SINGAPORE — How have your favourite English Premier League (EPL) teams performed over the past week? Yahoo News Singapore looks at the key talking points surrounding the league in this weekly review:
Tuchel’s tactical acumen key in win over Spurs
WHAT HAPPENED: For the past four seasons, Chelsea have laboured in their quest to deliver more trophies under billionaire owner Roman Abramovich. This season may well mark the return of the Blues as genuine title challengers.
Since Italian manager Antonio Conte sparked the London club to their fifth EPL win in the 2016/17 season, they have not been able to mount a sustained title push as they tried to rebuild their ageing squad under former great Frank Lampard.
But since they replaced the Englishman with Thomas Tuchel midway through last season, they have found that extra bit of know-how to win with regularity. Already, they have clinched the European Cup in May, and they have maintained their superb form to be off to a flying start this season with four wins, one draw, 12 goals scored, only one conceded.
Their 3-0 away win over Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday (19 September) underscored just how much Chelsea have improved under Tuchel’s tutelage. A dreary first half in which they did not have a shot at goal was transformed by the German’s substitution of an off-colour Mason Mount with midfield dynamo N’Golo Kante.
The Frenchman immediately lifted the Blues with his incredible work rate, and they duly overran a lacklustre Spurs side with three goals, with Kante also getting on the scoresheet with a fortuitous deflected goal.
The victory showcased all the good things that make Chelsea legitimate contenders as compared to the past four seasons: a strong defensive spine, Tuchel’s astute tactical switches, and a newfound resilience to keep plugging away until they eke out a win.
They make Chelsea much harder to beat, and much better equipped to sustain their title push compared to last season, when they floundered badly midway through the season despite leading the table early on.
With the addition of Romelu Lukaku as a proven scorer, and it is no wonder that Chelsea are being hyped up as favourites to wrest the EPL title away from Manchester City. But it is still early days in the season, and the true tests of Chelsea’s credentials will come when they have to face their fellow title contenders amid a jam-packed fixture schedule that will include the Club World Cup tournament owing to their status as European champions.
But the Blues are nonetheless off to a great start, nestled at the top of the EPL table. Tuchel’s hiring has improved the squad much like how his compatriot Jurgen Klopp had done to Liverpool when he joined in 2015. Fans will hope such good times can continue.
WHAT’S NEXT: Possibly their biggest test of the season so far, as they host Man City following a midweek Carabao Cup tie with Aston Villa. With City still figuring out their attack – with the departure of Sergio Aguero and the failure to sign both Harry Kane and Cristiano Ronaldo – it could prove to be an opportunity for Chelsea to announce their title intentions.
Stability and harmony key for Liverpool’s title challenge
WHAT HAPPENED: It is an interesting quirk: after five rounds of matches, the top two EPL sides have identical season statistics. Both Chelsea and Liverpool have played five games, won four, drawn one, scored 12 goals and conceded just one.
And, arguably, Liverpool’s early-season performances were just as impressive as Chelsea’s, given that they eschewed any major signings and largely stuck to their tried-and-tested squad that brought them so much joy in the past three seasons.
Saturday’s 3-0 home victory over Crystal Palace had its moments of discomfort for the Reds, as Patrick Vieira’s side carved out some dangerous moments, but the 2019/20 champions were ultimately too slick and too clinical for their opponents, scoring thrice from three corner routines.
While Liverpool have endured questions on why they had not gone out and further strengthened their squad, the truth is that a side that swept to 26 wins out of their first 27 matches two seasons ago are still at the peak of their powers. Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah are continuing to find ways to score in abundance, while a revitalised Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez will continue to be defensive rocks for at least a few more seasons to come.
What Jurgen Klopp’s side are doing is an alternative success pathway to the incessant transfer dealings of Man City, Man United and Chelsea. Instead of signing proven stars, the Reds sign young talents with star potential; not only are they cheaper, but when they succeed in Liverpool under Klopp, they would also be more emotionally attached to the club, as shown by the numerous recent contract re-signings of key players
Stability and harmony are what Liverpool value ahead of star power and transfer dealings, and they continue to show astuteness in team development to challenge their richer rivals. Of course, they will be vulnerable to injury crisis and player unavailability (Mane, Salah and Naby Keita will miss part of the season due to African Cup of Nations involvement), but at the moment, they are showing that no star signing does not mean no chance at the EPL title.
WHAT’S NEXT: On paper, a trip to newly-promoted Brentford – after a midweek Carabao Cup tie against Norwich – should not prove a major challenge for Liverpool. However, given Brentford’s buoyant form since promotion, the Reds would know not to underestimate their opponents.
Man United still look like collection of stars rather than a tight unit
WHAT HAPPENED: Another week, another Cristiano Ronaldo goal, another drama-filled EPL match for Manchester United. Sunday’s 2-1 away win over West Ham was secured by a last-minute penalty save by David de Gea, allowing the Red Devils to join Chelsea and Liverpool on 13 points atop the league table but behind them on goal difference.
Yet, despite their great start to the season, more questions surround United than the other two table-toppers. Mostly because the surprise acquisition of Ronaldo – and his subsequent scoring form – is seemingly hindering the progress of young talents like Mason Greenwood and Jadon Sancho.
Despite being United’s most expensive purchase during the off-season, Sancho has been a peripheral figure so far, struggling with playing out of his natural right-wing position. That position is taken up by Greenwood, but the youngster is also struggling to reproduce his scoring form.
Many analysts have said that the current United squad resemble more of a collection of top players rather than a cohesive unit, and will need time to gel into a formidable squad. But with league rivals already hitting form, manager Ole Gunner Solskjaer may find that, in the short term, he has to continue to rely on the heroics of Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes and even Jesse Lingard, scorer of the match-winning goal against West Ham.
WHAT’S NEXT: Following a rematch with West Ham in the Carabao Cup, United will host Aston Villa, who will be buoyed by their 3-0 victory over Everton on Saturday.