Thursday 22 February 2018 / 03:55 AM


Talking points and analysis from this weekend’s Premier League action.

Gunned down

Another test, another pass with flying colours for the hottest team in world football. Manchester City remain unbeaten in all competitions on the current season whilst dazzling Arsenal out of the contest in the early proceedings and maintaining the pressure for the whole 90, eventually winning 3-1.

And that should sound the alarms for the contending hopefuls, as City appear to be improving across the board. They progress the ball with blatant ease. Their attacking combinations, especially when terrifying defences on the counter, are clicking like never before. Their swarming defence in the midfield is getting more efficient at creating turnovers and leaving less holes. It took Arsenal 46 minutes to get a clear look at goal, and a Ramsey shoulder-barge to a retrieving Ederson into the net before it even seemed feasible they could score.

Why Wenger remains hesitant to unleash the Ozil-Lacazette-Sanchez frontline, especially in a game of this scope, is almost beyond comprehension. His line-up and formation choices have been a step behind all year and the Gunners need all the help they can get to find separation with the top teams. Unsurprisingly, after Lacazette entered the game Arsenal looked edgy and managed to find the net. However, it was nothing but consolation, another aspiring contender swatted away with ease as City march on to the most dominant first quarter in EPL history — they’ve taken 31 from a possible 33 points whilst scoring 38 goals with an eight-point lead on the team below.

Big scalp for Blues

After overcoming Tottenham to solidify their place in the league hierarchy, United will be disappointed to not double down with another win over Chelsea. It was unclear who the high pace suited better, but Chelsea’s ability to scramble and clear their lines without compromising their stout defensive shape was the separating factor that spurred them to victory.

It’s that factor exactly that both held Chelsea together as Man United tried to repeat last week’s late heroics and conversely what led to the only goal of the game. Considering that the Azpilicueta-Morata combination is the best passer-to-scorer duo — leading the league with five assist-to-goals — it’s puzzling as to why United were totally unprepared for a staple in the Chelsea offence, the deep long ball from the back, which came through unchallenged to find a wide-open Morata as the defenders split to track various decoy runs from non-threats like Bakayoko.

That’s just a snapshot of what was a poorly managed game from Mourinho, unable to find a way through the Blues’ midfield and falling victim to the trap Conte sets for opposing teams. No one is better prepared to defend 1-0 leads, and the defensive unit, aided by their flexible mid-line shifting back to help when necessary, was terrific in completely nullifying the Red Devils’ front three.

The credit Manchester United earned with their win against Spurs was again dissolved by a weak follow-up. Back to the drawing board.

Sit back and relax

Man City aside, Liverpool are the deadliest transition team in the league. And considering City spend majority of their matches in charge of possession, this is a more apparent weapon for the Reds, who lead the league with four goals from counterattack, all coming from deep within their own half.

Issue is, they don’t utilise their potent weapons when it matters. If anything should be taken away from their 4-1 defeat of West Ham, it’s the potency of their counterattack remains their most apparent weapon, and that they should scheme to find ways to use it. This is far from a new thought, but it’s further evidence again that unleashing the likes of Salah and Mane against retreating, out-of-position defenders is a recipe for clean looks at goal, even without Coutinho.

The hesitance to sit deeper and let the game come to them is a byproduct of an untrustworthy defence, though scoring a goal off a West Ham corner was probably the biggest relief of the season which has been plagued by issues defending set-pieces. Whilst it might seem counter-productive to allow more traffic in their half to help stabilise their defence, pushing forward and stretching out their weak (defensively speaking) midfield is still the biggest problem in allowing access to their backline.

Jurgen Klopp has to adjust his game-plan to open up more of these opportunities.

Burning up

It’s time to recognise Burnley as this season’s most fantastic nuisance. Sam Vokes’ 81st-minute header was their only shot on goal for the entire match, an opportunistic grab after scrapping their way through the game with just 37% possession. They have their aerial superiority to thank for the win: 26 Southampton crosses resulted in 23 Burnley wins in the air, protecting their goal with confidence and frustrating the Saints into a concentration lapse that cost them the points.

With the win, Burnley solidify their place as the best of the rest, tied with Arsenal and Liverpool and four points clear of the team below in eighth. They currently own the fourth best defensive record, conceding only nine goals on the season and have found comfort in closing out tight games, scoring only 10 goals (the sixth least) but owning a positive point differential.

With plenty of their upcoming fixtures appearing very winnable, it feels as though they aren’t finished breaking hearts of teams who come in expecting easy points. Who would fill out the last two Europa spots has been one of the biggest questions of the season, and through the first quarter Burnley have done everything possible to put themselves in the driver’s seat.

Spurring along

Good teams can win ugly. Tottenham should be happy that sentiment exists, and that they did finish on top, because otherwise their grinding 1-0 effort against Palace would be a tad concerning. It’s not the scoreline or even the class of opposition that worries, but the reversion to their stale offensive tactics that should alarm Pochettino.

The first half was particularly troublesome: 75% possession and 7 shots only leading to one shot on-target whilst conceding two to Palace is indicative of their early-season struggles. For a team with so many attacking forces, finding shots on goal shouldn’t be this difficult. Their tendency to overpass cripples momentum and makes the defence’s job easy.

After being so convincing against Real Madrid midweek, the hope was the momentum would carry them to another strong outing. That’s wasn’t the case and they need to be more consistent if they want to finish in the top four, let alone contend.

Parting Shots

• Just like Burnley, Huddersfield aren’t finished stealing points from unsuspecting teams. Their ability to disrupt play in the midfield throws opponents out of rhythm and they are never caught lacking effort.

• Everton again find some light at the end of the tunnel, victorious in a thrilling 3-2 comeback over Watford. A 90th-minute Baines penalty was the winner, and was almost cancelled before Cleverly was unable to convert from the spot just one minute later. David Unsworth’s heart-rate should be presented with the regular statistics at half and fulltime. In terms of tangible improvement, Everton are still Everton.

• Last week we asked if Brighton are a legitimate mid-table side. Another week and another win again suggests they are heading towards answering ‘yes’. When their season goal was to simply remain in the league, eighth place after eleven games is a dream start.

• Every time I believe in Newcastle they do something to convince me otherwise. Unacceptable to drop three points against Bournemouth.

• Both ranked in the bottom three in average possession, it’s completely unsurprising that Leicester-Stoke finished just shy of 50/50, with a staggering 115 take-ons.

Add Comment

About the author

Brayden Issa

Brayden is a Sydney-based sports management student and sports fanatic, specialising in rugby league, basketball, football and cricket. He is concerned with everything related to professional sports performance and management.

More premier-league News

Special Features