EPL GW11 Review: Four-midable Champions; Four-ging a Dynasty

Liverpool closed a pulsating weekend of football with a stunning demolition of one of the League’s best defences to prove they’re rightly still favourites to win the Premier League.

When Jurgen Klopp isn’t taking to his lectern and delivering Nuremburg-esque speeches about our abandonment of player welfare, the unfairness of early kick-offs, and raising his troops against what is unfounded evidence of a permanent conspiracy about Liverpool (come on admit it, he looks like someone with film reels of the JFK assassination, press cuttings of that Pentagon missile from 9/11 and a blog subscription to ‘How Gerry McCann Got Away With It), he is clearly still spending quality time on the training field – not just with his Stars – not just with his starting line-up – but the entire Liverpool playing staff because the whole organisation is singing beautifully from the same song sheet – this time against Wolves, seemingly irrelevant to his starting XI, Liverpool rock and rolled for 90 minutes with another clean sheet for the unheard of goalkeeper, inexperienced defence, and the usual mob up top banging in the goals. As with the moon landing, the answer is staring us straight in the face but we just don’t want to admit it… Liverpool are so far ahead of everyone, there’s absolutely no chance of anyone actually getting there… right Conspiracist Klopp?

Match of the Weekend: West Ham 1 Man Utd 3

Pre-game David Moyes had earned himself a lot of column inches having raised West Ham to 5th in the table and hosting a United side that Hammers fans held genuine belief they could / should be taking points from.

Post-game, David Moyes has reminded everyone that there is a stubborn rigidity to his sides and whilst they can be difficult to beat and create chances – they’re predictable, and do not adapt quickly to change. Also, ultimately, they’re West Ham, and do not have hundreds of millions of pounds worth of talent to change a game when it’s not going your way. With David Moyes, you know what you are getting and the limitations of that expression. Whilst they did create chances, and Jared Bowen was excellent in tying up Telles left, right and centre, they’re not dynamic and consistent enough in the final third. What they would give to replace Bowen-Fornals-Haller with Greenwood-Martial-Cavani. If he can maintain a mid-table position for a few years, West Ham fans will be happy – and they can then attempt to build from that base as they have failed previously. Until then… nights like Saturday will come and go, offering Hammers false optimism of taking the lead against the big teams, but not able to see it out often enough to actually give a damn about chasing Europe etc.

As mentioned pre-game about Ole’s United – they’re disjointed – completely unrecognisable as a football side – yet they’re again in the chase for the Top 4 and primed for Champions League knockout football. It left Gary Neville bewildered, in the space of 5 minutes he was angry and passionate about how poor United were, to then laughing about being 2 points off the top of the table. He even suggested early on, the best thing United could do was whack the ball into their own net because somehow it’s the only way they start playing. The other notable change in their tempo was the arrival of Bruno Fernandes at half-time. Without him, United are lost children waiting to be picked off. With him, they’re energetic children on a sugar rush, chasing down everything, running onto everything, and unleashing shots on goal with confidence everything they touch is going to rocket into the back of the net. This bunch of children need something more than a slightly older child babysitting them, but actual leadership and control. Surely Ole’s time is numbered, even if he wins some kind of trophy, this football is not sustainable physically, mentally or financially.

Oh… the Match of the Weekend obviously also came with a new VAR controversy as only the best league in the world can deliver… did Henderson’s clearance leave the field of play before being converted by Fernandes and Pogba? Well… probably. Next season we should have line judges to ensure this doe… linesmen? Nah, they’re a thing of the past. You must mean Referee’s Assistant? Yeah. Can’t be expecting them to just look down the line they run up and down all day and make decisions…

Result of the Weekend: Liverpool 4 Wolves 0

“I think one more week we are top of the League, unless Liverpool win by many – and against Wolves, they don’t win by many” Mourinho post-Arsenal match interview

Gauntlet set. Mourinho wasn’t exactly wrong, Liverpool needed another 5 goals to actually reach the Premier League summit, but the sentiment remains the same. In what is widely regarded as a difficult fixture at home to Wolves – one Mourinho himself lost last season – Liverpool stepped up and dispatched them comfortably 4-0 to re-affirm their position as the best team in the country. It’s been a quiet period for waxing lyrical about Liverpool, the attention for them has been elsewhere on injuries, fixtures and the victim syndrome they have. In this recent time, pundits have focussed on Spurs and Chelsea and the excellent form they’re in. Yesterday, Liverpool set out to steal back the narrative. Their first fixture as Champions with fans in the Kop, this was party time – to celebrate being Champions, to ignite the fuse on becoming Champions again.

They didn’t just win, they put Wolves to the sword. Their weakened team taking to the field, rotation in place up front, the old familiar routine returned. Salah, goal and assist. Big win, clean sheet. The gegenpress putting new England Centre-back Conor Coady under so much pressure that following his error leading to the first goal, he then inextricably dived to win a penalty – a penalty given until VAR correctly overturned it.

If you’re not a fan of Liverpool, or furthermore despise them as most fans from the 80s do… the remainder of the season does not look good. Sky will be absolutely fuming that the big top of the table clash next midweek between Liverpool and Spurs is on Amazon Prime – and the rest of us should be rightly concerned about the bandwidth required for the millions of fans across the globe trying to watch every moment of what could be considered to be a title winning decider down the road. Book it in – Wednesday 16th December at 8pm.

In Form: Normality

No side in the bottom half of the Premier League table picked up a win this weekend, with 11th placed Palace’s 5-1 demolition the closest. Normality is resuming. This can be skewed by which fixtures are occurring, but the league table is also offering signs that the unpredictable results, scorelines, performances, etc are fading out of this season. Also, we’re getting a sense of what is a mad result anyhow, as teams like Arsenal and Sheffield United just show their true colours for being poor sides.

City, United, Chelsea, Leicester, Spurs, Liverpool all won their fixtures and that routine will follow as closely as it can through the winter and into Spring whilst European football takes a backseat. Midweek games will remain as the League continues to fit into its tight schedule, but this will be more unfamiliar to those teams not in Europe and struggling to find form and consistency anyhow.

Big 6 consistency is a gambler’s paradise.

Out of Form: Arsenal / Aubameyang / Arteta

“I want to give words, congratulations to Mikel Arteta because he gave us a very difficult game. Tactically they are very good, very organised. They gave us problems, problems we were able to resolve. They have a good tactical courage and incredible spirt. They are a good team and he is a good coach.” Jose Mourinho, post-Arsenal interview.

A cheap dig, or genuine praise? Either way the Spurs faithful were loving Jose’s praise of Mikel Arteta and his evolution of football at Arsenal. At the start of the season, Arteta’s Arsenal had arrived as FA Cup Winners, knocking out City and Chelsea at Wembley. Then, Community Shield Winners defeating Liverpool. They started with 100% record after 3 games, and everything was rosy in the Garden of Emirates. Then…

Furloughed staff, redundant mascots, Ozil’s exile… Aubameyang’s contract… Aubameyang’s one goal from open play all season… Arsenal’s one win and six defeats in 8 league games…

Wheels truly off – Arsenal Fan TV are already retailing ‘Arteta Out’ t-shirts for £22.

Given that Sheffield United have one point from 11 games, Arsenal have to be pretty disappointing this season for the focus to be on them – and focus it is, particularly when the other half of North London are having their best season for 40 years, Arsenal themselves have not had a worse start to a league campaign since 1981.

Their reliance on Aubameyang to get them out of trouble is trouble itself. His goals last season propelled Arsenal into a false position – and that was only 8th. With his drought coming at a time of transitional development for players such as Saka, Pepe, Martinelli, Willock and others, Arsenal look completely lost in the final third and are more hopeful of clear cut chances than expectant. Sunday was a return to Arsene’s worst periods, when they would repeatedly pass the ball to each other on the edge of the opposition box without ever being clinical with their opportunities. This period happened to be whilst Arteta played under Wenger. This Arsenal form is cyclical.

Roy Keane joked last weekend after the Leeds game that they would have enough to stay up, mocking the fall from grace Arsenal find themselves in – but this week that seems like an even more legitimate point of conversation. Arsenal are not just 15th in the league, but they have also played 3 of the 5 teams below them and you can rightly question where their next points are coming from.

I do believe there will be 3 worse teams than them this season, but on form that is already debateable.

EPL GW11 Preview: Revenge of the 5th or The Empire Strikes Back?

David Moyes will permanently have a score to settle with the Old Trafford hierarchy, his 5th placed Hammers hosting the fallen empire of Solskjaer’s 9th placed United.

This weekend’s fixtures offer a delight in varying narratives, with Man City set to repeat their spectacular return to winning in style at home to Fulham with the backdrop of not being permitted to host fans in the ground. The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium hosting 2,000 fans for the biggest game of their season welcoming Arsenal to the first North London Derby in over 50 years with Spurs top of the table. West Ham’s quiet rise to 5th will be put to the test as they host the fireworks of Man United, with David Moyes once again set out to prove his former employers wrong. Our first fixture casualty of the season has occurred with Newcastle and Villa being postponed due to a Covid-19 “outbreak” at St. James’ Park, disappointing fans of Friday Night Anti-climaxes… then there’s the rest of the league that will be fun-packed with VAR, questionable penalties, unsung heroes and the widespread title race. Oh don’t you just love the Premier League!

Match of the Weekend: West Ham vs Man Utd

Of course, the standout game of the weekend feels like it should be Spurs vs Arsenal. It’s the North London derby, Spurs are top of the league, and it’s never felt more important to them – but the truth is Arsenal are below par, below what is an average standard for a Premier League side, therefore taking history aside this game just looks like a one sided home banker and not a heated competitive fixture.

There will be far more bang for your buck at The Olympic Stadium this weekend! That’s not often said, but both West Ham and Man United will enter this game with the belief they will be taking all 3 points. Moyes’ West Ham have slipped up the table under the radar, causing some upsets along the way, but generally just being a David Moyes team. Now with 5 at the back, Rice and Soucek in midfield, they’re stubbornly difficult. This has enabled players such as Bowen to become more effective motoring forwards and earning them points, back to back wins over Sheff Utd and Aston Villa have them in nose bleed territory. Meanwhile United’s embarrassment of riches are also a bit of an embarrassment on the field. Solskjaer still shows no real identity in his line-up, no obvious plan to the growth of the side, but any line-up he puts out is capable of getting him out of trouble – as Cavani perfectly demonstrated last weekend with his super sub performance evoking nostalgic memories of Solskjaer in his prime.

This game might take time to get going, but once the bubbles settle, the speed will continuously increase. I see both sides scoring, but ultimately you can’t back against United given their wealth of extraordinary talent.

Man of the Weekend: Harry Kane

Harry Kane is the comic book Tottenham hero, the Roy of the Rovers legend that happens to be ‘one of their own’, breaching every known defence – he’s scored against each Premier League opposition he’s faced – England’s captain, the best strike rate in England since the original gangster Alan Shearer – and to top it all for Spurs fans, he has an impeccable record against North London rivals Arsenal with 10 goals in 11 games. Each image above is his celebration of a North London derby goal. Not only does he regularly score, but he also scores screamers.

He loves the rivalry, even engaging in competitive banter with Sith Lord Piers Morgan, once comically winning a wager that resulted in the Arsenal fan appearing on TV show with a Spurs shirt on.

This weekend, despite the underwhelming form that Arsenal will bring to the new White Hart Lane, Kane will be ready to renew the war, particularly enjoying it not just from above Arsenal but at the summit of the table.

Tipped Treble:
@Chelsea Home Win with Clean Sheet 2/1
@West Brom 1st Half Under 1.5 Goals 1/3
@Spurs Home Win EVENS

Chelsea are relentlessly continuing their fine form, more wins, more clean sheets… the hype and excitement around them and their fans is completely justified and we’re waiting for them to be ‘seriously tested’. Spurs didn’t really go at them, and their Champions League group has been competitive but lacking a Bayern or alternative super power to know how far they have really come. Leeds will definitely cause them problems if only the extra distance that Bielsa’s Leeds force teams into running to keep up. The liklihood of stealing a result from Stamford Bridge is low, particularly the recent form of Bamford and friends in front of goal.

West Brom vs Palace is the kind of fixture that will saturate the televised football market. Not all games need to be on all the time… if you do sit around watching them all… it will get tiresome eventually… it also makes you need to watch them all in case of missing out on any one game being the next Premier League classic. But… I won’t be sitting down for this one – even with Zaha back for Palace. If it does get exciting, it will be in the second half.

Finally, the writing does appear to be on the wall. I appreciate that form is temporary, class is permanent. I also appreciate that the form book goes out the window for any big derby. Let’s see what unfolds at Spurs this weekend, but EVEN money is too good to turn down for the top team in the country versus an Arsenal side with only one league win and one goal in open play since October 4th.

The Missing Lubricant; A Michael Carrick Story.

Following an excess of wingers and number 10s, the game is desperately short of midfield lubricants that connect defence to midfield and attack. Recognised this week by Bruno Fernandes watching Michael Carrick in training.

It’s the summer of 2006, and Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United have finished another unsuccessful season since the arrival of Jose Mourinho at Stamford Bridge. United fell short of the title by 8 points, knocked out of the FA Cup by Liverpool though mustered an underwhelming League Cup success with easy draws against Barnet, West Brom, Birmingham, Blackburn and Wigan. It was their only trophy in 3 full seasons. Given the talent at Old Trafford at the time; Van de Sar, Vidic and Ferdinand at the back – Keane, Scholes, Giggs and Ronaldo in midfield – van Nistelrooy and Rooney up top – this was a gross underachievement.

Ferguson recognised this was a time for a re-shuffle – nothing too dramatic – there was so much talent there – but the side needed WD40; a lubricant. Something to connect it all together. Roy Keane had to be shown the door. Whilst his attitude of demanding more was a necessity, his methods for achieving it were crude, and his impact on the field diminishing. Whilst United fished around Europe for a perfect replacement for the hard hitting anchor midfielder, it was a surprise domestic purchase made to fill the United Captain’s boots. At £18m, Michael Carrick arrived from Spurs. He was the only arrival at Old Trafford that summer.

Carrick was not a top performer in any required ability for the role of a defensive midfielder – lacking in strength, pace, aggression… he was not a particularly strong tackler so placing him alongside Paul Scholes raised concerns. The icons of the past like Robson, Ince and Keane were not being replicated with this purchase… and yet… he was exactly what Old Trafford needed.

If signing Michael Carrick for £18m released Paul Scholes to become the greatest central midfielder in Europe – it’s a bargain. That’s the side to this argument that people do not necessarily see. Paul Scholes was arguably a £50m footballer. In today’s money – £100m. Ferguson knew he needed to get more out of his star assets, Ronaldo for example, was yet to really reach the levels that Fergie knew were there, and was seeking methods to release that energy. Again, Carrick’s purchase was the lubricant to release the full power of the Man United engine.

“The only information we would have got in those days was it had to be forward. You’ve got to pass forward. The style of play was pass forward, run forward, penetration. That was the theme the boss wanted in his teams and then it was up to everyone individually to find a way how to do that.” Carrick, speaking of his arrival at United.

If you look at how that United team went on to line up, with the introduction of Tevez for van Nistelrooy, the style of tactic is very similar to those being implemented by the current United side, Spurs, England and many others. A flat back four – three central midfielders – three forwards across the width of the pitch. The requirement for success was hugely dependent on the hard running of Tevez and Rooney of course, but ultimately the team needed to make forward passes to ensure the goal scoring talent could receive the ball in space. Scholes was the key pass maker, but Carrick’s mobility and vision created the triangles in midfield to open up spaces for Scholes to become more influential.

Even after retirement in December 2014, Ferguson still heaped huge praise on Carrick’s influence, “I think Michael Carrick is the best centre midfield player in English football. I think he’s the best English player in the game”.

He exuded the required qualities for making a success at Old Trafford, and it’s the exact requirement for a Bruno Fernandes type player to be at their most destructive – and the player himself has identified this from recent United training sessions,

“I was watching in training and Carrick was playing because we had players missing and he didn’t miss a pass…

I was talking with Fred and I was going to say to him, ‘Hey, watch him playing and do the same!’ but I thought it was unfair and so I didn’t say it!

I’m learning a lot from him and he’s one of the people I like to listen to. He’s the sort of player from whom you can learn how to be smart in the game, how to be clever.”
Bruno Fernandes to MUTV.

These quotes speak volumes to the value in having former players remain in the Club as coaches, and advisors. It’s a role that is becoming more and more pivotal for the 433 tactics to be effective. Whilst the footballing world chase fast pace wingers and clinical frontmen, they should not be underestimating the need to be fluid from defence to attack, and making forward passes between the lines.

The best comparison to Michael Carrick in the current Premier League can be found in the outstanding form of Pierre-Emile Hojberg. His arrival at White Hart Lane has enabled Spurs to win the ball back more often, but also to move the ball more effectively around the pitch, opening spaces for the front line, and pressing around the 18 yard box to maintain the pressure on the opposition. These players do not get the headlines, they do not do the sexy stuff that gets fans off their seats in excitement, but without their presence the pin-up players are not able to shine and justify their higher transfer fees and wages.

England’s need to find a balance between holding midfielders and creative midfielders would also benefit from this Carrick enigma. Henderson and Rice can do some of this role, Winks a poor man’s Carrick for now, but the Barkleys, Mounts, Grealish etc will need to read the game, make interceptions and execute dangerous passes to drive England forward from midfield. More and more teams are attempting to play the ball through the opposition, and often being found out with misplaced passes and a need to go backwards. It costs momentum to attacks and the opportunity to exploit gaps in the defence disappears.

Given how similar Premier League teams are lining up nowadays, it will not be the difference in quality between the wingers and front men that win leagues, but the ability to keep clean sheets and move the ball forward to those players as quickly and consistently as possible. It’s this reason that Liverpool are able to create as many chances as they do, as their midfield target winning the ball as quickly as possible and releasing it forwards to get the pressure going in the final third. Those are the next generation of players to become £100m transfers. Since Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets set the standard of a crisp passing midfield, not enough players have gone on to break that mould. The fewer they are, the more in demand they’ll become. Just look at Bruno Fernandes, in a team surrounded by multi-million pound midfielders, it’s a retired 38 year old that he is getting the most out of.

The final note on the transfer of Michael Carrick – the 3 years prior to moving to Old Trafford, United won just one trophy – the League Cup. The following 3 seasons returned: 3 Premier Leagues, 1 Champions League, 1 World Club Cup… and another League Cup.

EPL GW6 Review: Unfamiliar Top 6 Mockery of Big 6 Breakaway

Everton, Aston Villa, Leeds, Southampton amongst unexpected early runners.

Going into this weekend’s fixtures, Everton had given themselves a serious chance of extending their lead at the summit, taking any points away from St. Mary’s in their early Sunday kick-off with Southampton. However, the Saints’ dominant performance over a ‘hungover’ Everton, Leeds steamrolling the Villa runaway train, and Leicester’s smash and grab at the Emirates means the Premier League race is becoming somewhat of a steeplechase – a question of which teams will manage to survive all of the hurdles unscathed, conserving enough energy for the sprint finish. Watching everyone beating everyone else, this season could see anyone’s name on the Premier League trophy. Anyone, except Fulham.

Stand-out Result: Aston Villa 0 Leeds 3
The two remaining undefeated records disappeared this weekend, and although neither were entirely unexpected, the manner of the results and performances reminded us that lockdown football is mad and unpredictable. Prior to the season’s opening, many fans would have predicted a Leeds victory against Aston Villa but given the formbook, the capitulation of the Villans was extraordinary. No goals, and offering many chances, Leeds showed why they’re being thought of so highly. They’re hard working, intense, press all over the pitch, and give the opposition nothing. They’re going to win fans all season long, and many more points along the way. Aston Villa need to be careful on how they react to this loss, and do everything they can to avoid the change in momentum and confidence.

Stand-out Match: Man Utd 0 Chelsea 0
This – game – was – boring. It was awful. Who would ever have suggested it was the one to watch from the weekend?! Oh… I did. Well, so did Sky Sports and so did many other fans tuning in on Saturday evening.

Prior to the weekend, I stated “It doesn’t appear to be in either Manager’s playbook to consolidate and avoid defeat” and I am not budging from that assessment. Whilst neither team committed sufficiently to the win, inspiring a heated debate between Patrice Evra and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink about wanting both sides to play without fear, it would equally be fair to say that neither team looked particularly competent in their tactics. Fear, not a consolidated performance, is what drew this game to a blank. It’s that fear, and lack of ability to impose themselves on the opposition that makes this the stand-out match. Fans of both sides are used to title challenges and winning trophies, and want to be back amongst the silverware sooner rather than later, but this lack of cutting edge and winning mentality – leadership, as Evra repeatedly gestured – means these sides are sorely lacking from the required standard.

The underwhelming nature of this match will fill every Premier League side with confidence going into upcoming fixtures with both sides, damaging their chances in the race for the Top 4 – a race that is increasing its number of competitors with each passing week.

If neither team can be confident in their defence (also to be fair, who is right now?) and they shut up shop through fear, they will be there for the taking against sides high on confidence and with more organisation and depth behind their attacking talent.

What was HUGELY curious about this match, was the HUGE INCOMPETENCE in not awarding a penalty to Chelsea. It’s interesting the lack of media and punditry attention, the outcry and outrage over VAR, that has not happened when a decision has gone against Manchester United. Last week we had the fallout regarding the Pickford challenge, the week before the fallout regarding Lamela’s play-acting – but a definite penalty not given to the opposition at Old Trafford? We used to laugh these off, because “You don’t get away penalties at Old Trafford”… but the idea that there’s a partiarchy system protecting the big teams needs to change. Why is no-one outraged by how bad a decision this was? Maguire literally headlocks Aziplicueta, there’s plenty of camera angles, and plenty of time to get the decision right. Conspiracy? Or Incompetence? Either way, public statements from Referee HQ would settle how we all feel about it.

Stand-out Performance: Patrick Bamford
For the second week in a row, I need to talk about a forward I have released from my Fantasy Football team putting in the performance of the week. The game between Aston Villa and Leeds was likely to produce something special, and Bamford duly took responsibility with an excellent hat-trick – the 2nd and 3rd of which really demonstrated an exceptional standard of finishing. Leeds’ fans had not been entirely sold on Bamford leading their attack this season, feeling he was too inefficient with his chances in their Championship campaigns, but he’s finding his form nicely with 6 goals in 6 games and is carrying the Leeds assault on the top half of the table.

With the match on Box Office, you can enjoy the highlights and hat-trick below.

In Form: West Ham United
When this season’s fixtures were announced, Hammers around the world were understandably concerned for their ability to start their campaign with sufficient points on the board to move away from the relegation battle. However David Moyes’ men have managed to accumulate a number of points, results and performances to turn some of those frowns upside down. They’re unbeaten in their previous 4 games and visit Liverpool next having beaten or held Wolves, Leicester, Tottenham and Man City. Should they avoid defeat at Anfield, West Ham will be set nicely to enter the winter months with more optimism than usual where they will begin with Fulham (h), Sheff Utd (a) and Aston Villa (h).

Out of Form: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Despite the on-going contract sage, Aubameyang started the season in great spirits. The ‘Feudball Goal of the Month’ for September on the opening day, and an assist in the following 2-1 win over West Ham – everything was on song, and he and Arteta appeared to be on the same page. Since those two games, Aubameyang is four games without contributing to a goal. Those fixtures have been a tough run for Arsenal with Liverpool (a), Sheff Utd (h), Man City (a) and Leicester (h) – four of the top sides from last year – but he is their number one talisman, captain, and regularly one of the top scorers in the Premier League. Could his absence from the big games be the reason for Arsenal’s recent struggles against the Big 6? That would be a harsh assessment, given their troubles span over 5 years, but his output during this period should be a minor note in your Fantasy Football planning given his £11.7m price tag.

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.