EPL TALK: Title contenders show vulnerabilities amid weekend stumbles

·6 min read
Chelsea's Timo Werner (centre) tussles with Manchester City's Ruben Dias during their Premier League match at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea's Timo Werner (centre) tussles with Manchester City's Ruben Dias during their Premier League match at Stamford Bridge. (PHOTO: Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley)

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:

Chelsea, Man United, Liverpool need fast tweaks to fix problems

WHAT HAPPENED: Two weekends ago, three title contenders - Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United - announced their title credentials in resounding victories that pushed them to the top of the table. Last weekend, however, all three teams showed their inherent vulnerabilities as none of them registered wins.

Chelsea, so imperious in the first five match weekends with 12 goals scored and only one conceded, came crashing back to earth in a tactical battle with Manchester City that saw the defending champions eke out a 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge on Saturday (25 September).

Thomas Tuchel's decision to play three defensive-minded midfielders (Mateo Kovacic, N'Golo Kante and Jorginho) backfired as the Blues looked far more tentative and passive, while Pep Guardiola took advantage by getting his City players to pressed high and hard. 

Although Gabriel Jesus' winner took a fortunate deflection, City and Guardiola definitely got their tactics spot on to nullify Chelsea, with Tuchel admitting that City "made us underperform".

Despite the loss, the Blues still looked as if they are well-equipped for the long season ahead, being outwitted only by a great football mind in Guardiola. Nonetheless, City showed that there are ways to stop the Blues, and how Chelsea and Tuchel respond to similar tactics in the future will shape how well their season will progress.

Man United, however, will have more reasons to worry about their title challenge, after a limp 0-1 home defeat by Aston Villa in which they had 59.6 per cent possession and 28 shots, yet never looked as if they were in control.

No doubt, Bruno Fernandes' last-minute penalty miss was a key talking point, but United's attack was also woefully off-kilter, with players failing to understand one another's runs. Manager Ole Gunner Solskjaer also admitted his side lacked control in midfield, and rushed too many decisions. Having mainstays Luke Shaw and Harry Maguire leaving the match with injuries also made matters worse.

Such problems can of course be rectified with more training, but Solskjaer would have to do it as quickly as possible before the Red Devils get stalled further in their title charge. They have yet to face a title-contending side, and if they continue to sputter, it is hard to see how they can beat the likes of Chelsea, Man City or Liverpool.

Liverpool did not lose over the weekend, but their 3-3 away draw against newly-promoted Brentford has also caused consternation among their fans, even though they lead the table by a point.

Long balls from the home side troubled the 2019/20 champions all match, with two of their goals stemming from the Reds defence's inability to deal with Brentford's aerial prowess. 

Again, these problems can be fixed with more trainings, and Liverpool remain unbeaten this season. Nonetheless, with the title race expected to be extra tight this season, it could be viewed as two points lost at Brentford for Liverpool that could prove costly for a team with less depth than all their rivals.

WHAT'S NEXT: Following midweek Champions League matches, the three side face home league matches of varying difficulties. Chelsea seem to have the easiest task against winless Southampton, while Man United should also have enough to see off Everton. Liverpool, however, will have a stern examination of their credentials when they face Man City in a key clash before the international break.

Arsenal's Bukayo Saka (right) celebrates scoring their third goal against Tottenham with teammates.
Arsenal's Bukayo Saka (right) celebrates scoring their third goal against Tottenham with teammates. (PHOTO: Reuters/Dylan Martinez)

Spurs endure chastening loss at fiercest rivals Arsenal

WHAT HAPPENED: Three EPL matchdays ago, everyone was burying Arsenal and their beleaguered manager Mikel Arteta after three poor losses to start off the season, while applauding their arch-rivals Tottenham's three-win start that included a 1-0 win over Man City.

On Sunday, the roles have been dramatically reversed after the Gunners' sparkling 3-1 victory over a dreadful Spurs. Now, it is Nuno Espirito Santo's turn to feel the intense heat from fans and analysts alike, while Arteta is enjoying a respite after three straight wins.

Indeed, it was an abysmal first half for Spurs as they capitulated 0-3, with their defence porous, their midfield non-existent, and their once-talismanic striker Harry Kane looking isolated and forlorn. It was a far cry from their solid start to the season, let alone the stylish heights they achieved under previous managers Mauricio Pochettino or Jose Mourinho.

Nuno took responsibility for the abject defeat, saying that "the gameplan was not right according to the players who were on the pitch". But this was the third straight match in which Spurs have conceded three goals, and there should rightfully be alarm bells around the club of their sudden slump that has piled the pressure on a manager who was reportedly only their fifth choice to replace Mourinho.

One can argue that such a humiliating loss has been years in the making, with poor transfers and turmoil in the managerial turnovers over the last three years. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has piled financial pressure on a side having to pay off the cost of building their spanking new stadium. Nuno has not been afforded a huge budget to turn Tottenham's fortunes around.

While Spurs agonise over this painful defeat by their fiercest rivals, Arsenal and Arteta could at least feel relieved that the heat is off of them. The Gunners have looked far stronger with the return from injury of Thomas Partey in midfield, with the Ghanaian providing protection for his defenders as well as creativity for his forwards. 

With Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe equally impressive, Arteta will do well to build his tactics around the trio and continue to make progress away from the bottom place they had uncomfortably occupied a few weeks ago.

WHAT'S NEXT: Tottenham will try to pick up the pieces of this chastening defeat with a home tie against Aston Villa, while Arsenal have a tricky away tie against high-flying Brighton. A win for either side would do wonders for their brittle confidence.

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