The third Saturday of the 2018-19 Premier League season produced six intriguing games as we had plenty of red cards, controversy and late drama.
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Manchester City were held, Liverpool marched on and Arsenal is off and running under Unai Emery, while there was late drama at Southampton and Bournemouth. With a sprinkling of red cards to keep things interesting.
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Below is a look at what we learned from the action on Saturday across England.
VAR needed next season
It’s easy to say “these things even themselves out over the course of a season” but if Manchester City end up not winning the Premier League title by a point (as crazy as that seems) then they’ll look back at Willy Boly‘s opener for Wolves on Saturday as being crucial. Boly’s goal clearly came straight off his hand and into the net but the officials on the pitch were unsighted and awarded the goal. The reigning champions dropped their first points of the season at Molineux and they couldn’t really complain as the newly-promoted side put in a mature, energetic display as they picked the right moments to press City and carved out several opportunities to win the game. But the VAR argument is one that will not go away anytime soon as Serie A, the Bundesliga and MLS have adopted video assistant referees and the World Cup proved it could work smoothly and quickly. PL clubs voted last season to test the system more before it is implemented but right now it seems like there’s no way that VAR isn’t introduced for the 2019-20 campaign. It simply has to be to correct clear and obvious mistakes like this one.
Liverpool perfect, and scary
Three wins from three. Top of the league. Zero goals conceded. It wasn’t a vintage display against Brighton but Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool have an aura about them building. All great teams have it. Just like the Manchester United teams under Sir Alex Ferguson in the late 1990s, the Arsene Wenger Arsenal teams of the mid 1990s and the Chelsea sides in Jose Mourinho’s first spell, teams now turn up at Anfield trying to keep the score down and expecting to lose. Brighton did just that and were pretty solid for the first half apart from one error as they tried to play a short free kick in front of their own back four and were ruthlessly punished. Yves Bissouma was pounced on and Mohamed Salah stroked home 29th goal in his 29th Anfield appearance for Liverpool. It really is as easy as that for Liverpool right now as they’re looking more assured defensively with Virgil Van Dijk and Alisson standing tall, while the front three allow them to hit teams on the counter whenever they do decide to venture forward out of their defensive shell. Yes, Liverpool have only played West Ham, Crystal Palace and Brighton so far, but those are the kind of teams they slipped up against last season. An aura of invincibility is surrounding the Reds early in the season after a summer of heavy spending which strengthened their weaknesses significantly.
Arsenal remain unbalanced
Don’t let the scoreline deceive you. Arsenal’s 3-1 home win against West Ham was far from straightforward. The Gunners were, once again, their own worst enemies as they were caught on the counter on numerous occasions when they gave the ball away high up the pitch. Full backs Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin were given no real cover by the midfielders in front of them and the lack of pace of center back duo Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis just isn’t conducive to playing the high-line that Unai Emery wants. Arsenal’s new manager got his first win on the board in the Premier League after the defeats to Chelsea and Manchester City to open up his first season in England but admitted they “need the balance” and “in the first half we suffered more than we want.” Emery is sticking to his philosophy of slow build-up play out wide and then being more direct which is all well and good, but when it breaks down Arsenal look so vulnerable. Felipe Anderson, Michail Antonio and Marko Arnautovic had a field day in the first half with the space afforded to them but couldn’t take advantage of it. The win will give Arsenal’s players confidence but there’s no denying that when the Gunners play against better teams, they could concede two or three goals each game. Emery is right to stick to his coaching philosophy but plenty of patient is needed.
Red cards galore as tempers flare
There were four red cards among the four 10 a.m. ET games and all four seemed pretty much spot on. Richarlison has a bit of a temper and Adam Smith suckered him in as they came together, then Everton’s Brazilian star moved his head closer as the red mist descended. Was it soft? Yes. Could he have any complaints? Not really. Smith himself then saw red in the same game and he could have no complaints either as Theo Walcott raced towards goal and he clearly pulled him back.
As for the other red cards, Jonathan Hogg was in a very similar situation as Huddersfield’s midfield came together with Cardiff’s Harry Arter but he was slightly more aggressive and was sent off. While Southampton’s Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg was shown two yellows and he can have no complaints as he surged into the box, then looked for the penalty kick as he went down easily and was shown a second yellow for simulation. Yes, we need VAR for clear and obvious mistakes to be cleaned up, but the referees did their jobs well on Saturday with all four red cards dealt with correctly.
Southampton, West Ham may not be in trouble
It’s still early in the season, so let’s not get too carried away about which teams are hurtling towards relegation. But the signs aren’t good for either West Ham or Southampton on paper. But if you dig a little deeper, both teams should have got more than they did during Week 3. The Hammers threatened on the break at Arsenal but Manuel Pellegrini‘s men look so slack defensively as they’ve conceded nine goals in their first three games, losing all three. That said, they have faced Liverpool and Arsenal in two of their opening encounters. Southampton can’t say the same as Mark Hughes‘ men blew a lead against Leicester and were the masters of their own downfall as Hojbjerg was stupidly sent off and they let in two soft goals to lose at home. Yet Saints went close through Danny Ings and Nathan Redmond looked particularly bright as they failed to make the most of their chances. Southampton have now lost against Everton and Leicester and drawn with Burnley and that shows us where they’re at. A team who will be battling to be out of relegation trouble all season long, just like they did last season as they survived by the skin of their teeth. The Hammers look to at least have the attacking talents to turn things around when their fixtures get a little easier, but both teams lack ruthlessness at both ends of the pitch which is a worrying trend. But it’s early in the season and both will be hungry to turn some promising displays into points. Fast.