It was yet another action packed weekend of English Premier League football culminating in a thrilling 3-1 Arsenal victory over Manchester United.
So with four match days already played and the Premier League table taking shape, it seems like a good time to assess how the 2023/24 season is unfolding. However, it’s still early days and analysis is done purely based on evidence of the first few games.
Manchester City are a winning machine
For those of us who were expecting a nail-biting title race straight from the off, well it’s not looking good. There is almost always a ubiquitous feeling that Manchester City will win the league every season but is it too much to ask for an entertaining title race?
Manchester City epitomize a modern day winning football machine. Them conceding a goal feels like a reason for rival fans to celebrate. We are that starved, as we say in football terms. They have combined technique, Physicality, versatility and elite winning mentality all into one team. In years gone by you always felt you had a chance against City due to their fragility at the back, this modern City doesn’t give you a sniff.
Pep Guardiola doesn’t even need to be on the touchline for them to win. The City manager is recovering from back surgery in Barcelona. His absence didn’t help neither Sheffield United nor Fulham at the weekend. Despite tough moments in both games, City vehemently won, putting to bed any doubts about their hunger for more success this season.
Believe it or not, this is City’s best start to a season after four games since the 2016-17 season. Kyle Walker speaking to his Manchester City teammates last month: “We’re always playing catch-up [ in the Premier League title race].Why don’t we try to run away with it, like we did in 2017-18, rather than playing catch-up or waiting for people to drop points?” [ Via Jack_Gaughan Twitter]. An ominous sign for the rest of the league.
Arsenal were widely considered to be the closest challengers to Manchester City. With over 200£m spent in the transfer market and a squad depth worth shouting about, expectations were rife. The Community Shield victory at Wembley only reinforced belief that this would be the gunners’ season.
Well it hasn’t all gone to plan. Jurren Timber, who looked like a gem of an acquisition from Ajax, had a season-ending injury seemingly kick-starting Mikel Arteta’s new tactical revolution. Then the frustrations Began.
The first game of the season comes and Gabriel Magalhàes is on the bench, Kai Havertz playing in midfield, Thomas Partey at right back resulting in a whole myriad of issues for Arsenal. The high intensity and exciting Arsenal team that got us out of our seats has morphed into this team struggling for any fluidity in their play.
Mikel Arteta has stressed the need to evolve and that he is not experimenting. What has baffled supporters is that there was no indication of any change in tactics in preseason. Letting Granit Xhaka go and replacing him with Kai Havertz has split opinion among the fan base.
Despite all that the Gunners are still unbeaten and only two points behind City. The win against Manchester United wasn’t perfect but it will give the team confidence. Record signing Declan Rice stressed the importance of the win “Man City have won four out of four, if we didn’t win today we would have been five points behind. That’s a massive margin to make and we couldn’t have that distance after four games. TO go into the break with a couple of wins and a draw, it’s great.” [Sky]
Will they kick-on from this win or will the tactical adjustments be far too much for them to handle in the title race?
Liverpool Rejuvenated ?
A Liverpool team that has momentum is a dangerous side. When they start winning it becomes difficult to stop them. The win against Newcastle, I believe catapulted the confidence levels of this team. They had struggled to a 1-1 draw against Chelsea and had been defensively troubled by Bournemouth. But that win at St. James’ Park is a win that changes the whole dynamic and feeling around a football club.
The midfield looks energetic once again. Dominik Szoboszlai feels like the ideal Jurgen Klopp player. He’s intense, versatile and his ball striking ability is world-class. That ruthless quality in the final third is something we have attributed to Liverpool throughout Klopp’s era. Alexis Mac Allister is the brains in the middle of the park. The biggest compliment I can give him is that he always seems to make the right decision. When he’s on the ball you’re rarely worried he’ll give it away. Superb player.
What they lack defensively they make up in quality and depth upfront. Liverpool’s attack on paper is maybe the only one that can match City’s output. Getting the balance will be the key for any potential title charge to materialize.
Ange Postecoglou was an unknown quantity to the average Premier League fan. But it’s taken very little time for him to become a very likable personality in the Premier League. Whether it’s his witty remarks in a press conference or the quality of football produced by his team, Ange is a much welcome addition to the league.
James Maddison is the enganche of “Ange ball.” For 40£m he could prove to be the bargain of the window. He drops deep,starts attacks, finishes them, works hard and has quality delivery from set pieces. Destiny Udogie is another standout player so far.
The 20- year -old defender is not difficult to pick out when Spurs are playing. He’s been given the freedom to play more like a midfielder than a normal left back would. It’s not the typical inverted Pep fullback that we’re accustomed to. It’s a much more exciting fullback who can do a bit of everything.
It’s still early days for Tottenham but the signings are encouraging. They still have their issues, especially at the back, but for Spurs fans this is a project that’s much easier to buy into than previous ones.
Erik Ten Hag had an impressive first season in England. He delivered top four, silverware and a runners-up finish in the FA Cup. Naturally expectations were raised but so far Manchester United have flattered to deceive.
The concern is that the style of play has not improved despite the huge investment Ten Hag has already received. The strategy seems to play it to Marcus Rashford and hope for the best. On occasion individual quality shows like against Nottingham Forest but over 38 games they need better.
Race for Europe
Brighton & Hove Albion at the moment, are the most entertaining team in the Premier League. The 3-1 victory against Newcastle showed just how good of a football team they are and it marked a brilliant end to a week in which they signed Ansu Fati on loan from Barcelona. Based on performances they should get a top four place this season as I believe performances not necessarily results are the best indicator of the trajectory of a football club.
David Moyes was a man under pressure. Despite delivering the UEFA Conference League last season, many felt it was as high as he could take them. Tensions over transfer targets were high between him and technical director Tim Steidten. The forecasted doom and gloom never came, West Ham sit on ten points from a possible 12 with impressive wins over Chelsea and Brighton. Moyes has some good quality at his disposal, so how far can he take West Ham?
Chelsea need stability. It’s crazy that after four games some Chelsea fans are already questioning Mauricio Pochettino. They have an expensively assembled squad but only time will tell whether the vision was coherent or was it just stock piling all the best young talent they could find.
Relegation this season feels very much like a battle of six teams. Luton Town, Burnley, Wolves, Sheffield United, Everton and Bournemouth. Burnley have stuck to the style that got them promotion but will Vincent Kompany be forced to compromise on his principles for survival? They were curved open too many times on Saturday.
The standards in the Premier League are getting higher and higher each season and this one promises to be the toughest yet. Hopefully a dark night rises and we get a title race that compliments the competitiveness of the rest of the league.