September 25, 2018

EPL FREE KICKS: Blues, Hornets well ahead of last year’s pace

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

Even six weeks into the season, it can be hard to tell just how well a team is doing.

You have other factors that contribute, mainly strength of schedule.

While the old adage is that you can only beat who they put in front of you, that doesn’t tell the whole story for some sides.

But, BBC did the legwork and compared each team’s results from this season against the corresponding fixtures from last year, with promoted teams subbing in relegated sides.

The two biggest gainers were Chelsea and Watford, which both gained nine more points over the same fixtures from last season, Chelsea 16-7, Watford 13-4.

That kind of marked improvement shows just what kind of strides these two sides have made and may actually prove that the Hornets might not be just a flash in the pan.

The Blues, of course, are the least-consistent team of the top-6, season-to-season. While they’re on fire this campaign, 2017-18 was a down campaign in a title defence – a cycle that seemingly repeats itself.

Table-topping Liverpool is just three points better against its common foes, but is actually seven points through six games compared to last season. There were some early stumbles early last year against lesser opponents, which damaged hopes of a real title run.

As for last season’s runaway champions, Manchester City? Well, you can saw that the Sky Blues are Man Consistancity (I’m sorry). In its similar fixtures, the defending champs have the same 16 points as last season and also started with 16 points through six games.

Does this mean that we could get a record-tying season from Pep Guardiola’s squad? It remains to be seen, but you can’t rule it out.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

It would’ve been easy to give our award to one of the lesser Man City starlets this week – Bernardo Silva, Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez were all marvelous in a 5-0 win – but how about Burnley’s Ashley Barnes?

Coming on as a sub in the 69th minute, Barnes was able to score twice in the span of five to put the game far out of reach for the Clarets.

The four goals that Burnley scored in the game were one more than they had scored the entire season coming in. Bournemouth hasn’t been more than an average defensive squad, but this is a somewhat shocking result.

We don’t expect a lot of outbursts like this, but if Burnley can get some consistency in attack, we should see it rise out of the relegation scrap fairly quickly.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

There was a bit of panic last week when Tottenham lost to Inter Milan in Champions League, giving Maurcio Pochettino his first three-game losing streak as manager of Spurs. Of course, this was quickly turned around with a win at Brighton, which isn’t as easy as it sounds … Harry Kane pounded home a penalty, which makes his numbers look better than they seem. Kane had just four shots in all competitions in six games this season heading in. No wonder Spurs were on the skids … Spurs were down to Paulo Gazzaniga in net on Saturday with both Hugo Lloris and Michel Vorm out. This could get dire if he picks up a knock … Manchester City became the first Premier League team in history to lose four straight Champions League matches. If the club is ever going to give its oil king owners the European glory they are going to seriously need to step it up … Kevin de Bruyne says he needs another 3-5 weeks to return and is aiming for the Manchester derby on Nov. 11. It’s a bit optimistic, but according to everyone in the know, the Belgian is an exceptionally fast healer … Congrats to Riyad Mahrez for finally getting his first goals for City. That’s just one more weapon firing for the defending champs … An awful own goal started the misery for Southampton and it never stopped. The last thing that you can afford to do at Anfield is shoot yourself in the foot … Fred became the 500th different player to score for Manchester United. Pretty amazing when you think about the club’s history … Wolves are the first team to take points from United at Old Trafford after the Red Devils had a lead since the start of last season. It’s never a good sign when you start seeing landmark numbers falling … It took just 90 seconds for Watford to score against Fulham. It’s just too bad that the league’s best poacher Aleksandar Mitrovic was on the other side.

CHIP SHOTS

Reports are that Jose Mourinho has told Paul Pogba that he’ll never captain Manchester United again after yet another outburst from the talented French midfielder. Sooner or later the club is going to have to choose between the two and, in situations like this, it’s the manager that’s usually shown the door … Could Leicester be a really frisky team going forward for the next little while? The fixtures are shaping up, James Maddison is fulfilling on some of his promise and the partnership between Jamie Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho tore apart Huddersfield on Saturday. We’re not saying the Foxes will go on another title run, but should get a bit closer to Europa League … What a huge miss from Mamadou Sakho. When you have an open header right in front of goal, you have to put that home … Xherdan Shaqiri’s stunning free kick is our should’ve-been-a-goal of the week. What a strike and it left an easy tap-in for Mohamed Salah … Wait a second, Rui Patricio wears No. 11? Has a keeper ever worn that number before? … What is up with Huddersfield’s away kits? We had to do a double-take, thinking it was Bournemouth playing … Adama Traore blew an amazing chance to get Wolves all three points. A pass either left or right would’ve netted a much better chance than the shot he took, which went several metres wide and high … We’re happy to see Sir Alex Ferguson back in the crowd at Old Trafford, but the question needs to be asked: Is Sir Alex cursed? Every time he shows up, United never seems to perform well.

THE LAST WORD

Can somebody explain how Salah won the Puskas Award for FIFA’s goal of the year when it didn’t even win the Premier League goal of the month for Decemeber?

Fan voting is fine in some instances, but completely defies logic in others.

Speaking of defying logic, how does Salah finish third in Player of the Year voting, but not make the FIFA Best XI? We’re not saying that Kylian Mbappe isn’t worthy, but he finished fourth in voting, behind the Egyptian. Does that really make sense?

One thing that we can surely agree on is that Luka Modric deserved the big award. With his midfield dominance for both Champions League winners Real Madrid and World Cup runners-up Croatia, it’s hard to argue that there was a better player.

But, why FIFA needed to add this Player of the Year ceremony while still keeping the Ballon d’Or at the end of the year, well that is just another question that leaves us scratching or head.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

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