EPL: Week 3, In Review

It’s the end of the summer transfer window, with transaction news overshadowing the action on the pitch. Don’t worry – we’ll be getting you up to date on transfer deadline’s action throughout the night. In the interim, you want to talk a little actual soccer? Afterward, we can cleanse ourselves of all the transfer news, delete all those annoying tabloid bookmarks we’ve accumulated over the summer, and cherish three months of nothing but football.

Of course, just as I say that, the league goes on hiatus.

The first international match window is upon us, giving the Premiership its break three weeks into the season. For Manchester United, that break started a bit early, as they played the UEFA Super Cup on Friday in Monaco. They, like Fulham (who were to play United this week), will have almost three weeks between Premiership matches. Any momentum the Cottagers had accumulated after their Arsenal win will be dragging dust bunnies to their next match.

When Fulham and United return, they will see the top of the table as they left it. Though each club left their one hundred percent start in the past, Chelsea and Liverpool remain atop the table with seven points. Chelsea still looks dangerous, though they have let complacency set in. Liverpool looks more the mess. Had Manchester United played and won this week, they would be on seven points also, and with Arsenal sitting amongst a small group one point back, the top four have moved to the rail.

Three weeks has been enough time to tell us that nobody is ready to step up and challenge those four. This could change when the break is over, but Aston Villa failed their big test to claim a contender’s spot. They played a wounded and confused Liverpool team to a 0-0 draw on Sunday. Everton is out on their feet after losing to Portsmouth, who have already failed their tests against the top sides. Tottenham, we should not even talk about, and it is too early to tell whether the wheel of fortunes at Manchester City will land on a jackpot or a Whammy (to mix a metaphor).

The top four, through 11 matches (none played against each other), have eight wins, two draws, and one loss. One loss in eleven matches. Contrast that against the best four records from the sixteen remaining Premiership teams: seven wins, three losses, and two draws in twelve matches.

The Top Four story is old, but it is still true. But that does not mean that are not other clubs playing good football. Manchester City has won two straight 3-0 decisions after beating a strong Sunderland side on the road Sunday. Middlesbrough continues to play quality football, shaking off their Anfield disappointment to win at home this week. Newcastle, despite losing big at the Emirates on Saturday, has been a bright spot, showing a quality in defense that will have them competing all season.

In contrast of the Newcastles and Middlesbroughs of the league, you have Everton. Everton finished fifth in the league last season and pushed Liverpool for fourth during the early winter months before the Reds’ improved form in toward the beginning of spring distanced themselves from a Champions League challenge. Now, Everton looks lost, only a one goal win at West Brom giving them any points. Supporters are calling for David Moyes to bring in players while Moyes puts out 16-year-old Jose Baxter and 17-year-old Jack Rodwell. These players may be Premiership ready (or they may not), but are they ready to play for a team that wants European football?

No team, however, has more disappointed supporters than Tottenham. Spurs won a point at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, a result they should be elated about until they stop and remember they earned one point in nine from their first three games. Roman Pavlyuchenko will help give the team some direction, but no simple moment exemplified Tottenham’s quagmire than a first-half cross from David Bentley who was trying to serve a Spur being marked by both John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho. There was no chance, with that defense, but even if there can been only one defender there, the target was Giovani, listed at a generous 5′8″. Three months ago, either Dimitar Berbatov or Robbie Keane would have been fighting for that ball.

With two weeks off from Premiership football, clubs, fans and writers will have a chance to reflect on these early results. Some clubs will come back and overwrite the early returns. For other clubs, these returns are the trend, and for those teams that failed to make any chances before the transfer window closed today, they will have three months to try and find new solutions.

ASR Player of the Week: Shaun Wright-Phillips, Manchester City

Even were there not a back-story to this selection, Wright-Phillips could have won this award on the merits of his performance. The winger scored two goals in leading Manchester City to a 3-0 win on the road at Sunderland. It was Manchester City’s second straight convincing win, though since last week’s win was earned while a man up, it was nice for City to get a convincing win which gave the opposition no excuses. That Wright-Phillips led the team to the result after joining the club on Thursday only adds to his case. That he is a returning hero, having spent six seasons with City before going to Chelsea, makes this a poor-man’s fairy tale.

ASR Manager of the Week: Steve Bruce, Wigan

Wigan had played very well and had nothing to show for it through two weeks, putting a bit of pressure on the squad to get a result at K.C. Stadium on Saturday. Bruce led his Latics to a nail-biting 5-0 win in which his tactics played no small part. Bruce may have ruined Hull’s season by further exposing what was already a porous back line. His allowed Hull to maintain possession and establish themselves in Wigan’s half before countering, leaving Hull’s inferior defenders without a packed in midfield to protect them. The result was a number of corners and set pieces won along with two goals which were directly attributable to the back line’s failings. Hull may have gotten four points in their preceding two games, but their first loss of the season could end up being a huge tactical blow thanks to Steve Bruce.

ASR Premiership Club Rankings, Week 3

Rank Last
Week
Club

1

1

Chelsea
The ASR rankings don’t expect perfection, and Sunday was Chelsea’s first blemish. Derbies can always be tricky, as Chelsea was reminded. Tottenham played their best match of the season while Chelsea played a lot like they did the week before against Wigan. Seven days earlier, it got them three points, and if it was not for a freak bounce from a Frank Lampard tackle, it might have gotten them three this Sunday.

2

7

Arsenal
They did lose in embarrassing fashion last week to Fulham, but their win over Newcastle was a statement, and given the return of Cesc Fabregas, more weight is given in the ranking to their healthier performances than what they did at Craven Cottage. Simply put: their demolition of Newcastle was the second best performance of the young season, part of the reason I’m putting them second (behind the team that gave the most impressive performance to-date).

3

2

Manchester United
Clearly I am not counting their exhibition loss in Monaco to Zenit St. Petersburg, though there was no shame in it. Manchester United will return to domestic play at Liverpool, likely to have a new set of players available: Michael Carrick, Owen Hargraves, Nani, Park Ji-Sung, and Gary Neville.

4

3

Middlesbrough
A late own goal from Justin Hoyte made their match against Stoke closer than it was played. It was another good performance from Southgate’s men, who got both Anfonso Alves and Tuncay Sanli on the scoresheet. Now all they have to do is get Stewart Downing to make his penalty kicks. Somehow, I don’t think it will be a problem.

5

11

Manchester City
Two weeks ago, I had City at 18. Last week, they we eleven. No team has climbed these rankings as hastily, and whlie I questioned their 3-0 win versus West Ham (at home, up a man), their result at Sunderland was unquestionable. Just consider what Sunderland had done in the weeks before: force Liverpool to use a Fernando Torres trump; win at White Hart Lane. This was an impressive win for the Citizens.

6

5

Liverpool
I admit at being a bit bitter (and bewildered) at having sat through their match at Aston Villa, and yes, I do blame Rafa Benitez. But their drop here has nothing to do with that performance; rather, it’s a function of Manchester City rising. Objectively, the result at Villa Park was a good one, and Benitez deserves some credit for salvaging a point without Gerrard or Torres.

7

4

Newcastle
It is hard to drop Newcastle too far this week. They merely ran into a elite team on one of their good days. But the Magpies were ranked number four last week, an elite ranking, and if they showed anything at The Emirates on Saturday afternoon, it’s that they are not an elite club. Kevin Keegan can still be happy with their performance, particularly considering they were down three starting forwards. This ranking, though, may prove to be their level.

8

8

Aston Villa
Villa had their chance and wasted it. Liverpool was ripe for the picking, and while most clubs should be happy taking a point from the Reds, Aston Villa should have greater aspirations. Should, or should have? After Sunday’s performance (on the back of losing at Stoke), should we really be holding out hope that Villa is the knight to slay one of the top four? Perhaps we should start looking for another metaphor.

9

17

Portsmouth
Pompey’s resume is actually somewhat impressive. Yes, they have lost two of three, but those two losses were against the top two clubs from last season. This week they got only a slightly easier task, going to Goodison Park, home of last year’s fifth place finisher. So tip of the hat to Harry Redknapp and Jermaine Defoe for showing that they still need to be considered a contender for a European football spot. This ranking should end up being a bit low.

10

16

Wigan
Another huge climber this week gave us reason to think their strong performances over the last 80 at West Ham (Week 1) and last week against Chelsea might be followed by a successful season. Steve Bruce did a great job, as did Amr Zaki, whose two goals put him in a tie for the early Premiership lead with three. The big difference in this year’s team is the central midfield duo of Wilson Palacios and Lee Cattermole. Together, they have allowed the Latics to be competitive at all times, in all situations. On Saturday, they even showed they can open up the attack a little. Don’t get greedy, Mr. Bruce.

11

13

West Ham
Two late goals and a Blackburn own goal made the final scoreline a bit deceiving, but it was a win, and with Wigan showing so well at Hull, West Ham can now claim two good victories on the season. For Alan Curbishley, who has to be considered a favorite in the sack race, the win was huge. If the Hammers had dropped this one to Paul Ince, Curbishley would have started feeling heat from more than just media rumors.

12

12

Fulham
Fabio Capello made a controversial pick for the England squad, including Fulham’s Jimmy Bullard in his 23 selected for this weeks action. Thoughts about Bullard aside, it says a lot for how for Fulham came in one week that one of their players gained consideration from Capello. If Fulham doesn’t upset Arsenal last week, Fulham is going through those light Craven Cottage workouts during the international match week.

13

6

Sunderland
I can only drop them so far after being ranked sixth last week. That ranking reflects one side of what the Black Cats are capable of. The other side occurred on Sunday, when Sunderland was picked apart in the second half by Mark Hughes’s blues. Now what was a promising start gets contrasted by the Cats’ table place: 18th. Respect only means so much when you’re on the bottom of the standings.

14

9

Blackburn
Their first week win at Everton is starting to look like an aberration. Since then, the drew at home (to Hull) and lost by three at West Ham. Yes, the score at Upton Park was deceiving, but it augments a general feeling in watching Blackburn that you don’t know how this team wins games beyond grit and happenstance. If Paul Ince can win like that, more power to him. He needs to get Roque Santa Cruz on track. Maybe playing for Paraguay for a week will help.

15

10

Everton
The Toffees were one of the best defensive teams last season, but they have already allowed seven goals, six of them over their two home fixtures. The most telling loss of their loss to Portsmouth was their inability to control the midfield. Portsmouth’s midfield have been nonexistent against Chelsea and Manchester United. Against Everton, all of a sudden Lassana Diarra and Papa Bouba Diop have form. Only Mikel Arteta distinguishes himself, though neutrals must wonder what a player of his skill would look like on a team that had at least one comprable talent.

16

19

Tottenham
Getting a point at Stamford Bridge is definitely worth something, so Spurs’ ranking puts above a number of teams that have better point totals. In fact, no team in the Premiership has a worse point total after three weeks, so while Spurs an their fans may have gottena small moral boost from Sunday’s draw, there is a lot of work to do. Their ranking here still puts them with a group of teams who are going to be relegation-battlers.

17

14

Stoke
They almost got a miraculous point against Middlesbrough, but they were outclassed, and the loss was just. They played an hour of the match a man down after holding midfielder Amdy Faye’s two footed tackle brought an automatic red. Because they played shorthanded, it’s hard to draw anything from their loss. They were at a better team and playing at a disadvantage. One thing that Tony Pulis can be proud of is the effort his team gave. They kept themselves in position to get a result, even if tehy ultimately got none.

18

18

Bolton
If you are drawing nil-nil at home against the bottom team in the table, you have a problem. Greg Megson’s problem: he needs better players. Still playing without Johan Elmander, there is a lack of quality up front, and only Jussi Jaaskelainen’s inpsired play betweent he posts gave the Trotters a point. Supporters should be very happy with the four points their club has gotten, even if all of them have been against promoted sides, because this looks to be a season where Bolton will have to take what they can get.

19

15

Hull
Quite a wake up call given by Wigan. Now that the honeymoon of four points against Fulham and Blackburn is over, Phil Brown needs to fix the back. Michael Turner needs to play better or not at all. Sam Ricketts is giving too much, including fouls. There needs to be more protection in front of the back four. Losing by five goals to a mid-table team needs to be taken seriously, not as a blip.

20

20

West Brom
It was their best performance of the season, and they exhibited some of the spark they shorted in the first week against Arsenal. Now, Tony Mowbray has something to build on. They produced plenty of chances, and if they can continue to generate them, their finishing will get better. The Baggies just need to not dwell on their slow start and realize that it may only take one good run of play to save them from relegation. If they can continue to scrape a point here-and-there until that run comes, it does not matter where in the season their good form falls. They just need to make sure to find that form at some point.

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