After October’s international break, the Premier League returned to action with some highly-anticipated matches such as the Merseyside Derby between undefeated Everton and defending champions in Liverpool, and Aston Villa against Leicester City. After another crazy match week in the Premier League, here are my three takeaways from the action this past weekend.
1.. Virgil Van Dijk’s injury leaves the Premier League title race wide open
Ever since Liverpool acquired him from Southampton in January of 2018, Liverpool center-back Virgil Van Dijk has been instrumental in Liverpool’s success over the last several years. Since he was subbed out of a match against Southampton in Sept. 2018, he has played every minute of every match in the Premier League for Liverpool; that equates to 6,665 consecutive minutes of play. His resume as the leader of Liverpool’s backline during this run includes only losing five Premier League matches, winning the 2018-19 Champions League title, winning Liverpool’s first Premier League title in 30 years and finishing second to Lionel Messi in the 2019 Ballon d’Or voting.
In Liverpool’s 2-2 draw to Everton on Saturday, Van Dijk tore his ACL after a challenge from Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, ending his season early. Liverpool’s backline has struggled to start this season, conceding 13 goals in their first five matches, including seven against Aston Villa. Without Van Dijk, the backline will continue to struggle, leaving the title race wide open this season. While Liverpool’s front line is dominant and outplayed Everton on Saturday, they haven’t looked as great as they did when they cruised through the league last season, winning nearly every match until February.
With Everton looking strong to start the season, Aston Villa not dropping a match so far, and other clubs showing promise such as Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City, Liverpool will not have an easy road to defend their title. Remember last season when Manchester City defender Aymeric Laporte tore his ACL early in the season? Well after that, Man City lost to last-place Norwich City and never really threatened Liverpool for the title last season. Without Van Dijk, Liverpool could see similar struggles as they have already looked shaky in the defense without him. Liverpool is still a title contender but the road will be very bumpy for them to defend their crown without their defensive leader.
2. Everton’s defense showed concern in their 2-2 draw versus Liverpool
Everton has been a fun club to watch so far this Premier League season, winning their first four matches and scoring 14 goals in their first five matches. James Rodriguez has brought energy and playmaking to their attack and Dominic Calvert-Lewin has broken out onto the world scene, scoring seven goals in Everton’s first five matches, including a late equalizer in Saturday’s match.
However, they should have lost to Liverpool as Jordan Henderson’s stoppage-time winner was ruled off due to offsides, a puzzling decision as Sadio Mane looked onside on replay. Liverpool was clearly the better club, winning the possession battle 58-42% and outshooting Everton 22-11. Everton’s backline struggled to defend against Liverpool’s front line and their midfield was picked apart constantly. While Liverpool is great, Everton has conceded multiple goals before against West Bromwich Albion and Brighton & Hove Albion. If they struggle to defend going forward, their hopes of competing for the title and the Champions League could be in danger as they will face lethal offenses such as Man City at full-strength, Wolverhampton and Chelsea after their squad gels.
3. Wolverhampton badly needed this month’s international break
Last season, the Wolves were one of the most exciting clubs in the Premier League, finishing seventh and narrowly missing out on qualifying for the Europa League as Arsenal stole that spot with their win over Chelsea in the FA Cup Final. This season has started off poorly for the Wolves, losing 3-1 to Man City and dropping 4-0 to West Ham United. Even with an ugly 1-0 win over Fulham before the international break, Wolverhampton needed a reset to get their rhythm back.
They faced Leeds United on Monday, a club with two wins and a draw against Man City to start the season. Despite getting dominated in the possession battle 68-32%, their backline held tough, picking up a clean sheet in a 1-0 win. The backline made plays when needed, unlike their previous matches, and the counterattack proved to be sufficient as Raul Jimenez scored the winning goal off a deflection in the 70th minute. If the Wolves can work on getting more possession and the backline can perform the way they did against Leeds, Wolves could be a tough out once again in the Premier League.