EPL 2017/18: What three weeks of Premier league football tell us about last season's top six
United draw first blood, Liverpool, Chelsea and City contend while Spurs and Arsenal stumble.
The Premier League kicked off three weeks ago with an exhilarating 4-3 finish in Arsenal's favour at the Emirates Stadium and we have not looked back thus far. On the road thus far, we have seen the pretenders, the contenders and the challengers stake their claim to the English throne. While some have stumbled and even faltered, others have thrown up pleasant surprises that give us many points to ponder as we head into the international break.
While three weeks of football do not define what lies ahead in the nascent season but it does clarify statements of intent, especially from the ones who choose to set the precedent. The start of the races has seen a portion make a sprint while the remainder still look to find their stride. The 2 weeks ahead provide recovery and moments of reflection, in equal measure.
José Mourinho's side has laid down the gauntlet in José's 'second season'. A manager who is a serial success in his second season at clubs, José is relishing the opportunity to unleash his team in the Premier League. Back to back 4-0 victories against West Ham and Swansea City followed up with a 2-0 win versus Leicester have not only seen the Mancunian club rake a full 9 points from 3 games but have also seen the team score a flurry of goals whilst keeping clean sheets in all of its encounters.
Having put together missing blocks, Mourinho has erected an intimidating United side that is bustling with pace, power and aggression. New signings Matic and Lukaku have slotted in perfectly into a squad that offers varying dimensions - strong in the air, lethal on the counter attack and a new found ability to conjure goals from multiple outlets.
The heavy dependence on hitman Zlatan Ibrahimovic last season, as well as an impotence to score goals from across the park, meant United struggled to close out games. The stark contrast is all so evident from last campaign in which the Red Devils managed a meagre 54 goals in 38 games, almost a fifth of which has already been racked up in three games.
Apart from the United's attacking prowess, Mourinho's men have been stellar at the back. The centre-back pairing of Phil Jones and Eric Bailly has looked formidable, snuffing out any chances for the opposition. With David De Gea in goal, José's outfit has recorded three clean sheets in the first three games, a statistic not managed since the 2005-06 season.
For all their strengths, United are still to be sternly tested. The width in their attack is often limited by the lack of traditional wingers, with players often looking to cut back in. Mourinho could not have asked for a better start nonetheless but it remains to be seen whether we will continue to see a free flowing United against the bigger teams, especially away from home.
Jürgen Klopp's heavy metal Liverpool go into the international break at the back of a 4-0 romp of Arsenal. Having tactfully dealt with the tricky Hoffenheim fixtures, Liverpool breathes a sigh of relief after a good few weeks on the pitch. A frenetic 3-3 draw on their opening day at Watford was followed up with a goal to the good against hapless Crystal Palace at Anfield.
But the best display thus far came when Arsenal visited this past weekend. A high press exhibition was on display as the Reds swept an Arsene Wenger side that was schooled from the first whistle. Turning defence into attack in a matter of seconds, Liverpool showed just how good it can be going forward.
A lot of The Reds' good work comes from their Senegalese sensation Sadio Mané. Strong in possession, Mané always seems to be efficient with the ball at his feet, running with a directness and purpose. Despite the negativity coming from Coutinho's request for a move away from Merseyside, Klopp has rallied his energetic troops to good effect while he still awaits the return of Adam Lallana.
The trio of Firmino, Mané and Salah has been supplemented by Henderson and Can in the middle of the park who look like a solid pairing. Klopp's one sore point is, of course, his side's defensive stability. With keepers Mignolet and Karius always willing to provide a scare, Klopp has to ensure that Liverpool can keep it together at the back for the remaining 35 games of the season.
A stern test at Manchester City awaits post the international break. And there is only so much heavy metal one can listen to. Game management and defensive shape become paramount over the course of the season, and Klopp's men will need to be astute if they are to mount a title challenge this campaign.