Premier League roundtable: The story so far

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With the Premier League heading into the international break after eight weeks of the season in the books, where do we stand?

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We have a three-team tie atop the Premier League table, some giants struggling and minnows over-performing.

Considering all of that, the staff at Pro Soccer Talk got together to have a little chat about the key storylines in the PL in the opening months of the 2018-19 campaign. Feel free to get involved and answer the questions in the comments section below.


Eight weeks in, three teams sit atop the Premier League table level on points. Who has impressed you most so far: Liverpool, Man City or Chelsea?

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JPW: At the moment I’m going with Chelsea. I still think Man City and Liverpool will be the top two, but the way Chelsea have settled under Maurizio Sarri (who only arrived in mid July) has been astonishing. Of course, it helps when Eden Hazard is in the form of his life, but Chelsea are close to being the most aesthetically pleasing team, just behind City, to watch in the Premier League. Fantastic start and they’ve played Arsenal and Liverpool, but big tests are coming up.

Dan Karell: I’m going to go with Chelsea as well. Sarri’s somewhat “late” arrival, just a few weeks before the start of the season, put the team behind the eight ball, but Eden Hazard has responded to the new manager and is truly living up to his potential as one of the world’s best players. Man City and Liverpool’s starts have been impressive, but in a way, it was expected. The scoreless draw on Sunday was that of two teams who respected each other too much to be too risky.

Nick Mendola: That’s a tricky one. Chelsea of course came out of the gates slowly with a new manager but has looked as consistent as Man City. I mention those two because when firing Liverpool has looked sensational and a cut above even last season’s champions. That said, that’s been a function and a flaw of the Reds under Jurgen Klopp, and Man City has to be considered the most impressive considering that, even with a tame schedule, they’ve done it without Kevin De Bruyne and with several players still finding their paths.

Kyle Bonn: Manchester City has still impressed me the most. As Nick said, Liverpool is the most fun, but they still have too many highs and lows. City remains consistent, and impressively so. Chelsea is there, but I’m still not convinced Sarri’s re-positioning of N’Golo Kante is the right move long term.


Should Jose Mourinho remain in charge at Manchester United? And here’s the key question: can he turn things around?

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JPW: I think he should stay in charge. At least until the January transfer window. If United can hang in and around the top four until early 2019, getting in key defensive reinforcements will be key to how successful this season will be. I think Mourinho has caused his own problems, for sure, but his players are clearly under-performing and there’s only so much you can do as a coach. Not being backed in the summer transfer window clearly upset Mourinho and changes are need at the top of the pyramid if United will get back to challenging for titles each season. Ed Woodward has a lot to answer for and will likely back Mourinho in the January transfer window. The key thing Mourinho needs to do is to let the shackles come off his team. They aren’t a very good defensive team but they can hurt opponents going forward. His style as a coach is often too pragmatic, which is okay away from home against top six opponents. But against lesser teams they need to take games by the scruff of the neck early on. Things change very quickly in this game.

Mendola: Pretty convinced that Mourinho’s job hinges on how he looks against Ronaldo/Juventus in the Champions League and the derby. The whole mess is not entirely his fault but it’s going to rest on his shoulders due to his disposition. In that sense it is of his doing. A side by side comparison of Mou at Man Utd and Klopp at Liverpool doesn’t separate the two by much, but Klopp gets the PR side. He put on Mane and Firmino on blast after losing to Napoli and few cared. Mourinho took a swipe at McTominay and Rashford after a win over Newcastle and took some abuse. Yes the latter two are from the island, but you get the idea.

Karell: I really think it’s only a matter of when, not if, Jose Mourinho is sacked at Man United. He’s lost the senior members of the dressing room and I heard a great point about him in the past, he always had senior or talented players willing to carry the team for him and push the teammates on to work harder. He had that at Chelsea with John Terry and Frank Lampard, had it at Porto with Carvalho and Deco, and at Inter with Eto’o, Zanetti and Wesley Sneijder. But things haven’t been the same for Mourinho since he had a falling out with Pepe and Sergio Ramos at Real Madrid, and then again at Chelsea he lost the dressing room. Man United can surely play better than they’ve been playing, and kind of like Arsene Wenger‘s last few years at Arsenal, there’s this air of uncertainty over Man United that keeps everyone wondering when the other shoe will drop. I would be shocked if Mourinho makes it to the end of the season.

Bonn: I’m firmly convinced Mourinho is tearing down Manchester United more than he is building them up. Even if they experience a temporary return to form, he is not the man to take this team forward. The locker room is a mess, and there is no cohesion at all. Paul Pogba’s a world class player, and just like I’m not convinced Kante is being used properly at Chelsea, a manager’s job is to get the most out of their best players, and moving them to uncomfortable positions doesn’t accomplish that. Mourinho needs to be replaced at Manchester United. I predicted before the season he’ll be the first PL manager fired, and I’m sticking to that.


And what about the teams in north London. Both are just two points off the top spot. Spurs have struggled, Arsenal is surging. Who finishes higher in the table this season?

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JPW: It is going to be very tight between these two. Spurs’ eventual move to a new stadium may give them a slight edge towards the end of the season, but there’s no doubt Arsenal is ahead of where we thought they’d be at this stage of the season. Unai Emery is on a long winning spree against teams they should be beating, but I think if Arsenal played Man City and Chelsea now, instead of in the first two games of the season, they would give a much better account of themselves and maybe nick a few points. Spurs’ squad has been stretched and they’ve yet to hit top form, but they’ve had their joint best-ever start to a season in terms of the points tally. Pochettino isn’t happy, but another top four finish would be a great season given the distractions of playing at Wembley again and not signing a single player in the summer. I think Spurs may just pip Arsenal, but I’m not sure if that will be to finish in the top four. Liverpool, Chelsea and Man City are guaranteed, then it’s Man United, Arsenal and Tottenham fighting for fourth. The top four race will be a really tight one this season and if Aubameyang and Lacazette can keep scoring plenty of goals, Arsenal could surprise everyone.

Bonn: I still believe Tottenham is most equipped to handle the full season and will finish higher, but Spurs’ defense has to be sorted out sooner rather than later. The most recent league results don’t tell us much, with clean sheets over Cardiff and Huddersfield Town. The injuries will subside and Eriksen will return, so I’m not terribly worried about the attack. Arsenal looks solid under Emery’s leadership, and the Aubameyang/Lacazette partnership is one the club will look back on fondly, but this season, Spurs will win out.

Karell: Regarding North London (is Watford not part of this convo!? Haha), I agree with Bonn. Tottenham has the talent and has proven it can finish high in the Premier League table, but the injuries to key starters have taken a toll. Meanwhile, Arsenal has taken care of business against less talented sides but is 0-2 against teams that finished in the top six last season (defeats to Chelsea and Manchester City to open the season). We won’t know until December, when Arsenal plays Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester United in a 30-day span whether Arsenal is truly back in the top-four picture. 


Which players and/or team has surprised you the most so far this season?

JPW: I’m going with Bournemouth. I didn’t see this coming at all but the belief those players have in their manager and in each other will carry them a long way and young David Brooks looks like yet another bargain buy from Eddie Howe. King, Wilson, Fraser and Brooks are ripping teams apart and they’re sticking steadfast to their high-pressing philosophy. I seriously believe they can “do a Burnley” and finish in the European spot. And the player that has surprised me the most has to be Jorginho. I knew he was good, but I didn’t think he would be this good in the Premier League. He has totally reinvented the way this entire Chelsea team plays and I wonder if that would have been the case had he gone to Man City. Probably not. Smart move from him to stick with Sarri and lead Chelsea’s title charge.

Bonn: I’m with Joe in that Jorginho has impressed mightily this season. It’s so so difficult to come into this league and make an immediate impact like Jorginho has (just ask Naby Keita), and he has done so well, everyone has forgotten Sarri pushed the best defensive midfielder in the world to a new role to make room. It’s quite an achievement, and a big reason why Chelsea is where it is. As for impressive teams, mine has to be Wolverhampton. It was obvious during the Championship last season that they had staying power, but to come out and look this impressive has been a joy to watch. They not only look like they can fight for their lives, but they truly look like they belong, even in matches against the big dogs. Nuno is a manager with no fear and it trickles down to the rest of the group.

Mendola: I’m most surprised by Bournemouth, though I’m opt for Wolves and in particular Raul Jimenez. The 27-year-old is a hold-up man more than a finisher, but he does the job so well (El Tri’s answer to Olivier Giroud). Nuno Espírito Santo has marshaled his unit into a remarkably smooth transition into the Premier League, and I was wrong to doubt it.


Any teams, star players or new signings who have been totally disappointing so far?

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JPW: I’ve been disappointed with Mohamed Salah. I know, I know. It was always going to be tough to replicate his form from last season but he just seems to be getting very frustrated with himself when he misses chances. There is so much expectation on his shoulders and given the offensive struggles of Mane and Firmino, the pressure will only increase in the coming months. I’ve also been a little disappointed with Tottenham, as has their manager Mauricio Pochettino. Somehow they’re only two points off the top but they haven’t played well at all.

Bonn: I’ve been quite disappointed by Harry Kane to this point. Tottenham has been dealing with a number of key injuries, but the one that could hurt them the most is the one they insist isn’t an issue. It’s quite clear Kane’s ankle is not 100 percent, and he has failed to prove as dangerous as he has been in previous seasons. His shooting numbers are wildly lacking, and the goals have fallen off as well. Kane is a player Spurs need to have any kind of success not just this season but beyond as well, and his poor form has to turn around for Spurs’ season to be anything worthwhile.


And which teams are you worried about in terms of the relegation battle?

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JPW: Cardiff City and Huddersfield were the preseason favorites to go down and I haven’t seen much to change my view on that. Both teams struggle to score goals and that is always a recipe for disaster. Fulham and Newcastle also seem very susceptible to going on long runs without a win which can erode confidence quickly. Southampton will also be down there again after their failure to strengthen their team substantially over the summer. The main plus for teams in the relegation battle this season: both Cardiff and Huddersfield are quite bad and will likely occupy two of the three spots.

Mendola: The relegation battle will have a smaller tent this year. Cardiff and Huddersfield need massive reinforcements in January, and Newcastle has to hope its relenting fixture list leads to a number of wins before Boxing Day. Southampton and Burnley also represent concerns.

Bonn: I’m slightly worried about Fulham this year with regards to the drop. Slavisa Jokanovic has been praised for sticking to his guns even with the knowledge that his playing style might not translate to immediate success in the top flight, but it is bordering on stubbornness now. The team is not talented enough defensively to play that way sustainably, and a number of the reinforcements brought in this summer have been massive disappointments – I’ll mention Alfie Mawson and Calum Chambers by name, as the two have just been terrible. As there was last season in the Championship, there will be improvement as the season progresses for Jokanovic’s group, but will it be enough? With the poor matchups against better teams, Fulham has little room for error against sides they should be beating, and every slip against bottom-half teams leave them closer and closer to danger.

Klopp preens after Liverpool win: ‘Our identity is intensity’

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Liverpool and Arsenal entertained on Saturday, with the Reds earning a deserved 3-1 win and keeping the Gunners off-kilter for most of the day.

Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds pushed the tempo for much of the match and overcame some wobbly moments at the back to cruise to the win.

[ MORE: Liverpool-Arsenal recap | 3 things ]

They were tough, fiery, and deserved every bit of the win. And Klopp knows it, and knows that you know it. From the BBC:

“Our identity is intensity, and we showed that today. … We were a bit surprised by their system. We couldn’t know that they would play a diamond, but we switched things around and coped very well.

“The last 10 minutes I saw the possession – 53 to 47 or something like that – but over 80 minutes it must have been completely different. For 80 minutes we were completely in charge of the game. We are not Disneyland, we do not need to excite everyone in every second.”

This guy is an absolute beauty. Even those who despise him have to admit that we are lucky to have him.

Klopp’s men lapsed late and allowed a Lucas Torreira goal. The defense has been wobbly over the first three weeks of the season, and preseason was just as rough. Klopp would’ve loved a clean sheet for the first time since the first week of preseason, but he’s happy with the performance.

“I would have loved to have it, but things can happen. They’re a quality side, Arsenal. I didn’t see that many chances, but we were really in charge today and completely deserved the win.”

Liverpool is off to Burnley next, and then will enjoy the international break.

Bundesliga wrap: Lewandowski scores hat trick for Bayern; USMNT’s Morales scores

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What a good day (well, 2 days) for the visitors.

[ MORE: Liverpool-Arsenal recap | 3 things ]

Bayern, Gladbach, Bayer, and Freiburg joined Friday winners Borussia Dortmund in being in the away locker room and the win column on Saturday in the Bundesliga.

Newly-promoted Union Berlin got a point away from home, too, and Werder Bremen scored twice and nearly took a point off Werder Bremen.

Boo home teams. Boo.

Schalke 0-3 Bayern Munich

A Robert Lewandowski hat trick betrayed a halfway decent effort by Schalke as Bayern rebounded from a season-opening draw to claim all three points at the Veltins Arena.

On the American side, only Bayern’s Joshua Kimmich covered more ground than Schalke’s Weston McKennie’s 12.36 km. McKennie registered a shot and completed 32 of his 34 passes.

Mainz 1-3 Borussia Monchengladbach

Stefan Lainer, Alassane Plea, and Breel Embolo all scored in Gladbach’s comeback from an early concession.

USMNT midfielder Fabian Johnson subbed off after 79 minutes after Embolo scored Gladbach’s final goal, registering 10 won tackles.

Fortuna Dusseldorf 1-3 Bayer Leverkusen

USMNT goalkeeper and Man City loanee Zack Steffen had a Man of the Match performance last week for the hosts, and was under siege again this time to less success.

An American player did produce a goal in the contest, with Alfredo Morales scoring for his fourth-consecutive Bundesliga campaign. Throw in the second tier, and the midfielder has scored in eight-straight German seasons between his current team, Ingolstadt, and Hertha Berlin.

Morales covered the second-most ground for Dusseldorf. At 29, could he be one of the new faces that Gregg Berhalter wants to see this September with the USMNT? Probably not, but it’d be neat.

Elsewhere

Koln 1-3 Borussia Dortmund — Friday
Augsburg 1-1 Union Berlin
Paderborn 1-3 Freiburg
Hoffenheim 3-2 Werder Bremen
RB Leipzig v. Eintracht Frankfurt — 9:30 am. ET Sunday
Hertha Berlin v. Wolfsburg — Noon ET Sunday

Who shined and who stunk in Liverpool’s win over Arsenal

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Arsenal was soundly beaten at Anfield by the defending Champions League winners in a contest that proved the massive gulf between the two sides.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]

Liverpool is clearly one of the best teams in the world, while Arsenal still has a long way to go to be a viable contender a top four spot in the Premier League table. The Gunners invested heavily this summer hoping to make a push back into the Champions League, but they did little to address the defensive frailties and it showed.

Here’s a brief overview of who stood out on both ends of the spectrum as Liverpool stays top of the table and Arsenal heads home licking its wounds.

STUDS:

  1. Liverpool’s left flankAndy Robertson and Sadio Mane bossed the game, of that there is little question. Through the first half, the left side of Liverpool’s formation had pressed Arsenal into oblivion. By halftime, Andy Robertson to Sadio Mane was the most prolific pass combination with 17, level with Giorginio Wijnaldum to Robertson. Mane, Robertson, and Wijnaldum combined for eight successful tackles, seven of which were in the attacking half. Mane himself was 5/5 tackling in the first half, a stunning total that kept Arsenal pinned deep in its own half by forcing repeated turnovers.
  2. Roberto Firmino – The Brazilian’s creativity and inventive nature never ceases to impress. He was at it again against Arsenal, producing space and presenting options for teammates with his top-notch off-ball movement, and every time the ball touched his feet he produced something mouth-watering. His lay-off to Mohamed Salah led to the second-half penalty, and was 16/23 passing in the attacking third overall. His ingenuity is what sets Liverpool’s attack apart from the pack.
  3. Mohamed Salah – While the left side of Liverpool’s formation ran the first half, Salah was the star of the second 45. He earned and scored the penalty soon after the break, and scored a stunning solo goal to put the game away.

DUDS:

  1. Unai Emery – A worse performance than anyone on the field, the Arsenal manager has had a mare. By playing no wingers and having all his attackers pinch, he allowed Liverpool to play outside in and deploy essentially a five-man front line with acres of space on the flanks, pinning his full-backs to the end line. Emery never changed shape once throughout the match, instead just stretching out his defensive line to deal with the Liverpool runners out wide and leaving huge patches of empty space across the back. Bafflingly, with a 3-0 deficit and a half-hour to go, he left Alexandre Lacazette on the bench and instead brought on defensive midfielder Lucas Torreira, and didn’t even bother to change the shape, instead simply shifting the midfield diamond around. Granit Xhaka, the defensive midfielder, was all over the pitch as Arsenal was stretched thin by Liverpool’s marauding width. The Gunners only erased the clean sheet when Liverpool sat back and allowed them to come forward, no consolation for the beatdown they suffered. To make matters worse, Henrikh Mkhitaryan was bright after coming on, making Emery look worse for leaving another potentially game-changing player on the bench so long. The Gunners’ will want to take a long look at himself after this match, because this is the kind of performance that gets a manager fired.
  2. David Luiz – The former Chelsea man was downright awful. The penalty early in the second half was blatant, and he failed to even contest Salah on the wing for Liverpool’s third. He wasn’t helped by Emery’s miserable tactical setup, but Luiz’s arrival has done little to alleviate Arsenal’s obvious defensive deficiencies.
  3. Nicolas Pepe – The Frenchman earned his first Premier League start, and he struggled with confidence early on. Pepe fired a long-range effort just wide of the top-left corner on the half-hour mark that seemed to show promise, but he whiffed on a huge opportunity on the counter 34 minutes in with the game still 0-0, putting his one-on-one shot right at Adrian, a moment of serious regret for the Gunners in a game that eventually got away from them. He waited too long to send Aubameyang through on goal early in the second half and was lucky not to have it given offside. Pepe was good in bunches, completing 7 of 10 attempted take-ons which will give Gunners fans hope moving forward, but that miss was a significant moment in the match.
  4. Trent Alexander-Arnold – With Liverpool looking to cross Arsenal to death, Andy Robertson vastly outplayed his counterpart TAA on the opposite flank. Alexander-Arnold’s deliveries into the box were toothless, failing to find an attacker with balls that floated and sailed, and ruining a chance just before the opener with a bad cutback. The 20-year-old is a fantastic player – case in point, we’re criticizing his deliveries in a game where he got an assist off a corner. In fact, that assist was his only connected cross of a whopping nine attempted in the first half. We know he can do even better, and he will going forward, of that there is no doubt.

Liverpool bests wobbly Arsenal at Anfield

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Liverpool cooked poor, wasteful Arsenal to record the best result of their early season with a 3-1 win over the Gunners at Anfield on Saturday.

[ MORE: Three things | Stars and duds ]

Mohamed Salah scored twice after Joel Matip broke Liverpool onto the score sheet, as the Reds will be the lone 3-0 team after three weeks of the young season. They were denied a clean sheet by Lucas Torreira‘s 84th minute goal.

Liverpool is off to Burnley next week, while Arsenal hosts Tottenham in the North London Derby.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ] 


Three key figures

  1. Alexander-Arnold will burn you — If teams like Arsenal are going to let Liverpool produce cross after cross to elite crosses like Trent Alexander-Arnold, well, they are going to get burnt. Never mind for a second that Alexander-Arnold’s assist came from a corner, the young English defender was given a limitless budget for his invitations by Arsenal. If you disagree with this, well, so does one of my co-workers.
  2. Salah still the one — The Egyptian wizard scored twice and was a menace all day. Make no mistake about it: However highly you rate Roberto Firmino or Sadio Mane, this is the fella who makes Liverpool a threat to win any competition on Earth.
  3. Emery gets it wrong — We get that the idea of matching attack with Liverpool is daunting, but it could hardly have gone any worse had Unai Emery opted to start Alexandre Lacazette in addition to Nicolas Pepe and Pierre-Emerick Aubemayang. The way Arsenal allowed Liverpool to send in cross after cross after cross in the early stages, they wouldn’t have lost much by having a third forward. It’s no surprise that one of his subs, Torreira, got on the score sheet.

Man of the Match: Salah.


A lapse in communication between Virgil Van Dijk and Adrian allowed Arsenal a chance to make it 1-0 in the 11th minute. Fortunately for the Reds, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang couldn’t loft the ball into the back of the goal from distance after failing to spot Nicolas Pepe in the 18.

At the other end, a horrible Dani Ceballos clearing attempt set up Liverpool in the 21st but Sadio Mane could only sting a shot that Bernd Leno did well to save.

Jordan Henderson made a terrible error in possession, allowing Pepe to race toward Adrian. The Spaniard bailed out his captain to keep it 0-0 in the 35th.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Matip thumped his header past Leno off an Alexander-Arnold corner kick before halftime.

The next scoring chance will come off a dead ball chance, as David Luiz pulled on Mohamed Salah’s shirt in the box. Salah finished emphatically.

Matip also saved Liverpool in his more traditional office, racing to stop Aubameyang on a breakaway when the Gabon striker took an extra touch.

Salah then skipped past a puzzled David Luiz and dribbled 40 yards too cook Nacho Monreal and Leno.

Aubameyang helped cue up Torreira for a well-taken concession goal with five minutes to play.