What could be better than a Friday night by the seaside in the late summer? The sun slowly setting over the sea, the sound of waves crashing against the sand, seagulls circling overhead. A walk down the pier, with the bright lights of big wheels, the buzz of excitement in the arcade, the smell of those sweet nuts being roasted that seemingly no-one buys, fish and chips and a can of fizzy pop for dinner, and then a down onto the beach for a quick stroll. Sand covered dog turds, groups of old men drinking Diamond Deathblow, teenage girls being fingered by boys in their early twenties, and groups of lads racing around in their souped up Fiat Puntos until one of them inevitably crashes and kills himself. It’s so bracing!
And once you’ve taken all that in, there’s the small matter of Bournemouth v Brighton at the Vitalite Stadium. You could tell the kids that came from slightly poorer backgrounds at school, because they’d come in with their lunch in a Vitalite tub, rather than a bright plastic lunchbox with Mighty Max on it. Then they’d open it up and tuck into their salad cream sandwiches, bag of ‘No Frills’ ready salted crisps, and a penguin. They never had any fruit. I should know – I was one of them. Anyway, Bournemouth were looking for their first points of the season, while Brighton were hoping to build on the previous week’s victory over West Brom.
Solly March gave the visitors the lead in the 55th minute, heading home a Pascal Groß centre past Asmir Begovic. Until that point Brighton had looked the more likely to take the lead, and Bournemouth’s woeful start to the season seemed destined to continue, until the introduction of Jordan Ibe in the 65th minute turned the game on its head. The £15m winger has endured a fairly low key career on the south coast so far, but his cameo is this game gave credence to the claims of Ibe being the natural heir to Raheem Sterling, particularly when it comes to expensive sinks. Two minutes after his introduction, he laid on a through-ball for Andrew Surman to slot home an equaliser, and less than ten minutes after coming on he had two assists to his name, crossing in for Jermain Defoe to score his first goal for Bournemouth since his loan spell in 2001. A huge sigh of relief for Eddie Howe, with three points finally earned after five games, but a worry for Brighton boss Chris Hughton who knows his team will have to show a little more fortitude in future if they’re to survive the drop this season.
Bournemouth’s win meant that Crystal Palace were left as the only team yet to gain a point this season, and they hosted Southampton in Saturday’s early kick-off. The Saints opening four games had seen them pick up five points despite looking unconvincing in the main, but they’d have been weary of the fabled New Manager Bounce as Roy Hodgson took his seat in the home dugout. Croydon-born Roy had been a regular at Selhurst Park in his youth, and he’d be looking to instill the kind of mental toughness into his new team that can earn you a narrow defeat to a nation best known for its fishing. Any semblance of a game-plan went out the window in the fifth minute, as Steven Davis potted the white in the bottom corner to give Southampton the lead. Despite a couple of decent chances for Christian Benteke and Jason Puncheon, Palace looked fairly toothless and Southampton’s three points were earned with a degree of comfort as they became the first team in top flight history to lose their opening five fixtures without scoring, taking Newcastle’s record for the longest goalless run in Premier League history along the way. With Connor Whickham still recovering from an ankle ligament injury sustained last November, the burden of goals has been laid firmly on the shoulders of Benteke, who looks to be in the worst form of his career. An inability to recruit in this area during the summer could prove costly, as consecutive fixtures against the current Premier League top four could see Palace stranded at the foot of the table before Bonfire Night.
All eyes at 3 o’clock were turned to Vicarage Road, where an impressive looking Watford side hosted Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. With nine goals in a week against Liverpool and Feyenoord, Marco Silva will have been acutely aware that City would come and attack his team and a modicum of caution not usually seen so far during his time in England would be necessary in order to secure a result. The opening half an hour saw City pile the pressure on the home side, but Watford also found some joy on the counter and Richarlison was unlucky not to open the scoring. That miss, however, proved to be fatal, and 15 minutes later the game was over as a contest. Sergio Aguero, who had scored three in his last two visits to Vicarage Road, added another two in the space of four minutes, and Gabriel Jesus’ goal shortly before half-time gave City a comfortable lead heading into the break.
The second half followed a similar pattern to the first, with Watford still looking to peg their visitors back, but when Otamendi headed in a fourth just after the hour it started to look a case of how many, particularly with the final day drubbing last season still fresh in the memory of Hornets fans. Aguero slid home his third of the afternoon on 81 minutes, and could have had a fourth if Raheem Sterling hadn’t been so adamant about taking the spot-kick awarded after he had been felled by Christian Kabasele. So Watford brought back down to Earth with an almighty thump, while Manchester City record three wins in a week, scoring 15 and conceding 0. They look a force to be reckoned with.
In the other 3pms Huddersfield were pegged back by a Jamie Vardy penalty to secure a draw for Leicester City, West Bromwich Albion and West Ham United played out a 0-0 at the Hawthorns, and Liverpool could only muster a 1-1 draw with Burnley at Anfield, despite having 30 shots on goal. The ever-present inconsistency in Jurgen Klopp’s reign at Anfield has gone under the radar, but he may soon find himself under some serious pressure if the Reds don’t start to string some form together. Being goofy and having bad teeth can only get you so far at the top level. Meanwhile Newcastle United secured their third win on the bounce, with captain Jamaal Lascelles scoring the winning goal for the second time in a week, Stoke City on the wrong end of a 2-1 scoreline at St James Park.
The tea-time kick off on Saturday took us to Wembley, where Tottenham Hotspur had laid the hoodoo to rest with an impressive midweek victory over Borussia Dortmund. The visit of Swansea City provided an altogether more straightforward task, having been dispatched 5-0 at White Hart Lane last season. The surprise inclusion of Son Heung-Min at left wing-back will have confounded the 54,000 Fantasy Premier League players that had transferred Ben Davies in this week, with the Welshman dropped to the bench. Lukasz Fabianski pulled off a couple of brilliant saves from Son and Harry Kane in the first half, and when Kane’s effort hit the bar in the 58th minute it started to look like one of those days for Tottenham. Swansea, while offering almost nothing going forward, stood firm against wave after wave of attack from the home side, and despite one heart-in-mouth moment when Martin Olsson tripped Serge Aurier and The Mike Dean inexplicably gave a free-kick against the Ivorian for handball, it always looked like it would take something spectacular to break the deadlock. Despite Spurs introducing Swansea old-boy Fernando Llorente into the fray the visitors stood firm, and the spectre of the Wembley hoodoo (PL only) returned to the horizon.
Sunday threw up a couple of entertaining looking fixtures, as Champions Chelsea hosted Banter’s Arsenal, and the football equivalent of Ex on the Beach took place at Old Trafford. Arsenal, still smarting from that 4-0 hiding in their last away game at Liverpool, would have been hoping for a much improved performance at Stamford Bridge, and that’s what they got. In fact, were this a boxing match they might have just scraped it on points, unless Adelaide Byrd was watching of course.
One clean sheet from their last 18 visits to Chelsea in the Premier League would have been cause for concern for Arsene Wenger, but strong defensive performances from Sead Kolasinac and Shkrodan Mustafi kept the hosts at bay, and had Danny Welbeck and Alexandre Lacazette spent any time on shooting practice this week then Arsenal could have won comfortably. A rightly disallowed goal from Mustafi gave Arsenal fans the rare opportunity to make fools of themselves inside the stadium, with one being escorted from the ground for celebrating. What a melt. As the game headed to its goalless conclusion, David Luiz decided to have a go at splitting Kolasinac’s shin open and received a deserved red card for his troubles. In Luiz’s defence, the weight of his perm dragged the top half of his body to the floor, leaving his studs flailing with full force into the Bosnian. A draw won’t dampen the spirits of either side too much as they trudge to their pre-destined 3rd and 6th placed finishes respectively.
The weekend’s action ended in Manchester, as the red half of the city took on the blue half of Liverpool. Much of the pre-match hype was around the return of Wayne Rooney to Old Trafford following his summer relocation to Goodison, while Romelu Lukaku lined up against Everton for the first time since moving in the opposite direction. Ahead of last week’s 2-2 draw at Stoke, United had looked unstoppable, but that result and the midweek injury of Paul Pogba has cast doubt over the invincibility of Mourinho’s team, while their noisy neighbours have slowly been clicking into fifth gear. Pre-match concerns of this fixture being a potential banana skin for the hosts were quickly dispelled when Antonio Valencia met Nemanja Matic’s cross and volleyed an unstoppable slobberknocker into the top corner of Jordan Pickford’s net. Lukaku had two golden opportunities to extend United’s lead, but couldn’t steer his shots on target, and the 1-0 half-time lead looked slender to say the least.
Had Rooney converted when one-on-one with De Gea, the outcome of the game may have been very different, and despite dominating the second half Everton were unable to find and equaliser. This is the exact kind of game Mourinho’s men found themselves drawing last season, but this is a steelier, more clinical Manchester United team, and when Lukaku slid Henrikh Mkhitaryan in to score a second the game was suddenly safe. Lukaku himself added a third with a tap-in, and Anthony Martial’s penalty gave the scoreline a flattering look for the hosts, who at points in the second half had been clinging on.
Whilst its still far too soon to draw conclusion this season, its difficult to look past the current top three as far as finding a league winner goes. The two Manchester clubs are tied on 13 points with a goal difference of +14, while Chelsea sit in third having gone under the radar since their opening day defeat to Burnley. Newcastle are the surprise early season incumbents of fourth place, though once the trickier fixtures come along you’d expect them to fall off the pace.
Everton are the surprise strugglers, after putting in an impressive performance in the transfer window an unforgiving run of consecutive games against Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United has left them with three points, along with Bournemouth. Rooted to the foot of the table, it may not be too early to fear for Crystal Palace who now face a run similar to the one Everton have just come out of. Whilst Hodgson produced excellent results at Fulham and West Brom, this may be a step too far for him. He should have stayed in his deck chair at the seaside if you ask me.