EPL Reflections

Six games down. Thirty-two games to go. Several subplots already at the start of the season and the ever evolving managerial merry go round has already started. Hawkeye Sidekick reviews the good, the mediocre and the god damn awful teams so far.

Happy Days F.C.

Shout out to Huddersfield Town, Newcastle and Brighton & Hove Albion who have competed well in the first set of fixtures. Defensively solid so far but this will be tested severely this weekend with fixtures against the big guns. Huddersfield Town look to stop the Harry Kane show. Newcastle entertain Liverpool at the raucous St. James’ Park while Brighton & Hove Albion will hope that Arsenal suffer an UEFA Europa League at the Emirates. It will be interesting to see how from these teams takes the mantle as chief goalscorer. Goals have being a rare commodity for these sides; needs to improve and you suspect that these teams will be dragged into a relegation battle come December if this area of play does not improve. Good start but the real test starts now with squad depth tested due to injuries and suspensions now.

Shout out to Manchester City and Manchester United for their respective starts this season. City have played some superb football in recent weeks but we were saying the same this time last year as well. Questions still defensively for Guardiola but going forward, they have wrecked havoc with Aguero, Silva, De Bruyne, Sterling and Jesus catching the eye. A tough test awaits at the Bridge this weekend; a true acid test to see if City are the real deal this season or will their defensive issues of last season rear its head again. Manchester United are unrecognizable this season; goals are flying in and the signings of Lukaku and Matic (still baffled why Chelsea let him go) have propelled the side to new levels. Lukaku’s pace is a new dimension to United’s play and his goal rate against the mid-table and bottom league teams will mean that United are not far off the title. Lindelof has not set the world alight, patience required for the Swede as Bailly / Jones / Smalling are ahead of him in the pecking order. De Gea continues to perform at an incredibly high level and with the return of Zlatan come January, United fans will look with optimism for the league. A home fixture against a Crystal Palace side who will park the bus Roy Hodgson Fulham F.C. on the road style will test out the theory whether United can take care of these teams this season; something they failed to do last season. No genuine acid test for United and Jose Mourinho. Roll on October to see if United cut the mustard!

Chelsea have started to gain momentum in recent weeks. After a nightmare opening day loss to Burnley, Chelsea have gone back to basics, defensively solid and with Morata scoring at will along with the return of Hazard, the reigning champions will have a huge say on where the title resides next May. Conte may face squad depth issues particularly if Morata or Kante go down with any significant injury. The Costa episode is now consigned to the history books thankfully. Onwards and upward.

Tottenham. Wembley is their new home and there are still teething problems but their form on the road has being superb in recent weeks. Harry Kane cannot stop scoring. Ali and Eriksen are performing at a high level and Tottenham have looked reasonably solid defensively. A team which needs to produce a meaningful title tilt this season; last two season’s have being unconvincing at best. Tottenham when the pressure and title questions were applied had no answers. They need to answer the critics on this question this season. With Kane scoring at will, surely the Spanish juggernauts are having a look?

Watford under Silva have played some excellent football this season. Their speed and pace in attacking positions means that Troy Deeney must accept a place on the bench. Silva and Watford have recruited extremely well. Richarlison and Gray are excellent signings; offer genuine pace and threat in the penalty area. Watford will be hovering around the top ten this season. The only concern is at times defensively they can be opened up. City had a field day at Vicarage Road where the full back positions were given a torrid time. Thankfully, for the Hornets, they don’t play City every week!

Burnley have had a good start to the season. A memorable road trip win over Chelsea on the opening day has provided impetus for Sean Dyche’s side to sit comfortably in the league. Summer transfer policy has being smart; sold Andre Gray for a considerable return on investment and then used the money to bring in experienced Walters and the abrasive Chris Wood to support Sam Vokes in the goals department. Burnley will be defensively organized but they will be tested in the coming months with the injury lay-off to Tom Heaton who was excellent for the club last season. Pope and Lingaard will look to provide continuity but it is a big ask. Tarkowski has being a revelation this season to offset the loss of Michael Keane who was also sold for a tidy sum. Burnley provided that the Heaton injury does not impact the side massively defensively should be mid-table / lower mid-table this season. The goal threat looks good provided that Brady can provide the required quality on the set piece which will be their primary source for chances.

Mediocrity Central F.C.

Liverpool should be in the top four this season but their reluctance to change tact and address their defensive issues is bordering on the ridiculous. After a summer dominated by the Coutinho / Barcelona saga, the defensive woes have quickly taken over as the chief headline. The goalkeeping position was not addressed in the summer. Mignolet and Karius are excellent shot stoppers but fail to inspire confidence dealing with set pieces or command of their areas. The back four have being left exposed by a marauding midfield unit who are cavalier to their attacking play, leaving massive space for teams to counter on the break. Yes, there have being poor defensive moments from the center backs this season but no cover from midfield is a key confidence issue. Can or Henderson have to provide defensive leadership and support Matip / Lovren in defensive duties. Mane and Salah are superb threats out wide but question marks on Firminho as the genuine twenty goal a league striker remain; too inconsistent. Klopp is under pressure and it will be interesting to see how he and his backroom staff look to address the obvious flaws in their performance. A distinct lack of edge upfront converting chances and of course how to tighten up the team defensively. Coutinho’s work rate defensively is under the microscope as well.

Arsenal. 4-0 loss to Liverpool has seemed to spark a reaction from the players and manager as the results have improved since. A draw at the Bridge. The 2-0 win against WBA was noteworthy as they have now a striker in Lacazette who will score twenty goals in the league this season. An exciting player and a genuine goal poacher. The issues for Arsenal though is defensively. I am not convinced by their back three / four formation. Leicester City provided the warning shots on the opening day of the season. The heart of that defense lacks leadership and they are prone to be opened up too easily. WBA should have scored in the previous fixture only for Monreal to produce a heroic clearance off the line. Add the penalty incident and there is two clear goal chances. Better sides will punish Arsenal defensively. Sanchez situation is also an issue; the player wants out, expect City to look to sign the player in January. Arsenal will struggle for top four contention. Europa League commitments will not help either; player recovery and squad depth will be severely tested.

WBA. Tony Pulis will have the team safe as houses again this season but it should be more than that this season and potentially chasing a top six finish is the objective. The Arsenal game was a fixture which if the officiating was on point should have seen WBA win a penalty and potentially see Arsenal down a player. It failed to materialize and Arsenal went onto win 2-0. WBA will look to Rondon again for the goal threat required. Rodriguez has looked sharp as well this season and with improved service from the likes of Philips and McClean, WBA will be secure in the league for another season. Hovering on the good but they need to push on now.

The Shits F.C

Southampton are a club in a transitional phase. Pellegrino has arrived at the club and the initial results and performances have being underwhelming. Goal threat and support for the striker is a serious issues evident in their 1-0 loss to Manchester United. Long’s work rate and running down the channels could not be questioned but he struggled with a distinct lack of support. The second issue is the situation with Virgil van Djik. The Dutch center back wants away but Liverpool ducked away from the deal early in the summer and the player was left in limbo. Southampton need the player back in the first team squad, provide solidity at the back. A tough season beckons for Soton and one wonders if Pellegrino will be still in the post come January. The fans are not impressed.

Stoke City. 2-2 draw against Manchester United, take the complements like a fattened puppy near an open fire, all cosy and happy with life. Fast forward since then and the performances have being abject. Chelsea did not have to get out of second gear last weekend. Bristol City have already knocked them out of the League Cup. The squad depth looks questionable even with the likes of Jese in the books. Bojan, Walters, Whelan have all left the club and you wonder if there is an extensive injury list, how Stoke will cope? Stoke need to get their season back on track. They have flattered to deceive this season in the league apart from the Manchester United game. Time to get back to business.

Swansea City. Tammy Abraham is a striker who will be a work in progress. The key player for Paul Clements is Renato Sanchez but the Portuguese player has not set the EPL alight with his early performances. The brand of football is nice on the eye but there have being woeful defensive lapses this season already. The concession of the Watford game winner ample evidence; a terrible Swansea pass exposing the team defensively. Mawson looks like he has a mistake in him every game and surely Swansea will look to recruit defensively in the next window.  Swansea just about got away with it last season and staved off relegation but until Sanchez starts to fire, the trap door could be a reality this season. Cut out the stupid defensive mistakes and try to get Bony and Abraham chances to provide the goals to win games as defensively. They look well short currently. Clements could be on the tightrope in a couple of weeks.

Everton. Money bags in the summer but the squad have being slow to gel. Take the Rooney night out and it has being a miserable start to the season. Niasse saved Everton last weekend, a player which Koeman did not rate at the start of the season. The genuine striker goal threat is missing right now. The Lukaku effect is glaring. Rooney and Glyfi are going to have to produce the goods for Everton to propel them up the table. The Barkley saga when he comes back to full fitness will be intriguing as well. The only good news is that Coleman is back in training and Calvert-Lewin has shown good glimpses but is a work in progress. Cohesion is required and the Europa League demands will not help in this regard. Top ten position in the league considering the investment this summer is not what the owners envisaged.

Leicester City. The former league champions have hit the skids again. Shakespeare is a manager under pressure. The team have shown flashes of excellence but defensive lapses and lack of scoring threat in games have seen the team just off the relegation zone. Gray’s future plans has being a distraction. Mahrez’s future looks as uncertain as a shaky fence in hurricane season. Leicester City need results fast, whether Shakespeare gets the time to get those results is another story. In Vardy, Leicester City must trust for the goals. Must win game against Bournemouth at the weekend or Shakespeare will be written out of the EPL annals this season.

West Ham United have spent again with gusto in the summer but clearly no further along to propel themselves into the top ten of the league. Joe Hart has looked vulnerable as the team have struggled. Chicharito has being a shining light but Slaven Bilic is under the gun. A good run of results ended with a defeat to Tottenham, time to get on another run soon and with Swansea City visiting, hopes should be high. If a loss occurs though, then expect Bilic to be given his marching order during the international break. The squad under his management has being a mixed bag. Snodgrass transfer spoke volumes. How can you dispense with a player who you only signed at the start of the year? Fonte has arrived but minimal impact. Onus again on Noble, Cresswell, Reid to get the team going in the right direction.

AFC Bournemouth have had a tough start to the season. Arsenal and City in the first six games but three points was a disappointing haul considering other teams played. Everton last weekend was a game that got away in the final quarter. Defensively have looked weak this season. The lack of a clean sheet in the league speaks volumes. Midfield has lacked work rate, quality passing and tempo at times and Defoe has not received the service to score goals. Worrying times. Eddie Howe needs a result this weekend. Leicester City the visitors and one wonders what will happen if AFC Bournemouth lose again? Hope they can get out of the relegation mire but it is a tough ask given the start.

Crystal Palace have already disposed of their manager; their footballing vision and identify done in four league games. It is over to Roy Hodgson to rescue the side with a brand of football which involve defensive solidity and counter attack prowess considering the likes of Zaha, Puncheon and Benteke in the ranks. The squad contains Cabaye as well so there is genuine game winners in the pack. Goals are an issue for the club and some of the chances spurned have beggared belief. Defensively, Palace have being exposed in the central defensive positions. Dann and Delaney have being isolated at times and it is now time for Sakho to come in and produce heroics like last season. United this weekend, best of luck as well as the game against Chelsea. How morale will be then will be interesting. Palace’s board must take flak for this mess; transfer policy lacked cohesion and their inability to support De Boer in the transfer market spoke volumes. The nice passing football brand they required could never be achieved with the squad assembled. A sorry mess at the moment. Hodgson will do well to keep Palace up; confidence is fragile but he has a knack of getting teams to perform as his days with Fulham will testify.

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