7 things we've learned so far in the Premier League this season
1. In-box wrestling racking up pens
Shawcross admitted he'll now have to change the way he defends set-pieces, but the stricter implementation of the rule has caused more confusion than clarity
Mike Dean's waging a one-man war against grappling in the box this term, so it’s a good job Liverpool offloaded serial shirt-puller Martin Skrtel to Fenerbahce in the summer. Stoke's Ryan Shawcross and Manchester City's Raheem Sterling were both penalized by the strutting whistleblower for that offence in the same game, while Bournemouth's Charlie Daniels has also fallen foul of a new directive aiming to clamp down on the problem.
Shawcross admitted he'll now have to change the way he defends set-pieces, but the stricter implementation of the rule has possibly caused more confusion than clarity. Jan Vertonghen, for instance, clearly pulled down Joel Matip in Tottenham's clash with Liverpool but got away with a warning because the ball wasn't in play. One of football's biggest grey areas has become even greyer.
Daniels is penalized for holding Benteke
2. Keepers feeling heat more than ever
Joe Hart was told to sling his hook by Pep Guardiola without an opportunity to improve his distribution, while Simon Mignolet has been criticized for conceding each of the last five shots on target he's faced
Goalkeepers aren't afforded the luxury of easing themselves in, with every move scrutinized from the very first whistle. Joe Hart was told to sling his hook by Pep Guardiola without an opportunity to improve his distribution, while Simon Mignolet has been criticized for conceding each of the last five shots on target he's faced, which rather ignores the question of how opponents got into such promising positions in the first place.
Young Sunderland shot-stopper Jordan Pickford's excellent performance against Southampton was undone by a single error late on, with the 22-year-old feeling compelled to apologize to David Moyes for letting Jay Rodriguez's shot creep under his body. Life's often not fair on the men between the sticks; just ask Shay Given, who saved a penalty against Everton but was credited with an own goal.
3. Sadio Mane could become Liverpool's most important player
The ex-Southampton forward has looked extremely dangerous cutting inside from the flanks, with his searing speed offering another dimension to Liverpool's attack
After the sale of Luis Suarez, and Daniel Sturridge's continued problems with injuries, Liverpool fans have since had to content themselves with Rickie Lambert, Fabio Borini, Mario Balotelli and Christian Benteke as their side's spearhead. All of that quartet have now been moved on, and the early signs suggest the Reds may have finally got it right with their summer signing of Sadio Mane.
The ex-Southampton forward has looked extremely dangerous cutting inside from the flanks, with his searing speed offering another dimension to Liverpool's attack. Season-ticket holders at Anfield will be hoping he hasn't got Michael Owen's hamstrings.
4. Forget player power: managers are ruling the roost
Guardiola, Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte have wasted little time in letting everyone know who's boss at their clubs
Guardiola, Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte have wasted little time in letting everyone know who's boss at their clubs, while Klopp too has flexed his managerial muscles with the sidelining of Sturridge. The hasty jettisoning of Hart, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Cesc Fabregas (although the latter still has a role to play at Stamford Bridge) underlines the confidence Guardiola, Mourinho and Conte already have at Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea respectively. Nobody's above the law, and player power has been put on hold.
5. Refs somewhat unwilling to show red cards
Diego Costa was lucky to escape a sending-off against both West Ham and Watford, while Mane also should have sent packing against Tottenham
“If participant behavior doesn't improve, then there will be more yellow and red cards,” Premier League executive chairman Richard Scudamore said back in July. This statement was mainly aimed at conduct towards referees and their assistants, which is all very well, but shouldn't come at the expense of obvious foul play on the pitch. (Bournemouth's Harry Arter picked up a second yellow card for dissent against West Ham, however, in the crackdown on bad behavior.)
Diego Costa was incredibly lucky to escape sendings-off against both West Ham and Watford, while Liverpool's Mane should also have sent packing against Tottenham. So far there have been only two red cards compared to 11 at the same stage in 2015/16.
Costa should have seen red for this foul on Adrian
6. Koeman looks clued-up at Everton
With four very winnable fixtures to come, the Merseysiders could steal a march on their more decorated neighbours
The Dutchman has steadied the ship at Goodison Park after a turbulent final year under Roberto Martinez. Everton look far more solid at the back and incisive going forward, with new faces Ashley Williams, Yannick Bolaise and Idrissa Gueye bedding in and already looking smart signings. With four very winnable fixtures to come (Sunderland A, Boro H, Bournemouth A, Palace H), the Merseysiders could steal a march on their more decorated neighbors – and most of the Premier League – in the next few weeks.
- COMMENT Frustrated Everton fans are misunderstanding the process of building a successful recruitment strategy
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7. The big boys look like they're back
Rafa Benitez once said you have to be “perfect” to win the Premier League, but that's not really been the case in recent years. Given that Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United have each won all of their first three encounters, though, it's perfectly possible that 90+ points will be required to triumph in 2016/17 (Leicester won last season with 81).
All three clubs underwhelmed last year, but their results in August suggest they'll all be challenging for the title this term. Granted, Manchester City rode their luck against Sunderland and had to fend off comebacks from Stoke and West Ham; Chelsea relied on late goals to beat West Ham and Watford; and United were a tad fortunate to overcome Hull last time out. The fact that the trio haven't yet reached their peak level of performance yet still managing to win is exactly why they should be feared, however.