25-Goal Super Sunday 

Sunday 4th October 2020 proved to be either one of the most entertaining or humiliating days in the Premier League in recent memory, depending on who you were supporting. The most obvious place to start is the last game of the weekend, where Aston Villa hosted a Liverpool side who had been so convincing in their dismissal of Arsenal on Monday night that many had wondered whether this season was even going to be a contest. But by a combination of Liverpool’s clear lack of intensity and Villa’s supremely executed game plan, the side from the West Midlands totally dismantled the English champions to the tune of a 7-2 scoreline. Villa were already on top after 4 minutes as Ollie Watkins forced Adrian into a pitiful pass back to Joe Gomez. Villa’s new £28 million striker was then able to take advantage of the goalkeeper’s error and slot home from barely a yard out. Watkins was back at it 18 minutes later, taking advantage of Liverpool’s high line to torment Gomez down Liverpool’s right flank, before cutting inside and smashing home a thunderbolt of a shot past Adrian. Liverpool gave everyone the impression the comeback was on, however, when Mo Salah was on hand to hammer home his first ever goal against Villa, only for John McGinn to grab a third for Villa two minutes later after his edge of the box shot was deflected off of van Dijk. And Liverpool’s misery wasn’t finished there. Another ludicrous highline from the Reds, this time at a free kick, was again punished by Villa as Barkley’s tempting delivery swung in behind Liverpool’s backline, finding Trezeguet at the back post who swept it back across goal with Watkins again on hand to header home a perfect first half hat-trick. 

If the first half had exposed the faults in Liverpool’s high line, then they didn’t learn their lesson because the only change the Reds made for the second half was to replace Naby Keita with Takumi Minamino. Villa took full advantage of this hubris, with Ross Barkley adding Villa’s fifth after 55 minutes. Salah did grab his second of the match, making the most of Villa’s own defensive openness, but 5 minutes after that, Villa had restored their 4 goal cushion through Jack Grealish. The Villa captain was on hand again to add Villa’s seventh as he latched onto a McGinn through ball and found himself one on one with Adrian all the way from the halfway line. His finish was symptomatic of the confidence that Villa are playing with now, clipping the ball past the hapless Arian’s flailing right hand. With the extra defensive solidity added to the side in the shape of Matty Cash at right back, the drive in midfield as Ross Barkley looks to get his career restarted and the natural goalscoring talents of Ollie Watkins up front, Villa couldn’t look more different from the side that survived by the skin of their teeth last season. For Liverpool, however, the international break and the chance to regroup couldn’t come sooner. The next two weeks of planning will be crucial for the rest of the season as they look to find a Plan B that won’t be as casually exposed as Plan A was on Sunday night.

Liverpool’s humiliation wasn’t the only shock on Sunday, as Manchester United were beaten 6-2 at home by Spurs. In fact, it’s relatively impressive that Liverpool were able to go one better in this regard than their fierce rivals, considering the level of disgrace Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s men walked off to at full time. United had seemed to have started well, with Bruno Fernandes converting a penalty within the first 2 minutes to give United a lead over Spurs and their former manager, Jose Mourinho. However, it was the Special One who was laughing after the first 45 minutes as a goal for Tanguy Ndombele, Harry Kane and two for Heung Min Son along with a red card for Anthony Martial had left Spurs 4-1 up at half time against 10-men. Martial will feel particularly aggrieved following his sending off because, while he had petulantly slapped Erik Lamela in the face before a corner, the Spurs attacker had initially put an elbow into Martial’s neck and made the most of the minimal contact the Frenchman had given him in retaliation. Nonetheless, in the age of VAR, he couldn’t have imagined that such an indiscretion would have gone unpunished. But even before that red card, Spurs had the game wrapped up at 2-1 with United showing none of the patience nor organisation to get back into the game. 

Goals from Serge Aurier and Harry Kane in the second half sealed a truly memorable win for the Lilywhites, and one that broke several records along the way as they became the first side to score four first-half goals against United since Nottingham Forest in 1990. The finger pointing has already begun with many in the media claiming that this latest defeat is all the proof anyone needs that Solskjær is nowhere near good enough to hold down a job this high profile. But if Solskjær’s deficiencies were on full display on Monday night, then they only served to highlight the prowess of Mourinho who will particularly relish the ability to prove his and Tottenham’s worth in such a humiliating fashion over his former employers.

Despite Liverpool’s and United’s annihilations coming in the final two games of the day, there had still been plenty to talk about throughout all of Sunday’s games. In a packed Sunday schedule that played host to six games, Leicester City got the action under way as they hosted West Ham in one of the two early kick-offs. Leicester were riding high after their 5-2 dismantling of Manchester City last weekend, but their bubble was well and truly burst by a superb West Ham side who beat an opponent starting the day in the top two for the first time since May 2017. West Ham got the scoring underway following a bit of quick thinking from Antonio that eventually saw him plant his head on the end of Aaron Cresswell’s cross, but it was Pablo Fornals’ finish and West Ham’s second that was the pick of the bunch. A hoofed clearance from Cresswell sailed over the halfway line and fell at the feet of Fornals who controlled brilliantly and charged forward towards the defenceless Kasper Schmeichel in goal. Fornals’ finish was calmly executed and continued a dominant display from the Hammers who finished the game off 7 minutes from time through the left foot of Jarrod Bowen. 

In the other early kick-off, Southampton maintained West Brom’s dismal return to the top flight as they beat the Baggies 2-0 at St Mary’s, courtesy of goals from Moussa Djenepo and Oriol Romeu. West Brom now sit in 17th with just one point to their name, while the Saints moved up to 11th. Arsenal banished the ghosts of Monday’s loss to Liverpool with a fine win over Sheffield United. A first goal at the Emirates for Bukayo Saka followed 3 minutes later by a Nicolas Pepe finish sealed the deal for the Gunners, despite a late strike from David McGoldrick. Arsenal now sit in the relatively comfortable position of 4th, while Sheffield United are in real trouble, winless in four and with only one goal to their name, last season couldn’t look more distant if they tried. Finally, Wolves were able to banish a few bad memories of their own as they sought to bounce back from last weekend’s 4-0 trouncing at the hands of West Ham. The team from the Black Country took on a Fulham side who have looked naïve and ill-prepared since making their immediate return to the Premier League, and their lack of confidence showed as they were beaten 1-0 courtesy of a 56th minute Pedro Neto goal. The loss now leaves the Cottagers bottom of the pile having already conceded 11 goals from only four games. 

Everton’s Best Start Since 1894 

If all was going wrong on the Red side of Stanley Park this weekend, then the opposite could be said for those on the Blue side as Everton’s mini-renaissance under Carlo Ancelloti continued with a fourth victory in four, this time against Brighton. Dominic Calvert-Lewin opened the scoring on the 16th minute with yet another header, making that his 6th goal this season. Everton were able to equalise 5 minutes before half-time through Neal Maupay, but in time added onto the first half, Yerry Mina’s powerful header restored the Toffee’s lead just before the break. A second and third goal of the season for James Rodriguez sealed the win for Everton in the second half, despite a thunderous volley from Yves Bissouma in the 92nd minute to reduce the deficit to just 2 goals. Everton now sit pretty at the top of the table and, taking into account their recent League Cup victories, it now means that is their best start to a new season since 1894 and, in any other week, that would probably be the story of the weekend. Brighton, however, find themselves in 15th, far lower than their football would suggest, with the Seagulls rarely finding much luck in their opening four fixtures. As the season progresses, this should change, and the full extent of Graham Potter’s influence should be on full view soon.

There was also a convincing win for Chelsea against Crystal Palace, with the side from west London beating those from south of the river 4-0. It was a lacklustre first half from Chelsea, who went into the break with the game locked at 0-0. But whatever Frank Lampard said to them at half-time clearly worked because they came at Palace full throttle in the second 45 minutes. A debut home goal for Ben Chilwell and a headed second from Kurt Zouma – assisted by the England left-back – gave Chelsea a comfortable lead after the 66 minutes, only for two calmly slotted penalties from Jorginho to seal the deal. Chelsea’s victory sees them prove the doubters wrong following their unconvincing draw away at West Brom last week, while Palace will be left feeling somewhat aggrieved as their mixed bag of results thus far this season is not entirely reflective of their decent footballing performances.

There was a meeting of minds in Saturday’s third game as Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United welcomed Pep Guadiola’s Manchester City to Elland Road. Guardiola has long been an advocate of Bielsa, regularly describing him as a huge managerial inspiration to him. “He is probably the person I admire the most in world football – as a manager and as a person,” the Spaniard said in his pre-match press conference on Friday. “He is the most authentic manager in terms of how he conducts his teams. He is unique. Nobody can imitate him, it’s impossible,” he went on. Guardiola then paid Bielsa as much respect on the pitch by setting his team to go at the Leeds backline right from the off and it wasn’t long before City had the breakthrough, as Raheem Sterling bent a superb effort past Illan Meslier in the Leeds goal after 17 minutes. Leeds struggled to get out of their own half in the first 45 minutes of the game, with the side from West Yorkshire limited to chances on the break. But come the second half, all that had changed, as the pressure was instead piled on top of City and Leeds had their due rewards. Rodrigo Moreno took full advantage of Ederson’s poor reading of a cross to poke into an unguarded net from just a few yards out The Spaniard caused City yet more problems as his powerful header was supremely palmed onto the bar from the exceptional Brazilian goalkeeper. The game would end level, the only draw of the weekend, but served as a reminder of the excellent football Bielsa’s men are set to play this year. 

The final game on Saturday was between Newcastle and Burnley. Newcastle were looking to get past their poor performance in last weekend’s draw to Tottenham, a game they really should have lost were it not for some VAR controversy. And that’s exactly what they did as they outperformed Burnley in almost every area of the pitch. Goals from Allan Saint-Maximin and Callum Wilson were all that Newcastle needed to expose the differences between Newcastle’s well invested squad and Burnley’s injury-hit set up. A 60th minute equaliser from Ashley Westwood gave the Clarets some hope, but following their eventual loss at St James Park, they have lost three in three and are well and truly in a bit of bother. 

European Round Up 

Bayern Munich survived one hell of a scare on Sunday night as they just about squeezed past Hertha Berlin, beating the side from the capital 4-3 in the final few minutes of the game. Bayern had dominated the first half of the game and were 1-0 up before half-time through Robert Lewandowski. The irrepressible Pole grabbed himself in the first 5 minutes of the second half, only for John Cordoba to power a bullet header past Manuel Neuer just 8 minutes later. Hertha were back on level terms 10 minutes after that as Matheus Cunha forced his way through the Bayern defence to tuck home a tidy finish to bring the scores to 2-2. But Lewandowski looked to have sealed it with 5 minutes to play as the new UEFA Men’s Player of the Year rounded off yet another hat-trick to make the scores 3-2. Jessic Ngankan had other ideas though, coming off the bench to power home another header past Neuer. All Hertha had to do now was hold on, but as a cross was flighted into their box on the 92nd minute, Maximilian Mittelstädt hauled Lewandowski to the ground, earning the Bavarians a penalty that the Pole duly dispatched in the final moments of the game. 

There were other big results throughout Europe over the weekend. Manuel Baum saw over his first game as Schalke boss in an away fixture to RB Leipzig and last season’s high fliers paid him little sympathy, casting aside his Schalke team 4-0. Dortmund got their second win of the season with a 4-0 victory over Freiburg, while Union Berlin were on the right side of their own 4-0 thumping, beating Mainz on Friday night. 

There were victories for AC Milan and Atalanta in Serie A as the two sides remain the only teams to have a 100% record after three games in the Italian top flight, while Juventus’s game against Napoli was postponed due to several of the Napoli squad testing positive for COVID-19. 

In La Liga, Real Sociedad continued their solid start to the season with a resounding 3-0 win against Getafe, while Villarreal maintained their position in the top four by holding Atletico Madrid to a 0-0 draw. Barcelona’s start to life under Ronald Koeman hit it’s first roadblock this week as they drew 1-1 to Sevilla on Sunday night, while fierce rivals, Real Madrid, solidified their one point lead at the top of the table with an assertive 2-0 win away to Levante.