EPL TALK: Unpredictable league crowded at the top after last unbeaten sides beaten

·7-min read
Leeds United's Patrick Bamford (left) scores his side's first goal of the game during the Premier League match at Villa Park, Birmingham. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/PA Images via Getty Images)
Leeds United's Patrick Bamford (left) scores his side's first goal in their match against Aston Villa. (PHOTO: Laurence Griffiths/PA Images via Getty Images)

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:

True test for Villa, Everton begins after first defeats

WHAT HAPPENED: Arsenal fans can rejoice early this season. Their 2003/04 title-winning heroes remain the only team to have won the league undefeated for an entire 38-game season.

Their “Invincibles Day” celebration came after Aston Villa and Everton became the final two teams to lose their undefeated start to the season over the past weekend. Villa stumbled to a 0-3 defeat by Leeds United on Friday (23 October) to end their four-match winning start, while Everton crashed to a 0-2 loss to Southampton on Sunday.

That both teams are the last undefeated ones after just six matchday weekends show how unpredictable this season has already been. While Villa and Everton are certainly in form and fast-improving from last season, no one would have expected to them to emulate Arsenal’s 03/04 unbeaten vintage.

So where do these two teams go after their unbeaten start is done? Given their modest ambitions before the start of the season, Villa and Everton would certainly be emboldened to believe they can aim for Europa League qualification at the very least.

That would usually mean sustaining their good early-season form to finish fifth or sixth, and that means pushing out at least one of the Big Six teams – which does not seem too far-fetched considering the patchy forms of Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham.

Yet, that is easier said than done. Both Villa and Everton are thriving because of an excellent transfer window – Villa getting a great goalkeeper (Emiliano Martinez) and midfielder (Ross Barkley) among other astute purchases, while Everton transforming their entire team with three superb midfield signings (James Rodriguez, Allan, Abdoulaye Doucoure).

But as teams gradually work out how to counter their new players, can they continue to excel? Can managers Dean Smith and Carlo Ancelotti make use of their fast starts to iron out the kinks in their sides to last the long season? Can the teams bounce back from their first losses of the season, or respond quickly when slumps eventually arrive?

Those tantalising questions will encircle these two exciting sides as they seek to recalibrate their ambitions. How successful they will be will depend on whether they can manage soaring expectations with no-nonsense hard work to grind out unexpected victories.

In fact, they should look to another EPL-winning team for guidance – the 2015/16 Leicester City side which shocked the world with their against-all-odds title triumph. That team had talent and grit, and – most importantly – stayed calm and grounded as everyone went mad over their title bid.

Villa and Everton should do the same. Who knows? Strange things have already happened in this wild season.

WHAT’S NEXT: Both Villa and Everton face tricky ties as they seek to bounce back from their first losses of the season – Villa host unpredictable Southampton on Saturday, while Everton visit Newcastle United. These will be good tests for both Villa and Everton on their suddenly-burgeoning credentials.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola looks dejected in their match against West Ham.
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola looks dejected in their match against West Ham. (PHOTO: Pool via Reruters/Paul Childs)

Problems piling up for struggling Man City

WHAT HAPPENED: Something’s wrong at the Etihad Stadium. For the first time in a long while, Manchester City look ordinary and beatable under Pep Guardiola.

Saturday’s limp 1-1 draw with West Ham meant that the 2018 and 2019 champions remain mired in 13th place, already five points off the top of the table. More worryingly, key striker Sergio Aguero will be out for a few weeks with another injury, just as he was making his way back from a serious one.

Just what is troubling City? They were expected to be the biggest challengers to Liverpool’s title defence, yet seemed dreadfully out of sorts ever since their 2-5 capitulation to Leicester in their second match of the season.

Is it because of the uncertainty surround Guardiola? He famously has not managed any team longer than five seasons, and this is his fifth season with City. Nothing much has been heard about him signing an extension to his contract, and that could be contributing to the ongoing unease.

Perhaps though, the easier explanation is that City’s new signings have yet to impress. Finishing a distant second to Liverpool meant that City needed new talents to boost the squad and close the gap quickly.

Yet, the likes of Ferran Torres, Nathan Ake and Ruben Dias have not settled in smoothly enough. In fact, one can say the same thing about their signings from the previous season: Joao Cancelo, Rodri and Angelino.

And so Guardiola has had to continually rely on veterans such as Aguero, Fernandinho and Kevin de Bruyne to deliver the goods. And the fact that all three have suffered recent injuries show that the drop-off in effectiveness when these veterans are out is worrying for a club bent on domestic dominance.

So in a way, if this is to be Guardiola’s final season with City, then it will be the Spaniard’s greatest challenge. Can he lift his sputtering side out of the shadows of their shocking Champions League exit by Lyon last season? Can he return his team to those dominant years from 2017 to 2019?

The clock is ticking, as long as Guardiola doesn’t sign a contract extension.

WHAT’S NEXT: A trip to struggling Sheffield United should pose little trouble for City. Yet it is made trickier for two reasons: Aguero’s injury, and the fact that it is an early Saturday kick-off after City play Marseille away in the Champions League on Tuesday. Will City’s resources and recovery be adequate?

Tottenham Hotspur's Son Heung-min celebrates scoring against Burnley.
Tottenham Hotspur's Son Heung-min celebrates scoring against Burnley. (PHOTO: Lindsey Parnaby/PA Images via Getty Images)

Only Spurs are keeping pace with Liverpool in title race

WHAT HAPPENED: Six matches in, and only defending champions Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur among the so-called Big Six showed up at the top six places of the EPL table.

Man City’s troubles aside, the other three big clubs – Chelsea, Man United and Arsenal – have all made less-than-stellar starts to the season. During the weekend, these four clubs managed just two points out of a possible nine points at stake (Chelsea and Man United faced each other in a goalless draw) and a single goal.

Tottenham are arguably the only Big Six club on a good run in the league, going five matches unbeaten after a 1-0 win over Burnley on Monday. Had it not been a demoralising 3-3 draw against West Ham – in which they were 3-0 up after 20 minutes – they would have been level on 13 points with Liverpool and Everton at the top of the league.

That match showed that Spurs can be beguiling one moment, and infuriating the next. Nonetheless, if Jose Mourinho could instil a little more discipline and steel among his charges, they may well be sitting comfortably among the top four spots for the season.

Yet, Spurs’ problem with inconsistency is minor when compared to the woes of the other title challengers.

Man City are in a dreadful slump and having major injury issues with their strikers. Chelsea and Man United have issues with defence and team chemistry, while Arsenal have problems with scoring.

So that leaves Liverpool, who climbed to second spot after their 2-1 win over Sheffield United. Remember, they’ve already lost once this season, four games in; their first loss in their title-winning season came in their 28th game. And what a stinker that first loss was: a 2-7 thrashing by Aston Villa earlier this month.

Yet, after a week which the Reds lost their defensive linchpin Virgil van Dijk likely for the remaining of the season, they seemed in a better position to retain their title than before. Will the other contenders show up, finally?

WHAT’S NEXT: A home tie with West Ham seems like the ideal match for Liverpool to tie their all-time home unbeaten streak record, which stands at a mighty 63. Yet, it is hard to tell which West Ham will show up these days – the error-prone strugglers who lost 1-4 to Everton, or the exciting swashbucklers who beat Leeds United 3-0. Liverpool will be warned. Tottenham, meanwhile, have a fairly straightforward tie against Brighton.

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Related stories:

EPL PREVIEW: Man United, Chelsea aim to build up momentum after indifferent starts

EPL TALK: Van Dijk's serious injury a crushing blow in Liverpool's title defence

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