Derby Day Drama

The first Premier League game since the International break certainly didn’t disappoint as Liverpool made the one mile journey across Stanley Park to face Everton in the 235th Merseyside derby. The Toffees were in the best position for the best part of a decade to beat Liverpool and it was in fact ten years to the day that they were last victorious in this fixture, with finishes from Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta seeing off the Reds that day. 

Liverpool, however, got off to the best possible start, with Sadio Mane’s close range finish giving them the lead after the first three minutes. The Reds were largely on top in the early stages, but the turning point in the game came on the 11 minute mark. A lofted ball into the Everton box from Fabinho sent both Virgil van Dijk and Jordan Pickford clattering into each other as they both went to claim it. Replays showed, however, that Pickford went in recklessly, diving into the challenge with Liverpool’s centre half forcing van Dijk to leave the field through injury. It was then later revealed that the extent of the injury was far more serious than people had first feared. Damage had been done to the defender’s ACL, meaning he will be left on the sidelines for the majority of the season. As for Pickford, no punitive action was taken against the Everton keeper, either on the field or retrospectively through VAR. The match officials were seemingly distracted by their decision on whether van Dijk was offside as Fabinho’s ball was played in, leaving them with little time to consider the challenge made by England’s number one.

With Liverpool’s star defender off the pitch, Everton weren’t behind for long. A thunderous header from Michael Keane after 20 minutes saw the Toffees back on level terms as the former Burnley man continued his excellent start to the new season. Everton were consistently knocking on the door as the game moved into the second half, but it was Liverpool who took the lead after 72 minutes with Mohammed Salah’s trusty left foot earning him his 100th Liverpool goal. But 10 minutes later Liverpool’s defensive frailties were once again laid bare for all to see as Dominic Calvert-Lewin out-leapt Andy Robertson in dominant fashion, using his head to guide in his 7th goal of the season. The game looked all wrapped up, but a frankly dangerous challenge from Richarlison on Thiago resulted in his sending off, leaving Everton a man short as the game entered stoppage time.

As the final whistle loomed, Thiago was able to brush off his clash with Richarlison, sending a sumptuous no-look pass into the path of Mane. The Senegal international was then able to slide the ball across the area for Jordan Henderson who was able to sweep the ball home. But upon review, the VAR team deemed Mane to be offside, ruling out Liverpool’s late winner. It was difficult, however, to see how Mane was obviously offside or gained an unfair advantage from his positioning. As such, the implementation of VAR received fresh criticism over the weekend, with Liverpool officially requesting a review into why Jordan Pickford’s challenge on van Dijk went unpunished. 

There was still plenty more drama to come on Saturday, however, as Chelsea were once again brutally shown the gap they have to make up before they can seriously start challenging for another league title. Timo Werner’s first league goals for Chelsea saw them take an assured lead within the first half an hour against Southampton, but goals from Danny Ings and Che Adam’s either side of the break pulled the Saints deservedly level. Adams’ finish in particular will be something Frank Lampard will not want to see again. Kurt Zouma failed to put enough on his pass back to Kepa in goal, opening the door for Adams to take the ball around the unconfident goalkeeper and, after a chaotic scramble, thump home with ease. But two minutes after Adams’ strike, Chelsea were back in front thanks to a first league goal for German wonderkid, Kai Havertz. And then in typical fashion for the Blues at the moment, Chelsea failed to clear their lines from a 92nd minute freekick, giving Theo Walcott the opportunity to fire in from the edge of the Chelsea box. His shot took a slight deflection off Jannik Vestergaard, taking it away from the sprawling Kepa in goal and earning Southampton a well deserved point. 

Later on in the day, Manchester City got back to winning ways with a clinical 1-0 victory against Arsenal. The last meeting between Arteta and Guardiola saw the pupil come out on top against his teacher as Arsenal cruised to victory in the semi final of last year’s FA Cup. It was a different story this time around, however, as Raheem Sterling was found in the right place at the right time to slot home following Bernd Leno’s parried save. 

There was also victory for the other side from Manchester, as United bounced back in style following their humiliating 6-1 defeat to Spurs two weeks ago. Despite an early own goal from Luke Shaw, there was some redemption for Harry Maghuire who’s headed goal after 23 minutes was the perfect response to the turbulent two months the England man has had to endure. But it was a nonetheless frustrating evening for United, as they found little joy in trying to unpick Newcsstle’s low block. The breakthrough, however, came in the 86th minute as Bruno Fernandes curled home a gorgeous right footed finish. And once the Portuguese playmaker had found the back of the net, the floodgates opened. Aarson Wan-Bissaka opened his United account in style, firing a thunderous effort past Karl Darlow in goal, while Marcus Rashford was able to score his second goal of the season in the 96th minute. United and Solskjær will be encouraged by the four goals, but they should also be wary of their overreliance of the counter-attack. While each goal was stylish to watch, United carved very little out from any sustained possession play, a fact which will only intensify the question marks regarding Solskjær’s adequacy for the job.

Sensational Hammers Comeback

The game of the weekend was reserved for Sunday evening as two of the Premier League’s in-form teams, Tottenham and West Ham, faced off in a thrilling London derby. Spurs have played in a style that is the antithesis of last season’s negative approach, pressing with an intensity hitherto unseen in Mourinho’s teams of old, and their fast start to Sunday’s game was duly rewarded. Goals from Hueng-Min Son and Harry Kane saw them 3-0 up within the first 16 minutes, and as the half time whistle approached, it was more a question of how many they would end up with. 

But whatever David Moyes said at the break, it clearly worked. West Ham were much improved and set about asking as many questions as they could of their hosts. But it wasn’t until the 82nd minute that the turn around began. A thunderous header from Fabian Balbuena gave them a glimmer of hope, but no one could see what was coming next. Davinson Sanchez was left helpless trying to defend a cross from Vladimír Coufal at the near post, doing his best to put his head in the way of the delivery but only taking it into the far corner, beyond the reach of Hugo Lloris. Gareth Bale, who came on as a substitute to make his much anticipated homecoming, could have sealed the game just before the final whistle as his darting run took him to within touching distance of a memorable return, only for his finish to flash just wide of the post.

But as stoppage time ticked over, West Ham never gave up and they were rewarded for such spirit. Harry Kane and Harry Winks worked well to clear a 96th minute free kick, but it only fell to the right foot of Manuel Lanzini who unleashed an absolute rocket of a shot into the top corner. It was the most sensational end to what was a truly sensational game, earning West Ham the record of the first team to save a game from 3 goals down with 10 minutes left to play in the Premier League.

Later on that evening, Aston Villa were able to maintain their 100% start to the season with victory over Leicester. The game itself was largely uninspiring and threatened to be the first match of the season to end 0-0. But in the 91st minute, Ross Barkley found himself in acres of space in midfield, choosing to drive forward and fire a hammer of a shot past Kasper Schmeichel in goal, breaking Leicester hearts in the process. Their great escape last season has seemingly become a source of inspiration and drive for Villa, with the near miss of relegation serving to galvanise what is an undoubtedly talented squad. But their run of form is also indicative of what could be an all together intriguing season. With those at the top all faltering under the weight of their own expectation and a painfully short pre-season, a little bit of consistency from anyone could see an unlikely title change come to fruition. Just who that will be remains to be seen. 

There were also positives for those further down the table as Sheffield United and Fulham earned their first points of the season. Aleksandar Mitrovic had a torrid afternoon at Bramall Lane as the Serb missed two gilt edged opportunities, a penalty and then gave away one at the other end. Nonetheless, Ademola Lookman — on loan from RB Leipzig— saved his blushes with a startlingly good goal midway through the second half. But Billy Sharp was on hand to save the game for United, converting the penalty that Mitrovic foolishly gave away. 

Finally, Crystal Palace and Brighton reignited their rivalry as the M23 derby ended with honours even at Selhurst Park. Wilf Zaha continued his rich vein of form, scoring the game’s opening goal after 20 minutes, only for Brighton to save the game in the 90th minute through Alexis Mac Allister. The result now leaves Brighton just outside the relegation zone in 16th, while Palace’s toothless display nonetheless sees them earn 13th place. 

Milan Overcome Inter 

AC Milan continued their excellent start to the season by beating their bitter local rivals, Inter, first the time since 2016. The now 39 year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic was the star of the show, scoring twice in the first 16 minutes to earn Milan a well deserved lead. Inter were able to claw one back just before the half hour mark through Romelu Lukaku, but it wasn’t enough to save the result for Antonio Conte’s men. Inter did have their chances, however, with Lukaku coming especially close with the final kick of the game — a backheeled finish that flew through the legs of Alessio Romagnoli only to land in the grateful clutches of Gianluigi Donnarumma in goal. The result means that, after 4 games played, Milan sit 3 points clear at the top of the table. It is the continuation of the great end to last season, which saw them fail to lose any of their final 12 games — winning 9 and drawing 3. It is even more impressive given that current manager, Stefano Pioli,was due to be replaced at the end of last season by former RB Leipzig coach, Ralf Rangnick. But due to his startling run of results, Pioli gave the AC hierarchy no choice but to place their faith in him and he has done more than enough so far to pay them back for it. 

Elsewhere in Europe, there were disappointing defeats for both Real Madrid and Barcelona. Newly promoted Cadiz travelled to Madrid with realistic hopes of avoiding humiliation, but walked away with all 3 points. Despite only playing with 25% possession, the side from the tiny island to the south of Spain recorded more shots on target than Madrid — 5 — from the same number of opportunities — 14 — and their clinical approach was reward. Anthony Lozano’s 16th minute finish was the only goal of the match, but was enough to earn the visitors all three points and secure third place after 6 games played. 

Later on Sunday evening, Barcelona were treated to their own helping of humiliation as they slumped to a 1-0 away win to Getafe. The team from southern Madrid just missed out on European football at the last moment last season, but seem well on their way to mounting a serious push for it once again this year. Their victory on Sunday night was their third this season and sees them move up to second as part of a top four that also includes Granada and Cadiz. Barca, however, have had a difficult start to the season and already find themselves with a lot of ground to make up. Next weekend’s Clasico at home will be a great benchmark for the direction this new side under Ronald Koeman will likely take as the rest of the season unfolds.