Another riveting weekend of action comes to a close as Southampton and Brighton & Hove Albion play out a draw on Monday Night Football. Game Week 5 ends with the key headlines being:
- Liverpool convincingly win 2-1 away at Tottenham in the biggest match of the season so far, and maintain their 100% winning start in doing so
- Chelsea also extend their winning run, comfortably dispatching an outclassed Cardiff 4-1
- Manchester United look to have put some of their troubles behind them with their second win on the spin at Watford to end the Hornets winning run
- West Ham finally get off the mark with a win at Everton
Here are five key talking points from the weekend’s action:
1. Hazard sets down warning for rivals
It is often the case that when Eden Hazard performs as he did against Cardiff on Saturday, it is worth taking the time to just sit there are enjoy it. To breathe in a talent so resplendent and rare, that you almost forget of the other top class players around the world, let alone the rest of the Chelsea side.
Such are the boundless qualities at his disposal, as the Bluebirds unfortunately witnessed throughout his hattrick-scoring performance, that it feels a smidge unjust that he is rarely mentioned in the same breath as those at the very highest echelons of the game. On his day, when he is on his game, he could surely find himself selected in any XI in world football.
Perhaps, however, even as he enters his seventh campaign with last season’s FA Cup winners, the problem is that he does not reach his most blistering best on enough occasions to be placed in the same bracket as Messi or Ronaldo, or even Bale, Neymar and Mbappe. One of the key criticisms levelled at the Belgian is that he does not score enough goals – his best return in a Chelsea shirt saw him net on 19 occasions in 2014-15, and his overall records stands at just under a goal every three or so matches. Certainly not bad, but not even approaching the stratospheric levels reached by those mentioned above most seasons.
In truth, the demands of the Premier League render it nigh-on impossible to net 40-plus goals a season (despite Ronaldo achieving just that at Manchester United), and with his two previous managers at Chelsea, Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte, not exactly playing the free-flowing, attacking football that would facilitate such goal-scoring feats, this may not be possible for Hazard in England. That being said, the Belgian can look to the accomplishments of Mo Salah at Liverpool last season, playing under the attack-minded Klopp, and have cause for optimism as in Sarri he also now has a manager with a similar footballing philosophy.
European success is also another sure-fire measure of the recognition that would elevate him to the highest levels. Since joining the club, Chelsea have only managed to go beyond the Round of 16 in the Champions League on just one occasion in five attempts, and despite winning the Europa League in 2013, the doubters have continued to argue that he fails to turn on the big performances in the biggest of games.
Just maybe, this will be the season where he can consistently perform at the highest level from start to finish, as we saw Salah so spectacularly achieve last year. He has started out in the right fashion, having scored five in five to start the season, coming off the back of a terrific World Cup for bronze medallists Belgium.
In this form, the teams who come up against him will certainly have plenty to fear.
2. Liverpool continue to bolster early pace-setting credentials
Prior to kick-off, Liverpool’s visit to Wembley (still Tottenham’s temporary home) had been billed as the fixture of the season so far, albeit one just four matches old. What ensued, however, was a one-sided, controlled affair from one side who harbour genuine hopes of sitting atop the pile next May, against a side who have fallen desperately short since their dismantling of Manchester United just a few weeks before.
It was clear during their defeat at Watford that despite being very early on in the season, Spurs were a side lacking the zest and energy that Pochettino’s men could rarely be accused of in seasons past. Their brightest spark in their opening matches so far, Lucas Moura, has proved a real threat to the opposition, and standing bereft of any actual signings this summer, has added an edge to their attack, running riot at Old Trafford before the International break. Only time will tell as to whether Pochettino and his staff can inject life into the players who have taken them so close to silverwear over the past couple of seasons, though a long year with a thin squad will not do them any favours.
By contrast, Liverpool have uncorked whatever energy they had bottled last season and carried on right from where they left off after the disappointment of defeat in the Champions League final. With a victory of surprising comfort over Saturday’s soft Spurs side, Klopps blend of high-pressure, attack-minded football shows no signs of wearing off. Even Mo Salah’s recent goal shortage, by last season’s standards anyway, will not trouble a manager who also has red-hot Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane to call upon.
Jurgen Klopp appeared far from impressed by Gary Neville’s comments suggesting that Liverpool should forget the Champions League this season in order to concentrate on the Premier League, and the quality his first XI possesses will ensure that they are taken seriously in Europe once again. But for the first time almost in living memory, Liverpool have their greatest chance of winning the league when May comes around. Manchester City, arguably Liverpool’s biggest rivals this season, are rated by many as favourites to lift the Champions League for the first time. Clearly a priority for City’s manager Guardiola, this could well play into Liverpool’s hands if the team from Manchester switches their focus to Europe too greatly.
The early signs are promising for Klopp and his men, although sterner tests than this Tottenham side will no doubt await.
3. Worrying signs for winless Burnley
Since winning promotion back to the Premier League in 2016, Sean Dyche has rightly been credited for working wonders at Burnley with the most limited of resources. Indeed, they enjoyed a particularly fruitful campaign last season, finishing 7th in the Premier League ahead of several larger clubs such as Everton and Leicester. Their success was built on the solid foundations of simple, effective football, playing to the strengths of his squad with several standout performers, such as England’s James Tarkowski.
In short, Dyche’s side were lauded for their resilience, utter hard work and commitment and the ability to always cause an upset against the larger teams.
So far this season, those traits have been severely lacking for a team with just a single point after five games, and who currently sit bottom of the league. In truth, they could just as easily not even have the solitary point sitting against their name either. If not for some second-half heroics from Joe Hart in the 0-0 at Southampton, they’d be sitting pointless. Certainly not what you’d expect from a Sean Dyche side.
Even after Sunday’s defeat at Wolves, panic will not be setting in around Burnley just yet. A win next weekend at home to Bournemouth will likely see them elevated out of the bottom three and there’s no reason to doubt that they have what it takes to pull off another fine season. The true test for the club will come if this winless run continues for much longer – those in charge will surely remember that for everything positive Burnley has achieved under Dyche, he was also in the driving seat as the club were relegated in 2015.
4. Lukaku continues hot streak
There were several standout performers for Manchester United against Watford on Saturday evening as they travelled to Vicarage Road to meet a side with a 100% winning start to the season.
In the first half, Marouane Fellaini, Nemanja Matic, and an energetic Paul Pogba overpowered Watford’s midfield at times and they went in at half time two goals to the good through Lukaku and Chris Smalling. Certainly deserved on the balance of play.
The second half was more like what the home fans were expecting having witnessed their side’s impressive start to the season. As United sat back on their lead, Watford pressed and eventually got a goal their play deserved through a neat finish from Andre Gray. It was David de Gea who took the plaudits after the game for his match-winning saves late in the piece, but Smalling and fellow defender Victor Lindelof will take confidence from the way in which they marshalled the Watford attackers, particularly fuelled by the confidence of their goal late on.
It is Romelu Lukaku, however, who has time and again come up with the goods so far for United this season. He has four goals in his last four appearances, including two in the win at struggling Burnley the week before. Clearly Mourinho’s man, the United manager has placed great faith in the powerful Belgian striker since joining the summer before last and, usually, he has delivered. With fellow strikers, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, struggling for game time as well as goals, it’ll be crucial to United’s hopes that Lukaku contines his red-hot form in front of goal this season
5. Finally something to smile about for birthday-boy Pellegrini
Manuel Pellegrini became the first manager to win a Premier League game on his birthday since…last October, when Arsene Wenger also achieved the same feat. So not that long really. In fact, it felt like just as long since West Ham had actually won a game in the league, until they rolled out winners against a poor Everton side on Sunday afternoon. It was back in May, to be specific, when they played…Everton. Again winning by a 3-1 margin. Pellegrini will be pleased on this occasion that history does repeat itself from time to time.
It will be rare that West Ham will face a team as poor Everton were at the weekend. Their performance was littered with individual errors and missed chances that Toffee’s manager Marco Silva will still be fuming about. But the confidence that ending their disastrous start to the season will bring West Ham could inspire West Ham to finally kick-start their season.
Unfortunately for Pellegrini, it could be a while until they next taste victory, with their next two fixtures against high-flying Chelsea and a rejuvenated Manchester United. He’ll take solace from the fact that they’re out of the bottom four, for now at least.