A good weekend of Premier League football became one to remember as Liverpool and Man City treated fans to the best game of the season and one of the best in the league’s history.
With Manchester United stumbling and Chelsea back to finding the net, maybe this weekend was the one where a four horse race for the title became a three horse race. Teams like Brighton and Everton obviously don’t believe that theory though as they keep the pressure up on the top teams with good performances this week and the Premier League saw its first managerial casualty of the season as Watford decided to seek new leadership. Lots to talk about so let’s get stuck in….
Anfield provides the perfect atmosphere for game of the season
What a beauty! This game had been billed as the clash of two of the great Premier League sides and it lived up to that and then some. Despite no one finding the back of the net in the first half, the tempo and quality of the play from both sides were quite exquisite.
Man City had the better of that opening 45 minutes and were so good that they were able to make Liverpool look sluggish. Jack Grealish and Phil Foden in particular were in fine form and gave James Milner one of his most challenging games ever as they just kept running at him, and often past him.
For many, Milner should have been sent off for two yellow cards. When the ref decided not to book him for his rash tackle in the second half, City manager Pep Guardiola was incensed. He screamed at the fourth official and got booked himself for the behaviour. Ironically he and Milner would end up with the same number of yellow cards come the end of the game.
Pep obviously felt that the decision was impacted by the fact that it was his side that was involved. “It’s Anfield, it’s Old Trafford. In our situation, a City player is sent off. 100%. So, I understand… It’s too much clear. It was a second yellow,” commented Guardiola after the game.
The Man City coach will have been disappointed that his side weren’t well ahead come half time and not still locked at 0-0. They had plenty of chances but it wasn’t until the second half when either side could find the net. But it was worth waiting for!
Liverpool twice took the lead – first through Sadio Mané and then through Mo Salah – and twice Man City countered through Foden and then Kevin De Bruyne.
Salah’s goal was something special. Given the situation, the quality of the players swarming around him and how he was able to find the back of the net, this goal showed yet again that Salah is something very, very special.
The game might have ended as a draw and other opponents might look at this and think that the big dogs have dropped a couple of potential points here, but that would be short sighted. The rest of the league should be very worried. Liverpool and Man City showed that they are capable of a quality and intensity of play that perhaps not even Chelsea could cope with.
Ronaldo frustrated and Ole out of his depth
Meanwhile, fans of Manchester United will be starting their week deeply frustrated at both the result and the performance that their side put in against Everton.
It was a strange game all over that raised more doubts about Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s ability to lead United to success. He started the game with Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho and Paul Pogba all on the bench which raised many eyebrows. Rotating talent is one thing but Man Utd need wins right now after having a stumble over the past couple of weeks. Leaving that much talent on the bench seems like a very odd move and sadly for Solskjær, it didn’t pay off.
United had so much possession – over 72% – but could only turn that into six shots on target. . Everton, with their measly 28% of the ball managed the same number of goals and will come away thinking that they really could have stolen all three points.
It was a game full of frustration for the star-studded Man United side, and Ronaldo showed just how disappointed he was with the afternoon when he headed straight down the tunnel and to the dressing room as the full time whistle sounded.
Everton could even have stolen the game if it wasn’t for a late chance being deemed offside by VAR after it had hit the back of the net.
The Red Devils are just not clicking as a team and Solskjær is not showing anyone that he knows how to change that. Keeping Ronaldo, Sancho and Pogba on the bench but keeping Fred playing is just bizarre.
The United defensive midfielder often divides opinion but against Everton, almost everyone was on the same page – Fred was not good enough and his role in Everton’s equaliser has enraged many. He had two chances to tackle the ball runner in the build up play and missed both. Something that is just not acceptable feels Owen Hargreaves. “(Fred has) got two cracks at it and both he loses. It can’t happen. Sir Alex (Ferguson) wouldn’t forgive you for that. You wouldn’t play for a month” explained Hargreaves after the match.
United are in for a tough few weeks. Old Trafford is nowhere near the fortress it used to be with the team’s last eight losses all happening at home. Meanwhile they have to play Leicester, Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal in the League in the next few weeks. Will they still be sitting in fourth after that run? It doesn’t look likely.
Watford part ways with Munoz
Xisco Munoz has been sacked by Watford after 10 months in charge with the club’s leadership believing that he’s not the right man to manage the team in the pressure cooker of the Premier League.
It hasn’t been a great start to the season for Watford for sure but even after losing 1-0 to Leeds this weekend, they were three points above the relegation zone. Unfortunately this wasn’t good enough for the club’s management and they will be seeking a new leader with Claudio Ranieri linked to the role.
Munoz will be disappointed that he didn’t get a longer run at life in the Premier League having helped the club earn promotion to the top tier last season having taken over in December 2020.
The fact that Watford have struggled in the opening seven rounds isn’t a huge surprise but it’s the leaky nature of their defence that has attracted criticism with the recent loss at home to Championship side Stoke City in the EFL Cup being especially hard to take for the fans.
Watford have had five managers in two years now and the role does feel quite like a poisoned chalice. It feels inevitable that they are going to end up in a relegation zone battle and they will need to pick a manager who is able to help them become a very hard side to beat and not worry too much about attractive, attacking football quite yet.
Brighton shrug off $404 million difference to hold Arsenal
Behind the scenes of the Top Four Battle, there has been another story bubbling along as Brighton have put together one of their strongest starts to a season ever.
Against Arsenal they were up against a side who many had felt had finally found their mojo and were going to go on a run. But Brighton battled hard, earned 58% of the possession and created 21 shots. The accuracy wasn’t there for sure and the 0-0 result shows that neither side were top class in the final third, but Brighton’s tactics showed that they have come a long way from the side that once bounced around the relegation zone for season after season.
Manager Graham Potter was especially pleased with the way his side had controlled the game and despite Arsenal having spent over $400 million more on transfers than the Seagulls since Potter started at the club, it was his side that looked the more mature and wiser team.
They kept hold of the ball well and never allowed Arsenal to find any sort of rhythm. This ability of Potter to take players and coach them to be better has caught the eye of many pundits and, more importantly, it’s making Brighton a better and better club.
They currently sit in 6th on the ladder and are on the same number of points as United and City. If they can find a way to start scoring from all these chances then they could become a very dangerous side indeed.
Werner finds the back of the net as Chelsea rotate and win
Chelsea have struggled to create and finish chances over the past 10 days but against Southampton they were back in the habit of goal scoring.
They scored three and it was Timo Werner’s goal in the 84th minute that will have brought the biggest smile to fans’ faces. Werner hasn’t scored in the Premier League since April and when he had an earlier effort in the game disallowed you wondered if he’d annoyed some sort of pirate witch and been cursed.
But he stuck at it and was rewarded with the late goal that gave Chelsea the lead against a Southampton side who had been outclassed all afternoon but who had battled so hard that they were just six minutes away from an unlikely draw and single point.
Whilst Solskjær’s rotational approach to his team failed against Everton, Thomas Tuchel had much more success with his changes. He moved regular first team starters Marcos Alonso, Andreas Christensen, Jorginho, Mason Mount and Kai Havertz to the bench and gave a number of fringe players key roles in the match.
After their loss to Man City in the last round being followed up by a loss to Juventus in the Champions League, the club and their fans will be pleased to see the team back in winning ways. There will be some concerns hanging around that Tuchel hasn’t quite yet found the way to unlock the potential of Romelu Lukaku but with others starting to score, that problem can wait for another day.
With a break now in the Premier League schedule for two weeks as World Cup Qualifiers resume, there will be plenty of clubs taking the opportunity to reassess and plan their next phase of their campaigns. The top three are looking very good and it’s going to take a big effort from those behind them to stay in the hunt.
Meanwhile down below, the likes of Norwich City, Newcastle and Burnley desperately need to find a way to put some good performances together.