The Premier League Review: Jurgen’s Jekyll & Hyde
The warning signs were there following their four-three win at Arsenal on the opening day of the season. Liverpool have the look of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde about them this season, and it seems that, unless the team has a little more consistency drilled into it or further reinforcements are made to the defence before the end of the transfer window, they will continue to shine in fits and starts rather than on a week in, week out basis. A mistake by Nathaniel Clyne after two minutes allowed Sam Vokes to give Burnley the lead against them at Turf Moor on Saturday afternoon, whilst a second goal from Andre Grey eight minutes from half-time wrapped up Burnley’s first Premier League win of the season and gave Jurgen Klopp the pained look of a man who has just seen the scale of the mountain that he has to climb.
The truly bad news of the weekend was that further wins for Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea further entrenched the notion that the adventures of last season were a one-off and that the Premier League’s normal order has already started to reassert itself. The Premier League’s first scheduled Friday night match – and no, the fact that a multimedia company paid for coaches to ferry Southampton to Old Trafford for the match doesn’t negate the fact that most supporters will have had to book a Friday afternoon off to get on the coach in the first place – ended in a workmanlike two-nil win for Manchester United, whilst Manchester City were similarly perfunctory in nudging four goals past Stoke City in the Saturday lunchtime match at The Britannia Stadium.
For eighty minutes, though, it didn’t look much as though Chelsea were going to be joining their partners in crime at the top of the table. Watford have been widely expected to struggle in the Premier League this season, but Etienne Capoue gave them the lead ten minutes into the second half at Vicarage Road on Saturday afternoon and the home side seemed to be holding on with some degree of comfort until Antonio Conte shuffled his pack with twenty minutes to go. As Watford ran out of steam, so Chelsea’s confidence grew in the closing stages of the match and Michy Batshuayi, one of Conte’s substitutes, brought Chelsea level with ten minutes to play and Diego Costa scored a winner seven minutes later. It was tough on Watford, who don’t seem to be anywhere nowhere near as terrible as many pre-season predictors made them out to be, whilst Chelsea, who’ve been reliant late goals to win both of their matches so far, do not seem to have shown their best just yet, this, season.
The eighteenth of April seems like a long time ago, but that was the last time that Tottenham Hotspur won a Premier League match prior to Saturday’s one-nil win against Crystal Palace at White Hart Lane. It still took Spurs eighty-two minutes to break down the massed ranks of the visiting defence, though, and when the goal finally came with eight minutes left to play it was a deliciously simple, a header from Victor Wanyama from a corner which proved to be a plan and simple way to end what had threatened to be a frustrating afternoon for the home team. Crystal Palace, meanwhile, have now lost their first two matches of the season which, when combined with the team’s second half to last season, probably doesn’t make for terribly encouraging news for manager Alan Pardew. A much-needed first win of the season for Spurs, though.
Another manager celebrating their first win of the new season was Everton’s Ronald Koeman. His team had played encouragingly before running out steam against Spurs on the opening day of the season at Goodison Park, but the signs coming from The Hawthorns on Saturday afternoon, where his team came from a goal behind to beat West Bromwich Albion were somewhat more encouraging. Gareth McAuley had given Albion an early lead, but Everton came back strongly with goals from Kevin Mirallas and Gareth Barry securing the comeback. Notably, Everton’s improvement seemed visible from the point at which Romelo Lukaku was introduced as a substitute, but will he still be there come the end of the summer transfer window? We shall see.
The other standout result of Saturday afternoon came at The Liberty Stadium, where Hull City continued their expectation-defying start to the season with a two-nil win at Swansea City with late goals from Shaun Maloney and Abel Hernandez. Hernandez, who was last seen chasing a Chinese businessman wearing an Aston Villa scarf and waving a blank cheque book over the Humber Bridge, seems likely to be on his way from the club, but this was another win for a team that has somehow managed to hold itself together in spite of the best effort of the owners of the club to throw everything into some form of chaos or other, whilst interim coach Mike Phelan must now be starting to wonder what all the fuss is about this Premier League lark.
Last season’s top two teams met in the evening match at The King Power Stadium, where Leicester City and Arsenal could only grind out a goalless draw. The villain of the piece was Mark Clattenberg, who waved away reasonably convincing shouts for penalty kicks for the home side in either half, whilst Arsenal continue to splutter to life as the early season pressure on Arsene Wenger continues to build. It could have been worse for Arsenal, though, a late save from Petr Cech from Riyad Mahrez was all that prevented Leicester from snaffling all three points. It seems unlikely, however, that such a result will have done very much to pacify the definitely level-headed and not at all hysterical cast of Arsenal Fan TV, though.
The feeling that this Premier League season has been underwhelming so far, however, remains strong, and it wasn’t helped by Sunday’s matches. Middlesbrough won by two goals to one at Sunderland in the lunchtime match, a result which left the Sunderland manager David Moyes ruminating on the possibility that this could be another long, hard winter for his team in contradiction to the sanguine pre-season predictions which took the viewpoint that Sunderland couldn’t possibly have yet another season like those that they have endured in the Premier League of late. In the final match of the weekend, West Ham United made their league debuts at the Olympic Stadium – which, to be clear, will continue to be named the Olympic Stadium on these pages rather than the alternative name that the club have sought to foist upon it – with a dour one-nil win against Bournemouth. Michail Antonio scored the only goal of the match with five minutes left to play, the goal coming eight minutes after Harry Arter had been sent off for a second bookable offences. If the volume of late goals is anything to go by, this season may be a late burner, but patterns are already starting to emerge it doesn’t feel much as though this Premier League season is going to be as much fun as the last was. Unless you happen to be from the city of Manchester, that is.