Two down, thirty-six to go. The English Premier League has blitzed back into our collective consciousness, and the 2018/2019 season is already throwing out the sort of stories and headlines that make this the most watchable football league in the world.
Week 2 was filled with goals, a lot of home wins, a couple of red cards, some abject defending and (finally) a goal from Harry Kane in August. Manchester City battered Huddersfield Town, Brighton made Jose Mourinho look even more miserable than ever, Liverpool, Chelsea, Bournemouth
And while this is merely the start of the long haul until the Champions are crowned in May, there are some trends worth following over the next few months. So, let’s take a deeper dive into what we learned in the second week of the EPL.
All hail the Champions
Manchester City are going to probably win the league. And that will not be a surprise.
That is not hyperbole, just a cold assessment of how good this team are. Love them or hate them, Pep Guardiola’s boys are apparently in a different class to the rest of the teams below them, and are a good bet to be the first team to win back-to-back titles since Manchester United racked up three on the bounce in 2008/2009.
City put six past a hapless Huddersfield team, who can at least pat themselves on the back for keeping the game scoreless until the 25th minute. The fact that they then let in three in the next 10 minutes is neither here nor there. The home team were in cruise control for most of the game, with Sergio Aguero bagging his ninth EPL hat-trick – only the legendary Alan Shearer (Southampton, Blackburn, Newcastle United) has more in the competition.
Pep even left out Raheem Sterling and Kyle Walker, while the pacy Leroy Sane came on as a late substitute. Kevin De Bruyne may be on the injured list for three months, but this team is not going to give up its title easily (if at all).
And while the average fan might not like the way that oil-money has transformed a team that defined mediocrity for the first 15 iterations of the Premier League, the simple truth is that Manchester City are going to dominate this season in the same way as they did last year.
Goals galore and home wins
This was a week when (most) home teams sent their fans away with a smile on their faces. Apart from the 6-1 win at the Etihad, Chelsea, Brighton and Spurs all scored three at home (“home” for Spurs remains Wembley Stadium for the foreseeable future), while Leicester managed to beat Wolves 2-0 despite having striker Jamie Vardy sent off for a quite ridiculous challenge.
In total, 35 goals were scored in the EPL in Gameweek 2, 21 of which sent the home faithful jumping. The exception to this goal-fest was at Cardiff, where the Bluebirds played out a scoreless draw with Newcastle United, with the visitors missing an injury-time penalty.
In fact, six out of the 10 games were home wins, with Brighton getting another victory over Mourinho’s Manchester United and only Liverpool, Watford and Bournemouth picking up three points on the road.
The latter was significant as it came at the expense of West Ham, who spent over $120 million in the summer on new players. The Turf’s Ryan Matott described the Hammers as “lifeless” in their first game against Liverpool and it appears that Ryan was being charitable.
Bournemouth came from a goal down to win 2-1 at the London Stadium, with Callum Wilson walking through a mass attempt by the West Ham players to stop him as he dribbled from the halfway line for the equalizer. West Ham fans spent most of the 2017/2018 season protesting about the performances, and it appears likely that this will happen again if results don’t improve.
In the Sunday morning game, United were fairly woeful at Brighton, but the Seagulls were well worth their 3-2 victory. In what is expected to be a recurring theme for Jose, he refused to single out individual players for criticism, although I imagine that defender Eric Bailly will have avoided his manager’s gaze in the dressing room after the game.
United’s stand-in skipper Paul Pogba (who has been linked with a move away from Old Trafford before the European transfer window shuts on August 31) said that, according to the BBC, the team did not have “the right attitude,” a viewpoint that gelled with Mourinho’s assessment of a performance riddled with “incredible mistakes in some crucial moments.”
Everton’s summer spend is already paying dividends and new signing Richarlison is already paying back some of his reported $63 million transfer fee. The 21-year-old notched his second of the campaign in the 2-1 win over Southampton and, provided he doesn’t repeat his lean streak of last season for Watford, could prove to be one of the stars of the season.
To be fair to Richarlison’s former club, they don’t look like they are missing him. Watford are one of six clubs with 100% records after two games, putting three past Burnley on Sunday and scoring their first goals away from home since January.
Burnley have been involved in Europa League action in recent weeks, an early-season headache that is already looking like scant reward for finishing seventh in the EPL last season. My concern is that a prolonged campaign in Europe’s secondary competition could have an adverse effect on the team, a situation that manager Sean Dyche is already conscious of.
“We gave the game away,” Dyche said, in an interview with the BBC, adding, “The players had
Liverpool have been tipped by some pundits as the only real challengers to Manchester City, and Jurgen Klopp has spent a shedload of cash to try and bring a first EPL title to Anfield. A trip to Crystal Palace on a Monday evening is never really that much fun, but a 2-0 victory at Selhurst Park will get fans salivating for a season that could bring the club the trophies that older supporters used to take for granted.
Palace will feel that they were robbed, but the mark of champions is being able to grind out results when you are not at your best … or when Salah doesn’t score.
Harry ends his hoodoo
For a striker that has scored over 90 goals in his last 94 appearances for club and country, the fact that Harry Kane has never scored a Premier League goal in August is quite bizarre. Harry’s “August Curse” had extended over 14 games and well over 1,000 minutes before he finally managed to break his early-season drought with a goal in the 77th minute against Fulham.
Prior to the game, the talk had centered on the delays to Spurs’ new stadium and the lack of transfers (both in and out), but Spurs have now won both of their opening games. Kane looked out of sorts in the game against Newcastle the week before, reportedly saying that he was also disappointed with his form at the World Cup … despite winning the Golden Boot.
Against Fulham, he had a goal disallowed and hit the post before putting the ball in the back of the net, celebrating with the look of a man who just wanted people to stop talking about his lack of goals before September.
Match of the weekend
Tempting though it is to pick one of the two matches involving the Manchesters—City for demolition, United for being abject—the game of the weekend came at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea
As a Spurs fan, it pains me to say that I enjoyed this game, as it was between two teams that I am not overly fond of. However, for pure entertainment, this was hard to beat. Not because it was a wonderful game of flowing football (which it was at times) but due to the comical defending from both teams, albeit that this did lead to a couple of cracking goals.
The campaign is less than three weeks old, but Arsenal and Chelsea have already been saddled with the “transitional season” tag, thanks to the installation of new managers.
Some Arsenal fans had wanted long-serving Arsene Wenger out for a couple of years, so they now have their wish. On the flip side, at least he managed to get points on the board at the start of the season. Wenger’s replacement—Unai Emery—will have been pleased with the way that they came back from two down in the first 20 minutes to go in at the break level, irrespective of the fact that they are trying to adjust to a new system. Emery is less likely to be happy with both the defending and the apparent inability of players to hit the target from around 12 yards.
Chelsea, on the other hand, are well-versed in replacing managers. The latest occupant of Roman Abramovich’s hot-seat is Maurizio Sarri, a man for whom chewing cigarette butts seems to be a regular pastime.
Chelsea (who kept Eden Hazard on the bench) were equally excellent and shambolic, although it could be argued that they controlled the second half. The West London team have won both games to date and will expect to finish in the top-six at least.
Arsenal, however, have now lost two games and Emery needs to get a victory under his belt before Claude and DT get their claws into him on Arsenal Fan TV.
Gameweek 3 … ones to watch
Couple of mouth-watering match-ups in the third week of the season.
Either Arsenal or West Ham will get their first points of the season as the Hammers travel to the Emirates, while Bournemouth will hope to make it three-out-of-three at home to Everton. Huddersfield and Cardiff will play the first six-pointer of the season, while Wolves have the enviable task of entertaining Manchester City.
The match of the week, however, is likely to be at Old Trafford on Monday night, with Spurs hoping to make Mourinho’s current misery a permanent fixture. At the same time, the game could provide further evidence that not bringing in players just for the sake of it is a prudent business decision that others—I am looking at you, West Ham—would do well to take notice of.
Feeling a bit behind? Catch up on last week’s EPL Review!
All images courtesy of FA Premier League.
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