EPL GW7 Review: Cream is Rising to the Top

Liverpool, Man City, Leicester, Tottenham, Wolves and Arsenal all find victories to give the Premier League a sense of normality once again.

No-one truly believed it could last forever… the unpredictably chaotic lockdown football that brought added goals, controversial penalties, form books out the window, home advantage neutralised, etc etc. This weekend – as predicted – has brought the Premier League closer to normality. Sure we are all working towards a “new normal”, but the Big 6 are the Big 6 irrespective of season positions, and Man Utd aside, they’re doing Big 6 things. Winning whilst not playing well, keeping clean sheets, clinical in front of goal. Plus – Salah, Vardy, Kane and Aubameyang – the leading marksmen across four of last season’s Top 8, found the net this weekend. Normality, also provides more predictability, so it’s pleasing that Feudball’s Tipped Treble finally came in this weekend. Well done to you if you followed it.

Stand-out Match: Leeds vs Leicester

Having predicted this as the match of the weekend, it failed to disappoint. Harvey Barnes’ opened the scoring within just 2 minutes, but the cameras were still panning round from Bamford’s first minute miss from 4 yards out. Fast paced, high lines, clever movement, both sides were a joy to watch. Leeds are a side that take risks in their beautiful football, risks which Leicester ultimately were planning for. When out of possession, Leicester settled into a 5-4-1 formation, difficult to get around for Leeds to make crosses, difficult to get through with holding midfielders protecting the back three. More importantly, it allowed them to break quickly with Vardy at the point of an incisive attack. Leicester never over committed on the break, but recognised where there were gaps in the Leeds defence and how to exploit them with just four or five players in the move. Goals quickly accumulated for Barnes and Tielemans putting Leicester in control.

Leeds then turned it up even more, an early goal in the second half and relentless pressure culminating in hitting the woodwork with Schmeichel beaten. It was the closest they came to parity, as not long afterwards Vardy extended the Leicester lead and didn’t look back. Their standards on the counter-attack appear to be second to none in the Premier League, with Vardy the ace in the pack.

Leeds in some ways only have themselves to blame. Bamford started the league season with a reputation of inefficiency in front of goal and he was at fault for not punishing Leicester twice with blatant sitters. The header from point blank range, then a one on one where he couldn’t quite get his feet right. In the second half, a third chance went begging as he harried the keeper. Credit to Bamford for getting into these positions, but Leeds will need to score more goals when they get the chances to make a real impact on this League – as Vardy does for Leicester.

Stand-out Result: Fulham vs West Brom

Fulham and West Brom fans, on the whole, knew this would be a Premier League campaign fought mainly from the relegation zone, with a hope rather than expectancy on beginning next season as Premier League contenders once more. Neither were naive enough to believe this would be easy following their successful promotion runs last year, and their early season form has gone a long way to reinforce that. An early season 6 pointer is not necessarily one to whet the appetite, and I’m sure the Box Office viewing figures will back that point up. The only important thing about this match was the result, and who got the points. It was down to Mitrovic (2 assists) and Fulham to stamp their authority and deliver a first 3 points of the season. It’s imperative to use this victory as a springboard to safer positions up the table, because momentum is vital in a relegation battle – as is taking points from the teams around you. Fulham have beaten West Brom and drawn with Sheff Utd. Perhaps Paddy Power were wrong to treat their defeat to Aston Villa as the nail in their coffin after 2 games… Unlikely, both these sides are still expected to go down.

Stand-out Performance: Jamie Vardy

“You maybe think of him as just a goalscorer but Jamie knows football inside out. His positioning and his reading of the game. He just understands football. He genuinely loves it. He watches it. How many young players actually do that now? But he will be watching games, talking football. I have really enjoyed seeing the level of understanding he has.” Brendan Rodgers, Oct 2019

One year on, Vardy has got better and better and better under Rodgers. He’s developed his game to bring other players in, to push defensive lines where he wants them, and to capitalise on mistakes not just for his own benefit but for the team’s. His progress is not inline with England’s requirements, so unless we get to the summer with a shortage of forwards he is still likely to sit Euro 2021 out, but if his figures continue he will be hard to ignore. At Leeds, he read the error by Koch to assist Barnes’ opener. For the second, he showed his commitment by throwing himself at a diving header, beating his marker, forcing a tough save and leaving an easy rebound for Tielemans. He spent the second half as a menace to the Leeds backline, getting his goal from another breakaway, and should have got himself a second having been played through again from a high line.

When Leicester play away, against a team coming at them, Vardy is the most dangerous forward in the league. He did it to Man City, he’s done it to Leeds, and he will do it again.

In Form: Hakim Ziyech

Chelsea’s new breed of attacking talent is starting to find their feet and their overall team is starting to find their balance. Selecting a starting XI at Chelsea must have it’s challenges, but in many ways they are nice challenges to have. Werner, Abraham, Giroud – any one of them being able to lead the line, with differing advantages. Pulisic, Havertz, Ziyech, Mount, Hudson-Odoi… all behind creating the chances, and scoring goals for themselves. Once the balance is found, they’re capable of hurting ANYONE.

This week, Ziyech finally made his mark at Chelsea – his first Chelsea goal in Europe – then one goal and an assist away to Burnley – no easy place to settle into the Premier League. Ziyech is gifted, an unbelievable talent, that has had the luxury of playing in a frontline at Ajax with less responsibility and more opportunity to express himself. If he is able to do that at Stamford Bridge, he will occasionally be unplayable. The obvious thing seems to be to force him onto his weaker foot but… he finds a way of getting back onto his left.

Out of Form: Brighton & Hove Albion

A number of teams could justifiably be arguing for this title right now, with Everton (no wins in 3), Aston Villa (back to back losses) and the bottom 3 of West Brom, Sheff Utd and Burnley all without a win this season. However I am highlighting Brighton who earlier in the season were prompting fan excitement with their performances. Whilst their defeats have come against big sides in Chelsea, Man Utd, Everton and Spurs, they have also failed to win against Crystal Palace and West Brom. The reason Brighton should be concerned with their run of five games without a win is their upcoming fixtures against Aston Villa and Burnley, where they really need to return to getting points on the board to avoid falling into the relegation zone.

EPL Review 26-29.09

VAR-dy PAR-ty at Etihad as Leicester Punish Sluggish Man City

Stand-out Result: Man City 2 Leicester 5
In 2015 Leicester City stunned the football world by firstly surviving Premier League relegation by the skin of their canines, then launching into an unstoppable domination of the table to clinch an against the odds league title. During that season, the day we all really took notice and said “Fuck, they can actually do this” was their 3-1 win at the Etihad. Not just a major three points in the title race but a day where they completely outplayed their hosts.

Wind forward almost 5 years, and the Foxes have been at it again – albeit with a very different performance. Stubbornly defending their own final third and punching their way upfield on the counter-attack – Leicester played to their strengths, and more importantly Man City’s weaknesses. The absence of David Silva will be mentioned throughout the season, but at a time when we also wax lyrical about De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva, Mahrez, Sterling and the heir apparent Foden – serious questions must be asked about their ability to break down defences with 72% possession and 16 efforts on goal.

However the speed and cunning of Leicester on the break, punishing the gaps left by the City defence and capitalising on every mistake offered resulted in Pep returning to the drawing board, square one, and his mammoth book of ‘Things I learned from Cruyff’ as he reaches the same milestones that led to his demise at Bayern and Barcelona – building his own defensive legacy rather than the one he has inherited from predecessors.

The real icing on the cake was the magnificent return of James Maddison, coming on as a substitute before a perfect postage stamp finish from outside the box and winning the 3rd Leicester penalty for their 5th goal of the match. Remember the Foxes’ demise post-lockdown coincided with Maddison’s injury absence. His return could propel and sustain Leicester’s Champions League hunt this season.

Stand-out Performance: Diego Jota

Jurgen Klopp rightly eulogised over Liverpool’s near perfect performance in dispatching the regularly-limp-versus-top-6 Arsenal, but the real promising sign arrived with 20 minutes to go with Diego Jota’s impressive and effervescent performance.

Liverpool are undoubtedly the strongest team in the country, incredibly strong and organised at the back, workhorses across the midfield, unprecedented pressing and quality across the front-line and a winning record to die for. I hate them, but you have to admire them. The one area routinely thrown at them is their lack of depth in key-areas. Step up Jota. He appeared from the bench to replace Sadio Mane, who needed comforting from Klopp in regards to his withdrawl – a great sign that your top players want to be on the pitch every minute. Jota made runs, made chances and made an impression with every move. Even when Salah was too greedy to rightly leave the ball to Jota, he didn’t let it get him down. Whilst it took a few chances, the goal came – and an overwhelming celebration from the whole squad.

Jota is going to improve Liverpool hugely – not necessarily a league shattering number of goals and assists – but by keeping the Liverpool front three on their toes and offering the chance to rest all three of them more often.

Stand-out Errors: FIFA / Referee HQ
Whilst it was the frontline referees in the firing line of the players, coaches, pundits and media the overwhelming issues that have happened this season with handballs comes from the top. I have entered into more detail on this subject here but in short – let’s resolve this madness before we really do / say something stupid.

In Form: Danny Ings
Goal – goal – goal. Three games, three goals for Danny Ings. Whilst he hasn’t necessarily set the league alight this season, his consistency and quality in front of goal (his first goal against Spurs last weekend was world class) leaves him as one of the most reliable strikers currently in the Premier League. This season he has been regularly paired with Che Adams and they appear to be forming a solid partnership.

It should also not be forgotten that only Anthony Martial outscored Ings in Fantasy Football post lockdown last year – making Ings the most prolific points scorer since lockdown overall. What could he possibly want next? How about a home game against the worst defence in the division – West Brom.

Out of Form: Manchester United

Played 2 : Won 1 : Lost 1 : Scored 4 : Conceded 5

Is it really that bad? It looks a lot worse like this:

Man Utd 1 Crystal Palace 3
Brighton 2 Man Utd 3

Winning when not playing well is a sign of a good team, but there were very few other signs for Manchester United to take from their adventure at Brighton and disappearance versus Palace.

United finished the season strongly last year, particularly defensively, but it’s clearly all gone to pot – not helped by Maguire’s distractions during the “summer” – not judging him for his involvement in it, but in it he was. Because of their strong finish, the talk of signing more attacking players instead of defenders was not of great concern but now a glance across their backline and defensive midfielders shows a huge imbalance in quality with their team going forwards. Belief of managers such as Kevin Keegan and Ossie Ardilies to outscore the opposition is brave and exciting but you really have to believe that is Ole Solskjaer’s predominant plan as United Manager. Why else would you sign Van de Beek and chase Jadon Sancho instead of investing in replacing Matic and someone to play alongside Maguire at the back?

The good news is United will always have strength going forwards, but it will be interesting to see how Bruno Fernandes handles the pressure of a bad run in form and continually dropping points. We’ve previously seen it in Pogba, Martial and a few others that body language can change very quickly. You look at the United team, the United midfield, and feel they need a Roy Keane figure to fire up the team regularly to play to their abilities. I can’t see McTominay getting the respect required from Pogba and Fernandes, but we’ll see.