Everything’s going to be all right at Manchester United, but it probably won’t be for Brendan Rodgers, and Liverpool need a collective slap in the face.
The 3-1 win over Arsenal was about as good a performance as it was reasonable to expect from Manchester United. It was far from perfect, and Arsenal can perhaps consider themselves unfortunate to have left Old Trafford with nothing, but it was chalk to the United cheese of three weeks ago (or cheese to the chalk?).
It was a display to suggest things are going to be all right. That may not seem like praise enough for a side who have just beaten the league leaders. But it’s meant more in the sense that for a while, even after Erik ten Hag had joined, it felt as though things might not be.
For United fans, more than anything, there must be a huge sense of relief.
There are the makings of a top four team. Diogo Dalot and Tyrell Malacia have cemented themselves as the clear first-choice full-backs, the former illustrating his quality in the final third and the latter showing his extraordinary speed, power and awareness to lock down his side of the pitch.
Many questioned whether Christian Eriksen could operate behind Bruno Fernandes but that worked perfectly as Eriksen played the ball through the lines to Fernandes for the first two goals, before breaking beyond him as roles reversed for the third.
When Casemiro is ready to slot in alongside Eriksen, that looks like a very workable midfield trio.
And suddenly, it feels like Ten Hag has forward options. Marcus Rashford looks like he’s about to explode into form, Jadon Sancho is getting closer to Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho and looked comfortable on the left, while Antony scored, kissed the badge and immediately won over the Old Trafford crowd. And all the while they’ve got arguably the greatest goalscorer in the history of the game ready to come from the bench if needs be.
Hold on, does it feel good to be a United fan again?
Brentford fans will be very, very pleased this Toney display came after the transfer window had closed. It was an untimely reminder of his undeniable quality for bigger sides who really should have been chasing his transfer this summer.
His hat-trick against Leeds consisted of a penalty that he tucked away with his distinctive aplomb having won it himself, a free-kick which he managed to both smash and curl into the top corner, and a beautiful chip he calmly waited to execute after a nutmeg. Each were scored with his right foot, but it felt very much like a ‘perfect hat-trick’ despite not adhering to the right, left, head requirement of its typical definition.
Power, precision, awareness, technical skill, composure – Toney has, and showed, it all on Saturday, and has the look of a guy who would take to any level of football without anyone noticing the step up. League One to the Championship, the Championship to the Premier League, he’s taken it all in his stride thus far.
He’s got a great chance of going to the World Cup with England and (sorry Bees) an opportunity to play in the Champions League would likely soon follow.
Any Premier League manager to have picked up four points from six games at the start of a season is typically under pressure. A manager of Everton would likely hear groans supplemented by boos at Goodison Park.
Perversely, yet not unreasonably, confidence in Lampard has increased the longer he’s gone without a win this season.
Everton have now recorded four draws on the bounce after two defeats to Chelsea and Aston Villa at the start of the campaign. The latest, against Liverpool on Saturday, was their first clean sheet, but only four teams have conceded fewer than Everton’s six. Jordan Pickford was largely responsible for the shutout againt Liverpool, but as has been the case in all of Everton’s games this season, they weren’t outplayed.
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They could easily have turned defeats into draws and draws into wins had luck been on their side. Theirs is relegation form, but little besides their points tally suggests this is a team that will be struggling for their Premier League survival.
Lampard – much maligned at Chelsea for his inability to shore up a defence – has made his team hard to break down and tough in the tackle, while providing a real threat on the break. If there is an ‘Everton Way’, it feels like their manager gets it and the players are buying in wholeheartedly.
James Tarkowski and Conor Coady look solid, Amadou Onana has real quality and the ability to get around the pitch, while Idrissa Gana Gueye looked as though he had never been away when he came on as a substitute. The squad now looks a lot more balanced.
However, Lampard does need Dominic Calvert-Lewin to hit the ground running when he returns. Technically gifted though Neal Maupay is, signing a striker from Brighton to score you goals is an interesting ploy. Everton have managed just four in their six games and that will be the area of concern for Lampard, who’s shown himself to be a better organiser this season than we’ve previously given him credit for and now needs his forwards to help him out.
What Bournemouth may lack in quality they are currently making up for in chutzpah. It takes quite a lot of the stuff to be entirely written off after a 9-0 defeat, condemned as relegation fodder and lose your manager four games into the season, to then win four points in two games.
But it was the manner of the victory, coming from two goals down to win away from home in the Premier League, that makes it all the more impressive.
Bournemouth have the weakest squad of anyone, by quite some distance, meaning they have to be better than three other teams at everything other than (this is going to sound harsh) pure footballing ability. Saturday’s win over Forest illustrated not just chutzpah but extraordinary togetherness: two of the controllables Bournemouth must master to retain their top-flight status.
Like him or loathe him, on or off the pitch, Richarlison is an entertainer.
The red mist that shrouded Brennan Johnson and various pearl-clutching pundits after a few kick-ups had just about abated before the Brazilian baiter responded to Dietmar Hamann’s claim on social media that the forward should have been booked for ‘unsportsmanlike conduct’ with a simple, irksome message: ‘Cry more [crying emoji]’.
It’s been said that he’s the sort of player fans love when he’s playing for their team, but is hated by everyone else. But that’s not true – I like him more now he’s at Spurs and I support Chelsea (I reserve the right to change my tune), for no reason other than he seems to have taken his pr*ckery up a couple of notches. It’s fun to watch.
It would be less fun if he wasn’t so good at football, and he was really very good on his full debut for Spurs on Saturday. Having cleverly set up Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg for the opener, he smashed the ball off the post with a wonderfully acrobatic volley and then stripped off his shirt in celebration before having a goal ruled out.
He would have laughed just as much as we did at seeing someone getting re-dressed with no goal but a yellow card to his name.
We were all Wilfried Zaha after Yoane Wissa’s late equaliser for Brentford on Tuesday. The Palace talisman looked on the verge of tears as he echoed the thoughts of every football fan ever as he bemoaned his side dropping off to preserve their lead rather than going for the kill, inviting pressure which then told.
It was a bitter pill for Palace, and they’ve swallowed more than their fair share of those under Patrick Vieira.
The shoe was on the other foot (or the pill went down the other hole?) on Saturday against Newcastle, who had a goal disallowed as VAR didn’t look at all the angles and who really should have won a game they dominated in terms of chances.
Invariably, when Palace haven’t played well under Vieira they’ve lost, and they’ve also far too frequently dropped points when they have played well. But they got something when they deserved nothing against Newcastle and that’s a major positive that can make the difference for them this season.
Chilwell must have wondered what he had done wrong when Chelsea paid £62m to bring Marc Cucurella in from Brighton this summer. When the England defender suffered his season-ending injury in November last year, Chelsea were top of the league and the 25-year-old had played a major role in getting them there. Pundits and fans ruminating over reasons for the Blues’ decline last term consistently cited the absence of Chilwell and fellow wing-back Reece James.
Given Marcos Alonso’s preordained move to Barcelona, Chelsea needed another left-back, but it was a surprise to see Todd Boehly shell out quite so much on Cucurella rather than buying an understudy to Chilwell – who’s been pivotal to Chelsea’s success under Thomas Tuchel – for significantly less money.
And although Tuchel said the pair wouldn’t necessarily be competing for the same spot, with Cucurella able to operate on the left of the back three, they have been pitted against each other. Cucurella came into the team at left wing-back at the first possible opportunity against Spurs and has retained his place since.
There’s a feeling that Chilwell is the sort of player who needs competition to be at his best, and that theory was borne out in the 2-1 win over West Ham. Used as an attacking substitute as Tuchel chased the game, Chilwell scored brilliantly from a seemingly impossible angle having set himself up with a cushioned header. Unlike pretty much all of his labouring teammates, he showed a willingness to run beyond the Hammers defence and then, again breaking the Chelsea mould, put a cross into the box at the first time of asking to set up Kai Havertz for the winner.
A goal and an assist should be enough to see Chilwell start the next game. If not, you’ve got to wonder whether he’s fighting a losing battle for his place.
‘Sometimes you need one to go in off your backside’ is the typical phrase used when pundits speculate as to how goals can start to flow. That’s normally in reference to an individual rather than a team, but every Wolves player will have been lining their bottoms up in favourable positions if they deemed there to be any weight behind the expression.
Podence didn’t score with his posterior but with what could be described as the arse-end of his foot, causing the ball to bobble comically over Gavin Bazunu, who had dived to block the shot a month or so before. Wolves will take them any which way, but conventional finishes to their often flowing forward moves would also be nice.
Matheus Nunes looks the business, by the way.
Gerrard wasn’t exactly at ease before the start of the season and after Villa’s fourth defeat in five games admitted he was under pressure to improve results with his job on the line.
Manchester City was something of a free hit, and while Villa didn’t land a blow to secure Gerrard’s job, the team worked to bide their manager some time.
In these circumstances, with players who – probably fairly – believe themselves to be better than relegation candidates, time and again we’ve seen examples of individuals or a collective downing tools to see the back of a boss they’ve either lost faith in or just don’t like very much. That’s not the case for Villa, who were out on their feet at the end of the 1-1 draw with City. Lucas Digne looked as though he was about to burst into tears after one last lung-busting run.
But you don’t take points off Man City through desire alone and Villa did also illustrate their individual quality at times, particularly in the equaliser, which was brilliantly set up by Jacob Ramsey and superbly finished by Leon Bailey.
And Gerrard also deserves credit, not just for motivating his players, but setting them up to defend obstinately while still carrying a threat – the only way forward against such clearly superior opponents.
Alexis Mac Allister
Had one contender (probable winner) for Goal of the Month ruled out for offside as he battered the back of the ball into the top corner on the half-volley, before hitting the same spot with a bona fide contender as he whipped in a brilliant free-kick. Mac Allister also scored from the spot on another brilliant afternoon for high-flying Brighton.
“Gave up the fight – shocking,” Roy Keane said when asked about Leicester’s display in the second half of their 5-2 defeat to Brighton. And despite going in level at the break, the first half wasn’t much better for the Foxes.
Rodgers played with two strikers – Kelechi Iheanacho and Patson Daka – who worked hard, played well and both scored. But behind them it was frenetic; and not in a good way.
Rodgers’ midfield at Leicester has always been fluid. Wilfred Ndidi, James Maddison and Youri Tielemans were hard to pin down. It made them difficult to mark and thus hard to play against. But that previously heralded fluidity, with those same players working ten per cent less hard, with ten per cent less confidence, looks incredibly porous.
Ndidi has been forced into the back four through injury and the lack of summer recruits has hampered Rodgers, but the Leicester boss hasn’t helped his team and thus himself through his public decrying over the options in his squad.
Having presumably known pretty early on that he would not be given funds this summer, what possible benefit was there in complaining about having no money to spend? All it’s done is reduce the confidence of a group of already fragile players, many of whom now know they are playing despite their manager wanting upgrades.
The writing’s on the wall for Rodgers, who has – and will undoubtedly labour over – a useful caveat for his side’s slump should he be sacked. But he’s done Leicester no favours in the last couple of months, when they needed his diplomacy rather than his tendency to look out for number one.
The good news for Arsenal is that defeat felt abnormal and not just because it was their first of the season. It felt (and looked for a lot of the game) like the big boys had come to Old Trafford and got turned over.
It’s not a defeat to labour too much over – they played well in big chunks and will do again. They didn’t pass what many considered their first real test of the season, but they didn’t flunk it either. The progress is real.
But Mikel Arteta may well want those last 20 minutes back. With his side looking by far the more threatening of the two he allowed the 2-1 scoreline to panic him, throwing Fabio Vieira, Emile Smith Rowe and Eddie Nketiah on to leave Granit Xhaka as the sole occupier of a middle ground Manchester United had been targeting all afternoon.
It was a move that looked naive in real time and incredibly so two minutes later, as Eriksen ran through a gaping hole in midfield to increase United’s lead. Game over. Arteta’s inexperienced enough to be allowed tactical errors, but at the pointy end of the Premier League you can’t make the same mistake twice.
The results have been nowhere near as bad, but Liverpool displays of late have looked and felt a bit like the nadir of 18 months ago.
There’s always been a sense that playing the Jurgen Klopp way requires tight-knit intensity, meaning if one or two players are slightly off the pace, they all are. When they’re not making football look easy, which is most of the time, it looks really quite hard, and Liverpool are in one of those troughs of lethargy right now.
They do have injuries, but eight, possibly nine of the starting XI against Everton would be in Klopp’s first choice line-up. They probably deserved to win by the way, but that’s not the point – none of them played anywhere near as well as they can do. Perhaps only Roberto Firmino – who came on and made a real difference – and Harvey Elliott, come out of the season so far with indisputable credit.
It feels as though they need a collective slap in the face: ‘Wake up guys, the season started a month ago’.
You know how players can ‘play within themselves’, meaning they know their limitations and operate within those boundaries? Well if it’s possible to play without yourself, that’s what Diego Llorente was doing on Saturday. He tried to go to war with Ivan Toney, lost every battle to him, and then every subsequent battle against every other forward player on the pitch. Awful.
Refusing to accept they’ve signed too many players appears to be a hill Forest fans are willing to die on. While the ill-informed laugh at a tactic deemed, rightly or wrongly, to typically end in disaster for promoted teams, for most Forest fans, signing 21 players (or certainly a lot of them) was the only recourse this season after a promotion campaign in which they relied heavily on many who left the club this summer.
They know their club better than I do – fair enough.
The key now is to create a functioning team out of the many new parts, and given so few have them have played together, and many have never played in the Premier League, they need time they don’t have all that much of to bed in and form a close enough bond to stay in the division. It’s a tall order for any manager, and although Steve Cooper has proven himself to be an excellent one, he too has no experience at this level.
Predictably, they looked like a team of individuals against Bournemouth, and didn’t really know what to do when the tide had turned. With their backs against the wall, who are the ones to lift their teammates and who needs lifting? Who can put their foot on the ball? Who will win a free-kick high up the pitch?
Forest don’t know who they are yet, and need to recover their identity, or discover a new one, before they have too much ground to make up. If you want to stay in the Premier League, you can’t be giving up a two-goal lead to lose at home to Bournemouth.
As Pep Guardiola said after the draw at Aston Villa, Manchester City lacked ‘precision’ in the final third. Erling Haaland scored again and they perhaps should have used their battering ram more frequently or at least effectively. There’s no real problem though – it still looks as though City will walk the title this season – we just need to take any opportunity we can get to call them losers.