What the UCL?! Bozza slams 'really poor' keeper as Gunners lose tie with 'more stoppages than rugby', Barca held by Napoli
Frustrated by a finnicky referee and beaten by a late stunner, Arsenal have it all to do to make the last eight of the…
The Premier League, as most long-time observers know, is a bit of a closed shop at times. There’s the big six, then there’s everyone else.
Sure, we like to think that some clubs can crash it – and it might be that, with more petrodollars behind them, Newcastle might – but in general, the oligarchy has proven astoundingly resilient.
Bar the Leicester City aberration, you can pretty much pencil in most of the top of the table before you begin for the bulk of the last 15 years since Manchester City got their cash and learned how to spend it.
Even within that top six, there’s a general order of things. City are top, of course, and then Liverpool and Arsenal as the next best run clubs, then Chelsea and United as the two that will throw enough money at the problem that they’ll insulate themselves from being absolutely useless.
Spurs were always sixth of six, but now, with their stellar start, they find themselves top. This week will be the first in which we don’t immediately talk Ange, because it’s everyone else who is the problem, notably United and Chelsea.
When you’re considering what United and Chelsea do badly, in 2023 at least, it’s worth separating the pair out because while both are underperforming both expectations and budget, they are doing so for two completely different reasons.
Chelsea lost 2-0 at home to Brentford on Saturday and were, to use the technical term, useless. They produced a job lot of shots, especially in the first half, but all of them were of such low quality that it really didn’t matter.
This is, as anyone who has seen them this year knows, the point. They spent a billion dollars and got no strikers. The centre forward they did play, Nicolas Jackson, was totally ineffective.
The plan appears to be slowly creeping towards the box and then looking for openings, but every opponent has realised that they have no box presence at all, so they can concertina their defence inward and induce Chelsea to either cross it or shoot from range.
Brentford love this and are experts at it, so it’s not surprising that they won. They’ve already done it once in 2023, winning at Stamford Bridge last season.
The problem for Mauricio Pochettino is that this lack of cutting edge, really, isn’t his doing. It long predates him. It arguably wasn’t Graham Potter’s doing, either.
Poch can take solace that, for the first 85m of the field, his side are functional. Their underperformance, one suspects, will change as luck and the return of injured attackers kicks in.
Erik ten Hag, however, doesn’t have that upside. He’s now 18 months into his tenure at Old Trafford and it’s hard to see how things get better.
It’s no shame being defeated by this City side, who are very good, but the stark reminder of the levels United have to reach should be of major concern.
This team looked far, far away from their rivals, but they also looked bad against FC Copenhagen, Sheffield United, Brentford and Galatasaray. Even when they won they were poor.
There was one good chance on Sunday, and that required Marcus Rashford to do something astounding to control a ball, and his shot went wide anyway.
All the best teams focus on repeatability and sustainability. Chelsea, even, have a pretty clear style of how they think they win. With United, your guess is as good as mine.
The lineup had Scott McTominay in attacking midfield, not his best position, and Bruno Fernandes on the right, where he doesn’t prosper, as well as a defence that seemed picked out of a hat.
Duly, City tore them apart. Andre Onana was United’s best player and kept this from being a repeat of the 6-1 shellacking of a decade ago.
The coach had different options available: Raphael Varane was in the squad but not used. Antony, underwhelming as he has been, came off the bench and Mason Mount entered at half time, with ten Hag clearly acknowledging his mistake.
Their change in fortunes seems more distant than Chelsea’s. It might be that ten Hag has to go before it happens.
Let’s return to that first idea. In the big six era, Spurs are always the lowest, but now, they have a real chance to take control and skyrocket themselves up the table.
Yes, they’re already top, but in truth, that’s a little surprising and you can probably expect it to change when the fixture list catches up and their luck changes a little.
But: two of their competitors are already out. You can wave goodbye to United and Chelsea, the sides with the biggest structural advantages, because they are 11 and 14 points behind after just ten games and that seems, even this early, to be insurmountable.
The likes of Aston Villa, Brighton and Newcastle are the new competitors for a top four spot and the Champions League football that it brings. For all that Spurs fans and non-Premier League watchers might dream of the title, that’s the realistic goal.
Wins like Friday night/Saturday morning’s 2-1 over Crystal Palace are the bedrock on which campaigns are built. It was a potentially difficult clash against a permanently tricky opponent, and Spurs walked it with relative ease.
The joy of Angeball – or, at least, one of them – is that it makes all the bad teams play in a certain way, which it is designed to break down.
Palace set up exclusively to stop Spurs, with Yves Bissouma the subject of some pretty tight man marking, and it took them a while to get used to it.
Tottenham had 76% of the ball, a lot of which was ‘negative possession’, where they have it so the other team doesn’t. It’s very hard to score against them when that happens.
Palace had 11 corners and 13 shots, but seven of those were from range and most of the rest were headers. If you’re Spurs, those are odds that you’ll take.
Ange dealt with teams trying to mark his 6 out of the game every week for two years at Celtic and did alright, so one suspects he’ll have a plan for it.
So it transpired. Spurs created one good chance, but it was central from six yards out, plus another that was so good that Joel Ward finished it for them. Repeatable, sustainable.
The Spurs, Chelsea and United dynamic loomed large over the weekend (again), so let’s quickly spin through everyone else.
City are still good, of course, as as Liverpool and Arsenal, who routine winned their way up the table by downing cannon fodder teams at home. See also Villa, shaping as the best of the rest already, who increased the gap between fifth and sixth to five points by thrashing Luton.
That result was made to look even better by Newcastle, who drew after leading twice against Wolves, and Brighton, who led at home to Fulham and drew. Those are games both sides could very much have done with picking up.
Bournemouth’s win over Burnley leaves Sheffield United as the only side without a victory now, saving manager Andoni Iraola’s job. They’ve had a rock solid fixture list and will now get chance to build.
Elsewhere, West Ham chucked a huge chance at European football by losing to Everton, who are going to need every point they can get as sanctions for financial mismanagement loom on the horizon.
With the three promoted teams now in the relegation zone, their continuing uselessness seems the Toffees’ best hope of remaining in the league to stink it up further, but in a fancy new stadium.