James Sharman’s mailbag: Man City still the team to beat

James Sharman and Craig Forrest breakdown the best matchups in Matchweek 5 of the Premier League highlighted by Manchester United versus Watford.

Ahead of every weekend this season, I will answer questions from Sportsnet.ca readers on a variety of topics on the Premier League. If you’d like to ask me a question, hit me up on Twitter at @jamessharman, and be sure to use the hashtag #SNAskSharman.

Let’s dive into this week’s mailbag…

From @Aussiekelowna: How much longer can Harry Kane get away with grabbing a defender’s arm and dragging them onto him to win a free kick?

Sharman: I reckon he’ll get away with it as long as defenders get away with the atrocities they commit on Harry Kane inside the box on every corner kick and free kick. Until referees crack down on such acts, it will remain as status quo, a bit of give and take that is so ingrained into the sport that we all just turn a blind eye – until it affects our team.
 
I find it hypocritical, though, for those of us who were brought up on good old “English football values” to admonish and ridicule foreign players for diving and embellishment, while we celebrate the physicality of grabbing and holding. Cheating is cheating, and yes, Harry Kane is a cheat, but damn, he is good at it, isn’t he?

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From @rencity: Do you think Watford has a chance of pulling a Leicester City this season?

Sharman: No. Although, how great would it be to see Watford hang around near the top for a few more months? They have been the best story thus far, and the way they manhandled Tottenham a few weeks ago silenced a few critics who questioned their relatively easy schedule to start the season. 
 
Watford doesn’t appear to be a flash in the pan – they play a good brand of soccer, possess a strong defensive core, and clearly have the ability to score goals. Beyond this, I love their attitude. There is a swagger, and a nastiness in what they do that seems to come down from their captain Troy Deeney. It was Deeney who last season called out Arsenal after Watford beat them, suggesting in not so many words that he knew the Gunners didn’t like it when things got rough. I love that type of frankness from a player.
 
At the risk of upsetting Leicester fans, and giving absolutely full credit to that legendary side, Leicester’s success was also partly due to the failings of the bigger clubs. Liverpool and Manchester United finished outside the top four (in fact West Ham United and Southampton finished about the Reds), and Manchester City lost 10 matches.    

From @ VStecko: Will West Ham United win a game this season?
 
Sharman: I was out with Craig Forrest this week, and we met a West Ham fan who actually asked this exact question (maybe it was you Vstecko?) Before Forrest could answer, I jumped in and pronounced that I think West Ham will actually be okay this season. Forrest gave me a look suggesting I have no idea what I am talking about, which is more than likely the case, but allow me to explain.
 
Sure, the Hammers are 0-4 to start the season, and sure they have Everton, Manchester United and Chelsea up next. An 0-7 start to the season is quite possible, but surely the kinks will have been worked out by then?  
 
Against Arsenal, I thought West Ham was actually rather good in certain moments, and of course if not for a last minute brain-fart, they would have earned a point against a good Wolves team. Sandwiched between those two results was a Caribou Cup win, albeit against Macclesfield Town, so there is some suggestion of a return to form, or shall I say a discovery of form given all the new faces brought in this summer. 
 
The recent international  break came at a good time, as it was a chance for a re-set, and surely some time for additional defensive training sessions. I do believe there are still huge off-field issues to fix, but on the field I suspect West Ham will survive this season, and in doing so will win at least one match.

From @fatems_19: What main obstacle does Liverpool need to overcome in order to win the Premier League?

Sharman: Using a baseball reference, this season is a little like being stuck in the American League East – it is kind of irrelevant how good you are, because there is no stopping the Boston Red Sox. Much is the same in the Premier League, with Liverpool chasing Manchester City. City is the obstacle to overcome, and I just don’t see it happening this season. 
 
City strolled to the title last season, and enjoyed a 25-point gap between themselves and fourth place Liverpool. Even if Liverpool is better this season (which clearly they are) and even if City are worse (which I highly doubt they will be) that is a massive gap to overturn. 
 
Listen, it is going to be fantastic season for Reds fans, and there is certainly the possibility that the league race will at least be interesting for more than half the season, and that will be down to Liverpool’s improvement, but I just don’t see the title returning to Anfield.

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