Following the latest round of Premier League action we look at five things we learned from the weekend fixtures.
Sterling can be leader of new-look Chelsea
Raheem Sterling honestly admitted this week that his Chelsea career had not gone as planned to date, with the winger enduring an underwhelming debut campaign in west London. Sterling has silenced suggestions of a decline during the campaign’s opening weeks however, showing in recent performances the sort of form that once made him indispensable for England.
Sterling shone despite defeat at West Ham last weekend, before starring as Chelsea earned their first win under Mauricio Pochettino on Friday evening. The winger was a menacing threat during Chelsea’s 3-0 win over Luton, scoring twice and teeing up another for Nicolas Jackson at Stamford Bridge.
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) August 25, 2023
Pochettino wants Sterling in advanced areas of the pitch and the demands for the winger to be more direct appear to be being rewarded. Against Luton he was sharp and elusive, with his first goal a fine individual effort reminiscent of Eden Hazard’s best in Blue.
Sterling is still just 28, but is an elder statesman in an inexperienced Chelsea dressing room. His quality, experience and leadership can prove vital to the early stages of Pochettino’s project if he can maintain the level shown so far this season.
More questions than answers for Ten Hag and Manchester United
Manchester United’s six points from three games to start the season paints a somewhat satisfactory picture in terms of raw numbers, but the nature of the club’s performances to date are cause for concern.
Having been fortuitous in their win over Wolves on the opening weekend, before a disappointing defeat at Spurs, United found themselves two goals down inside just four minutes against Nottingham Forest.
Erik ten Hag’s team fought back to turn the game around against the 10-man visitors, who had Joe Worrall sent off, but the openness of his side will be a worrying for the Manchester United manager.
03:47 – It took just 3 minutes and 47 seconds for Nottingham Forest to take a 2-0 lead against Manchester United, the earliest the Red Devils have ever trailed by two goals in a Premier League game. Shock. pic.twitter.com/LsCcRT1fiP
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 26, 2023
United have conceded 49 shots on goal in just three Premier League fixtures to date, with the midfield lacking balance and injuries mounting up.
Ten Hag’s first season can be deemed a success with silverware and a top-four finish, but question marks are beginning to be asked about a team who – despite a spend of around £400m across the last 12 months – still appear to lack clear identity, an issue emphasised further the immediate impressions Brighton’s Roberto De Zerbi and Tottenham’s Ange Postecoglou have made on their sides.
Flattering results mean there’s no need to panic just yet, but improvements are required if the Red Devils are to retain a place in the top four this season.
Everton badly need Beto
For the first time in more than three decades, Everton have opened the campaign with three consecutive losses. Not since 1990/91 have the Toffees lost three in a row to start a season, while going goalless also matches an unwanted club record from the opening weekend, having also fired consecutive blanks in 1971/72 and 1998/99.
This weekend’s loss to Wolves felt like a damaging blow even in the season’s infancy, with a familiar story unfolding as Everton failed to make the most of their chances, before Saša Kalajdžić glanced home a late sucker-punch to win it for Wolves.
❌ Everton and Cheltenham are the only two teams in England’s top four tiers yet to have scored a league goal this season pic.twitter.com/e7qNjbfZT4
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) August 28, 2023
Everton have failed to score this season, despite an xG figure of 5.21, the biggest underperformance on this metric in the Premier League so far this season.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s fitness issues have left Everton short at centre-forward, but a solution is hoped to be found with the arrival of Beto from Udinese. Everton are close to completing a €30m deal for the Portuguese forward and will hope the 25-year-old can hit the ground running in English football.
How the 6ft 4in striker – who has scored 21 goals across the last two Serie A seasons – settles could determine whether Everton have enough to beat the drop this season.
Who needs the ball?
West Ham made a mockery of common consensus that possession and territory is key to success this weekend, with the Hammers beating Brighton despite minimal ball retention.
David Moyes’ side had just 22% of the ball in their 3-1 win at the Amex Stadium, but the game plan worked perfectly as the Hammers hit Brighton on the break in ruthless fashion.
Remarkably, West Ham led at half-time through James Ward-Prowse’s goal, despite having managed just 31 successful passes in the opening 45 minutes – the lowest total a Premier League team has reached by the interval since November 2006.
68 – Brighton had 68 touches in the opposition box against West Ham, the second most on record (2008-09 onwards) for a losing team in the Premier League, after Manchester City’s 79 vs Manchester United in December 2019. Pinball. pic.twitter.com/j5lWEBYg7E
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 26, 2023
Jarrod Bowen and Michail Antonio added further goals in the second half, with the latter excellent as West Ham’s selfless outlet, before Pascal Gross scored a consolation goal for a Brighton team who had topped the Premier League before this weekend.
There are many ways to win a game of football and West Ham proved just that, defending with determination and playing to their strengths on the south coast.
Lift-off for Nunez?
Darwin Nunez has had a challenging start to his career with Liverpool, a footballer signed for a big fee but who has so far struggled to convince all. Nunez was criticised for wastefulness around goal last season, appearing raw and in need of refinement in the final third.
Despite plenty of good will for the 24-year-old to succeed at Anfield, there were few arguing Jurgen Klopp’s decision to start the forward from the bench in each of Liverpool’s opening three games.
How the picture has changed after Nunez’s match-winning cameo against Newcastle this weekend. Brought on with Liverpool a goal and man down after Virgil van Dijk’s red card, the Uruguayan struck twice late on to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) August 27, 2023
His finishes were exceptional, first capitalising on a mistake from Sven Botman to fire home an equaliser, before scoring a second in stoppage time to earn 10-man Liverpool a big win.
A much needed boost of confidence could be what Nunez needs to reach his ceiling at Liverpool, with the ingredients all there for the forward to become a key figure in Klopp’s side. After a modest first season with Benfica he exploded in his second and Liverpool will hope a similar story is about to unfold.