What's Going on at West Ham?
A summer of change saw West Ham move into a new stadium on the back of a fantastic season under the guidance of Slaven Bilic. A 7th place finish last term, which saw the club record their best season points tally (62), win percentage (40.48%) and best points per game ratio (1.55) of the Premier League era, bred confidence amongst Hammers fans who thought this was the start of something special.
But a difficult pre-season, whereby the club attempted to juggle the financially tempting trip to America, and UEFA Europa League qualification, ended in disappointment as the club struggled to find full fitness and crashed out in the first playoff round to Romanian side, Astra Giurgiu. The difficult summer trickled over into their Premier League campaign as three defeats in their first four fixtures has caused fans across the country to raise an eyebrow at the club's current struggles.
Injuries, a hectic summer schedule, and a host of players struggling to regain full fitness after the European Championships have been contributing factors to the club's current poor displays on the pitch, but disturbances off the field have been just as concerning. Several reports of fan disturbances within the club's new ground have cast a shadow over what should have been a golden dawn. Overly eager stewarding has created a venomous atmosphere in sections of the stadium as standing fans have been ejected without warning; a decision that has prompted chairman David Gold into intervening personally. Time will as to whether or not these events are just a minor speed bump on the road to further success, or a sink hole ready to collapse.
Citeh vs. United
I've mentioned Pep Guardiola a lot over the course of the past few weeks, but this weekend really offered concrete evidence that City are a real force under the Spaniard's guidance. Their first-half display against United was nothing short of spectacular; the way they moved the ball and pressed United was ferocious in its intensity, and their two goal lead was well deserved. Bravo's unfortunate error provided United a way back into the game, but ultimately City held firm to secure an impressive victory.
Mourinho must be worried that his central midfield pairing of Fellaini and Pogba were so ineffectual against Silva and friends, who made the world's most expensive player look quite simply average. The rivalry between the managers is a well-documented one, but it was a first-half tactical masterclass from Pep that allowed the former Barcelona legend to etch another tally mark to his list of victories.
United look a lot more direct and threatening under Mourinho, which will delight the fans after two seasons of insipid performances under Van Gaal, but even this new look United were powerless to resist an irresistible City side. The way in which Guardiola is able to utilise his full backs more effectively than any other manager in the game is, in my opinion, the key to his success. Not only do the full-backs act as wide players, but they often come inside, too, offering more options in the middle of the field. It was this little tactical advantage that allowed City to nullify United's midfield, which in turn allowed City to press in more dangerous areas of the field. Seriously impressive from Guardiola and his men.
Improvements at Anfield
Both on and off the field vast improvements have been found at Anfield. Not only has the club's main stand been renovated to up the ground's capacity to almost 54,000, but performances on the pitch seem to have settled somewhat with Klopp's men comfortably brushing the champions aside in a crushing 4-1 victory.
The club's renovations demonstrate an innate understanding between the club's hierarchy - in particular John Henry and Tom Werner - who have previous history with helping club's renovate historic and symbolic homes. The Boston Red Sox's redevelopment of the much loved Fenway Park was partially due to Henry and Werner's respect for their fan base; the $285 million redevelopment of the much loved Boston baseball ground was lauded as a success by fans and pundits alike. Liverpool fans must be pleased that their thoughts on the matter have been considered and, with future work rumoured to be on the horizon, they must be excited at what is being built on the Red side of Merseyside. One only has to look to West Ham's move into the London Stadium and the teething problems that has encountered to understand that the redevelopment of Anfield was an astute move.
On the pitch, the club's wobbly start to the campaign looked to take a turn for the better after a comprehensive 4-1 victory against champions Leicester. Liverpool dominated the game and in forward, Sadio Mane, they seem to have that direct, robust player they were lacking last season. Aside from Lucas' error that led to Vardy's goal, which shouldn't technically have counted due to Shinji Okazaki's intrusion into the penalty area before Mignolet's goal kick had exited the eighteen yard box, Liverpool looked very impressive and the Anfield faithful have every reason to be excited at their team's attacking potential this year.
The Magic of Football
Despite a humbling loss to Everton on Monday, fans weren't too despondent at the team's self-destructive approach to the second half. The reason for our muted aggression was Bradley Lowery's involvement with the game. For those unsure who Bradley is, he's a young lad facing a rare form of cancer for the second time at the tender age of 5. Shocking really, and enough to force even the most ardent and vocal of fans into a quiet moment of self-reflection. Yes we get riled up over our club's shortcomings, yet Bradley's plight is a stark reminder that footy isn't everything in life.
The manner in which the community has come together to help raise the targeted £700,000 to help Bradley seek a medical procedure in the USA has been nothing of breathtaking, and really confirms to me and many others that the footballing world can bring just as much hope to those in need as it can bring despair to some of us week upon week.
The gesture of a £200,000 donation from Everton to help Bradley's family reach their target was an incredibly emotional moment and will long live in the memories of all those involved and influenced by Bradley's brave battle. As much as the club have provided the platform for Bradley's campaign to reach a wider audience - and several players have donated their own money to the cause - here's hoping that Everton's unbelievable gesture will prompt the powers at be into delving into the club's own finances and offering a meaningful financial gesture of our own. Keep on fighting the brave fight, Bradley, you're an inspiration to us all.