Manchester clubs take front foot in Premier League race
After another two dominant performances last weekend, it’s already looking as if the Premier League will be going to Manchester. City and United currently top the table with identical records and after such a strong start to the season, it’s hard to see how any other side can keep up. By Gregor Kerr.
At the top of the table, the frontrunners for the title race look to be forming early on, with both Manchester clubs perched at the top of the table, level on both points and goal difference.
City laid down an impressive marker on Saturday, scoring six at Vicarage Road without reply, a week after putting five past a strong Liverpool side. City already look like the side that was expected in Pep Guardiola’s inaugural season in England, managing to keep sturdy a defence which was often-criticised during the last campaign. Sergio Aguero’s sixth Premier League hat-trick was the cherry on top for City.
United were every bit as lethal the next day, putting four beyond Everton as Romelu Lukaku and Wayne Rooney faced their old clubs. The two strikers had contrasting fortunes, with the Belgian scoring against his old employers and Rooney enduring a frustrating return to Old Trafford. The opening goal came from an unlikely source in Antonio Valencia, who scored only his second Premier League goal in four years in spectacular fashion; a stunning volley right on the edge of the 18-yard box.
After that early goal United seemed likely to blow Everton away, but Koeman’s side, who have failed to score in their previous five games, managed to stem the flow of United attacks before edging their way back into the match, with Rooney fluffing an excellent chance to level the scoreline. The Toffees appeared more resilient than recent weeks but after Henrikh Mkhitaryan added a second, Lukaku silenced his old employers and Anthony Martial struck in quick succession to condemn them to a third consecutive Premier League defeat.
Sunday’s earlier kick-off saw Arsenal travel to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea, in what was a huge test of character after their 4-0 pummelling at Anfield weeks before. Arsene Wenger made a perhaps surprising call to drop Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil; two players who were heavily criticised after the Anfield debacle. The inclusion of Alex Iwobi and Danny Welbeck in their place proved to be a smart choice, as they offered the pressing and intensity which was missing in the Liverpool defeat.
While the goalless draw at Stamford Bridge wasn’t much of a spectacle, it would have offered relief for Gunners fans, who saw a Shkodran Mustafi goal chalked off for offside. In what was a relatively incident-free match, David Luiz saw red for the Blues late on as Chelsea failed to score at home for the first time under Antonio Conte.
A third consecutive win for Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle side lifted them into the top four for the first time in over five years. For the second week in a row, it was their young, but impressively mature, captain Jamaal Lascelles who headed in Newcastle’s winning goal, after Stoke’s Xherdan Shaqiri cancelled out Christian Atsu’s opener. Despite a rocky start, The Magpies have steadied the ship defensively and are slowly climbing the table.
Liverpool and Tottenham’s title hopes both took a major hit on Saturday, as they both stumbled to home draws against Burnley and Swansea City respectively. Both sitting outside the top four currently, the two sides current issues couldn’t be more of a contrast. Whilst Liverpool’s defence looks just as unstable as last season, it’s at the other end of the pitch where Spurs are having their frustrations. Spurs have conceded just three goals so far, while Klopp’s Liverpool are conceding nearly two goals a game with nine shipped already this season.
Roy Hodgson failed to lift Crystal Palace in his first in the Selhurst Park dugout, with an uninspiring 1-0 defeat to Southampton ensuring that they remain without both a point and a single goal in the first five games; the worst start to a season in English football history. The Eagles, who are continuing to set records of the wrong kind, already face an uphill battle to claw something from a season which is quickly drifting away. With fixtures against both Manchester clubs and Chelsea to follow soon, it’s hard to see where the vital points will come from.
Elsewhere, Burnley and Huddersfield continued to set the early pace for the surprise packages of the season, sitting in sixth and seventh place respectively. While Burnley’s 1-1 draw at Anfield was the more impressive of the two results, Huddersfield picked up a valuable point at home to Leicester.
Premier League results
Bournemouth 2 -1 Brighton
Spurs 0-0 Swansea
Huddersfield 1-1 Leicester
Liverpool 1-1 Burnley
Newcastle United 2-1 Stoke City
Watford 0-6 Manchester City
West Brom 0-0 West Ham
Crystal Palace 0-1 Southampton
Chelsea 0-0 Arsenal
Manchester United 4-0 Everton