Monday 20 November 2017 / 06:17 PM

BOX-TO-BOX: EPL MATCHDAY 4

Talking points and analysis from the Premier League’s Week 4 action.

City arrive

Any momentum Liverpool may have gained with their dominant win over Arsenal has now completely vanished. In its place, the unenviable task of trying to avoid the lingering effects of a disastrous 5-0 drubbing at the hands of fellow contenders Manchester City, the first time the Citizens have put five past them in 80 years.

It’s easy to point to the Mane red card as the definitive turning point, but there is cause for concern across the park for the Reds – a team clearly figuring out how to reconfigure around a new core. Their midfield is solid without being threatening, leaving an excellent front three without the service it requires to be fully effective.

Their defence is obviously vulnerable: Sergio Aguero’s opener was created by a soft turnover in the midfield, Kevin De Bruyne catching some cagey defenders napping with a sharp ball that left Aguero with little work to do. It came about far too easy, and if you ignore everything that took place after and blame it on the numbers deficit, that play alone is enough to point out the fragility of Liverpool’s playing style, and how easy it is to break down.

Liverpool are plagued by these defensive issues, and their tendency to force counterattacks results in a clear lack of patience that hastily wastes valuable possession. Against top teams that won’t fly, and it didn’t against City. Arsenal’s woes were curiously overlooked when praise was directed Liverpool’s way following their big win. This loss forces Klopp and co. back to the drawing board, clear proof they do not yet belong among the league’s challengers.

City have looked the part all season (and last season) with only their finishing separating them from taking the next step. Those struggles have been curtailed by the emerging partnership of Aguero and Gabriel Jesus, who have quickly put questions of the fit to bed with a few impressive performances. Both as comfortable making plays from deep with the ball at their feet as they are finishing inside the box, their versatility and adaptable set of skills have been put on full display. It’s a further byproduct of Pep finally getting the formation right, with the pockets of space opening up for KDB and Silva leaving them plenty of time to create and having City’s offence look all the more dangerous.

The only question left is the defence: Mendy looked a powerhouse once his defensive duties were completely relinquished, but both he and Otamendi were caught out of position multiple times when Liverpool still had a full unit to contend with. Salah was especially effective in finding pockets of space. This might not come to hurt them in the immediate future, but is a key flaw they have to address.

Break the mould

Neither Chelsea or Tottenham can escape their own identities, for better or worse.

Chelsea are too quick to delve into the battle. Leicester are by no means pushovers, but they effectively closed the talent gap between them by trying to appeal to the Blues’ scrappy mentality and divert their game-plan, working enough to throw the games rhythm out and keep them within range.

The Foxes will bring the fight, and they’ll force teams to outclass them or they’ll take advantage. Chelsea were able to do so, but were wasteful in the final third and rushed in the middle. Once they got ahead they should have ran away with the win, so letting them back into the contest was poor form (and brilliant perseverance on Leicester’s behalf). Instead, they relied on Kante’s strike to bring them home, not chances that get converted every week. Not overly worrying, but wins could be coming easier.

Meanwhile, Spurs continue to be equally effective and unconvincing, brushing off a lucklustre Everton outfit that appears ill-fitted for that type of matchup.

Everton, who are falling behind with a Lukaku-shaped hole up front, looked behind the pace from the jump – and that’s meant to be taken quite literally. We know they lack speed, but trotting through the game at one pace is going to ensure they remain at the crossroads between the good and bad teams in the league.

The win was comfortable — so criticism is harsh — but it’s hard to dominate a match by such a margin and look so passive whilst doing so. After watching City put Liverpool to the sword (and Liverpool doing similar to Arsenal the week prior), confidence would have been boosted by them doing the same. The Spurs need something else before they throw their hat in the ring.

Mat Ryan Watch

Huddersfield may have had their unbeaten streak ended — in a game where they had the clear upper-hand with finishing class the difference — by the struggling Hammers, but the early good fortunes of the underdog teams continued with Brighton scoring the franchise’s maiden EPL victory.

Pascal Gross netted twice and assisted on the final goal to aid Brighton en route to an uplifting 3-1 win. The Eagles have begun to grow in confidence, opening up play far more effectively with six shots on target — as many as they’d taken in the opening three games total.

Australia’s favourite travel goalie was beaten once, but came up with one confident save that was about his only threat on goal. With Tim Krul’s arrival, the clock may be ticking on his job security (and thus this segment), so big showings are a must. Surprisingly, we haven’t seen Brighton’s goal be completely bombarded just yet, but believe it’s coming.

Title race update

Now four weeks in, we have enough data to sort proceedings atop the table. As it stands, there are two clear frontrunners, both residing in Manchester. Chelsea sit primed right behind them on a tier of their own, looking consistent and comfortable without being overly impressive.

Liverpool and Arsenal are inherently flawed and have plenty of work to do to rejoin the conversation, trailing the Spurs in the group chasing the top three. Watford, Leicester and Stoke run a three-way race for the best of the rest.

Stray Observations

  • Thoughts for Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain, who lined up for Arsenal in their 4-0 defeat before jumping ship to the opposition. He is now a combined 9-0 in his last two matches.
  • Stoke are making a real claim for the mantle of the seventh-placed, best-of-the-rest team. Everton have been non-existent; their real challenge appears to be Leicester, whose great start has been hidden under a tough draw.
  • Poor one out for Frank De Boer. Palace did everything except score, but apparently even that was enough to save his job. Reports breaking that management had been looking at replacements for two weeks.
  • Salah has been exceptional in finding space on the flanks for Liverpool, but he is too often wasting great opportunities. Quicker decision making and sharper finishing is a must.
  • Leciester have to start Iheanacho — he’s a great sub, but he is ready for bigger minutes.
  • Morata’s hold up play, back to the goal and arial work is awesome, he needs to finish better.
  • Danilo may be considered a mix between a LB and CB, but he is perfect as the third centre-half in a back three.

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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.

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