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What will Premier League top six managers be thinking over international break?

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Jurgen Klopp will be smiling and Pep Guardiola quietly satisfied… but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Frank Lampard have plenty of worries as bosses take stock over the international break

  • First international break of the season has given managers chance to think
  • Jurgen Klopp will be thrilled with Liverpool near-flawless start to the season
  • Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola can be satisfied with first few matches
  • But Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Frank Lampard have plenty to ponder  
  • Unai Emery will be worried about his defence, Pochettino by indifferent form 

We may only be four matches into the Premier League season but the first international break still offers managers the chance to take stock of what has transpired so far and plan ahead.

It’s a fortnight of relative peace and quiet to think about tactical tweaks based on the evidence of the opening weeks before putting these plans into action when the players return from international duty.

The managers of the established top six will have reached the international break in differing moods about what they’ve seen so far.

LIVERPOOL

Position: 1st (four wins from four); Next fixture: Newcastle United (H) on Saturday

Having come within a whisker of ending their long wait for a league title in May, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool have clearly set out with the intention of going one better this time around.

Four wins from four – not to mention victory over Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup – meant Klopp bounded into the international break (and a holiday in Greece) in a very contented mood.

Jurgen Klopp has every reason to be smiling after Liverpool's flawless start to the league

Jurgen Klopp has every reason to be smiling after Liverpool’s flawless start to the league 

There has been a pleasing fluency about Liverpool in their performances so far and in extending their winning league run to 13 matches, the European champions have clearly picked up where they left off last season.

The victories meant Klopp was even able to turn Sadio Mane’s angry reaction after being substituted in the 3-0 win at Burnley into a positive.

Mane was frustrated after strike partner Mohamed Salah failed to pass to him when in a better goalscoring position and was animated when taken off with five minutes left.

Klopp laughed off the incident and suggested that Mane’s response was just indicative of the hunger within the team to win the league.

Sadio Mane was left frustrated after being taken off in Liverpool's 3-0 win at Burnley

Sadio Mane was left frustrated after being taken off in Liverpool's 3-0 win at Burnley

Sadio Mane was left frustrated after being taken off in Liverpool’s 3-0 win at Burnley

The only real concerns came in the 2-1 win at Southampton when stand-in goalkeeper Adrian made a mistake to allow the Saints back into the match.

The good news for Liverpool is that their regular keeper Alisson, who was such a calming influence last season, is stepping up his recovery following a calf injury suffered in the opening night win over Norwich.

A return for Naby Keita from his groin injury is also on the horizon which will bolster midfield options once the Champions League group stage gets underway.

Klopp is always concerned the internationals will throw up further injury headaches but, so far at least, this hasn’t happened.

And with Liverpool looking highly impressive, Klopp’s dazzling smile will no doubt be seen regularly in the weeks and months to come.

Keeper Adrian, standing in for the injured Alisson, made a slip-up in the match at Southampton

Keeper Adrian, standing in for the injured Alisson, made a slip-up in the match at Southampton

Keeper Adrian, standing in for the injured Alisson, made a slip-up in the match at Southampton

MANCHESTER CITY

Position: 2nd (three wins from four); Next fixture: Norwich City (A) on Saturday

You do wonder how Manchester City can improve on the near-perfection of last season’s title win but Pep Guardiola will give it a good go.

The main theme in the opening four matches of the season has been goals – they’ve scored 14 times already this season, two more than Liverpool.

If they continue this average of 3.5 per game until May, they’ll rack up 133 goals in the league alone.

Pep Guardiola can be largely satisfied by the way Man City have started their title defence

Pep Guardiola can be largely satisfied by the way Man City have started their title defence

Pep Guardiola can be largely satisfied by the way Man City have started their title defence

But that would be to get carried away. While City have been rampant against West Ham, Bournemouth and Brighton, they came unstuck in their 2-2 draw with Tottenham, their only dropped points so far.

Ironically, it was City’s lack of a clinical edge that cost them that day as they created 17 chances and penned Spurs back for long periods.

And Guardiola was left furious when Kyle Walker shoved Raheem Sterling inside the Spurs box seconds before Son Heung-min scored to earn Spurs a point.

City have been banging in the early season goals, with 14 scored so far in four league matches

City have been banging in the early season goals, with 14 scored so far in four league matches

City have been banging in the early season goals, with 14 scored so far in four league matches

Otherwise City have been pretty much flawless and Guardiola will be satisfied they’ll challenge for honours on all fronts once again this season, with Liverpool their principal rivals.

As those two disappear over the horizon already, the bad news for Klopp’s side is that City still have a number of injured players to come back.

First choice defensive pairing John Stones and Aymeric Laporte are both currently sidelined, while Gabriel Jesus should be able to return soon after the international break.

Once back to full strength, expect City to once again be the team to catch in the Premier League.

City still have Gabriel Jesus to return from injury in a further boost to their prolific attack

City still have Gabriel Jesus to return from injury in a further boost to their prolific attack

City still have Gabriel Jesus to return from injury in a further boost to their prolific attack

ARSENAL

Position: 5th (two wins from four); Next fixture: Watford (A) on Sunday

Arsenal find themselves in the increasingly familiar position of fifth following what might be described as a predictable opening to the season.

Unai Emery’s side started with hard-fought wins over Newcastle United and Burnley only to promptly come unstuck when confronted with top class opposition in Liverpool.

However, their comeback from two goals down in a frenetic north London derby with Tottenham suggested there is a useful fighting spirit in the ranks.

Unai Emery celebrates as Arsenal complete their comeback in the derby against Tottenham

Unai Emery celebrates as Arsenal complete their comeback in the derby against Tottenham

Unai Emery celebrates as Arsenal complete their comeback in the derby against Tottenham

The way the Gunners dominated their rivals for most of the second-half, eventually earning themselves a deserved point will have drastically improved the mood over the international fortnight.

The good news is that their main strikers are on song – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has scored three already this season, while Alexandre Lacazette has two.

And there have also been positive starts by summer arrivals Nicolas Pepe and Dani Ceballos in what does look a genuinely exciting and threatening forward line.

But Arsenal fans will feel a distinct sense of deja-vu in the defensive shortcomings that have quickly reared their head again this season.

Alexandre Lacazette celebrates after scoring in Arsenal's 2-2 draw with Tottenham last week

Alexandre Lacazette celebrates after scoring in Arsenal's 2-2 draw with Tottenham last week

Alexandre Lacazette celebrates after scoring in Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Tottenham last week

David Luiz was given a torrid time by Salah in the 3-1 defeat at Anfield, basically making it obvious to every future opponent that Arsenal’s back line is highly susceptible to pace and direct running.

They then defended poorly at times against Spurs, with individual errors by goalkeeper Bernd Leno and midfielder Granit Xhaka leading to goals.

After the Spurs game, Emery said ‘sometimes our heart is more strong than our head’. In other words, daft errors have the potential to render their fighting spirit futile.

It’s clear the defensive frailties were never going to be solved in a stroke by signing 32-year-old Luiz and finding a quick-fix to this issue will have been at the forefront of Emery’s mind in the past few days.

On the flip side, Arsenal have enough firepower to win games 3-2 or 4-3 and maybe that’ll do for Emery.

David Luiz hasn't exactly proved the solution to Arsenal's defensive travails

David Luiz hasn't exactly proved the solution to Arsenal's defensive travails

David Luiz hasn’t exactly proved the solution to Arsenal’s defensive travails 

MANCHESTER UNITED

Position: 8th (one win from four); Next fixture: Leicester City (H) on Saturday

There’s certainly plenty for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to ponder after United started his first full season in charge with just one win from four.

Any hopes of keeping pace with City and Liverpool already appear to be over and there are plenty who believe there are no assurances United will end up in the top six.

Solskjaer is a natural optimist but the stats make for uncomfortable reading – they haven’t won away from home since Solskjaer got the job full-time, their defence has just one clean sheet in 19 and it’s their lowest points return after four games since 1992-93.

There's plenty for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to ponder after Manchester United's indifferent start

There's plenty for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to ponder after Manchester United's indifferent start

There’s plenty for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to ponder after Manchester United’s indifferent start

The 4-0 win over Chelsea on the opening weekend proved a false dawn, with subsequent draws against Wolves and Southampton, and the home defeat to Crystal Palace a more accurate reflection of where United are at the moment.

Against teams that don’t play an open game, they have struggled to break them down and create chances, with their speedy forwards coming up against brick walls.

Having allowed their striking central point Romelu Lukaku to leave for Inter Milan, United have lacked a clinical edge in front of goal and now have only two senior forwards in Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.

When Martial picked up an untimely injury in the defeat to Palace, Solskjaer had little choice but to talk up 17-year-old Mason Greenwood.

Anthony Martial celebrates his goal against Wolves - but United only came away with a point

Anthony Martial celebrates his goal against Wolves - but United only came away with a point

Anthony Martial celebrates his goal against Wolves – but United only came away with a point

And while Harry Maguire’s arrival has added command and leadership to the back line, Victor Lindelof has looked vulnerable in the air to undo a lot of the good work.

Yet had United converted their penalties, they would have won at Wolves and drawn with Palace and it’d be a very different complexion.

So there’s plenty for Solskjaer to ponder, especially with Leicester City, one of the teams aiming to break into the top six, coming up next.

Solskjaer makes great play about restoring the standards of the Alex Ferguson era at United. Locating their killer instinct in front of goal is the priority.

Victor Lindelof is beaten in the air by Jannik Vestergaard in United's draw at Southampton

Victor Lindelof is beaten in the air by Jannik Vestergaard in United's draw at Southampton

Victor Lindelof is beaten in the air by Jannik Vestergaard in United’s draw at Southampton

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR

Position: 9th (one win from four); Next fixture: Crystal Palace (H) on Saturday

It’s been a curious start to the season at Tottenham off the back of their remarkable run to the Champions League final.

A sense that things can’t really get much better than that seems to be behind the rumours swirling around manager Mauricio Pochettino’s future.

And perhaps that is proving distracting on the field, with a mixed bag of results so far.

Unwelcome speculation about Mauricio Pochettino's future has marked Spurs' season opening

Unwelcome speculation about Mauricio Pochettino's future has marked Spurs' season opening

Unwelcome speculation about Mauricio Pochettino’s future has marked Spurs’ season opening

Their pressure finally paid off in a 3-1 win over Aston Villa on the opening day before much credit was derived from a 2-2 draw at title favourites Manchester City.

Then came a strangely flat home performance against Newcastle when questions were asked as to why creative spark Christian Eriksen wasn’t involved from the start.

And against Arsenal, Spurs felt simultaneously pleased and disappointed to have taken a point. Pleased given the incessant Arsenal pressure and disappointed having gone two goals ahead.

Christian Eriksen celebrates scoring in Tottenham's 2-2 derby draw at Arsenal last week

Christian Eriksen celebrates scoring in Tottenham's 2-2 derby draw at Arsenal last week

Christian Eriksen celebrates scoring in Tottenham’s 2-2 derby draw at Arsenal last week

The calamitous decision to field Davinson Sanchez at right-back at the Emirates highlights how desperately Pochettino needs some players back from injury.

Kyle Walker-Peters should return shortly after the international break while Eric Dier, Giovani Lo Celso and Tanguy Ndombele should all have benefited from the break.

The season will only step up in pace from here and Pochettino needs to rediscover some of the old spark after an indifferent start.

However, we can fully expect them to finish in the top four once again even with these early wobbles.  

Davinson Sanchez endured a tricky afternoon at right-back in the draw with Arsenal

Davinson Sanchez endured a tricky afternoon at right-back in the draw with Arsenal

Davinson Sanchez endured a tricky afternoon at right-back in the draw with Arsenal

CHELSEA

Position: 11th (one win from four); Next fixture: Wolves (A) on Saturday

There was understandably much excitement at Stamford Bridge when club legend Frank Lampard was appointed and he’ll be granted more patience than some managers who have gone before him.

However, it can’t be denied that the opening four games of the season have confirmed it will be a steep learning curve for this top-flight rookie.

Lampard is, of course, hamstrung by Chelsea’s transfer ban and his accent on youth – the line-up against Sheffield United had an average age of 24 years and 158 days – is admirable.

Frank Lampard has found the early weeks as Chelsea manager a steep learning curve

Frank Lampard has found the early weeks as Chelsea manager a steep learning curve

Frank Lampard has found the early weeks as Chelsea manager a steep learning curve 

But he will be in no doubt over how unforgiving the Premier League is after that thrashing at Old Trafford and the surrender of winning positions against Leicester and Sheffield United.

The performances of youngsters Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham have been bright points but the inexperience of the team has been exposed by their inability to finish games off.

At the moment, Chelsea do look vulnerable but they should improve as the season progresses and Lampard gets to know his team better.

Tammy Abraham has looked impressive in the early weeks as he steps up to the top-flight

Tammy Abraham has looked impressive in the early weeks as he steps up to the top-flight

Tammy Abraham has looked impressive in the early weeks as he steps up to the top-flight

They’re far from full strength at present as well, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek, N’Golo Kante, Antonio Rudiger, Pedro and Callum Hudson-Odoi all on the sidelines.

Emerson Palmieri suffered a knock on international duty with Italy on Sunday but the wing-back played it down as ‘nothing serious’.

We’ll learn quite a bit more about Chelsea in the next couple of weeks – their next three fixtures against Wolves, Valencia and Liverpool are challenging.

Callum Hudson-Odoi is firing in training again as he nears a return from injury

Callum Hudson-Odoi is firing in training again as he nears a return from injury

Callum Hudson-Odoi is firing in training again as he nears a return from injury 

 



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Crystal Palace hero Wilfried Zaha opens up on failed Arsenal and Everton summer transfers

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Crystal Palace forward Wilfried Zaha has said that he will always love the club despite wanting to leave in the summer.

Arsenal wanted to sign Zaha but Palace wanted in excess of £70million for him, something which the Gunners could not afford in full.

Once that move fell through, Everton then came in for the Ivorian’s signature.

But Palace wouldn’t listen to their offers either – one of which was said to be £50m plus Cenk Tosun and James McCarthy.

Zaha’s brother Judicael spoke publicly about his sibling’s desire to leave Palace for Arsenal – who he supported as a child.

The former Manchester United winger ended up staying with Palace – the club he professes to love regardless of his summer wishes.

“To be honest what happened in the summer happened,” he told Palace fan site HLTCO.

“Obviously there were things that I was told that did not happen and I was not happy about it.

“I’m still a Palace player and I’m still at Palace and want to do well for the club.

“It’s an honour to play for Palace in the Premier League

“I love Crystal Palace. I feel like the fans and everything in the stadium is different to every club, it is a proper family club. Crystal Palace fans care about your well being.

“I will always love Crystal Palace – whatever happens.

“Even years back when I went to Manchester United I followed everything that happened at Palace. It will not end tomorrow if I ever move.

“I’ve been at Palace since I was eight. Palace is a special place.”

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Kieran Tierney close to Arsenal debut as Unai Emery provides injury update on three stars

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Arsenal manager Unai Emery has offered updates on the fitness of defensive trio Rob Holding, Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney.

The Gunners take on Aston Villa at the Emirates tomorrow (4.30pm) looking to respond to their disappointment against Watford a week ago.

Arsenal squandered a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 at Vicarage Road in their second successive draw, both by the same score-line.

A much-changed side recovered to beat Eintracht Frankfurt in their opening Europa League group stage game on Thursday but now getting back on track domestically is their chief ambition.

Their mid-week clean sheet will however have been more than welcome for Emery, whose side have once again struggled defensively this season.

David Luiz, signed from Chelsea for £8million in the summer, gave away a second penalty in just three games at Watford and Arsenal have already leaked eight goals in five league matches.

Such are their problems at the back that Arsenal fans are clamouring for the returns of several stars, with Holding and Bellerin long-term absentees while another summer addition – left-back Tierney – has yet to make his debut due to fitness issues.

But the Spanish boss has revealed the trio are all increasingly closer to 100 per cent, with former Celtic star Tierney closing in on his first appearance after moving south of the border for £25m.

Emery said: ”[Holding] is ready to play. We are playing on Sunday against Aston Villa and on Tuesday against Nottingham Forest [in the Carabao Cup]. These two matches I can decide whether or not to play.

“Hector Bellerin has had a long injury. He needs to go through a process, then we will see how he’s feeling. When he’s confident enough to play, he can start with us.

“With Kieran Tierney, his injury was shorter than Bellerin’s, but the same [process].

“He’ll play [Friday night], we’ll see how he finishes that match and then we have two matches Sunday and Tuesday so, maybe, maybe, he’ll be ready to play some minutes with us.”

Both Bellerin and Tierney lasted an hour of action unscathed as Arsenal’s under-23s drew 2-2 with Wolves last night.

Looking ahead to their return to Premier League action tomorrow, Arsenal have lost just one of their last 20 home games in the division, winning 20.

The Londoners are on a six-match winning streak against Villa, keeping a clean sheet in their past five meetings.

Villa, meanwhile, have lost their last nine away games in the top flight and are one game away from matching their club record of 10 straight defeats on the road set back in 1925.

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Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang question asked over Arsenal future amid Gunners’ struggles

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Arsenal have a problem stopping other teams taking shots against them this season and can’t rely on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang continually rescuing them in matches.

That is the view of former Liverpool and England striker, turned football pundit, Peter Crouch.

Arsenal have joined several clubs in the Premier League who have made an indifferent start to the season.

While they currently sit eighth in the table after five games, they are still only two points off second placed Manchester City who are on 10.

The Gunners success has been aided by goals from Aubameyang, who has six goals in six games for Arsenal in all competitions, however, it is the team’s defensive frailties that concerns Crouch.

He thinks a player of Aubameyang’s quality should be competing for trophies and is worried about the player’s future if the club keep relying on him to get them “out of hole” rather than helping them to win games.

“As things stand, [Arsenal] are miles away from being in the conversation for the title,” Crouch said via the Daily Mail.

“They have a chance of finishing in the top four this season, but you wouldn’t be in a hurry to put money on them and they look the most vulnerable in terms of losing their place in the top six.

“Yes, they are exciting and will score lots of goals but you wonder how Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will feel. 

“He’s genuinely world class and should be challenging for the biggest trophies but it can’t keep falling to him to get Arsenal out of a hole.”

After six games Arsenal’s opponents have taken 120 shots against them, of which 96 have come during Premier League games.

Although Arsenal beat Frankfurt 3-0 in the Europa League on Thursday the German side still managed to take 24 shots against the Gunners.

And while Frankfurt, who sit ninth in the Bundesliga, failed to capitalise on their opportunities, other teams have shown they can.

Last weekend Arsenal visited Vicarage Road to take on Watford and ended up coming away with a draw against a team who currently sit bottom of the table.

The Gunners took a 2-0 lead into the break, thanks to a brace from Aubameyang, however, a second-half comeback from the Hornets saw the points shared at the end of the game.

During the match Watford had 31 shots on goal, a new a club-record for a Premier League game, and Arsenal ended up succumbing to the pressure at the back as two defensive errors helped their opponents get back into the game.

And while Crouch doesn’t think Arsenal should part ways with boss Unai Emery, he thinks until the Gunners’ defensive problems are fixed they are going to struggle this season.

“When Emery first arrived in England, I backed him,” he added.

“I thought it was ridiculous that people wanted to criticise him after just one game (a 2-0 defeat to Manchester City) and said a coach with his track record deserved respect.

“I still believe he deserves a proper opportunity to turn things around.

Hiring and firing quickly is no way to run a club and I don’t think Arsenal would ever go down that route. 

“There is no denying, though, they are being compromised by the way they are playing. Until they stop the shots coming in, they will be vulnerable to shooting themselves in the foot.”

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