Is this the craziest start to a Premier League season that we’ve ever seen? Is there any way to correctly predict results? Teams can look great one week, and then abysmal the next. No matter what game you watch this season, you’re pretty much guaranteed excitement and goals. The lack of fans is taking a lot of pressure off players and we’re seeing them try things they might not normally attempt if there were fans in the stands.
With the pointless international break now upon us, the second in six weeks it’s worth adding, there is a respite from Premier League action. A chance for players and managers to reassess. An opportunity to work out some of the kinks tactically, a chance to breath. Some teams will be delighted to have the break, others will not as it could disrupt their flow or cause them to lose players because of Covid testing etc.
With that in mind, here’s the Good, the Bad and the Ugly from Matchweek 4.
Everton’s continued good form.
It is only four games, it is only the first week of October, it is a tiny sample size. BUT Everton have been really impressive this season and they continued their good form and ruthless finishing with a 4-2 win over Brighton. James continues to make the Premier League look a doddle, Dominic Calvert-Lewin can’t stop scoring and barring a terrible mistake from Jordan Pickford in this game they have looked pretty decent defensively too.
Even without Allan and Andre Gomes, their midfield looked solid in all phases and dealt well with Brighton. Michael Keane and Yerry Mina are forming an impressive partnership at centre-back, an area which will become even stronger when Mason Holgate returns from injury, especially now that Ben Godfrey has been confirmed as their newest signing.
Everything is going really well for Everton, Carlo Ancelotti has forged a team that looks confident, determined and well organised. They’re playing good football, scoring a lot of goals, not conceding many and signing good players. Rejoice Evertonians! This is what you’ve been longing for.
Aston Villa’s planning and execution.
Jurgen Klopp gave Roy Keane a proper telling off when the Manchester United captain suggested that Liverpool had been somewhat sloppy against Arsenal due to their highline. Keane was roundly mocked, but six days later he would have had every right to say “I told you so”.
Aston Villa saw the weakness in Liverpool’s defensive system, they saw that weakness amplified by the presence of Adrian in goal rather than Alisson Becker, and they exploited it. Ruthlessly and routinely. Villa, with Jack Grealish pulling the strings and Ross Barkley teaming with John McGinn to form a driving force from midfield, attacked Liverpool’s highline and gave Ollie Watkins outstanding service throughout the game.
With Jurgen Klopp seemingly unaware that he was allowed to change his system mid-game, Villa punished Liverpool to the tune of a 7-2 spanking. And while that seven goal tally included three fluke deflected goals, Villa were good value for the score-line as they also missed a couple of great chances and hit the crossbar.
All credit must go to Dean Smith for his tactical gameplan, and the efficiency in which his team carried out his orders.
Jose Mourinho’s ice cold revenge.
It’s just shy of 22 months since Jose Mourinho was sacked as manager of Manchester United. This was was the third time he had taken his Tottenham team into battle against his former employees, and represented his first win. And what a win it was. Spurs walloped United 6-1 at Old Trafford, and did so despite Mourinho taking his foot off the gas with 25 minutes to go.
The victory was absolutely comprehensive. Tottenham were better in every aspect of the game, and to a man they outplayed and outfought the home side. It was a humbling embarrassment for United, and handed them their second home defeat already this season.
While Mourinho wouldn’t say it publicly, this win must have given him a lot of satisfaction given the way his exit from United transpired. This win should provide Tottenham with a springboard to launch an assault on the top 4, and potentially a title challenge.
Fulham and West Brom continue to struggle.
Unlike their fellow newly promoted side, Leeds United, Fulham and West Brom have really struggled to adapt to Premier League life. They can’t score goals, they can’t stop goals and they can’t win games. With a combined eight games played, they have a combined one point. They conceded 24 goals, while only scoring eight.
Both teams wasted too much of the summer break without properly strengthening their squads and that left themselves scrambling in the last week. While both teams put in respectable performances this weekend, both lost and both were comfortably outplayed.
Scott Parker and Slaven Bilic need to figure out ways to turn things around, and they both need to do it quickly. The ownership at both clubs have track records of moving on from managers who aren’t getting the job done. It will be a long season for fans of Fulham and West Brom if their fortunes don’t turn soon.
Sheffield United have second season syndrome.
Four games, four defeats, one goal scored. It’s time to become a little bit worried about Sheffield United. They’ve looked blunt in attack, and at times they’ve looked clueless with regards to how to attack. They’ve been stodgy and predictable and despite some decent performances, it’s hard to look at any of their defeats and suggest they deserved to win any of the games.
Rhian Brewster will help. A natural goalscorer, he should prove a level above what they have been working with to date, but they’ll need to find ways to create more chances. They didn’t address the lack of midfield creativity in the transfer window and also seem to have left themselves short in defense with Jack O’Connell out injured.
Chris Wilder is a tremendous manager, who’s seen pretty much everything there is to see in football, and is a good bet to turn things around but teams are facing Sheffield United for the third time now and have maybe figured out some of the nuances to Wilder’s system. It can often be the case that newly promoted teams who do really well in their first season in the Premier League get figured out in year two and can struggle if they don’t upgrade their team enough.
Sheffield United are currently suffering from second season syndrome, they have two weeks to figure things out before game start back. They’ll face Fulham next before back to back to back games against three of last season’s top four.
Premier League defending
Last season. the three best defensive records in the Premier League belonged to Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United. Each of those teams have no conceded at least five in a game this season. City shipped five against Leicester, United were hit for six by Spurs whilst Liverpool were on the wrong end of a 7-2 walloping by Aston Villa.
Liverpool conceded 33 goals in 38 games last season, they’ve conceded 11 in four games this season. United allowed 36 in 38 last season. This season it’s 11 in just three games. That figure would be worse if Brighton had been a bit luckier and a couple of their woodwork strikes had found their way into the net.
The terrible defending isn’t just down to those three teams, it’s rampant throughout the division. We already have five teams who’ve conceded more than 10 goals. We only have one team, Aston Villa, who are conceding less than a goal a game.
Fundamental errors, bad defensive systems, dogmatic managers, individual brain farts. We’ve seen all of it, and a lot of all of it, thus far. Through 38 games this season, the league is average 3.79 goals per game. While for some, that equates to excitement, for others it’s the sign of a league going in the wrong direction.
Sean Dyche’s men are, often unfairly, portrayed as purely an agricultural team. A boring, defensive minded team. A small club who maybe don’t belong among the league’s elite. That reputation is unfair, or at least it had been until this season. Now, it’s beginning to look like a fair representation.
Burnley have been terrible to start this season, and have offered little resistance in their opening three games. All of which have ended in defeat. They’re blunt in attack, they’re disorganised at the back and they’re aimless in midfield. With Ben Mee and Jack Cork out, Burnley are patching things together and, in truth, playing multiple players who aren’t of the required standard to play at the Premier League level.
For that to be case with only two starters missing is a ringing indictment of the ownership who have failed to back their manager this summer. Burnley are behaving like a small club, and that’s going to cost them. It could cost them their manager, who will surely feel like he deserves better. That in turn will cost them their Premier League status. If Sean Dyche had merely been keeping Burnley up over the last few seasons it would have been a great achievement. To have two top 10 finishes is miraculous.
Burnley have been cheap this summer because of the hit their accounts have taken due to Covid, that decision will cause a much bigger hit to their accounts if they get relegated.