Premier League Report Card Matchday 17

Even as Boxing Day came I wasn’t sure that I wanted league football so soon after the World Cup, but such is the nature of a football fan that once it gets underway, one can’t help but feel involved. Here are my thoughts on the first matchday on the resumption of the Premier League, in which the top dogs impressed as the pressure grows for some at the bottom.

Arsenal. A confident performance delivered a win that always looked likely even when they went behind. While Gabriel Jesus’ absence is a blow, the versatility and output of Arsenal’s remaining attackers means Mikel Arteta and the board shouldn’t be pressured to get a signing in January just for the sake of it. Trust the process has been the mantra at the Emirates and there is little reason to abandon it now. (A)

Aston Villa. They came up against a hot Liverpool but still played their part in giving the Reds a fright. The loss shouldn’t do much to dent the enthusiasm generated by Unai Emery’s positive start. (B)

Bournemouth. Never looked like they stood a chance after conceding at Stamford Bridge but at least didn’t cave in completely in the second half. (C)

Brentford. A point against Spurs is a great result for the Bees when looked at from the bigger picture. Deep down however, Thomas Frank probably feels his excellent side missed an opportunity to claim another big scalp. (B)

Brighton. They keep playing beautiful football, keep outplaying opponents with progressive football and keep climbing the table. What an amazing side Brighton are. (A)

Chelsea. Much needed win to avert the negative spiral they were in going into the World Cup. Now, can Graham Potter get his Blues to play as coherently for the next month without Reece James? (A)

Crystal Palace. No sugar coating possible here. A dreadful performance in a home derby typified by poor discipline and complete lack of fight. Patrick Vieira better hope that’s a one-off. (F)

Everton. Their last-gap defeat was probably harsh when looked at in totality, but if Frank Lampard’s plan to escape relegation is based on pragmatism, then conceding a late winner from a 4-on-2 counter attack in injury time simply isn’t a good look. (E)

Fulham. A great day for their supporters who got to see an impressive derby win away from home. Watching the Cottagers, one gets the sense that every player in this team knows their role perfectly. There have been few sides tactically better than Marco Silva’s men this season. (A)

Leeds. They had some key absences in a task that was always likely to be beyond them. Illian Meslier saved them from complete embarrassment, while the consolation goal and some chances after at least spoke well of their spirit. (D)

Leicester. After steadying the ship in the last few weeks heading into the World Cup, this was back to the beginning of the season for the Foxes as half an hour of atrocious defending just killed the buzz at the King Power. (F)

Liverpool. Their midfield got overrun in the second half once again and they don’t currently look like a side that has many clean sheets in them. However, their attacking play was dynamic and lethal, and with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Mohamed Salah in such form, the Reds will be confident of overcoming most in their quest for a top four place. (A)

Manchester City. Of course Haaland got a brace again and Jack Grealish had a performance that mixed the pantomime with the excellent. Though it is City’s midfielders who take the plaudits from Elland Road. Kevin De Bruyne was as mesmeric as he usually is, but Ilkay Gundogan and Rodri do the things that get almost no attention or praise, but are so vital in setting the base for Pep Guardiola’s system to succeed. (A)

Manchester United. An effervescent win at home against opponents who didn’t pose much of a challenge. Marcus Rashford was a joy to watch at Old Trafford in a performance combining end product with great technique. Meanwhile Casemiro’s influence continues to grow with his passing and economy of movement adding another gear to the Red Devil’s play. (A)

Newcastle. It’s starting to look like the Magpies are more than just outsiders for a Champions League place. They made Leicester look so average in the first half and played some sumptuous football going forward, encapsulated by Miguel Almiron’s stunning goal. What is the ceiling for Eddie Howe’s side? (A)

Nottingham Forest. A limp performance at Old Trafford with no positives to take other than avoiding an absolute thrashing. (E)

Southampton. Their visitors were in a different league altogether and as early portents go, Nathan Jones looks like an instant downgrade on Ralph Hassenhuttl. (F)

Tottenham. The epitome of Spurs this season. Wretched and error strewn for most of the game, with just the right amount of character to fight back. When will the script change? (C)

West Ham. The classic Hammers experience against a bigger opponent. They hung in, promised a fight before caving in to superior quality. At what point will David Moyes play an academy defender instead of Thilo Kehrer? (D)

Wolves. A fortuitous win at Goodison, but hard to begrudge them after the first half of the season. Julen Lopetegui couldn’t have asked for a better league debut. With January promising more tools to add to the armoury, Molineux can start to feel like a hopeful place again. (A)

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