Premier League Preview: Gameweek 3


John Stones

Here are The Football Lab’s predictions for 2 of Sunday’s Premier League games. Everton and Manchester City meet off the back of hugely encouraging 3-0 wins for both teams, while Watford look for their first Premier League win of the season at home to Southampton, a side yet to convince this term.

Everton v Man City

Hands up. This blog predicted that Manchester City would finish outside the top 4 this year, and although the season is only 2 games in, that already looks like a huge mistake. The Citizens brushed Chelsea aside with ease on Sunday, as striker Sergio Aguero put in an outstanding performance, despite missing a couple of chances before his 31st minute opener.

42% of Manchester City’s play this season has come down the left hand side, and it is not surprising, because they look very strong in that area of the pitch. David Silva tends to drift in from the left, and will cause problems with his creativity and sharp intelligence. Raheem Sterling offers pace, and a willingness to run directly at defenders, which stretches play and gives City more space in the final third. If a passing move between Silva and Sterling breaks down, the ball may fall to Aleksandar Kolarov, who is a very precise crosser of a ball. All 3 players offer a different set of skills and Silva, in particular, has been simply majestic in the first 2 games.

This blog’s concern for City before the start of this season, was whether they would show enough energy and hunger. Against Chelsea, however, they showed real commitment when out of possession, and when they got the ball, they attacked quickly. These aspects of their game were severely lacking in the second half of last season, but the performances they have put in in the first 2 games will give manager Manuel Pellegrini huge confidence.

Everton, on the other hand, won 3-0 away to Southampton last weekend. Romelu Lukaku was back to his best with a brace, and he linked up well with Arouna Kone. Ross Barkley has started the season well, with 2 goals in his first 2 games, and made some excellent driving forward runs.

And, when Southampton piled on the pressure towards the end of the match, with the scoreline at 2-0, Everton defended resolutely. Centre-back John Stones might well have encouraged another Chelsea bid after his second half performance, he dominantly headed away every ball that came in his direction, and looked typically composed on the ball.

That was an important result for Everton, given the tough run of fixtures they have ahead. Their next home game against a team who finished outside the top 5 last season does not come until November. The Toffees can take confidence from that win over Southampton, but Manchester City may prove too strong for them.

Watford v Southampton

As well as Everton played in their 3-0 win at St Mary’s, Southampton were very disappointing. They did not seem to have an alternative tactic to their initial system of crossing the ball into Graziano Pelle, who performed below his best. Everton’s defence coped well with balls into the box from deep, but their full-backs might have been troubled more had Southampton attacked the flanks.

There have been rumours that Sadio Mane may leave for Manchester United, and that would be a loss for the Saints, due to the pace and energy he brings to the side. However, if Mane were to leave, manager Ronald Koeman could do worse than attempt to bring in Antonio Valencia in exchange.

Mane, Dusan Tadic and Shane Long all like to operate in the hole, yet the strikers, Pelle and Juanmi, both have strong physical presences, and benefit from horizontal crosses into the box. By bringing in a classic winger, Southampton will be able to give those strikers the kind of service that they thrive on.

Southampton would also benefit from a player like Valencia’s work rate. It is only 2 games in, but already, they have looked vulnerable in wide areas. Part of the reason the Saints had such a good defensive record last season, was because right-back Nathaniel Clyne and left-back Ryan Bertrand were always willing to sprint back after an attack to defend. Both players had the stamina to play at full speed for 90 minutes.

However, with Clyne now at Liverpool and Bertrand ruled out, Southampton’s full-backs in the first couple of games have been Cedric Soares and Matt Targett. So far, those players are yet to show the tenacity and defensive strength required of them. For that reason, there is potential for Watford to cause problems with their attack-minded full-backs.Allan Nyom and Ikechi Anya played well for the Hornet’s in last week’s 0-0 draw with West Brom, and both players did a lot more attacking than they did defending.

Even though there were no goals in that match, Watford created a number of chances and were clearly the more dominant side. Jose Manuel Jurado controlled the match in the middle of the park, and strikers Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney, who both found excellent form last season, combined well.

We can expect Southampton to be defensively more vulnerable than West Brom, who showed little attacking ambition last week. For that reason, this blog will back Watford to pick up their first 3 points of the season.