10 THINGS WE LEARNED as the Premier League returned to our screens
The long, two-week slog of the international break often leaves us itching for some much-needed top flight action and the return of the Premier League was more than welcome as we were treated to two epic title clashes.
Liverpool‘s injuries problems have defied belief this season but Jurgen Klopp‘s side showed off their strength in depth on Sunday evening.
No defenders, no problem as they swept Leicester aside 3-0 at Anfield despite missing Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold. The physio room at the club’s new training ground must be running out of beds at this rate but Klopp’s valiant understudies have surely given him fewer restless nights – for now.
Tottenham made a big statement too – a Mourinho masterclass helping to brush off the challenge of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City with a 2-0 victory that sends them top of the league for the first time after nine games since 1985.
And there was drama at the bottom – with Fulham suffering more misery from the penalty spot while Sheffield United continue to sink towards the Championship.
Sportsmail wades through the biggest talking points from an action-packed weekend with ten things we learned from the Premier League.
The Premier League offered many talking points after returning from the international break
Is Diogo Jota the signing of the season?
It’s fair to say Liverpool’s £41million purchase of Wolves forward Diogo Jota caused a bit of scepticism in Merseyside. A good player who has chipped in well – but isn’t that quite a lot of money for a player whose stats seem pretty unremarkable?
How wrong many of us were to see this deal as an expensive cover option – the Portuguese star has shown himself to be indispensable for the Reds after eight goals from 12 games.
He gave the fragile Reds a vital two-goal cushion at the end of the first half with a beautiful glanced header from Andy Robertson’s cross that he powered beyond Schmeichel to deflate the away side.
Diogo Jota continues to impress after finding the net in the 3-0 win over Leicester City
Jota doesn’t just score goals – the goals he scores feel important – especially at a time when Liverpool need all the help they can get from players who wouldn’t necessarily be automatic starters.
With no Mohamed Salah, Thiago or Jordan Henderson, it was up to the 23-year-old to inspire the team as he led the line with Roberto Firmino. There was talk before the game of which player would lead the line but Klopp plumped for both forwards and it more than paid off.
But with Salah now negative, you’d have to bank on Firmino losing his place to Jota – particularly given his noted struggles in front of goal.
The Portuguese star will make it difficult for Jurgen Klopp to drop him when he has a full side
Time for Tottenham fans to get carried away
Remaining calm is not something that happens all too often over in north London – so don’t expect too much silence from Spurs fans after they finished a Premier League weekend at the summit for the first time since August 2014.
The game in question – a 4-0 win over QPR in Mauricio Pochettino’s second game in charge would have likely been met with sarcastic celebrations. But now, nine games into the current season, you can bet there will be a shift in mood after a comfortable 2-0 win over four-time Premier League champions Manchester City.
Tottenham supporters are often teased by rivals fans for making DVDs to commemorate famous wins, while Jose Mourinho’s celebration of a 1-1 draw at Crystal Palace that guaranteed Europa League football was widely mocked too.
But to be fair to Mourinho’s men – four league wins in a row with the second highest goals scored in a season where they’ve already beaten United and City – they have to be taken seriously.
Tottenham’s win over Man City took them top and will lead to nods for the Premier League title
Spurs are a way off being leading contenders but that won’t stop fans getting carried away
It’s far too early to be talking them up as champions, but if the Lilywhites are still hanging onto top spot on Christmas Day then we can start having that conversation.
The team certainly have the weaponry for a title charge. Harry Kane continued his transformation into a false 9 with another commanding performance as he bagged an assist for Giovani Lo Celso’s strike. Meanwhile, Son Heung-Min, who scored a brilliant opener, shows no signs of slowing down as he netted his ninth of the season.
Watching late collapses against Newcastle and West Ham earlier this season would have given the impression that we have a ‘same old Tottenham’ on our hands, but in the four games since their calamitous 3-3 draw with the Hammers, they’ve let in just one goal.
That’s more like a Jose Mourinho team – and if they can keep up the quality at both ends, there’s no reason they can’t be challenging next summer.
Arsenal STILL can’t find their shooting boots
Further down the road, there’s something of a storm brewing at the Emirates. Is it right to call it a crisis or is languishing in mid-table just something we should expect from the Gunners now?
From the high of winning the FA Cup and Community Shield back-to-back and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang penning new terms, it was all set up for Arsenal to push on this season. But in an area where they looked so strong – it’s all gone a bit pear-shaped.
Mikel Arteta admitted he is ‘worried’ about their recent struggles in front of goal after a 0-0 stalemate against Leeds. Failing to score in four of their last five games would concern most top flight bosses, and the bizarre dip in form of his skipper Aubameyang is similarly mystifying.
Arsenal’s woes in front of goal continued against Leeds with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang failing to add to his two league strikes
Just two goals for the Gabon international, while Willian, a free transfer from Chelsea, is yet to get off the mark. Alexandre Lacazette is actually Arsenal’s top scorer with three goals, even if they all came at the start of the season. He was an unused substitute at Elland Road – is it time to give him a proper run in the team?
Arteta stressed how the ability to finish off chances and be ‘ruthless’ is the hallmark of a top team. They might have conceded the second-fewest with ten, but just nine scored at the other end is simply not good enough.
They’ve been outscored by Brighton, Newcastle and Leeds – even lowly Fulham have the same amount of goals. Still just three points off the top six, it’s not too late to switch things up, but Arteta must help his misfiring group rediscover their touch quickly.
Mikel Arteta admitted his side’s lack of firepower was concerning and work with his squad
Loftus-Cheek could be Fulham’s saviour
Another defeat for Fulham, another scandalous penalty miss, some more chaotic defending at the back – but is there finally a glimmer of hope?
Scott Parker left on-loan Chelsea midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek on the bench for the 3-2 defeat to Everton but brought him on for the last half an hour. With his side 3-1 down, why not give him a chance to strut his stuff with minimal pressure.
What an impact. He hadn’t been on for long when he surged towards the Toffees box, playing a great one-two with Aleksandar Mitrovic before being tripped over in the area to win a penalty.
And you could argue he should have stepped up and slotted it given what Ivan Cavaleiro produced moments later – skying the ball over the bar after slipping and kicking his other foot.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek offered Fulham a new dimension against Everton and could be vital
No bother though, Loftus-Cheek was at it again as he found himself in a great attacking position and was on hand to bundle home from Ademola Lookman’s cross to give Fulham hope. That was all he could give them on this occasion as Carlo Ancelotti’s men hung on for the win.
But going forward, Parker may be inclined to utilise the 24-year-old more often after being left impressed by his energy – but warned him that he cannot afford to switch off in games if he wants to be in the starting XI.
‘I thought he was brilliant,’ he said. ‘Ruben came in and we’ve worked really hard together, in terms of the information I’m trying to give him and how he can have a big impact on the pitch.
‘Sometimes I feel as if Ruben has a tendency for games to drift by him, and today was everything that we spoke about with him. He came on and made a real difference. He looked every bit of a top, top player.’
Mendy is unbeatable
Chelsea’s £20m signing from Rennes will soon earn the nickname Gandalf – because he doesn’t seem to let anyone past him. Frank Lampard’s goalkeeping nightmare is finally over, but he couldn’t have imagined that Mendy’s arrival would go this well.
His clean sheet in their 2-0 win over Newcastle was his seventh in nine games – astonishing. In the Premier League he has only been beaten once, which turned out to be a consolation for Sheffield United in a 4-1 win.
Eduoard Mendy secured a seventh clean sheet in nine games since signing for Chelsea
He has brought calm to a Chelsea defence that was regularly at sixes and sevens before he turned up. Being forced to choose between Kepa Arrizabalaga and Willy Caballero was proving to be a lose-lose situation for Lampard but a difference it makes to have a sturdy shot stopper.
Thanks to an own goal from Federico Fernandez and a Tammy Abraham strike, Chelsea are up to third and have conceded the joint-second fewest in the league. They’ve come quite a way since the days of drawing 3-3 against Southampton and West Brom.
Cool between the sticks and cool off the pitch, according to Lampard. The Blues boss said it was his personality in the dressing room and laid back attitude that clinched their decision to sign him and that’s exactly what he’s brought.
The Senegal star is bringing confidence to the entire back line and aiding Chelsea’s title tilt
Thiago Silva looked shaky at first since signing from PSG but now looks to have benefitted from that confidence and foundation, as has Kurt Zouma. Even Antonio Rudiger was able to slot in and keep things tidy in his first start of the season.
The basis of a Premier League title winner is a solid back line. Chelsea have splashed out on glamorous forwards Kai Havertz and Timo Werner but it could be Mendy that proves to be their most crucial acquisition.
No home comforts for United
You have to give it to Manchester United – they get results when they have to, but they really did squeak by at Old Trafford against struggling West Brom on Saturday, and their home comforts have been anything but that.
There would be no surprises if the Baggies had walked away from the Theatre of Dreams with a result, and United had lady luck to thank after the away side were denied what looked to be a perfectly good spot kick.
Bruno Fernandes clumsily sent Conor Gallagher tumbling in the second half, but referee David Coote opted to overturn his own decision. Ten minutes later, United go up the other end get a penalty of their own – which was missed by Fernandes before scoring a re-take.
Manchester United rode their luck as they sneaked a 1-0 win at home to West Bromwich Albion
West Brom had so many opportunities and a better side would have put United to the sword. Edging to victory from the spot means the Red Devils have still gone two months without scoring at home from open play.
And Fernandes’ strike was their first at Old Trafford in 324 minutes – since (you guessed it) another penalty in their 6-1 thrashing against Tottenham.
Given their options in attack and the quality they possess, it’s strange to see United struggle in front of goal and coast through games at home – especially as they seem to have no problems converting away from home.
Pep needs patience
A look at the league table doesn’t provide much inspiration at all for Pep Guardiola nor the Manchester City faithful. Nor does the damning stat that this is their worst start to a Premier League season since 2008-09, with their ten goals scored the lowest since 2006-07.
Coming into the game against Tottenham, there was supposed to be a feeling of optimism with the Spanish boss finally ending months of uncertainty by pledging his future to the club, but lacklustre is the word to describe their display in their 2-0 defeat to Spurs, who now sit where they strive to be.
Manchester City have made a poor start to the season under Pep Guardiola, but the Spaniard should stick to his guns and results will come
City have known nothing but title races since Guardiola arrived at the Etihad but after the ill feeling of losing to Lyon in the Champions League quarter-finals last season, the next chapter of his reign has been met with a similar bad taste – but he shouldn’t lose hope altogether.
If he had a fully fit Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero to call upon, this might have been a different result. City had plenty of possession – 66 per cent to be precise – and a handful of openings but didn’t test Hugo Lloris too many times.
Spurs have proven to be City’s bogey side of late – they’ve had 41 shots against in their last two games but failed to score. But with some winnable matches ahead of them and a game in hand to play, Guardiola needs to refrain from trying to experiment with his side. If City keep playing their usual game then the results should come.
Moyes can lead West Ham to Europe
Perennial flirters with relegation, you really feared for West Ham after back-to-back losses to open up the season, but full credit has to go to David Moyes for leading a renaissance and making the players believe again.
Believing they could win 3-0 at high-flying Leicester City. Believing they could get something despite going 3-0 down to a very talented Tottenham team. And then when they needed to – grinding out results against teams fighting for their lives in Fulham and Sheffield United.
West Ham are a rejuventated team under David Moyes and could make a push for Europe
It required a thunderbolt from Sebastian Haller, but that win over the Blades takes the Hammers to eighth in the table – just four points off fourth. Last season it was their opponents Sheffield United pushing for a place in Europe, but with them nailed to the basement and Wolves inconsistent too, this is the perfect opportunity for West Ham to fill the void.
The last time West Ham qualified for the Europa League was in 2016-17 after finishing an impressive seventh the previous year, but there’s been disappointments and relegation battles ever since.
There’s a feel good feeling at the London Stadium at present, even though many were left baffled by the club re-appointing Moyes, who has plenty of experience in the back of securing top six finishes with Everton.
Pitch-side monitors play a big role
We asked for it, we got it. Last year referees were told to use pitch-side monitors ‘sparingly’ – which translated to ‘never’.
And after clamour from clubs, managers and pundits to take a second look at contentious incidents, we’ve finally seen more officials jogging over to the sidelines for a quick glance.
This weekend the screens played a significant part in three games, but in one instance the decision made started the debate over whether some calls are just another man’s opinion.
West Brom were outraged to have their penalty rescinded after Bruno Fernandes looked to have felled Conor Gallagher in the box – and there did look to be contract, so David Coote backtracking on his decision was a surprise.
Referees are making more use of pitchside monitors but not always with a happy outcome
He arguably didn’t even need to look at the monitor – as Stockley Park could have reliably informed him that Gallagher was impeded.
And at Villa Park the technology proved divisive too as the hosts had their own spot kick overturned in the dying embers after Solly March was deemed to have fouled Trezeguet before Michael Oliver had a change of heart.
Elsewhere there was some smart use of the monitor Nicolas Pepe was given his marching orders after a closer look following a petulant headbutt on Leeds star Ezgjan Alioski in the second half of their 0-0 draw.
Bad omens for the Blades
Chris Wilder’s men have now become the third team to pick up just one point from their first nine games after their 1-0 loss to West Ham. The first was Manchester City in 1995-1996, the second was rivals Sheffield Wednesday 1999-2000. No prizes for guessing that they were both relegated.
So what has happened to the Blades? They finished ninth in their first season in the top flight, not many points off a spot in Europe, racking up some impressive results against some top teams and conceding just 39 goals.
Sheffield United risk joining some of the worst teams in history after one point in nine games
They were revered for their fluid, attacking football but now look helpless after their eighth defeat in nine games – leaking 15 goals in the process and scoring only four.
Was it a bad pre-season? The loss of Dean Henderson? Failure to invest smartly? They spent £23.5m on Liverpool’s Rhian Brewster and he’s failed to break his duck.
It’s unlikely the club would opt to part with Wilder just yet given the massive success he has brought to Bramall Lane, but it does look a desperate situation. If the boss can’t work out what his main problems are, he might find himself only battling to beat Derby’s record-lowest points total (11) in 2007-08.