Three might not be the magic number
Just as for Chelsea in September, Arsenal’s 2016/17 season transformed after Arsene Wenger switched to a three-man central defence, prompting optimism aplenty that Arsenal could have stumbled on some long-term defensive resilience.
Or not. Arsenal conceded three goals from corners in the whole of last season but two in their first league game of 2017/18. Wenger picked two left-backs in central defence, a right winger at left wing-back, and right-back Hector Bellerin ended the game at left-back. Even Rob Holding was placed outside his comfort zone, asked to step up and play as a passing central defender. He gave the ball away to a Leicester attacker on three separate occasions.
A defensive shape is only as strong as its personnel. Wenger has Shkodran Mustafi, Per Mertesacker, and Laurent Koscielny ready to step into his back three, and must be considering making at least one change for the trip to Stoke City next weekend.
To the Victor belong no spoils
If Victor Lindelof was under any illusions as to the standards required at Manchester United, Jose Mourinho gave him an emphatic reminder. United’s new Swedish defender was not just left out of Mourinho’s first Premier League starting XI of the season, but omitted from the 18-man squad.
Mourinho is a manager who does not suffer fools gladly, and Lindelof’s preseason form was a cause of some concern within United’s coaching staff. The hope is that he will merely take time to settle in a new country and at a new club, but such are the pressures upon Mourinho and his peers this season that risks cannot be taken easily.
Conte’s demands for investment grow
Cabellero, Christensen, Scott, Kenedy, Tomori, Musonda, Morata. With one glaring exception, this is not the bench of a defending Premier League champion. Antonio Conte’s squad has injuries to Pedro, Tiemoue Bakayoko, and Eden Hazard, but even accounting for these, still looks painfully thin. If Conte’s inexperienced bench sent a subtle message to Chelsea’s hierarchy about the need to spend, his players delivered the same line through a megaphone with a dire showing.
Over the Mounie
While Monaco’s Kylian Mbappe is linked with a move to Paris Saint-Germain or Real Madrid for a fee of €178m, a striker who scored one fewer Ligue 1 goal last season was setting alight the Premier League’s opening weekend. Huddersfield paid €12m to sign Steve Mounie from Montpellier, and his two goals sent the Terriers to the top of an embryonic league table.
“A start like this is amazing,” said Mounie after his brace against Crystal Palace. Early proof that you don’t have to pay silly money to buy quality this summer.
The Spurs can still go marching in
With Kyle Walker departed, Eric Dier targeted, and Danny Rose choosing to speak out of turn on the eve of the season, there were doubts about Tottenham’s ability to retain key defensive personnel after the overachievement of the last two seasons. Perhaps the bigger surprise is that Mauricio Pochettino’s wonderful attacking unit have largely stayed absent from the summer’s gossip columns.
Harry Kane’s strange August drought may have continued against Newcastle — 11 league games in that month without a goal — but in Christian Eriksen Tottenham have an attacking midfielder with the creativity and vision to match anyone in Europe.
Since the start of the 2015/16 season, Eriksen has more Premier League assists than any other player, and registered Nos. 28 and 29 on Sunday.
Defending still not in fashion
“Take the recipe you saw last year and involve a few nice things, like better defending, more concentration, smarter play,” was Jurgen Klopp’s answer when asked in July how he wanted Liverpool to improve this season.
None out of three, then. Liverpool’s embarrassing use of a set-piece zonal marking system in which nobody attacks the ball continues, and they exacerbated those issues against Watford by refusing to clear the ball effectively. Throw in a goalkeeper who lacks the commanding presence to claim crosses or breathe
confidence into those in front of him, and you have a Liverpool defence with precisely the same flaws as last season. And the season before that. And the season...