Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Table After Week 3: All Hail Leicester; Fortress Anfield; The Good, The Bad, The Chelsea; Wolves Tamed

Top of the Table 

Leicester stands alone atop the Premier League following their 5-2 dismantling of Manchester City. Ageless Jamie Vardy scored a hat trick and now has eight goals in his last nine matches against Pep Guardiola’s club. The Foxes have scored twelve goals in their three games to date and sit alone atop the league with a better goal differential than similarly thrice perfect Liverpool and Everton.

Liverpool extended its unbeaten streak at Anfield to 61 matches. Newly acquired forward Diogo Jota provides yet another attacking option for the Reds and delivered the final goal in the 3-1 win over Arsenal. 

Everton are level in the standings with their Merseyside neighbors following a third consecutive victory. Calvert-Lewin notched his fifth goal of the season in the Toffees’ 2-1 win against Crystal Palace which was decided on just one of several controversial handball penalties awarded over the weekend. 

A surprise in fourth place is an undefeated Aston Villa team which just barely avoided relegation last season. Jack Grealish opened the scoring for the Villains in a 3-0 pasting of Fulham. 

Despite their first loss of the season, Arsenal played well at Anfield and forward Alexandre Lacazette had several opportunities for the Gunners only to be thwarted by outstanding Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker. 

Rounding out the top six is a Crystal Palace team which had won its first two before the weekend loss to Everton. The Eagles will hope to see more from acquisitions Eberiche Eze and Michy Batschuayi in coming weeks to improve their attack. 

Tied on points with Crystal Palace but lagging on points differential is a newly promoted Leeds team which has won two of three games with the only blemish being an exciting loss to champion Liverpool. Patrick Bamford scored his third goal of the season for a Leeds team which posted a clean sheet against Sheffield United after having conceded seven goals in their first two games.

Mid Table

Spurs, Chelsea and Newcastle fill spots eight through ten in the table with each team experiencing a win, loss and draw in three games.

A controversial handball call led to a game tying late penalty kick for Newcastle against Spurs. Jose Mourinho had already angrily stormed from the field before the tying spot kick had nestled in the net. As expected, Newcastle Manager Steve Bruce had his defense set up in a low block which continually frustrated Spurs in the clubs’ 1-1 draw.

Chelsea provided one of the weekend’s more exciting games, roaring back from a three-goal deficit to gain a point in a 3-3 final against West Brom. Any enthusiasm from the comeback is tempered by the question of how a team with Chelsea’s wage bill could fall three goals behind a limited Baggie side. Chelsea is quite poor on defense and can be quite explosive in attack. The insertion of a fit Ben Chilwell can hopefully address the struggles of Marcos Alonso at left back but that may not be enough of a fix for the Blues. The acquisition of West Ham defensive midfielder Declan Rice is again being rumored.

Meanwhile, the galaxy of young Chelsea attackers was on full display in the second half as all three goal scorers for Chelsea (Mount, Abraham, Hudson-Odoi) were age twenty-two or younger. 

Six teams sit on three points. Leading that pack in eleventh place on goal differential is West Ham which engineered a surprising 4-0 taming of Wolves. Jarrod Bowen, acquired from Hull City in January this year, posted two goals for the Hammers who had failed to score against Wolves in their previous four meetings. 

Brighton and Hove Albion conceded a penalty (yet another handball) at the final whistle to lose their second game of the season against Manchester United. The final disappointment followed the Seagulls frustratingly rattling the woodwork on five different occasions. The Red Devils are now knotted in the table with their crosstown rivals as both Manchester clubs have a win and a loss in two games played. But for a moment of individual brilliance by Marcus Rashford, Manchester United looked sluggish in attack. The defense also looks vulnerable, allowing eighteen shots against Brighton. 

Manchester City has defensive issues of its own and reportedly hopes to finalize an acquisition of Benfica center back Ruben Dias this week. 

Southampton picked up its first win of the season on a Danny Ings goal at Burnley. 

Wolves played like they were wearing sheep’s clothing in their 4-0 defeat to West Ham. Wolves wing back Nelson Semedo, recently acquired from Barcelona, must be feeling shellshocked as his teams have now conceded twelve goals in his last two appearances.

Bottom of the Table

West Brom appeared as surprised as anyone to be leading Chelsea by three goals and barely held on to secure their one point this season. The Baggies have allowed the most goals of any team this year, conceding eleven. 

The three current occupants of the relegation zone who have yet to earn a point are Burnley, Sheffield United and Fulham. Burnley may finally have approached the limit of its ability to survive on limited resources as injuries have been crippling this year for the thin Claret squad. Manager Sean Dyche, though, has worked magic in the north before. 

While looking more solid defensively in their 1-0 loss to Leeds, Sheffield United is going to need to eventually score a goal. The Blades have now been clean sheeted in all three of their games this season. 

Fulham appears overmatched this year and the organization seemed on the verge of panic with the club issuing apologies to fans after Monday’s loss to Aston Villa. The season, after only three games, looks long and ominous from the bottom of the Premier League table.


Friday, September 25, 2020

Match Week 3 Preview: Liverpool Versus Arsenal Headlines this Weekend; Leicester Faces Test from Man City

Top of the Table 

This weekend features three games pitting undefeated teams. Liverpool plays host to an Arsenal team which has now extended its unbeaten streak in all competitions to six which includes FA Cup and Community Shield trophies.  Arsenal has won its last two matches against Liverpool including the recent Community Shield win in penalties.  Unfortunately for the Gunners Liverpool is unbeaten in 60 home matches and Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane are off to a flying start, combining for five goals in the Reds’ first two Premier League wins this season.  This weekend’s match will be a stern test for an Arsenal squad which was troubled by West Ham last week before putting the Hammers down late.  Kieran Tierney is expected back fit for Arsenal which will be helpful against a Liverpool team which may feature new acquisition Thiago adding creativity to its midfield corps.  

Current table leaders Leicester play Manchester City in a step up from the competition they faced in their opening two victories over West Brom and Burnley.  The Foxes do not match up well with Pep Guardiola’s team and have fallen in the last three matches between the clubs, five of the last six in all competitions. Worse still, Leicester has lost the last four played at the Etihad.  If the Foxes can reverse that trend, they will achieve their best ever start to a Premier League season after three games.  Jamie Vardy, with five goals in his last eight appearances against Manchester City, will likely need to shine in any positive result for Leicester this week.  Leicester defensive presence Wilfred Ndidi will be missing due to injury against the Man City attack. Manchester City has several injuries as well but should have more than enough to juggle the top table rankings. Citizen Striker Gabriel Jesus has scored in four of his last five games against Leicester. 

A surprising top of the table match sees Everton travel to Crystal Place on Saturday.  Crystal Palace scored its second victory last week with a well-earned win at Manchester United.  Wilfried Zaha, who has three goals this season, and a well-organized defense remain the keys to Eagles hopes.  Everton is perhaps easier on the eyes than the Eagles with a stylish attack under second year manager Carlos Ancelotti.  Striker Calvert-Lewin leads the Premier League in goals and the newly acquired James Rodriguez has settled nicely into the Toffee midfield. 

Mid Table

Spurs play host to Newcastle following a smashing win over Southampton and the recent high-profile acquisitions of Gareth Bale and Sergio Reguilon.  Son Heung-min’s four goals and Harry Kane’s four assists overwhelmed a Southampton defense playing a high line.  Look for Newcastle Manager Steve Bruce to set his defense far more conservatively to avoid the sins of the Saints last weekend. The Magpies were disappointing in a loss to Brighton last week and face an uphill challenge in London. Spurs could be weary, however, from a Thursday Europa league qualifying match in North Macedonia and their counter attacking offense could be blunted against a tightly packed Newcastle defense.  New Spurs acquisition Christian Bale is not fit for the game while fellow transfer Sergio Reguilon may make his debut in the Spurs defense.  

Chelsea travels to West Brom with hopes that high priced transfer addition Kai Havertz can find his Premier League form following a hat trick performance in Carabou Cup action this week. New acquisitions Ben Chilwell and Thiago Silva may make their debuts on Chelsea’s back line.  That back line should not be overly challenged by a West Brom side which has been held scoreless in its last four matches against Chelsea.

Brighton and Hove Albion looks more dangerous this year in manager Graham Potter’s free flowing offense as they prepare to host Manchester United this weekend. Ironically, starting Brighton midfielder Yves Bissouma is suspended but will likely be replaced by Pascal Gross who has troubled the Red Devils in past games, providing a goal or assist in each of his last four appearances against Manchester United.  

Leeds travels to Bramall Lane Sunday to face Sheffield United in a Yorkshire Derby.  The wide-open style of Leeds will contrast sharply with a Blades team which allowed the fourth fewest goals in the Premier League last season while also being among the bottom six teams in goals scored.  Leeds is tied for the most goals scored in the Premier League this season and has been an enjoyable watch in both its loss to defending champion Liverpool and its win over newly promoted Fulham. Patrick Bamford has played well up front for Leeds which is still waiting to see production from Valencia transfer Rodrigo.  

Aston Villa enjoyed a man advantage in defeating Sheffield United last week on a set piece goal by defender Ezri Konsa.  Recently acquired forwards Ollie Watkins and Bertrand Traore are hoped to provide more punch in attack and may benefit facing a Fulham defense which has shipped seven goals in its opening two games.  

Wolves continue to reshape themselves with the recent purchase of Barcelona defender Nelson Semedo and the sale of midfielder Diego Jota to Liverpool.  Semedo, who had some problems while at Barcelona, is thought to be a good fit for wingback in the Wolves system.  The team travels to troubled West Ham Sunday with an excellent opportunity to rebound from a loss last week at Manchester City.  The Wolverhampton club have won their last four matches against the Hammers without conceding a goal. 

Bottom of the Table

Manchester United, looking up at the competition in these early days, seek their first victory of the season when they travel to Brighton and Hove Albion Saturday and hope to quiet the storm of criticisms which followed their home defeat at Crystal Palace last week. The Red Devils have won their last three against the Seagulls.  Eric Bailly is reported healthy for the game and it would be unsurprising to see Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer insert him in the lineup at center back for the struggling Victor Lindelof.  

Southampton travels to Burnley having looked far worse than expected in their opening two games and could prove a welcome opponent for a Burnley squad currently racked by injuries.  Burnley has never allowed more than a goal to a visiting Southampton side in topflight competition.  A game time decision on the fitness availability of star Burnley defender James Tarkowski could influence the outcome here.  

Sheffield United has yet to score in its two Premier League matches this season.  That will need to change against a Leeds squad tied with Leicester for the most goals this league season.  

Winless Fulham returns home to Craven Cottage this weekend having shown some signs of life in scoring the final two goals in a 4-3 defeat at Leeds last week.  The Cottagers match against Aston Villa, winners over 10-man Sheffield United in their only fixture, should provide a better read on both these teams.   

London Stadium will be missing both fans and a manager Sunday with David Moyes having fallen victim to COVID-19.  The Hammers have been challenged both on and off the pitch this season with comments by owner David Sullivan this weak which depicted a bleak transfer market outlook doing nothing to improve the mood of fans.  A relatively decent effort in a loss to Arsenal last week will be quickly forgotten if the Hammers lose badly to Wolves at home.  

West Brom faces Chelsea this weekend having conceded more goals than any other Premier League team this season.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Match 2 Week Results: Leicester Goes Top; Crystal Palace Surprises; Saints Look Hellish

Top of the Table

Leicester sits atop the table for the first time since their Premier League    championship season. A fluid attack has marked their early games, matching league debutante Leeds for the most goals scored to date at seven. The schedule has been kind, however, with newly promoted West Brom and an injury depleted Burnley presenting the opposition to date. 

Everton continued to feature a rejuvenated attack as they rolled over a West Brom side which played the second half with 10 men. In form Calvert-Lewin added a hat trick to his winning goal from Week 1 and James Rodriguez scored his first Premier League goal. 

An unlikely top of the table battle takes place next week when the Toffees visit Crystal Palace, winners of their opening two Premier League matches for the first time in Eagles' history. James McArthur and James McCarthy have been unsung heroes for their defensive work in the midfield for Palace. Wilfried Zaha delivered a brace for the Eagles in a 3-1 victory against a Manchester United team which had once employed his services.

Arsenal remained unbeaten with a late goal winner versus a dogged West Ham side. Arsenal struggled for much of the game but captured the three points on an 85th minute goal by Eddie Nketiah. Arsenal defender Kieran Tierney was injured in warmups and back line depth now bears watching for a Gunner squad with its eyes on European places.

Liverpool remained perfect with their 2-0 win over Chelsea, featuring two goals from Sadio Mane. Mane's header set up by the passing of line mates Salah and Firmino demonstrated the brilliance which is Liverpool's front three. The Reds took opportunity in the second half to introduce new midfield signing Thiago Alcantara. The transfer from Bayern Munich should add additional creativity to the hard-working Liverpool midfield. Liverpool has also added additional squad depth with the recent signing of midfielder Diogo Jota from Wolves.

Manchester City capped the weekend action with a 3-1 victory over Wolves. An extra time goal by City's Gabriel Jesus was the 44th Premier League goal of the weekend, breaking the league record for goals in a match week.

Mid Table

Defensive deficiencies were on display as Chelsea fell to Liverpool at Stamford Bridge. A red card assigned to center back Andreas Christensen put the Blues a man down through the entire second half while a misguided clearance attempt by Chelsea goalie Kepa Arrizabalaga handed a goal to Liverpool. A second half penalty kick by Chelsea's Jorginho was saved by Liverpool goalie Allison to keep Chelsea scoreless. Defensively, the Blues can look forward to the pending introductions of Ben Chilwell at left back and Thiago Silva at center back. A deal for Rennes goalkeeper Edouard Mendy was expected to be finalized this week. While early, the quiet play to date of expensive new acquisition Kai Havertz, oddly positioned on Sunday in a center forward role by manager Frank Lampard, is drawing attention. 

The Son never set on an explosive Spurs attack at Southampton with Son Heung-min scoring four goals and Harry Kane contributing four assists. Things could get even more exciting in North London with the addition of Gareth Bale on loan. Defender Sergio Reguilion also joins the team from Real Madrid to help with lingering back line concerns.


Brighton looked sharp in a 3-0 defeat of Newcastle. Neal Maupay had a brace for the Seagulls. Former Chelsea product Tarig Lamptey drew a penalty for one of Maupay's goals and the nineteen-year-old defender has been a bright spot in both Brighton games this season. Newcastle fell behind by two goals after only seven minutes as it failed for a third consecutive time to score in a match against Brighton. 

An aggregate 14 goals have been scored in Leeds' first two matches, representing the highest number of goals in a team's opening two games in the English topflight in more than fifty years. Leeds high flying attack leaves it volnerable in its own third and more fireworks can likely be expected.

Aston Villa saw immediate dividends from its acquisition of former Arsenal goalie Emi Martinez. Martinez's first save for Villa was on a penalty kick, preserving a scoreless first half against 10-man Sheffield United. Aston Villa went on to score a second half winner and capture all three points from the undermanned Blades.

Wolves awakened in its second half with Manchester City but failed to convert several chances. Winger Daniel Podence's assist on a Raul Jimenez goal Monday followed a much-remarked nutmeg of Manchester City star Kevin De Bruyne.

Bottom of the Table

Fulham displayed some mettle in scoring the final two goals in its 4-3 loss to Leeds. A brace by Alexander Mitrovic again highlighted his criticality to the Fulham attack as he was inserted back in the starting lineup after a second half substitute appearance in the season opening loss. Scott Parker's gamble to go to a high press after falling behind 4-1 was daring but enabled the Cottagers to finish strongly.

West Brom has now allowed eight goals in its two losses and received two red cards on Saturday versus Everton, one assessed to frustrated manager Slaven Bilic. 

Southampton's employment of a high line against Spurs was an unmitigated disaster against the speed of and pace of Spurs. Many pundits and supporters are questioning why no in-game adjustment was made once Son began running amok, benefiting from some excellent through balls from Harry Kane. The Saints look terrible to date but do have a history of streakiness.

West Ham played better in their second match of the season but fell late as David Moyes continued his futility streak of never winning away to the Gunners. With all due respect to hardworking Michail Antonio, the Hammers look desperately in need of a true number nine striker. Sebastien Haller, acquired from Eintracht Frankfurt last year, was to have been that player but has not performed.

Manchester United was shut down by a Crystal Palace team which seems to have found a second home at Old Trafford with a second consecutive victory. The front line for Manchester United delivered little but for a missed Mason Greenwood header opportunity in the second half. Donny van de Beek scored shortly after his second half debut, but Manchester United hopes were quickly dashed by a second goal from their former player, Wilfried Zaha, in the 3-1 loss. The vulnerability of the Manchester United defense to the pace of the Eagle counterattack highlights a problem which may need to be addressed this transfer window. Controversy surrounding a Crystal Palace penalty score was largely side show to a disappointing performance for United.

Burnley was hamstrung in its 4-2 loss to Leicester by an injury depleted back line which was missing stalwarts James Tarkowski and Ben Mee.

Sheffield United got off to a tough start for a second consecutive week. Down 2-0 to Wolves after six minutes last week, the Blades went down to 10 men against Aston Villa in the twelfth minute on Monday. Playing respectably in the balance of those games was small solace for the Blades.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Match Week 2 Preview: Chelsea v. Liverpool Headlines the Weekend

Top of the Table

Stamford BridgeSunday features one of those games which supporters and neutrals live for. Chelsea, having expensively upgraded their title hopes with transfer spending this window, play host to defending champion Liverpool. In its history, Chelsea has faced no other team more often than Liverpool with this being the 125th meeting between the clubs. In Premier League competition, Liverpool holds a slight edge at 22 wins versus 20 for Chelsea in 56 matches. Back in July, the Reds swept by Chelsea at Anfield 5-3. A high scoring affair might be anticipated as the two teams aggregated seven goals between them on the season's opening weekend. Christian Pulisic remains a health question for Chelsea while Liverpool's Mohamed Salah is coming off a three-goal performance last week versus Brighton.

Another highly anticipated game this weekend sees Manchester City travel to Wolves on Monday. Pep Guardiola's squad begins its season still seeking to solidify its back line. The club continues to try to secure a central defender with Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly the most rumored target. While a defeat to Lyon in the Champions League has drawn criticism, it needs to be remembered that Manchester City outscored its Premier League opponents 21-1 in its last five fixtures last season.

Leicester plays host to Burnley at King Power Stadium as Brendan Rogers seeks to become the fourth fastest manager to notch 100 victories in the Premier League. Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho and Jurgen Klopp hold the first three marks with Guardiola having achieved his first 100 victories in only 134 matches. Saturday's match for the Foxes could see the return of play-making midfielder James Maddison to the starting lineup as he continues his return from injury.

Arsenal hopes to continue their fast start as they host a beleaguered West Ham squad in a London derby. Gunners star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang finally signed his new three-year contract with the club this week, putting an end to retention concerns. Granit Xhaka is hoped to be recovered from an ankle injury suffered last week for the match with the Hammers. 

Everton looks to build on an impressive opening week showing as it hosts West Brom at Goodison Park in the early game Saturday. Everton had an eleven-game unbeaten streak at Goodison before a loss on the final day of the 2019/20 season. Maintaining their momentum will be key for the Toffees as they hope to vie for a European position. The success of their new acquisitions last week may bolster Ancelotti's case to ownership to add another defender this window. 

Old Trafford will see Manchester United open its season by hosting the Eagles of Crystal Palace. While Jaden Sancho rumors have dominated transfer conversation for the Red Devils, an actual acquisition in the form of Donny van de Beek will make his debut this week. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be happy to see his team returning to the pitch after a brief off-season marked with less than optimal behavior by some key players.

Mid Table

Wolves play host to Manchester City on Monday hoping to build on the solid performance they displayed versus Sheffield United last week. While a worthy challenge, Wolves have notably defeated Pep Guardiola and his charges in their last two league matches. 

Spurs was in the news this week with rumored transfers of Gareth Bale and Sergio Reguilon from Real Madrid. The Spurs visit Southampton this weekend with a great opportunity to remove the bad taste of last week's loss to Everton.

Newcastle, impressive in its opening 2-0 win over West Ham, will now hope to break a six-year winless drought in opening home matches.

Sheffield United travels to Aston Villa this week hoping to find some goals. A mid-week Carabao Cup loss in penalty kicks to Burnley will not help the outlook for a team which struggled in a 2-0 loss Wolves last week.

Burnley visits Leicester this week hoping striker Chris Wood can extend his consecutive match goal scoring streak to four. The visit to King Power Stadium is unlikely to be fruitful, however, for the financially pragmatic team which has done little in the transfer window but to replace its second-choice goalkeeper. 

Beyond its normally disciplined defense, Crystal Palace will hope for performances against Manchester United from striker Michy Batshuai and midfielder Eberechi Eze to help star Wilfried Zaha in the final third for this goal challenged team.

Bottom of the Table

Brighton travels to Newcastle Sunday with greater prospect for success than they faced versus Chelsea last week. The Seagulls are unbeaten in their last six matches with the Magpies. Brighton will hope to continue the form they showed in the Carabao Cup earlier this week in their 4-0 victory over Portsmouth. 

Southampton did not look good last week at Crystal Palace and the challenge becomes much greater this week when they face a Spurs team sure to have gotten an earful from their manager Jose Mourinho following their loss to Everton last week. Insult was added to expected injury this week as rumors swirled that Spurs were seeking to acquire Southampton striker Danny Ings. The loss of Ings would be devastating for a Saints team which earlier this window sold midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, also to Spurs.

Leeds returns home from an impressive, if losing, effort at Anfield. Fulham should provide opportunity for Leeds to begin their points accumulation on Saturday. The swarming Leeds attack, which scored three goals against Liverpool, faces a Fulham defense which looked vulnerable in conceding three goals to Arsenal in the opening weekend. Fulham's last visit to Elland Road in June of this year resulted in a 3-0 defeat to Marcelo Bielsa's squad. A similar outcome might be expected Saturday based on what the teams showed in their openers last week.

David Moyes may juggle his West Ham lineup following last week's desultory loss at Newcastle as he seeks his first managerial win away at Arsenal. The Hammers have won only one of their last eleven visits to the Gunners. 

Aston Villa opens its season on a high note, having just signed Jack Grealish to a five-year contract and having secured the services of former Arsenal goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez. 

West Brom should find no joy in Merseyside this weekend versus Everton but did make a move this week to acquire former Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic. The Baggies also added young midfielder Conor Gallagher on loan from Chelsea.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Premier League Week 1: Arsenal's Fast Start; Everton Impresses; Dark Days for the Hammers

 Top of the Table

Arsenal exploded from the gate with a dominant 3-0 win over newly promoted Fulham. New squad members Willian (2 assists) and Gabriel (goal) provided immediate dividends while the dangerous strike force of Aubameyang and Lacazette saw each contribute a tally towards the Gunner victory. Some nervous defensive moments early could have been damaging against a better opponent and may bear watching.

Liverpool also looked a bit shaky in back before ultimately prevailing 4-3 over a determined Leeds side. Ultimately the quality of the defending champions prevailed as Mohamed Salah delivered a hat trick. Liverpool has now won a premier league record 35 straight games when Salah scores.

Leicester was workmanlike in a 2-0 win over newly promoted West Bromwich Albion. Newly acquired Tim Castagne, replacing the departed Ben Chilwell at left back, scored in his 1st game with the Foxes while Jamie Vardy scored two second half penalties in his 212th appearance for Leicester.

Carlo Ancelotti's Everton squad made a strong statement in defeating Spurs on Sunday. The 1-0 margin could have been wider with more clinical finishing. Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin both looked dangerous with Calvert-Lewin scoring the decisive goal. James Rodriguez provided a previously absent element for the Blues with his link-up play and energy in midfield. Jordan Pickford was aggressive and mistake-free in protection of his goal. Jose Mourinho will be less than pleased with the 15 shots allowed by his team, but this game was more about the performance of Everton than a disappointing effort by Spurs.

Chelsea prevailed 3-1 over Brighton despite missing Christian Pulisic and three of its new transfer additions for the opener, starting two new acquisitions in attack and continuing to cross their fingers regarding the performance of goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga. Timo Werner was promising in his Chelsea debut and drew the penalty leading to Chelsea's first goal. Chelsea fullback Reece James had one of the stellar goals of the opening weekend with a strike for Chelsea's second goal. 

Both Manchester clubs begin their campaigns next week.

Mid Table

Crystal Palace eked a 1-0 win over Southampton. We'll leave these two reflected as mid table teams for now but questions can certainly be asked of Southampton which fell to a Crystal Palace side missing five of its defenders due to injury and which did not call on the services of newly added striker Michy Batschuayai. A Wilfried Zaha goal and a firmly parked bus keyed the Eagles victory. Crystal Palace now faces a brutal stretch of games versus Manchester United, Everton, and Chelsea in their next three games.

Newcastle's transfer window needs to receive good early grades as its two goals in a victory at West Ham were scored by newcomers Callum Wilson and Jeff Hendrick.

Leeds captured the imagination on Saturday as it pushed Liverpool to the brink before falling 4-3 in an Anfield goal fest. The aggressive attack style seemed to catch Liverpool off guard and Leeds may prove a handful for Premier League opponents this season. We will peg them as a mid-table team for now in what might prove an overabundance of enthusiasm over their opening week performance. 

Wolves launched a blitzkrieg upon Sheffield United in the opening minutes of their match at Bramall and were up 2-0 after only six minutes. With the Blades having been quickly dulled in such fashion, there was little more to the game. Sheffield United looked a bit improved in the second half but the team which attempted the fewest shots in the Premier League last year left significant doubt as to where their goals might come from this year, achieving just two shots on goal Monday. 

Burnley begins its season at Leicester next weekend.

Bottom of the Table

West Ham's 2-0 defeat to visiting Newcastle will serve to further aggravate a disgruntled fan base. It is difficult to understand why David Moyes would be using three defensive midfielders for much of the game against a Newcastle team not known for its explosive attack. Things get tougher for West Ham and its fans now as the team's next five matches are all against teams having finished in the top seven last season. The Hammers travel to high flying Arsenal next week.

Fulham manager Scott Parker brought far greater sartorial splendor to the technical area than his team seemingly brought talent to the pitch on Saturday. Hopefully, we witnessed a case of opening night jitters or this could be a grim season for the denizens of Craven Cottage.

West Brom was undone by three second half Leicester goals, including two second half penalties by Jamie Vardy. The Baggies managed only 37% possession time and launched only a single shot on goal in their opening match. 

Brighton and Hove Albion likely deserved better from their 3-1 defeat to Chelsea. They played confidently in the first half and later had an opportunity to tie the match at 2 goals apiece with star defender Lewis Dunk missing an open goal with a misplaced header. Injuries to mid-fielder Adam Lallana and defender Ben White did not help the Seagulls' cause.

Idle Aston Villa will open its league season next Monday, hosting Sheffield United.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

The Premier League is Back! Match Week 1 Preview

Top of the Table

Saturday's feature game is Liverpool hosting Leeds at Anfield. The Reds, now unbeaten in 59 consecutive home matches, open their title defense against a Leeds side once dominant in the English top tier but now returning to the Premier League after a long sixteen-year absence. Both teams feature a high pressing, attacking style which could provide some fireworks.

Arsenal begins its quest for a return to the top six when it travels to Fulham earlier on Saturday. Despite trouble on the road in recent years (only 4 wins in 19 away matches in 2019/20), Arsenal would hope for a fast start against newly promoted Fulham. Perhaps of note for American fans is the presence of US national defenders Tim Reams and Antnee Robinson on the Fulham roster. 

Spurs play host to Everton in Sunday's feature match in a face-off between manager legends Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti, both entering a second year with their respective current clubs. The earlier game on Sunday sees Leicester traveling to the Hawthorns to take on newly promoted West Bromwich Albion. Injuries, suspensions and the potential fatigue of players returning from international duty could possibly leave an otherwise superior Leicester team vulnerable.

New look Chelsea, having spend over €200 million in the current transfer window, travel south to face the Seagulls of Brighton Hove Albion on Monday. Brighton has yet to ever defeat Chelsea, having drawn once in six previous matches against the Blues. While welcoming several new faces, Chelsea will be without the services of Christian Pulisic on Monday as he continues to recover from a hamstring injury suffered in the recent FA cup final. 

Both Manchester clubs are idle this week due to the late ending of their recent European campaigns.

Mid Table

Wolves travel to Sheffield United on Monday. While Wolves would seemingly hold the talent advantage, Sheffield United is a formidable side at home and defeated the Wolves 1-0 at Bramall in July. Both teams feature a stout defense and were among the top five performing teams in terms of goals allowed last season. Wolves are returning to action relatively quickly from their Europa League exit which could create vulnerability. 

Southampton visits Selhurst Park Saturday hoping to take all three points from a Crystal Palace side which may well fall in the table this coming season unless offensive woes can be addressed. The Saints were one of the better road teams in the league last season and were unbeaten in their final seven games in the recently completed 2019/20 season. Participation and performance by Chelsea striker Michy Batshuayi, who rejoined Crystal Palace on loan late this week, could be an important wildcard.

Burnley is idle this week.

Bottom of the Table

Newcastle visits West Ham Saturday amid a notable lack of enthusiasm by Hammer supporters based on continuing dissatisfaction with their ownership. West Ham captain Mark Noble has been publicly critical of management actions this transfer window. Newcastle has perhaps surprised fans by conducting some tidy recent transfer business, most notably the acquisition of striker Callum Wilson, despite another failed ownership change at the club. The Magpies and Hammers most recently played to a 2-2 draw at Newcastle in July.

Can one of the newly promoted clubs (Leeds, Fulham, West Brom) surprise a more highly rated opponent this weekend? This week's schedule would not seem friendly for the league's new arrivals. 

Aston Villa, returning for a second consecutive Premier League season courtesy of a final day 2019/20 result, is idle this week.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Season Preview: Liverpool Stands Pat; Chelsea Moves; Reunions at Everton; The New Guys

Top of the Table

Defending Champion Liverpool enters the 2020/21 season with a largely unchanged championship roster and should benefit out of the gate from a long rest uninterrupted by late stage 2019/20 European competition. Detractors suggest a lack of transfer spending risks complacency in the squad but even without any notable additions Jurgen Klopp's men should be well positioned for a title defense and potentially a better performance in this year's Champions League.

Chelsea has made the most aggressive (and expensive) moves in the transfer window to enter the title discussion. While bidding farewell to Willian and Petro, the team has added additional flash to its attacking options with incoming transfers Timo Werner, Hakim Zavich and Kai Haverz. The ability of Christian Pulisic to put together an extended injury free run could be a key to Chelsea's fortunes. Defensively, the club has attempted to address deficiencies through the additions of left back Ben Chilwell from Leicester and center back Tiago Silva from PSG. A change of goalkeeper remains a possibility to complete a defensive upgrade for a club which allowed more goals than any of the European qualifiers in 2019/20, twenty-seven more goals allowed than title winner Liverpool.

Manchester City enters its first season in a decade without club stalwart David Silva and likely suffering some self-doubt following another passive exit from the Champions League. Pep Guardiola's team continues to feature an embarrassment of riches in attack (102 goals in 2019/20, 17 more than title winning Liverpool) but shows signs of weakness in defensive positions only partially addressed to date by the acquisition of Nathan Ake from Bournemouth.

Manchester United starters showed signs of wear at last season's end as a thin bench forced additional minutes on the starting eleven. The acquisition of Donny van de Beek helps with midfield depth and hopefully minutes can be amicably shared with stars Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba. Unsuccessful attempts so far to acquire Jaden Sancho and to further bolster the back line somewhat temper the optimism generated from a promising Rashford/Martial/Greenwood front line and the dynamic midfield pairing of Fernandes and Pogba.

Leicester stumbled at the end of last season following an unexpectedly strong start which saw them second in the table at mid-season before ultimately falling to fifth. Europa competition will put additional strain on the Foxes who have lost highly regarded left back Ben Chilwell. Leicester's attack remains heavily reliant on the form of 33-year-old Jamie Vardy. 

Jose Mourinho continues to be a fascinating study as is being highlighted in the new Amazon television documentary. Has he been a success at Spurs? Based on points accumulation from the time of his November 2019 appointment, Mourinho would have Spurs finishing in the league's top four. By his own standards, however, Spurs lost more games during that period than Mourinho lost in his first two seasons at Chelsea combined. Even if the team is successful on paper, will Spurs fans accept Mourinho's pragmatic tactical approach? Can Arsenal build on its FA Cup and Community Shield trophies and qualify for Europe? The retaining of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is key to hoopes for progress from Mikel Arteta's side. The signing of Lille defender Gabriel and a potential center back pairing with youngster William Saliba could mitigate some of the team's defensive frailties. The resurgence of defensive midfielder Granit Xhaka will also need continue to solidify the back half.

Mid Table

Wolves appeared greatly tired at the end of its recently concluded Premier and Europa campaigns. The loss of defender Matt Doherty to Spurs further depletes a relatively thin roster. Fortunately, rumored interest of other teams in forwards Raul Jimenez and Adama Traore seems to have somewhat quieted and the team has made an investment in the future by signing highly regarded 18-year-old youngster Fabio Silva from Porto. 

The jury is out as to whether Sheffield United can kick on from a surprisingly strong maiden season following its promotion from the Championship. The team has secured former Bournemouth goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale to replace Dean Henderson who was exceptional last year while on loan from Manchester United.

Everton will need to step forward in Carlo Ancelotti's first full season at the helm or possibly face another project re-start. Ancelotti was outspoken on the need to be active in the current transfer market and is now successfully reunited with two former players. Former Ancelotti players James Rodriquez (Real Madrid) and Allan (Napoli) join him to overhaul an Everton midfield in need of renovation. Also joining the revamped Everton midfield is Abdoulaye Doucoure from relegated Watford. 

Sean Dyche justifies being the currently longest tenured Premier League manager by keeping a modest Burnley squad entrenched in the table year after year. Solid defending and the outstanding goalkeeping of Nick Pope make Burnley a tough out in any given match week.

Southampton finished last year strongly under Ralph Hasenhuttl but will need another strong year from striker Danny Ings. 

Steve Bruce did not receive enough credit for keeping Newcastle 10 points clear of relegation last season. The recent addition of striker Callum Wilson from Bournemouth can hopefully add to a goals tally for Newcastle which exceeded that of only three teams in the 2019/20 campaign.

Bottom of the Table

Crystal Palace has been buying time for years now with an aging roster lacking in attacking options. Fans also seem to be tiring of the annual saga regarding Wilfried Zaha's future. Zaha was not the same player last year after rumored moves to Arsenal and Everton failed to materialize. Winless in their final 8 games last year, Roy Hodgson's squad may well be drawn into this season's relegation scrap. 

Brighton and Hove Albion and West Ham did little over the abbreviated break to improve their fortunes and may also be facing a relegation battle. Possible the oft injured Adam Lallana, newly arrived from Liverpool, can make a difference in the Brighton midfield. Despite the interest of suitors such as Chelsea, West Ham has so far retained mid-fielder Declan Rice, the loss of whom would significantly dampen the Hammers' chances this coming season.

Aston Villa survived last season with an exciting and gutsy final week. That said, the margin for error remains slim without meaningful roster additions. Keeping talisman Jack Grealish would seem essential to ensure another year's stay at the English top level. 

Of recently promoted squads, Leeds seems best positioned for a strong season. The iconic English cllub, under mercurial manager Marcelo Bielsa, brings an attack minded philosophy. Leeds generated 12% more shots than its nearest Championship competitor last season. 

Fulham returns to the Premier League under promising young manager Scott Parker. The economic effect of Covid 19 and new stadium expenditures may be limiting Fulham player acquisitions this transfer window in a significant departure from the spending spree which preceded the club's Premier League visit two years ago.

Former West Ham manager Slaven Bilic returns to the Premier League with West Brom, though there is little to indicate an extended stay. Matheus Pereira is the creative key to the West Brom attack which features former Premier League players Charlie Austin and Hal Robson-Kanu up front.