HOMEWORK: MATCH WEEK 4
PROFESSOR BEAR PAW'S WEEK 4 POWER RANKINGS
(W/ TWO WORD ANALYSIS)
(1) Manchester City- Six seconds.
(2) Manchester United- Reignited belief.
(3) Chelsea- Utilizing talent.
(4) Everton- Ronald. Koeman.
(5) Middlesbrough- Feisty opponent.
(6) Arsenal- Being Arsenal.
(7) Tottenham- Disappointment ahead.
(8) Hull City- Never quit.
(9) Leicester City- Rediscovering form.
(10) Burnley- Destroyed Liverpool.
(11) West Ham- Unhealthy masses. (12) Liverpool- Left back.
(13) West Brom- Treading water.
(14) Swansea City- Discovering themselves.
(15) Southampton- Cannot finish.
(16) Watford- Player turnover.
(17) Bournemouth- Losing magic.
(18) Stoke City- Consistently inconsistent.
(19) Sunderland- Battling Palace.
(20) Crystal Palace- Blockhead manager.
WHEW! Everybody take a big deep breath...... AND exhale. The first three weeks of the season have been everything that we could have hoped for. It feels like for the first time in 4 or 5 years the Premier League is going to produce teams who will set a high level of play week in and week out with none of the Jeklly and Hyde shenanigans of the past few seasons.
Manchester City have been completely transformed under Pep, their cross town rivals Man U appear to be able to impart their will whenever they need to, and Chelsea are firing on all cylinders. The top of the table is going to be a slug fest, with Tottenham, (and maybe someone else who wears Blue and plays on Merceyside?), are among a slew of teams pushing to be included in the conversation for the title and champions league.
So now that the transfer window has mercifully shut, we now have a clearer picture of the personality and possible successes/ failures of each club. Some teams got ahead of the game and made their moves early (see top 3 above), while others found themselves wanting at the window and now find themselves in serious trouble (Swansea, Sunderland).
Simply put, there has never been a better time to be a Premier League fan. The money that has been pumped into the league is now being turned into superstar players (Ibra, Pogba, Guondogan) and managers (Pep, Conte) whose sky high personal expectations are pulling their clubs up a notch. For Man U that means getting back to the Champions League (league title?) while City will look to grow up on the European stage, while hoping to continue Pep's SCARY good domestic record.
So settle in for a month of matches full of intrigue, excitement, expectations, and if you are a Palace fan, a relegation battle. Sorry Chip.
** MATCH OF THE WEEK**
This is a match that needs no introduction. Both teams have been revitalized by new managers and seem destined to butt heads for trophies for the next few seasons. (At least until Mourhino alienates everyone in the club and Fergie heroically comes out of the stands to finish a somewhat lost season in 2018-2019).
City has gotten rid of the lethargy that players like Nasri, Toure and Mangala seemed to bring to matches they didn't view as important as others. They have quickly discovered that you either get on board and prosper (Sterling, Silva) or you get loaned/ exiled.
It wasn't that former Manager Manuel Pellegrini didn't do a good job, but he had reached his ceiling with this City team and it was time to move on. It should not be forgotten, however, that he is the foundation up on which the City buzz saw is built.
The most remarkable transformation Pep has performed? Raheem Sterling. He is a completely different player from the end of last season.
In his three league starts this year, Sterling has two goals and five shots on goal.
Last season? He had one shot on goal........... after VALENTINES DAY!
Needless to say, with David Silva undergoing a similar transformation as Sterling, City have the look of a squad who will have a fiesta in the League.
Which makes Jose the party pooper.
While City runs like a sports car, charging through defenses with tactical fluidity that is a hallmark of Pep, Jose is piecing together his defensive fortress brick by brick.
While all of the attention has been on the attack after the addition of Ibra, 'The Special One' has always prided himself on defense first. I would argue that even with the addition of numerous attacking targets, the signing of center back Eric Bailly might be the most important move of the summer for the Red Devils.
With Dailey Blind being relied upon to distribute and not destroy, it will be imperative that Bailly offer a security blanket in order to maintain balance. If he starts becoming David Luiz and going rogue, Blind will be exposed and the Red Devils will struggle.
Add in a dynamic presence (when he wants) like Pogba and Man United will be hard to break down.
Speaking of breaking down, you get the feeling that a Jose may be violently stabbing his Wayne Rooney voo doo doll in hopes of getting him out of the way. His obvious decline in ability, especially when compared to Rashford, Martial and Ibra, leaves Jose in quite the bind.
Playing him as a #10 doesn't work (not dynamic enough), #9 is spoken for (Ibra, Rashford, Martial), and can't play on the wings (too slow).
How he navigates the Rooney issue may be the determining factor on how the season goes. Handle it poorly and lose the locker room and the fans. Show him the reverence he thinks he deserves while slowly fading him out of the picture and things will go smoothly.
This week, however, the Rooney problem will take center stage. With Wayne playing as the proverbial string-puller in midfield, Manchester United is going to be in a lot of trouble.
Ferandihno and Silva are going to sit a touch deeper and force Rooney (unable to create/utilize his own space) to slide out wide, disconnecting him and leaving Ibra on an island. This will bring Zlatan deeper, squeezing out Pogba, and is going to compress on the Red Devils.
City is going to force Man U to play through Fellaini and Mata, recover the ball, then recycle their possession when the ball is inevitably regained.
Add in the fact that Man U's outside backs are questionable, and I think Sterling is going to have a big game. Additionally, if Pep makes the right call and starts him, this could be the big Nacho's coming out party. Either way, Man U is just a step behind.
PREDICTION: 2-0 MANCHESTER CITY
When I looked at the schedule at the beginning of the season I did NOT have this one circled. Two newly promoted teams, presumably struggling early in the season coming off of an international break.
Hull City, much like baby, however, refuse to be put in the corner and find themselves in position for a berth in Europe next season!!
Ok, ok, I know, it is only three weeks in, but for Hull City, six points and a SQUEAKER of a loss to Man U is a pretty big deal. I would suspect that given the chance at the beginning of the season, every Hull fan would have given their right paw to finish out of the relegation spots.
The Tigers only have 34 more points to presumed safety, and 35 matches to do it. Can they pull out a win every three matches?
I think so! This match will be a great indicator of where Hull will look to utilize their new big signing Ryan Mason, and how the team gels after a fast start.
Burnley, however, will look to plug a sinking ship. Besides their flash in the pan win against Liverpool, which I THOROUGHLY enjoyed, they have shown little resistance.
Their big signing comes from Derby in the Championship. I'm not going to write them off too early, but if they don't get some momentum in the next month before the next international break they will find themselves in deep trouble.
As for Saturday's match? I expect a lot of scrappiness, but not a lot of goals.
After a season in which they survived the worst rash of injuries in the league and the relegation battle with relative ease for a newly promoted side, Bournemouth was expected to do big things this season. Young Eddie Howe's men were thought to be building to something bigger, but in the first three matches they struggled mightily. Their only point thus far is a draw versus Palace, which the league should probably dock you a point for instead.
The fear of a sophomore slump was eased a bit,however, when on deadline day they picked up Jack "I've got hollow bones, like a bird" Wilshere. While he has struggled with injuries, he is the type of player Bournemouth fans would have never thought they could get in their current state, but the soccer gods have smiled upon them.
It's now up to ol' Captain Jack to prove that he has just had the worst string of luck in the world and can be a true difference maker when playing consistently. I just wonder if he really has the burning desire to be the best player he can, or just the richest one he can.
RANT ALERT!! One of the things that has always bothered me about Wilshere is his propensity to dribble with the ball 10-15 yards in front of him. It is the habit of a player who is used to always being the fastest and strongest and the fact he still does it makes me wonder about his coachability.
Similarly, Ross Barkley had this trait when he was 18/19, but over time has learned to keep the ball tighter and look to combine quickly, and only opening up his stride when he sees the opportunity to attack. He has mixed up his range and style of passes this year and is has led to him playing the best soccer of his still young career.
Jack, however, has not really adapted.
Just watch the first 20 seconds of the video to the right and you will see what I mean. He does it no matter where he is, only keeping it touch tight when getting into the 18 (usually).
Playing like this, he tends to give up a lot of goal kicks and balls easily claimed by the keeper.
He also draws a lot of fouls, many of them harsh, which is great if you are Ozil, but terrible if you are more fragile than Adam's emotions when they show Tom Brady in street clothes.
Until he shows coachability (Eddie Howe is a name you should learn) and a desire to improve and adapt his game to the situation, I fear you will see him continue to flash moments of brilliance surrounded by matches worth of frustrations.
This Saturday, though? In spite of playing West Brom, coached by the "I have the go down policy of a married mom" Tony Pulis, Bournemouth will ride the wave of emotion from Jack's first start and find a way to win.
PREDICTION: 2-1 BOURNEMOUTH
Oh, what to make of Arsenal. Thinking they had made their big moves early in the window, getting Xhaka (QUALITY) and shoring up their back line with young guys like Rob Holding from Bolton, they saw injuries decimate their teams quicker than Kevin swipes right for a red head. With fans nervous about the season, those mother fuckers jumped right under Everton's nose (everything was agreed) and nabbed sneaky good Lucas Perez, then rounded it off by paying big bucks for another CB, Mustafi (formerly of Everton) from Valencia.
Arsenal fans now seem to be in the, let's see how this plays out between now and January mode, the presure is on to put on a run of good performances to quell all the Eddie Howe to take over Arsenal (?) talk in the English papers.
Luckily for them, they will be playing host to a toothless Southampton team struggling to find their identity. With a few (hopefully) shrewd signings near the close of the window, it will be imperative they get off to a good start to avoid the smell of a relegation battle from seeping under the doors this early in the season.
It won't start this week.
What have we done to deserve such a wonderful day of matches right out of the international break? After the early morning derby the day of action is capped off with a match of two teams trying to settle their feet in equally bipolar starts.
Liverpool looks like they are doing their best Dortmund impression at all times. It seems, however, that they have too many frailties in the back. Martin Skrtel may have been a thuggish dullard at times, but I don't think the Reds realized how much shepherding of young, terrible backs while also doing his job.
Dijon Mustard Lovren is not an elite CB capable of guiding a team to a top four finish, especially with Simon Mignolet behind him in the net.
The Reds are capable in attack, but outside of Couthino and Sane don't have another game changer and will win the occasional shootout, but need to find a steadier rhythm in attack. and not scoring a goal against Burnley is just unacceptable for a Klopp team. If he only had Pulisic..........
The Foxes seem to be steadying themselves after a horrible opening day loss to Hull, but are still searching for the right way to fill the GIGANTIC hole left by Kante's departure. With Musa now mixed in with Vardy, however, their attack seems poised to surpass last seasons output.
The Anfield crowd will be a huge factor, but NOBODY plays sit and counter better than Leciester, and Liverpool doesn't have a left back option that can even think about slowing down Mahrez.
Can the Reds win the shootout? Not this time.
PREDICTION: 3-2 LEICESTER
Swansea fans are getting understandably nervous about the upcoming campaign. First, Everton went all Tristan in Legends of the Fall and ripped out the Swans hearts when they signed Ashley Williams. After winning their opening match they have looked putrid in their last two.
They committed some money to Fernando Llortente, and broke their transfer record for Borja Baston from Athletico Madrid, but neither is a sure bet to produce, especially their first season in the very physical Premier.League.
If those two don't start bulging the onion bag early, the Swans might find themselves with two of the best forwards in the Championship next season.
Chelsea, feeling as though they weren't loathed enough already, went out and picked up Side Show Bob's more reckless brother David Luiz. What the hell they do with a guy whose greatest contribution is being unreliable at best at TWO positions will be very interesting.
As far as this week goes, they won't have any trouble seeing off the drowning Swans.
PREDICTION: 3-1 CHELSEA
The Hammers might enjoy blowing bubbles in their new home, but they have also shown a taste for blowing leads and matches wherever they are.They will hope that the ridiculously early exit from the Europa League was a blessing in disguise, and I am sure Slavin Bilic is just waiting for Payet to walk through the door ready to play 90.
Watford look a shell of themselves, leaking goals and their forwards unable to find the net with any consistency. They need a win in the worst way and will reek of desperation when they show up this weekend.
It won't be enough though, and they are going to get hammered.
PREDICTION: 2-0 WEST HAM
Middlesborough has had fast start to the season, sitting in 6th place, already a whopping 4 points ahead of 17th place Palace. It's early. But trends are trends and the Eagles are trending down sharply.
The point against Bournemouth felt like a missed opportunity with Benteke in the lineup to get some momentum, and they will need to pick up points against newly promotes sides on a regular basis if they have any chance to stay up.
Middlesborough has the look of a team uninterested in being a bottom quarter team and hope to emulate Watford's meteoric rise to mid-table (for now) comfort. Whether or not they can maintain this for an entire season is an entirely different question.
Speaking of questions, Palace needs to start answering theirs quickly. A glaring lack of creativity is only overshadowed by their inability to finish.
Palace went into a funk when Bolassie got hurt last fall and never seemed to recover. Now that he is gone, they need to identify their driving force in the attack. Benteke can finish but he can't create alone and if he doesn't find a provider it is going to be a long season.
This week, both teams will scrap, and I see a well-earned, if not pretty, point for each.
In the first three matches,the Potters haven't had the look of a team ready to take the next step. Mark Hughes seemed to be losing the ears of his players, and they flat our couldn't score.
To the credit of the Potters front office, they moved quickly to address their shortcomings in attack, picking up Wilfred Bony at the deadline. Along with a sneaky young, and very experienced, Bruno Martins Indi, deadline day was definitely a success for Stoke.
ASSUMING, of course, that Bony scores! If he does, space opens up for Arnautovic, Shaqiri (he hasn't quit........right?) and Bojan.
Tottenham, on the other hand, can count themselves lucky not to be sitting lower in the table, needing a Danny Rose deflected goal to get a point at home against an unimpressive Liverpool squad.
Harry Kane continues to suck, and Alli hasn't looked himself. They need to make some changes if they want to recapture the magic of last season.
This would be a great week to start, and I have a suspicion Pochettino will have the boys ready.
PREDICTION: 1-0 SPURS
David Moyes welcomes his old club to his new home after what can only be deemed an underwhelming deadline day for both teams. Lucky for Everton they took care of the bulk of their business early in the window, with Sunderland less productive overall.
For Sunderland, a point going into the break was a badly needed lifeline, and helped calm nerves a bit. The aforementioned transfer failures didn't help the mood, but Moyes will hope a string of games will help get the team familiarity and ultimately some consistency.
Speaking of consistency, new Toffee Ashley Williams has brought a consistency to the Everton back four, especially when paired with Jags, and lets fans breathe easy whenever the ball (RARELY) gets behind new Everton sensation Idrissa Gueye.
The amount of ground he covers is phenomenal, and the team feeds off of his energy. Almost as if they are afraid that anything less than their best effort will be embarrassing when compared to Gueye's tireless work rate.
His coverage allows Gareth Barry to do what he does best and take up good positions to cut out counters before they start and connect the front and back lines when Everton does have the ball.
I'm not often an optimistic fan, but I think Lukaku is getting back in the groove (a brace in his last international) and will terrorize the Black Cats defense.
Jermaine Defoe will sneak one in, but I think Everton will find a way.
PREDICTION: 2-1 EVERTON