Week three of the season saw the first twist in the Premier League title race. Liverpool pulled ahead thanks to their victory over a stubborn Brighton side, while Manchester City were frustrated by newly promoted Wolves.
Chelsea continued to defy predictions that they would struggle this year, grinding out a win at Newcastle to keep them level with Liverpool at the top of the table, while Arsenal finally got off the mark in unconvincing fashion against West Ham.
The drama of this round, though, was undoubtedly at Old Trafford on Monday night. Tottenham reminded everyone of their Premier League contender credentials, in the process dealing a blow to Manchester United’s season from which they may not recover.
Meanwhile, at the bottom, Cardiff and Huddersfield played out a mutually-frustrating draw. There was also more doom and gloom for Southampton fans, who watched their side lose at home to Leicester to increase the early-season pressure on Mark Hughes.
1) Manchester City Are Not Invincible
Liverpool fans know this already of course. Still, it was heartening for the rest of the Premier League contenders to watch the defending champions drop two points against a newly-promoted team, even if Pep Guardiola’s side were a touch unlucky.
Wolves took the lead at the Molineux thanks to a goal from Willy Boly that would surely have been disallowed if the VAR system was in play, as the ball appeared to come off his arm. Inevitably, City laid siege to the Wolves goal, but despite hitting the post three times they could only manage one goal, scored by £57 million signing Aymeric Laporte.
For Wolves, the result will be a minor confidence boost. More usefully, though, it suggests a blueprint for their Premier League survival.
Manager Nuno has talked about sticking to the principles that took his side to the Championship title last season, but they looked out of their depth against battle-hardened opponents in their first two outings. The ability to park the bus and grind out a result might ultimately prove more useful to their survival hopes.
2) The Reds Go Top
As their rivals dropped points in the West Midlands, Liverpool took full advantage by beating Brighton 1-0 at Anfield to top the Premier League table on Saturday night.
That may not mean very much at this stage of the season, but it has a symbolic importance – it is the first time since November 2016 that Liverpool have led the top flight. It also helped to maintain two impressive statistical streaks: an unbeaten record at home that stretches back 16 months, and their 20th Anfield goal without reply, a feat that hasn’t been achieved since 1987-88 (a season in which they claimed their 17th league title).
Mo Salah has also extended a statistical streak of his own, scoring his 29th Anfield goal in 29 starts with a low, curling shot into the far post on 23 minutes. Perhaps of most significance, however, was the manner of Liverpool’s win.
Brighton had a stubborn and relatively effective game plan, and Jurgen Klopp’s side struggled for fluency throughout. But they managed to grind out the result to make it three from three and send a message to their Premier League rivals.
3) United Are In Trouble
It all started so well.
Jose Mourinho named a surprising line up that caught everyone off guard. For the first half hour, the United players harried and chased and pressed in a manner that hadn’t been seen in those parts since you-know-who was in charge.
And then? It all petered out. The carefully assembled structure with which Mourinho hoped to relaunch his beleaguered team began to wobble. By the hour mark, it had been abandoned altogether as first Harry Kane rose to head the opener, and then Lucas Moura made it two.
The warning signs had been there in the first half, when Moura should have been given a penalty following a clumsy tackle by Phil Jones. When United switched to a back four in the second half, the little Brazilian ran them ragged. The home side looked shapeless, listless and vaguely incompetent, and never looked like getting back into it.
After a horrible defeat, it was good to see Mourinho going straight onto the pitch to show Luke Shaw how much he appreciated his performance ❤️pic.twitter.com/qYxJWxAaMn
— The Man Utd Way (@TheManUtdWay) August 28, 2018
At the end of the match, Mourinho made a big show of congratulating Luke Shaw, who did have a good game, then wandered over to the United fans and stood applauding them for a distinctly uncomfortable two minutes. The Old Trafford drama continues, but the sense after this game is that we are nearer the end than the beginning.
4) Emery Revolution Is An Evolution
Arsenal picked up their first Premier League points of the season (at the third attempt) against West Ham. Given that their first two games were against Manchester City and Chelsea, their opening to the campaign can hardly be considered a disaster, particularly as Arsenal fans had already factored in the possibility of a slow start as Unai Emery rebuilds.
That rebuilding clearly still has a way to go. The Emirates Stadium has hosted a few more convincing 3-1 victories than Saturday’s encounter, in which West Ham – who had also had a poor start to the Premier League season – took the lead through Marko Arnautovic. Arsenal managed an equalizer, but they were indebted to Issa Diop, who scored an own goal to give them a 2-1 lead, before Danny Welbeck secured the points late on.
But while they showed plenty of urgency in attack, the Gunners once again offered little in the way of pressing. Despite this, they played with a high defensive line, inviting their opponents to exploit the space behind their back four, as they had done against Chelsea. Turning round the bad defensive habits of the late Wenger era will take longer than expected, it seems.
5) Fulham Up And Running
Fulham’s performance against Tottenham last weekend offered some encouragement, and they fulfilled that promise by becoming the first of the three promoted sides to pick up a win.
Admittedly, Burnley haven’t started this season with their usual granite-veined resolution. Still, they will always pose a tough test for any strike force, so it will have pleased Fulham manager Slavisa Jokanovic greatly that his team were able to breach the Claret back line four times.
The Cottagers led 1-0 and 3-1, but James Tarkowski pulled another back for the visitors just before half time to end a thrilling first half. The second half was less eventful, but Fulham weren’t content to sit on their lead. They continued to play their football, earning their reward when Andre Schurrle sealed the win seven minutes from the end.
6) Sluggish Saints Start Continues
It may be too early to talk about which Premier League manager will be sacked first… but Mark Hughes is probably somewhere towards the top of that list.
Going into Saturday’s game against Leicester, the Saints had won just three of their last 27 Premier League fixtures at St Mary’s. That dismal run was extended with a 2-1 defeat against Leicester, managed by former Southampton boss Claude Puel.
Puel was removed after steering the Saints to eighth in the Premier League table and a League Cup final place, and was clearly delighted to be able to claim three points on his return to the south coast. The win came in stoppage time, courtesy of a powerful shot from Harry Maguire, after Southampton’s Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg had been sent off. Earlier, Demarai Gray had equalised for the Foxes following Ryan Bertrand’s thunderous opener.
Southampton finished 17th last season and that’s where they find themselves three weeks into what has been a distinctly underwhelming campaign so far.
7) An Early Taste Of Relegation
Saturday’s game at the Kirklees Stadium was billed as an early season relegation battle rehearsal. Neither side did much to counter that suggestion in a goalless draw, notable only for Jonathan Hogg’s sending off after he tussled with Cardiff’s Harry Arter.
“It was heat of the battle, you sometimes get lost in the moment.”
Cardiff’s Harry Arter has defended himself after Huddersfield boss David Wagner suggested he had been “clever” for Jonathan Hogg’s red card.
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) August 26, 2018
Hogg’s dismissal, shortly after the hour mark, gave Cardiff a golden opportunity to grab their first Premier League win of the season. They proved unable to take it, and their lack of cutting edge was glaring.
David Wagner managed to steer the Terriers to safety last season and Neil Warnock is known to have a few tricks up his sleeve, but this desperate game did little to dispel the notion that both these teams will be lining up in the Championship next year.
The Race Is On
It’s first blood to Liverpool in what is already shaping up to be a two-horse race for the Premier League title, but they face a tough assignment next week, away at Leicester, while Manchester City have a slightly easier fixture at home to Newcastle.
Chelsea, who also have maximum points, are at home to in-form Bournemouth, while Manchester United face a tricky Lancashire derby at Burnley. Tottenham have a far-from-straightforward tie at Watford, who have also started the season well.
Of the promoted sides, Cardiff will relish the chance to cause an upset against a shaky Arsenal side, while Wolves will fancy their chances at the London Stadium against a struggling West Ham side, and Huddersfield face a tough fixture at Everton.