Jurgen Klopp will be smiling and Pep Guardiola quietly satisfied… but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Frank Lampard have plenty of worries as bosses take stock over the international break
- First international break of the season has given managers chance to think
- Jurgen Klopp will be thrilled with Liverpool near-flawless start to the season
- Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola can be satisfied with first few matches
- But Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Frank Lampard have plenty to ponder
- Unai Emery will be worried about his defence, Pochettino by indifferent form
We may only be four matches into the Premier League season but the first international break still offers managers the chance to take stock of what has transpired so far and plan ahead.
It’s a fortnight of relative peace and quiet to think about tactical tweaks based on the evidence of the opening weeks before putting these plans into action when the players return from international duty.
The managers of the established top six will have reached the international break in differing moods about what they’ve seen so far.
Position: 1st (four wins from four); Next fixture: Newcastle United (H) on Saturday
Having come within a whisker of ending their long wait for a league title in May, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool have clearly set out with the intention of going one better this time around.
Four wins from four – not to mention victory over Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup – meant Klopp bounded into the international break (and a holiday in Greece) in a very contented mood.
Jurgen Klopp has every reason to be smiling after Liverpool’s flawless start to the league
There has been a pleasing fluency about Liverpool in their performances so far and in extending their winning league run to 13 matches, the European champions have clearly picked up where they left off last season.
The victories meant Klopp was even able to turn Sadio Mane’s angry reaction after being substituted in the 3-0 win at Burnley into a positive.
Mane was frustrated after strike partner Mohamed Salah failed to pass to him when in a better goalscoring position and was animated when taken off with five minutes left.
Klopp laughed off the incident and suggested that Mane’s response was just indicative of the hunger within the team to win the league.
Sadio Mane was left frustrated after being taken off in Liverpool’s 3-0 win at Burnley
The only real concerns came in the 2-1 win at Southampton when stand-in goalkeeper Adrian made a mistake to allow the Saints back into the match.
The good news for Liverpool is that their regular keeper Alisson, who was such a calming influence last season, is stepping up his recovery following a calf injury suffered in the opening night win over Norwich.
A return for Naby Keita from his groin injury is also on the horizon which will bolster midfield options once the Champions League group stage gets underway.
Klopp is always concerned the internationals will throw up further injury headaches but, so far at least, this hasn’t happened.
And with Liverpool looking highly impressive, Klopp’s dazzling smile will no doubt be seen regularly in the weeks and months to come.
Keeper Adrian, standing in for the injured Alisson, made a slip-up in the match at Southampton
Position: 2nd (three wins from four); Next fixture: Norwich City (A) on Saturday
You do wonder how Manchester City can improve on the near-perfection of last season’s title win but Pep Guardiola will give it a good go.
The main theme in the opening four matches of the season has been goals – they’ve scored 14 times already this season, two more than Liverpool.
If they continue this average of 3.5 per game until May, they’ll rack up 133 goals in the league alone.
Pep Guardiola can be largely satisfied by the way Man City have started their title defence
But that would be to get carried away. While City have been rampant against West Ham, Bournemouth and Brighton, they came unstuck in their 2-2 draw with Tottenham, their only dropped points so far.
Ironically, it was City’s lack of a clinical edge that cost them that day as they created 17 chances and penned Spurs back for long periods.
And Guardiola was left furious when Kyle Walker shoved Raheem Sterling inside the Spurs box seconds before Son Heung-min scored to earn Spurs a point.
City have been banging in the early season goals, with 14 scored so far in four league matches
Otherwise City have been pretty much flawless and Guardiola will be satisfied they’ll challenge for honours on all fronts once again this season, with Liverpool their principal rivals.
As those two disappear over the horizon already, the bad news for Klopp’s side is that City still have a number of injured players to come back.
First choice defensive pairing John Stones and Aymeric Laporte are both currently sidelined, while Gabriel Jesus should be able to return soon after the international break.
Once back to full strength, expect City to once again be the team to catch in the Premier League.
City still have Gabriel Jesus to return from injury in a further boost to their prolific attack
Position: 5th (two wins from four); Next fixture: Watford (A) on Sunday
Arsenal find themselves in the increasingly familiar position of fifth following what might be described as a predictable opening to the season.
Unai Emery’s side started with hard-fought wins over Newcastle United and Burnley only to promptly come unstuck when confronted with top class opposition in Liverpool.
However, their comeback from two goals down in a frenetic north London derby with Tottenham suggested there is a useful fighting spirit in the ranks.
Unai Emery celebrates as Arsenal complete their comeback in the derby against Tottenham
The way the Gunners dominated their rivals for most of the second-half, eventually earning themselves a deserved point will have drastically improved the mood over the international fortnight.
The good news is that their main strikers are on song – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has scored three already this season, while Alexandre Lacazette has two.
And there have also been positive starts by summer arrivals Nicolas Pepe and Dani Ceballos in what does look a genuinely exciting and threatening forward line.
But Arsenal fans will feel a distinct sense of deja-vu in the defensive shortcomings that have quickly reared their head again this season.
Alexandre Lacazette celebrates after scoring in Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Tottenham last week
David Luiz was given a torrid time by Salah in the 3-1 defeat at Anfield, basically making it obvious to every future opponent that Arsenal’s back line is highly susceptible to pace and direct running.
They then defended poorly at times against Spurs, with individual errors by goalkeeper Bernd Leno and midfielder Granit Xhaka leading to goals.
After the Spurs game, Emery said ‘sometimes our heart is more strong than our head’. In other words, daft errors have the potential to render their fighting spirit futile.
It’s clear the defensive frailties were never going to be solved in a stroke by signing 32-year-old Luiz and finding a quick-fix to this issue will have been at the forefront of Emery’s mind in the past few days.
On the flip side, Arsenal have enough firepower to win games 3-2 or 4-3 and maybe that’ll do for Emery.
David Luiz hasn’t exactly proved the solution to Arsenal’s defensive travails
Position: 8th (one win from four); Next fixture: Leicester City (H) on Saturday
There’s certainly plenty for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to ponder after United started his first full season in charge with just one win from four.
Any hopes of keeping pace with City and Liverpool already appear to be over and there are plenty who believe there are no assurances United will end up in the top six.
Solskjaer is a natural optimist but the stats make for uncomfortable reading – they haven’t won away from home since Solskjaer got the job full-time, their defence has just one clean sheet in 19 and it’s their lowest points return after four games since 1992-93.
There’s plenty for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to ponder after Manchester United’s indifferent start
The 4-0 win over Chelsea on the opening weekend proved a false dawn, with subsequent draws against Wolves and Southampton, and the home defeat to Crystal Palace a more accurate reflection of where United are at the moment.
Against teams that don’t play an open game, they have struggled to break them down and create chances, with their speedy forwards coming up against brick walls.
Having allowed their striking central point Romelu Lukaku to leave for Inter Milan, United have lacked a clinical edge in front of goal and now have only two senior forwards in Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.
When Martial picked up an untimely injury in the defeat to Palace, Solskjaer had little choice but to talk up 17-year-old Mason Greenwood.
Anthony Martial celebrates his goal against Wolves – but United only came away with a point
And while Harry Maguire’s arrival has added command and leadership to the back line, Victor Lindelof has looked vulnerable in the air to undo a lot of the good work.
Yet had United converted their penalties, they would have won at Wolves and drawn with Palace and it’d be a very different complexion.
So there’s plenty for Solskjaer to ponder, especially with Leicester City, one of the teams aiming to break into the top six, coming up next.
Solskjaer makes great play about restoring the standards of the Alex Ferguson era at United. Locating their killer instinct in front of goal is the priority.
Victor Lindelof is beaten in the air by Jannik Vestergaard in United’s draw at Southampton
Position: 9th (one win from four); Next fixture: Crystal Palace (H) on Saturday
It’s been a curious start to the season at Tottenham off the back of their remarkable run to the Champions League final.
A sense that things can’t really get much better than that seems to be behind the rumours swirling around manager Mauricio Pochettino’s future.
And perhaps that is proving distracting on the field, with a mixed bag of results so far.
Unwelcome speculation about Mauricio Pochettino’s future has marked Spurs’ season opening
Their pressure finally paid off in a 3-1 win over Aston Villa on the opening day before much credit was derived from a 2-2 draw at title favourites Manchester City.
Then came a strangely flat home performance against Newcastle when questions were asked as to why creative spark Christian Eriksen wasn’t involved from the start.
And against Arsenal, Spurs felt simultaneously pleased and disappointed to have taken a point. Pleased given the incessant Arsenal pressure and disappointed having gone two goals ahead.
Christian Eriksen celebrates scoring in Tottenham’s 2-2 derby draw at Arsenal last week
The calamitous decision to field Davinson Sanchez at right-back at the Emirates highlights how desperately Pochettino needs some players back from injury.
Kyle Walker-Peters should return shortly after the international break while Eric Dier, Giovani Lo Celso and Tanguy Ndombele should all have benefited from the break.
The season will only step up in pace from here and Pochettino needs to rediscover some of the old spark after an indifferent start.
However, we can fully expect them to finish in the top four once again even with these early wobbles.
Davinson Sanchez endured a tricky afternoon at right-back in the draw with Arsenal
Position: 11th (one win from four); Next fixture: Wolves (A) on Saturday
There was understandably much excitement at Stamford Bridge when club legend Frank Lampard was appointed and he’ll be granted more patience than some managers who have gone before him.
However, it can’t be denied that the opening four games of the season have confirmed it will be a steep learning curve for this top-flight rookie.
Lampard is, of course, hamstrung by Chelsea’s transfer ban and his accent on youth – the line-up against Sheffield United had an average age of 24 years and 158 days – is admirable.
Frank Lampard has found the early weeks as Chelsea manager a steep learning curve
But he will be in no doubt over how unforgiving the Premier League is after that thrashing at Old Trafford and the surrender of winning positions against Leicester and Sheffield United.
The performances of youngsters Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham have been bright points but the inexperience of the team has been exposed by their inability to finish games off.
At the moment, Chelsea do look vulnerable but they should improve as the season progresses and Lampard gets to know his team better.
Tammy Abraham has looked impressive in the early weeks as he steps up to the top-flight
They’re far from full strength at present as well, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek, N’Golo Kante, Antonio Rudiger, Pedro and Callum Hudson-Odoi all on the sidelines.
Emerson Palmieri suffered a knock on international duty with Italy on Sunday but the wing-back played it down as ‘nothing serious’.
We’ll learn quite a bit more about Chelsea in the next couple of weeks – their next three fixtures against Wolves, Valencia and Liverpool are challenging.
Callum Hudson-Odoi is firing in training again as he nears a return from injury
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