Iain Macintosh casts his eye over the best and worst of the action from the Premier League this weekend.
Whoomph! That’s more like it, Manchester United. After the wretchedness at Watford, their performance vs. Leicester had pace, power and carefully applied pressure. So what was the difference? OK, United were aided by the absence of Wayne Rooney but his benching is only part of the story. Look to the genius of Juan Mata, the enthusiasm of Marcus Rashford and the much-improved Paul Pogba. Football isn’t about individuals; it’s about teams. And United, for the first time this season, looked like a balanced team on Saturday.
In 20 years at the helm of Arsenal, there can’t be many games that Arsene Wenger has enjoyed as much. Chelsea have bullied the Gunners in recent years but it was very much the other way around on Saturday evening. Antonio Conte’s side made mistakes, certainly, but Arsenal took full advantage and finally played the sort of ruthlessly devastating football we always suspected was possible. They’ve shown that they can do it, now they need to keep doing it. Results like this can kick start seasons, so let’s see what they do for an encore.
With six wins from six games and an average of three goals scored in each one, it’s fair to say that Pep Guardiola has settled into English football quickly. It wasn’t always straightforward on Saturday as, amid speculation that he’s about to lose his job to Ryan Giggs, Swansea boss Francesco Guidolin rustled up a spirited performance from his players and held City level for over an hour. But Guardiola’s men always seem to have another gear. With Sergio Aguero back and Raheem Sterling continuing to impress, they look utterly imperious.
Another five goals against Hull brings their total to 71 since Jurgen Klopp took over, more than any other Premier League team in that period. That’s the sort of thing to convince of title-winning credentials… if they could just match their brilliance up front with some security at the back. “Maybe we will work on this!” said Klopp. Frankly though, who cares about the odd goal at the other end when you can score this many? Liverpool go whoosh like no other football team in England, with explosions of movement and touch. And there’s more to come, you suspect.
Eddie Howe‘s Bournemouth didn’t just beat Everton; they played them off the park with an intensity that would have had Klopp purring in appreciation. Harry Arter was magnificent in midfield, Steve Cook led by example in defence, Callum Wilson bullied Ashley Williams and full-backs Adam Smith and Charlie Daniels were exceptional. Howe said last week that he sees no reason to compromise his values by cutting back on the passing football and, after a performance like this, you can see why.
How do Sunderland recover? Two goals to the good with half an hour to go, they somehow managed to lose 3-2 to Crystal Palace, whose third consecutive win would get them on the heroes board if it hadn’t been such a busy week. Sunderland, once again, were the architects of their own downfall, defending with all the valour and intensity of a warm lettuce. They cannot continue to make catastrophic errors and hope to survive in the Premier League. David Moyes will be lucky to make it to Christmas at this rate.
No wonder Antonio Conte looked like a man on the very brink of an atomic temper tantrum after a crushing defeat to Arsenal: Chelsea’s defenders gave their Sunderland counterparts a run for their money. The midfield wasn’t much better either. In fact, the only man to come out with any credit was Diego Costa, whose toiling went without reward as he tried to make the best of some dreadful service. That’s two league defeats in a row for Chelsea now, which is usually enough to have Roman Abramovich scouring Linkedin.
It’s not simply Leicester‘s defeat that should concern Claudio Ranieri; it’s what led to the defeat and what might follow the defeat. No team should defend this poorly at set pieces and certainly not a team of champions. How much damage will this do to confidence? As their Champions League tie with Porto approaches, Leicester have concerns. But at least action was taken at half-time at Old Trafford. At least Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez were taken off and rested. And at least the Demarai Gray superb strike offered some consolation to the travelling support.
Slaven Bilic has already suffered the indignity of having contract talks shelved but, if West Ham keep playing like this, he won’t even make it to the end of the old one. West Ham were miserable again in the Olympic Stadium and could easily have conceded four goals for the third game in succession. As it was, the three that Southampton scored were damaging enough. There’s a fundamental lack of confidence at West Ham that’s only exacerbated by the atmosphere in their new, publicly-funded arena. Something has to give soon. At this rate, it will be Bilic.
We’re quite fond of Hull City in these parts, given how gallantly they’ve performed with a skeleton squad. But lads, seriously, stop trying to punch the ball away from goal. Only the goalkeeper gets to do that. Last weekend, the Tigers lost Jake Livermore for a deliberate handball and went on to ship four goals to Arsenal. This weekend it was Ahmed Elmohamady and five goals to Liverpool. That’s two very hard lessons; surely they don’t need a third.