What did we learn from the six Premier League games on Saturday?
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Liverpool went top of the PL table, while big wins for Watford, Brighton and Bournemouth continued their fine form early in the season.
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Below is a look at the key takeaways from a day littered with fine goals and displays.
Liverpool’s offense is clicking through the gears
Here we go. Here they come. After a run of five games where they scored just three goals, Liverpool’s offense is back to its best as they beat Cardiff City 4-1 on Saturday with Mohamed Salah grabbing a goal and two assists, plus Sadio Mane and Xherdan Shaqiri were on the scoresheet. Scoring eight goals in their two games over the past four days, any talk about Liverpool’s defense being their main strength this season will surely dissipate, for now. Yes, they’ve improved drastically in defense since Virgil Van Dijk arrived in January. In fact, the goal they conceded against Cardiff was the first they’ve let in during a home league game since February. But the main concern in the early months of this season was about the attacking prowess of Mane, Salah and Roberto Firmino and if they could repeat their gaudy numbers from 2017-18.
Everything points to them being able to do just that, or at least get very close, with Salah in particular looking back to his best after a slow start to the season. With Shaqiri in the mix and Daniel Sturridge now fit, Liverpool’s attack has a fresh look to it and there will be more options for rotation as the season continues. With 26 points from a possible 30 so far, things have started very well for Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp. The Reds are looking good in the UEFA Champions League once again and seem set to push Manchester City all the way. If they’re going to win one of those big competitions this season, they need Mane, Salah and Firmino on form more than they need a vastly improved defense.
Southampton drifting into another relegation scrap
Mark Hughes and Southampton are in a bad place right now. Saints have won just one of their opening 10 games this season despite not having a particularly tough schedule, and the 0-0 draw with Newcastle at home on Saturday marked the fifth-straight game where they have failed to score. With just one win at home in their last 16 PL games, the warning signs have been there for a while and the regression has been steady and true ever since Ronald Koeman left in the summer of 2016. Saints seem to be sleepwalking into a perilous situation for the second season on the trot.
With reports linking former AS Monaco boss Leonardo Jardim with Saints, it appears Hughes may already be running out of time and the good faith (and long-term contract) he received for keeping them in the PL at the end of last season has already evaporated. The fact Southampton stuck with Mauricio Pellegrino for 30 games last season before bringing in Hughes may also work against the current manager, as it is unlikely Les Reed and Ralph Krueger will wait that long this season to try and address a worrying trend. Southampton were for so long the model club as managers and players only left when they were sought after by huge clubs paying big cash. Now, Saints are stuck with a squad of players who are woefully underperforming and a manager who has resorted to making them hard to beat without solving their attacking issues.
Saints play Man City, Man United, Watford, Fulham and Tottenham in their next five games and anything other than six points from that haul will see them dragged into a severe relegation battle for the second-straight season. With the players they have, that just isn’t good enough. Negativity is rife at St Mary’s and the fact Saints have won just once at home in the last 12 months tells the whole story. Confidence is low and the goals aren’t flowing and there is only so much a manager can do in that situation. Saints are symptomatic of a team who have drifted due to managerial changes and new players not adding the quality they need.
Fulham’s defensive frailties too severe for Slavisa to sort out
Every time Fulham walk out onto the pitch it seems like they’re going to concede at least three goals. In truth, the stats say it’s just a little under that. 2.8. My apologies… Despite conceding 28 goals in their opening 10 games of the season, Slavisa Jokanovic is sticking with his philosophy and is asking his players to push up the pitch and try to pass around their opponents. Bournemouth did that much better than Fulham on Saturday, as the Cherries won 3-0 at Craven Cottage and ruthlessly exposed the Cottagers’ deficiencies.
Will Jokanovic be given the chance to turn things around in west London? He seems unlikely to change his tactics and despite Fulham’s American owner Shahid Khan giving his Serbian coach the dreaded vote of confidence earlier this week, time is not on Jokanovic’s side. Unless he changes his entire coaching philosophy, Fulham aren’t going to stay in the PL this season. They create chances galore but they’re so wasteful in attack and describing their defending as haphazard is incredibly kind.
“We made good work and tried to stop conceding so many, we weren’t very successful today but the players are fighting well. We have enough quality to score but we can’t find a way to find a clean sheet. The Premier League is tough not just for us but for many clubs. We are making expensive mistakes,” Jokanovic told the BBC. “I am not thinking about my future. I will be ready for the next challenge. I am living my present and that is today a very hard defeat. I must be brave and keep going and encourage my team.”
So, he will not change his style of play. And that style is a mishmash of being too cautious and throwing caution to the wind, while also changing goalkeepers and defenders on a weekly basis.
Bedding in so many new players was always going to be tough (Fulham brought in 12 players and spent over $130 million after gaining promotion) and quite simply this squad isn’t built to defend in a 4-5-1 formation and scrap for 1-0 wins. And therein lies the problem. Do you stick with Jokanovic at least until January when you can bring in some new players? Or do you cut him loose now and bring in a more solid, stable coach to try and give the team some much needed balance? Fulham haven’t been terrible in most of their games this season but they haven’t been ruthless enough in either box and that is what will end up costing Jokanovic his job.
Watford, Bournemouth will battle for Europe due to attacking talents
Each racking up 3-0 wins on Saturday, Watford and Bournemouth have a clinical edge to thank for their fine starts to the campaign. Promoted together in 2014, these two teams are similar in many ways and have had clear plans for progression in place. The main difference is that the Hornets have had four managers in four years but had a clear recruitment policy in place, while Bournemouth stuck with Eddie Howe throughout and he has added quality youngsters in key positions. The different ways they’ve built these teams is to be admired and both have reliable defensive units but going forward is where they’ve made the biggest improvements. Watford’s attack is about power and pace. Bournemouth is about passing and pressing. The difference for both of these teams this season after they meandered around in midtable in 2017-18 is one thing: finishing.
They both conceded big chances on Saturday as they’re always adventurous in attack, but both were clinical when they got chances themselves and punished their opponents. Roberto Pereyra, Issac Success and Gerard Deulofeu scored for Watford and Bournemouth’s goals came from Callum Wilson (two) and David Brooks with Ryan Fraser playing a pivotal role. With Troy Deeney and Josh King not available, they also have options in reserve and the pace, trickery and sheer hunger their forwards are showing are the reason they’re snapping at the heels of the top four. They have squads to sustain their top eight push and like Burnley did last season, these two teams seem focused on battling for seventh place along with Everton and Wolves. European qualification for either Watford or Bournemouth would be a huge reward for having a clear plan in place.