With the international break upon us, we’ve rated the performances of each Premier League club so far, while Juan Mata’s re-birth and Liverpool’s upcoming clash with Manchester United are also discussed.
Mata re-birth proves Mourinho doesn’t need to throw money at Man Utd
The English media’s fascination with their own players has seen plenty of column inches dedicated to the rejuvenation of both Raheem Sterling at Manchester City and Arsenal’s Theo Walcott this season. Plaudits for Sterling are more than deserved given his significant improvement under Pep Guardiola; his rise made all the more remarkable by the fact that so many had written off his first-team prospects at the Etihad under the Catalonian tactician.
But while much of the limelight has been on Sterling’s young shoulders and Walcott’s often flimsy ones, there’s another player across Manchester also enjoying a re-birth of his own.
Having sold Juan Mata while Chelsea boss, the Spaniard was widely expected to be one of the first names carted off this summer once Jose Mourinho took charge. However, after getting an early indicator that he may, after all, have a future at Old Trafford, Mata now looks being one of the first names on the manager’s teamsheet; a fact given further credence by Mourinho’s claim that the player “fits in with his Manchester United philosophy”.
Mourinho said: “The football I want to play and the profile at Man Utd and what I want to do in this club is completely different situation.
“In my project at Chelsea he was a good player. In my project at Man Utd he is a very good player.
“There are big differences. At Man Utd I have no players to play transitional football.
“We are trying to play in a different way. It is very adapted to his qualities. He has found a natural habitat for his football.”
With Mourinho fully behind his man, it was fitting that the player would justify his manager’s faith with a fine first-half display against a stubborn Stoke side.
Dynamic, direct and full of bright ideas, Mata looked the man most likely to unlock Stoke’s stubborn defence during the first period, and but for some frustrating finishing from his team-mates in front of goal, he’d have been a contender for man of the match.
His star may have faded after the break and it was a logical decision for Mourinho to replace him and give their attack fresh impetus, but make no mistake, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic up top, and Marcus Rashford operating – in the main – down the left, Mata is the glue that binds their forward line together – and, on current form, one of the first names on the United team sheet.
I wrote on Sunday how Manchester United may lack the instinct of champions under Mourinho so far, and while the team has a number of square pegs being pushed into round holes, the re-birth of Mata at least, proves throwing money at a team isn’t always the answer….
TEAMtalk’s assessment of the season so far
With the Premier League season seven games old, we’ve now had enough time to assess all 20 sides so far.
With that in mind, we’ve given a score out of 10 and written a review of all sides’ efforts thus far against what their expecations for the season will have been at the start of the season….
Man City: Look the strongest side so far, but have teams worked out how to nullify Guardiola’s tactics? May need to work on their Plan B when the chips are down. 8
Tottenham: Look a good bet to match last season’s achievements and are playing with unbelievable energy and confidence. Boast the only unbeaten record so far and the division’s best defence. 9
Arsenal: Have bounced back impressively after Liverpool defeat on opening weekend, and go into the international break with five straight wins. A match for anyone on their day. 8
Liverpool: The league’s great entertainers, look full of goals and have an array of attacking options. Still look vulnerable on set pieces; Burnley defeat the only blot. 8
Everton: Major improvement since Koeman took charge but defeat at Bournemouth and a draw with Palace have taken some of the gloss away. 6
Man Utd: Still hugely inconsistent and Mourinho is some way from finding his best side. Lack the killer instinct of a title-challenging side. 5
Chelsea: Three straight wins at the start of the season disguised what is a side in dire need of some top-quality upgrades. Should challenge for fourth, but may fall short. 5
Crystal Palace: Recovered from a slow start and are slowly finding their rhythm – especially away from home. Have benefited from the signing of Benteke 7
West Brom: A well-organised side and one that’s hard to beat, while Nacer Chadli has instantly made himself a key man in their forward line. 7
Southampton: Improving all the time under Puel but have all the hallmarks of a side destined for a mid-table finish. Should make Europa League their main focus. 6
Watford: Impressive wins over Man Utd and at West Ham are already two stand-out results, but not the strugglers plenty expected. 7
Leicester: Like Chelsea before them, their champions badge seems to weigh heavy. Should finish mid-table, but clearly enjoying Europe much more. 4 (in PL) and 9 (in CL)
Bournemouth: Continue to hold their own and survival looks like the aim for Eddie Howe’s men. In Callum Wilson, they have a real threat up front. 7
Burnley: What they lack in quality, they try to make up for in effort. Steven Defour is a good signing, but will need luck to stay in the division. 6
Hull: Started incredibly brightly, but that early momentum has fizzled out amid a tough run of fixtures. Shouldn’t be disheartened and can make a decent fist of a survival fight. 7
Middlesbrough: Another promoted side who started pretty well but then found the going hard. Should have enough quality to survive – but anyone who knows Boro knows they never do things the easy way. 7
Swansea: Have underachieved so far and manager Francesco Guidolin has admitted he expects the sack. Three home defeats, albeit against largely tough opponents, have underpinned their struggles. 3
West Ham: Their worst start to a top-flight season since 1988/89 tells its own story and leaves Slaven Bilic sweating on his future. A crime given the talent available. 1
Stoke: Not as bad as results have suggested (Palace away, aside), but the Premier League has been unforgiving to Stoke this term. Will take confidence from Old Trafford trip, despite draw leaving them winless in seven. 3
Sunderland: The loss of Sam Allardyce to England set them on the back foot before a ball was kicked and have not woken from their slumbers yet. Look bereft of ideas and destined for the drop. 1
Agree with our assessment? Join the debate and give us your scores at the bottom of the page….
Liverpool have nothing to fear from United showdown
We now head into the doldrums of the international break, which – despite the mild intrigue Sam Allardyce’s England departure has provoked – already has most looking towards what’s to come once domestic duties resume…..
Saturday October 15 kicks off with Chelsea entertaining Leicester in the lunchtime kick-off, while Manchester City (who host Everton) and Tottenham (who travel to West Brom) will bid to pull clear at the top in the 3pms. Arsenal also have the small matter of facing Swansea – one of their bogey sides – the same day. Lots indeed to look forward to….
However, these all serve as little more than an aperitif for the main course, served on Monday night, when Liverpool host Manchester United in a mouth-watering dish served up at Anfield.
13 – Man Utd have won 13 points from their opening 7 games this season; 3 fewer than at this stage of 2015/16 under Louis van Gaal. Normal. pic.twitter.com/QfYDW49o14
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 2, 2016
The Reds have played just twice at Anfield since their new stand was opened, and having scored nine goals in the process, will go into the match full of confidence and with no reason to fear a Manchester United side, who are already behind their points tally of last season under the much-maligned Louis van Gaal.
Despite calling their draw against Stoke “the best performance of his reign so far”, Mourinho will no doubt be tempted to change his side after their disappointing draw with Stoke. But will Mourinho resist the urge to set up his side to stifle Liverpool? And how will he counter the high-pressing game that Jurgen Klopp’s men favour?
To be honest, I already cannot wait….