The Premier League title race is heating up! A bunch of teams are battling it out to see who will reign supreme at the top of the table in the English Top Flight! What a race this is shaping up to be, as teams go neck and neck through the dog days of
Wait. No. Sorry. That was last year. Through 11 matches last year…
At least the title was in doubt for a few months before Chelsea pulled away. This year…it’s blatantly obvious who the best team is.
For good reason, the scorching hot Manchester City attack is getting all the coverage so far this season, and rightly so. They are on pace to score the most goals in Premier League history, with 38 through 11 matches, which would stretch out across a full season to be 131 goals. That’s ABSURD.
But we’re not here to talk about white-hot offense. Not yet, at least. The most fascinating part of this Manchester City team, and what could ultimately be the deciding factor in their potential championship run, is the vastly improved defense. They have kept 9 clean sheets across all competitions this season, and of their 7 highest rated players on Squawka Statistics’ scoring system, 2 of them are defenders and 1 is their goalkeeper. Last year, their goalkeeper’s overall score ranked last among the entire squad, and John Stones was 5th on the team in defensive score alone, garnering piles of criticism from idiots who know nothing about soccer…
Seriously, what are all these coaches seeing in John Stones that I’m not? https://t.co/QEbHCPqqf0
— Kyle Bonn (@the_bonnfire) September 2, 2016
John Stones threatening to take over from Gary Cahill as most overrated English defender
— Kyle Bonn (@the_bonnfire) October 23, 2016
Tell me again how John Stones is worth all that money?
— Kyle Bonn (@the_bonnfire) January 24, 2016
Well…HEY LOOK IT’S PHIL JONES MAKING A FACE *throws smoke bomb, disappears into the night*
Whatever blood magic Pep Guardiola conjured up this offseason has worked, and his defense is on pace to concede just 24 goals this season, a year removed from leaking 39. It’s not perfect just yet (Stones found himself dribbling into oblivion more than once against Arsenal) but the turnaround is outstanding for the clear title frontrunners.
Meanwhile, across Manchester, you may notice how nobody ever complains about Jose Mourinho tactics when the team wins ugly, but as soon as they draw 0-0 or drop a 1-0, the hounds are released. I was getting ready to be the champion of this talking point, but Jose Mourinho beat me to it. I’m still standing by this double standard. Fans need to pick one.
In addition, for all the criticism of Mourinho’s “negative” tactics, at some point his players need to show up too. Romelu Lukaku hasn’t scored in 6 games and was very poor against Chelsea. Hernikh Mkhitaryan was invisible in that game as well, and is without a single assist in 8 league games. United has had chances to score, the players have just not come through. That’s not on the boss.
Let’s move a bit down the table, to the battle for the Europa League places. Check out what Arsenal has in its rear view mirror:
Say whaaaaaaat?! That’s all 3 newly promoted teams, last year’s 17th place finisher, and Burnley. So let’s dive into this a bit.
I was gearing up to write a wonderful few paragraphs on how refreshing Watford has been, like a Burnley but more fun to watch, and then they go and lose to Stoke City at home and disintegrate in my hands like picking up a piece of delicious crumb cake blowing a 2-0 lead against Everton. As a former Yankees manager would say, “It’s not what you want.” Let’s hope they can bounce back, because that team is an entertaining watch.
Meanwhile, amid managerial chaos all around the league for teams used to being in that 6-10 range, Burnely remains unscathed, escaping the past 2 weeks with a pair of gritty 2-0 wins, because they wouldn’t want it any other way. Sean Dyche has taken his Premier League opponents to school. His team isn’t very talented, it’s certainly not flashy, but they’re extremely well organized, they have purpose, and they have fight.
Someone who hasn’t faired so well despite a (slightly) more talented squad is Slaven Bilic, who had to go (West Ham beat us to it by an hour). It’s a shame how quickly a once-enjoyable Hammers side has rotted into a steaming pile of compost baking in the midday sun. With it, Bilic has seen a John Gruden-like fall from grace, once providing a spark to a team stifled by mediocrity but now shouldering the blame for a porous roster and questionable gameday makeup. The honeymoon was a fun ride, but it turns out the appointment of BIlic might have been a poor long-term choice. I’ve struggled with determining what catalyst proved the spark that set the dumpster ablaze, and while I don’t think this is entirely the cause of the slide, Dimitri Payet’s sale has surely exposed Bilic as a poor tactician. He has been unable to piece together any semblance of a cohesive unit, misusing players and forcing square pegs into round holes with no clear objective.
So, with that look up and down the table, let’s gather around the taps and pour ourselves a few cold ones.
Match ball to Manchester City’s counter-attack in their Champions League win over Napoli, which was just aout as ruthless and incisive as possible. Leroy Sane in particular had himself a fabulous game despite his relatively unlucky penalty conceded. This team is something else. Napoli played quite well and was still torn to shreds.
Match ball to the Mainz goalkeeper Robin Zentner, who saved complete embarrassment with a miraculous recovery despite MISTAKING THE PENALTY SPOT FOR THE BALL. You read that right. He thought the penalty spot was the ball, and tried to pass it. Somehow, he recovered enough to salvage the situation, with the help of his defenders.
Yellow card to Mauricio Pochettino who forgot to change his Xbox controller batteries, and they died right as Eric Dier went to make a challenge on Anthony Martial. Goal.
Yellow card to Manchester City youth product and England’s U-17 World Cup savior Phil Foden, who was so excited to win the World Cup he didn’t even realize his shirt was on backwards. Rookie mistake. Act like you’ve been there before. Even though you never will be again.
What a feeling ❤️😝 pic.twitter.com/0TMAUXuecu
— Phil Foden (@PhilFoden) October 28, 2017
Red card to Arsene Wenger, who roasted the referees for some reason, after fairly losing to Manchester City 3-1.
“I would say overall the referee made the decision today, with the soft penalty and the offside goal. But we are used to it when coming here, last year they had two offside goals, and once again, I feel they don’t work enough, because the level drops every season at the moment. Overall it’s unacceptable what happens.”
What? Uh, no. The penalty was fair because Nacho is clumsy, and yea David Silva was a half-body offside but your players stopped in their tracks instead of playing to the whistle. The other team is just really good, and your team is not. Move on.
SIMON MIGNOLET AWARD:
The Simon Mignolet Award is given to a player who exemplifies the essence of Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, a player who excels for 89 minutes but commits that one brutal error in the biggest moment. Inspired by this tweet.
After a 2-week absence with no winner due to the absence of a worthy candidate (we don’t just hand this award out to any old Joe Hart), we have a new man to take home the trophy. Manchester United defender Eric Bailly had a fabulous match against Chelsea, displaying why he is one of the top defenders in the Premier League. Except for that one time where he just let Alvaro Morata waltz into the box and onto the end of a Cesar Azpilicueta cross, burying the game-winning goal. So close, Eric. So close.
TOUGHNESS FACTOR 10
How about Spurs prospect and USMNT youngster Cameron Carter-Vickers, who while on loan at Sheffield United, ended up on the receiving end of flailing goalkeeper Jamal Blackman’s hip, but doesn’t even budge.
Paging @whatahowler. This is wild. Sheffield United GK Jamal Blackman runs into teammate & #USMNT hopeful Cameron Carter-Vickers who is apparently made out of concrete. Blackman flips over CCV (doesn't budge). QPR scores. Blackman injured. h/t @PaulQPR pic.twitter.com/UebS1l5D37
— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) October 31, 2017
Isn’t the lesson “nature hates a vacuum” taught in both 6th grade science class and middle school soccer? If a center-back sees the striker suddenly crash back into the midfield, SOMEONE IS COMING TO REPLACE HIM IN THE EMPTY SPACE! So, here we have Leiceter City defender Harry Maguire guarding Stoke’s Eric-Maxim Chupo-Moting. The Potters frontman, with his back to goal, suddenly comes bursting forward towards the midfield stripe. NO HARRY DON’T FOLLOW HIM! DON’T…oh drat. Yep. Maguire takes the bait, and Xherdan Shaqiri slips right by, leaving Maguire floundering like a fish out of water, left to feebly raise his hand hoping for the linesman’s flag to save him. It didn’t. 1-1.
ISN’T IT NICE WHEN…
…your squad is ravaged by injury but it’s ok because you’re playing Crystal Palace this week?
How on earth have you missed that Mr Zaha pic.twitter.com/Q712T9uQJW
— Callum (@CallumWHU_) November 5, 2017
STATS OF THE COLUMN:
W10: This is WILD. Just when you thought you had the league figured out…
Everton's set-piece specialist Gylfi Sigurðsson is 935th out of 948 players for completing dead ball passes in the big 5 this season.
— Thom Lawrence (@deepxg) October 26, 2017
W11: Everton’s comeback win over Watford was the club’s first come-from-behind victory after being down two or more goals since May of 1994 when they beat Wimbledon 3-2 on the final day of the 1993/94 season, a campaign that would leave them in 17th (out of 22).
SAVE OF THE COLUMN:
We’ll hear more from Asmir Begovic later, but first, a big moment for him saving a screamer from Matt Ritchie
GOAL OF THE COLUMN:
Huddersfield! They do fun things!
STATE OF THE USMNT:
The USMNT didn’t make the World Cup. It’s been a long time since that last happened. Yada yada yada we know. So let’s check in on how the US players are handling the news. We now go live to Tim Ream with Fulham. Tim, how are things across the pond?
— White Noise (@WhiteNoise1879) November 4, 2017
WEIRDEST PRESS CONFERENCE MOMENT:
Asmir Begovic, owner of the Premier League’s illustrious 13th-best defensive record (and last year’s 5th-worst) calls out Liverpool’s defense. Why??
“They are not doing the basics of defending and I don’t think they have the pride it takes to be a defender. It is a combination of things – communication, positioning and the desire to defend is lacking for Liverpool. They don’t look organized, they don’t look like they want to defend. I look at some of their players and the first thing is how good they can be on the ball, how they can pass and go forward and how the full backs can attack and join in. I don’t think their first thought is defending.”
“I think as a unit they look all over the place and there could be many reasons. Confidence is low and there are people making bad decisions so it seems to be a bit of a mess. I don’t think it’s one thing, I think it’s them as a unit. I don’t think they’re working together and there’s a lack of continuity with the centre-back pairings and the full-backs, I don’t think changing the goalkeepers is helping.”
Context: Liverpool would cruise to a 3-0 win a few days later, while Bournemouth conceded more than 0 goals in a loss to Chelsea.