5 Things We Learned From Week Five in the EPL (2021)
We’re only five match days into the new EPL season but there’s already some familiar looking storylines appearing.
The big boys look set to fight out the title challenge once again – although it might not be just a two-horse race this year. It also looks as though Norwich is going to struggle to stay up for more than one season.
There is a long way to go, of course. But we now have around another three weeks of soccer before the next international break and a lot of how the campaign will go could be decided in that time.
As for match day five, here are five things I noticed from another very interesting weekend of soccer in the English top flight.
James Milner Defies the March of Time
I have no doubt that Jurgen Klopp was not happy that Trent Alexander-Arnold was forced to miss Saturday’s fixture against Crystal Palace after reporting to be unwell on the morning of the game. But in James Milner he has a dependable player who is able to fit in wherever – and whenever – he is needed.
It was right back to duties for Milner against the Eagles and even the threat of Wilfried Zaha didn’t faze the veteran utility player who is now embarking on his 20th season of Premier League soccer.
Milner knows that he might not have the pace to match opposing attacking players, but he is able to use his vast experience to nullify any potential threat.
Milner has played all over the field for Liverpool and has always excelled in whatever his managers have asked of him. Klopp elected to change his entire back four from the side that beat Milan in the Champions League during the week.
But he knew he could rely on Milner as a late back up and still be able to work to his game plan. Milner will be 36 by the time this season finishes, but I wouldn’t put it past him playing for a few more years yet.
Mark Noble Became the Fall Guy at London Stadium
In all honesty, West Ham maybe should have already assured at least a draw from its game against Manchester United on Sunday before Mark Noble was subbed in specifically to take a stoppage time penalty.
David Moyes saw the opportunity to salvage a point right at the end of the encounter and believed in his veteran midfielder to finish the game in style.
Gareth Southgate tried much of the same tactic at Euro 2020 in the summer and came unstuck when his penalty takers also fluffed their important moments. But should Noble have been set up as a potential fall guy at all?
Noble had only missed four out of 42 penalties in his career before the weekend and will be consistently practicing throughout the season, so the decision to put him on at the end of this game should not be treated with much surprise.
In the end he was unlucky – as any penalty takers are every week. Moyes is sticking by his player and I don’t think Noble will be particularly affected by the miss for too long.
Should Pep Guardiola Have ‘Stuck to Coaching’?
After Manchester City beat RB Leipzig 6-3 in the Champions League on Wednesday, Pep Guardiola bemoaned the absence of a full house at the Etihad and suggested that more fans should come and support his side.
That obviously didn’t go down too well with the supporters who suggested that he should stick to coaching.
The remark obviously worked though, as the stadium was full on Saturday for the visit of Southampton and the fans were supportive of their team throughout. But Guardiola’s tactics were not quite as successful, with City failing to score at home for only the second time in 41 games and having to make do with a draw.
The England defender was probably lucky to escape punishment and it might have been a very different result if Southampton had been able to dispatch the spot kick and play against ten men for the remaining half hour.
Maybe Guardiola should work on defensive tackles on the training ground this week.
N’Golo Kante is Simply Priceless
A lot of praise must be heaped on Thomas Tuchel for Chelsea’s resounding win against Spurs on Sunday.
The German head coach would admit that his job is made much easier by being able to call on a player as technically brilliant as N’Golo Kante when his pre-game plans start to unravel.
Tuchel swapped on Kante for Mason Mount at halftime and Chelsea became utterly dominant, taking just four minutes to open the scoring and going on to put three in the Tottenham net by the end of the game.
Kante was instrumental in everything for Chelsea and even managed to get on the scoresheet thanks to a deflected shot from outside the penalty area.
The humble French midfielder was introduced to a game that Chelsea was looking like losing because it was sitting too deep and allowing Spurs to play.
Kante came on for the second half and changed the outlook entirely – and from that moment Tottenham looked very much the second best team on the pitch.
How Long Can Daniel Farke Cling on to the Norwich Job?
Norwich is not the kind of club that sacks head coaches without much thought and deliberation. But even the most supportive fans of Daniel Farke must be wondering whether someone else can do a better job of managing the Canaries in the Premier League.
Norwich won the Championship by six points from Watford last season but has now lost all five top-flight games this season.
Going back a season further, Norwich has now lost its last 15 games in the EPL and it was defensive frailties that reared their ugly head once again on Saturday as the home side looked much weaker than the very club it easily beat to the second tier title last season.
Norwich does have a very good attacking unit now though. Teemu Pukki is undoubtedly the star of the show – and it was he who scored the only home goal of the weekend.
But the club recruited well in the summer, bringing in Bundesliga talent to give itself a chance this season. The defense is the problem and Farke should be thankful that he works for a club that is willing to give him time to turn things around.
Daniel Farke's verdict on this afternoon's defeat.— Norwich City FC (@NorwichCityFC) September 18, 2021
Eyeing the Top EPL Action Next Weekend
Unlike some of the other top leagues in Europe, the EPL doesn’t have any midweek fixtures this week.
There are some clubs that are involved in EFL Cup ties, but many of the most important players will get a little more rest before next weekend’s round of fixtures.
There are some very interesting games to look forward to. Chelsea and Manchester City kick off proceedings in the early game on Saturday and Arsenal also welcomes Spurs to the Emirates for the north London derby before the weekend is up.
The surprise team at the top Brighton also has its ‘local’ derby against Crystal Palace on Monday to prepare for.