This is an extremely long post about football. Enter at your own risk.
I’ve watched football matches every day for the past nine days. The English Premier League at the weekend and spilling into Monday, Champion’s League Tuesday and Wednesday, Europa League Thursday, and Premier League again Friday — Sunday. Some of the games were even good.
I’ve been watching a lot of football since I got to Seattle. The season’s in full swing, and it’s one of the few things that’s been keeping me sane. Being unemployed means you’ll spend a lot of time watching TV — especially if you’ve spent some of your limited monetary resources on a ridiculously high definition telly. But it helps pass the time, justify my investment, and I also really enjoy it.
I’ve even started playing again too, at the pickup sessions that happen daily on the local park. I’ve been wanting to get back into playing for some time now, so I was happy I pushed myself to start playing again, even if it is with adults way more skilled and invested than I am.
It may be a bit of a stretch to call what I play “football”, because I’m really bad. I was never especially good when I was much younger and playing regularly, but now I’m out of shape and bad, so if anything I’ve only worsened with age. But I enjoy it! And it’s something to get me off the couch and socializing with other human beings.
I used to write freelance for a soccer blog about Manchester United news, which I enjoyed, but I dropped off as the site was poorly run and the layout was constantly being made worse and worse. Gotta get those ad dollar clicks — even at the expense of the ol’ user experience.
But I miss writing about football. All the drama is my favorite thing about the sport, and NBC Sports does an excellent job playing it all up and pumping it into my various channels of consumption (TV shows, podcasts, news articles, etc). So I decided that as this is my blog, I’d write about it — no commitment, all hot takes *fire emoji* — and not just Man U either. I watch far too much of the sport to stick to just one team.
Almost a quarter of the domestic season has already been played, and I thought it would be fun to do a run through of each team in the league and see how they’ve been getting on.
Starting on a high note, god they’re good. Even as a fan of another team, it’s hard not to appreciate the beautiful game being played at its most alluring. Pep Guardiola orchestrates some truly beautiful football. Every signing the club has made has been excellently integrated, the team is scoring goals for fun, and they’re all playing for each other with a smile on their face. It almost makes it forgivable that the entire club is the plaything of a billionaire from Abu Dhabi.
They’ve yet to play the two other strongest teams in the league this year — Manchester United and Tottenham — but if their performances against Chelsea and Liverpool are anything to go by, the capitulation in form that occurred last year won’t be repeated. They’re deeper, better drilled, and the furthest along of all of the Premier League projects.
Kevin De Bruyne is being called the best player in the world right now. While he’s got a long way to go to join Messi and Ronaldo’s ranks, he is just sublime. His range of passes is utterly delectable, and I could watch a highlight reel of his assists all day. Not to mention he also scores some belting goals. If he can keep up his current form, he’ll be in Ballon D’or conversations very soon.
They’re close, but they’re just not quite there yet. The team has been unlucky with injuries to its two most talismanic players — Pogba, and as much as literally every United fan hates to admit, Fellaini — but even taking those into account, the team still lacks a little dynamism. It’s concerning that Rashford is the current creative spark, albeit in Pogba’s absence, but either the club’s record signing or Mhkitaryan needs to rise to the level of world class influence that Hazard, Sanchez, or De Bruyne are exerting at their respective clubs.
On the bright side though, Lukaku was clearly the perfect buy, with a combination of Premier League readiness and ability to fit seamlessly into the existing squad. Martial is back on the up and up, playing an important role, and with Rooney out and Ibrahimovic yet to come back in, the squad is likely to finish the season even stronger than it started it. A top three finish is achievable and an undeniable improvement over the disappointing positions of every season so far in the post-Sir Alex-era. Perhaps more than anything, United fans will finally be happy with the team playing some entertaining football, even if they don’t win a trophy.
No, Mourinho’s style isn’t always flamboyant, but I’d take a boring, bus-parking performance against Liverpool — a fixture which has been overhyped and underwhelming for the last several years, bear in mind — and 4-0 drubbings against lesser teams over another minute of unambitious Van Gaal or Moyes play.
If Mourinho can keep himself and the squad together, add a left back and a consistently creative right winger *cough* Gareth Bale *cough* over the off-season, they’ll be well equipped to seriously challenge for the title and the Champion’s League for the next several years.
My favorite team to watch have been the best consistently for the past three years. And they can surely only get better once they move into their new stadium, a prospect so attractive that surely none of their young players would want to leave to a “bigger” club this summer, barring a total meltdown?
This team not only plays efficient, exciting football, but they have a stylish, world class defense, and enough young English talent to get even the most pessimistic national team supporter a smidge hopeful. Much like United, you get the sense that they’re lacking a world class player at his peak to win the league, and have been unlucky to miss out to Leicester, Chelsea, and presumably City this year. But with the form Harry Kane is in, could he be it? Or do they need another, feeding him? Erikson on his day is up there, wunderkind Dele’s still improving, and Dembele has been consistently underrated and hampered by injuries. But on paper they’re one of the strongest lineups in the world.
Potchetino is clearly the man for the job, so it’s tough to say where they could improve, but my guess is that, again similar to Man U, they could use a dynamic winger. When Rose fully returns from injury and the full back squadron is once again at full strength with Aurier, Trippier, and Davies all providing a versatile wide presence, it’ll go some way to solving the problem, but Son and Sissoko are certainly the two names in the squad that could be improved upon.
I really want to see Tottenham win a title with this brilliant squad, and I hope they can figure it out before it inevitably breaks apart, with their world class players looking to play for other world class teams while they can.
Retaining a title is hard. Retaining a title when you allow your squad’s strength and depth to lessen is even harder. Chelsea still play some fantastic football, and have quickly gotten back on the right track after a shock slump against Burnley on the opening day, but with more games than last year and a diminished hunger for the title of Premier League champions in the camp, it’s hard to see them overtaking the Manchester clubs this year.
To give them some credit, the team is currently fairly successfully replacing Diego Costa’s goals from other places, with Pedro providing some truly sweet strikes, Morata and Batshuyai both having a point to prove, and Hazard on his way back to full fitness. They added some fantastic talent to the squad over the summer, with Bakayoko, Drinkwater, and Rudiger, but is it enough to replace what they lost in Matic and Costa?
It seems like a transition period for Chelsea, heralded by John Terry’s retirement at the end of last season. Long term servants like Cahill, Fabregas, and David Luis (sort of) are all still operating at an excellent level, but the identity of the squad and the game itself is shifting from when these players came to the club several years ago. Luckily they have a core of outstanding young players and the likes of Victor Moses and Christiansen breaking through, not to mention N’Golo Kante who it seems can take a title with him wherever he goes. The biggest question might be whether they can keep a manager for long enough to create a consistent identity at the club as the game changes.
I deliberately decided not to order this list alphabetically, because I didn’t want to start with Arsenal. What is there to say that hasn’t already been said for the past 10 seasons? Wenger doesn’t know his strongest team, only half the players seem to care, and the club’s entire transfer policy seems to have been accruing enough central midfielders to be able to field a team made up of exclusively them.
Sanchez clearly doesn’t want to be at the club, Ozil is being offered a ludicrous sum of money to renew his contract despite justifiably not being used in the starting 11, and it’s beyond patent that none of the disharmony is going to be solved until Wenger leaves and the club can properly turn a corner. There are a good core of players at the club, enough to win a title, but until a new manager with new ideas comes in, they’re going to continue to be infuriatingly inconsistent and underperforming. Simple.
There is no better club to illustrate the effect a good manager can have. The squad is virtually the same as last year, which finished 17th in the table, but with Marco Silva are currently flying high at 6th place. He couldn’t work a miracle with Hull last season, but he’s getting the perfect opportunity to show his managerial chops this year.
Silva’s clearly the story of the club so far this season, with a string of respectable results for a team that aspires to be a permanent mid-table fixture, and a great win at Arsenal that should give them some confidence in their bigger fixtures along the way — and Troy Deeney subsequently gave us some of the most satisfying trash talk of the modern era.
Their drubbing at the hands of steamrolling City seemed to roll right off them, and despite suffering only their second loss of the season to Chelsea last week, they showed real fight — even going one goal up at one point. It’s a long season that could even out to mediocrity, but if Silva can keep them performing at the same level they’ve started at, they’ll be finishing a lot higher than 17th this season. And that’s really the goal of any club, surely?
The sleeping giant could be about to awaken. Quickly shooting up the table with a series of good results in their last few matches, stability should be the goal of the club this season — in addition to the stability that Rafa Benitez has brought to the pitch. The club is back in the Premier League, where it should be. The sideshow of the owner, Mike Ashley, could finally be over. And with new owners could come the financial backing to play in the upper echelons of the league again — where the club has historically played, and where manager Rafa Benitez is most accustomed to playing.
Since getting his teeth into the club, Benitez has promoted passionate, solid operators to the club’s core, with the likes of Jamal Lascelles and Jonjo Shelvey giving the team the strong spine it needs to compete in the league. Since promotion, they’ve lost just one game, and have conceded less than a goal a game on average — impressive for a squad of Premier League stars, let alone Championship ones.
With the squad the club has, and the inevitable unrest that’ll come with any new transfers over winter with a cash injection, a top ten finish may be a little too ambitious to expect from the magpies, but it’ll be a platform to build from for next year. And with a world class manager in Benitez, who’s proved his loyalty beyond doubt, Newcastle could be another project looking to expand the formerly untouchable top 6 into a veritable top 8.
Newcastle may be defensively solid, but since going under the leadership of Sean Dyche, Burnley have been the defensive unit of the Premier League. So much so that he’s the leading name linked with the Everton job. It took them a few seasons to perfect their formula, but they’re making one solid push for Premier League residency.
The most concerning part for the club, and any smaller fish, is the people that leave it. Andre Grey, the most prominent goal threat last season, joined Watford, and if Dyche does end up leaving to a bigger gig, it’s tough to see another manager getting the same level of performance out of the club’s current roster.
Still, an opening day win against Chelsea, a draw against Liverpool, and a win against Everton shows how unafraid of the Premier League big boys boisterous Burnley are, and how impenetrable the defense can be. The longer the club can stay in the league, and the more seasoned successful players they can bulk the squad with, there’s absolutely opportunity to change “a wet, windy night at Stoke” to “a blustery, battened night at Burnley.”
More like Liverplol. If there’s one thing Jurgen Klopp’s brand of “heavy metal football” guarantees, it’s entertainment, I’ll give him that. Liverpool fans must be doing a lot of head banging at the moment, what with all the mistakes they defense keeps repeating.
To start on the positives, the team looks well set for a deep Champion’s League run, Salah is basically a second Mane, and the club kept Coutinho. The squad is deep, exciting, and great to watch. All of these things could be considered real progress given the club’s trophy drought over the last 10 years (bar one League Cup). The downside is there’s no way they’ll keep Coutinho for another year, because at this rate they won’t make Champion’s League next season.
For all the attacking football in the world, right now Burnley and Newcastle are proving that it doesn’t matter unless you have the defensive side of the game down too. Liverpool currently have to score at least three goals to win a game, because the defense is guaranteed to give up a goal under the slightest pressure.
Once promising Dejan Lovren was hooked before halftime against Spurs last weekend, presumably for thinking he was still playing for old manager Mauricio Pochettino given the assists he made to the opening goals. Matip has yet to make a single impressive play, and to be honest, I forgot Liverpool bought Ragnar Klavan last year he’s been so underused. Worse still, the club completely cocked up what should’ve been a simple purchase of Van Dyke, and sold Sakho, who showed more promise in a few games at Crystal Palace last season than all of Liverpool’s current roster of center backs combined.
With the current squad, a Champions League spot finish looks unlikely. All that being said, it’s still relatively early days in Klopp’s tenure, and the allure of his style of play is undeniable. If he allocates more of his time and budget over the next year to top quality defenders, it’ll be one of the most exciting prospects in European football once more.
Full disclosure, I always really want Southampton to do well. I was born there, and I’ve always respected the club’s ability to not only bring through consistently great academy products, but also to remain competitive, if not stylish, despite being plundered for its top talent each year.
Smart scouting and purchases like Hojbjerg, Clasie, Romeu, and Lemina have given them an increasingly solid, European spine — build on a top notch defense of European Cup winner Cedric, goal-threat Yoshida, Hot Prospect ™ Van Dyke, and veteran Chelsea Champions League winner Bertrand — and the club now feels short of investment and creative attacking elements to become a top ten mainstay.
Redmond, Tadic, Gabbiadini, and Boufal all have moments of brilliance in them, most recently against West Brom, but the club doesn’t have a consistently threatening attacking player. The club deserves more plaudits than it currently gets for not only producing some of the finest talent in European football both on the field and in the dugout, but also the level of competitiveness it’s managed to settle on since rising from the bottom of the Championship, and near bankruptcy, almost ten years ago. But to rise further, it’s going to take a financial step up, and an investment in a creative maestro to dictate the play in the final third. Hey, maybe if Everton get relegated this season, they’ll have one going spare.
And that’s 10! And this is already an obscenely long post, one that nobody else will ever read. I could’ve hidden the text of Mein Kampf in here and nobody would’ve noticed. So I’m not stopping for the sake of the reader, but because on the off chance that somebody should find this, they don’t think I’m completely nuts for writing anything this long without being paid for it.
I’ll write up another 10 to give myself something to do in the next couple of weeks. Hopefully I never end up getting to unleash my tirade on Everton because I get employed and something worthwhile to do with my days ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
We’ll see. Next time, on Lloyd watches too much football!