The Premier League is off and running.
This festive occasion comes once a year, and yet it feels like the first time every time. That’s what’s so wonderful about this league, and this sport.
Before we get off and running here at Premier League Pints for what is truly the first time, I’d like to say a big thank you to both TYAC and you, the reader, for lending me your time and energy. Time is such a valuable commodity these days, and for you to share it with me is an honor I think deserves appreciation. So thank you. We’re in this together.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Antonio Conte and Diego Costa, who are throwing each other under a bigger and bigger bus each week. Most recently, Costa likened his situation to a hostage crisis, to which Conte responded with a hearty chortle.
The Blues are off to a shaky start, and while by no means does two poor performances mean the season is over, it also signals a much-needed kick in the ass for the Blues. Chelsea is a strong squad, and clearly still a title contender, but they need to work out the kinks, especially at the back. Has the feeling of a mental issue, not a physical one, although to be fair they showed significant fortitude to put Batshuayi’s mistake, and we saw the old Antonio Conte as he celebrated.
There’s a reason no team has repeated as Premier League champion in the past eight seasons, and slow starts have much to do with it. Last year, Leicester City won two of its first eight games. The year before, Chelsea won four of its first 17. A season earlier, Manchester City started with just two wins in its first five, as well as posting the same start two season prior, both in title defense years. The pressure is real.
Nevertheless, the Blues do seem to be in some bit of trouble. They don’t seem to have the same bite as they did last season, and the problems seem to be more at the back, where the team seemed impervious during their most recent title campaign. They conceded three to lowly Burnley, something unimaginable last season even a man down, and they allowed more shots against Tottenham in the first half alone than they did in all but four full games last season. Spurs had at least three exquisite chances to score, and the Blues could have suffered a more concerning fate had the opponent been more clinical. There does appear to be something up, and it could prove costly down the road.
But Chelsea doesn’t own a monopoly on the talking points through the first two weeks of the season. While the Blues may be feeling the collective heat, a number of individuals new to the English top flight are blossoming early. A host of summer striker purchases are off to solid starts. Romelu Lukaku, Alvaro Morata, and Wayne Rooney all scored debut goals. Chicharito was held off the scoresheet in his first game at West Ham but got back on pace following week with a brace. Jese didn’t play week one, but scored the winner at home over the Gunners on his debut. Goals for everyone!
Which brings us to the elephant in the room two weeks in: is good defending no longer cool in England? The opening weekend of the Premier League saw 31 goals bagged, and we added 22 more the next time around. In comparison, the Bundesliga has seen 15 strikes through its opening weekend, and La Liga players have just 20 in their first week of play.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Week 1: Chelsea’s 3-0 loss to Burnley marked the first time ever in the Premier League they trailed by three or more goals at halftime at Stamford Bridge.
Week 2: Harry Kane still has zero Premier League goals in August.
Honorable Mention: Down in the Championship, midway through the first half of Aston Villa’s trip to the Reading School for the Advancement of Black Magic Madjeski Stadium on August 15th, Reading had out-passed Villa 246-23. The first half finished with the deficit cut to 393-115, and unsurprisingly the game finished 2-1 in favor of Reading.
SIMON MIGNOLET AWARD FOR MOST DICHOTOMOUS PERFORMANCE
Spurred on by this fabulous tweet:
Mignolet is the ideal player for twitter to argue over: his bad error to good save ratio makes him perfect for raging, uncompromising debate
— Seb Stafford-Bloor (@SebSB) August 15, 2017
…I have decided to give out an award for the best display of highs and lows by one player over the past two weeks. The inaugural award goes not to the man whose name adorns this prestigious honor, but instead to a player who I suspect will receive more than one of these in the near future, Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka.
In Arsenal’s wild 4-3 win over Leicester City to open the 2017/18 Premier League season, Xhaka was personally responsible for a large chunk of two of Leicester City’s first three goals which saw the Gunners fall behind 3-2 despite controlling much of the match. Most notably, he completely lost Jamie Vardy on a corner, instead choosing to keep a watchful eye over a critical patch of unoccupied grass which thankfully did not have a hand in scoring the goal.
Xhaka also contributed an ugly midfield giveaway leading to the Foxes’ opening goal. (a feat which he would repeat the following week that saw Stoke City take an insurmountable 1-0 advantage, although that was not considered when awarding him this honor).
When all appeared lost, the Swiss masterfully climbed his way back into relevance by assisting both late goals in the Gunners wild comeback, including a stunning outside-foot flick to Aaron Ramsey at the back post for the 83rd minute equalizer. Congratulations to our winner, whose great skill is gloriously cancelled out by an equivalent amount of boneheaded incompetence.
A yellow card to Chelsea this week for passing up on Blaise Matuidi at a cut-rate price of $23 million so they can nobly pursue Danny Drinkwater at double the price. A real humdinger of a business decision there, Roman.
A yellow card to West Ham for finding a pair of very different ways to collect zero points through the first two weeks of the season. The Hammers were the popular pick for most improved team this campaign, but so far they look every bit as toothless as they were all last year.
A yellow card to both sides of the Diego Costa nightmare. Chelsea has cast aside a quality player who was instrumental in their title challenge. Meanwhile, the Brazilian exacerbated the issue by heading home to party for a month instead of handling the issue professionally (not that anyone expected professionalism from a 12-year-old, but… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ). Chelsea’s transfer window has been curious at best. Only yellow cards this time around because the situation is still salvageable…barely.
A yellow card to David Silva because his shaved head is just not something I can wrap my unpretentious brain around.
A red card to Andre Marriner’s crew for failing miserably in Arsenal’s 1-0 loss to Stoke City. Not a full excuse for the Gunners’ loss, but Arsenal had a clear penalty not given and a goal wrongly ruled out for offside. Less notable but still hilariously bad was the foul given on Aaron Ramsey for “taking down” Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland when the latter came off his line to execute a diving punch. Literally zero contact, but Butland went flying and Ramsey was in the area so Marriner caved and gave the foul. Gotta protect those goalkeepers!
A red card to Jese for ruthlessly murdering this poor Stoke fan who was just trying to enjoy his 15 beers in peace.
? Celebrate good times, come on!
(It’s a celebration)
Celebrate good times, come on!
(Let’s celebrate) ? pic.twitter.com/avk1J63SJE
— Premier League USA (@PLinUSA) August 19, 2017
A red card to Jack Wilshere – literally – in a reserves match for starting a brawl after being fouled. Wilshere is working his way back to fitness yet again, but he clearly prefers the comfort of the trainer’s room, so he did his best to find a way back there. He’ll have to settle for a suspension this time.
Jack Wilshere back in action for Arsenal ressies. Gets himself sent off after an hour. pic.twitter.com/z0D1vQa5Kg
— Alan Smith (@alansmith90) August 21, 2017
A match ball (well, two!) to Huddersfield Town for shocking the Premier League with its 3-0 win over Crystal Palace followed by a 1-0 win over Newcastle at home. The Terriers showed an incredible work rate and desire, and kept it up the entire match. Against Newcastle, they didn’t exactly have great quality, but their passion from the opening whistle threw the Magpies completely off kilter, and they were unable to hold any kind of significant attacking possession without being harassed. I’m still worried about their ability to stay up, as their lack of genuine quality will bleed through when their confidence eventually wanes, but for now they’re a fabulous story. Plus, I’m here for anything that gets Patrick Stewart tickled.
A match ball to Arsene Wenger for his wacko formation that somehow worked in the comeback against Leicester City. As the game wound down, Wenger just chucked a bunch of darts at the board and happened to hit the bulls eye twice. He had:
If that doesn’t look too crazy to you, consider this: That lineup features a LB and a RB at CB, a winger at RB, and a RB at LB. And that’s just the back line.
A match ball to Paul Pogba who saw yellow in the 26th minute of Manchester United’s 4-0 win over Swansea City, proceeded to get a clear final warning from referee Jon Moss in the 32nd minute, and then calmed down to earn a goal, an assist, and Man of the Match.
A match ball to Wayne Rooney for starting his Everton career with two of the poachiest poaches to ever poach #poacher
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Is Mark Hughes the most underrated manager in the Premier League? He’s brought in ambitious and electric high-risk/high-reward players like Bojan, Jese, and Maxim Choupo-Moting, gambling correctly almost every time. He takes a patchwork midfield and somehow gets it to hum at a mid-table pace. He organizes an above-average defense. Stoke had never in its history finished in the top-half of the Premier League before his arrival, and he led them to three straight finishes of 9th place.
Ask any Fulham fan, now six years removed from Hughes infamously walking out on Craven Cottage, if they’d take him back. If it weren’t for the moderate success of Slavisa Jokanovic’s current tenure, 9 out of 10 say absolutely yes. It’s a shame his minor failure at a still-budding Manchester City continues to weigh him down in the public perception.
GOAL OF THE COLUMN
Marcos Alonso’s insane free-kick against Spurs is the best goal of this young Premier League season. An absolutely fabulous hit, it started straight at Lloris and bent all the way into the corner. What a signing he’s been for the Blues, at “just” $27 million. A vital part of that 3-CB system Conte plays at Chelsea.
WHO IS GETTING BOOED THIS WEEK?
Stoke fans apparently booed Aaron Ramsey at the Britannia on Saturday, because how dare he have his leg broken by Ryan Shawcross that one time.
WEIRDEST PRESS CONFERENCE MOMENT
No surprise, our first press conference moment of the season goes to…Jurgen Klopp! Some reporter asked about his “first time,” so naturally Klopp talked about his first time.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp is asked about his “first time”…???
— The Sack Race (@thesackrace) August 15, 2017
Kyle Bonn is a contributing writer for The Yanks Are Coming. You can find him on Twitter at @the_bonnfire.