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Premier League Playback: Assessing the title contenders

The Premier League season is on a break, which gives Joe Prince-Wright time to discuss the teams that have impressed him early on this season and the contenders who have struggled.


Who is on the up?

Liverpool: Jurgen Klopp’s side are the top goalscorers so far this season and they are showing signs of defensive solidity despite still giving up sloppy goals from set piece situations. Still, if you’re going to score at least two goals per game, you can afford the odd slip up and it hasn’t cost Liverpool who have beaten Arsenal and Chelsea away from home, and also drawn with Tottenham on the road. Not bad at all. Liverpool has so many attacking options currently on form with Sadio Mane, Philippe Coutinho, Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino all on their game. The fact that Daniel Sturridge, Divock Origi and Danny Ings are on the outside looking in says it all. Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum are quietly building a formidable partnership in central midfield too with Klopp’s tactics and the extra time to work on the training ground with no European action paying dividends already.

[ STREAM: PL live on NBC Sports ]

Arsenal: The Gunners are red-hot with five wins from five going into the break. Shkodran Mustafi looks like a superb addition in central defense and with Alexis Sanchez through the middle and Mesut Ozil, Alex Iwobi and Theo Walcott feeding off him, Arsene Wenger’s side look so dangerous in attack. After just celebrating his 20th anniversary in charge, will Wenger be celebrating a first PL title since 2004? His side is surging and after finishing second last season despite a dip in the second half of the campaign, the Gunners look like the biggest threat to Manchester City for the title as things stand.

[ MORE: 3 things on Spurs-City ]

Tottenham: These guys, somehow, have flown completely under the radar. After a summer of careful additions to the squad and being focused on signing a dozen key players to new contracts, Mauricio Pochettino’s squad looks much stronger from 1-16 and they’ve coped masterfully with the recent absence of Harry Kane and Mousa Dembele. In their win over Manchester City before the break, Spurs showed just how good they are. High-press, defensive solidity and then relying on Dele Alli and Kane for goals and assists is a pretty formidable formula. The only unbeaten team in the PL has tougher tests ahead but so far they’ve vastly exceeded expectations.

Stalling after strong starts?

Man United: Yes, they’ve still won four of their opening seven games, but United has shown that they’re still very disjointed and I’m a firm believer that Jose Mourinho still doesn’t know what his best team is. The Portuguese coach has chopped and changed so much in midfield but now Wayne Rooney is out, finally he’s getting the best out of Paul Pogba with Ander Herrera alongside him. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has, so far, been a hit and with Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial around, he has competition. United have looked really good in flashes but are yet to get firing on all cylinders apart from the first half of the big win against Leicester City. Work to do, Jose.

Chelsea: So, the Blues have defensive issues. Big time. Antonio Conte’s boys won their opening three games but since then they’ve won just once, losing to Liverpool and home and they were trounced by London rivals Arsenal. With John Terry out injured, Conte’s defense has looked porous, although they did go to a three-man central defensive at Hull last week and it worked a treat. That seems to be the way forward because the plan was for this Chelsea team to be tough to beat and rely on the clinical finishing of Diego Costa and the wizardry of Eden Hazard and Willian to get wins. Conte has a lot of work to do at Chelsea and he knows it.

Man City: Okay, they’re top of the league with six wins from seven but in the last week or so doubts have crept in as to just how good this Man City side is under Pep Guardiola. In truth, they steamrollered opponents early in the season but the toughest game they had was against a Manchester United who were poor on the day at Old Trafford. Both Celtic and then Tottenham showed that intense high-pressing can work a treat against City with Claudio Bravo and his defense unable to find midfielders with the ball. Of course, City have missed Kevin de Bruyne of late and Vincent Kompany too but maybe this small blip will keep their feet firmly on the ground with a tough stretch of games coming up. We’ll find out how good City is in the weeks to come.


It actually happened.

For so long now Bob Bradley has been linked with the vacant positions in the Premier League (Fulham, West Brom, Hull, Sunderland to name a few) but on Monday Swansea City announced the former U.S. national team head coach was their new boss.

This is a monumental moment for soccer in the USA as Bradley is the first-ever American to coach in the Premier League or any of Europe’s top five leagues.

Bradley, 58, has been working his whole career for this opportunity. From NCAA to MLS, USA to Egypt and then on his recent travails across Norway and France, Bradley has taken the long road and now he has his big chance.

Swansea hasn’t had a great start to the season (four points through seven matches will tell you that) but they have real talent and if Bradley can get through the first six games with 7-9 points on the board, a real stretch of winnable matches arrives throughout the busy December period.

Speaking following his final game for French second-tier side Le Havre on Monday, Bradley revealed his feelings on joining Swansea.

“In this moment the opportunity to go to the Premier League, on many levels, is special,” Bradley said. “I am sorry to leave, especially at this moment. It is still an opportunity for me, my family, for American football. I thank Le Havre for the opportunity to work in the best league in the world. It’s a unique opportunity.”

It’s a safe bet that everyone in the U.S. Soccer community had a wry smile on their faces when Bradley was appointed Swansea’s new manager and uttered something along the lines of: “Good for Bob.”

He’s a much liked figure and although he’s globe-trotted in recent years, the U.S. connection remains strong with his time in charge of the USMNT, plus great success in MLS’ early years. The American soccer community holds him close to their hearts as he starts this exciting journey in the Premier League.

Bradley will now prepare for a huge task ahead -- starting with his managerial debut in the PL away at Arsenal on Oct. 15 (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBC Sports) -- but it is one he will be relishing and an opportunity he thoroughly deserves.


Premier League Schedule - Week 7

ResultRecap & Highlights
Burnley 0-1 ArsenalRecap, watch here
Everton 1-1 PalaceRecap, watch here
Hull 0-2 ChelseaRecap, watch here
Leicester 0-0 SaintsRecap, watch here
Man United 1-1 StokeRecap, watch here
Tottenham 2-0 Man CityRecap, watch here
Sunderland 1-1 WBARecap, watch here
Swansea 1-2 LiverpoolRecap, watch here
Watford 2-2 B’mouthRecap, watch here
West Ham 1-1 M’boroRecap, watch here

The Premier League also has a new American midfielder making a name for himself: Lynden Gooch.

A 20-year-old from Santa Cruz, California, Gooch has come up through Sunderland’s ranks after joining their academy as a 16-year-old and he has made seven appearances for the Black Cats, starting their first four games in the Premier League.

Last Thursday I went up to Sunderland’s Academy of Light training ground to speak with Gooch about his incredible rise and over the weekend it was announced he’d been called into the U.S. national team for the first time.

Looks like it was a good decision to ditch surfing in Santa Cruz to play soccer in Sunderland at the age of 16.

Watch the video below of our Facebook live chat, plus here’s a snippet from an exclusive chat we had as the wind howled in England’s north east as Sunderland remains winless through their opening seven PL games.

Even if the Mackems aren’t enjoying a good start to this season, Gooch is in dreamland.

“People still ask me ‘why have you come to Sunderland from California!?’ Well, I wanted to be successful. I wanted to be a professional footballer. I wanted to play in the Premier League and I want to play for this football club. Hopefully I can do that for a long time,” Gooch said, proudly. “Some people are still surprised at how far I’ve come. It was a no-brainer for me. As soon as I could’ve come to this club. I would’ve come early at aged 14, or 12, whenever… I would’ve came.”

Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here.

Follow @JPW_NBCSports