Round 8 of the Premier League was a week for the home teams, with 5 home wins, 5 draws and no away wins. Watford came from behind to beat Arsenal 2-1 but by far the more notable result was at Selhurst Park, where Crystal Palace finally got on the scoresheet and in doing so beat defending champions Chelsea 2-1. Meanwhile in Manchester, City’s 7-2 demolition of Stoke helped them open up a lead over local rivals United, who drew 0-0 at Anfield.
Sitting 5th in the league 8 weeks into the season, it is hard to definitively write off a team’s title hopes, but I don’t see Chelsea defending their title this year. 2 losses in a row have left them 9 points behind leaders Manchester City and losing to a team that have been unable to score in their opening 7 games will be a huge knock for morale.
In my opinion this is a problem of their own making, as they are relying too heavily on just a couple of players. N’Golo Kanté was a vital part of Leicester and Chelsea’s title runs the last 2 seasons as he elevates the defence to a much better level by dealing with most dangers before the ball even gets that far. With him – and Nemanja Matic, who was transferred to Manchester United – missing, the defence was exposed by Palace, who caused them a number of problems. They have conceded 8 goals already this season, which is more than the 2 Manchester clubs combined and need to shore up at the back to avoid dropping out of Champions League contention.
As well as Kanté, they are also currently missing star striker Alvaro Morata. I mentioned in the last round that leaving Michy Batshuayi on the bench after Morata’s injury suggested Conte didn’t really trust him to lead the line, and judging by this performance it is clear why! However Chelsea have sent so many squad players out on lone, with Morata injured and Costa gone he is their only recognised striker. It is terrible planning from Chelsea to keep only 2 strikers as there is now nobody who can step in if Batshuayi continues to struggle. Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Tammy Abraham (who scored twice for Swansea at the weekend) are both out on loan at other Premier League clubs. I understand that regular game-time at other Premiership clubs will be good for their development, but considering Conte knew Costa wasn’t in his plans, surely it would have made sense to keep one of these strikers as an extra option.
Kevin De Bruyne is arguably the best midfielder in the Premier League – and perhaps even the World – at the moment! Against Stoke on Saturday, it looked like the Belgian was on another planet. He has moved into a slightly deeper position this season and while he may not be getting on the scoresheet so much this season, he is dictating play and controlling the attack like a quarterback.
The disguise on his through ball to Leroy Sané for City’s second goal was brilliant and caught the defence flat-footed, his cross for their 4thgoal was inch-perfect and his through ball for their 6th was a pass that many players wouldn’t have even thought about playing, let alone been able to execute! His 32 Premier League assists since his Man City debut is the highest of any player in this time period. The scary thing is that at 26, he is probably only just starting to hit his prime! With Aguero coming towards the end of his time as City’s star striker, and Sané, Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva leading the next wave of young stars, this is a chance for the Sky Blues to build the team around the Belgian and finally start having the European success they crave.
The Arsenal way
Arsenal’s at Watford will be a huge negative for Arsene Wenger. The loss leaves them 6th in the league (Watford have leapfrogged them into 4th) and they are already 9 points behind Manchester City with a vastly inferior goal difference. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Troy Deeney’s comments after the game will be a huge headache for Wenger.
In interviews after the game, Deeney stated that when he competed against the Arsenal defenders ‘none of them were up for the challenge’ and he said that they lacked the cojones (his word not mine). I’m not surprised that Martin Keown was unhappy with the comments, but I doubt he was very surprised. The Arsenal way has been about playing attractive football for so long, they have often lacked the enforcers to front up in defence since players like Keown and Patrick Viera moved on. Wenger clearly prefers players who are comfortable with the ball like Laurent Koscielny, but while it is good to have a player like this, it is also important to have a stronger no-nonsense defender who will not allow a physical striker to rough them up as Deeney did. Manchester City and Chelsea have generally looked more defensively sound over the years when Vincent Kompany and John Terry were playing and probably the best defensive pairing of recent years has been Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic at Manchester United. With Liverpool, Chelsea, Spurs and both Manchester clubs regularly competing towards the top of the table, Wenger needs to look at finding a proper holding midfielder to shield the defence and a more physical defender to deal with the Troy Deeneys of the league, otherwise Champions League football will be beyond them.
Week 9 predictions:
West Ham v Brighton & Hove albion – Draw
Chelsea v Watford – Chelsea win
Huddersfield Town v Manchester United – United win
Manchester City v Burnley – City win
Newcastle United v Crystal Palace – Draw
Stoke City v AFC Bournemouth – Stoke win
Swansea City v Leicester City – Draw
Southampton v West Bromwich Albion – Draw
Everton v Arsenal – Draw
Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool – Spurs win