Any hopes of a title charge for Liverpool last season perished on substandard results against the supposed ‘weaker’ teams in the Premier League, not least at Anfield. It’s an itch that Jurgen Klopp’s team have struggled to scratch in his time on Merseyside and there was a sense of Groundhog Day about Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Burnley. Indeed, it threatened to be even worse for the Reds on 27 minutes when careless defending left Scott Arfield with all the time in the world to unleash a stinging volley to beat Simon Mignolet. A superb Mohamed Salah equaliser three minutes later was the perfect riposte, but Liverpool still had an hour to add to their tally and couldn’t manage it against a Burnley side whose defensive organisation remains the stuff of dreams for Klopp’s charges. The sense of frustration was heightened by a tremendous goalkeeping performance from Nick Pope, who was only playing because of injury to Tom Heaton. While it can be argued that Liverpool’s luck wasn’t in, the sense prevails that Chelsea or either of the Manchester clubs would have found a route to goal instead of being left to curse the absence of Madame Fortune.
Having put five goals past the Reds a week ago, Manchester City went one better at Watford on Saturday. The home side had been quite impressive in the opening month of the season but were made to look like rank amateurs by a frighteningly slick City outfit. Sergio Aguero grabbed the headlines with his 10th hat-trick for the Citizens, with Gabriel Jesus adding another goal to his ever-growing tally. Nicolas Otamendi also popped up with a rare goal and the victory was rounded off in the closing minutes by a Raheem Sterling penalty, one which the ex-Liverpool man practically begged Aguero and Pep Guardiola to let him take. A 0-6 home defeat normally raises serious questions about the losing team, but Watford weren’t especially atrocious. They simply had no answer to a rampant Manchester City side.
The goals also flowed freely for Manchester’s other representatives as United netted four without reply against Everton, a third 4-0 win in five league games for Jose Mourinho’s side. Similar to those wins over West Ham and Swansea, the final score did not tell the whole story of the game, which had only one goal until the final seven minutes when United pressed the after-burners. A cracking volley by Antonio Valencia opened the scoring in the fourth minute and the second goal remained elusive until 83 minutes when Henrikh Mkhitaryan put the result beyond doubt. Romelu Lukaku and Anthony Martial also got in on the act in stoppage time as Everton fell to a third heavy defeat in a row, following their emphatic losses to Tottenham and Atalanta.
Chelsea and Arsenal have served up some of the great matches of Premier League seasons of yore, but their meeting at Stamford Bridge on Sunday was bitterly disappointing. Both teams spurned glorious chances in the first half and there was plenty of effort after half-time but very little in the way of scoring opportunities. Eden Hazard threatened to score what would have been a sensational solo goal, only to shoot straight at Petr Cech when the chance came, while Shkodran Mustafi had the ball in the Chelsea net but the goal was correctly disallowed for offside. David Luiz was dismissed late on for a rash challenge on Sead Kolasinac as the game ended amidst a flurry of yellow cards but no goals on a day when Arsenal showed the type of workrate and discipline for which they’re not universally renowned.
Not many would have predicted a goalless draw in that London derby and fewer still would have had 0-0 down as the outcome of Saturday evening’s clash between Tottenham and Swansea. Just as Liverpool were left frustrated by well-drilled opponents who defended professionally, Spurs also had to settle for a point against a superbly organised team unit. While Paul Clement’s side deserve huge credit for holding firm against opponents with such outstanding attacking players, Swansea can count themselves lucky not to have conceded a penalty when a clear Martin Olsson handball went unpunished. Three league games into their Wembley stint, Tottenham are still waiting for their first Premier League win at the national stadium.
Also waiting to shatter an unenviable record are Crystal Palace, who remain without a point or a goal after five matches following Saturday’s 0-1 loss at home to Southampton. Roy Hodgson’s tenure as Eagles manager got off to the worst possible start when Steven Davis fired a goal-shy Saints side into the lead inside six minutes. The fear was that Palace would become demoralised and surrender tamely, but they had their fair share of chances and only for the dismal form of Christian Benteke would most likely have avoided defeat. They were also left cursing Fraser Forster, who pulled off two world-class saves in the Southampton goal as Mauricio Pellegrino’s team picked up a welcome win.
Three wins on the bounce for Newcastle have carried them almost unnoticed into the top four. On Saturday they got the better of a decent Stoke side for a win that was fully deserved, given the Magpies’ dominance of play. Rafael Benitez’s men were well on top in the first half and perhaps should have led by more than just Christian Atsu’s goal at the interval. Xherdan Shaqiri scored a superb equaliser on 57 minutes but Newcastle edged themselves back into the lead through Jamaal Lascelles’ header, the second game in a row where the defender has come up with the decisive moment. Benitez enjoyed a happy return to the dugout after missing the win at Swansea last week and, while it’s very early days yet, Newcastle are purring rather nicely since promotion.
Huddersfield have also made a positive start to life in the Premier League and they secured a decent 1-1 draw at home to Leicester on Saturday. The first half was fairly uneventful but things were much different after half-time. Laurent Depoitre put the Terriers in front just after the interval on his first start for his new club, but the celebrations had barely died down when Leicester won a penalty at the other end which Jamie Vardy converted. The England striker later contrived to miss from three yards later in the half, although the Foxes had a let-off of their own a few minutes earlier when Elias Kachunga’s goal was wrongly given offside. On the balance of play, a draw seemed a fair result, although both sides will feel a little aggrieved that they didn’t emerge victorious.
Bournemouth ended a run of four straight defeats on Friday night by coming from behind to beat Brighton 2-1. This too was a game where a forgettable first half gave way to a rip-roaring second 45 minutes. The visitors struck shortly after the interval when Solly March finished to the net at the back post before the introduction of ex-Liverpool midfielder Jordon Ibe swung the game in the Cherries’ favour. He provided deft assists for both of Bournemouth’s goals, Andrew Surman and Jermain Defoe scoring in a six-minute spell midway through the second half. Eddie Howe’s side remain in the bottom three, but at least the shackles of being stuck on zero points have now been cast aside.
Out of the 50 Premier League matches played so far in 2017/18, Saturday’s goalless draw between West Brom and West Ham is a sure-fire contender for the worst of the lot. Neither team came close to scoring on a day when the headlines belonged to Gareth Barry, whose 632nd Premier League outing brought him level with Ryan Giggs on the all-time appearances list. Another experienced English international, Ben Foster, ran the risk of catching the eye for less cerebral reasons, his challenge on Javier Hernandez potentially a red card but, on replays, yellow seemed the right call from referee Paul Tierney. In truth, neither team deserved to win this drab affair.
Liverpool could have drawn level on points with league leaders Manchester United overnight, but instead they find themselves five points behind the table toppers. We may only be a month into the new season, but if that gap to first place increases much further for the Reds, already they could be up against it just to match last season’s fourth-place finish. Next up are trips to Leicester in the Carabao Cup and Premier League, with Liverpool having sunk to pathetic defeats on their previous two visits to the King Power Stadium.