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A Trip Around the League or: Mo Mane, Mo Problems

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Just four games into the season, we have no real basis for jumping to conclusions — let’s jump anyway!

Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah - Liverpool - Premier League
Sadio Mane has been Liverpool’s galactico this season. Now Salah knows what it felt like for Mane last season.
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images,

Death. Taxes. Picking the wrong two Liverpool attackers on my fantasy futbol squad. These are the three simple truths in my life.

Four games into this post-World-Cup-season, many of us are ready to significantly alter the compositions of our teams. Based on what we’ve seen so far, we can deduce that Sadio Mane is Liverpool’s true Galactico, and that an All-Left-Back starting XI would be the best Moneyball play ever. We have also come to the bulletproof confirmation that no one can score on Liverpool unless Alisson wills it so.

These are but some of the thoughts that cloud the mind as we head into our first international break of the season. And as we send off our very best fantasy assets to faraway lands so they can have their legs swept by burly semi-professional players with nothing much to lose, let’s hope everyone comes back safe and sound (and not too jet-lagged)! A prayer for our boys!

What a great time then, with two weeks off, to take stock of what we’ve seen so far and where the dice have landed.

Yup, your favorite international break companion column is back! I invite you, Dear Reader, to find a comfortable nook by your favorite window, grab a steaming mug of fresh-brewed single-origin coffee and get all Danish-hygge under the soft glow of an Edison bulb. Join me on this surveying armchair adventure to our beloved EPL.

Let us go then, you and I, on a trip around the league!

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Elite Squads (4 games, 12 points!)

Liverpool

This team is crazy good. By most measures, they haven’t even clicked offensively. Mo Salah has looked decidedly off-colour, and the midfield has been kind of a wasteland (timid, slow, uninspired and lacking in creativity). And yet, they’re undefeated and have conceded only one goal because Alisson, whom many consider to be among the best three goalkeepers in the world, decided to channel his inner Rene Higuita.

The one concern about Liverpool is: Can they maintain this level of EPL excellence while progressing in the Champions League? The signs are there that this Liverpool team is deeper than many would think. They have five talented and experienced midfielders for three spots, Xherdan Shaqiri can be introduced in the second half to break opponents, and Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip are far from a bad backup central defender combination. If Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana can be healthy, then Liverpool have a very respectable and versatile bench. They could — Go — All — The — Way!

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Chelsea

If we agree that Eden Hazard has taken the leap and is now fully in the top 5 players in the world after his stunning World Cup, then Chelsea might be the team to beat this year. Marcos Alonso is another who seems to have made a jump. In his case, he’s gone from “really great gimmicky wingback” to “Holy Crap! Is he now better than Marcelo? Yup, I think he is!”

Defensively, the Blues are a bit of a work in progress, but new keeper Kepa is really talented and has 10x better attitude than Thibaut “I don’t like London because I love Madrid” Courtois ever had. And no, I am not worried about their lack of striker scoring. Remind me again — how many goals did France’s central forwards score in the World Cup? (Yes, I am aware that the World Cup is small sample size! But I really wanted to make this point because of the Olivier Giroud French Connection!)

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Watford

Speaking of small sample size! We have our first aberration of the super young EPL campaign! In the Year of the Left Back, Watford has a good one in Jose Holebas, or Cholevas (or whatever his bloody name is). Watford also has, um, Troy Deeney? Is the Troy Deeney from three seasons ago back? Did Troy Deeney stop eating cheeseburgers and pizza? Can Troy Deeney run again?

The other big change for Watford is in goal where the nervy Heurelho Gomes has been replaced by the calm and steady Ben Foster. This appears to have settled the defense, which in turn has given the fullbacks the confidence to bomb forward. The jury’s still out on Watford for me. But they do have Gerard Deulofeu coming back soon, and he played for, like, Barcelona so he’s, like, good or something!

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Wannabe Elite Squads (4 games but somehow less than 12 points)

Manchester City

They will win the league; everyone please relax!

Just the other day I opened a new milk carton and Nicolas Otamendi was the featured missing person! So I called a friend who shops at a different grocery store and he said that Bernardo Silva was the featured missing person on his new milk carton! I didn’t want to call my other friend because I knew he’d say Leroy Sane but that’s comedic overkill!

Even without Kevin De Bruyne pulling the strings, City is fine. Benjamin Mendy is the poster boy for The Year of the Left Back, and El Kun Aguero is flying; he’s like Zeus with his thunderbolts (except when Kun wears the Argentina shirt and he turns into a rotting pumpkin).

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Tottenham

Spurs were never going to win the league. Everyone please take a deep breath!

One of the worst things that could happen to Spurs happened during the World Cup when Kieran Trippier emerged as England’s designated set piece taker. The pressure to have Trippier take free kicks for Spurs has eroded Christian Eriksen’s value (real and fantasy). This is crazy, because as good as Trippier is, Eriksen is that much better. When Eriksen bolts for a superteam, Spurs will be nothing but a glorified Leicester.

With that rant out of the way, let me confirm that Harry Kane is really good, as is Jan Vertonghen and, maybe, Dele Alli. Lucas Moura has always been talented, but he’s been dogged by inconsistency throughout his career. Roll with him while he’s hot! Meanwhile, Ben Davies’ unfortunate start to the season is the exception that proves the rule of The Year of the Left Back.

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The Rest

AFC Bournemouth

C’mon Gareth Southgate! WTF? Why did you pick Danny Welbeck over the white hot Callum Wilson as Jamie Vardy’s England replacement!?

The other bit I’m monitoring here is the demise of Lewis Cook. What happened to Cap’n Cook?

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Everton

Richarlison got called up to the Brazil squad! I repeat, Richarlison is now a Brazil international! That is a meteoric rise from a player who was largely unknown at the beginning of last season when he played for Watford.

Still waiting for Gylfi Sigurdsson to be good again, BTW.

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Leicester

A team in transition, there are still some remnants of the title winning squad. A Jamie Vardy and a Kasper Schmeichel here, a Wes Morgan and Marc Albrighton there... but the two best players (N’Golo Kante and Riyad Mahrez) have been replaced by decidedly Southampton-esque players like Demarai Gray, James Maddison and Wilfred Ndidi: Ok but not great.

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Arsenal and Manchester United

Two fallen giants. What do they share in common? Alexis Sanchez and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Paul Pogba sure looks like a player destined to depart in January. In happier news for United, Luke Shaw is back in The Year of the Left Back!

Meanwhile Arsenal fans can look forward to the return of Spider-Man Aubameyang to real and fantasy relevance. In the long run, he’ll be just fine.

But make no mistake, one of these two big teams will be a massive disappointment this year and heads will roll.

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The No-Man’s Land Squads (We’ll sell our souls for 40 points!)

Wolves

Wolverhampton is also known as the Portugal national team’s B-squad. They’ll be solid all year, will be a tough out for the big squads and will drop points when they shouldn’t — a solid if uninspiring squad that will finish mid-table. They might make some noise in the January transfer window, mark my words.

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Southampton

Meh, right?

Ryan Bertrand has had a productive start, and Alex McCarthy has been called up to the England team. Enjoy Danny Ings for the three minutes he’s healthy. The one player who is emerging and is seemingly taking a giant leap forward is Mario Lemina... Unfortunately, he’ll have limited value in Official fantasy because of his deep-lying role. But he could have some serious resale value when Liverpool come calling!

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Fulham

As a devoted Newcastle fan, I knew this would happen. The second we got rid of Mitrovic he would turn into a Galactico. Well, guess what? The second we got rid of Mitro he turned into a Galactico. It’s a nightmare!

The other nightmare is seeing Andre Schurrle back. As a devoted Argentina fan I can’t forget Schurrle’s winning pass to Mario Gotze in the dying minutes of extra time during the 2014 World Cup Final. It’s a double nightmare!

As difficult as it is for me to even think about Fulham, there is a ray of hope in the form of Luciano Vietto. With Argentina in a shambles after the 2018 World Cup, this kid has some pedigree and much unfulfilled promise. Can he make the leap?

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Brighton

I mean, Glenn Murray, right?

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The “One of These Teams Will Emerge and be Very Good” Squads

Crystal Palace

August in the EPL is a time for Harry Kane to not score, for a Liverpool attacker to emerge as a global super-duper star, and for Crystal Palace to be terrible.

As long as Wilfried Zaha remains healthy and fielded by The Eagles, this team will be fine.

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Burnley

My mind is blown. I always knew that 2+2=4 and that night follows day. I always knew that no matter whom Sean Dyche plugged into his defense that Burnley would never ever concede more than 0.38 goals per game. We had plenty of evidence to support the rule: Out went Michael Keane and in came James Tarkowski; out went Tom Heaton and in came Nick “The Young” Pope; if one or two of Ben Mee or Tarkowski or Matt Lowton or Stephen Ward were hurt, then Kevin Long or Charlie Taylor had it covered. And through it all this team NEVER conceded!

But like Icarus who flew too close to the sun, Dyche had to go and try his luck with Argh, Joe Hart, Argh. With Hart in goal, Burnley now regularly ship 3 or 4 goals per game with EXACTLY the same personnel they’ve always had. Said another way, NOTHING has changed for Burnley except Argh, Joe Hart, Argh.

The man is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad professional goalkeeper.

The good news for Burnley is that once he’s removed from the XI, the team will be good again!

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West Ham

I know that they are bottom of the table with zero points. But there is some talent sprinkled all over this roster, and Manuel Pellegrini is a good enough manager that he’ll figure out a better mix. I’m keeping the faith in Marko Arnautovic and company.

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Abysmal Squads (Off to the Championship we go!)

Newcastle United

No way Rafa Benitez stays. This will get so much uglier before it gets better.

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Cardiff City

Once Neil Etheridge’s unsustainable start wears off, this team will sink like a stone. I cannot name you more than two players on this roster... even if I just read the player names on Transfermarkt, I’ll forget them immediately.

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Huddersfield

They were lucky to survive last season, but they won’t survive this one. Aaron Mooy and Steve Mounie are not EPL talents, but they are the Terrier’s best players. That’s a very real problem.

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How are you spending your first international break? Are you planning major changes to your squads? Is this the right time to use your Official wildcard? Let us know in the comments below!

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