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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Premier League talking points: Mourinho v Guardiola for the title and Everton's spending spree threatens to backfire

Richard Jolly looks at five talking points from the weekend's Premier League action

Manchester City and Pep Guardiola meet Jose Mourinho and Manchester City in one of the most pivotal Manchester derbies in recent years on Thursday. Getty images / The National illustration
Manchester City and Pep Guardiola meet Jose Mourinho and Manchester City in one of the most pivotal Manchester derbies in recent years on Thursday. Getty images / The National illustration

1. It is Mourinho against Guardiola

The majority were right. In one respect, anyway. An all-Manchester battle for the title was forecast, and it seems likely to happen: only 12 months after most predicted. Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho have fashioned stronger sides in their second seasons with Manchester City and Manchester United respectively.

Their teams have only dropped two points apiece. In City’s case, that shows improvement because they have already beaten Liverpool and Chelsea. In United’s, it indicates a real shift that they have scored four goals four times already, whereas they only mustered 54 league goals last season.

United look the physical force, City the technical team. Chelsea may be the only team who could stop either from winning the league.

2. A five-way fight for the Golden Boot

Only Alan Shearer and Thierry Henry have been the Premier League’s top scorer for three successive seasons. When Harry Kane endured his usual barren August, he found himself playing catch-up in his bid to become the third.

After a super September, he is only one behind the early-season leader Romelu Lukaku. Alvaro Morata and Sergio Aguero also have six goals. Alexandre Lacazette has four, but should be the fifth man capable of getting at least 25 league goals.

Tellingly, three are summer signings and they play for five of the big six. Only Liverpool, with Daniel Sturridge often on the bench, do not build around one potentially prolific centre-forward.

Everton manager Ronald Koeman watched his side lose 1-0 at home to Burnley on Sunday. Jason Cairnduff / Reuters
Everton manager Ronald Koeman watched his side lose 1-0 at home to Burnley on Sunday. Jason Cairnduff / Reuters

3. Everton’s spending spree threatens to backfire

In their own way, Everton threaten to be the story of the season. They have invested around £145 million (Dh711m) and regressed. It seemed an ambitious spending spree but they appear to be proving the old truism that it is never a good transfer window when a club loses its best player.

Yet if they were powerless to prevent Lukaku leaving, the damning element is that they recruited no direct replacement. Everton have signed three No 10s, in Wayne Rooney, Davy Klaassen and Gylfi Sigurdsson, and constructed a side without sufficient speed or potency.

They may yet record a second successive seventh-place finish, but a faltering start and failing signings mean that would scarcely seem an achievement. And seventh looks the best-case scenario, considering the confused thinking at Goodison Park. It may be much worse, perhaps for manager Ronald Koeman.

4. Crystal Palace risk being cut adrift

Making history is not always a good thing. Crystal Palace have equalled a Premier League record set by Portsmouth, who lost their first seven fixtures. But no one in English top-flight history has ever lost the opening seven without scoring.

Palace’s uniquely bad start owes to a failure to take anything from potentially winnable home matches against Huddersfield Town, Swansea City and Southampton as well as facing many of the best.

It can be attributed to the disastrous decision to appoint Frank de Boer, who attempted to import an alien style of play, and the panic reflected in his swift sacking. Yet they face Chelsea next before a quietly impressive Newcastle United, with ever greater pressure on them every game to get a result.

And there is the question of who they will, or can, catch. They are already 12 points behind Burnley and Watford, two of those tipped for relegation, 10 behind Newcastle, nine behind Huddersfield and seven behind Brighton & Hove Albion.

Joel Matip, centre, and his fellow Liverpool defenders have struggled this season. Carl Recine / Reuters
Joel Matip, centre, and his fellow Liverpool defenders have struggled this season. Carl Recine / Reuters

5. There is a defensive divide

While the Manchester clubs become more prolific, it could be a sign of a growing gulf between the haves and the have nots. Yet there may be a different divide: between those who can defend and those who cannot. The two leaders have tightened up at the back. But others with admirable defensive records include Burnley, Huddersfield and Newcastle, who all have lesser resources.

In contrast, only West Ham United and Crystal Palace have conceded more than Liverpool and Everton. All four have the personnel and budget to do better but, thus far, not the organisation.

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