There is no perfect system or style of play in football. That’s what makes the complexity of varying tactics in the game so intriguing.
Barcelona’s tiki-taka brand of football dominated during Pep Guardiola’s reign at the helm but even such an elegant system that seemed impossible to compete with at one stage eventually had its weaknesses exposed and exploited.
However, modern day managers do seem to be enamoured by one common theme – goalkeepers need to be better on the ball and contribute to the team’s build-up play.
Victor Valdes was entrusted with finding a team-mate with short passes under Guardiola. Then Manuel Neuer came along for Bayer Munich and established himself as the first ‘sweeper-keeper’, taking a giant leap in the evolution of the role – largely under the watchful eye of, again, Guardiola.
It’s no surprise then that the Spaniard’s arrival on English shores has coincided with the increased demands on goalkeepers in the Premier League. He made a bold statement by immediately dropping England’s then number one Joe Hart and signing Claudio Bravo.
The former Barcelona custodian was more in tune with his demands on the ball but even he endured a few glaring errors, thereby confirming early on that the Premier League would require a very specific kind of keeper to deliver on Guardiola’s requirements. Manchester City spent £35 million on Ederson the following season and Guardiola’s master plan began to fall into place.
Other clubs have followed suit. Numerous incidents over the weekend though suggest that it’s a trend being forced upon them rather than one allowed to organically catch on, with goalkeepers starring in the division’s latest catalogue of errors.
There are just six British managers in the Premier League this season. That’s a significant indication of the direction the league is heading in with regard to the brand of football being encouraged at the moment.
The likes of Unai Emery, Guardiola and Maurizio Sarri have devised possession-based systems for their respective sides. Meanwhile, even Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino, who aren’t as demanding of their team’s dominance over the ball, do require their players to pass it out from the back.
In order to achieve that, much of the responsibility lies on the goalkeepers. Liverpool, for example, are enjoying more of the ball this season – their 58 per cent possession over the first four games is only bettered by Chelsea (64.7 per cent) and City (65.8 per cent).
With teams sitting deeper against them, the need for a keeper who can distribute the ball well and help in breaking down the opposition led to the £67m signing of Alisson in the summer.
However, that’s put the Brazilian under enormous pressure to retain possession every time he receives the ball, leading to some unnecessary risks. Alisson’s dangerous manouevres at home to Brighton just about paid off.
In the week leading up to the next game away to Leicester City he said: “It gives me a lot of confidence to play with my feet and I have to be focused for 90 minutes. It is already calculated. I take risks. Fans with heart problems have to be careful!”
His calculations didn’t add up at the King Power Stadium though. His decision to needlessly dribble inside his own area led to a goal and he was fortunate that it didn’t cost his team in the end as they escaped with a 2-1 win.
Hugo Lloris has had his fair share of mishaps on the ball at Tottenham as well and his stand-in over the weekend hardly covered himself in glory, even managing to put the ball out of play for a corner from a goal-kick leaving Toby Alderweireld – who the pass was intended for – and everyone else bewildered.
North-London rivals Arsenal, however, have more severe concerns in that position. Petr Cech, at 36, is a shadow of the keeper that enjoyed great success at Chelsea a decade ago and has become increasingly error-prone. He led the way for errors leading to goals last season with six.
The two that stand out in particular – completely miscuing a Shkodran Mustafi back pass only for it to bobble a few yards away for Jordan Ayew to tuck away in a 3-1 defeat to Swansea and his woeful attempt to dribble past Oumar Niasse gifting Everton a cheap goal.
This season, Emery’s insistence on playing out from the back has not been kind on the veteran. He nearly passed the ball into his own net against City and then played it straight to Harry Arter on Sunday only for the Cardiff City midfielder to blaze his effort over.
The fact that Bernd Leno, who cost the club £19m over the summer, has been confined to the bench so far has only complicated matters.
The insistence on keepers being the starting point for their teams’ build-up play boasts several advantages but in some cases, the risk may be greater than the reward. Goalkeepers, like any other player, are going to make errors but managers are meant to steer them away from those rather than drop them in the middle of a minefield.
It may well be that the role of the goalkeeper is heading in a direction still being plotted at the moment, but it must happen naturally. You can’t force evolution.
The fourth round of fixtures of the Premier League season contained some interesting matchups as the order of the table begins to take shape.
Liverpool, Chelsea and Watford continued their 100% winning start to the campaign, whilst Bournemouth and Tottenham dropped their first points of the term.
Everton preserved their undefeated run by hanging on for their third draw of the season against Huddersfield, who are yet to win a match.
Manchester United and Southampton both bounced back from defeats last week by securing three points this time around, whilst West Ham, Crystal Palace, Burnley and Newcastle continue their losing streaks.
Club football will be taking a back seat for one week as the UEFA Nations League commences from Thursday.
So, who led their side from the front and who had a weekend to forget? We take a look at the biggest winners and losers below.
1) Rui Patricio – Wolves
Rui Patricio was in inspired form to help Wolves secure a 1-0 win against West Ham at the London Stadium.
The Portuguese arguably pulled off the save of the season in gameweek three as he tipped Raheem Sterling’s effort onto the bar.
The 30-year-old came to Wolves’ rescue once again as he made a string of vital saves from Michail Antonio and Marko Arnautovic to preserve the clean sheet.
The goalkeeper joined the West Midlands club on a free transfer in June and is quickly looking like one of the best signings of the summer.
2) Romelu Lukaku – Manchester United
The Belgian striker managed to find the back of the net twice against Burnley, but in truth, he could have had four or five goals.
Lukaku was in irresistible form and Ben Mee simply could not cope with the skill and pace of the forward. Lukaku seemed destined to score his third as he rounded Joe Hart but he hesitated and was chopped down with the goal gaping.
If the forward gets the correct service, he can definitely fire United up the table and challenge for the Golden Boot.
3) Alexandre Lacazette – Arsenal
The Frenchman was handed his first league start of the season by Unai Emery against Cardiff and the decision paid off as Lacazette lashed the ball into the roof of the net to make it 3-2 to the Gunners.
The 27-year-old worked very well with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and his performance has now given Emery food for thought.
The former Lyon frontman is always involved for Arsenal, proved by the fact that he has contributed to seven goals in his last five starts in the Premier League.
1) Alisson Becker – Liverpool
The moment that all Liverpool fans were dreading finally came along on Saturday as Alisson was punished for overplaying against Leicester.
His mistake led to Jurgen Klopp’s side conceding their first goal of the Premier League season, but it must have been a big hit on the Brazilian’s confidence.
After his big-money move from Roma over the summer, everything he does will be closely analysed and he’ll be hoping to avoid such an error in the future.
2) Christian Benteke – Crystal Palace
The Belgian striker has only managed to find the back of the net three times since the start of last season and his woeful form in front of goal was on display at Selhurst Park.
Southampton claimed a 2-0 victory, but it could have been very different if Benteke finished off his chances for Palace.
The forward is devoid of confidence and also doesn’t seem to have any luck going his way.
His missed chances cost Palace dearly.
Sean Dyche’s men are yet to scale the heights of last season as they still seek their first league win of the season.
Not qualifying for the Europa League group stage could be a blessing in disguise for the Lancashire club as they can now focus on regaining their form on the domestic front.
The Clarets have always been solid at the back but they have been leaking goals this season, conceding nine goals in four games.
Some rise and some fall, that is the nature of Premier League football.
The Sport360 Stock Exchange (360SE) is our season-long measurement for all 20 Premier League teams, as we track each club throughout the campaign and take into account their results to assign positions.
We initially used reputation and squad worth to determine the starting price but after this weekend’s action, we examine the output to create a new value.
The total points gained for the season are used as a tiebreaker but sides that have produced big wins against strong opposition get a big boost and vice versa.
Without further ado, here’s the rankings after GW4.
1. Manchester City: 520 / 523 / +3
Total for 2018/19: +23
Manchester City were made to work hard for their victory against Newcastle United, with two long-range strikes sealing the success, but Pep Guardiola’s side did what they needed to do after the draw with Wolves. Guardiola will demand more, but this was an important win against a very defensive Newcastle side heading into the international break.
2. Liverpool: 495 / 500 / +5
Total for 2018/19: +25
Jurgen Klopp’s side were not at their best in the away win at Leicester City, but the victory means it’s their best-ever Premier League start. Sadio Mane’s excellent early-season form continues, and despite conceding their first goal of the season after Alisson’s horrendous error, Liverpool will be very happy with their start to the campaign.
3. Chelsea: 451 / 456 / +5
Total for 2018/19: +26
Maurizio Sarri’s 100 per cent record in charge of Chelsea moves to four games. Again there were the slight lapses in defensive concentration and Bournemouth were dogged throughout, but Sarri’s style seems to be taking hold of the Chelsea players. Pedro looks rejuvenated, while Eden Hazard is really starting to discover his best club form again.
4. Manchester United: 433 / 440 / +7
Total for 2018/19: -20
After two falls, Manchester United are on the rise again thanks to their win at Burnley, moving back ahead of Spurs. Romelu Lukaku made up for his miss last weekend with a brace, Luke Shaw impressed and Alexis Sanchez looked sharp, but most importantly for Jose Mourinho, it was an excellent team performance.
5. Tottenham Hotspur: 445 / 438 / -7
Total for 2018/19: +18
After the high of winning at Old Trafford last Monday, Tottenham’s loss at Watford brought them crashing back down to earth. Despite taking the lead, Mauricio Pochettino’s side never looked comfortable against the Hornets and were made to pay, coming undone from two set-pieces. Pochettino’s lack of substitutions, despite Watford’s mounting pressure, was strange – and costly.
6. Arsenal: 426 / 428 / +2
Total for 2018/19: -2
More goals conceded for Unai Emery’s side, but positives going forward, as they picked up only their second away win of 2018. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette linked well in the second half when they moved closer to one another. That said, Petr Cech just doesn’t look comfortable playing the Emery way, while defensively they were extremely suspect once again.
7. Everton: 376 / 373 / -3
Total for 2018/19: +3
Three draws from their opening four games for Everton, but this one at home to Huddersfield will have been the most frustrating. Without Richarlison, they really failed to trouble the Terriers, especially after Theo Walcott’s injury. Work to do for Marco Silva during the international break as he looks to turn these draws into victories.
8. Leicester City: 358 / 358 / 0
Total for 2018/19: +8
Claude Puel will be disappointed not to have been rewarded for his side’s spirited second-half display against a lacklustre Liverpool. The Frenchman will still take positives from the performance however, with James Maddison once again impressing, and Klopp’s side finding it difficult to cope with the pressure from the Foxes throughout the second half.
9. West Ham: 343 / 323 / -20
Total for 2018/19: -47
Things go from bad to worse for Manuel Pellegrini’s men. Defeat to Wolves means they have now lost all four of their opening matches, and unlike the loss to Arsenal, there were very few positives from this one. Disjointed and disorganised, a tough run of fixtures after the international break could spell disaster for the Hammers at this early stage of the season. The -20 is very much a ‘compound interest’ effect of just how poor they have been so far.
10. Wolves: 305 / 313 / +8
Total for 2018/19: +13
Wolves are on the rise thanks to their first three points since returning to the Premier League. The newly-promoted side should have been ahead long before Adama Traore scored an injury-time winner, but a first clean sheet, to go with the three points, will have delighted manager Nuno Espirito Santo.
11. Fulham: 293 / 295 / +2
Total for 2018/19: +5
A point away from home should always been seen as a positive one for a newly-promoted side, but Fulham will be kicking themselves that they didn’t leave the south coast with all three points. At 2-0 up, the Cottagers allowed hosts Brighton to get themselves back in the game and snatch a point. Slavisa Jokanovic must tighten the ship defensively.
12. Watford: 275 / 290 / +15
Total for 2018/19: +40
Four wins from four for the Hornets, who are the biggest risers overall so far this season. Javi Gracia’s side made it tough for Tottenham all afternoon, before showing plenty of character to come back from a goal down to win. The partnership between Andre Gray and Troy Deeney is thriving, while defensively they look resolute and well organised.
13. Bournemouth: 290 / 290 / 0
Total for 2018/19: +20
A first defeat of the season for Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth, but no fall here, as they made life extremely difficult for Chelsea. On another day, the Cherries may have taken one of their chances, but individual brilliance at the other end cost them, as Pedro and Hazard scored late. Howe can be pleased with his side’s efforts so far this season.
14. Crystal Palace: 297 / 290 / -7
Total for 2018/19: 0
No Wilfried Zaha. No points for Crystal Palace. Roy Hodgson’s side look lost whenever he’s not in the side, and that was once again the case at home to Southampton. After falling behind, the Eagles pressed and were a tad unfortunate not to find an equaliser, but the Saints were there for the taking, and this was a hugely disappointing result for Palace.
15. Newcastle United: 285 / 285 / 0
Total for 2018/19: -5
Just like at home to Chelsea last week, Newcastle made life difficult for Manchester City. Ultimately undone by two superbly taken long-range strikes, Rafael Benitez won’t be too dispirited with his side’s efforts at the Etihad. Having already played Spurs, Chelsea and the champions, the Spaniard will hope for better fortune after the international break.
16. Burnley: 278 / 273 / -5
Total for 2018/19: -17
Knocked out of the Europa League on Thursday and now three league defeats in a row for Burnley. Sean Dyche’s side lacked the energy and tenacity they showed so often last season in their defeat at home to Manchester United. With no more European distractions, Dyche will hope the Clarets can get back to basics and make themselves tough to beat after the break.
17. Southampton: 263 / 270 / +7
Total for 2018/19: 0
A maiden win of the season for Saints, who earn their first rise of the campaign. Mark Hughes’ side took full advantage of Palace’s lack of proficiency in front of goal to take all three points. Danny Ings continued his positive start to the season with the opener, while Hughes now looks to have settled on a formation he will hope can yield more positive displays.
18. Brighton: 265 / 265 / 0
Total for 2018/19: +15
Before the game, a draw would have been seen as a disappointing result for Brighton at home to Fulham, but at 2-0 down, the Seagulls showed plenty of character to earn themselves a share of the spoils. Home form could be crucial for Chris Hughton’s side this season if they are to remain in the Premier League however, and this is the sort of game they need to be winning.
19. Huddersfield Town: 215 / 218 / +3
Total for 2018/19: -2
A first away point of the season for Huddersfield. David Wagner will be delighted with his side’s performance at Everton, as they made life uncomfortable for Marco Silva’s men. The Terriers fully deserved their share of the spoils, and as a result, see their stock increase slightly heading into the international break, despite no league win so far this season.
20. Cardiff City: 201 / 201 / 0
Total for 2018/19: +1
The goals finally arrived for Neil Warnock’s Cardiff, but up against quality attacking opposition in Arsenal, their defence was severely tested, and ultimately they couldn’t hold out for a third draw of the campaign. More composure at the other end could well have seen them score more, but with Chelsea and Man City up next, shoring up the defence will be imperative.