Premier League Talking Points: Title race talk

Free football betting tips: Premier League Talking Points - the title race, N'Golo Kante and Heung-min Son

Did the title race just start? We may only be around a quarter of the way through the Premier League season, but by a considerable margin this weekend felt the most significant so far.

The bookies have certainly made their minds up that it is very much a four-horse race, with Tottenham and Chelsea now considered genuine threats to Liverpool and Manchester City.

Up until now, the champions have shared the favourites tag with City, swapping from week-to-week, now the Reds are the undisputed top dogs.

Pep Guardiola's team are priced as long as 3/1 after a weekend that could scarcely have gone much worse from their perspective; I see that as a fool's bet right now.

Relentless Reds issue reality check

The most impressive performance of the weekend was saved for the final fixture, I know there are two games on Monday but give me a break.

Everything was in Leicester's favour as they headed for Anfield. Liverpool were beset by injuries and under a bit of pressure being just 90 minutes from breaking the club's unbeaten home league record.

Diogo Jota celebrates

The Foxes would go back to the top of the table with a win, and maintain their 100% away record this term - and growing ambitions of repeating their 2015/16 against-the-odds title triumph.

When the team sheets went in, it must've given Brendan Rodgers' side a further boost to see a threadbare Reds' bench and patched up starting XI that had midfielders at both centre-half and right-back, not to mention a midfield three that had never started a Premier League game together.

Jurgen Klopp's side wiped the floor with them.

In a style reminiscent of the 4-0 thrashing they dished out to the Foxes last Christmas, this was a statement win, a flexing of muscles to remind Leicester of their place in all this - they will not be challenging for the title in 2020/21.

If you consider this as just a blip, rather than a wake-up call, then be my guest and back Rodgers' men at 40/1. But how anyone who watched that match can imagine a team other than Liverpool winning this season's Premier League is beyond me.

I say that, there is one, and they offer far greater value than the Reds' 6/4.

Terrific Tottenham, clueless City

Spurs celebrate victory over Manchester City

Tottenham delivered an equally impressive statement win of their own on Saturday evening, as Jose Mourinho out-thought Pep Guardiola to mastermind what was a comfortable 2-0 win over Manchester City.

Spurs are looking more and more like serious contenders.

It's been a year since Mourinho surprisingly replaced Mauricio Pochettino in north London, and his fingerprints are now all over this Tottenham team.

Defensive discipline, they have conceded once in four league games, has been added to the incredible attacking combination of Heung-min Son and Harry Kane, allowing it to flourish further.

Their price has shortened gradually from 10, to 8 to 5/1 over the past few weeks but that still looks like a value bet. Spurs aren't going away.

Man City boss Pep Guardiola is struggling to find the winning formula

Manchester City meanwhile, are really struggling. Their 12 points after eight league games is by far Guardiola's worst start to a season at any club; how quickly the optimism of him signing a new two-year contract has evaporated.

The Spaniard may point to Aymeric Laporte's equaliser being ruled out by a VAR handball call, but in reality his team are failing to hit the lofty attacking heights of previous seasons.

Only now is David Silva's impact on this team being laid bare. For a City side that hit more than 300 league goals over the past three seasons to have netted only five times in their past six top-flight games is shocking.

In any normal division, being eight points off the top with a game in hand shouldn't incite panic when there is 75% of the campaign still to play. But we're talking about a Liverpool team that has barely a dropped a point for two years.

That gap feels cavernous already.

Chelsea continuity maintains momentum

Chelsea celebrate against Newcastle

With Liverpool's ruthlessness, Tottenham's impressive start and Manchester City's poor one, Chelsea are definitely going under the radar, and that is probably how Frank Lampard likes it.

It's not the case in the betting might I add, as they sit pretty much alongside Spurs at 6/1.

This is beginning to look like a lot more than just a run of good form. Chelsea's latest victory, albeit over a very poor Newcastle side, made it five straight wins in all competitions.

I'll confess to being among those who questioned whether Lampard has the ability to get the best out of a very talented squad when his team made a slow start to the campaign. He's showing that he does.

The Blues secured an eighth clean sheet from nine matches by winning 2-0 at St James' Park, a result which took them to the top of the table for the first time in Lampard's 18-month reign, albeit only for a few hours. In 14 games this season they've lost only once, and that was to champions Liverpool while playing 45 minutes with 10 men.

So how has Lampard got things going? Beyond the obvious of simply sorting the defence out, as is often the case it's come through consistency in selection.

Following a huge summer outlay on attacking players, the former England midfielder now has the best strength-in-depth of any Premier League manager in that area of the pitch.

Those early weeks of the season saw him experiment with personnel, formations and styles in an effort to try and work out what his best XI may look like.

The 3-3 draw with Southampton on October 17 marked a line in the sand, as Lampard quickly filtered down his pool of players, and reaping the rewards - Chelsea haven't conceded a goal since, following 0-0 draws against Manchester United and Sevilla with a run of five wins.

Sixteen different starters may sound like a lot, but for a team that has been playing twice a week every week it really isn't. More recently, that has been more fine-tuned, too.

In a bizarre way, Lampard has been helped by injuries to Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech, with the former sidelined as the latter became available, and the absence of Kai Havertz following a positive Covid-19 test, allowing him to build a settled line-up.

Goalkeeper Edouard Mendy has played every game, so there have essentially been 13 players for 10 positions. Consistency.

King Kante holds the key

N'Golo Kante: Chelsea midfielder's 2020/21 stats

What has enabled the Chelsea manager to switch one or two players in and out seamlessly, in a fashion Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola have been doing at Liverpool and Manchester City for years, is him appearing to settle on a clear system.

Wing-backs were used at Old Trafford, and Jorginho and N'Golo Kante operated as a double-pivot holding midfield against Sevilla and Rennes in the Champions League.

And while there will always be room to tinker, 4-3-3 is now clearly Lampard's formation of choice.

It was very noticeable against Newcastle that the adaptable Mateo Kovacic, predominantly used in a deeper role during his two years at Stamford Bridge, was pushed much further forward alongside Mason Mount. Defensive duties were left to Kante, because let's face it, the Frenchman doesn't need any help.

The effervescent midfielder, so crucial to both Leicester's and Chelsea's recent title wins, has looked lost since Antonio Conte was sacked in 2018, unfairly scrutinised for perceived shortcomings rather than praised, and more to the point utilised, for attributes that make him world football's best hunter-gatherer.

In a match where Chelsea had 72% possession, Kane still made both more tackles and more interceptions than anyone else on the pitch. Kurt Zouma was the sole team-mate to make more clearances, and Kane was behind only Chelsea's centre-back duo for number of passes.

Timo Werner and alike will get the headlines, just as Kylian Mbappe and co did for World Cup winners France in 2018. Even recently, it is the signing of experienced Brazilian centre-back Thiago Silva that has been pinpointed as the key to Chelsea's defensive transformation.

But it should surprise no-one to see Kante back atop the Premier League's interception charts after two seasons of obscurity.

Kante is the key.

Bring back international football?

Just kidding! Well, kind of. I'm actually serious in one respect, and that's when it comes to VAR.

I am far from the top of the list of moaners and groaners when it comes to use of technology in football - I'd class myself as being frustrated at how poorly it's been implemented in the Premier League thus far.

Well, at least that's what I thought anyway.

I really enjoyed knowing when a goal had been scored over this past fortnight, which is meant to sound as perverse as it does. Watching international matches with no VAR was a wonderful reminder of days gone by.

The two major incidents on Saturday involved a stoppage-time penalty decision at Villa Park, and a disallowed goal at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium - the former being less high-profile, but far more dramatic.

Brighton's Solly March was penalised for a trip on Trezeguet, but referee Michael Oliver reversed his decision after consulting the pitch-side monitor and seeing, when watching it slowed down, that the Albion wing-back had just about touched the ball. March also tripped the man, there was no slow-motion needed to see that.

In my view, either decision would have been fine. It was subjective call, exactly what VAR is not supposed to rule on.

Moments earlier, Tariq Lamptey was sent off for a second yellow card after Jack Grealish clearly dived to win a free-kick. Under the current laws, only straight red cards can be reviewed by the video assistant referee.

Why exactly?

To north London then, and Aymeric Laporte's first-half 'equaliser' for Manchester City against Spurs.

In what has fast become the modern-day version of players wielding imaginary yellow cards in the direction of the referee, Tottenham's defenders immediately surrounded Mike Dean saying "check it, check it".

Lads, they check every goal automatically.

Sure enough it was ruled out on the basis of the 2020/21 handball rules, where your likelihood to commit handball is largely dictated by how much skin you show on your arms. Being a wearer of short sleeves, the offender in question Gabriel Jesus never stood a chance.

I can't keep going on about VAR, so don't want to get started on the penalties at Old Trafford on Saturday night...

More than just a Sonny spell

Heung-min Son celebrates his goal against Manchester City

Ahead of this weekend's Premier League action, Heung-min Son was as big as 12/1 to win the Premier League Golden Boot.

Harry Kane was favourite, with Mo Salah, Jamie Vardy and Dominic Calvert-Lewin all ahead of Son in the betting.

His strike in Tottenham's impressive 2-0 win over Manchester City took him on to nine league goals for the season, two clear of Kane and one of the rest.

It's true that the four he bagged against Southampton has gone a long way to helping him reach that tally, but his form in 2020 has been nothing short of sensational: 19 goals in his last 23 Tottenham starts.

That includes a significant lean spell too. After recovering from a broken arm and an extended period of self-isolation after returning from South Korea, he failed to find the net in his opening five Project Restart games, and scored only twice in nine post-lockdown fixtures.

Son has always been a brilliant player, but has undoubtedly taken on a more attacking role for Spurs under Jose Mourinho.

More often than not he is their most advanced attacking player, whether that be playing from the left in a 4-3-3 or in a counter-attacking 4-4-2 as Mourinho used to stifle City on Saturday.

Kane turned in another wonderful performance as a deep-lying forward, but in-so-doing barely mustered a threat on goal.

But his presence means Son is a great value goalscorer price in any game.

Graham Ruthven reflects on Spurs' impressive win

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