After a first round of European games in midweek, attention returned to domestic leagues this weekend. And with 24 goals scored in the Premier League, there was plenty of excitement. Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester United all won to stay tied at the top. Manchester City, meanwhile, were the only ones to stumble in what is setting up to be an enthralling title race. Here are this week’s talking points.
Chelsea, Tuchel prove credentials
Few doubted, going into the season, that the reigning champions of Europe would challenge for the Premier League. With the summer addition of Romelu Lukaku and possibly the best defence in the world at the moment, they are a formidable opponent. And though they struggled in the first half of their game against Tottenham Hotspur, the second proved no contest.
Tottenham set out to control the midfield and achieved just that, but were left undone by a smart tactical shift by Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel. The German brought on N’Golo Kanté at halftime, a decision which completely turned the momentum around. Replacing the more attacking Mason Mount, Kanté evened out the midfield battle and gave his team greater control. Chelsea posed a greater attacking threat after the change, and their efforts soon bore fruit. Thiago Silva scored on a corner in the 49th minute, and less than ten minutes later the Blues had a second through Kanté himself. His shot from distance hit Eric Dier’s leg, diverting it past a helpless Hugo Lloris. After that, the result seemed set in stone, with Spurs deflated and offering little attacking threat. Antonio Rüdiger added a third late on for emphasis.
With five games played, Chelsea now sit top of the table with four wins out of five. This includes triumphs over Arsenal, Tottenham, and Aston Villa. The Blues also have four clean sheets and are yet to concede from open play, with Mohamed Salah’s penalty in his team’s 1-1 draw the only occasion of Chelsea’s defence being breached so far. Their next opponent is now Manchester City, and if they can win that one, they will surely have to be favourites to win it all.
Liverpool maintain momentum
Like Chelsea, Liverpool have started the season in excellent form. This showed no sign of stopping as they dispatched Crystal Palace in comfortable fashion. Sadio Mané opened the scoring right before the half, setting a Premier League record with his ninth consecutive goal against the Eagles. Salah then got the team’s second and his fourth for the season, moving him joint-top of the golden boot race. Naby Keïta rounded off the scoring with an excellent volley in the 89th.
While the forward play gets most of the plaudit, Liverpool’s defence also deserves recognition. Ibrahima Konaté made his Premier League debut as one of two changes to the Reds’ usual backline, but it made no difference to the result. Like their London title-rivals, Liverpool have opened the season with four clean sheets out of five, with Kai Havertz the only man to beat Alisson as of yet. They also boast an identical goal scoring record as Chelsea, both teams having scored 12 goals. Though Chelsea will get slightly more credit for doing it against bigger teams, Liverpool look all set to be their biggest challenger.
A game of two subs for United
The final team on thirteen points is Manchester United, who beat West Ham. The Red Devils would have been determined to set things right after their midweek woes, but got off to a shaky start. Though the Hammers were missing star man Michail Antonio through suspension, they took the lead through Saïd Benrahma on the half-hour mark. Their joy was short lived, however, as Cristiano Ronaldo equalised five minutes later. The Portuguese superstar now has four goals in only three games since his return to Old Trafford.
The game seemed headed for a draw until late on, when Jesse Lingard returned to haunt his former teammates. Lingard, who spent the second half of last season on loan with the Hammers, got a rousing reception at the London Stadium when he came on as a substitute. However, he showed no mercy for his former colleagues when he rifled home a shot in the 89th minute. But though United seemed to have won it, there was to be one more twist in the tale.
Halfway through the four minutes of added time, Luke Shaw’s extended arm blocked Andriy Yarmolenko’s cross. Though referee Martin Atkinson did not give the penalty, VAR took a look and urged him to overturn his decision. After checking the pitch-side monitor, he did just that. Manager David Moyes then chose to sub on Mark Noble for the sole purpose of taking the penalty, a decision which backfired immediately. Indeed, goalkeeper David de Gea saved Noble’s shot, and United went home victorious.
Though United have been less impressive than their rivals, they are still keeping pace. They may not be winning their games in the same emphatic fashion, but sometimes the result is all that counts. With a tough run of fixtures looming after the next international break, they now need to ensure they make the most of their next two games. Both will be at home, as they host first Aston Villa and then Everton.
City already losing ground
Faced with near-perfect starts from their title rivals, Manchester City will rue their poor performance at the weekend. Prior to hosting Southampton, the Cityzens had won their last three home games 5-0. The result should therefore have been a formality, but was anything but that. City only had one shot on target the entire match, coming in the dying moments of the game, and were sloppy throughout. Southampton looked the better side for long stretches and threatened to capitalise on repeated turnovers by their opponents.
Though the Saints were ultimately happy to come away with a point, it could have been more, as referee Jonathan Moss awarded them a penalty in the 60th minute after Kyle Walker brought down Adam Armstrong in the box. Walker also received a red card for his efforts. Both decisions were, however, overturned by VAR. And though the red might have been harsh, the penalty did not look a clear and obvious mistake and probably should have stood.
Coupled with their loss to Tottenham on opening day, City are now three points behind the leading pack. With a trip to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea up next, they will need a far better performance if they hope to retain their Premier League crown.
Controversy at the Amex
VAR and refereeing decisions have not grabbed as many headlines this season after the Premier League announced changes to its use over the summer. However, there will be many complaints after Brighton & Hove Albion’s victory over Leicester City. The opening goal for Brighton came via the penalty spot, after Leicester defender Jannik Vestergaard handled the ball in the area. However, upon review, Brighton forward Neal Maupay could clearly be seen tugging on the Dane’s other arm, preventing him from jumping in a natural manner. Rather than give the foul, VAR awarded the penalty, which Maupay converted. Brighton then went 2-0 through Danny Welbeck shortly after the break.
Leicester pulled one back through Jamie Vardy in the 61st, kickstarting their comeback attempts. With half an hour to go, the Foxes committed more and more men forward in search of an equaliser. And in the 67th minute, Ademola Lookman thought he had it. Lookman scored off a Ryan Bertrand corner, only for his goal to be disallowed. The referee claimed Harvey Barnes, who was standing in an offside position, had obstructed goalkeeper Robert Sánchez’s view. While he never touched the ball, this does count as involvement in the play, and the goal was chalked off. Whether his presence had any real effect on Sanchez and the outcome, however, is debatable.
20 minutes later, the same scenario repeated itself. From another corner, Wilfred Ndidi rose highest to send the ball into the back of the net. But, once again, the referee called it back for perceived obstruction of the ‘keeper’s view. Barnes had once more strayed into an offside position between the ball and Sánchez. Despite vehement protests, the offside decision stood and the game ended 2-1 to Albion. The Seagulls now sit fourth in the table, with four wins and one loss in their opening five.
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