Sunday 18 February 2018 / 09:31 PM


Talking points and analysis from Week 9 of the Premier League

Sparkling City

There is a clear top dog in the title race. Manchester City have gone from strength to strength, the Pep Guardiola revolution finally taking shape as they’ve galloped to the front of the pack. Last week they became the first team in Premier League history to rack up 29 goals in their first eight matches after putting seven past Stoke, and have continued their historic ways setting a club record with 13 straight wins.

Whilst last week was impressive, this week’s 3-0 win over Burnley may have been more important: reliability hasn’t always been a characteristic aligned with City, so to come out confident and take care of business against an inferior side is just another step in their evolution. The numbers were a picture of perfection and dominance — 78% possession and 90% pass competition leading to 15 shots, converted into three goals. Superb.

They sit alone atop the power rankings and unchallenged through the first quarter of the season.

Everton freefall

On the contrary, Everton is in crisis.

The result against Arsenal is far from surprising, just another painful reminder how far off the mark they are, especially considering the money spent to get where they originally intended to be. Ronald Koeman’s dismissal simply accentuates the drama, but being frank he did little to save himself from, well, himself.

The variations of the strange, elongated 4-2-2-2 formation seemed to only highlight the team’s overall lack of pace whilst simultaneously waving a white flag and hoping to escape each outing with a draw. It works against the likes of Brighton and Bournemouth, but it won’t cut it against Arsenal, United or Chelsea – as we’ve seen already.

For a team that was hoping to legitimately challenge for the top four, this is worst-case scenario. The relegation zone is a black hole and they don’t want to disappear too far down with such a climb to simply salvage their season. Either way, this season, at least thus far, has been a nightmare and can essentially be marked as a failure already.

Confirmation bias

Sometimes it’s tough to step away from the main perspective and try to see things from a different angle. Liverpool attempted to remain upbeat after a dour draw against United last week, leaning on the fact that they managed to keep the league’s second-most potent offence scoreless.

That is an awfully biased view to take: with 62% of possession and 19 shots, the Reds failed to create any good chances, and it was definitely not a positive showing. Any true contender would mark that up as a disappointment. Whether a strange match-up or simply a bad outing for the superior United, their face-off with Spurs loomed as a more true reflection of where their at and if their ‘progress’ was real.

Without surprise, Tottenham picked Liverpool’s defence apart. The troubling takeaway? Spurs didn’t really play that well.

That might seem harsh with the 4-1 final score in mind, but a relatively low 76% pass completion and only a third of the game’s possession at their feet suggests they failed to carry out their game-plan. Converting 14 shots into four goals is just further proof of Liverpool’s inability to defend air, and it’s starting to cripple the rest of their play. The Reds again chalked up over 60% of the possession but failed to control the tempo. Eleven of Spurs’ 14 shots came inside the box and they came in well short of their average amount of crosses, choosing to sink deep into the teeth of the defence. Liverpool are giving up easy chances on one end and failing to create them on the other. Right now, they aren’t a good Premier League team, and Klopp still hasn’t addressed any of the major issues. Patience has to be running thin.

Huddersfield stun United

The Red Devils’ first matchup with Huddersfield in over 46 years didn’t go according to plan, the promoted outfit staking their claim as a legitimate nuisance to the top teams yet again and stealing three points from the in-form heavyweights.

Huddersfield’s dream start was solidified when Aaron Mooy remained composed to fire home a deflection and open the scoring, before Laurent Depoitre capitalised on a United error to push the lead to two. As they’ve done all season, the Terriers remained a presence through the middle of the field, willing to scrap and claw over every loose ball, displacing United’s rhythm and giving Jose Mourinho fits as he tried to find a way back into the match. They left their run too late, and despite Rashford’s excellent header, couldn’t find the net again and walked away disappointed with no points in hand. It was Huddersfield’s first victory over United in 65 years.

It raises some serious questions about United: their hot start has been dismissed by some (including myself) as unsustainable, their style of play reliant on situations that won’t be easy to find when teams who can match up bring the fight back to them. This was again proof that simply overpowering teams won’t carry you to the title. Their previously stout defence gave up as many goals to a bottom half of the table team as they have all season, so whether that’s indicative of some uncovered fragility or simply a day off will be revealed in time. It sets up a fascinating fortnight, with Tottenham at home and Chelsea away in the pipeline. Those dismissing United due to their soft schedule will get their answers.

Quick thoughts

• Tottenham continue to improve, but don’t confuse their rout of Liverpool as their statement game. We need to see more before we know it’s real; next week’s matchup with United may be the biggest game of the season to date.

• West Brom have won just two of their past 18 games, with City next on the docket. Leading candidate to slip down the ladder

• There were such high hopes for Stoke after beating Arsenal and drawing with United, but all momentum is gone. Their early signs of form feel a world away from their current 17th-place standing.

• Sergio Aguero’s goal against Burnley makes him joint-first all-time goal-scorer at Manchester City.

• Kane’s battle with Aguero for the title of best striker in the league may be the best debate in world football. Both were outstanding yet again.

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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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