Associate Partner

Premier League first impressions: Leicester City surprise, Liverpool continue juggernaut, Chelsea and Manchester United struggle

  • Watford is having an absolute stinker of a start. Three losses and a draw in the first four fixtures roots them in the basement of the Premier League.

  • Chelsea's Super Cup loss to a below-par Liverpool is a testament to the gap in quality they will need to overcome

  • Leicester City look best poised to break into the top six, and have more than a point to prove.

The reverse telescoping of past events into the present for future context is one of the effects of psychedelics described by Dr Timothy Leary — a former Harvard researcher-turned-yogi with acute bouts of wonder, clarity for interconnectedness. We too can be prescient to this effect in a more deliberate manner through study, meditation and pattern-finding. Once in that state of mind, the curtains are pulled on the cyclic nature of history and allows us for a chance to observe its pulleys, springs and levers.

On a macrocosmic scale, it can determine the course of climate change, a civilisation or an asteroid due to hit earth; on a microcosmic scale, it helps you, dear reader, put your Fantasy Premier League team together. Here, with the powers of our prescience (which like any skill requires practice - and trust us when we say we have had a lot of that) proffer players and teams to look out for the 5th game-week following the first International break of the 2019-2020 season. Here are the first impressions of the Premier League season so far:

The Losers

Watford — Moose caught in headlights

Watford is having an absolute stinker of a start. Three losses and a draw in the first four fixtures roots them in the basement of the Premier League. This is a team, mind, which finished 11th last season above Southampton, Newcastle United, Burnley, and the likes. The traditional whipping boys from the days of Ashley Young, Danny Shittu, Adrian Mariappa, and Hamer Bouazza are having a bad case of deja vu. A 0-3 defeat to minnows Brighton and Hove Albion, and a 1-3 loss to the consistently inconsistent West Ham United, both at Vicarage Road, meant they were playing catch up from the start. Etienne Capoue, the goal-scoring midfielder that many bargain-basement Fantasy League wheeler-dealers turn to, may not be a wise choice.

Manchester United and Chelsea - What goes around…

How the mighty have fallen. Both Chelsea and Manchester United fans have to now realign their expectation with reality. Those who hopped on the respective blue and red gravy-trains in the glory days are finding themselves in an altogether unfamiliar position of having to support clubs that are meticulously mismanaged from top to bottom.

From Paul Pogba demanding a transfer, the tight-fistedness of the Glazers, to the ineptness of Ed Woodward — the lack of a unilateral direction is pulling Manchester United every which way as a team on the pitch, while Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, handcuffed to the wheel is a spectator to this slow-motion car-wreck. The bright start at Chelsea’s expense (4-0) was merely the first toot of a wet trumpet. Draws at Wolverhampton and Southampton and a home defeat to Crystal Palace has already taken a heavy-duty leafblower to the pile that’s papering over the club’s structural cracks. The 80 million transfer of Harry Maguire seems symptomatically desperate when a defender like Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly was available. Which begs to ask if the club is not as lucrative as before and if it is a sign of things to come.

You’ll be best advised to sub off any United player you may have in your Fantasy Premier League, especially if his name Paul Pogba: Half of his mind is sipping pina colada in white of Real Madrid.

 Premier League first impressions: Leicester City surprise, Liverpool continue juggernaut, Chelsea and Manchester United struggle

File picture of Chelsea manager Frank Lampard. Reuters

Chelsea who traditionally threw money at every which problem is having to contend with a transfer embargo. The result? For the first time in their short history, they are having to make do with what they have. This is an alien concept for the club who have a track record of resigning academy players to the obscurity of Vitesse and worse. Frank Lampard has been brought in to bring back a sense of tradition and familiarity, and the player-turned-manager has declared his agenda of backing his young charges (Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Ruben Loftus Cheek), but that is not without growing pains and learning curves that the team has to go through. Their Super Cup loss to a below-par Liverpool is a testament to the gap in quality they will need to overcome while the draws at Sheffield United, Leicester pose a bigger question of motivation or the lack of it which Lampard needs to address. One player who wouldn’t need much talking to is the undaunted Mason Mount. He is looking to pick up where Eden Hazard left off.

The winners

Liverpool

Mark Z Danielewski wrote in the preface of Gaston Bachelard’s book ‘Poetique de l’espace’: “For you who claim to be without imagination, not a creative-type, a ruinous, burning optimism burns beneath the trenches of reason and over the high walls of rationale: with a mind just mad enough to entertain the possibility of imagining an altogether different world into existence, by energy and toil.”

Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool attained a feat of 13 straight wins at Burnley last week. This is unprecedented even for a club as storied as Liverpool. The Glatten-born German surpassed the absolute mavericks both in shape and form. Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, Sir Kenny Dalglish, Roy Evans, Gerard Houllier, Rafa Benitez, men who made millions dream, didn’t dream of this kind of momentum.

And while the most pragmatic of Liverpool fans are haplessly trying to push the thought of the first league title of the new millennium out of their sound minds, the possibility was enjoying itself there, terrorising other everyday ennui-inclined notions with its wanton optimism, putting a hammer through walls and kicking over furniture, raucously redecorating reality.

Liverpool players celebrate goal against Burnley. Reuters

Liverpool players celebrate goal against Burnley. Reuters

Bachelard likened mental blocks to locks and chains, and that no lock exists that could resist the power of absolute optimism and invention. ”All locks are an invitation to, as much they are a psychological threshold.” Jurgen Klopp, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and company are at the forefront of the minds of Premier League fans everywhere with crowbars and smiles.

Sadio Mane, if he continues his vein of form, is more than likely to be a Ballon D’or candidate for next season’s awards. Keep him in your Fantasy Premier League team, without fail.

The Chancers

Leicester City find themselves in the third spot in the table, following Liverpool and Manchester City. Former Liverpool manager, Brendan Rodgers’s men look best poised to break into the top six, and have more than a point to prove.

Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers celebrates with Jamie Vardy after the match against Bournemouth. Reuters

Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers celebrates with Jamie Vardy after the match against Bournemouth. Reuters

With James Maddison, Jamie Vardy, Youri Tielemans, Ben Chilwell, Kasper Schmeichel, Johnny Evans, Wilfried Ndidi, Demerai Gray, the Foxes with an enviable team spine, will look to resume their roles as giant killers.

Procrastination, VAR and prevarication

It is mind-boggling that the richest football league in the world is still without a CEO. The board members, in a caricaturist portrayal of British policy, are yet to reach a consensus. This is holding off multiple legislative decisions in the backburner. One of them being the VAR.

Like pineapple on pizza, there’s no in-between, you either like it or hate it. Manchester City manager, Pep Guardiola already hated it till kingdom come (due to his team’s Champions League quarter-final exit), but then came Gabriel Jesus’ disallowed goal in a draw with Tottenham, which escalated his feeling to Dante’s Inferno levels.

Jesus was “offiside by an armpit,” in the words of pundit Ian Wright. This VAR decision meant Liverpool took a two-point lead, which is already one more point than what Liverpool lost the league to Manchester City last season.

The margins are fine as fractions and objectivity is the need of the hour in a game where so many things are subjective. A millimetre may be a difference between millions of dollars at the end of the season, league positions, and innumerable hours in the gym and on tactic boards. This was exemplified by last season’s title race for the ages where less than 12 inches denied Liverpool a title as John Stones cleared a ball off the line.

To conclude...

If financially-doping teams such as Manchester City are not held accountable for their actions off the pitch, flagrantly abusing FFP regulations, then perhaps the all-seeing eye on the pitch will bring some balance to the force. And if referees with the help of technology make better decisions, the accusations of bias will at least stop on the pitch, even if FA and UEFA are aiding and abetting off of it.

Calls for “leeway” from fans and pundits are oblique and counter-intuitive to the evolution of the sport. Speaking of evolution, Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk winning the Best Europen Player Awards at UEFA’s yearly prize-giving ceremony earlier in the month, is a nod in the right direction, acknowledging football as a team-sports. Teams like Liverpool, Leicester, Arsenal whose priorities lay firmly in the collective glory should do better this season than teams like Manchester United, who rely on a single talisman at a time for inspiration. Manchester United, like Chelsea, who are yet to form cohesiveness, are likely to be punished with more regularity.

The season is long, and neither Paul Pogba nor N'Golo Kante can do it on their own.

The Great Diwali Discount!
Unlock 75% more savings this festive season. Get Moneycontrol Pro for a year for Rs 289 only.
Coupon code: DIWALI. Offer valid till 10th November, 2019 .

Updated Date: Sep 05, 2019 14:47:05 IST