winless run against Arsenal in the Premier League (D6 L14).
- Sunderland’s Patrick Van Aanholt (4) has scored more Premier League goals in 2016 than any other defender.
- The London Stadium became the 55th different venue to host a Premier League match.
The transfer window slams shut next Wednesday Aug. 31 and here at ProSoccerTalk we will keep you up to date on all the latest news, gossip and more.
On Aug. 31 there will be a Facebook live video around 4 p.m. ET to recap all the deals going on, while during the day our staff will keep you up to date with last-minute deals.
With plenty of teams desperate to do business, plus players going away on international duty after the games on Aug. 27-28, we may even see a flurry of deals before this weekend.
To keep up to date with the latest gossip and deals from the PL, bookmark the links below:
Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here.