1. Tottenham are serious title contenders
Tottenham vs Man City was the stand out fixture going into the weekend’s games, Spurs themselves in fine form against a City side who looked near unbeatable until Celtics heroic attempt in the Champions League mid-week. Celtic showed that if you get in Man City’s faces, show them no respect and try to hurry them in possession, you have a chance to break them down and score some goals. Tottenham took the same approach against City especially in the first half with one of the most industrious performances I’ve seen in a while. Tottenham worked tremendously hard on and off the ball and showed quality throughout the side. Their 2-0 lead at half time was fully deserved.
To beat City in the manner they did is was big statement from the North London side, who are out this season to prove that they deserve to be mixing it with the Premier League elite. Pochettino has done wonders since joining Spurs and you can see how much the players enjoy working under him. He has a great style of football, promotes youth, especially English players, and is tactically aware, especially when defending at a team unit.
In fact Tottenham have 4 clean sheets so far this season the best in the League and have only conceded 3 goals, again the best in the league having won 5 of their last 6 matches. The way they have started the season has been very impressive especially when compared to last season.
Spurs have taken 17 points from the first 7 matches, scoring 12 and conceding only 3 winning 5 games and drawing 2 and remain the only side in the league who are undefeated in the Premier League.
Currently sitting 2nd in the league, 1 point behind league leaders City Spurs fans know they have a chance of upsetting the odd’s this season.
One of the key successes so far this season has been the in-form Son Heung-Min, scoring 4 goals in his 4 appearances in the league, also contributing 2 assists. He is Tottenham’s highest goal scorer so far, and has taken pressure off Harry Kane who as of yet hasn’t hit the heights of last season. The strong Kenyan Victor Wanyama, has also had a good start to the season patrolling the midfield. He currently has a tackle success of 80% which enables the more attacking players like Dele Ali or Eric Lamela to break quickly as he breaks up play and distributes the ball quickly.
Only 7 games in to the season it’s very easy to get carried away forgetting that the season is 38 games long. However Spurs don’t look like a side who are going to disappear. Pochettino has Spurs playing some great football with a real belief. The question is can they go the extra step compared to last season. Only time will tell but one thing‘s for sure, they have the players to do it, the squad depth and the manager, the rest will come down to the players mentality.
2.Arsenal are firmly in their stride
Prior to the season starting there were murmurs of discontent amongst the Arsenal faithful which hadn’t subsided from the previous season. There was ill feeling amongst a wide section of supporters who had felt short changed with the summer transfer activity only bringing in Granit Xhaka, and the unknown Takuma Asano. When looking around the rest of the league, seeing City building further squad depth with real quality, and Man United breaking the world record transfer fee it would seem as if Arsenal may have to endure another inconsistent season, being the nearly men of the previous decade.
Late deadline day signings of defender Mustafi and striker Lucas Perez appeased some of this anti-Wenger rhetoric but on the whole Arsenal seemed a club slightly at sea given the huge summers from the two Manchester clubs and Chelsea.
After the first 2 games, it seemed that was the case with Arsenal losing the opener and drawing the 2nd match. They were concerns publically voiced, none more so then on the Arsenal Fan YouTube channel. However, Arsenal have since had a major turn-around in fortunes winning every game since with 5 straight wins in the League. Arsenal are currently the most in form side in the league sitting 3rd in the table, 2 points off league leaders Man City.
This has been largely down to the decision to play Alexis Sanchez up front. Wenger was lambasted by the press for not signing a top class centre forward in the summer but his stubborn nature has paid off. Sanchez has been nothing short of amazing this season and is really knocking on the door of that world class status (if not already). He is Arsenals top goal scorer with 4 league goals this season. But it is not only Sanchez who has performed, Mesut Ozil as ever, has had flashes of brilliance creating the most chances for Arsenal this season (12) and also has the highest pass completion percentage, at a remarkable 91%. Cazorla has also featured well this season and is Arsenal’s top passer. There is also a new kid on the block at the Emirates with young Alex Iwobi playing his part. Wenger has entrusted him with minutes on the pitch and Iwobi has repaid him with 3 assists.
Arsenal have historically had very impressive, fluid attacking sides during Arsene Wenger’s 20 year reign but often a lack of steel in midfield and quality at the back have been to blame for Arsenal not achieving more In the past 10 years. This season however, Arsenal have made a vast improvement with new boy Mustafi looking like he’s been in the Premier League his whole career. Along with Koscielny, Mustafi seems to formed a very good partnership at the heart of Arsenal’s defence and have only conceded 3 league goals in the past 6 games.
Arsenal have so far proved once again that there is life yet in Wenger yet. What seemed like dithering in the market is looking to have paid off with a good balance now throughout the side, Arsenal have now hit their stride.
3.Liverpool can’t stop scoring
Questions were asked of Jurgen Klopp this summer, with many wondering if they could really kick on from what was an erratic last season. Their summer transfer activity was solid if not emphatic with Liverpool taking a slightly different approach to rival clubs.
Liverpool started this season as they finished the last; unpredictable. They kicked off the season with a tough away game at Arsenal scoring 4 goals. A very impressive feat at the emirates, yet they did also concede 3. The next game saw them lose 2 nil to Burnley, with a blanket rolling of the eyes from the media with shouts of ‘same old Liverpool’.
However since that defeat, Liverpool’s form has been fantastic, winning 4 and drawing 1. More impressively is the calibre of side Liverpool have already played so far this season picking up victories against Arsenal, champions Leicester, Chelsea and drawing with Tottenham. Already in the leagues 7 games, Liverpool have score more than 4 goals on 3 occasions.
Klopp’s team have a fearless work ethic and cover more ground than any other team in the league. From start to finish they press the ball and press high. This tactic does not allow opposition time on the ball which means that teams often find it hard to settle and get in their stride, allowing quick Liverpool counters with Mane, Coutinho and Firmino breaking at pace.
Liverpool have scored 18 goals in 7 games this season level with league leaders Manchester City.
They also average the highest shots per game, the highest chances created per game, the highest dribbles completed per game and the highest sprints per game out of any team in the league. This Liverpool side works hard and attack fast which makes them such a dangerous outfit.
There are still a couple of question marks over this Liverpool side however, such as their motivation against smaller opposition can sometimes be questionable, lucky to get the victory against Swansea on the weekend and losing to Burnley earlier on in the season. Liverpool also still concede too many goals from set pieces with players looking confused at the zonal marking system being deployed by Klopp. But Liverpool’s defence has improved of late and with no European football to contend with this season the high energy, high pressing style of play should be something Liverpool are able to maintain through the season with only 1 game per week, Liverpool will have a big say in the top
4.Sunderland are serial slow starters
There is only 1 way to describe Sunderland this season….. dreadful!
Sunderland are rock bottom of the league with 2 points from a possible 21 so far this season. When you consider Sunderland have one of the Premier League’s all-time top goal poachers in Jermain Defoe the fans will be disappointed that they are not scoring more goals. They have only scored 6 league goals this season, Defoe himself has scored 4 of these it makes meagre reading for David Moyes who knows he has a key man dependency on Defoe.
But David Moyes is not the first Sunderland manager who has had a slow start. It seems to be something that is part of the club traditions in recent years in particular.
In the past 4 seasons, Sunderland have started with 4 different managers. Dick Advocaat, Gus Poyet and Paulo Di Canio have all started the season as Sunderland boss in the past 4 seasons.
The first 7 games across the past 4 seasons, 4 different managers have seen 28 games in total, with only 1 game won! That’s less than a 4% win rate in the opening 7 games across the past 4 seasons.
Over that time frame, Sunderland have drawn 16 games and lost 11. So over the past 4 season Sunderland has lost 40% of their opening 7 games. There is something seriously wrong at the club.
Sunderland have great Premier League pedigree with established players, a great stadium and loyal fans, all the makings of team that should be mid table finishers.
But that is not the case. Sunderland see unable to establish a team. The club hierarchy change managers so frequently that the club is always in a state of flux. The team just moves from one firefight to another season in and season out with no long term vision. The need to hold on to their Premier League status of course is the driving cause behind this. The club is not willing to give a manager time to get it right, even if it means going down to the Championship to take stock and rebuild. This is a big gamble as clubs like Aston Villa, and Leeds have learned.
As long as this culture is at the club, Sunderland will struggle and not make any real progress. Sunderland need’s to feel like a family, a community and they haven’t had that for many years. In Moyes they have a very experience manager who in time I believe will give them their best hope of establishing themselves as a stable Premier League team. But I fear that the unyielding axe is very close to the Scot’s head already this season and their next 3 games could be telling. Sunderland face 3 away matches in a row against teams in and around them playing Stoke, West Ham and Southampton. You feel if they fail to get 3 points in any of those matches, Moyes will be out of job no questions asked.
5.Club owners are as trigger happy as ever
October brings with it many things, the change of the seasons, Ugg boots come out again on the high street and Halloween to name a few. But October also brings the start of football manager sacking season. It seems that club owners need only a handful of games to see that the man in charge of the team isn’t up to the job.
I mean who can’t change a clubs fortunes within 10 games, surely they deserve to get the chop! Of course this approach doesn’t work. One thing that teams need is continuity, in both players and managers. There needs to be a consistent approach to signing players who will fit in with the current crop. This just doesn’t happen anymore in football.
The money involved and the focus on the Premier League these days mean that it’s very easy for club owners to get itchy fingers. It takes a very strong character to keep to their guns and back the man they placed in charge of the team.
It’s very easy to pin the blame at the feet of 1 man rather than a group of players, 4, 5 or 6 could be accused of not pulling their weight but of course it’s easier for a club owner or chairman to get rid of 1 man. This perpetuates the ongoing cycle that we’ve seen in recent years with players able to hide behind the manager for poor performances and ultimately care free calm in the knowledge that they will get paid regardless and if the team is failing, the club with just bring another man in.
We have already seen 2 high profile managers get the sack at the start of this International break with Roberto Di Matteo getting sacked by Aston Villa just 124 days after being put at the helm, Villa looking for their 5th manager in the last year. Granted Di Matteo’s team had started this season poorly with only 1 win from 12 games, but with 5 managers within a year, it’s no wonder the team doesn’t know if it’s coming or going.
A few hours later saw Swansea released Manager Francesco Guidolin after 7 Premier League games this season. They haven’t had the best start taking 4 points from 7 games and are currently in 17th position. However they were not a team that looked like Guidolin had lost the dressing room. In fact Swansea were quite unlucky not to beat Liverpool and very unlucky not to win a point, some calamitous defending guilty for giving away a last minute penalty.
Swansea have now looked across the pond and immediately appointed the first American to manage in the Premier League Bob Bradley.
If Bradley doesn’t hit the ground running after the international break, I would not be surprised to see yet another victim of club mismanagement.
There are some things in football that never seem to change.
By Michael Thatcher