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.