September to the average English Premier League fan means three things.
Firstly, the new season is at least four games old and the early rounds of the competition-formerly-known-as-the-League-Cup have been completed. Second, new signings have been assessed and (in theory) fans have a reasonable idea of how their season might pan out. If you are a West Ham fan, I would stop reading now.
Third, we now head into a mandatory international break and there will be no Premier League games until September 15.
Which not only sucks, but also means that teams who have players on international duty don’t have the opportunity to work on problems that have become evident in EPL Gameweek 4. And as an added bonus, there is always a chance that star players – the ones that get picked to represent their countries, naturally – will get injured during either a UEFA-sanctioned tournament qualifying match or a pointless friendly against Switzerland.
Taking all of that into account, the latest round of the 2018/19 EPL season is a perfect opportunity to assess both the early pace-setters and the teams that are just hoping for mid-table obscurity by the end of April. And with no transfers possible until January 2019, there are certain teams who are definitely going to spend more time at the bottom then anywhere near the top with their current roster.
So without further ado, let’s dive into the drama of another week of Premier League football.
Winning starts and missing players
Four teams now have a 100 percent record after four games … Liverpool, Chelsea, Watford and West Ham.
Liverpool beat Leicester City 2-1, Chelsea eased past Bournemouth (2-0) and Watford came from behind to defeat Tottenham 2-1 in front of Sir Elton John. All three of these teams now have the maximum points from their four games to date.
West Ham, on the other hand, are pointless, losing at home to newly-promoted Wolves and emulating their previous worst start to a season (2010/11) … which ended in relegation to the Championship.
Manchester City got back on track in a 2-1 victory over Newcastle, with a 30-yard screamer from Kyle Walker wrapping up the points. Over in the red half of the city, Manchester United’s 2-0 win at Turf Moor was further confirmation that Burnley will be glad to see the back of their Thursday night commitments to the Europa League. Arsenal also recorded a rare win on the road, defeating Cardiff City 3-2 in an exciting game that was notable for the home team scoring their first goals of the season.
Everton and Huddersfield played out a one-all draw, while Brighton and Hove Albion came from two down to grab a point with Fulham. Both goals at Everton came in less than two minutes, as Huddersfield took the lead and then lost it 87 seconds later. Brighton’s comeback was masterminded by 34-year-old Glenn Murray, who missed a penalty before grabbing a brace in the last 25 minutes of an absorbing game.
Finally, Crystal Palace’s woeful record without Wilfred Zaha continued as they lost 2-0 at home to a Southampton side that manager Mark Hughes described as having “real purpose” after a start to the season that has been mediocre at best. One hates to describe certain clubs as a one-man team, but the simple truth is that Palace have now lost all 10 Premier League games without Zaha since the start of last season, and the fans will be hoping that his groin strain is not a long-term problem.
Jose Mourinho smiles …
The “Special One” had stormed out of a press conference following the home loss to Spurs, demanding that the media show him respect for his managerial achievements. There is little doubt that Mourinho-managed teams do produce silverware, but he has yet to bring the league title back to Old Trafford.
And after back-to-back defeats to Brighton and Spurs, the vultures were circling over Jose Mourinho.
Mourinho is a polarizing figure in England, and there have been rumors that his time at Manchester United is running out. However, the fans still seem to want him around, with a supporters group chartering a plane to fly over Burnley’s stadium with a banner that read “Ed Woodward … a specialist in failure.”
This dig at the club’s executive vice-chairman is probably why we got to see a smiling Jose in the post-match conference. On the flip side, he would have been less pleased at the performance of Marcus Rashford, who’s 10-minute cameo included winning a penalty (missed by Paul Pogba) and then getting himself sent off for headbutting a Burnley defender Which is quite impressive, when you think about it.
Unlike Manchester United’s shirts … which were awful on every level.
Liverpool march on
Four games, four wins, one goal conceded.
Liverpool are already looking like the team most likely to push Manchester City for the title and their win at Leicester was achieved despite an underperforming Mo Salah and an appalling mistake by $86 million goalkeeper Alisson that led to the Leicester goal. Liverpool were, according to the BBC, “mediocre for long periods,” with manager Jurgen Klopp irritated that his goalkeeper decided to showboat (for the second week running) when the team were two up.
“It was clearly going to happen one day,” Klopp said, in an interview with the news source. “I didn’t think it was going to happen in the next match. It’s all OK. He knows he could have cleared the situation. I said last week we need to get used to it. Don’t constantly give the goalkeeper the ball, there are other solutions. He’s a fantastic goalkeeper who makes fantastic saves and of course in this situation he did not do what he should have done, but it’s all good.”
Are Watford the new Leicester?
With four wins from their first four games, Watford fans could be forgiven for dreaming that the club might emulate Leicester City’s unlikely title-winning campaign of 2015/16.
Watford are one of those teams that nobody really hates – with the exception of Luton Town supporters, naturally – and the club has a well-earned reputation for being family-friendly and generally inoffensive. Musical legend Sir Elton John has been a lifelong supporter, holding the positions of chairman and life president at various points in the club’s history. The team plays attractive football and, despite a revolving door policy towards managers, are less about superstars and more inclined to a team work ethic.
To say that nobody saw their bright start coming is an understatement. Granted, Watford only played Brighton, Burnley and Crystal Palace before the visit of Spurs, but their performance was excellent on many levels. After going behind to an own goal, the Hornets worked really hard to get back in the game and two goals from set pieces was a reasonable return against a Spurs side who were sluggish and off-the-pace for much of the second half.
Manager Javi Garcia described the latest victory as a “huge achievement” and the work rate exhibited by his players bodes well for the rest of the season.
However, I will stick my neck out and state that Watford will not win the league. Garcia admitted as much when he said that it would be naïve to think that the club would be champions at the end of the season, and although the victory over Spurs was impressive, they have games against Manchester United and Arsenal before the end of September. Provided that they get through those games and are still near the top of the league, then there is every chance that they won’t get sucked into a relegation battle.
Chelsea remain a work-in-progress
Unlike Watford, Chelsea are a team that only their supporters love. The Blues have enjoyed years of success under the Roman Empire and are rightly considered to be one of the big boys of the Premier League.
However, the team finished sixth last season and did not qualify for the Champions League, albeit they picked up the FA Cup again. The club’s latest manager – Mauricio Sarri – predicted that October would most likely be the month when the team would align with his expectations but they seem to be ahead of schedule, according to ESPN.
Bournemouth are a good team and one that has exceeded their own expectations by becoming a permanent member of the league. Manager Eddie Howe is well respected within the game, with some people suggesting that he is destined for a bigger club sooner rather than later. Much like Watford, Bournemouth are not filled with household names, but the team ethic is paramount.
That being said, Bournemouth were resolute against Chelsea and the London club had to wait until the 72nd minute to score before wrapping up the victory with an 85th minute goal by Eden Hazard.
With hindsight, Hazard’s decision to stay at Stamford Bridge while Real Madrid dangled the prospect of becoming a Galactico in front of his nose may prove to be crucial for Sarri’s ambitions, especially if Chelsea have a long campaign in the Europa League ahead of them.
West Ham … nuff said
The EPL may only be four games old but West Ham are already having a miserable time. No points, two goals scored, 10 conceded and speculation that the owners of the London Stadium (West Ham’s home since 2016) are about to go bankrupt have thrown up the sort of challenges that the $120 million spent on new players was supposed to alleviate.
The East London club have been in a constant state of disarray for what seems like years and losing to a 93rd minute goal at home to a promoted team just about sums up their season so far. As noted above, the last season that the Hammers lost their first four games ended in relegation, with new manager Manuel Pellegrini admitting that this is a “very bad start.”
“We can’t lose six points here at home like we have,” Pellegrini said after the match. “Playing away against Liverpool and Arsenal and you don’t play so well is understandable. Here at home to lose we must be very worried. In the first half we didn’t play like the home team looking for three points. The second we improved a lot, made that mistake in the last minute that lost us the game.”
Let’s not forget that Pellegrini arrived at West Ham with a good reputation, having managed Real Madrid for two years and winning the EPL title with Manchester City. He was backed heavily in the summer by the club’s owners and there was an expectation that this season might be less traumatic than the previous two. Sadly, that expectation seems to have vanished quicker than a hot dog into the mouth of Joey Chestnut.
I have no real love for West Ham, but there is something wrong in East London and the signs are not good.
Their fans are probably the only ones in the EPL who are happy that the international break is here, although the run of fixtures from September 16 to October 20 includes an away trip to Everton and home games against Chelsea, Manchester United and hated rivals Tottenham. The only “easy” game in that run is Brighton away, but there is no guarantee that West Ham will have picked up any points before they visit the South Coast.
Pellegrini will be given time, one assumes, but Crystal Palace sacked their manager (Frank De Boer) after the team lost their first four games of the 2017/18 season without even scoring a goal. On the plus side, West Ham have scored two goals so far and most of their players have not been called up for international duty, so the manager will have time to work with his players away from the media spotlight.
And when we return
Common knowledge dictates that a week may be a long time in politics, but a fortnight in football is an eternity. The EPL will not resume until September 15 but there are some cracking matches in prospect on Gameday 5.
Spurs will have the chance to not only get over their unexpected and disappointing loss to Watford but also damage Liverpool’s 100 percent record with the London club back “home” at Wembley. Both teams will have had players away with their countries, so it will be interesting to see how this game plays out.
Southampton and Brighton will battle for South Coast bragging rights, while Watford will attempt to make it five wins out of five at home to Manchester United. Chelsea have what seems – on paper, at least – to be the best chance to maintain their perfect start with a home fixture against Cardiff, while Manchester City welcome Fulham. Arsenal face a long trip north to Newcastle and Palace will be hoping that Zaha is fit again for their match at Huddersfield.
Enjoy the international break, our EPL coverage will resume in two weeks. And if you are joining us late or just need an EPL fix, feel free to get up to speed with our reviews of previous Match Days. Unless you are a West Ham fan, in which case I suggest finding something else to occupy your time …
Image credits: FA Premier League
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The EPL season is about to hit its final stretch.