Liverpool in good shape if Klopp is playing down form
The third weekend of the 2018-19 Premier League season is all but in the books. Join Nick Miller as he looks back on the best and worst on offer in England’s top flight.
Good sign of the weekend
You can tell things are looking pretty good for Liverpool because Jurgen Klopp is trying to talk down their performances. He wasn’t happy after their 2-0 win over Crystal Palace on Monday, and after they made it three wins from three with the 1-0 defeat of Brighton at the weekend, he was similarly cautious.
“We had a good mindset in the first half but we didn’t show the same patience in the second,” Klopp said. “I wouldn’t say we were under pressure but Brighton had their moments. Alisson had to make a big save at the end, but there is no need to be negative about nine points from three games.” No need indeed. Liverpool aren’t at their best yet, but this is good enough for now.
Goal of the weekend
There’s a special aesthetic pleasure in goals struck from way out that are still rising when they hit the net. Jean Michael Seri’s phenomenal strike for Fulham against Burnley on Sunday did just that, crashing into the top corner with a very satisfying force, and the quality of the goal matched Seri’s all-round performance. His signing was hailed as a coup for Fulham, and we’re starting to see why.
Save of the weekend
Wolves were smart to take advantage of the mess at Sporting this summer to recruit Rui Patricio, and he demonstrated exactly why in his extraordinary save to deny Raheem Sterling on Saturday. The shot was struck so cleanly and slightly unexpectedly that it was reminiscent of Mateus Uribe’s for Colombia against England at the World Cup, which required Jordan Pickford to make a reputation-making save. Patricio had to do the same, and he pulled it off.
Contrasting approaches of the weekend
The standard response to anybody criticising defensive tactics by an underdog against a title contender is to say: “Oh, would you rather they played expansively and were thrashed 6-0?” No. Obviously not. There is a middle ground, though. And it’s somewhere between how Rafa Benitez set up his Newcastle team against Chelsea and flamboyant, all-out attack.
Benitez was of course entirely justified in choosing whatever tactics he thought would get a result, but their performance was miserable. Ten men behind the ball, kicking Eden Hazard whenever they got the chance, only with vague thoughts towards attack. Newcastle were without Kenedy, Jonjo Shelvey and Jamaal Lascelles, and Benitez could justifiably argue that he’s been put in this position by Mike Ashley’s management of the club.
But for an alternative way of playing a big club, one only has to observe how Wolves approached their game against Manchester City. The situations and respective resources are different, but Wolves managed to strike a balance between shrewd caution and positive intent.
This isn’t a call for all-out attack, or anything irresponsible. Just something a little more positive. Newcastle might not have beaten Chelsea if they’d attacked more, but at least it would have looked like they were trying to.
ESPN’s Shaka Hislop says he’s not confident in Chelsea’s forwards despite remaining unbeaten through three games.
Surprise of the weekend
So, three games in, the three teams at the top of the table with 100 percent records are Liverpool, Chelsea and — Watford? This is the first time the Hornets have won their opening three games of a top-flight season, and that potentially sets them up for better things ahead.
Could they be this season’s Burnley? Might they be even better? So many of the traditional elite six are in some form of transition or flux that there’s a great chance for someone to break into that group. Could it be Watford? Certainly, stranger things have happened.
Bad sign of the weekend
Burnley are in trouble. Last season’s seventh-place finish was a remarkable achievement, and it was never likely to be repeated. But the way they have looked in the opening games of the season suggests the coming months could be extremely tricky, particularly if they remain in the Europa League.
Fulham were terrific in their 4-2 win over the Clarets on Sunday, but they beat a Burnley side that suddenly looks tired, which might have something to do with it not really being refreshed over the summer. Joe Hart was an odd signing (who has conceded seven goals in the past two games), Ben Gibson might eventually turn out to be useful but isn’t in the team at the moment, and Matej Vydra won’t be ready for a while. Unambitious as it might seem, a tactical exit before the Europa League group stage might be wise.
Substitution of the weekend
It wasn’t that Unai Emery’s decision to bring Alexandre Lacazette on for Alex Iwobi at half-time was a particular game-changer, more that Emery made the change during the break at all. Arsenal fans aren’t used to seeing their manager make substitutions that early in the game: Arsene Wenger’s heroic levels of stubbornness wouldn’t allow him to alter his team until the 60-minute mark, whatever the circumstance.
We won’t know what Emery’s Arsenal truly looks like or judge his success for a while yet, but at least this is a little something different to what came before. For fans that previously had to see the same thing over and over, different is good.
Karmic justice of the weekend
Undoubtedly, Richarlison should not have gone anywhere near the argument with Bournemouth’s Adam Smith that got him sent off on Saturday. But equally, Smith made sure the Brazilian was dismissed, a sneaky exaggerated recoil that made it look like Richarlison had broken his nose, when it fact it was the slightest movement towards his opponent’s head. It was thus strangely satisfying when, shortly afterwards, Smith was sent off himself in slightly dubious circumstances. Live by the dubious decision, die by the dubious decision.