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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Man City success generates response as West Ham face prolonged misery: Premier League talking points

After four matches and as the Premier League breaks for two weeks of international football, Richard Jolly surveys the landscape of England's top-flight so far

Pep Guardiola's Manchester City have come up against some packed defences so far this season. Reuters
Pep Guardiola's Manchester City have come up against some packed defences so far this season. Reuters

City’s success generates a response

It is the nature of competitive sport that innovation and excellence tend to generate a response. Whenever someone sets a new standard, someone else sets out to overhaul or stop them.

In Manchester City’s case, there are different types of challenges. While Pep Guardiola has said it will be impossible to emulate their 100-point campaign last season, it is notable that Liverpool, who have let too many points slip through their grasp in recent seasons, have made a 100 per cent start.

City are also discovering they can expect to face packed defences at home, where Huddersfield Town were hammered and Newcastle overcome in a closer game, while it was significant Wolverhampton Wanderers had a concerted policy of pressing the champions at Molineux.

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Read more:

Tale of two keepers: Arsenal's Cech stuck in past, Alisson's future promising at Liverpool

Daniel Slack-Smith: Man City combined 'aggression and patience' to become part of football's elite

Marouane Fellaini: The man Man United manager Jose Mourinho turns to in times of crisis

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It is five from four among the big six

Jose Mourinho and Manchester United will have to likely finish above Chelsea or Tottenham to claim a top four place. Reuters
Jose Mourinho and Manchester United will have to likely finish above Chelsea or Tottenham to claim a top four place. Reuters

Part of the Premier League’s appeal has come from the way it has six superclubs; part of the difficulty for the elite managers is that only four of them can qualify for the Uefa Champions League in any given season.

Now, and while Arsenal and Manchester United are tied on six points, the equation seems different. It looks to be four from five. Arsenal amounts to a major rebuilding job for Unai Emery.

And yet the starts made by Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur – before losing to Watford – has added to the pressure to Jose Mourinho. Quite apart from United’s own issues, the context could be costly.

Missing out on the Champions League for the second time in three seasons would be damaging for both Mourinho and the club. Finishing in the top four probably means leapfrogging Spurs or Chelsea.

Sarri’s fast starters emulate their predecessors

Chelsea, led by Eden Hazard, have ensured new manager Maurizo Sarri has started with four straight wins. AP Photo
Chelsea, led by Eden Hazard, have ensured new manager Maurizo Sarri has started with four straight wins. AP Photo

It is understandable to talk of transitional periods at the start of new regimes. Indeed, Maurizio Sarri has done, predicting a “difficult” first half to the season. Yet after four games, Chelsea have maximum points.

While last season was an exception, they have a habit of flying out of the blocks, sometimes before stumbling when problems become apparent. If there are hints of defensive frailty and Alvaro Morata’s lack of goals remains an issue, it is impressive how Antonio Conte’s more cautious side have, personified by N’Golo Kante and Marcos Alonso, adapted to Sarri’s more ambitious gameplan.

West Ham’s wretched start could get worse

Marko Arnautovic and his West Ham team are yet to pick up a point this season. Reuters
Marko Arnautovic and his West Ham team are yet to pick up a point this season. Reuters

It is not what West Ham United intended when they spent the best part of £100 million (Dh470.9m) in the summer. Four games, four defeats and a position at the foot of the table would have been bad enough if they had not spent a penny.

Instead, they are in a perilous position which is compounded by the manner of their struggles, with dreadful defending, an insufficiently robust midfield and ample indications Manuel Pellegrini does not know his best team.

With their next three home games being against Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham, it is conceivable they could get to November without winning.

Watford make perfect beginning to survival bid

Watford have defied early season expectations to pick up maximum points. Getty Images
Watford have defied early season expectations to pick up maximum points. Getty Images

It may be the time to make those (possibly unfunny) jokes about Watford winning the league. Logically, their 100 per cent start will not last. Yet it is also instructive to rewind a month. There was some surprise that Javi Gracia had survived an anti-climactic end to last season.

There were plenty of predictions that Watford would be relegated. There were suggestions an unusually subdued summer in the transfer market would cost them. Instead, they have a maximum 12 points.

They are a third of the way to staying up. Recent history suggests Watford tend to be stronger in the first half of seasons. They often seem to be underestimated, too. That may be a secret of their early success.

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