What We Learned: Matchweek Seven
It is hard to type this one up without a big smile on my face. Liverpool pulled off a comeback victory while other title hopefuls suffered crushing losses. Manchester City comfortably won, but looked unimpressive doing so. Old Trafford is in shambles. All in all, it was a wonderful weekend to be a Red. But enough bragging, let’s get into what we learned after matchweek seven.
Nat-hing is Wrong (For Now)
Let me get the Liverpool take out of the way. What a brilliant debut Premier League debut for a man who has struggled to find his way out of the academy and into Jurgen Klopp’s regular plans. Called upon in the midst of an injury crisis in the back, 23-year-old Nat Phillips was arguably the best player on the pitch and even got the Man of the Match award to show for it.
Despite Rhys Williams’ showing midweek against FC Midtjylland, it was Nat that got the nod. Other than one gaff he made passing the ball directly to the opposition, he was a dominating presence alongside Joe Gomez. More teams are playing direct football to put pressure on our makeshift defense, but West Ham were completely denied in the air by Nat.
The Hammers were able to get one past the duo of Gomez and Nat with a brilliant finish by Pablo Fornals, but that is more due to the midfield’s failure to track back.
Of course, I do not want to get ahead of myself with plaudits for Nat. It was an impressive outing, but it was also against mid-table West Ham. Next week’s trip to the Etihad may end up being a baptism by fire for Nat, unless Klopp switches it up again. For now, though, it was refreshing to see confidence in the back in the wake of Virgil Van Dijk and Fabinho’s injuries.
Title Rivals Rise and Title Rivals Fall
Everton fell for the second week in a row, losing 2-1 to Newcastle. The Toffees were nowhere near their best, failing to create chances for large potions of the game. Despite seeing a lion’s share of the possession, Everton couldn’t convert the sparse chances they had into goals. One could argue the absence of James Rodriguez, Richarlison, and Lucas Digne are to blame for the lack of creativity, but championship contenders typically tough through this kind of setback.
Elsewhere, high-flying Aston Villa also suffered their second loss in consecutive weeks. Villa dominated large portions of the match and peppered the Southampton goal with attempt after attempt, but ultimately fell 4-3. Late goals in stoppage time from Ollie Watkins and Jack Grealish made it interesting, but there was not enough time to find an equalizer.
I have no intention of discrediting Everton’s and Villa’s early season accomplishments, but the Premier League is a marathon, not a sprint. Everton has had a far thinner schedule compared to the heavy hitters of the league. There are still plenty of matches left to play, but I would not be surprised to see these two clubs finish outside the top four.
Missing: Manchester United
The Red Devils were absolutely toothless against Arsenal on Sunday. It was a horror show a day after Halloween at Old Trafford, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men simply looked as if they had no desire to win. Even with a packed midfield with talents such as Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba, United struggled to take control of the game at any point, failing to open the Arsenal defense and instead backed down to their constant pressure.
The diamond formation was too narrow and Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw offered very little up the sides, instead opting to stay back on defense. Without any width to their play, Pogba was absolutely neutered as one of the wide midfielders in the diamond. With more losses than wins on the season, the clock is ticking louder than ever for Solskjaer.