Plenty more on Manchester City’s win over Arsenal can be found in 16 Conclusions, but they still top the winners list after opening up an eight-point lead at the top of the Premier League. Even a meaningful challenge to their title waltz looks unlikely.
The only reason to doubt City is that they are yet to play the teams currently second and third in the table. Losing to Manchester United or Tottenham in December could provoke a loss of confidence or form; it happened last November at White Hart Lane.
Yet City are far more resilient this season, both in terms of their strength in depth and their mental resolve, and there are far more reasons to fear for Tottenham and United in those upcoming fixtures than City. Guardiola’s side have beaten the teams in fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth in the Premier League by an aggregate score of 20-1. Their domination is emphatic to the point of farce.
Chelsea in crisis
Three points behind their total at this stage last season, when they went on to win the title by seven points. There are clearly problems both behind the scenes and on the pitch at Chelsea, but this is hardly crisis.
Antonio Conte spoke after the game of his frustration at his future being called into question after every defeat, but no manager in the Premier League is better at provoking a response from his players when the chips are down. Now for another run of 13 straight league wins.
Go and read the second half of our 32-conclusion Sunday.
Kevin de Bruyne’s ‘weaker’ foot
Players’ general weakness on their non-dominant foot is one of the most disappointing aspects of high-level football, but there are honourable exceptions. De Bruyne has now scored the winner against Chelsea and the opening goal against Arsenal with his left foot, but it is the style of those goals that is most impressive.
When you watch most players being forced to shoot with their weaker foot, there is a moment of delay while they size up their options. The thought process here is simple: Can I shoot on my better foot? No. Can I really not shoot on my better foot? No. Is there any way I can alter this situation so that I can use my better foot? No. The entire process takes only a micro-second, but the pause is noticeable.
De Bruyne is unusual in that he is not subject to that delay. In neither the Chelsea or Arsenal goals was there any attempt to manufacture a chance with his right foot. De Bruyne merely struck the shot with whichever foot was in the best position. That can leave a defence and goalkeeper ill-prepared.
Obviously there is a reason for most players sticking to what they know. Taking shots with your weaker foot regularly is only a viable strategy if you are adept with that weaker foot. There again, De Bruyne is ahead of the rest. He is a truly sublime footballer.
His most important Chelsea goal, and one expertly guided into the far corner. There is something deeply wonderful about a header that actually has curl applied.
There was also an important point made by Antonio Conte after the game, when he spoke of Morata having to learn the pressure and responsibility that comes with being the leading striker for an elite club. The Spaniard might be 25, but he has never started more than 16 league games in a top-flight season. Having already reached nine by early November – despite injury – Morata is learning on the job.
Huddersfield Town and Brighton
They surely can’t believe their luck. Having been warned about the gruelling nature of the Premier League, and the difficulty they would have in securing three points against teams with far bigger budgets and far better players, Huddersfield and Brighton are so far making top-flight survival look like a piece of p*ss. If 40 points is the reasonable aim to ensure safety, both clubs are almost 40% of the way there after less than 30% of the season played.
Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham; there ends the list of teams with more clean sheets than Huddersfield Town.
David Wagner’s side managed 12 clean sheets in 46 Championship games last season, ranked 12th by that measure. They have already managed five in 11 Premier League games. That might be the biggest surprise of the season so far.
He’s the fourth highest scoring Englishman in the Premier League, and I don’t know what is real anymore.
Burnley’s away form
Remember when Burnley were being saved by their home form? Sean Dyche’s team have won more Premier League away games in 2017 than Bournemouth, Stoke, West Ham, Leicester, Everton and West Brom.
The most important away win of his career to date might be a slightly melodramatic way of describing victory at Newcastle United, but see the exultant celebrations of Bournemouth’s players as evidence of how vital Steve Cook’s winner was. Bournemouth have won consecutive away league games for the first time since December 2015. The season starts here.
A man improving his CV on a weekly basis.
If Dyche fails to get the Everton job because they have managed to attract a continental name who they believe can lead them away from trouble and into a new era while attracting proficient players, he could probably take it on the chin. If he fails to get the Everton job because they pay 63-year-old Sam Allardyce a whacking great sum of money to stay for 18 months, he should be fuming.
I’ll let you judge which would actually cause a greater foaming of the mouth amongst a certain brand of English football pundit.
Our early winner. Last season, Philippe Coutinho was Liverpool’s top scorer in all competitions with 14 goals. Salah already has 12.
Three goals in 153 Premier League minutes. The oldest striker in the Premier League isn’t quite in the form of his life, but Crouch has now won four points for Stoke City this season. Surely it’s time to start a striker who turns 37 in January, as ludicrous as that sounds.
Crouch also deserves massive credit for his longevity. His has never been a style that relied on pace or movement, but he has committed to maintaining his fitness and being ready to hit the ground running whenever Mark Hughes has called upon him. At his age and given the length of his Premier League career, it would have been forgivable to take it easy.
Still the fourth favourite to land the job on a permanent basis after defeats in his first three matches, but Everton’s resolve, having slumped to a 2-0 deficit in the final game before the international break, might just have saved Unsworth’s managerial career. Had he lost all four of his matches before being replaced, would a Championship club even have taken a chance on him?
1994 – Everton have come from two goals down to win a @premierleague home game for the first time since May 1994 vs Wimbledon. Memories.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 5, 2017
Hopefully this one will provoke fewer questions about match-fixing and bungs.
Perhaps it would actually be a good thing, although surely not for West Ham supporters. Because if David Moyes lands the West Ham job over the next few days having won ten of his last 54 matches as a manager, it will truly p*ss on the argument that British coaches are unfairly overlooked.
Moyes would also make it eight of the last 14 Premier League appointments that have gone to Brits aged between 50 and 70; there is your true barrier to young, British coaches. There is an imagination vacuum amongst Premier League owners that leads to them recycling the same old damaged goods.
Has finally started as many league games for Liverpool this season as he has against them.
Oh Tone. Tony, Tony. Tone. All is falling down around you. Everything you founded your reputation upon is ebbing away.
West Brom are no longer difficult to beat, for they have won only three of their last 23 league matches. West Brom are no longer defensively solid, because they have conceded in each of their last seven matches. West Brom are no longer resilient, because they have taken one point from losing positions since February. West Brom are no longer tough to break down, because in that same time period they have ceded 11 points from winning positions. West Brom are no longer effective at frustrating their opponents, because Sunderland have more away Premier League wins in 2017.
These are the pillars of Pulis’ management, and when those pillars are destroyed so too are the reasons to keep him. It won’t be long until another struggling Premier League club gives him the chance to improve his wounded reputation, but West Brom need better. The new sound of the Pulis might be the shuffling of the contents of a desk into a cardboard box.
Jose Mourinho’s big game attacking record
Arsenal 0-0 Chelsea
Manchester City 3-0 Chelsea
Spurs 0-0 Chelsea
Liverpool 0-0 Manchester United
Chelsea 4-0 Manchester United
Manchester City 0-0 Manchester United
Arsenal 2-0 Manchester United
Tottenham 2-1 Manchester United
Liverpool 0-0 Manchester United
Chelsea 1-0 Manchester United
You will see that list of results on your televisions and computer screens a lot over the course of the next few days, for it suggests that one of the most accomplished coaches in world football has a significant problem established over a period of two years. Yet more worrying still than the lack of points and goals is the lack of shots on target. In those seven games above when he was in charge of Manchester United, Mourinho’s team have managed only 13 shots on target in total.
Against Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham last season and Chelsea and Liverpool so far in this, Manchester United have managed four shots on target in five away matches. That is dire.
Blaming referees for your own deficiencies
“I would say, overall, once again the referee made the decision today with a soft penalty and an offside goal,” said Arsene Wenger after defeat to Manchester City.
I get it. I understand that managers blaming referees allows them to avoid both introspection and the prying questions of the media. It allows the manager to control the headline, because blaming officials always sells well. But it stinks.
Manchester City’s third goal was fractionally offside, with David Silva’s leg hanging beyond the last man. But that did not mean that Arsenal had to stop playing and expect a whistle that never came. It was also not the reason Arsenal lost the game.
“We are used to it. Last year we had two offside goals against us and now once again.”
Oh spare me the sob story, Arsene. That line of “we are used to it” is so utterly pathetic from a high-level Premier League manager. We are used to Arsenal losing against the best teams and folding when put under any concerted pressure. We’re also used to Wenger’s team selection and misguided loyalty to certain players making far more difference to Arsenal’s seasons than refereeing decisions.
“I feel they don’t work enough. The referees don’t work enough, their levels drop every season at the moment. Overall, it’s unacceptable what happens.”
Yeah, this is where I really got angry.
Referees get decisions wrong. They are only human, and I would urge you to try The Times’ recent video game where you play the role of the assistant referee giving offsides for evidence of just how hard it is to do even one aspect of the job in isolation, and under no pressure.
But they are not alone. Players get things wrong, such as Nacho Monreal getting the wrong side of Raheem Sterling and bundling into him. Managers get things wrong, such as leaving the best striker on the bench for a huge away game in favour of Alex Iwobi, before watching said striker score after being introduced as a substitute. Wenger is currently being paid £8m a year for the privilege of that wisdom, and Arsenal have already lost four games this season. That’s two more than Burnley, with similar fixtures.
To say referees make mistakes is one thing, but to say that they don’t work hard enough is another. It accuses them of a lack of professionalism which is unacceptable. And Wenger owes them an apology.
Being a referee has never been harder, especially in a league steeped in dishonesty where players and managers appeal for every ball. They are constantly abused by players, managers and supporters, which has set the tone for that culture to be replicated at grassroots level. In turn, that has led to a shortage of referees across English football.
So the next time Wenger wonders why he thinks refereeing standards may be dropping, perhaps he could embark on a little introspection. Victimising them and making them the scapegoat for your own inadequacies makes you part of the problem, not part of the cure.
West Ham’s defending
Slaven Bilic is to blame for the general on-pitch malaise and the inability of this club to pull away from danger. Davids Sullivan and Gold are to blame for the shambolic PR and off-field mess. But at some point West Ham’s players must take responsibility for their own calamities. Leaving one defender back against the best counter-attack in the country isn’t bad management – or at least just bad management – but amateurism from experienced professionals.
It was Claude Puel’s argument when taking over at Leicester. The Frenchman had been accused of playing a brand of tedious football at Southampton, with critics pointing to their low total of goals as evidence. To paraphrase Puel, he pointed at Southampton’s strikers and said ‘What do you expect when I have these bunch of clowns?’
Puel had a point, too. Southampton ranked seventh in the Premier League for chances created last season, but 14th for shot accuracy and 20th for shot conversion. His team were too lethargic in possession, and that was Puel’s doing, but the manager also paid the price for the deficiencies of his attacking players.
The problem has not left with Puel’s departure – it’s got worse. Having ranked 14th and 20th last season, Southampton rank 19th and 20th this season. They rank fifth in the league for chances created and shots. This is an embarrassment.
Against Burnley, Southampton had 13 shots, 11 of which were taken from inside the box. Only three in total were shots on target. Burnley had one shot on target, and only two shots in total from inside the box, and scored one. These are the margins between victory and defeat, success and failure.
Our early loser. Swansea sold their most creative player and replaced him with everything but. Fail to address this run of form, and they will soon sink without trace. Another mid-season managerial change?
A penalty is awarded in the 100th minute of a match that your team has thrown away, but been given a lifeline to get a draw. It has been won by a teammate who is desperate to take it. You are playing at the ground of your former club, where you never really impressed.
At least make sure you hit the bloody target.
On Sunday, Karnezis came on as a substitute, faced three shots on target and every one of those went in. That means that, statistically, Watford would have been just as successful by placing a small piece of cooked ham, five sheets of crepe paper or the concept of irony in goal. None of those three have 46 caps for Greece, mind.
“He has to work really hard otherwise he is on the bench or in the stand,” said Antonio Conte when asked about Luiz’s absence against Manchester United. “Christensen is the present and the future for Chelsea.”
Conte did scale back those words in his post-match conference with the written press, talking of competition for places and tactical decisions when players weren’t in form, but it’s only weeks since Conte was labelling Luiz as his best defender. Something has clearly gone awry.
Touted by his manager for an England call-up on Tuesday. Left out of the national squad on Wednesday. Left out of his club team for Francis Coquelin on Sunday. It’s the most depressing Craig David remix ever.
I’m not saying that Lindelof’s Manchester United career is already in the bin four months after joining for £31m, but his manager just played a formation that included an extra central defender, two players that can play centre-back are injured and he still didn’t even make the match-day squad. This has really not gone well.
Consecutive Man of the Match awards for opposition goalkeepers shows that Roy Hodgson has indeed caused an improvement in Crystal Palace’s general play. Yet it still may not be enough. Palace have taken four points from seven games under their new manager, and have still only scored in two of their 11 league matches this season.