SINGAPORE — How have your favourite English Premier League (EPL) teams performed over the past week? Yahoo News Singapore looks at the key talking points surrounding the league in this weekly review:
Contrasts in morale after Stamford Bridge clash
WHAT HAPPENED: It was billed as a “Champions vs Challengers” clash – Chelsea, who had splurged in the off-season for five eye-catching recruits, took on reigning champions Liverpool at home on Sunday (20 September). A win for the Blues would set a marker that they are credible contenders for the title this season.
In truth, this was a match too early in the season for Chelsea to show off their improved squad, as the new players have yet to fully settle into the Blues’ tactical system. And it showed, as Liverpool methodically carved a lacklustre Chelsea apart for a surprisingly comfortable 2-0 win.
Undoubtedly, it was a dampener for the morale for Frank Lampard’s team, after the excitement surrounding their new signings. While newbies Timo Werner and Kai Havertz can be forgiven for not being at their best, what would worry Lampard more is that his squad’s glaring weaknesses – a suspect defence and the continuing struggles of goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga – are obvious for all their rivals to see.
Perhaps the defence could be shored up when new signings Thiago Silva and Ben Chilwell are fit to start. Perhaps the imminent signing of goalkeeper Edouard Mendy from French club Rennes could finally rid the Blues of their misery of having to start big-money, error-prone flop Kepa.
But Sunday’s defeat was a big reality check, showing just how far Chelsea are from being equipped to challenge Liverpool for the title. The Reds were imperious everywhere on the field, dictated the tempo with relative ease, and even stopped Chelsea from getting a consolation penalty goal.
More ominously for the Blues, they are improving. New Liverpool signing Thiago Alcantara, rated as one of the best central midfielders in the world, came on as a half-time substitute and immediately bossed the match, spraying accurate passes confidently as if he had been in the team for years. Within 45 minutes, he has an EPL record to his name:
75 - Half-time substitute Thiago completed more passes (75) than any Chelsea player managed in the entire match. Since full passing data is available for the Premier League (2003-04), his 75 successful passes are the most by a player who played a maximum of 45 minutes. Control. pic.twitter.com/UvHfrw1ggN— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 20, 2020
Thiago is one of two new Liverpool signings last week, the other being Wolves forward Diogo Jota. Together with new left-back Kostas Tsimikas, they have addressed the biggest weaknesses amid their already-formidable squad – lack of creativity and control in midfield, lack of quality back-ups in attack, and lack of cover for left-back Andrew Robertson.
To see Thiago settle so effortlessly into the Reds’ first-team squad is bound to give a huge shot of confidence for the other players as well as for the fans, as they gear up for the difficult task of defending their EPL title. Meanwhile, other challengers to the throne such as Manchester City and Manchester United must be wondering how much they have to do to match up with this Red machine.
WHAT’S NEXT: After midweek Carabao Cup involvements, Liverpool will face another Premier League giant in Arsenal, while Chelsea will travel to The Hawthorns to face newly-promoted West Bromwich Albion.
Like Liverpool, the Gunners have won both their EPL matches, and looked a vastly-improved side under Mikel Arteta. The once-calamitous defence has become sturdier, while the frontline led by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will trouble any of their opponents. It is a big credit to Arteta, whom people may forget is a rookie in his first full season as manager.
They did manage a 2-1 win over Liverpool in their last league meeting, but it happened after the Reds had clinched the EPL title with seven games to spare and were playing out those inconsequential matches. This time around, the Reds will be eager to maintain their 100 per cent record, and deal another morale-sapping defeat to one of their rivals – just like they did against Chelsea.
Solskjaer needs results quick before he loses goodwill
WHAT HAPPENED: Their fans have seethed at seeing their great rivals Liverpool stroll to the EPL title last season, and endured the “unbearable” taunts from gleeful Reds fans.
So come this new season, the Manchester United faithful were hopeful that their club can build upon their inspired end to last season and close the gap between themselves and their arch-rivals.
Those hopes quickly turned into massive disappointment, after the Red Devils stumbled to a 1-3 defeat by a Crystal Palace side missing eight injured players. Although they were hard done by a controversial penalty for Palace’s second goal, the players looked bereft of ideas to break down their opponents, and their defenders looked ponderous in trying to fend off the likes of Wilfried Zaha and Jordan Ayew.
Not surprisingly, the United fans were apoplectic with rage after the upset loss, and directed much of their anger on executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, whom they derided for not signing enough reinforcements during the off-season (only midfielder Donny van de Beek was signed so far).
Yet, while United have admittedly not addressed several weak areas in the squad, their fans have not turned on manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as much as they did on Woodward. Yes, the Norwegian is a beloved great due to his accomplishments as a former star striker, but he has yet to show that he has the tactical acumen to match rival managers like Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp.
Is he the right manager to guide Man United back to winning ways? Debate is swirling amid British sports talk shows that he is not even good enough for the Premier League:
❌ “If another job came up in the top 6 Ole would not be a contender.”— talkSPORT (@talkSPORT) September 21, 2020
😳 “I’d argue if another job came up in the PL he wouldn’t be a contender.”@Alex_Crook says no other Premier League club would have #MUFC’s Solskjaer as their manager.
Agree with this? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/LKuyZza4Ye
Opponents have caught on that, to fend off Man United, they simply have to sit back and wait for United to run out of attacking ideas – which there are not many to begin with. Then, they will hit on the counter-attack with speedy forwards, who will put United’s slow defenders under immense pressure.
Solskjaer will have to find a solution to this, which would be made even harder if reinforcements do not arrive as he hopes. He is fortunate that he still has a great deal of goodwill among the United fans, but if results do not improve in the next few matches, he runs the risk of wearing their patience out.
WHAT’S NEXT: An away trip to Brighton sounds like a good opportunity for Man United to get back to winning ways. However, the Seagulls are on a high after a 3-0 win over Newcastle United on Saturday, and will be keen to end a three-match losing streak against the Red Devils.
So, it may prove a tricky task for Solskjaer and his players, especially after the dispiriting loss to Palace. With Brighton likely to set up in a similar manner to Palace – although they do not have speedy strikers like Zaha or Ayew – United need to inject some creativity and guile into their attack, or risk being upset again.
Son, Kane paper over Spurs’ struggles
WHAT HAPPENED: Asian EPL fans have a soft spot for Son Heung-min. After all, he is the most visible Asian footballer in the league, not to mention a likeable character and a genuine talent who is key to Tottenham’s success.
And so there were plenty of cheers around the region when the South Korean bagged four superb goals in Spurs 5-2 win over Southampton on Saturday. Son showed a great knack for perfectly timing his runs to outwit the Southampton defenders, and an unerring eye for goal to convert his chances with aplomb.
Credit should also be given to Harry Kane, who provided assists to all four of Son’s goals, and got a goal as well. Yet the worry for manager Jose Mourinho is that, outside of Son and Kane, other Spurs first-team players are not playing well.
The Portuguese is reaching to a year in charge of Tottenham, yet it seems that he is still trying to convince his players to play to his strategy. In the opening two matches of this EPL season, Spurs looked tentative and short on creativity, earning Mourinho’s wrath in calling them “lazy” after their 0-1 defeat by Everton.
Perhaps, after years of progressive football under previous manager Mauricio Pochettino, Spurs players are reluctant to return to a more traditional system under Mourinho. Which is why Saturday’s resounding win seems like a highly-positive breakthrough in terms of performance; everything seemed to click into gear in the second half.
The key, of course, is to sustain that performance through the next few weeks, especially against tougher opponents. Mourinho is well-known as a tough taskmaster who will be keen to cajole even more from his players, but whether he can get a response remains to be seen.
WHAT’S NEXT: On paper, it may seem a good time for Spurs to face Newcastle, after the Magpies slumped to a 0-3 home defeat by Brighton. But Tottenham under Mourinho are highly unpredictable in terms of results; you never know when the whole team clicks into gear. Son and Kane would have to be at their best to carry the team – again.
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