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Premier League winners and mostly losers…

Winners A wonderfully baffling Premier League Arsenal are a defensive comedy act and are two points behind the reigning champions. Tottenham are in mini-crisis and yet are above the teams that finished one place above and one place below them last season. Chelsea are enjoying the glow of academy graduates in their team and yet are in the bottom half with the third worst defence in the league. Norwich have scored five times against Manchester City and Chelsea but were goalless against Burnley and West Ham. Marco Silva is the clear favourite to lose his job next and yet Everton are only one point behind three of last season’s top six. The Premier League might settle down soon, but for the moment it is an absolutely nonsensical free-for-all. Drink it in while you can.   Kevin de Bruyne A player who controls everything that he sees, and sees more than almost anyone else on every pitch he enters. De Bruyne got two assists on Saturday in Manchester City’s humbling of Watford, but had Sergio Aguero been on his game he would have had five. He has now created more chances than any other player in the league this season, and he’s played in less than 70% of Manchester City’s league minutes. At this rate, De Bruyne is on course to register 42 league assists this season; he’d probably take beating Thierry Henry’s Premier League record of 20. More importantly, Manchester City are never out of the title race while De Bruyne is fit and in this form.   Trent Alexander-Arnold But who is that nudged in directly behind De Bruyne for chances created this season? Oh, no biggie, it’s just a 20-year-old English right-back. He surges forward. He remains defensively resilient. He creates chances. He keeps his head in the manner of a veteran pro. He has the presence of mind to thwack the ball into the top corner and then has the confidence to carry out a pre-prepared celebration in front of supporters. He is, to repeat, 20 bloody years old. Two years ago, Alexander-Arnold was establishing himself in Liverpool’s first team. Now he’s the most creative full-back in Europe and probably the one with the brightest potential. It’s just sodding ridiculous.   Liverpool’s remarkable run During the last 10 minutes of their victory at Stamford Bridge, Liverpool were wobbling. Gone was the consummate composure to which we have become accustomed. Mason Mount should have scored an equaliser. Such are the likely margins of the Premier League title race, Monday’s back pages would have then been filled with talk of Liverpool setback. But Liverpool did not crumble. They held on, demonstrating guts to match the glorious attacking verve. They have now recorded 15 straight league wins, the longest stretch in the history of this club. Put that into context for a moment. Throughout all of the boot room years, their seasons of domestic and continental dominance, Liverpool never put together a run of league victories to match this team. It is astonishing how quickly the relentlessness of this Liverpool machine has become normalised. Two seasons ago, Jurgen Klopp’s team played Watford, Newcastle, Swansea and West Brom away from home and failed to win any of them; they played five away games against Big Six teams and took only a single point. Now we’re watching them win at Stamford Bridge and wondering whether the sight of late nerves demonstrate any weakness. Talk about altered expectations. The only reason to think that this Liverpool team won’t win the Premier League title this season is because they never have before. We have become hardwired into assuming that they will fall away, or that Manchester City’s might will eventually prove decisive. We were proved right last season. But this season feels different again. Liverpool have taken 97 points from their last 38 league matches. They have proved that they can last the course over an extended period of time. They have an exceptional defence, exceptional attack, more midfield options than any other team in the league and will have their first-choice goalkeeper back soon. So why doubt them? Get through the next four matches against Sheffield United (a), Leicester (h), Manchester United (a) and Tottenham (h) unscathed, and Liverpool will have broken the record for consecutive league wins in English football history. They will also have established themselves as clear title favourites.   Manchester City Pep Guardiola could not have picked two better opponents to get Manchester City back on track. Of all the teams to have faced Guardiola in his career, Arsenal have conceded the most goals with 37 but they can be dangerous. Next come Watford with 35. Shakhtar are joint-fourth with 33. But results like these still set the tone, even if City remain five points behind Liverpool at the top. They now face a gentle-ish run of fixtures in which they can afford no slip-ups, but City are at their best when they go into matches with the opposition fearful of being drubbed. If Norwich peeled away that fear factor, City have to rebuild it. The more thrashings the better. It has also been interesting to see how seamlessly Fernandinho slotted into central defence, albeit against two opponents who didn’t threaten in attack. City enjoy so much possession that Fernandinho can step up into midfield as the situation allows, but has the positional awareness to be a success in defence. Now to beat Everton and cross their fingers that Liverpool finally stumble.   West Ham United  They beat Manchester United in second gear, just like they did last season. They moved into the top six in the process. They have one of the best goalkeepers outside the top six (Lukasz Fabianski), one of the best defenders (Issa Diop) and a collection of attacking midfielders to match anyone bar Liverpool and Manchester City. But most important is that West Ham finally look solid under Manuel Pellegrini. There was a six-game stretch in March and April when they conceded at least two goals in every game and those familiar aching doubts flooded back in, but four consecutive clean sheets has allowed positivity to reign again. Now comes a stretch of fixtures – Bournemouth (a), Crystal Palace (h), Everton (a) – where West Ham might make such optimism look foolish. There’s no club better at pulling the rug from under your feet.   Sheffield United’s efficiency This isn’t an easy time to be Sheffield United’s manager. Those in charge of on-field affairs pray for off-field stability. Hearing the majority shareholder tell...

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Published By: Fottball 365 - Monday, 23 September







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