What We Learned: Matchweek Three
Before I take another look around the Premier League, I wanted to highlight my favorite part of Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Arsenal. I have three sons under 12, the youngest of which has become a passionate Reds supporter. Sports are at their best when they provide lessons valuable to anyone, and Andy Robertson gave us a gem on Monday.
Robbo screwed up on Arsenal’s goal. He and every one around the world knew so immediately. Even world class athletes make mistakes; character is revealed by how you respond to those mistakes. Don’t sulk in the corner; go help your team by fixing the problem. What a response by Andy, and what a great message for young supporters! Now, on to a look around the Premier League.
Three for Three for Three
Monday’s post-match commentary focused on Liverpool’s flying start towards title Number 20, but the Reds have company atop the table. Leicester and Everton also bagged nine points from their first three matches, the former leading the League on goal differential. Do we have enough evidence to call them contenders?
Across Stanley Park, Everton’s marquee signing James Rodriguez has been a strong fit, adding more proof to the value of Carlo Ancelotti as manager. Dominic Calvert-Lewin is tied for the league lead with five goals, and he, Rodriguez and Richarlison form a partnership that should bring the Toffees into the European conversation. Everton have a mid-week Carabao Cup fixture versus West Ham, before Brighton fly north to Goodison on Saturday.
The league’s other five-goal scorer is Jamie Vardy, the central figure in a slightly surprising Leicester revival. Even if they fail to repeat the magic of 2016, the stability Brendan Rodgers has given the Foxes is noteworthy. Last season’s late collapse overshadowed a fifth-place finish that exceeded all preseason expectations. Sunday’s result – a 5-2 thrashing of Manchester City – showed they have moved on from the previous campaign, with Vardy scoring a sublime goal between a pair of successful spot kicks. Leicester’s next two matches – West Ham and Aston Villa – afford them an opportunity to maintain the early momentum.
Everton and Leicester lack the depth needed for a sustained title run, but with Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham all dropping points early, the duo can consider fourth place an attainable goal.
My City of Ruin?
Speaking of dropping points early, we would be foolish to think of Manchester City as anything less than title contenders, but when you surrender the most goals ever by a Pep Guardiola-coached side, questions are inevitable. Injuries to Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus leave the Citizens hobbled at one end; shoddy defending leaves them puzzled at the other. Enter Ruben Dias from Benfica, Pep’s latest big money move to shore up the back line. Will the 23-year-old Portuguese solve the problems that plagued City’s bid for League and European glory last year? Rambunctious Leeds may answer that question on Saturday.
VAR = Very Asinine Replays
The dominant theme of the weekend? Handballs + VAR = outrage. Just searching for related articles left me exhausted. Controversies were central to Manchester United’s wild victory at Brighton; Newcastle’s last gasp draw against Tottenham (The Special One was as gracious as you might expect); and Everton’s win over Palace.
VAR was installed to correct egregious mistakes, not to offer Zapruder film evidence when a ball grazes the upper interior of a defender’s armpit. While eliminating subjectivity from video reviews is well-intentioned, replay decisions are leaving fans saying “Technically that’s a hand ball, but come on!”
Offering officials leeway to judge a defender’s intent when a ball strikes an arm or hand would solve some controversies, while introducing others. Smarter minds than mine will need to address the issue, as supporters are tired of talking about VAR. There is a role for technology that solves blatant officiating mistakes, but I would not complain if we settled for goal line reviews and ditched the rest.