Topsy-Turvy; How a startling weekend of PL football already suggests a twist in the title race.
Updated: Oct 6, 2020
Over the past few seasons, regular viewers of the Premier League have become accustomed to 2 teams continuously leading the title charge ahead of all other competition; Liverpool and Manchester City.
Both teams have enjoyed great success in their attempts to form a dynasty - and coming into this season, pundits and journalists alike expected very much 'more of the same'.
However, as we wrap up matchweek 3 (with most teams barely 'getting out of the stalls' in their title charge) it appears the script has already been completely flipped in regards to the pre-season power rankings.
Providing perspective as to how irregular this matchweek has been, Sunday was the first day EVER in top flight history where both Liverpool and Manchester United - the 2 most successful teams in English Football history - conceded 6+ goals on the same day (MUN 1 - 6 TOT / AVL 7 - 2 LIV). It is also worth noting that the ever-dominant Manchester City also failed to win consecutive Premier League games (D1 L1) for the first time since 2018, this matchweek.
Are these stats a mere co-incidence? A freakish flash in the pan? Or are we about to experience a season in great contrast to the standard set in the prior seasons?
Manchester United 1 - 6 Tottenham.
Analysing each match as a separate case, we will start with United's collapse to Tottenham at Old Trafford. It is first worth noting that Tottenham have a fantastic squad that has improved over the summer, and a ruthless master-tactician at the helm in Jose Mourinho. On their day, this Spurs squad is capable of besting any team in the division.
It is not the result that is so startling, but more the margin of victory that Tottenham won by.
To clarify, this is United's worst result since being demolished by noisy neighbours Manchester City with the same scoreline in 2011 - nearly a decade ago - which rocked the footballing world.
However, unlike 2011's thrashing (they won the league the following season), this result further highlighted the issues lurking just under the surface of the Theatre of Dreams, chiefest among them being the core of players that have shaped the club over the past 2 years since manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was appointed.
The issues are such a grand topic in itself, there will be an upcoming article dissecting exactly what is going wrong at England's most successful Football Club.
Focusing back to the match itself, it is fair to say that the outcome was influenced when the mercurial Anthony Martial was shown the red card for a scuffle with Tottenham's Erik Lamela - who could well have been given his marching orders for his part also. However, it was the 'pathetic' (to quote former player and pundit Gary Neville) showing afterward that allowed the thumping Tottenham handed to ultimately occur. The defending was shoddy, the attitude was poor and some players simply appeared 'lost' on the pitch as the goals came flying in shortly after Martial's dismissal.
This overall display and lack of fight is very unlike a club renowned for having a sort of 'swagger' and winners mentality through multiple decades of dominance.
To summarise, this result not only advertised the ever-improving standard of Jose Mourinho's Spurs (who may be one to watch this season for a serious run at some silverware) but also highlighted what may be a very difficult and disappointing season for the United faithful (save a very active final 24 hours in the global transfer market).
Aston Villa 7 - 2 Liverpool
It was safe to assume that United's capitulation to Tottenham would be taking all the headlines for this gameweek, however arch-rivals Liverpool just had to steal the limelight and baffle the footballing world to an even further degree on the same Sunday evening.
To put the depth of this defeat simply, Liverpool are the first defending Champions in Premier League history to concede 7 goals in a league game. It was an undefendable result that will have the Kop faithful feeling the nerves as potential title contenders lick their lips at the surprisingly poor display.
Credit must be given to Aston Villa and Dean Smith - who have had a perfect start to the season and executed their gameplan on the day brilliantly. The combination of Jack Grealish and Ollie Watkins looks electric and will likely guarantee them survival. The addition of Ross Barkley also appeared to have an instant impact - these smart additions show that Villa have learned from their mistakes following the spending splurge last season that almost saw them relegated and in serious financial trouble.
Unlike the manner in which Tottenham carved the Red Devils open hours before, the extent of Liverpool's implosion was very much the result of some wicked deflections and a reserve keeper clearly low on confidence. Make no mistake - Villa absolutely deserved the 3 points; you do not win games like that without being the better side and the other side playing poorly. But it could be argued that a healthy Alisson between the sticks and the 3 deflections going either side of the goal (rather than into the corner of the net) would have provided a much closer fought-out competition.
However, this does not dispute the fact that Liverpool deservedly lost and also looked beatable against Leeds United following their brave efforts on the opening matchweek.
3 weeks in and Liverpool look very much 'human' in contrast to their seemingly unassailable dominance last season.
Leeds United 1 - 1 Manchester City
In contrast to the thumpings other title contenders received this matchweek, Manchester City held a tight competition against Marcelo Bielsa's impressive Leeds United. However, this result has been singled-out because it was City's chance to respond to their surprise 5-2 capitulation at the hands of rampant Leicester City the week prior.
Such a result was so infuriating for those at the helm of the club, that they responded by bringing in Portuguese defender Ruben Dias for £65m and - for the first time during his managerial reign at the club - Pep Guardiola demanded his team double-up on training sessions prior to their trip across the Pennines.
For a club of Manchester City's stature (both financially and in recent dominance), you expect such a response to result in a well-drilled 3 points, particularly against a newly promoted side. The first 20 minutes looked as though normal service would indeed be resumed, yet Leeds battled back into the game to claim a well-deserved point.
On the understanding that Leeds are absolutely no soft touch and will punish anyone who takes them lightly as a 'newly-promoted side', you would still anticipate Pep's City to come to an empty Elland Road and take all 3 points. The fact that they have claimed a single point from a possible 6 so early in shows telling signs that the 90-point seasons we spectators have become accustomed to are looking less and less likely as the weeks roll on.
There is no doubt a healthy Aymeric Laporte and the addition of Dias (along with Nathan Ake from relegated Bournemouth) will solidify this team, however questions still remain as to whether or not the Citizens can consistently replicate their very best under Guardiola - if they are capable of reaching such heights once again - they will have to show it sooner rather than later.
Everton 4 - 2 Brighton & Hove Albion
Although it is only matchweek 3 and many teams currently in the top 6 will likely fall away into mid-table come 2021, it is almost impossible to deny Carlo Ancelotti's irresistible Everton and the statement they have made coming out of the gates so impressively this season.
It was not even a year ago when a putrid run of form left them in the relegation zone heading into 2020, which resulted in then-manager Marco Silva's sacking. Fast-forward to now and this side looks an entirely new beast with Ancelotti at the wheel.
Other indicators to this terrific transition must be accredited to the backing from the Everton board in this summer transfer window; solidifying the clear midfield weaknesses by bringing in the sturdy duo of Abdoulaye Doucoure from relegated Watford and Allan from Napoli (Ancelotti's previous employers). Not to mention the key recruitment of the magical James Rodriguez - who was in need of a career resurgence and no doubt came to the blue half of Merseyside for a reunion with Ancelotti.
These potent additions to the team, along with the transcendence of striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin and the ever-improving Richarlison, make the Toffees a real dark horse to not only upset the power-rankings of those expected to retain their European pedigree - but to perhaps even snatch the title from the clutches of the usual suspects.
The potentially season-defining question for Everton will be whether or not they can keep this up throughout the entire 38-game slog. Excluding a cagey match against Tottenham in which they came out on top, the Blues have not yet faced real competition for the top 4. They will also likely ship more goals than they should with the volatile Jordan Pickford between the sticks. Time will tell if this Everton side are the real deal come the final stretch, or whether they are just flattering to deceive for now.
It is near-impossible to confidently determine the final standings of matchweek 38 so soon into the season. However, if early indication is to hold any merit, this season looks to already be blown wide open in comparison to yesteryear.
Be it down to weaker teams strengthening in the right areas or the ever-present loom of COVID-19 making 'Home Advantage' practically ineffective. The impeccable pace-setters of Liverpool and City have struggled to replicate their near-perfect standard so far; with both sides shipping 11 goals in 4 games to start the competition (a statistic that utterly defies the lofty expectations these clubs have set for one another).
So far we have a season not quite like any we've seen before - to be frank. With a clear upset every day of each matchweek; the neutral is likely in for a blast this season.