With two Gameweeks now complete in the Premier League, it becomes slightly easier to make predictions about who’s likely to perform well this season with a number of early signs of what’s to come. This week was yet another fantastic week of action, with plenty of goals, plenty of controversy and a cold serving of humble pie for Jose Mourinho.
Champions vs Champions
Whilst Jose Mourinho had successfully deflected media attention away from his players’ abject performance against Swansea, there was little chance of him succeeding a second time as they travelled away to Manchester City. In the game billed ‘Champions vs Champions’, Chelsea looked anything but, and as the game progressed, the Chelsea players could do nothing but draw eyes to gawk at their ugly performance.
It was almost fitting that medical staff had to run onto the pitch and make a hash of Diego Costa’s bleeding head injury, and it set the tone for the rest of the match as Chelsea were totally outplayed in an uncharacteristic 3-0 thrashing. The system fell apart, as their trademark solid shape looked as malleable as putty up against City’s fast and skillfull attack.
Straight from kick-off, Aguero found himself one on one with second-choice goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, with the Chelsea defence showing signs of what was to come. Aguero went on to open the scoring, with a well taken goal to put the hosts one nil up at half time. In the second half, Vincent Kompany added to Chelsea’s trouble heading in from a corner before Fernandinho finished it off 5 minutes from the end to cap what was a very efficient performance.
Manchester City look hungry again, far hungrier than Chelsea. Whilst we’re only 2 games in, there was only one team that looked like champions during this match.
Potential Title Scramble
With a rather awkward 7.45pm kick off on a Friday night, Manchester United managed another ugly 3 points against a rejuvenated Aston Villa side. Adnan Januzaj’s goal was the difference between the two sides in what was hardly the most majestic of matches.
Aston Villa played well but failed to create any chances, at one point having 3 strikers on the pitch without a creative player in sight. Memphis Depay managed to get in behind a couple of times but failed to create any real opportunities. His performance was not as disappointing as Wayne Rooney’s however, who looked uncomfortable up front – making one touch inside the box all game. Darmian was the standout performer by far, proving to be a rock in defence and showed he wasn’t afraid to put in a challenge. Whilst he committed numerous fouls, United have suffered from overly timid defenders over the last few years and will no doubt welcome this much missed aggression.
Manchester United can take comfort from the fact that they now have a far more solid side than Louis Van Gaal took over last year. One that can grind out a result despite not playing particularly well. United aren’t going to be pretty to watch this season, but neither were Chelsea when they lifted the trophy last campaign.
Arsenal similarly were able to pull off a result against a rejuvenated side. This time a Crystal Palace team that made certain to fill the midfield in an attempt to stop the likes of Ozil and Cazorla being able to play. Despite that, the Gunners always looked in control, unlike in their performance against West Ham last week.
Giroud reminded us of his finishing abilities with Santi Cazorla as the maestro, creating chances and dictating the Arsenal play. Arsenal were particularly impressive in their counter-attacking; their pace on either side causing so many problems for Pardew’s men. Sanchez and Ozil were both impressive, but it was the German International who caught my eye the most – misplacing just one of his 55 passes. Under pressure to perform this season, Arsenal fans will be hoping Ozil can live up to his reputation as one of the best offensive midfielders in the world.
Crystal Palace don’t look like a team that will struggle despite this result. Yohann Cabaye and Wilfried Zaha both looked equally as impressive as they look to improve on their record 10th place from last season. A 2-1 defeat to Arsenal is not going to change the positive outlook at the beginning of their first full campaign under Alan Pardew.
The title race looks incredibly open this year despite Manchester City’s early results. Rest assured, Chelsea will be back this season once ‘Carneirogate’ has rolled over and the team recover their structure. Arsenal likewise will recover from defeat in their opening game, showing how dangerous they can be when their attackers link up well on the break. Manchester United may also sneak into the race from what I’ve seen – subject to another couple of players arriving to bolster their squad.
Confidence on Merseyside
Bournemouth, despite their efforts and overall play, were once again unable to avoid a cruel defeat, this time losing 1-0 to Liverpool. Bournemouth had many stand out performers, namely Matt Richie and central midfielder Eunon O’Kane, but their problem is quite simple – they need to be more clinical.
Liverpool on the other hand will be pleased to see Christian Benteke on the scoresheet despite Phillipe Coutinho technically being offside (according to new regulations) as he netted home to score his first goal for the them. The match was full of controversy, as Bournemouth had a goal disallowed early in the game after Tommy Elphick was unfairly adjudged to have fouled Lovren as he leapt to head home a wonderful ball in.
Bournemouth were unlucky not to at least get a point out of the game, but Liverpool will be happy they begin the season with 6 points in 2 games, despite the unsightly manner of their victories. Clyne, Milner and Benteke all seem to have added an extra layer of confidence into the side.
Southampton were unable to stop Everton’s Romelu Lukaku, who helped sink them 3-0 earlier in the weekend. You just get the feeling that losing so many players is going to trouble Ronald Koeman’s side as they are yet again forced to rebuild and find replacements.
The Toffees were very impressive – creating plenty of chances but mainly showcasing individual brilliance. Their attacking options go as far as forcing players like Steven Naismith and Kevin Mirallas to begin on the bench.
Most importantly for Everton was the mature performance from Ross Barkley who showed glimpses of what he’s able to do when he’s on his game and contributed to what will hopefully be the first of many goals this season. If Barkley can keep fit this season, he could form a deadly partnership with the Belgian, Lukaku.
Misery for McLaren
Swansea City had a comfortable 2-0 victory at home to Newcastle where yet again, new signing Andre Ayew stood out and contributed with a goal. What was most impressive was Swansea’s incredible passing performance – completing 110 more passes than any other side in the league over the weekend with 586.
Newcastle United clearly looked like a team in transition up against a comfortable, united Swansea City side brimming with confidence. For the Geordie visitors, the performance was a reminder that last season’s team cannot have a change of fortunes overnight. Whilst their job was not helped by Daryl Janmaat being sent off early, Steve McLaren still has work to do with the side. Players such as Papiss Cisse and Georginio Wijnaldum will have to be consistent throughout the season if Newcastle are to finish in the top half.
Stokecelona show Spirit
Getting into a brilliant position at 2-0 up, Tottenham Hotspur looked to be securing 3 points after the 1-0 defeat to Manchester United last weekend – until ‘The Irish Zidane’ Stephen Ireland and Joselu came on for Stoke City, inspiring the Potters to a 2-2 draw.
Mark Hughes’ team looks far removed from the squad he took over from Tony Pulis, earning the nickname ‘Stokecelona’ after several arrivals from the Spanish Champions. Ibrahim Afellay was able to pull a goal back from the penalty spot after Joselu was brought down, and Mame Biram Diouf was able to equalise after getting on the end of Stephen Ireland’s cross.
Do Tottenham Hotspur have a chance of finishing in the ‘Top 4’? My answer remains the same as at the start of the season. Over reliance on Harry Kane is going to hurt Spurs especially if he goes on a poor run of form. Whilst their attacking midfielders Chadli, Eriksen and Demebele are all good players in their own right – Spurs lack that ‘Bale-esque’ spark to take them to the next level. It was also evident that Mason and Dier were not solid enough along with the defence to prevent a comeback from Stoke City. They simply have to be taking three points at home when in that kind of position.
The Scramble (Kind of)
I almost feel guilty for including Leicester City within the teams I expect to struggle this season, because Ranieri’s side happen to be 2nd in the table (it’s early, I know) and have proved me wrong thus far with 2 perfectly executed tactical performances. Would I get stick from Foxes fans if I said they might still be riding off the form from last season?
Despite having 70% of the possession, West Ham couldn’t prevent a 2-1 defeat to Leicester who did their work in the first half with goals from new signing Shinji Okazaki and in-form Riyad Mahrez, who has now scored 5 goals in his last 5 league games. West Ham had a tough lesson when they realised putting an inexperienced 16-year-old midfielder (Reece Oxford) in the team will not consistenly help you control the middle of the park. Leicester did what Arsenal struggled to do last week; break at a high tempo through the Hammers’ tightly packed midfield. With Ranieri working so hard on Leicester’s defence, they may just have the solidity to move forward this season.
Two teams who I can’t bring myself to change my mind on are Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion. Sunderland more so were horrific against Norwich City in a 3-1 defeat that further revealed just how useless their defence is. Coates and Kaboul simply do not work well with each other. But what also contributed was the lack of urgency and eagerness to win. Norwich City were simply too dynamic and energetic for Sunderland to compete with. Two goals in the first half by Russell Martin and Stephen Whittaker were enough to subdue the Black Cats for the rest of the match – with Nathan Redmond sealing it late on with a third. Duncan Whatmore scored a consolation after a terrific U21 campaign last season. A quality performance and ruthlessness from Norwich City – but this Sunderland side is there for the taking for any team that puts in any sort of effort. 7 goals conceded in the first 2 games is an indication of how much work Dick Advocaat hast to do with little time remaining in the transfer window.
Watford and West Bromwich Albion are both teams that will be struggling in the bottom half of the table as they grinded out a 0-0 draw. If you asked who was the happier of the two teams though, the Hornet’s certainly showed the most promise. Jose Manuel Jurado pulled the strings in midfield and proved to be a catalyst for Ighalo and Deeney who linked up well upfront. Dominating the offensive side of the game, I don’t worry too much for Watford who scored twice in the draw with Everton in Gameweek 1. I am however worried about West Bromwich Albion who have been poor in the transfer window and are yet to impress this season. Whilst it seems to be one of the rules of the last decade that Tony Pulis will always keep you up, teams like Watford have shown just how competitive the modern game is in the top division – and playing 4-4-2 with a lack of creativity could be Albion’s downfall this season.