Norwich may have offered the rest of the Premier League a blueprint for beating Man City, Liverpool are frontrunners once again and Arsenal show they simply aren’t getting better under Unai Emery. It’s Nick MIller’s Weekend Review.
JUMP TO: Farke faith repaid | Liverpool frontrunners | Reds’ super trio | Abraham on fire | Willock a find | Leicester’s joy | Abraham stars | United result | Predictable Arsenal | Spurs avert crisis | Wolves woe
Did Norwich reveal City’s kryptonite?
Manchester City have now lost two league games in 2019, against teams with very different approaches. Back in January, Newcastle beat them with staunch defending, as 11 clones of Rafa Benitez’s stubborn personality frustrated City.
On Saturday, they were defeated 3-2 by a Norwich side with a much more proactive attitude, pressing and forcing City into mistakes. This was most obvious for Teemu Pukki‘s goal to make it 3-1, but a more instructive example came in injury time, Norwich hanging on to their lead when most teams might have dropped 10 players as deep as possible, they kept at it, kept pushing City farther up the pitch.
So does this tell us anything about the best way to get the better of City? Is this a “blueprint” for defeating them? Maybe. Most teams who try that are fairly emphatically destroyed, but then again most teams who try to defend are fairly emphatically destroyed too. It certainly feels like the more enjoyable approach — trying to actively hurt City rather than waiting for them to punch themselves out — even if it is a riskier one.
City lost games last season and still took the title, so let’s not be too hasty in declaring their powers are waning. But a loss this early in the season does at least provide the rest with some encouragement, and tells us they’re just fallible enough.
Farke faith repaid
Incidentally, it’s worth pointing out that nine players on Norwich’s team were those who won promotion last season: the two additions were Sam Byram, signed from West Ham for about £750,000 after an injury-ruined campaign on loan at Nottingham Forest, and loanee Ibrahim Amadou, a bit-part player at Sevilla.
Norwich are still among the most likely to go down this season, but any success they have is a triumph of coaching from Daniel Farke, who could easily have been sacked after an underwhelming first season in charge but in whom faith was retained, and now look at them.
How will Liverpool handle pressure?
Five games into the season, and Liverpool are perfect. Thanks to the result at Carrow Road on Saturday, they already have a five-point lead over Manchester City and are most certainly front-runners. So the interesting question will now be: How will they react to that new status?
Last season, they were in the title race until the very last day, but the only time they were really front-runners was in January after City’s defeat to Newcastle, and it was the four draws in six games around that time which ultimately cost them the title. That scenario presents itself again, so it will be intriguing to see in the upcoming weeks what they do with the different sort of pressure that comes with being the chased, rather than being the chasers.
Sane, Firmino arguably better than Salah
It’s an illustration of how good Liverpool’s forward three are that one of them is Mo Salah, who has scored 75 goals in two seasons for them, and you could make credible arguments that the other two are better than him. Sadio Mane scored his third and fourth goals of the season (fifth and sixth if you count the Super Cup) against Newcastle, while Roberto Firmino produced an incredible assist and the rest of his play was of a similar standard. Think you know how to stop them? We’re all ears.
Abraham is the striker of the week
Frank Lampard spoke with the pride of a nurturing father when discussing the performance of his young players in Chelsea’s 5-2 battering of Wolves. The obvious takeaway from this hitherto successful (if enforced) experiment is that big teams should place more faith in their youth products, but something else to take away is that we shouldn’t write players off so readily after a single poor season.
Tammy Abraham‘s previous experience has been in the Championship and a single moderate top-flight season with a struggling Swansea team, which made it easy to think he was one of those players who would be good in the second tier but was never quite good enough for the top.
Naturally, we shouldn’t anoint him Chelsea’s next great No. 9 yet, but it was interesting that his third goal against Wolves — close control, a sudden burst of movement, then a precision finish — was exactly the sort of strike he tried most games at Swansea. Then he couldn’t quite manage it with any regularity, but in a better team with greater confidence, he very much is now.
United should get used to results like this
“We want to play better than that,” Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said after Manchester United beat Leicester 1-0. But under the circumstances and considering their injury problems, they should be happy with a victory against an upwardly mobile team.
United fans should probably get used to games like this, though. Their best players are those that produce moments — the odd great pass, or searing run, or brilliant finish — not ones that can control or run a game. Thus, the victories they achieve this season will probably be thanks to those moments, rather than in matches in which they dominate.
Arsenal as predictable as ever
Sometimes teams surprise you, confounding expectations in either good ways or bad. Arsenal, in an ever-changing, confusing and sometimes scary world, are at least a constant, resolutely conforming to predictions.
In their 2-2 draw against Watford they were incisive in attack, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang scoring a brace to take his Arsenal tally to 46 from 70 games, but calamitous in defence, donating two goals and throwing a victory down the toilet. Exactly as everyone thought they would be.
The more serious point here is that this predictability suggests Arsenal aren’t moving forward, or improving under Unai Emery. Their squad was and is, to say the least, “imperfect,” but sooner or later there has to be some sign of a plan, of things getting better for his appointment to be fit for purpose. The more performances like this one, the less likely it seems Arsenal are actually improving, and the less viable Emery’s tenure is.
Crisis averted for Spurs
Maybe Mauricio Pochettino was right when he suggested that it was the distraction of the transfer window that was causing Tottenham’s early season woes. That always felt like a diversion, an uncertainty that only really applied to a couple of their players masking wider problems.
But it wasn’t just the one-sided result against the previously excellent Crystal Palace that suggested things are back on track for Spurs. The performance was a complete showing in which Palace were swept aside with every component of the side doing their jobs more or less perfectly.
“When you are focused it shows in the first-half performance of the team,” said Pochettino, looking like a new man. “I am so happy to recover that feeling. Now keep pushing. It is the first step.”
Wolves not so much
Should we be concerned about Wolves? Of course being beaten soundly at home by Chelsea might not set immediate alarm bells ringing, and even if they are ringing the natural instinct is to think they’re just struggling with the demands of the Europa League, which they could adjust to.
But they not only haven’t won a game, they’re the only Premier League team not to lead in any of their games so far. Those have been tough games, but last season Wolves’ USP was beating the sides we thought they shouldn’t beat.
Perhaps we should not have been so quick to assume they could repeat the successes of last term, when they were pretty lucky with injuries and essentially finished seventh with 16 or 17 players. Is doing that sort of thing twice realistic in modern football? In short, can we expect significant regression from them this season?
Goal of the weekend
The obvious choice would be Fikayo Tomori‘s sensational long-range strike for Chelsea, but arguably more impressive was Moussa Dnjepo’s solo effort for Southampton against Sheffield United, for two main reasons. First, there were at least two points when he could have easily gone down while being fouled by Oliver Norwood. Second, after the mazy run and close control, he could have panicked but kept a cool head to slide the finish home.
Burgeoning storyline of the weekend
Once again, Ryan Bertrand was left out of the Southampton starting XI for their trip to Sheffield United despite apparently being fit. The left-back has been injured, so perhaps Ralph Hasenhuttl is just playing things cautiously, though there could also be something deeper at play. One to keep an eye on, perhaps.
Luckiest moment of the weekend
It might seem a bit odd to declare an Arsenal player lucky after the way they collapsed against Watford, but right at the end Sokratis Papastathopoulos completely lost Abdoulaye Doucoure, completing a defensive clown show from the Gunners and he was fortunate that the French midfielder’s shot was ineffective. Otherwise he would have been responsible for Arsenal throwing away all the points, as opposed to just two.