Man United imperious (for now)
Consecutive 4-0 wins against West Ham and Swansea have encouraged the Old Trafford faithful that this is their year. As much as it may seem as if United are marching towards the title without opposition, Jose Mourinho has every right to be cautious. The team, especially further back, is yet to function optimally. The game against Swansea could have gone very differently had Jordan Ayew’s cross-shot gone in. We are yet to see how United would respond to adversity, i.e. falling behind against decent opposition. While United’s defence is now better protected with Nemanja Matic than any other time in the last 3 years, it remains unclear what the best partnership at centre-half is. It has been a case of sixes and sevens at the back – United centre-backs are prone to parting like the Red Sea when they’re being run at. It is still too much of a lottery with opposition deliveries into the box, and I don’t mean which face Phil Jones is going to pull when he squares up to the ball. Grinding out wins remains a sure-fire staple to winning the league, and we will have to see how United fare against sterner opposition.
Liverpool at Coutinho crossroads
Liverpool face a tough adaptation period without Philippe Coutinho, the tough 1-0 win away at Bournemouth a sign that the team requires more creativity to win games more comfortably. Losing Coutinho would definitely hamper the club’s chances in the league, and in Europe, particularly as continental teams tend to sit deeper. Liverpool may fare better against stronger teams who have more of an impetus to attack them. They are a strong counter-attacking threat, with the pace of Sadio Mane and Mohammed Salah frightening the hell out of most defenders. Conversely, it will become much tougher against defences that pack men behind the ball. There are thoroughly legitimate questions about who would replace Coutinho’s creativity. For now, players like Adam Lallana, who is still injured, will have to step up to fill the void. That said, either now or January, Liverpool will need that replacement, and he better be good!
Same Old Arsenal
Arsenal’s 0-1 loss against Stoke at the Britannia Stadium served as another example of the Gunners’ consistency over the last decade or more. One can interpret that “consistency” to be of mild disappointment, or that the Gunners have completely plateau-ed under Arsene Wenger. We have been able to use similar adjectives like “rudderless” to describe Arsenal for too long, and this surely will be Wenger’s last season, unless the Gunners somehow contrive to win the Premier League. Contrive is the right word, because doing the opposite of what they have been doing for the last ten years may actually lead to better results. The Gunners continue to lack ideas across the pitch – there is no option B or C off the bench, and it is not surprising that Alexis Sanchez has gotten fed up enough that he wants to leave.
Chelsea show strength/Spurs lack teeth
Antonio Conte proved to critics that Chelsea still had plenty of gas in the tank, with a strong 2-1 away win at Tottenham. Granted, Tottenham were playing at Wembley, the graveyard of Spurs’ dreams, but Conte showed his ability to squeeze out as much as he can from every player in his squad. Marcos Alonso’s potency from left-back, particularly from set-pieces will continue to lend Chelsea plenty of supply from deep, but Conte will hope that this encouraging showing will persuade Roman Abramovich to splash the cash. Chelsea need reinforcements, even if their carnival of loan players continue to help them generate revenue elsewhere.
Spurs put up a decent fight against Chelsea, but were unable to really get control of the game. Again, the lack of that elusive stardust off the bench is proving problematic for Mauricio Pochettino, who does not have a particularly deep squad to call upon. Chelsea may be one of the stronger teams that Spurs will face this year, but there is a real worry that Spurs will be neither here nor there – you can’t quite see them win the league, or make much headway in any of the cup competitions without a little more help. Davinson Sanchez may turn out to be a good long-term defensive buy, but Spurs need more further forwards too. Step in club chairman Daniel Levy, your time has come to negotiate Tottenham out of a mire at the 11th hour.
Man City yet to gel
The 1-1 draw against Everton proved that the Blue half of Manchester is yet to fully fire on all cylinders. Despite one season with Pep Guardiola under their belts, there continues to be lack of familiarity with his demands – probably due to how experimental his formations and tactics are. It is one thing asking Philipp Lahm to play centre-mid, another to ask Kyle Walker to do a decent Lahm impression. Critics have pointed to a need to return to basics – utilise pace properly on the wings, stretch teams and put the ball in the back of the net. After all, we do not recall many instances of stellar defending in the Premier League, and Guardiola may do well to exploit that notion by trusting his attacking players to deliver the goods. It is surely only a matter of time before City’s attack gels, and some poor team will be hit by a cricket score.