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Dublin: 18 °C Wednesday 15 August, 2018

Man United's title challenge and more Premier League talking points

Elsewhere Liverpool had to battle hard for their first win of the season, while recently promoted Brighton suffered another deflating defeat.

1. Mourinho’s title charge is firmly underway

They say you should never look too hard into early season form. However if Manchester United’s opening set of games in the new Premier League season is any indicator of what is to come, it could prove to be a fruitfully successful year at Old Trafford.

Swansea City v Manchester United - Premier League - Liberty Stadium Both Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba scored in Man United's 4-0 win over Swansea. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

For the second weekend in succession Jose Mourinho’s side scored four and conceded none, meaning in 180 minutes they have kept two clean sheets, have conceding the fewest goals and scored the most.

You can’t ask for more, however the manner of Saturday’s dominant 4-0 victory over Swansea spoke volumes of a side which will certainly have title ambitions this season.

Jose Mourinho explained this week that, as reigning champions, Chelsea are favourites for the title again this season. But following today’s performance he will be fully aware of his own side’s chances at bringing a first league title back to Old Trafford in five years.

United showcased the strength in depth of their squad today, bringing other options like Anthony Martial and Marouane Fellaini off the bench who made an immediate impact, while €35 million man Victor Lindelöf has yet to play a single competitive minute this season.

The spread of goalscorers and the patience they showed to break down a resilient Swansea also showed a tenacity and killer instinct which has been absent from the side for some time now. At times it looked like Swansea would level, but following Romelu Lukaku’s goal to make it 2-0 (his third in two games), the floodgates opened and United ran rampant to add two more.

Mourinho knows that Chelsea are wounded following the departures of Nemanja Matić and Diego Costa and he will be aware their title defence will be no easy task. He would relish the opportunity to do what David Moyes and Louis van Gaal could not, which is to be the first Manchester United manager since Alex Ferguson to win the title.

2. Coutinho’s absence is Sadio Mane’s gain

Speculation surrounding the future of Philippe Coutinho has not made the start of the new season easy for Liverpool. Citing a back injury, Jurgen Klopp has been without the dynamic Brazilian playmaker for three games, including last Tuesday’s Champions League qualifier with Hoffenheim.

The player was decisive for Liverpool throughout last season as they finished in the top four and Barcelona’s willingness to spend in excess of £100 million shows the quality he would bring to any side.

Liverpool v Crystal Palace - Premier League - Anfield Sadio Mane has been in blistering form for Liverpool so far this season. Source: Martin Rickett

However in his absence another player has proved immensely successful, with Sadio Mane the difference as Liverpool secured their first win of the season against Crystal Palace today.

The Reds bombarded Wayne Hennessey with shots (23 in total) but it was a hard-worked finish with a little over 15 minutes remaining from Mane that secured the win.

The player joined the club for £34 million last summer, scoring 13 goals in 27 games and was named in the 2016–17 PFA Team of the Year. Were Coutinho to depart Anfield, Mane could be the main man for the side in the Premier League and Champions League this season.

Joined in an attacking trident by Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah, Mane has proved devastating on the break for Liverpool. He has two goals in two in the Premier League and today he proved the difference as his side ground out a gritty first win of the season.

Coutinho’s loss would be profound for Liverpool, however were Mane’s remarkable form to continue in a potent and blistering Liverpool attack, it may not prove as astronomical as once feared.

3. Burnley fail to follow up stellar opening weekend

Burnley’s 3-2 victory over champions Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last weekend was the stuff of dreams. But on Saturday afternoon Sean Dyche’s side were firmly brought back down to earth.

Hal Robson-Kanu’s second-half strike was the difference as Tony Pulis’ West Brom earned a second win of the season, 1-0 away at Turf Moor, in a result which sees his side go joint-top of the table alongside Manchester United.

Burnley v West Bromwich Albion - Premier League - Turf Moor Burnley could not follow up on their incredible win versus Chelsea last weekend. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Stephen Ward starred alongside Robbie Brady and Jonathan Walters as Dyche’s side provided the shock of the opening weekend against Antonio Conte’s champions. Where many had anticipated Burnley to face a season battling relegation, the Clarets proved their naysayers wrong with an outstanding and unexpected win.

Now, however, the side must start from scratch. They failed to record a single on shot on goal during Saturday’s narrow defeat and eagerly await the expected arrival of Leeds striker Chris Wood, who caused controversy by not making himself unavailable for their game against Sunderland.

The departure of Andre Gray to Watford was a massive loss for the side and the arrival of another proven goalscorer is exactly what they need, particularly on the basis of today’s display in front of goal. A performance in which Burnley registered 20 shots off target.

Beating the champions began their season with an unholy bang, but losing to West Brom in front of their own supporters a week later has brought home the tough and unforgiving reality of the Premier League to them. A battle against the drop could yet be on the cards.

4. Long season ahead for Brighton

That brutal wrath of England’s top tier has been felt no more than by Brighton. Chris Hughton’s side are enjoying their first ever season in the Premier League having ended a 34 year absence from the top tier following last season’s promotion from the Championship.

Now, however, his side are third from bottom with two defeats and no goals scored following today’s 2-0 defeat to Leicester City. Riyad Mahrez put transfer speculation linking him with a move to Roma to one side in order to lead Foxes to their first win of the season, setting up both goals.

Leicester City v Brighton and Hove Albion - Premier League - King Power Stadium Chris Hughton's side have suffered back-to-back defeats. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

For Brighton there is much to improve as a long season of attempting to avoid relegation beckons. The last time Brighton won away in the top flight came in 1983, however that season saw the club relegated.

Hughton made two changes to his side’s opening weekend defeat to title hopefuls Manchester City, however his side visibly struggled to take hold of the ball against Leicester, let alone create clear cut chances at goal — Brighton registered just two shots on target during the 90 minutes.

Brighton were limited and sometimes limpless. Their rise to the Premier League has many maintaining a soft spot for the club, however unless results and performances change quickly they could face the fear of relegation as near as Christmas.

5. Pressure already on Wenger after frustrating defeat

The cracks that were on show against Leicester last Friday were again evident on Saturday as an incohesive Arsenal suffered their first defeat of the season against Stoke on Saturday.

Jese Rodriguez’s goal just after the interval put memories of the Potters’ own 1-0 defeat to Everton last weekend firmly to rest, as Alexandre Lacazette may have felt unlucky to have had a goal incorrectly ruled out for offside.

Stoke City v Arsenal - Premier League - bet365 Stadium Having a goal ruled out for offside, Arsenal fell to Stoke 1-0 on Saturday. Source: Mike Egerton

The first defeat is always hard to take. However a failure to keep clean sheets added to by an inability to capitalise on possession and convert chances means Wenger has much to ponder ahead of next Sunday’s trip to Anfield.

Friday’s draw with will unveil the Gunners’ Europa League opponents for the coming season, meaning additional Thursday night fixtures on top of the demands of the Premier League.

We are two weeks into the new season and already pressure is building on Wenger. It does not seem like it will let up any time soon either.

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Mané, Mané, Mané! Sadio fires Liverpool to three points against Palace

Pogba-inspired Man United hit Swansea for four in emphatic win

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Aaron Gallagher

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