Following a weekend where Liverpool again certified their title credentials, Nick Miller runs the rule over the Premier League’s biggest storylines.
Performance of the weekend
Here’s the thing about Liverpool: there’s still more to come. This is a team who look to be pacing the marathon run that is the Premier League perfectly/ Whereas before they might have sprinted from the off and been sick at the side of the road by the second mile, now they look to be calmly striding ahead of the competition, feeling good and knowing there’s more in reserve.
There’s a dead-eyed intensity and calm to Liverpool’s play at the moment. It feels like, 99 percent of the time, they can just control games: against Arsenal they went behind at Anfield for the first time in a year, but equalised after 172 seconds and were ahead three minutes after that. Sure, both goals required luck and some extraordinary defensive generosity, but the point is that Liverpool didn’t panic or miss a beat, they continued with their controlled aggression and were out of sight by half-time.
The last time a team gave up a lead like this was Newcastle in 1995-96. Perhaps we need to wait for Liverpool to face Manchester City on Thursday to say with more certainty, but it’s extremely difficult to see Jurgen Klopp’s side collapse as Kevin Keegan’s did.
Disguised blessing of the weekend
The 5-1 thrashing against Liverpool, and indeed their recent run, might turn out to be a blessing for Arsenal, in that it will make starkly clear the task Unai Emery has. In some respects they started the season too well, the 22-game unbeaten run masking the fundamental problems with the squad, which have been evident for some time but were laid bare at Anfield.
The attack is good, the midfield is improving but the defence remains a liability. Emery is doing the right things, but the road back to real contention is a long one.
Title challenge ended at the weekend
“You need to play 95 minutes your best,” said Mauricio Pochettino after Tottenham’s 3-1 loss to Wolves. “Like today, we dropped a little bit our energy and focus. We missed that freshness to kill the game.”
It would be tempting to ascribe this to Tottenham’s failure to sign anyone in the summer, an inevitable consequence of a squad that tires easily and needs to be freshened up. That’s true to a point, but this defeat seemed more of a psychological issue than a physical one.
If so, that’s a trickier problem for Pochettino. Tactics and keeping the team fresh through rotation are one thing, but avoiding complacency or — dare we say it — the old issue of Tottenham being “Spursy” and freezing in the face of pressure, are another entirely.
Goal of the weekend
Still, if ever there was a goal that summed up a player, it was Harry Kane’s against Wolves. As a youngster, Kane was never a player with outrageous natural talent or pegged as a future superstar. He has made himself arguably the best centre-forward in the world through the perfect striker’s mentality and an awful lot of graft. The latter includes working tirelessly on his weaker foot, which means he had the confidence and simple ability to hammer his left-footed strike from 25 yards into the top corner.
Tackle of the weekend
If ever there was a man who encapsulates Cardiff’s rise it’s Sol Bamba. He didn’t have a club in Oct. 2016, but Neil Warnock signed him on a hunch and he’s been one of their key players ever since. On Saturday, James Maddison looked certain to force home the rebound to his missed penalty, only for Bamba to swoop in from nowhere and save the day. On such small margins can teams avoid relegation.
Boring half of the weekend
Can there have been a manager or team more relieved that essentially nothing happened in a half of football than Pep Guardiola and Manchester City? The second 45 minutes of their 3-1 win over Southampton was essentially a training exercise with the odd brief moment of diversion thrown in — quite the relief after losing three of their previous four in the league. Like someone who’s had a few bad nights out, City just needed the equivalent of an evening on the couch with a mug of something hot and comforting.
Comparison of the weekend
Manchester United have now scored four or more goals twice in three games under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the same number as in their previous 49 matches in 2018.
Could there be a slight whiff of Zinedine Zidane about this appointment? Clearly it’s very early and this is not to say that three Champions League trophies lie ahead, but there are similarities: a club legend with a questionable coaching record is brought in to simplify things after a complex recent history in which talented players had been inhibited.
Sure, Zidane was helped along by having Cristiano Ronaldo and pals, and who knows how this will shake out for Solskjaer at the end of the season, but it’s working out quite nicely for United at the moment.
Underrated player of the weekend
It’s odd that a bigger team has never made a real move for Abdoulaye Doucoure. That might change in January, with PSG reported to be interested in the midfielder, but he showed his importance to Watford by coming off the bench to nick a point against Newcastle, and nearly grabbed a winner too. It’s tricky to be underrated in the Premier League, but if any player is, it’s Doucoure.
Luckiest man of the weekend
“He did not respect me, the club, the teammates, the crowd…it’s unbelievable. I want to kill him.”
If you speak to anyone who has worked with Claudio Ranieri, they’ll tell you there is steel behind his avuncular image, and Aboubakar Kamara will be feeling that steel this week. Kamara has always been something of a wild card, but wrestling the ball from designated penalty taker Aleksandar Mitrovic and then missing was more than just eccentricity, it was unforgivable.
Mitrovic’s late goal that grabbed Fulham’s precious win over Huddersfield shouldn’t gloss over Kamara’s sin. He very nearly cost his side two points, which could be the difference between survival and relegation. He’d be well-advised to keep his head down this week.
Bleak future of the weekend
“We’ve got our keeper back,” sang the Burnley fans to Tom Heaton, after he was restored as their goalkeeper position against West Ham. This was almost certainly meant as a welcome to the popular Heaton, but it also served as a stinger for Joe Hart.
Hart has now been dropped by Manchester City, England, West Ham and Burnley in the last three seasons. It’s tough to see where he goes from here.
Team of the weekend
Neil Etheridge; Matt Doherty, Sol Bamba, James Tarkowski, Andy Robertson; Georginio Wijnaldum, Fernandinho, Paul Pogba; Marcus Rashford, Roberto Firmino, Raul Jimenez.