Tuesday 12 December 2017 / 01:58 AM

BOX-TO-BOX: EPL MATCHDAY 5 IN REVIEW

Talking points and analysis from the Premier League’s Week 5 action.

Manchester rivals march on

The early title race is unquestionably a two-team battle, and at the current rate they look far ahead of the pack.

Man City made it 10-0 on the week, backing up a sublime Champions League opener with an even better showing against Watford, trampling their unlucky opponents 6-0 in their most complete performance under Pep Guardiola to date. The best indicator of City’s performance is the space David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne are afforded to initiate the attack. The deep drives into Watford’s area led to quality ball for Gabriel and Aguero waiting up front, with the striking combination growing with every outing.

Not to be outdone, Man United responded with another confident display, putting Everton away with class and continuing to rack up goals once the result was a foregone conclusion, eventually winning 4-0.

Separating them is tough: City appear to be hitting their straps, Pep’s system finally seeing some consistent results, whilst Mourinho has been uncharacteristically aggressive in chasing goals after the three points have been secured. They stand head and shoulders above the rest and the looming December clash could be one of the best in derby history if they continue their current pace. Both are four wins and one draw with a +14 goal differential through five games.

Arsenal’s midfield muscles up

It was the feature game of the week, but Arsenal will be happy to just get through a weekend where they didn’t embarrass themselves with all eyes watching. Last week, we highlighted the importance of the Gunners’ midfield toughness coming against Chelsea’s rugged middle-line, and despite the disappointment of leaving with the scores in a deadlock, a draw is actually an encouraging sign.

Chelsea are the league’s hardest workers, and being able to hold steady with them — 50/50 possession, 13-11 shot count and 79%-78% pass completion best highlights the stalemate — suggests improvement is on its way. Arsenal handled both the creative force of Fabregas and physicality of Bakayoko well. Credit goes to Granit Xhaka, and especially Aaron Ramsey, for their best performances of the year. Ramsey is a linchpin to the Gunners functioning and has to become a mainstay in the line-up.

Klopp shows his hand

Liverpool’s defensive struggles have been well-documented, but Jurgen Klopp’s strange post-game comments about Burnley’s opening goal after the 1-1 draw suggest it isn’t just a trait that is making noise externally.

Burnley clearly entered the clash with plans to target Liverpool’s backline — specifically Trent Alexander-Arnold — in the air, a known weakness that has brought them undone. Whilst most of the damage has come from the set piece, Burnley managed to score with their first shot on target, an aimed deflection falling at the feet of an unmarked Scott Arfield in front of goal.

“It was just a long ball,” Klopp asserted in his interview, an attempt to mask clear frustration of soft defence being simply outmuscled yet again.

Really, Klopp confirmed what we all thought: Liverpool’s defence is bad, but it isn’t just set-pieces that present an issue; it’s far too easy to penetrate them, whether that’d be from a cross, through the midfield or “just a long ball”. When you apply his word in context, it’s a clear disappointment on his behalf, but nothing suggests it’s going away soon.

If Liverpool are resigned to giving away goals, they’ll need to find a more potent attacking strategy. They still struggle mightily to break down deep-seated defensive formations and only look truly dangerous on the counter-attack. Salah bailed them out with some magic — ironically off a long ball — and was really their only consistent threat on goal, as the case has been for the last fortnight.

Their big win at Arsenal seemed to push back the inevitable self-reflection, but the quicker they acknowledge their flaws and adapt around them, the quicker they can re-enter the race.

Everton worse than advertised

All the problems have come to the forefront whilst the encouraging signs from the opening weeks have all but dissipated. Thoughts that Everton were a lock for the seventh spot are far in the rear-view, replaced by grave concerns about how this team will function going forward. The opening sequence against United, a decided tactic from Ronald Koeman to remain compact in the midfield and stifle the Red Devils’ attack, saw them deplete their own rhythm and completely remove themselves from the game.

Another loss to a competition heavyweight confirms they can’t compete with the top tier: their last three games against Chelsea, Spurs and United resulted in a combined score of 0-9, and if you include their Europa League collapse against Atalanta, their last four outings are a combined 0-12. They don’t have the defensive acumen to stop the top sides and follow with an attack of their own, and the complete lack of speed and dynamism doesn’t trouble any of the lower teams. They remain floating in mediocrity without an identity to cling to.

Everton now sit 18th through five games, a 1-1-3 record and only two Wayne Rooney goals recorded on the season. They have to bounce back with a softer schedule ahead.

Parting Shots

  • 26 shots, 0 goals. The Spurs story continues.
  • Newcastle are fourth. FOURTH!
  • Jordan Ibe had yet to register a single assist in the Premier League, before coming off the bench to create two chances in the space of five minutes. A terrific, game-winning cameo that will hopefully boost his confidence and unlock some potential.
  • Huddersfield have been fun, exceeding expectations with a measured approach and well-drilled squad. The next step is taking advantage of home field advantage — they should have beaten Leicester.
  • I’m so disappointed in Stoke City. With Leicester drawing and Watford and Everton combusting, they blew a chance to take a step ahead, showing that they aren’t top-eight material just yet.
  • Mohammed Salah scored with a nifty run and terrific finish to save Liverpool, but he still blew another two golden chances. It’s tough to repeatedly critique him when he’s in such fine form, but Salah’s finishing separates him from the top-tier players in the league. Not to mention Liverpool could really use the goals.
    • Interested to see what Conte does with both his formation and lineup now that Luiz will be suspended following his red card.

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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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