English Premier League, October 2017

Premier League Pints: 10/24/2017

It’s been a frustrating first few months of the Premier League campaign for Arsene Wenger and Arsenal.

Kyle Bonn

Weeks eight and nine were separated by an international break – which we shall not discuss here because YOU ALL KNOW WHAT HAPPENED- so we took a break too, but the Pints are back.

The first major slip has taken place at the top of the table, and we now have just one clear frontrunner at the summit. Manchester City scored 10 goals in the two league matches since we last spoke, and the league is now theirs to lose in the early going. Pep Guardiola has his attacking players flowing gracefully and attacking ruthlessly, and he has a club-record 11 wins across all competitions to show for it.

Week 8 highlighted the different paths Manchester City and Manchester United will hope to take to Premier League glory.

Manchester City put 7 goals on Stoke City, making the pair they conceded look insignificant. Meanwhile, the Red Devils drew 0-0 with Liverpool in a game they had chances to win. City has the early advantage while Jose Mourinho is taking heat, but there’s still over ¾ of the season remaining, so which contrasting style will come out on top?

Both approaches have weaknesses, and it’s been Mourinho’s static defending that has been halted first. Should United have gone after that leaky Liverpool defense that was carved to pieces by Tottenham the very next match? The Portuguese boss picks his spots, but that might have been a good one to pick out.

Meanwhile, Week 9 was a perfect blueprint for what makes Manchester City a tidal wave at the top.

Wave after wave of scintillating attacks are generating prolific attacking numbers for City. Guardiola’s side has held 63% possession this season, six more than any other team. They have over 1,400 more successful passes than any other Premier League team this season. They rank 4th in the Premier League in key passes…because they have been so clinical in front of goal that their 28 assists (10 more than any other team) has slashed their key pass number. The true test will come at the first sign of adversity and how City handles it, because right now things couldn’t be easier for Guardiola’s group.

Meanwhile, Arsenal is blanketed in adversity. The Gunners sit 5th in the Premier League table, a familiar position, but they’re facing fire from all flanks. Troy Deeney hammered them for lacking “cajones,” and while Arsene Wenger fired back, is the Watford captain right? Well, Arsenal has 17 away points in 2017, while lowly Swansea City has 15, only passing the Swans thanks to their win at Everton on Sunday. Do struggles on the road signal a need for a stronger mentality? You be the judge.

Another club that’s shown weaknesses is Chelsea. The Blues had plenty of fight in them in the win over Watford, but it couldn’t hide the struggles in midfield. N’Golo Kante’s injury only serves to highlight their lack of depth. Just watch the goal by Wilfried Zaha in the shocking loss to Crystal Palace. He just cuts the back seven to pieces. Once Willian loses out one-on-one, Bakayoko is caught ball-watching right next to the play (more on the 23-year-old midfielder later) and can’t cover the back line. That forces David Luiz to take a step forward, opening up the passing lane to Zaha for his run through the box. That simply never would have happened with Kante in the middle. Roma was even more ruthless, with the midfield trio of Radja Nainggolan, Kevin Strootman, and Maxim Gonalons absolutely bosses the flow of play, controlling the middle of the field. Check the heatmap:

 

That’s the Roma midfield trio juxtaposed against five Chelsea players, who all appear separated across the field. Meanwhile, Roma completely smothers the middle of the park, running the show. If not for the individual brilliance of Eden Hazard to save the Blues at home, they would have suffered defeat. The Blues can survive on individual heroics so long, and need Kante back as soon as possible.

Did Everton have any choice other than to sack Ronald Koeman?

Things continued to get more and more worrisome. The Toffees sit 18th in the table, and they are finding new and uglier ways to drop points each week. The performances have been erratic, the ideas are stale, and the pressure was mounting. Lyon were miserable in their Europa visit to Goodison and won anyway. The Dutchman did a solid job at Southampton, but for some reason at Everton, the summer spending spree didn’t quite fit his managerial style, and the club is toothless when it counts. I would have been shocked to see him gone survive the week, and sure enough Everton ownership took care of business early. I also think perhaps Roger Bennett is correct about what it takes to win at Everton: full commitment.

MATCH BALLS

 

  • Match ball to Kevin de Bruyne who would win Player of the Year if things ended today. The Belgian is far and away the most dangerous attacker in the league, with only his country-mate Hazard anywhere close. His passing ability is absolutely out of this world, just go back to the 7-2 demolition of Stoke City. His hockey assist on Gabriel Jesus’s opener appears so simple, but the weight on the ball to just pass the defender and then curl into the path of Kyle Walker is simply spectacular.

He does it again just two minutes later to feed Raheem Sterling the ball for the team’s second goal,  and then he displays a mind-boggling crossing ability for Jesus’s second and the team’s fourth, again putting the ball just inches out of the defender’s reach and in perfect position for his teammate to bag a goal. De Bruyne’s one of the most in-form attackers in the world right now, and he has City flying.

  • Match ball to Manolo Gabbiadini who has saved Southampton’s bacon time and time again. His brace against Newcastle earned a point, with a pair of equalizing goals. It’s nothing spectacular, it’s nothing flashy, but Gabbiadini is always there when it matters. Deserves recognition.

 

  • Match ball to this Fulham fan who penned a beautifully crafted email to the chairman of Preston North End complaining about time-wasting in the 2-2 draw at Craven Cottage. As far as insane and pointless emails to authority figures go, this one has to be the most well-written I have ever seen. Bravo!

  •  Finally, match ball to this Everton ball boy, who has reached the absolute summit of the circle game. Nobody will ever top this. It’s the greatest single moment in circle game history. We should all bow to him and be proud to submit an arm to the necessary, requited punch.

 

 

SAVE OF THE COLUMN

There were a ton of fun saves the past few weeks, but Hugo Lloris’s pair of stunners vs. Bournemouth take the cake. He stops a ball off Eric Dier on a corner just 18 minutes in with a ridiculous save and then later kept out Jermain Defoe with an equally stunning save. I would consider Lloris probably the best pure shot-stopper in the league – if not the world – maybe alongside David de Gea.

MAILBAG!

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Lyanna in Portland: What’s wrong with The Ox? He was even bad for England this week…

Lyanna! You can’t get too caught up in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. He is what he is. Nobody can figure out if The Ox is good or bad because he’s neither and he’s both. He’s a very solid player who struggles mightily with consistency. Here’s his Squawka performance score rating by match for the Premier League season so far:

 

This is just what he is. He will have bad stretches and good stretches. If the average player has peaks and valleys, Ox has Mt. Kilimanjaros and Mariana’s Trenches. The quicker everyone accepts this, the better we can understand his career as a whole.

Jon in Atlanta: Big signing more likely to break out– Andre Gray at Watford or Sigurdsson at Everton?

Good question here.

Not sure I would consider Andre Gray a “big signing,” at least not compared to Gylfi Sigurdsson who cost more than twice as much, but nevertheless. I would say Sigurdsson, because he has more Premier League experience, and I think Everton is due for an uptick in form when they find a new manager. Meanwhile, Gray has seen time on the bench of late as Troy Deeney might be the preferred striker.

YELLOW CARDS

  • Yellow card to Bournemouth defender Simon Francis for his miserable challenge on Christen Eriksen before the Spurs midfielder scored the winner.

  • Yellow card to the Arsenal attack. They attempted a grand total of seven take-ons against Watford, 2 of which were successful. It’s not really their game, but that’s just a sad individual effort by the collective group. Also, of 170 passes in the final third, they had 8 key passes. Of the 5 of those that originated in the attacking third from open play, 3 went backwards. Maybe Troy Deeney was right…they don’t seem to be lacking not just confidence but also any venom or killer instinct.

 

  • Yellow card to everyone praising Edin Dzeko for this stunning volley without giving credit to Federico Fazio for the ball of the century on his delivery. An absolute bomb, but he drops it on a dime to his sprinting striker.

Yes, I just praised Federico Fazio, which already makes me feel uncomfortable, but at least it’s not for solid defending, so I don’t have to quit writing altogether.

RED CARDS

  • Red card to Andy Carroll for literally doing the same thing twice in 99 seconds to pick up a pair of yellow cards and leave the Hammers a man down for most of their draw with Burnley. Which they should have lost. He was carded for a wild elbow while challenging for a header, and then did it again not 2 minutes later. He clearly knew what he was doing. What an idiot.

 

  • If West Ham fans are still reading, might want to look away. Red card to Slaven Bilic (again) for reworking his lineup around the aforementioned Carroll. They weren’t any better without the former England international in the embarrassing 3-0 loss to Brighton, but that was more due to poor decision-making by Manuel Lanzini and a rare miserable performance from Marko Arnautovic. There’s little time to improve with Spurs, Liverpool, and Watford among their upcoming fixtures, and Bilic needs to find answers soon. Carroll isn’t among them.

 

  • Red card to Victor Lindelof, who had a horrid match off the bench against Huddersfield Town. The Manchester United defender got stuck on a pinwheel for the first Terriers goal, and completely whiffed covering a long ball on their second. Brutal performance for a player who’s trying to earn more playing time. One to forget, and one that may affect his already slim playing time moving forward.

 

 

GOT EEEEEM!!

 Jose Mourinho, taken to school. Oops!

STATS OF THE COLUMN

 Week 8:

Week 9: Wayne Rooney has scored more goals against Arsenal (12) than any other player.

GOAL OF THE COLUMN

 How about a free-kick that leaves Kasper Schmeichel frozen solid? West Brom attacker Nacer Chadli did just that.

The best part about that goal is it left Kasper’s father Peter Schmeichel, former Manchester United goalkeeping legend, scrambling to defend his son on Monday Night Football, which he did to little effect.

“There was a guy in the wall blocking [Kasper], I played in a Champions League final against Bayern Munich where they scored a similar kind of goal. It was closer in but there were two guys blocking me and I couldn’t see it, and all I could think about when people criticized me for it was that they’ve never been in that situation!”

Weak-sauce.

 TEKKERS!!

 

It’s not from the Premier League, but we here at PLP can appreciate great skill when great skill appears in front of our pint glasses. Bask in the glory of this stellar move from Bayern Munich midfield extraordinaire Thiago Alcantara…

 

WEIRDEST PRESS CONFERENCE MOMENT:

 Now-departed USMNT manager Bruce Arena wins dumbest comment of the week, and it came in a press conference, so feel free to partake in the dumb.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

 You know, as eye-popping as Kevin de Bruyne has been for Manchester City, it feels as though Raheem Sterling doesn’t enough credit in the team. KDB gets all the headlines, but Sterling seems to contribute just as much. I guess we could do a little research into this…hmm, let’s see…we’ll just take a quick look and OHMYGOD….

Enjoy your Premier League action this weekend!

Kyle Bonn writes about the English Premier League for The Yanks Are Coming. You can also read his work at NBC Sports. Follow him on Twitter @the_bonnfire.

Kyle Bonn