Premier League Talking Points

December 3, 2018

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Winter is coming and with it, the return of festive football. It’s the busiest period of the Premier League calendar and perhaps the most important too. This is when the table starts to take shape and where the quest for the title starts getting real. We’ve already had early indicators as to who’ll finish where at both ends of the table, with some key storylines starting to emerge.

This weekend was the first of the festive fixtures and it was one packed with goals, controversy and perhaps a little glimpse at who will lift the trophy come the end of the season. So, without further ado, let’s have a look at the key talking points from all of this weekend’s fixtures.

Cardiff City 2 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1

Wolves’ winless streak continues after their loss to Cardiff, but it isn’t panic stations just yet. After hugely overperforming at the start of the season, Wolves are now closer to where we thought they’d be as a newly promoted club. Surprisingly they lacked fight and, even though the ability was there, they were dominated by Cardiff’s sheer determination.

The Welsh side played their heart out and fully deserved their win. It wasn’t the prettiest of matches, but what they lacked on the technical front they made up for with the grit they showed. It was the willingness to chase down balls, to make that last-ditch tackle that won them the points and is the feature that could keep them up. Their recent home form, three wins in four, suggests they could do it.

Crystal Palace 2 Burnley 0

Burnley have fully capitulated and look a starkly different side to the one that secured European football last year. Some have said it’s the usual hangover that takes place when an underdog makes that step-up, but they were knocked out in the playoffs months ago and any residual effect from then should’ve dissipated by now. Instead, they find themselves second bottom, having already conceded 27 goals in the opening thirteen games. They only let 39 in for the whole of last season.

It’s a strange situation for the man at the helm. Dyche has helped Burnley massively punch above their weight on a consistent basis and is a beloved figure amongst the fans. Reputation and sentiment can only go so far in football though and there may be signs that the big man’s signature style of play has grown ineffective. Palace had 29 shots against them in the match which is honestly shocking. Burnley shouldn’t be allowing that many chances against sides that have a similar quality squad to them.

Huddersfield Town 1 Brighton & Hove Albion 2

It’s fair to say that neither of these sides are the most exciting in the competition but they’ve both done equally well with the resources they have. Staying up is very much the prerogative of both and, because of that, you might have expected them to play it safe. This wasn’t the case though and instead, we were treated to a passionately contested match.

Despite conceding in the opening minute, Brighton played with a real spark and were the better side. They had some help in the form of a Mounie red card but played some really expansive stuff that was quite a departure from the usual style. They’re not usually the side having to break down a ten-man defence, but they coped with the pressure better than any other time this season. The proof? It was the first time they’ve won when they’ve conceded first.

Huddersfield didn’t have a bad match, which makes the way they tried to see out the game all the more frustrating. Too often they’ll work themselves into a good position, only to fall back and try to defend leads rather than building on them. It cost them in this fixture and if they had kept some of their attacking talents on when a man down, instead of trying to set up shop, it might have been a different story.

Leicester City 2 Watford 0

Leicester looked back at their best against Watford, showing many of the same qualities that won them the league in brilliant style just a few years ago. Lethal on the counter-attack and never really threatened, the Foxes can take great heart from the way they played. James Maddison continues to be a revelation for the blues this season and has formed a good harmony with Jamie Vardy up front.

The rest of the team played well too. The defence looked secure and Kasper Schmeichel got his 100th clean sheet in Leicester colours. They might never hit the heights of their title-winning season again, but they’ve now firmly placed themselves in the Premier League for years to come.

Manchester City 3 AFC Bournemouth 1

Another week, another win for the defending champions. The best quality this City team has is that they never seem to slip in matches they’re expected to win. There’s no below par performances, no misplaced passes or even a sense of complacency. City simply turn up, play their way and take the points. The stats speak for themselves; fourteen matches played, two points dropped, only six conceded and a whopping 43 goals already. They have somehow improved on the record-breaking squad of last year and look genuinely unbeatable.

They’ve gone to Spurs, Arsenal and Liverpool away, three of the toughest tests they’ll have this season, and only dropped points after drawing at Anfield. They also beat Chelsea early on in the season quite easily in the Charity Shield and comprehensively dismantled United at the Etihad. In short, City have already played the matches which gave them the most difficulty last season and won. They’re in a better position than at this point last year and, if it weren’t for Liverpool, would be running away with the league. They are the best team in the land and they continue to emphatically justify this tag.

For Bournemouth, it’s now four losses form the last four matches and the Eddie Howe revolution looks to be in serious trouble. They’re still in the top ten and if you offered them their current position at the start of the season, most fans would probably be content. However, after the optimism of the early weeks, their recent form has been understandably disappointing. It’s not all doom and gloom though, with star striker Callum Wilson playing the best football of his career. If they can capitalise on their talisman’s form, they’ll no doubt find their own improving.

Newcastle United 0 West Ham United 3

Rafa Benitez couldn’t work another miracle today, but there is an increasing feeling that the man can do no wrong, even in defeat. After three consecutive wins, the signs were promising, but they looked toothless and ineffective against West Ham. They created chances but players like Ayoze Perez were unable to have any meaningful efforts against the Hammers’ keeper Lucas Fabianski. And that’s where the Toon Army’s problems lie, with the quality of their own players.

The system is good, Newcastle look disciplined and well drilled, but they lack the standard of player that could really settle them as a Premier League team. Without proper investment, Newcastle are always going to be on the periphery and a club of their size shouldn’t be. They started the match level on points with West Ham, a testament to the work Rafa has done, because on the pitch, the disparity in quality was clear to see.

West Ham, on the other hand, played the best match of their season so far and finally look like they’ve taken to Manuel Pellegrini’s tactics. The goals are flowing, the fans are happy and the Hammers are steadily rising up through the ranks. They’ve certainly had a lot more backing than their opposition, but they’ve invested it well and, unlike so many teams who splash the cash, they’ve seen a noticeable difference in style and results.

Under Pellegrini, West Ham aren’t afraid to take the game to anyone and will persevere in their way even if it doesn’t always work. Last week against the defending champions, it would’ve been easy to set up with ten men behind the ball, but they didn’t. They might have lost, but they were clapped off the pitch by their fans who recognised the effort put in.

Southampton 2 Manchester United 2

In a tale of two teams that have continuously disappointed this season, it is ironic that both sets of fans will have left the game disappointed. For Southampton, a point against Manchester United should be considered a great result, and it is, but it’s still not enough to appease the fans or lift them out of the precarious situation they find themselves in. Reports have already come in that Mark Hughes is set to leave his post at Southampton, which could mark worrying times for the club while in such a precarious position. A change is needed, but more instability could prove perilous for them.

What can be said about United that’s hasn’t been said already? Uninspired, lacklustre, etc. A mountain of epithets for a club whose identity of sustained success is slowly dying. Perhaps the most damning indictment for them is that you just don’t expect them to challenge anymore. They came second last year but didn’t look like the second-best team in the country by a large margin. It’s not all Jose Mourinho’s fault, the players aren’t performing at anywhere near the level they need to, but he cannot keep using the triumphs of years gone by to justify the poor results now. A result like this would’ve been shocking in the Fergie era, now, it’s just predictable.

Chelsea 2 Fulham 0

Maurizio Sarri’s team bounced back well against the bottom side, but the Italian looks like he still doesn’t know his best squad. Chelsea have an embarrassment of riches in the midfield, but there has been much debate around how Sarri has structured them. N’golo Kante, probably the best holding midfielder in the world, has been made to play in a more advanced position this year with new signing Jorginho favoured in the holding role instead. Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who scored on the day, has been excellent so far, yet still hasn’t found regular playing time. This is without mentioning the likes of Fabregas, Kovacic and Drinkwater. Being spoilt for choice isn’t exactly a bad problem to have, but keeping so many different players in form and happy is no small task.

Fulham have been a bit of weird one for the season. They’ve got quality players, an attacking mindset and pretty much everything they need to establish themselves in the league. However, they’ve been heavily off the pace and looked devoid of any tactical plans at parts this season. With a new manager in charge, who has experience in extreme turns in fortune, they could kick on. However, you feel as though they may have left it too late.

Arsenal 4 Tottenham Hotspur 2

This year’s first North London derby was one of the greatest we’ve had in years and the pick of the weekend’s fixtures. It had everything; goals, cards and a fair bit of controversy. It was also perhaps the best illustration this season of how much Arsenal have changed under Unai Emery. It’s safe to say there has been a power shift in North London, with Spurs usurping Arsenal as resident Top Four mainstays. This derby completely switches that though, with Emery’s side looking the fresher, more energetic, and Pochettino’s Tottenham out of ideas.

Arsenal now have a proper striker again in Aubameyang and his importance to this squad cannot be overstated. For years, Arsenal have been a pretty side, but not an effective one. Now though, they seem to merging the two and banging four goals against their biggest rivals to leapfrog them into the top four is probably the best statement of intent the club could make. The ex-Dortmund man played a big part in that and has added a lethal touch at the end of the of the intricate passing Arsenal are so renowned for. If they can build on this, they’ll surely be back in the mix at the heights of English football.

Tottenham held their rivals for much of the match but were eventually overpowered by the relentless attack of the opposition. Pochettino will be chiefly worried about two things; the first how his team conceded in quick succession and the second, how little it took for his players to lose their rag. The two could be connected as well. Spurs have plenty of qualities on the pitch but the mental strength of the side has been questioned. Instances yesterday like Jan Vertonghen’s red or Eric Dier’s ridiculous display of unsportsmanlike conduct don’t benefit the side. Dier might only have been celebrating in an emotional moment but he unnecessarily provoked the Arsenal fans and players, perhaps stoking the flames of retribution. It is these petty actions that Tottenham need to start curtailing, lest it starts to stagnate the good progress they’ve made.

Special mention has to go to Mike Dean and his efforts in ensuring no other English referee will officiate in an international tournament ever again. The standard of officiating in this country has been declining for a number of years now and help like VAR need to be afforded to those in charge of matches so they can make the right calls. However, there should also be a basic standard of refs and people like Mike Dean have constantly shown themselves as being well below this. Some of the ugliness that tainted yesterday’s game would not have happened if the Dean had made the right call, yet there will predictably be no consequence for the serial offender.

Liverpool 1 Everton 0

The hallmark of the best title-winning sides is their ability to win games at any point, even when they’re not playing well. That’s exactly what Liverpool showed over the weekend against arch-rivals Everton. They weren’t at their scintillating best and were actually quite poor for much of the match, wasting chances and riding their luck when the Blues broke. It didn’t matter to Klopp though, as illustrated by an on-field dash to celebrate the last-gasp winner, and it won’t to the teams contesting for the title either. They keep picking up the points, no matter the opposition. If they continue to do so, they might be the only side that can knock the current champions off their perch.

Everton played better than they have in a Merseyside derby for years and you could even make the case that they deserved all three points. Football isn’t fair though and, as is the way with the game, their best player ended costing them through an almighty blunder. It’s difficult to know what was going through Pickford’s mind when he attempted that save but without that mistake, the blues would’ve shared the points. After such a cruel loss, it’ll be hard for Everton fans to take any positives from the match, but they can. The difference in the side under Marco Silva since Allardyce is nothing short of sensational and any ill feelings the ex-England boss might have towards his former player is misplaced. The results have improved and, even when they lose, the football has too.

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Author: Cyrus

Cyrus has been writing about sports and many other topics for major publications over the past five years. Now working in digital marketing, he spends his days arguing over football and dreaming of his beloved Manchester City winning the champions league.

Twitter @CBulsara

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