Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Premier League Review: August (First 4 league games)

The Premier League has firmly announced its return with some wonderful football, brilliant goals, controversial decisions and managerial pressures already being felt and its only the beginning of September. All 20 clubs in the league have played their opening 4 league games of the season and from what we have seen, it is going to be another brilliant season of Premier League football.

Three sides have 100% records in the league having won their opening 4 league games. They are Liverpool, Chelsea and surprisingly Watford. Jurgen Klopp’s men lead on goal difference at the top and have started the season strongly even if they haven’t been playing brilliantly well. Sadio Mane has 3 goals in 4 games and has been an excellent force going forward while Virgil Van Dijk and Joe Gomez have been sensational defensively conceding just once so far this season. Van Dijk and Gomez have been dominant defensive forces and have been praised for their performances so far and rightly so. Like Liverpool, Chelsea have also had an excellent start under new boss Maurizio Sarri. Chelsea are adapting well to Sarri’s 4-3-3 style and playing some lovely football despite Sarri’s regular insistence that Chelsea won’t be up to full gear for a few months yet but certainly winning their opening 4 games represents an excellent start to the season. Jorginho has been excellent so far at Chelsea with him dictating Chelsea’s play going forward and allowing the likes of Hazard, Pedro and Willian to do their thing in the final third of the pitch. Victories over Huddersfield, Arsenal, Newcastle and Bournemouth have seen Sarri’s men charge in the opening month and Sarri will want that momentum to continue going into September when their other competitions begin in terms of the Europa League and Carabao Cup. In contrast, it has been a fabulous start to the season for Javi Gracia and Watford. The Hornets have made their best ever start to a Premier League season winning their opening 4 games against Brighton, Burnley, Crystal Palace and Tottenham. The likes of Troy Deeney and Roberto Pereyra have sparkled in the opening month of the season and Gracia will be confident the run can continue.

To some of the big hitters we go and despite not winning all 4 of their league games so far, it has been a strong start from champions Manchester City. While Pep Guardiola may not be happy with all of City’s performances so far victories over Arsenal, Huddersfield, Newcastle and a draw to Wolves show Manchester City are fully determined to defend their title once again. In contrast, the red half of Manchester has suffered a disappointing start to the season. Despite beating Leicester on the opening weekend of the season, United haven’t played particularly well and defeats to Brighton and Tottenham in the following two games has frustrated fans, pundits and Mourinho alike. Mourinho has certainly felt the heat in the opening month of the season. Despite encouraging signs against Tottenham, United’s finishing at the top and defending at the other end ultimately cost them and Mourinho’s future has been the hot topic all month. Grievances have also been aimed at Chief Executive Ed Woodward for his lack of backing for Mourinho in the transfer window and its no wonder he is frustrated but crowning off the month with a solid win at Burnley may have eased some frustrations but overall 2 wins and 2 defeats represents a disappointing start. Similarly, despite have an exact record like Manchester United, Arsenal have had a bit more sympathy due to facts like having faced Manchester City and Chelsea in the opening two league games and the players adapting to new manager Unai Emery’s style. They were poor against Manchester City but certainly should of took something at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea and ultimately poor finishing cost them. But victories over West Ham and Cardiff have got Arsenal’s season up and running and they are scoring plenty of goals but it seems the same defensive issues from previous campaigns have yet to be eradicated. Choosing to play out from the back is causing sloppy errors from centre backs and goalkeeper Petr Cech and they must quickly adapt otherwise Arsenal are going to have consistently outscore their opposition each game. From the red half of North London, we go to the white half and Tottenham who despite not making any signings in the transfer window have made an excellent start to the season. Spurs won their opening 3 matches against Newcastle, Fulham and Manchester United. However, defeat to Watford ended their perfect start and highlighted issues for Spurs such as being unable to win a match when not playing well and a need for options to change a game when things aren’t going their way. Despite these minor issues, Pochettino will be delighted overall with their start to the season.

To some of the new managers at new clubs and new to this league. Everton are one of these clubs and have started relatively well under Marco Silva. They are unbeaten in their opening 4 games but they’ve just once so far beating Southampton. However, Everton have showed signs of promise in particular with their excellent display with 10 men against Wolves. However, all the draws this season have highlighted a major issue for Everton as they are conceding far too many goals from set pieces this season. Sleepy defending and a lack of concentration has cost Everton points in particular the game at Bournemouth where they were cruising to victory but sloppy set piece defending cost them. However, September should be exciting for Everton with Marco Silva and the fans hoping to see their new signings Yerry Mina, Andre Gomes and Bernard. Injuries and lack of fitness has meant Silva has opted to let them train and recover but Silva will be relishing the chance to release them into the team. In contrast, it has been a miserable start to the season for Manuel Pellegrini and West Ham. They have lost all 4 of their league games so far and the last time they did that in the Premier League, they were relegated. The pressure is on West Ham having spent over £100 million on a completely new team for Pellegrini. However, poor performances, a lack of effort and defensive mistakes have seen the Hammers sink to the bottom. I think fans will forgive defeats away to Liverpool and Arsenal. However, home defeats against Bournemouth and Wolves have frustrated supporters and certainly these are home games West Ham should be winning. A trip to Everton is next for West Ham and already it has become a must win with pressure building on Pellegrini from all angles. In contrast, Nuno Espirito Santo has made a solid start to life in the Premier League with newly promoted Wolves. The club has been regularly praised for their performances in the opening month of the season. The draw with Manchester City highlighted how excellent Wolves have been so far this season and they ended the month full of confidence having won at West Ham. Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho are forming an excellent partnership at the heart of Wolves’ midfield and are dictating large spells of matches. Like Wolves, Fulham have also made a decent enough start to the season. Slavisa Jokanovic has expensively assembled squad that did start with 2 defeats against Crystal Palace and Tottenham. However, a victory over Burnley and a draw away at Brighton sees Fulham sit in mid-table. Despite scoring goals, Fulham are conceding plenty. They have conceded at least 2 in all 4 matches so far this season and although, Jokanovic will put this down to adaptation, this is a slight concern and they cannot afford to concede goals at this rate. However, Fulham have brought a vibrancy to the league playing some stylish football and scoring some quality goals. Aleksandar Mitrovic is key for them and he has started the season well scoring 4 goals in 4 games. So mixed fortunes for some of the new managers at different clubs and managers new to the league.

Now we come to the Premier League regulars. The likes of Bournemouth, Southampton, Leicester, and Crystal Palace. Bournemouth have made a wonderful start to the season. They have 7 points from their opening 4 matches including winning their opening two games against Cardiff and West Ham. A draw against Everton and a defeat away at Chelsea has followed but Bournemouth are playing well and once again winning fans and plaudits for their displays and in particular the form of Callum Wilson. A striker battered by injuries has started the season injury free and in goal scoring form and he will be hoping he can continue his form and who knows potentially challenge for a spot in future England squads. Similarly, it has been a decent start for Claude Puel and Leicester who have beaten Wolves and Newcastle while losing against Manchester United and Liverpool. Leicester are playing some nice football and the performances of James Maddison and Harry Maguire are catching the eye of pundits and fans this season. It has been a little bit hit and mess for Southampton and Mark Hughes so far. The Saints have drawn at home to Burnley where they should have off lost while losing against Everton and Leicester where it could be seen the Saints were unfortunate to lose. However, they finished the month well beating Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park and Mark Hughes will hope the momentum from that win carries them into September nicely with a derby against Brighton to come. Speaking of Brighton, it has been a solid start for them at home with a win against Manchester United and a draw with Fulham. However, their away form was a problem last season and so far, losing both their away games suggests it will be a problem once again. Chris Hughton has bemoaned some of the spending from other teams this season feeling they can’t compete but in the opening month, they have firmly showed they can compete having been largely unlucky losing at Liverpool and they hammered Fulham for large spells and did fight back a 2-0 deficit. In contrast, the season started strongly for Crystal Palace having deservedly beaten Fulham. But 3 straight defeats have frustrated Roy Hodgson and the fans. Losing to Liverpool, Watford and Southampton have seen Palace sink down the table and the Southampton defeat highlighted issues as Palace still can’t win a game when Wilfried Zaha isn’t playing and scoring goals is another issue as Christian Benteke is massively short on confidence and isn’t the same player seen at Aston Villa and the early months at Liverpool. Roy Hodgson will hope September sees a comeback and charge towards the right end of the table.

Finally, we come to the other 4 sides in the league who like West Ham are winless. They are Newcastle, Burnley, Huddersfield and Cardiff. If you go to Tyneside, you can instantly feel the frustration around the whole football club from Rafa Benitez all the way to the fans. It is difficult being a Newcastle fan at the moment with the team struggling on the pitch with defeats against Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester City and a largely flat goalless draw at Cardiff. Benitez hasn’t got the team he wants its clear for everyone to see and with Newcastle making profit once again, this has infuriated the Newcastle fans with Mike Ashley not backing Benitez yet again and it seems a matter of time before Benitez calls it a day at Newcastle. In contrast, although their start to the league season has been disappointing, there is full backing from everyone at Burnley behind Sean Dyche. Sean Dyche has done a wonderful job at Burnley and clearly the Europa League commitments have affected Burnley’s small squad with a draw followed by 3 straight defeats. I’m no doubt Burnley will gear their league season up and running now their Europa League commitments have come to an end and Dyche will want their season to start as soon as possible. Like Burnley, its been a tough start for Huddersfield. Certainly, from the opening month, it seems goal scoring is their issue once again with the club severely lacking a consistent goal scorer and Huddersfield can’t defend their way to safety without winning football matches. Defeats against Chelsea and Manchester City would be acceptable for Huddersfield fans but a poor draw against Cardiff and throwing their lead away against Everton when they actually scored and is a big issue and Huddersfield new to find a win quickly. David Wagner made need to change his style because certainly this season will be much tougher. Finally, we come to new boys Cardiff who have struggled in the league so far drawing 2 and losing 2. Goal scoring is their issue as well having not scored in their opening 3 league games but at least they did score against Arsenal and showed they can cause problems but certainly their home form will be key for them. However, a tough run of matches in September for Cardiff means the wait for a win could go on.

August was brilliant and let’s hope September brings the same excitement and goals that football and Premier League fans have come to enjoy. Some tasty games to come including Tottenham vs Liverpool and the return of the European competitions means September is where the season truly gets up and running.

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