Manchester City can consider themselves highly unfortunate not to beat Wolves. They hit the woodwork three times, Rui Patricio made a world-class save from Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus missed a simple chance, and the Wolves’ goal should have been disallowed for handball, writes
And yet Nuno’s team did get under the skin of City, counter-attacking Pep Guardiola’s team more effectively than most teams managed last season and never suffering from a lack of belief even when they conceded the equaliser. They have offered a blueprint to the rest of the league.
The player least able to cope with Wolves’ tactics was City’s captain and longest-serving player.
Vincent Kompany has been an excellent servant to his club, but he looks out of place in this quick passing system and too often charges out of position and commits fouls. The decision-making has been on the wane for a least 18 months.
Guardiola is fortunate to have four first-team central defenders, but he must be tempted to stick with John Stones and Aymeric Laporte for the foreseeable future. They look every bit the consummate pair. Kompany suddenly looks a little lost.
Howe continues to improve his reputation
There is an inherent risk in appointing a manager from outside the top six to an elite club that makes such a move a rarity. See how David Moyes floundered at Manchester United for proof that success at one club cannot simply be transposed into a higher-profile job.
Eddie Howe could well be the exception to that rule, although Bournemouth supporters will not appreciate their excellent manager being touted for other jobs. Howe has consolidated a Football League club in the Premier League with the minimum of fuss, and done so without particularly lavish spending. Several members of the squad have journeyed with him from League One.
But Howe’s most impressive trait is his ability to urge his team on in times of adversity. Since the beginning of last season, Bournemouth have taken 25 points from losing positions. That is the highest in the Premier League. If you do not associate Bournemouth with resilience, think again.
A critic might suggest that Bournemouth too often concede the first goal of the game, but Howe deserves huge credit for his achievements.
Still only 40, he is old enough to have gained plenty experience to rely upon but young enough to still be considered the blue-eyed boy of British coaching.
Liverpool defensive issues look solved
It speaks volumes about the rate of Liverpool’s improvement that some supporters are a little concerned about the lack of goals over their last two matches. Their team has yet to concede in the league this season, and sit top of the table.
It is true that Liverpool have been wasteful in front of goal against Crystal Palace and Brighton, but it is also correct to say that their margins for attacking efficiency have been widened by their newfound defensive solidity. Virgil van Dijk was excellent after arriving last season but has improved further after a full pre-season, and the Dutchman is already forming a fine relationship with Joe Gomez.
Dejan Lovren may have got injured at the worst possible time.
Then there’s Alisson, a goalkeeper who has settled unfathomably quickly in England.
Goalkeepers imported from abroad will always be viewed with suspicion until they have proven themselves — we all remember Claudio Bravo and how long it took David de Gea to come good — it is the hardest position for players to acclimatise. Communication with central defenders does not come by magic.
Alisson is the exception, exemplary ever since he stepped onto the Anfield pitch and a goalkeeper whose anticipation and composure under pressure make him ideal for Premier League life. Like Ederson last season, that can make an enormous difference.
Cardiff City already look as if they are drowning
Cardiff are the only team in English professional football without a goal. They face Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City in their next three matches. On Saturday, they failed to beat Huddersfield despite their hosts being reduced to ten men. The bookmakers believe that Huddersfield will finish 19th in the Premier League this season. No prizes for guessing the only club below them.
Cardiff’s big problem this season will be scoring goals. They scored fewer times in the Championship than Hull City in 18th, relying instead on a mean defence and a clutch of 1-0 wins.
Neil Warnock knows only too well that Premier League attacks are more ruthless and defences more miserly.
“I just wake up thinking about goals,” Warnock said before another scoreless game against Huddersfield. “Where we can get goals from and how we can work harder to achieve that. At the top level, it’s harder to score goals. The worry is that we were in good positions against Newcastle and it didn’t materialise to anything substantial.”
Creating chances is not the issue; Cardiff rank fifth in the league on that measure. But with strikers still finding their feet, Warnock knows things are unlikely to get easier. The next three games could become an exercise in damage limitation.
Has the Burnley bubble burst?
After Burnley had knocked out Aberdeen before the Premier League season has even started, Sean Dyche insisted he was looking forward to giving the club’s supporters a “European tour”. But Burnley’s potential Europa League campaign throws up the question of whether a club with their resources can realistically hope to juggle domestic and continental football.
Burnley prided themselves on defensive might last season, but have conceded seven times in their two post-European league matches. Having made precious few additions to their first-team squad over the summer, a poor start to the league season will spell danger. The Europa League brings long trips and tired legs.
It may be an unpopular call among some fans, but would exit to Olympiakos be a blessing in disguise? Play six extra matches before Christmas, and this squad could be half-broken by February.