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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 October 2018

Premier League talking points: Chelsea are contenders, Man United's woes and two already looked doomed to relegation

As we head into the international break, Richard Jolly looks back on the Premier League with almost a quarter of the season played

Eden Hazard has struck eight times in 10 games for Chelsea so far this season, including in Saturday's win at Southampton. Reuters
Eden Hazard has struck eight times in 10 games for Chelsea so far this season, including in Saturday's win at Southampton. Reuters

Chelsea are title contenders

Go back a couple of months and Maurizio Sarri was predicting a “difficult” first half of the season for Chelsea. It seems one of the game’s worse predictions. Sarri is still reluctant to admit Chelsea are title challengers. A glimpse at the table suggests otherwise. His players have adapted to his style of play quicker than most expected, with Jorginho rapidly becoming the fulcrum and a face of the new regime. And Eden Hazard’s superlative form means that Chelsea have the best player in the division right now. Perhaps most importantly, they have consistency and a winning habit that explains why they have only dropped four points.

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Richard Jolly: Hazard loving life under Sarri at Chelsea where 'attacking players' benefit

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No case for United’s defence

Fourteen years ago, Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea only conceded 15 goals in a Premier League campaign. Now his Manchester United have let in 14 already and, to put it another way, only Fulham, Huddersfield Town and Cardiff City have been breached more often. If Mourinho may blame the board for failing to sign a centre-back, his complaints have become a self-fulfilling prophecy. He has undermined the defenders he had, and wretched man-management feels as much a part of the problem as selections, like midfielders Ander Herrera and Scott McTominay in back threes, which have backfired. Inspired as United’s comeback against Newcastle United was, it came with one specialist centre-back – Chris Smalling – on the pitch. It is scarcely a formula for success in upcoming games against Chelsea, Juventus and Manchester City.

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Newcastle win highlights support Jose Mourinho still has at Manchester United

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Short-termist Mourinho sadly fits in at what feels like a soulless Manchester United

The problems facing Mourinho and Manchester United

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No case for Fulham’s defence either

When Fulham became the first promoted club to spend £100 million (Dh480m), the feeling was they were aiming for the top half. And in one respect, they look capable of it: Aleksandar Mitrovic is the division’s joint second top scorer, he and Andre Schurrle rank in the top five for shots and only the big six have had more efforts at goal than Fulham. Yet they have been disastrous defensively, conceding four more than anyone else, changing the rearguard every game and fielding 10 different players in back four or fives. It summed up the disorganisation that they conceded in the second minute of both halves against City.

West Ham's Marko Arnautovic celebrates scoring his side's third goal against Manchester United. Reuters
West Ham's Marko Arnautovic celebrates scoring his side's third goal against Manchester United. Reuters

West Ham show their talent

Perhaps there was something innately West Ham about it. Few clubs are as likely to beat Manchester United and then lose to Brighton & Hove Albion. Manuel Pellegrini’s team pulled off that unusual double in the space of a week. If it took the gloss off a fine renaissance, there feels something significant in the fact the Hammers’ seven points have all come against potential top seven finishers: Everton, Chelsea and United. It demonstrates they have the ability to defeat almost anyone, especially with the hugely talented front trio of Marco Arnautovic, Felipe Anderson and Andriy Yarmolenko. Yet with Pedro Obiang, Mark Noble and the precocious Declan Rice offering ballast in a three-man midfield, they have also discovered solidity.

Referee Mike Dean shows Cardiff City midfielder Joe Ralls a red card for a tackle on Tottenham forward Lucas Moura. Reuters
Referee Mike Dean shows Cardiff City midfielder Joe Ralls a red card for a tackle on Tottenham forward Lucas Moura. Reuters

Huddersfield and Cardiff already look doomed

Whenever anyone gets off to a wretched start to a season, mention of Derby County’s unwanted Premier League record of 11 points in a season can abound. History suggests it is such a low total that everyone else will comfortably overhaul it. Yet it does not feel premature to argue there are two teams so inferior to the rest – partly in resources, partly in ability and partly in results – that they will be relegated by a distance. Neither Cardiff nor Huddersfield have won yet. They only have four goals apiece in eight matches. Each showed some spirit on Saturday but that may fade as their plight becomes more apparent. If, as seems likely, neither tops 25 points, it may be excellent news for the other lower-half sides, with only one other spot in the bottom three to contest.