Matchweek 5 Preview

Eric Toth & TJ Lovenduski

Match of the Week:

Chelsea (2nd) v. Liverpool (6th)

Now this is the Chelsea that we know and lo…well this is the Chelsea we know at least. It’s back to winning and dominating for the Blues, who look threatening on the ball and solid off of it. It may be a different shade of blue for N’Golo Kante, but it’s the same fine form from the Frenchman. Kante has slotted into the Chelsea side seamlessly next to Matic and is thriving under Conte. From a new signing, to what feels like one, Eden Hazard has regained his form and confidence, scoring two in his first four matches. These two key men will lineup against Liverpool this Friday and look to get back to winning ways after a poor performance against Swansea resulting in a draw last weekend.

Liverpool have looked a much better side with a full preseason under the German, Jurgen Klopp under their belt. The famous “gegenpress” style has been aiding with the additions of Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum this offseason. Mane has been as threatening as ever, lively on the ball while roaming freely and interchanging with Firmino and Coutinho. The Brazilian pair of attackers, Sturridge and Mane have all gelled well, forming an attack that will scare the boots off any defense in the league, but they may meet their match this weekend as they travel to Stamford Bridge.

Matchup to Watch: N’Golo Kante vs. Liverpool’s Attack

With John Terry out injured, it looks like David Luiz will take his place next to Gary Cahill this weekend; against an attack as potent as Liverpool, that is a terrifying thought if you’re a Chelsea supporter. Luiz is a defensive liability and will need as much cover as he can get, that is where Kante comes in. A lot will be asked of Kante this weekend, he is crucial in breaking up the play and sparking a quick attack to get after the questionable Liverpool defense. The defensive midfielder will have a tall task on Friday to stop the four-pronged Liverpool attack.

Expected Lineups:

Chelsea:   

Courtois

Ivanovic – Luiz – Cahill – Azpilicueta

Matic – Kante

Willian – Oscar – Hazard

Costa

Liverpool:

Mignolet

Clyne – Klavan – Matip – Milner

Henderson – Wijnaldum

Mane – Firmino – Coutinho

Sturridge

Eric: Chelsea 2-1 Liverpool

TJ: Chelsea 2-3 Liverpool

Hull (8th) v. Arsenal (7th)

Hull host Arsenal after both scored late last gameweek to earn a draw and a win respectively.

Hull’s start to the season defied all odds as they came firing out of the gate, despite their squad being riddled with injuries and a lack of inspiring business in the transfer window.

Arsenal have been plagued with fitness concerns in defense leading to a shakey start for the club. The Gunners’ new signings Mustafi and Xhaka will look to add solidity and guile to a side that has been regarded as “soft” more often than not. Arsenal will aim to get back to their best against Hull this week.

Matchup to Watch: Santi Cazorla v. Curtis Davies

Wenger has reintroduced Santi Cazorla into the side and he has been crucial in pulling the strings going forward. I expect Cazorla will be instrumental again in this upcoming match.

Curtis Davies has marshalled the Hull backline, leading the defense to only conceding 3 goals in their opening 4 fixtures.

Eric: Hull 0-2 Arsenal

TJ: Hull 0-3 Arsenal

Leicester (16th) v. Burnley (15th)

Leicester hasn’t looked like the same title winning side thus far in the Premier League, but an impressive showing in the Champions’ League should have the Foxes confident again. A home match against a newly promoted club may be just what the doctor ordered for Leicester as they look to continue their winning ways this weekend.

Burnley must have known they had their work cut out for them this season. All the clubs around them have spent freely, but they’ve stuck to their ways and haven’t splashed the cash. One of their few new signings however, Steven Defour, has impressed early on in the campaign for his new team. The Belgian will need to be at his best if Burnley hope to have any success against the reigning champions of England.

Matchup to Watch: Riyad Mahrez v Steven Ward

Mahrez has been a sensation for the past 12 months and after scoring a brace on Wednesday in the Champions’ League, the Algerian will be looking to keep the goals rolling in. Mahrez is a dynamic winger who loves to take players on and that can be difficult for fullbacks to handle. There’s no doubt that Ward will have a tough day at the office trying to keep the tricky winger at bay.

Eric: Leicester 2-0 Burnley

TJ: Leicester 2-0

Manchester City (1st) v. Bournemouth (14th)

What a transformation. Manchester City have looked like a brand new team under Pep Guardiola when compared to the end of last season. The new manager has the team firing on all cylinders as they remain unbeaten in his first four league games in charge including a derby win over heated rivals Manchester United. It was star man Kevin de Bruyne who shined for the Citizens, notching a goal and an assist to give the club a 2-1 victory. They continued their winning ways by beating German opposition Borussia Mochengladbach 4-0 in their group stage opener of this year’s Champions’ League. The club will however be without their prolific goalscorer, Sergio Aguero as he is suspended for two more matches for an elbow on Winston Reid.

Bournemouth have made some great additions to their side this offseason, but it seems they are taking some time to settle under boss, Eddie Howe. Howe will be ecstatic that his main striker Callum Wilson has finally opened his 16/17 Premier League account with a sublime backheel finish last week against West Brom to give the Cherries their first win of the season. The addition of Wilshere to the midfield will add a bit of creativity and hopefully provide Wilson with more chances to score.

Matchup to Watch: Kevin de Bruyne v Harry Arter

With too many injuries to list last season, Harry Arter was the man who stepped up and helped Bournemouth remain in the top division against all odds. Arter stopped opposition in their tracks, transitioned play and was all around the engine in midfield. His abilities will be put to the test this weekend as he looks to keep de Bruyne off the scoresheet. The Belgian has been fantastic since his arrival at the Etihad, he will surely give Arter a tough time in the middle of the park.

Eric: City 4-0 Bournemouth

TJ : City 3-1 Bournemouth

West Brom (12th) v. West Ham (17th)

I always dread writing about West Brom because it’s always the same story. Pulis ball, 10 men sitting deep, looking to play route one football and grind out a result. West Brom went out and got Nacer Chadli, a player who I think fits the bill quite well as a West Brom winger. The Belgian international is 6’2”, good technically with an eye for goal I expect good things from the ex-Spurs player, but unfortunately, I don’t see him making them any more of an attractive prospect to watch play.

West Ham have been very poor after having such a great season last year. The obvious lack of Dimitri Payet has left them faltering and looking poor. They have had some tough fixtures to begin the season, already playing Manchester City an Chelsea, but just last week they blew a 2-0 lead against Watford, with the match finishing 2-4 in Watford’s favor. Bilic will hope that by having Payet back in and settled in the starting lineup, the results will begin to come.

Matchup to Watch: Dimitri Payet v Pulis’ Center Halves

Rejoice fantasy PL players, Payet is back! Dimitri Payet has been the center of attention at West Ham since his arrival last summer and this weekend at West Brom will be no different. Pulis’ defense will watch the Frenchman closely and mark him tight, but I think Payet may have one too many tricks up his sleeves for them. The talented attacker can score a variety of goals, or assists, as he showed in his first start of the season through a rabona assist for Antonio to tuck away in last weekend’s loss to Watford.

Eric: West Brom 0-1 West Ham

TJ: West Brom 0-2 West Ham

Everton (3rd) v. Middlesbrough (9th)

Everton currently sits third in the Premier League. And new manager Ronald Koeman’s impact is clearly evident. Everton has only given up two goals so far this season. And that’s a good sign. The side already has plenty of firepower and if they’re playing good defense, they could be a dark horse contender for the top four. And while we like Middlesbrough’s squad, we just don’t think they’ll be able to win this game.

Matchup to Watch: Ross Barkley v. Himself

After being snubbed by England, Ross Barkley has struggled this season. If Everton truly want to have a chance against the top sides, they’re going to need the talented midfielder in good form. Barkley must regain confidence in himself, and become to the focal point of Everton’s attack.

Eric: Everton 0-0 Middlesbrough

TJ: Everton 2-1 Middlesbrough

Watford (10th) v. Manchester United (4th)

Manchester United will look to redeem a loss to town rivals Manchester City. The world’s most expensive player, Paul Pogba had a notably poor game and I expect that he’ll be looking to redeem himself. Sorry Watford. That being said Watford definitely has the potential for another upset with a competent strike force in Troy Deeney and Odin Ighalo. United’s center backs will have to be careful.

Matchup to Watch: Zlatan Ibrahimovic v. Younes Kaboul

Kaboul plays at the center of Watford’s five man defense. That means he’ll be responsible for keeping the side organized and will likely deal with the imposing force that is Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Eric: Watford 1-2 Manchester United

TJ: Watford 0-2 Manchester United

Crystal Palace (11th) v. Stoke City (20th)

Crystal Palace is coming off a 2-1 victory against Middlesbrough, in which new signee, Christian Benteke netted his first goal. Stoke is coming off a 4-0 loss to Tottenham. They’re also still searching for that first one. I’m expecting Stoke to improve this week.

Matchup to Watch: Wilfried Zaha v. Erik Pieters

Zaha is coming off a Man of the Match performance and the ability is there. He has the potential to wreak havoc down the flank. Pieters will have to slow down Zaha, if Stoke hopes to notch their first win of the campaign.

Eric: Crystal Palace 1-1 Stoke City

TJ: Crystal Palace 1-2 Stoke City

Southampton (18th) v. Swansea City (13th)

Southampton is another team still looking for their first win. Last week they were just outplayed by Arsenal. They need someone to step up if they hope to repeat the success of last season. Swansea on the other hand was able to earn a draw against Chelsea, in a game where they played reasonably well. We expect this to be a tight game, likely coming down to some individual brilliance to separate the two.

Matchup to Watch: Gylfi Sigurdsson v. Oriol Romeu

Sigurdsson is the key to the Swansea attack and stopping him must be a priority. That means Southampton midfielder Oriol Romeu will have his hands full. But if he can stop Sigurdsson, the Saints have a good change of notching their first victory.

Eric: Southampton 2-2 Swansea

TJ: Southampton 1-0 Swansea

Tottenham (5th) v. Sunderland (19th)

Tottenham just completed an onslaught of Stoke City and we don’t see Sunderland having much a chance. Kane scored his first goal of the season and will be eager for more. Sunderland also doesn’t really have an answer for Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli. These three players make up a potent offense. We just don’t see Sunderland being able to have much of a chance against this Tottenham side.

Matchup to Watch: Harry Kane v. Lamine Kone

Kane is one of the most dangerous strikers in the Premier League and Kone will need to prove his value as he attempts to shut him down.

Eric: Tottenham 3-1 Sunderland

TJ: Tottenham 3-0 Sunderland

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Which Teams were this Transfer Window’s Winners?

Eric Toth

Now that the transfer window has slammed shut and players will soon be arriving from their international duty to meet their new teammates, we thought it would be a good time to review the summer transfer window winners in the Premier League.

Manchester United

Ins:
Jose Mourinho – Manager
Eric Bailly – CB – Villareal – Undisclosed
Zlatan Ibrahimovic – ST – PSG – Free
Henrikh Mkhitaryan – RW – Borussia Dortmund – Undisclosed
Paul Pogba – CM – Juventus – Undisclosed 

Major Outs:
Manager: Louis van Gaal
Victor Valdes – GK – Middlesborough – Free
Paddy McNair – CB – Sunderland – £5.5m
Adnan Januzaj – LM – Sunderland – Loan
James Wilson – ST – Derby County – Loan
Will Keane – ST – Hull City – Undisclosed

The Red Devils came into this summer window with glaring issues in their side, but the most glaring issue was their manager. They sorted out this problem by bringing in one of the most divisive managers in the game, Jose Mourinho, after a dragged out “will he, won’t he” saga. Mourinho went about his business in the summer quickly and decisively.  Jose identified his players that he wanted and they were brought in without any messing about from the Woodward, something that I’m sure LVG is jealous of. The four signings that have come into Old Trafford have brought with them the prestige that the club has lacked since the departure of Ferguson.

Eric Bailly promises to form a solid long-term partnership at the back with Chris Smalling after the latter’s impressive ‘15/’16 campaign. The 22 year old Ivory Coast international showed enough in defense for the Yellow Submarines last season to earn himself a big move to Manchester and was Mourinho’s first signing. Henrik Mkhitarayan provides the club with a versatile playmaker, who can play across the band of three behind the striker. Mkitarayan and Bailly are two very solid signings for United, but they pale in comparison to the two juggernauts that joined the Manchester club this summer, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba. Ibrahimovic was signed for free, but his wages will cost the club a pretty penny, a price I’m sure United fans won’t mind spending after seeing the maverick forward scoring for fun in the opening matches. Pogba comes at a much higher price, however, returning for a world record fee after leaving the club for Juventus on a Bosman deal. This was one of the most talked about deals of the year and for good reason, Pogba joins United as one of the best box-to-box midfielders in world football and is only 23 years old!

Manchester United managed to make big signings that will impact the squad in major ways without a complete squad overhaul that can be detrimental to clubs. They worked the window very well, by identifying targets, pursuing and (eventually) purchasing them. The club also avoided losing key players after a disappointing season that resulting in a Europa League stint.

Manchester City

Ins:
Pep Guardiola – Manager – Bayern Munich
Ilkay Gundogan – CM – Borussia Dortmund – Undisclosed
Nolito – LW – Celta Vigo – Undisclosed
Oleksandr Zinchenko – CAM – FC Ufa – Undisclosed
Aaron Mooy – CM – Melbourne City – Undisclosed
Leroy Sane – RM – Schalke – Undisclosed
Gabriel Jesus – ST – Palmeiras – Undisclosed
Marlos Moreno – ST – Atletico Nacional – Undisclosed
John Stones – CB – Everton – Undisclosed
Claudio Bravo – GK – Barcelona – Undisclosed

Major Outs:
Martin Demichelis – CB – Released
Joe Hart – GK – Torino – Loan
Wilfried Bony – ST – Stoke City – Loan
Samir Nasri – LM – Sevilla – Loan
Eliaquim Mangala – CB – Valencia – Loan  

From the red side of Manchester, to the sky blue side, we have another winner of the transfer window in Manchester City. Similar to their fierce rivals, an argument could be made that the most important signing for the Citizens is their new manager, Pep Guardiola. Guardiola has come in and has not been shy in dropping players that don’t fit what he wants to do. The ex-Bayern and Barca man has gotten the Manchester side firing in their first few matches and back to looking like one of the toughest squads in the league after a rocky ending to the previous campaign.

It seemed as though City had taken a different approach to this transfer window under Pep, but in the end they showed their true colors, spending an exorbitant amount to bring in the likes of Leroy Sane from Schalke and John Stones from Everton. The two youngsters have extremely high ceilings and, once fit in Sane’s case, the two are capable of making immediate impacts on the team. Sane is an electric attacker with a massive upside, the German has shown what he can do in the Bundesliga, now he must translate that ability to the Premier League. Stones is more of a known quantity, the center half has displayed his talent to play out of the back under Roberto Martinez, a famously stubborn attack-minded manager, as well as on the international stage for England. That ability to play the ball out of the back is something that Pep will have looked at, and a main reason as to why he identified the England international as a main target.

Guardiola has implemented a possession-based system in which every player on the pitch must be able to play with the ball at their feet – even the goalkeeper. Unfortunately for John Stones’ international teammate, Joe Hart, this meant the axe. Hart is a fantastic shot stopper, but his distribution can leave much to be desired. In the end, this meant Hart being loaned out and the club bringing in 34 year-old Barcelona ‘keeper, Claudio Bravo.

The other two main signings to start off Pep’s reign at City were Ilkay Gundogan and Nolito. With the infamous dislike between Guardiola and Yaya Toure, the citizens looked a bit light in midfield, so in came Gundogan. Gundogan is regarded as one of the best box-to-box midfielders in the game, but his career has been littered with niggling injuries. Keeping the German fit will be a tough task, but when he plays, he is one of the best at his position. The signing of Nolito has been overshadowed by the big signings City have made, but he can prove to be just as crucial as any in this window. Nolito offers great depth with his ability to cover any position across the front four. The Spaniard has started off his City career with a bang, already tallying 2 goals and 1 assist in his first 3 games for the Sky Blues.

There’s no doubt that this is Pep’s biggest test yet. He has been tasked to revive a tired, old City side that looked disinterested under Pellegrini, but undoubtedly has some stars in Aguero, de Bruyne, Silva and Kompany. Now, Guardiola has got his team together and they look to be back to their best in the first few matches. This window has certainly been a successful start to life under Guardiola for City, let’s see if this campaign can follow suit.

Leicester City

Ins:
Ron-Robert Zieler – GK – Hannover 96 – Undisclosed
Luis Hernandez – CB – Sporting Gijon – Free
Raul Uche Rubio – ST – Rayo Vallecano – Undisclosed
Nampalys Mendy – CDM – Nice – Undisclosed
Ahmed Musa – ST – CSKA Moscow – Undisclosed
Bartosz Kapustka – LW – KS Cracovia – Undisclosed
Islam Slimani – ST – Sporting – Undisclosed

Major Outs:
N’Golo Kante – CDM – Chelsea – Undisclosed
Andrej Kramaric – ST – Hoffenheim – Undisclosed
Mark Schwarzer – GK – Released
Ritchie De Laet – RB – Aston Villa – Undisclosed
Gokhan Inler – CDM – Besiktas – Undisclosed

Despite all of Leicester City’s successes last season, I felt pretty cynical about their chances of holding onto their key players going into this window. I expected at least two of Vardy, Mahrez and Kante to go, maybe even all three! However, that wasn’t the case for the Foxes. They managed to hold onto their attackers, but lost their key man that made things tick in N’Golo Kante. Kante will definitely be missed at the King Power Stadium and his boots will be tough to fill. Mendy has been brought in to replace him, and there are some similarities between the two, they’re both slight, run about a lot, from Ligue 1 and relatively unkown before joining Leicester, but that’s about where the comparisons stop. Lightning doesn’t tend to strike twice and it seems that is what Leicester were going for here. That said, Mendy could prove to be a decent signing for the club, but if you’re expecting Kante part two, you’re likely to be disappointed.

Right so, how has it been a positive window for the club if they lost their key player? They’ve held on to the rest of the title winning squad and added some very talented pieces with much needed experience. The likes of Ahmed Musa and Islam Slimani both offer some coveted European experience to the Foxes and, while their styles are just about as opposite as you can get, could form a great alternative partnership to the one that won the title for Leicester last season in Okazaki and Vardy. The Signing of German ‘keeper Zieler offers quality depth and competition for Schmeichel with the more demanding fixture list of the new season.

Chelsea

Ins:
Antonio Conte – Manager – Italy
Michy Batshuayi – ST – Marseille – Undisclosed
N’Golo Kante – CDM – Leicester City – Undisclosed
Eduardo – GK – Dinamo Zagreb – Undisclosed
Marcos Alonso – LB – Fiorentina – Undisclosed
David Luiz – CB – PSG – Undisclosed 

Major Outs:
38 (THIRTY-EIGHT!) players out on loan

Yet another club who’s most important summer signing has been their manager. Antonio Conte promises to bring Chelsea back to their best after an utterly terrible campaign. Conte will bring back the rigid defense that made Chelsea so hard to play against. Conte has seemingly made Chelsea fans forget their disappointing campaign and filled them with hope after their start. It’s irrefutable that the club has the players to top the league once again and they’ve only strengthened their chances with their summer additions.

The signing of N’Golo Kante has proved its worth in only the first three matches. The Frenchman’s stock has skyrocketed after the vital role he played in Leicester’s campaign last season and his role in the French National Team. Kante is the engine of Conte’s midfield, he’s been deployed next to a more traditional defensive midfielder in Matic and been allowed to put himself about, breaking up play and initiating attacks.

The signings of David Luiz and Michy Batshuayi should challenge John Terry and Diego Costa respectively. Luiz will look to earn a spot in the heart of Chelsea’s defense as Conte has made it clear he sees the Brazilian as a center half, not a defensive midfielder. Luiz certainly has ability, but he can be reckless and a liability at times, the signing is not my favorite, but depth at CB was a necessity for the Blues.  Batshuayi is one who I’m excited to see in the English game. The ex-Marseille forward is yet another young Belgian striker with all the tools to succeed. He has the technical ability to finish half-chances and create chances for others and the physical tools to cope with the toughness of the Premier League. Batshuayi can cause selection problems for Conte and may force the Italian to switch his formation to fit both Costa and Batshuayi in.

Marcos Alonso comes to Stamford Bridge after a successful spell at Fiorentina.  The departure of the left back has apparently made Fiorentina coach Paulo Sousa consider resigning from his position as he was such a crucial player for the Viola. Although he is a very talented player, the most important thing he may bring to Chelsea is allowing Azpilicueta to get back to his natural right back position. Azpilicueta has been an automatic selection for all Chelsea managers since his arrival at the Bridge, but he’s been forced to play on the left due to a lack of natural LBs in the squad, with the arrival of Alonso, he may be able to overtake Ivanovic and get back to the right side and be even more effective.

Middlesbrough

Ins:
Viktor Fischer – LW – Ajax – Undisclosed
Bernardo Espinosa – CB – Sporting Gijon – Undisclosed
Marten De Roon – CDM – Atalanta – Undisclosed
Jordan McGhee – RB – Hearts – Loan
Victor Valdes – GK – Manchester United – Free
Antonio Barragan – CB – Valencia – Undisclosed
Alvaro Negredo – ST – Valencia – Loan
Gaston Ramirez – CAM – Southampton – Undisclosed
Brad Guzan – GK – Aston Villa – Undisclosed
Fabio Da Silva – LB – Cardiff City – Undisclosed
Calum Chambers – RB – Arsenal – Loan
Adama Traore – RW – Aston Villa – Undisclosed

Major Outs:
Jonathan Woodgate – CB – Released

Wow. What a wild ride it must be to support Middlesborough. Imagine just getting promoted and signing Barcelona’s former number one, Victor Valdes, a highly rated youth products from Ajax and Barcelona, Viktor Fischer and Adama Traore respectively, and former Real Madrid and Premier League winning Manchester City striker, Negredo (on loan) Middlesborough’s lineup is one that you’d expect to see in the middle of the Premier League table, not one of a newly promoted side.

Boro look very solid defensively, carrying on their form from their last season in the Championship. The signings of Valdes, Guzan, Barragan, Espinosa, Fabio and loan signing of Chambers promises to make that defense even more intimidating to go up against. Valdes and Guzan have not had the best of times recently, but there’s no doubt they are both good choices for many clubs in the Premier League, especially in Valdes’ case. The loan signing of Chambers will provide a versatile option in defense with the Englishman able to cover CB or RB. Fabio comes with the ability to get forward from the left back position, while Barragan and Espinosa will look to solidify the middle of defense.

The exciting signings for Boro are further up the pitch in Gaston Ramirez, Negredo and Fischer. Negredo and Ramirez have hit the ground running, with Negredo registering one goal and two assists and Ramirez assisting once in their first three matches. Ramirez provides creativity and someone to link up with Negredo and allow the Spaniard to play off of him. Negredo is a pure goalscorer and a very physical player, he was regarded as “the beast” during his stint with Manchester City. Fischer has yet to be able to get into the starting eleven, but with a little bit of time, the Dane will surely get his chance and given his talent, I’d bet he’ll take his shot and run with it.

Middlesbrough have an impressive squad and could make a splash in their return to the top fight. This window has been a big win for the club, now they must capitalize on it and take their chance to solidify their place in the Premier League.

Has Eden Hazard Regained his Form?

TJ Lovenduski

After a disastrous last season Chelsea look primed to rebound quickly. While only three weeks into the new season, Chelsea are currently undefeated, tied with Manchester City and Manchester United atop the table. And it’s impossible to mention the resurgent Chelsea, without also mentioning the resurgent Eden Hazard.

As bad as last season was for Chelsea, it may have been worse for Hazard. After being voted the PFA Player of the Year for the 2014/15 season, he struggled to make anywhere close to the same impact in the 2015/16 season. He looked like a shell of his former self, hesitant and unwilling to run at defenders. He lacked confidence. There were also rumors of his discontent with former manager Jose Mourinho.

But now, with a new manger, Hazard looks more similar to the player he was two seasons ago. He’s on the ball more, running at defenders. Last season Hazard averaged only 2.9 dribbles per game. This season, he’s averaging 5.7 per game. He’s also shooting more, drawing more fouls, and completing more passes. He also already has two goals this season, after netting just four a season ago. All of this tells me, that Eden Hazard has regained his confidence.

An Eden Hazard that’s running at defenders is a scary sight for any opponents. He’s shown time and time again that he’s one of the best players in the world with the ball at his feet. It’s nearly impossible for one defender to stop him. It requires a team effort, and that makes Chelsea very dangerous. Teams will need a plan to stop Hazard, but by doing so they will leave space for other players. This Chelsea side is not the same one that finished 10th a season ago.

It’s still early, but I’m confident in saying that last year was a fluke for Hazard, and that the real Hazard has now returned. Teams in the Premier League should be worried. Chelsea has a real chance at reclaiming their lost title.

Jack Wilshere Loan is Great for All Involved

TJ Lovenduski

Jack Wilshere. That’s name that any soccer fan will know, but not because of reasons a player would want. Wilshere played his first minutes for Arsenal at age 16, becoming the youngest player to do so in the team’s history. He was a player that had serious potential. Players and managers from around the world lauded his abilities.

His potential really came to light in a 2011 Champions League game against Barcelona. He showed his technical ability, and the ability to control the midfield. Also he did it against Xavi and Iniesta, two of the greatest midfielders of this generation. It looked like he was primed to secure a place as one of the best players in England.

Unfortunately, that’s not how it played out. Wilshere has had a constant struggle to stay healthy. He missed the entire 2011-12 season, but had a strong return the next season, once again earning praise across Europe. Then the injuries came gain. He was out for six weeks in 2014, and in the last two seasons he’s only made 17 appearances.

Now, Jack Wilshere finds himself leaving Arsenal on a loan to Bournemouth. That looks like a serious demotion, but it really works for both teams. Wilshere, ultimately, needs to play. He’s still only 24 and when he plays it’s clear that he’s a special talent. Bournemouth is a place that he can get playing time, and he can do so without some of the pressure brought on by an Arsenal kit. And that’s good for Arsenal. It’s possible Wilshere stays healthy and regains the form that garnered so much respect. That leaves them with one of the best players in England playing in their midfield. Any team would be happy to have that.

Bournemouth also benefits from this move. They get a player that has upside. If Wilshere is able to stay on the field, he’ll definitely strengthen their squad.

I really like this move. I think both teams could benefit from it. And I think it’s a great move for Jack Wilshere. I hope he’s able to stay healthy and become the player he can be. But all we can do now is wait and see.

Manchester United Signings are Making an Immediate Impact

TJ Lovenduski

Jose Mourinho had a busy transfer window as the new manager of Manchester United. Those moves gave the team a new look and are immediately paying off. Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored two goals against Southampton, raising his season tally to three in just two games. He’s look sharp and it’s obvious that his presence is enough to unsettle other teams. Zlatan is one guy that you can’t lose track of, and even when you think he’s marked well he can still do damage. He’s always a threat.

Zlatan isn’t the only player already making an impact though. The game against Southampton saw the world’s most expensive player make his debut. Paul Pogba has finally come back to Manchester United and he looked good. He was everywhere. It seemed like no matter where the ball was, Pogba was involved. Like Zlatan is a presence up top, Pogba is the same way in the midfield. Teams always have to watch him. He has great vision and can turn nothing into something.

Then there’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan who came over from Borussia Dortmund. His season hasn’t taken off as quickly as Zlatan and Pogba, but that doesn’t mean it won’t. While he’s only been featured for 30 minutes this season, the guy has a reputation as a dangerous playmaker. He’s a great passer, earning 19 assists in all competitions last season. But he also scored 19 goals. As his playing time increases, expect him to have a large impact, as well.

It’s evident that Manchester United brought in a whole lot of offense this transfer window. There are a lot of goals between these guys, and they should be fun to watch as the continue to play with each other. But it’s only fair that Eric Bailly gets a mention too. He’s looked incredibly strong in his first two appearances. He’s definitely a presence in the back, able to play the physical game, but he’s also shown that he’s comfortable with the ball at his feet, which is becoming more and more important as the game evolves.

In the end, this United squad is showing that they are a real threat to the Premier League title. They have proven winners. Pogba and Zlatan come with a number of trophies between them. Then there’s Jose Mourinho who has shown time and time again that he’s one of the world’s top coaches. Manchester United’s signings should have a huge impact on the league this season.

Liverpool’s Defense Needs Work

TJ Lovenduski

This weekend marked Jurgen Klopp’s first full season in charge of Liverpool. And the beginning of the second half made that apparent. Liverpool and Arsenal were tied 1-1 at the start of the second half, but that quickly changed. Liverpool’s offense took off and soon the game was 4-1.

While Liverpool’s offense looked fluid and fast, their defense was another story. After new signing Sadio Mane scored a beautiful goal in the 63rd minute, Arsenal only needed until the 75th to bring it back to 4-3. The Reds’ defense struggled, looking disorganized at times. It’s apparent Klopp has some things to figure out in the back.

The first issue with Liverpool’s defense is Alberto Moreno. Moreno has lacked any indication that he can be a starting fullback for a team hoping to contend in the Premier League. He made an ill-advised tackle against Theo Walcott that led to a penalty. And he got caught out of position for Walcott’s goal. While it looks like he may keep the job for now, he definitely needs to be on a short leash. Any repeat performances and he’ll likely be out of a job soon.

With Moreno on the left, Klopp elected to pair Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan, in the middle. Lovren has been at Liverpool since 2014 but has failed to justify his £20 million price tag. While he didn’t play a bad game, it wasn’t great either. He definitely should have defended better in Arsenal’s second goal.

Ragnar Klavan is new to the side and got his first start against the Gunners. He looked strong in the back and turned in a solid performance. I expect Liverpool’s defense to improve as Klavan and Lovren become more familiar with each other. But one thing that will have to happen is for one of the two to take charge in the back. The Reds need a leader in the back and one of them is going to have to take control. Especially on set pieces which are clearly a weakness as Calum Chambers scored with relative ease after a delivery from Santi Cazorla.

Nathaniel Clyne finds himself on the right and turned in a solid performance. He continues to show his ability going forward and can also defend, although like Lovren, he could have done better on Arsenal’s second goal.

The bottomline for Liverpool is that they’ll need to play a much more complete game in the future. While they’ve proven that their offense is potent, they’ll need to prove that they can play defense too. Their defensive organization is definitely going to have to improve. They’ll need someone to take charge and ensure that people are doing their jobs. If they do that, expect this team to compete this season, maybe even sneaking into the Champions League.

Premier League Preview: Manchester City F.C.

Eric Toth

2015/16 Finish: 4 

Around September of last year, Manchester City F.C. was the only club that most could envision winning the league. Unfortunately for City, things didn’t exactly pan out like that. City crashed and burned, suffering some heavy defeats, but ultimately limped their way into 4th place come the end of the season. Having assembled the most expensive squad in the Premier League, there’s no doubt that the Citizens have a talented group on individuals, but due to injuries and poor patches of form, the side failed to earn another Premier League trophy. Halfway through the season, it seemed like City threw in the towel. The Manchester club announced that Pep Guardiola was on his way to replace Manuel Pellegrini. The timing of the announcement was odd and seemed to distract the squad, which added to their troubles. Despite their woes in the league, City managed to go on an impressive run in Europe, reaching the quarterfinals of the Champions’ League, the farthest they’ve ever gone in the competition.

Transfers In: Gundogan (CM), Nolito (LW), Zinchenko (CM), Mooy (CM), Sane (FW), Jesus (FW), Moreno (FW), Stones (CB).

In my opinion, Manchester City have probably had the best transfer window aside from their neighbors, Manchester United. City have addressed their defensive issues by bringing in John Stones, a central defender who fits Pep’s requirements nicely. Stones is a highly-rated English defender who is very comfortable with the ball at his feet. Nolito adds great depth and a versatile option up top. The signing of Ilkay Gundogan could prove to be an important one, if the former Dortmund star can regain and maintain fitness. Jesus, Moreno, and Zinchenko all look to be signings with an eye on the future.

The signing I’m most excited to see feature at the Etihad is Leroy Sane. The German attacker burst onto the scene at Schalke and was pursued by the top echelon of clubs this summer before deciding to join Pep Guardiola’s overhaul at Manchester City. Sane scored 8 and assisted 6 in 33 matches at Schalke in the Bundesliga last season. Under Pep, Sane’s potential seems limitless, the winger will be given the chance to flourish and I believe he’ll thrive under the young manager.

Transfers Out: Sold: Fofana (CM). Released: Demichelis (CB). Loaned: Mooy (CM), Moreno (FW). 

There haven’t been many departures from the Etihad this season, but the one that sticks out is Demichelis being released. The departure of the Argentine is as crucial as any incomings for City this year, after he cost the club countless points. Mooy and Moreno are loaned out to gain experience and Fofana moves on after failing to crack the first team.

Key Player(s): Kevin De Bruyne

After joining City late last August from Wolfsburg, Kevin De Bruyne has made himself an integral part of the team. The Belgian international proved that he could do it in the Premier League last year, having not been given a chance under Mourinho at Chelsea. The playmaker hit the ground running and scored 7 goals and assisted 9 in 25 league matches. In his last full season at Wolfsburg, De Bruyne managed to record 21 assists, a feat that no one had achieved before in Bundesliga history! With Pep taking the reins and the attacking players surrounding KDB, the Belgian could look to set a Premier League record for assists this time around.

Predicted 2016/17 Finish: 1

The Champs are here! Manchester City F.C. has the firepower to dominate this season, even in an increasingly difficult league. City have done their business decisively and intelligently, addressing key issues and strengthening where necessary. If the key players can stay fit, the Citizens, under their new manager, have the chance to make this their year. With the tactical mind of Guardiola and the talented squad that he has to work with, it’s tough to bet against City taking top spot in the new Premier League season! So, from us at Thrive Nation, here’s an early congratulations to your 2016/17 Premier League Champions, Manchester City F.C.