October 3, 2017

FREE KICKS: The Manchunian title candidates

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

The only thing that Manchester City lost in the past week was their top scorer and its starting left back. Not included on that list was a game at StamfordBridge against the defending Premier League champions, Chelsea.

This wasn’t a slumping Blues side, either. This was a Chelsea team coming in at full strength, even with Eden Hazard making his first league start of the season.

And City still walked away with all three points.

The Sky Blues remain atop the table due to a one-goal lead in goal differential over Manchester United – making the Mancunian rivalry looking even better than it usually is.

City is now unbeaten in 15 Premier League games (13-2-0) and is more solid at the back than ever. Manager Pep Guardiola seems to have found the right combination for his back four with Nicolas Otamendi and Josh Stones – surprisingly – a solid CB pairing and Ederson looking worth the money that City spent on him.

The back line was always going to be the make-or-break part of City’s title hopes and they couldn’t be happier with how it has been playing after last year’s headaches.

United hasn’t fared too poorly in that department either, also having allowed just two goals in seven games this season. Phil Jones is actually looking like a top-end CB, which tells you something about Jose Mourinho’s management.

After their fourth 4-0 win of the season, the Red Devils kept pace with their noisy neighbours. Romelu Lukaku netted his seventh goal in seven league games and Anthony Martial looks like the greatest closer the Premier League has seen.

The young French forward has made five substitute appearances this season and has three goals and two assists in 63 combined minutes. Oddly enough, in his one start this season, he was held scoreless.

Even without Paul Pogba, this team hasn’t slowed down. Heck, Maraoune Fellaini stepped up with a brace against CrystalPalace on the weekend.

A big date against Liverpool looms after the international break, but, for now, the city of Manchester boasts the undisputed two best teams in England.


We could’ve given it to Fellaini, but Spurs’ Ben Davies is equally as deserving.

The Tottenham left back scored one and had an assist against Huddersfield Town – and could’ve had one more if not for a little bit of Harry Kane selfishness. Had the striker laid off the ball following a big gaffe by Terriers goalkeeper Jonas Lossl, Davies would’ve had a brace.

Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino could be facing a selection crisis once Danny Rose finally returns from injury. Will he ride the hot hand, or go with Rose?


Apparently dropping Wayne Rooney to the bench wasn’t the answer for Everton. The Toffees were blanked for the fourth time in five games in a loss to Burnley … Kane now has six goals in his past four games. Could you imagine how many goals the two-time defending golden boot winner could bag if he actually showed up for August? … Crystal Palace’s goal of the month competition is a pretty easy one to decide. Bakary Sako’s header in a cup game was the Eagles’ only tally in September … Burnley has taken 8-of-12 points from Chelsea, Spurs, Liverpool and Everton this season … Aguero should be out for a month and a half with his fractured ribs. Reports are that he can’t even get out of bed without help … Chelsea’s attacking prospects will be put to the test with Alvaro Morata reportedly out 4-8 weeks with a grade two hamstring strain. Michy Batshuayi is the only other true striker on the roster and we’re not sure how effective he can be over 90 minutes. This will put a lot of pressure on a finally fit Eden Hazard … Leicester City is only above the relegation zone thanks to goal differential. So much for a bounce-back season. This club needs to change up something or risk falling too far out of the race for a European place … Oh, hey, Arsenal won again. That’s a four-game unbeaten run in the league since that drubbing at the hands of Liverpool … Another week, another underperforming game from the Reds. You have to wonder when Jurgen Klopp is going to start feeling some heat if he can’t win more consistently with a squad this good … Philippe Coutinho is playing so well, you have to wonder how much Barca will pony up for him January.


While this space is usually reserved for comments about the Premier League, it would be poor form to not mention what happened with Barcelona on the weekend.

Sometimes, football should take a backseat to real-life issues and this was certainly one of them.

With the region of Catalonia holding a referendum on independence from Spain, riot police clashed with voters and scenes got ugly. Like any logical member of the community, FC Barcelona asked La Liga to postpone its game against Las Palmas, with the safety and security of the fans the primary goal.

Instead of heeding that very reasonable request, La Liga threatened to suspend Barca for six months if it didn’t play the game. Completely ridiculous.

When there is rioting in the streets, football should be the last thing that people are concerned about.

Instead, the game was played behind closed doors, with Barcelona winning 3-0. We’re sure nobody was happy about how this played out and it was just another trying event in a season full of them for the Spanish powerhouse.

How La Liga could’ve been so tone-deaf over the situation is dumbfounding. It rightly took a beating in the court of public opinion and we should not forget how poorly this whole thing was handled.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

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