Brighton continue to embarrass Manchester United, while Richarlison and Liverpool’s attack thrived. But Chelsea and Sean Dyche have to do so much better.
Compare and contrast Richarlison’s two Premier League goals for Spurs.
The 93rd-minute headed equaliser at Liverpool in April was immediately greeted with a removed and discarded shirt and a yellow card; the 98th-minute headed equaliser against Sheffield United in September was instantly followed by a quick few fist pumps and a puff of the cheeks en route back to the centre circle. In the first instance, Spurs conceded the winner within 99 seconds. In the latter, Spurs scored the winner 140 seconds later – assisted calmly by Richarlison, no less.
“Things are going to flow now and I’m certain that I will have a good run at Tottenham and will make things happen again,” the Brazilian said earlier in the week, opening up about how he was going to “seek psychological help to strengthen my mind” after a difficult time. Manifestation can be a powerful thing. After an undoubtedly difficult time, good on him.
It is a year to the day since Brighton appointed Roberto De Zerbi as manager.
Owner Tony Bloom was “absolutely thrilled” then to secure a manager whose teams “play an exciting and courageous brand of football, and I am confident his style and tactical approach will suit our existing squad superbly.”
That certainly seemed the case during a slick move which Danny Welbeck knitted together and then finished for the first goal after Adam Lallana’s sumptuous dummy.
Chief executive Paul Barber stated that De Zerbi was “the ideal cultural and technical fit” and “the right person to continue the club’s progress and work with this outstanding group of players.”
The 30-pass move from a goal kick, from left to right and back in both a horizontal and vertical sense, in which every Brighton player bar – again – the orchestrator Lallana had a touch and the closest anyone in Manchester United red came to a tackle was Sergio Reguilon’s vague dangling leg which sent Simon Adingra the right way before Pascal Gross’ goal, can attest to that.
Technical director David Weir spoke of “providing all the support [De Zerbi] needs to introduce his coaching philosophy,” which was backed up by record signing Joao Pedro’s stunning finish from a Tariq Lamptey cutback to make it 3-0.
As for De Zerbi himself, he claimed “the players have the right skills and the characteristics, especially mentally, to play my style of football and to play brave, as I want”. The only clubs with more Premier League goals or away wins during his year-long reign are Manchester City and Arsenal so he might have had a point.
After another confident and courageous victory at Old Trafford, it is difficult to think of a better mid-season managerial appointment in Premier League history. And even that mid-season caveat is starting to look obsolete. Just one quick glance at Barber’s grand dossier of replacements, that’s all we’re asking for.
Remember when some Arsenal fans were enraged at losing out on Mykhaylo Mudryk and having to settle for Leandro Trossard in January instead? Good times.
The almost unique way in which Liverpool reached a ludicrous and sustained peak under Jurgen Klopp by focusing on the same large core group of settled, familiar players for half a decade was always going to present transitional problems eventually.
Some would inevitably move for a fresh environment or different challenge. Others would naturally be outgrown and have to disembark from the journey. Alisson and Mo Salah have been paragons of unerringly consistent brilliance – even while mastering the art of reinvention in the case of the latter – but every other cog in this wonderful machine was going to have to be replaced at some point for Klopp’s next phase.
Four wins and a draw from their opening five games belies some particularly painful if understandable teething problems in midfield, while Jarell Quansah’s impressive full debut cannot fully distract from the drastic makeover needed in defence. But the efficiency, variation and relentlessness of Liverpool’s attack offers hope that their separate positional rebuilds can successfully rejuvenate this squad over time.
The Reds, by Klopp’s own admission, “needed help” after a poor first half against Wolves. The German helped by changing a system that wasn’t working and it is testament to the versatility of Dominik Szoboszlai and his forwards in particular that it worked.
But with options that brilliant, it is easy to transform any game. Salah has assumed Harry Kane’s league mantle as elite goalscorer and creator; Luis Diaz is a perennial threat wherever he is deployed; Darwin Nunez can be smoother and far more intelligent than his Agent of Chaos handle suggests, as shown by the third goal; Cody Gakpo and Diogo Jota have had better games but both contributed to the equaliser, such is their enduring ability.
It becomes easier to understand how Liverpool have come from behind to win three games already this season when you examine those possibilities, both as individuals and as a collective. The Reds lost three of the four Premier League games Trent Alexander-Arnold didn’t start last season, scoring one goal. Being less reliant on his inventiveness is no bad thing but it has taken a patient evolution up front to reach this stage.
It turns out you can skip The Pep Guardiola Year. Doku had the most progressive carries, successful take-ons and touches in the attacking penalty area of any Manchester City player. His 11 carries into the attacking penalty area were three more than the other 30 players on the pitch managed between them, and the most any Manchester City player has completed in a single game in any competition since at least the start of the 2017/18 season, when such statistics became freely available.
Manchester City looked at a phenomenal Treble-winning attack and realised they lacked, if anything, a truly elite one-v-one wide player, especially with the departure of Riyad Mahrez. Doku has already shown he can provide that with more time and coaching. Not every game will be quite as explosive and efficient, nor as Vladimir Coufal-filled, but Guardiola will have probably enjoyed the Belgian’s post-match declaration that “the massive thing is to not lose the ball – I can still improve on that” more than anything.
How pleasing that exactly 1,000 players have more minutes to their name in Europe’s top five leagues so far this season, but only 69 (nice) have completed more tackles.
Fulham’s Premier League record in matches Palhinha has not started since the Portuguese joined looks a little brighter at P6 W2 D0 L4 F6 A18, even if those two wins came against Everton and Luton.
But just on a personal level, after “a weird couple of weeks for me and my family,” it is great to see Palhinha back doing what he does best: clattering into everyone and making Bayern Munich yearn for his gallant excellence.
He might not be Brazilian – has anyone checked his birth certificate? – but Longstaff at least in the short-term might be Newcastle’s most important midfielder.
Bruno Guimaraes has not looked better this season than with Longstaff providing the perfect foundation with his tireless running and wonderful positioning. Since April 2022, the only teams to beat Newcastle in a Premier League game Longstaff has started are Manchester City and Liverpool.
Until and unless Guimaraes and Sandro Tonali develop more of an understanding together, Newcastle need Longstaff to be their glue in the middle.
One more on yesterday. These two were bloody brilliant. Dan Burn didn’t give Wissa/Mbuemo a sniff & won everything in the air. Sean Longstaff provided a foundation to the midfield & didn’t stop running until he walked off the pitch. Two massive reasons behind a crucial win. #NUFC pic.twitter.com/S7aYL3gwGC
— Andy Sixsmith (@SixsmithTV) September 17, 2023
Aston Villa’s squad depth
“We didn’t want to add someone who would not improve the squad,” was Unai Emery’s post-January justification for heading into the second half of last season with, as he put it, “16 players and three goalkeepers”.
With another plate to balance, the Europa Conference League would have offered a passable excuse to sign players for the sake of it, but Villa upgraded the quality of their squad as much as they increased the numbers.
Emery is making the most of it. The first three substitutes he introduced against Crystal Palace turned a disappointing home defeat into an invigorating win. Jhon Duran scored again, Youri Tielemans played the integral passes for the subsequent two goals and Leon Bailey continued his decent recent run.
Villa’s strength used to be that they had a starting XI which could compete with most teams; now they have a bench to back it up.
Five assists in six games from a player who was almost shipped off to Saudi and firmly behind Alex Moreno in the pecking order. Fire up the Andy Robertson debate machine yet again.
The Premier League table does not look particularly flattering from a Bournemouth perspective but the underlying numbers look promising and that start has been horrid. Their record from the corresponding fixtures last season was P5 W0 D0 L5 F3 A21. They are three points up on that and haven’t even lost 9-0 yet, which is a real positive.
For only the third time in Premier League history, Manchester United have suffered four consecutive defeats to the same opponent. Danny Murphy’s Liverpool were the epitome of a bogey team between 2000 and 2002; Manchester City’s hold over their bitter rivals from 2013 to 2014 helped sum up the post-Fergie malaise. But Brighton are the perfect tormentors to encapsulate this broken club and their stupid ways in 2023.
After Brighton’s first win in that sequence, a 4-0 Amex thrashing handed out in May 2022, this column included the following section:
The easiest way to damn United after a defeat is to look through their victorious opponent’s team and consider not which players would get into Ralf Rangnick’s interim side, but how their prospective signings would be treated at Old Trafford. This is a club obsessed with optics, social media traction and identity, each of which seep into their transfer decisions.
That remains the case now more than ever. Noses would have been turned up at each member of that Brighton team if Manchester United were linked before they joined the Seagulls. Imagine the reaction to Jason Steele rocking up at Old Trafford, Jan Paul van Hecke signing or Pascal Gross being brought in for £3m because he was the Bundesliga’s leading chance creator for Ingolstadt.
Danny Welbeck’s Indian summer on the coast provides an easy insight into just how fallible Manchester United have become, just how aimless and muddled their decision-making is. A striker they felt they had outgrown in 2014 has surpassed them and is playing the best football of his career at 32 almost a decade later.
Even De Zerbi would have been rejected by the hierarchy as a managerial candidate due to a lack of a trophies or proper European pedigree. Yet this is the coach, these are the players and this is the style Manchester United wish they could have.
It starts with the ownership and executive structure, of course. From Bloom and Barber down, Brighton have meticulously nailed every aspect of running a football club from planning to recruitment, staffing, analytics, decision making and the rest. The Glazers can’t even make their mind up whether they want to sell Manchester United and how much for, but beneath them is a chasm where knowledgeable, experienced, skilled grown-ups should be.
Long may a team that cost a fraction of the amount to construct continue to dismantle them.
Not sure what he envisioned when he collected the ball and spotted Pedro Neto on the halfway line but Sa’s botched sidewinder took the wind out of Wolves’ sails.
Gary O’Neil referenced no-one by name but there was no mystery as to whom “they play quite loosely and go off and do their own things” might have been referencing after the game. Sa is statistically the worst keeper in the Premier League for percentage of launches (passes longer than 40 yards) completed at 18.9%, with Andre Onana (20.8%), Guglielmo Vicario (23.4%), Alisson (27.5%) and Thomas Kaminski (31.2%) the only others to have been successful with less than a third of theirs.
Sa was not responsible for the baffling lack of closing or tracking on Robertson which took place immediately thereafter, but he certainly created the problem with an unnecessary punt.
Approximately no-one would have been surprised to hear Dyche apportion some blame for yet another defeat on the officials. His claim on the Abdoulaye Doucoure ‘penalty’ incident was nonsense but the stuff on added time was genuinely great.
“Four minutes at the end – two weeks ago they almost can’t wait for a goal by adding more minutes onto those given, yesterday I think it was 17 minutes at Villa,” he complained. “I don’t know about some of these things, I know it will take a while to iron out but you do need some of these things to work for you and not against you, that is for sure.”
Absolutely note perfect, especially considering Everton had one shot – a generous description of Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s tame effort – from the 77th minute onwards. Dyche should have thanked Simon Hooper for putting the joint-lowest scorers in the league out of their latest misery.
In 2023, Chelsea have won as many Premier League games as Everton, lost as many Premier League games as Wolves, scored fewer Premier League goals than Leicester and Leeds and have collected fewer Premier League points than Bournemouth.
They are a lower bottom-half club in every sense bar reputation and budget. The composition of that squad will never not be hilarious.
Chelsea haven't scored a single goal from their last 31 shots in the Premier League ❌ pic.twitter.com/HClIXfWaWf
— ESPN UK (@ESPNUK) September 18, 2023
Perhaps the second most crucial intervention – or distinct lack thereof in this specific case – from a player with those first five surname letters in a title race moment involving Manchester City. The aerial threat of Bernardo Silva is enough to petrify any centre-half.
Yet more proof that Guardiola is playing 4D chess, mind. Leaking transfer interest to unsettle a player shortly before a game is proper old school.
If you keep using Joel Ward and Jeffrey Schlupp as regular Premier League starters in 2023 then there can be no sympathy.
The promoted clubs
P12 W0 D1 L11 F10 A30 Pts 1. Here’s to Burnley’s 5-0 thrashing of Nottingham Forest on Monday evening.
The last manager to lose a home Premier League game against Mauricio Pochettino, back in January 2019. How embarrassing.
You’ve done two really weird things there, big guy.
Tim Krul is waiting patiently.