The third weekend of Premier League action saw plenty of thrills and spills, particularly when it came to four members of the ‘Top Six’.
Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United all lost – the latter two at home no less – while Chelsea just about picked up their first victory under new management at the fourth attempt.
Yet, the other two members of that ‘Top Six’, Liverpool and Manchester City, were fairly comfortable winners in tricky games. Therefore, instead of ‘Top Six’, it should probably read ‘Top Two Plus Four Other Sides Who Aren’t Quite As Good’.
So, what does the future hold for those four sides who aren’t smashing everyone in sight? Are their seasons a write-off already? What issues do they face moving forward? And how does this weekend leave them?
Manchester blues For Red Devils
We’ll start at Manchester United where an optimistic summer and opening day of the season has given way to familiar moans and groans.
Following on from the penalty ‘debacle’ at Wolves last Monday night, United found a new way to shoot themselves in the foot by losing at home to a Crystal Palace side who had scored precisely zero times in their first two games.
While it’s not a particularly brilliant result, it does serve as a reminder to United fans that this is a squad that has got plenty to learn. They were not outdone by an incredible display by Palace, far from it. They were beaten by a team that were savvy and had their share of good fortune.
Palace under Roy Hodgson will always be safe in the Premier League and Hodgson’s mastery of getting the best out of a dull group of players paid dividends at Old Trafford. They defended stoutly and, United did get through, Vicente Guaita stood tall in goal. Even when they did get a clear sight at goal from the penalty spot, angles played against them as Rashford’s penalty hit the post and went behind instead of sneaking in. A couple inches to the right and this piece may have a different message.
Instead, a stout Palace performance was enough to frustrate and get at United. That’s maybe the most concerning part about this game. The two Palace goals are entirely avoidable. For the first, I don’t subscribe to the ‘let’s blame Lindelof’ narrative. Sure, he loses the ball in the air way out of position but United didn’t play with a back one. The lack of effort from Maguire or Wan-Bissaka to cover in behind him is a big concern as is the ease with which Jordan Ayew beat David De Gea.
The second goal is the once where alarm bells should ring. It’s got nothing to do with Pogba losing possession or even De Gea’s poor goalkeeping, rather it’s a mentality thing.
When Daniel James knocks in the equaliser in the 89th minute, the entire United team celebrate. They’d done it. They were level. It had been a frustrating afternoon but a point had been rescued at least.
Yet, there was still injury time to play. United’s players had switched off for the day. The United sides of old under Ferguson would have got the ball out of the net and set back up to go and get a winner. It just felt like the point was enough for this group.
So when Pogba lost the ball, there was no urgency to win it back. Palace players rather casually knocked the ball forward, giving United time to get back in position. Yet, it felt all so flippant from Solskjaer’s men. There wasn’t a desire to get the ball back quick, more what felt like a moody eye roll at the thought of having to do that.
It only took three Palace players to break United open and they didn’t have to try. This is a talented United squad but they need to get their heads in the game. And fast.
Unsettled and defeated
Considering they were Champions League finalists just over two months ago, it seems almost inconceivable that Tottenham would manage to lose to a Newcastle side that hasn’t even had Steve Bruce in charge six weeks.
Yet, Spurs, like they so often have, went and shot themselves in the foot. Newcastle were very good but Spurs were tame. There was no vigour, no spark. They became hung up on not getting a penalty that they forgot that to actually win games, you need to shoot sometimes.
Even worse, Mauricio Pochettino has came out and said his squad is still ‘unsettled’. Spurs’ recent record of losing important players does not make for good reading and every time, they seem to be mysteriously ‘unsettled’ before they go. It begs the question: what kind of crumbly foundations is this squad built on?
More importantly, why is the whole squad unsettled? If anyone had reason to be unsettled just now, it would be Christian Eriksen, whose move to a club that wins trophies doesn’t look like it’ll be happening this year. Despite all this, he’s been probably their star man this season. So, what’s up with the rest of them?
Another Anfield defeat but positives
Arsenal haven’t exactly been fans of Anfield in recent years and Mo Salah made sure that would be the case again on Saturday evening.
But, as opposed to last Christmas’ capitulation, this Arsenal performance felt a bit more dangerous. With Nicolas Pepe in their ranks and looking sharp, Arsenal could and likely should have taken a first-half lead.
And despite the game ending 3-1, this didn’t feel like a classic Arsenal big-game defeat. Sure, they were not as a good as Liverpool but they more than held their own for large parts of the game and gave as good as they got.
Their start to the season has been promising though and they might well just do better than expected after all.
Frank and Tammy off the mark
Finally, Frank Lampard has three points and Tammy Abraham has a Chelsea goal.
Chelsea’s trip to Norwich wasn’t without its perils though as they were pegged back twice in a pulsating first half. Luckily, Lampard’s boys found a side more defensively disorganised than the Blues so they could win.
I saw one person quip that Lampard’s Chelsea are playing with basketball tactics the games are so end-to-end. It’s admirably attacking but a little balance could go a long way here.
What is plain to see is that this transfer ban is a blessing in disguise for Chelsea. Lampard’s appointment and his team selections indicate a genuine revolution at the club for the first time since 2004. This feels like the first fresh Chelsea squad in 15 years.
What remains to be seen though is whether Lampard gets the time to see the revolution through. Chelsea will drop points and will struggle to make the top four but the experience and opportunity the younger players will receive thanks to this transfer ban will be priceless. They also clearly seem to be responding to Lampard’s management.
The upshot is that Chelsea, with a little patience, could end up coming out of this transfer ban only having to add one or two new players to have a squad capable of challenging regularly again.
The issue with that is that Chelsea and patience are two words that never usually come up together. This time, though, it’ll be who flinches first: the fans or the board.