Here is the recap from the second weekend of the Premier League along with Michael Caley’s expected goal data. You can see the expected goal maps below:
Manchester United still isn’t convincing.
United did some very good things on Friday and certainly a comfortable home win against Southampton is nothing to be disappointed about. That being said, Caley’s map suggests that this is a United team that is relying chiefly on pure talent to get by while playing fairly average football thus far.
To be sure, that may be a totally decent strategy for United this season. If they defend at the level we expect from Jose Mourinho teams and just rely on individual genius from Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan (with the occasional cameo bits from Wayne Rooney, Anthony Martial, and maybe Juan Mata) that may be good enough to get them to 80-85 points. It’s possible.
That being said, Chelsea is going to be just as stout defensively, if not more so. And they have a more coherent attack going forward. City, meanwhile, figures to be a typical Guardiola team by late fall/early winter, if Pep’s work at Bayern is anything to go by. Spurs and Liverpool, meanwhile, may well be the two most tactical coherent squads in the league, and Arsenal figures to be Arsenal again, which means they’ll be in and around the top four all season. So “defensively sturdy and reliant on stars to score goals” may not be enough this year, such is the quality in the top six of the English Premier League. In that case, United needs to find a more reliable system for creating chances than “waiting for Zlatan to do Zlatan things.” We’ll see if they can.
Liverpool doesn’t need to worry.
The last two weekends for Liverpool could be shared with anyone who wants to understand what makes football so simultaneously wonderful and infuriating. Last week they played a decent but not great game against Arsenal at the Emirates and came away 4-3 winners thanks to some superior finishing by Sadio Mane and Adam Lallana and excellent work from Phillipe Coutinho. This week they dominated Burnley away from home and still lost 2-0.
That said, this was a far better performance than the one against Arsenal. Burnley still sliced through the midfield too easily on a couple occasions, which suggests that the Henderson-Lallana-Wijnaldum trio still either needs work or needs to be dropped. But on the whole the Reds didn’t concede many chances to Burnley and were extremely unlucky not to score given all the chances they created. This is an infuriating result in that it’s the sort of game that makes you say “if only” when you look back in April and are counting every point as you race for the top four. Put another way, there’s every chance this could be Liverpool’s version of Tottenham’s first loss to Newcastle last season. That said, in terms of the quality of play, it was all there for Liverpool.
Spurs are settling in nicely. Palace could be in trouble.
Tottenham’s win against Palace was a vintage Pochettino Spurs performance even down to the final outcome not really reflecting Tottenham’s dominance. Spurs could easily have been up 3-0 at halftime between Alderweireld’s header, Kane’s shot from outside the box, and Janssen’s follow-up off Kane’s shot that Wayne Hennessey spilled. That said, Tottenham took the three points thanks to Victor Wanyama’s late winner.
What is particularly interesting is that Spurs set up in more of a 4-4-2 with Harry Kane and Vincent Janssen up top and Dele Alli dropping to the bench. Kane and Janssen looked comfortable working together and Janssen in particular played like a center forward version of Erik Lamela, which delighted Tottenham supporters. It’s hard to say if this is going to be the new normal for Spurs, but if Pochettino basically sees himself as having two first-team quality strikers in Kane and Janssen and four (five if Son Heung-Min is included) first-team quality attacking midfielders in Kane, Lamela, Alli, and Christian Eriksen that can only be good news for Tottenham.
The flip side to this is that Palace looked very, very mediocre. And this is a concern on a few different levels:
- First, they started the game in a 4-2-3-1 with four wingers, a striker who is probably better as a winger, and a lone real midfielder. In other words, he did the full Tim Sherwood.
- Second, at halftime they subbed off their real midfielder for Yohan Cabaye, who last ran at speeds greater than five miles an hour in 2012.
- Third, Alan Pardew has a well-established pattern as a manager at this point. He comes into a new club and starts off brilliantly before reverting to basically relegation form for huge stretches of time, only to break them up with runs that are just good enough to keep the team out of actual relegation trouble. Remember this?
— NOW TV Sport (@NOWTVSport) September 15, 2014
There is still time for Pardew to right this ship. The arrival of Christian Benteke could be huge and Andros Townsend figures to be roughly equivalent or perhaps even moderately better than Yannick Bolasie. So they may be fine. But if either Hull City or Burnley turn out to be better than expected, Palace could find themselves in a relegation fight.