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Talking points from the weekend in the Premier League

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By Reuters
Talking points from the weekend in the Premier League
Soccer Football - Premier League - Liverpool v Manchester City - Anfield, Liverpool, Britain - October 7, 2018 Manchester City's David Silva in action Action Images via Reuters/Carl Recine   -   Copyright  CARL RECINE(Reuters)

By Simon Evans

MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – Liverpool and champions Manchester City drew 0-0 at Anfield while Chelsea and Arsenal enjoyed comfortable away wins. City are top on goal difference from Liverpool and Chelsea with Arsenal two points behind.

Guardiola was the winner at Anfield

The neutrals were hoping for a repeat of last season’s thrilling games in the Premier League and Champions League between the two clubs at Anfield last season — which produced 10 goals. The two managers had different ideas.

Seven of those 10 goals were conceded by Manchester City and clearly their manager Pep Guardiola did not share the desire for another wide open game.

Guardiola’s commitment to attacking football is widely appreciated but he showed his tactical astuteness can also be applied to the other side of the game.

He kept his full backs on defensive duties, asked his wingers to play deeper and sacrificed support for lone striker Sergio Aguero by ensuring space was restricted for Liverpool’s midfield and forward trio.

It worked and Juergen Klopp appeared content to pick up a point from a tight match. The German had no answer to the approach City took and his team threatened little.

Had Riyad Mahrez not blasted his penalty high into the stands, Guardiola would have collected three points and not just appreciation for his rarely shown pragmatism. But he certainly won the tactical battle with Klopp.

Chelsea were the weekend’s big winners

Maurizio Sarri’s side weren’t considered real title contenders at the start of the campaign but after eight games they have an identical record to City and Liverpool — six wins and two draws.

The draw at Anfield allowed Chelsea, who won 3-0 at Southampton, to go level on 20 points with the two clubs from the North West and it is surely time to consider Sarri’s team genuine challengers.

The assumption was that it would take Sarri time to change Chelsea’s approach from the Antonio Conte era but the London club have hit the ground running, helped by the fabulous form of Eden Hazard.

There remain question marks over the centre of defence and the lack of a prolific centre-forward but Chelsea mean business — and with Hazard the league’s top scorer, goals aren’t proving to be a problem.

Remember Arsenal?

The Gunners romped to a 5-1 win at promoted Fulham to secure their ninth straight win in all competitions and suddenly they are playing like a big team again.

As with Chelsea, the assumption was that Unai Emery would need a season of transition to get the team playing the way he likes. But already Arsenal are showing with the kind of verve that was absent from the latter stage of Arsene Wenger’s time at the club.

Two more goals from Alexandre Lacazette showed the French forward is becoming the threat that many expected him to be last season but it is the movement and dynamism of their midfield that is such an improvement on the pedestrianism of recent campaigns.

“We’ve got our Arsenal back,” sang the travelling supporters. It is certainly beginning to look like it.

United’s comeback unlikely to change Mourinho’s approach

After a thrilling late comeback from two goals down gave Manchester United a 3-2 win over Newcastle, with the Stretford End roaring their appreciation for the all-or-nothing attacking finale to the game, it was tempting to wonder if under pressure Jose Mourinho has stumbled on a formula for success.

Anthony Martial penetrating down the left flank, Juan Mata creating down the right and Alexis Sanchez and Romelu Lukaku in the middle was too much for Newcastle to handle.

Paul Pogba relished his deeper role in the second half, emerging from defence to prompt and create, although he was helped by Newcastle dropping deeper and deeper as the game progressed.

So can we expect a new cavalier United from now on? It is unlikely. The next game is Chelsea away — Mourinho isn’t going to throw caution to the wind at Stamford Bridge. It would be no surprise to see United go back to a cautious, defensive approach, relying on the counter-attack.

But it was fun for a while.

Wilson knocking on Southgate’s door

Eddie Howe’s side are fifth in the table after their fifth win of the season came with a stunning 4-0 victory at Watford and the Cherries are playing some wonderful football.

There is a lot of young talent in Howe’s team and it is a surprise that England manager Gareth Southgate hasn’t yet called in dynamic striker Callum Wilson whose pace, energy and skill would be worth seeing alongside Harry Kane.

(Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Ed Osmond)