#1. Liverpool and Chelsea are real title contenders
For many, the Premier league will be a shoot-out between Arsenal and Man City, both teams equipped with the squads and experience required to push for the Premier League title.
But the weekend showed that any of the current top 4 could realistically win the Premier League and the advantage Chelsea and Liverpool have is the lack of European stress on the squad, meaning they are fresh going into the weekend fixtures.
The late Saturday afternoon kick off saw a good Everton team visit Stamford Bridge a game most felt would be an end to end affair. But that couldn’t be further from the day’s events. Chelsea were tremendous and Everton didn’t get a look in. Costa and Hazard were once again on the score sheet as could be predicted but perhaps the star performer was Pedro, a man who has finally found his feet since last season’s move to England. He grabbed himself a goal and created 3 chances in the game. Since Conte has switched to the 3-4-3 formation, Chelsea have scored 16 goals and conceded 0!
But on to Sunday and Liverpool set out their stall, following Man City, Spurs and Arsenal all dropping points over the weekend, the team talk was easy; whatever Chelsea can do we can do better!
Watford were in their way, but in reality were as solid as crate paper in a downpour; Liverpool ploughed through them like a Ford Mustang through a corn patch.
6 goals for Liverpool by 5 different scorers really is a key to how impressive Liverpool have been this season, the weight of expectations for goals is spread throughout the team, removing any key man dependencies.
Liverpool sit top of the table going into the predicted bore fest of an International break on 26 points and have score the most amount of goals in the league. This means Liverpool have averaged 2.7 goals per game in the Premier league so far.
The one issue with Liverpool perhaps is their defence having conceded 14 goals, more than any other team in top 7. Whilst the tactic of ‘you score 3, we will score 4’ is exciting, it’s not realistic to think this will win you the league as goals will dry up at some point. To win the league you need a sound defence, and that is something Chelsea can boast at present.
#2. Sunderland finally get a win
Some things in life are an eventuality. Someone will be killed in EastEnders at Christmas time, Marvel will keep bringing out sequels and Sunderland would finally get a win. The latter of which happened over the weekend where a great performance from Victor Anichebe spearheaded Sunderland’s first win of the season, beating Bournemouth 2-1.
It seems finally the shoots of good luck were on the side of David Moyes, where in the past perhaps you could say they were unlucky not to have won before now, this result was certainly the luck Sunderland needed.
Sunderland had 13 fewer shots than Bournemouth, 13% lower pass completion, 17 fewer crosses and 7 fewer take ons. But one thing David Moyes’s side did do was work hard and defend for their lives. Sunderland won more tackles, had 13 more interceptions 12 more clearances and won a massive 80% of areal duels. Most importantly was the penalty expertly dispatched by hitman Jermain Defoe.
It shows that whilst they still languish at the bottom of the league, Moyes hasn’t lost his players, they are still willing to battle and put in a shift. It was just what Moyes and Sunderland needed especially with Swansea, West Ham, Palace and Boro all dropping points and probably could do without the International break.
For Sunderland however, they have a tough run of games coming up playing Liverpool, Chelsea and Man United in the next 7 games.
#3. Harry Kane is back
Tottenham have had a strange start to the season so far. After amassing an impressive 5 wins out of the first 7 matches, culminating in the performance of the season beating Man City 2-0, they have failed to win since. It has been 4 league draws in a row for Spurs dropping 8 points from the last 4 games.
For Tottenham to be performing well, they need all their top players fit. With a squad that wasn’t bolstered particularly well in the summer, playing in Europe’s top club competition can take its toll on the squad. It was therefore a welcomed return of the ever impressive Harry Kane having missed the last 5 games through injury.
He returned to one of the biggest games in the Premier league calendar, the North London Derby and his goal grabbed Spurs a much deserved point at the Emirates.
This means his has taken his goal tally to 3 in the 6 games he’s played this season.
Spurs have won 50% of the games Harry Kane has played in this season but only 40% in the games he’s not. Considering he hasn’t yet really hit form with a fragmented start to the season those stats show his importance to the side. Once he hits his stride, his link up with Dembele will be imperative if Spurs are to compete and finish in the top 4. The International break may now be a good chance for Kane to get some minutes under his belt and a match fitness ready for the return of the Premier league where they face West Ham.
#4. Man United need Carrick for the midfield to purr
One of the big problems Jose Mourinho seems to have is not knowing his strongest 11. This has led to an unsettled start for United with the special one chopping and changing his starting 11 trying to find the selection that clicks.
One thing that needs to happen however if Man United are to push into the top 4 is for Michael Carrick to start. Jose Mourinho has stated that Michael Carrick can’t play every week but for me that’s a kop out. Carrick is fit, and a solid professional which means playing 1 game a week (is used solely for the Premier League) will not be too much. He showed against Man City in the EFL cup a couple of weeks back, he still has an engine and the legs, outrunning Sergio Aguero in a great defensive charge. But Carrick has never been a player who depended on his pace and athleticism. His best ability is his football intelligence, he reads the game really well and really quickly much like Paul Scholes did. This allows time to pick the right pass and keep the game flowing.
He adds a real calming influence in the middle of the park, and a balance to the side they lack when he’s not playing. A key attribute is his range of passing and the fact that he actually passes forward at a time many United midfielders are accused of playing safe and side to side all too often.
When compared to all United midfielders, Carrick averages 41 forward passes a game, only Paul Pogba has more at 47. He also, on average, completes 55 passes per game, again only world record signing Paul Pogba completes more at 62.
But Michael Carrick has a 96% pass completion rate this season higher than any other Man United midfielder. He also averages 1.5 blocks per game, higher than any United midfielder.
The stats proves that Carrick is essential to this United team, but perhaps the most relevant is the fact that in each of the 5 games Carrick has started, Man United have won all 5 scoring 15 goals. You compare that to the 12 games he hasn’t started, United have won only 4 of the 12 and scored only 11.
For Man United to maintain some fluidity and consistency, Jose Mourinho needs to stop making excuses for Carrick expulsion for Premier League starting line ups, and make him one of the first names on the team sheet along with De Gea and Mata.
#5. Palace are nosediving
Crystal Palace are one of those odd teams that on their day can be remarkable, and beat anyone in the league, we’ve all seen it done. However they are also so inconsistent and go through spells over the season where they can’t seem to buy a win.
After losing the first 2 games of the season Crystal Palace had a surge up the Premier League table and were undefeated in the next 5 games. Palace were sitting comfortably in 8th place after 7 games a very respectable start.
But ever since they lost 1-0 to West Ham in mid-October they haven’t won a single point losing 4 in a row. It’s a run that now sees them in 16th place just 1 point about the relegation zone.
There are some rumbles of discontent amongst a selection of fans of the South London club, feeling that they should be doing better especially given the money that was spent in the summer and the fact that they are now a fully established Premier League club.
Palace have started this season worse than last and have 5 points fewer at this stage of the season.
But this nose dive in form isn’t unusual for Palace. We saw a terrible run of form manifest last season between games 18 and 32, 14 matches in a row without a win, losing 9 of those.
Alan Pardew will need to make sure that this poor run is nipped in the bud before it gets worse, with the Premier League harder than ever this season, a run such as the decline of last season could be detrimental to their Premier League survival.
Things certainly won’t be getting any easier for Alan Pardew, who has a tricky run of games coming up, playing Man City, Southampton, Chelsea and Man United in their next 6 matches. You feel if this run continues towards the busy Christmas period could lead to the Palace hierarchy being forced in to making a tough decision on his future at the club.
By Michael Thatcher