Thursday 22 February 2018 / 07:49 AM


BRAYDEN ISSA highlights the crucial points from the weekend’s EPL action.

In the shallow end

Chelsea’s biggest concern pre-season was whether or not they have the depth to compete, so losing Cesc Fabregas and Gary Cahill really hurts. It’s not exactly reassuring to hear your coach say this season would be the ‘toughest test of my career’. They now travel to Wembley to take on Tottenham, staring down the barrel of no points from the opening two rounds with the heavy Champions League schedule looming. With a frail squad they will be hard-pressed to regain lost points later in the year.

Spurs may look an exact replica of last year, but even that might be enough to give Chelsea trouble. If stability alone is threatening, their title defence isn’t off to a good start.

City ruthlessness

Pep is convinced he’s figured out the hitch in the system — City need to be more aggressive in the final third and take opportunities when they are presented. Groundbreaking. The instruction was to be ‘ruthless’ and he was happy with the process.

I’m not so easily swayed — City did only manage two goals, and whilst they were sharply taken, not creating more looks (their first goal came after 70 minutes) against the presumed worst team in the league doesn’t exactly scream ruthlessness. Everton are the litmus test — the separation between the solid teams and the good teams — and maybe against a side that believes they are a chance and actually presses City will bring out nuances in the attack. They need to show more than they did last week before we believed they’re above last year’s level.

Could United be better?

Their first-week title statement came at the expense of West Ham, a pretty competent mid-table team. Their opponents this week, Swansea, aren’t as good, and weren’t impressive in an uneventful draw against Southhampton. Here’s the kicker — Swansea conceded 29 shots on goal in a 0-0 match, against a relatively bad offence. Manchester scored 4 goals off 21 shots. United used 54% of possession whilst the Swans gave up 59.6%.

If they get pinned in their own end scrambling to hold out, United are far more accurate than what they escaped last week. With their own success last week, United might continue building on their impressive start.

Styles make fights

Potential Vardy party? Leicester, fresh off a stinging defeat where they choked early and gave up the lead, will look to reclaim some ground by blowing newcomers Brighton Hove and Albion off the park.

Their stylistic matchup is fascinating — Leicester will need to bring the pressure, because Brighton are going to get comfortable and sit back (they did it to a superior offence against City, and looked competent) — but rthe Foxes aren’t natural trying to dominate.

The slow build-up doesn’t fit their personnel or their game-plan (not to mention they lost just last week because of their inability to control the play and ride out to a win), so if they are forced into that role from the very beginning, there is potential for frustration. Will be telling as to how many gears Leicester has.

Pressure gauntlet: Huddersfield vs Newcastle

Weirdly, the pressure on Newcastle feels more intense than that on the team playing their first home Premier League game in the club’s history, fresh off a stunning upset. They are undermanned and lacking experience — injuries to Dummett and Lejeune, and the ridiculous antics of Jonjo Shelvey — so the advantage they may’ve had over Week 1’s biggest surprise is significantly minimised.

The Magpies did beat Huddersfield in March to go to the top of the championship table, but it seems as though they are currently on quite different trajectories. What a scene it would be for the Town to steal another victory in front of a rampaging crowd. The energy they bring will be undeniable — it’s up to Newcastle to show up and match it.

Keep an eye on… 

How Spurs-y are the Spurs going to be?: Another case of throwing a team around with the bulk of possession without much else going on. Unable to generate penetration but looking totally in control, they managed to be convincing and totally unconvincing at the same time. Will that continue against Chelsea?

Arsenal defensive woes: Stoke will give Arsenal essentially a watered-down version of what they saw against Leicester last week. They won’t be as challenged on the counter, and that should keep their vulnerable defence safe for a week. Expect them to hold bulk of the possession against Stoke, put in some goals and go relatively unchallenged. Liverpool the following week will be the real test, but if they concede on the weekend, they have some serious issues to work through.

Rooney revival: If I had to guess based off what we know so far, I’d say that Wayne Rooney is going to have a good season.

Will Liverpool generate better goals (or stop any): The Coutinho cloud will hover over until it’s gone, but three goals to open the season wouldn’t suggest an attacking issue; the three for opponents Watford is what will need to change. Palace presumably won’t press their backline, so the focus will again be on how they move in the final third. Their front three is deadly, but without any creative lead-up it’s like having a Formula 1 car driven by a senior citizen. Someone needs to step up and fill the void. Don’t be fooled by their trio last week; that is more reflective of Watford’s mindset than Liverpool’s talent — they have real kinks to work through.


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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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