EPL review: The return of Olivier Giroud and four other things we learned
Doubles from Sergio Aguero and Ilkay Gundogan for Manchester City and by Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud of Arsenal inspired their sides to handsome wins and ensure they are neck and neck, along with Liverpool, at the top of the table.
Here are five things we learned from the English Premier League this weekend:
Klopp needs to sort defence
As the travelling Kop choir sung their hymns in praise of Liverpool’s swaggering 4-2 win at Crystal Palace, boss Jurgen Klopp took their acclaim with a steely expression. Goals from Emre Can, Dejan Lovren, Joel Matip and Roberto Firmino secured Liverpool’s fifth win in six league games and only goal difference is keeping them below leaders Manchester City and second-placed Arsenal. But while Klopp is clearly pleased by Liverpool’s progress since his arrival last season, the German must be concerned by the defensive sloppiness that allowed Palace to make a game of it, with Lovren mistakes in particular twice allowing James McArthur to equalise. Eradicating those kind of errors must be Klopp’s main focus if he is to end Liverpool’s long wait to win a first title since 1990.
Hazard lights on for Chelsea rivals
Eden Hazard dazzled with his fancy footwork, Diego Costa caused chaos with his lethal finishing and Antonio Conte’s revamped Chelsea defence held firm to round off a highly satisfactory trip to the south coast for Sunday’s 2-0 win over Southampton. After a pair of dispiriting defeats against Arsenal and Liverpool raised concerns about Conte’s suitability for the Chelsea job, the Italian boss has transformed his team’s prospects with his switch to his preferred 3-4-3 formation. The results have been instant and Chelsea have reeled off four successive league victories for the first time since April 2015, keeping four clean sheets in the process. Restoring Chelsea’s morale after the dismal campaign that brought Jose Mourinho’s sacking last season hasn’t been easy for Conte. But Chelsea have exactly double the number of points (22) they had after 10 games last term and a title challenge looks on the cards after Hazard’s cool finish and a brilliant long-range effort from Costa saw off the Saints.
Aguero remains Man City’s main man
Sergio Aguero had gone six games without scoring prior to Manchester City’s trip to West Bromwich Albion and having been dropped for their recent 4-0 defeat at Barcelona, he found himself the subject of speculation about his future at the club. The Argentina striker had started the season in sublime style, scoring 11 goals in his first six games, and yet manager Pep Guardiola continued to insist he could “do more”. Aguero returned to the starting XI at The Hawthorns and provided an emphatic demonstration of his talent, scoring two clinically taken goals in the first half and setting up a goal for Ilkay Gundogan as City ended a run of six games without victory. Guardiola showered him with praise after the match and confirmed he will start when Barcelona come to the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday.
Is Ibrahimovic finally showing his age?
Pre-season predictions that Zlatan Ibrahimovic, 34, would struggle with the pace of the game in England following his move to Manchester United from Paris Saint-Germain appeared to be confounded when he scored four goals in his first four Premier League games. But the former Sweden striker has gone off the boil spectacularly since then, going six league matches without scoring for the first time since December 2007 with Inter Milan. He was particularly wasteful in United’s 0-0 draw with Burnley, squandering a first-half one-on-one with Tom Heaton and somehow contriving to put Paul Pogba’s cross wide from point-blank range in the dying stages. He has taken 42 shots since last scoring in the league, more than any other player has mustered all season. With Marcus Rashford and Wayne Rooney desperate to claim central striking roles, Ibrahimovic needs to rediscover his shooting boots quickly.
Giroud defies the critics, again
Derided in some quarters as an Arsenal flop, Olivier Giroud underlined his value to the Gunners in Saturday’s 4-1 win at Sunderland as the France forward scored his first goals since returning from injury. Giroud isn’t popular among sections of the Arsenal support but in his first Premier League game since September 24 following a toe injury, Giroud scored with his first two touches of the game. Sent on as a 69th-minute substitute, Giroud arrived with Arsenal looking tense after Sunderland’s equaliser, but his muscular presence erased all concerns as he steered home a 71st-minute strike and then headed in from Mesut Ozil’s corner five minutes later to maintain an impressive scoring record against the Wearsiders.