Friday, November 13, 2020

What Have We Learned After Eight Weeks?

Top of the Table

Leicester – Leicester sits atop the table, winner of six of eight matches including the last three in a row.  Eighteen points is the most ever after eight matches in topflight competition for the Foxes.  Led by Jamie Vardy’s eight goals, Leicester trails only Spurs and Chelsea for the most goals scored in the league this season. Meanwhile a defense bolstered by the additions of right back Tim Castagne and nineteen-year-old center back Wesley Fofana has conceded the fewest goals in the league this season. Loanee midfielder Cengiz Under has been a key contributor off the bench for manager Brendan Rogers.  With Liverpool vulnerable in defense and Manchester City having difficulty scoring goals, the Foxes should remain in the hunt.  

Tottenham Hotspur – A fourth Premier League title would be redemption for Spurs manager Jose Mourinho who was much criticized for his tenure at Manchester United.  Spurs have the league’s second most prolific attack this season, scoring six against Mourinho’s former employers at Old Trafford.  Son Heung-min and Harry Kane have combined for more goals than any other two teammates in the Premier League this season.  Defensively, the team has conceded the joint fewest number of goals in the league.  Fullback Sergio Regulon and midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg have played well. Gareth Bale remains a potential wildcard. 

Liverpool Liverpool so far has overcome the season ending injury sustained by captain Virgil van Dijk and subsequent injury to line-up replacement Fabinho.  Now a potential season ending injury to center back Joe Gomez creates further challenge and potential pressure on youngsters Rhys Williams and Nat Philips.  The only remaining seasoned center back is Joel Matip who is also injury prone.  The Reds are additionally hamstrung by the recent injury of right back Alexander-Arnold.  If the back-line concerns can be managed, the Reds remain contenders for a second consecutive title.  Wolves transfer Diogo Jota, with three goals in six league appearances for Liverpool, has provided further threat to an attack led by eight goals from joint league leader Mohamed Salah and the four goals of line mate Sadio Mane.

Southampton – Southampton is currently occupying a Champions League place.  This time last season they resided in the relegation zone.  The Saints have captured the imagination with four wins and a draw in five matches since two opening losses.  It seems a sin that the Saints march could be interrupted by a knee injury to striker Danny Ings.  Southampton did well to defeat Newcastle in in its first game without Ings and the team is not bereft of other weapons.  Forward Che Adams has been much improved in his second Premier League season.  James Ward-Prowse is deadly with his free kicks.  Defensively, the Saints and goalkeeper Alex McCarthy are joint top of the league with four clean sheets.

Chelsea – Early defensive concerns seem addressed, particularly in goal.  Former Rennes goalkeeper Edouard Mendy has three clean sheets and has allowed but one goal in his four starts between the sticks for the Blues.  Fellow Ligue 1 transfer Thiago Silva seems now acclimated to the more physical Premier League.  If the defense remains solid, Chelsea is a title threat based on a wide array of attack options and now some additional creativity from Ajax product Hakim “the Magician” Ziyech.  Chelsea leads the league with twenty goals scored in their eight matches. Timo Werner leads eight different scorers for the Blues with his four goals.

Aston Villa – The win over Arsenal just before break snapped a two-match losing streak and allows the Villans to take justifiable pride in their current sixth place standing.  The Villans are just three points from the top with a game in hand after just barely surviving a relegation scrap last season. Villa has spent wisely on transfers from front to back who have helped move the club to a new level.  Striker Ollie Watkins has six goals. Midfielder Russ Barkley has teamed well with club stalwart Jack Grealish in an upgraded midfield.  Goalkeeper Emi Martinez is joint leader with four clean sheets in the league.  New right back Matty Cash has featured in all seven games and is joint seventh in the league this season in tackles.  Grealish has been outstanding for the Villans with four goals and five assists in the six matches.

Mid Table

Everton – A dazzling start to the season has been derailed by suspensions and injuries, revealing problems with depth for a team which entered the international break with three consecutive losses. The team scored twelve goals in winning its opening four games and now has scored four in a winless last four games.  The suspension related absence of Richarlison has been particularly damaging.  James Rodriguez has been battling an injury, making for less attack related contributions and highlighting his weaknesses in tracking back to help with defensive responsibilities.  Dominic Calvert-Lewin has been stellar for Everton this year with eight goals in eight matches, though six of those were scored in the opening four wins.

Crystal Palace – The rejuvenated Eagles sit ninth in the table with 13 points from eight games.  Comparatively, they generated only a solitary point in their last eight matches of the 2019/20 campaign.  Wilfried Zaha has more goals (5) than he did the entirety of the 2019/20 season.  Transfer acquisition Ebereche Eze hints of dynamism in attack previously provided only by Zaha for the Eagles.  Forward Michy Batshuayi, on loan from Chelsea, has yet to make an impact but provides manager Roy Hodgson with an additional attack option.  Notably, the team’s positive early performance has been accomplished despite numerous injuries in defense. 

Wolverhampton Wanderers – After losing two of their first three matches this season, Wolves secured ten of twelve points from October matches to earn Nuno Espirito Santo the league’s Manager of the Month award.  The Wolves have been disciplined defensively, allowing no more than a goal to opponents in each of the last five games.  Unfortunately, they have scored fewer goals this season than all but the bottom four teams.  Half of Wolves’ eight goals on the season have been scored by striker Raul Jimenez.  Wolves may be regretting sending Diogo Jota packing to Liverpool where he has been a key contributor to the Red attack.

Manchester City – Neither the Citizens nor an opponent has scored more than a goal during Manchester City’s current five game unbeaten streak.  Bereft of healthy strikers for most of the season, the club is also missing the playmaking abilities of departed club legend David Silva.  Fortunately, center back Ruben Dias has helped solidify a defense which has allowed the joint lowest number of goals in the league this season.  Despite a game in hand versus much of the field, City’s tenth place position and lukewarm performance to date has given rise to rumors regarding Pep Guardiola’s future following this season.  The necessary goals for a title run this year will need not only healthy strikers but more facilitation by the midfield.

Arsenal – Arsenal’s defense had been solid this season before allowing 3 goals to Aston Villa.  The most serious problems have instead been a lack of creativity and poor finishing.  Forwards Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have only three goals between them.  Manager Mikel Arteta will need to quickly solve his attacking puzzle if the Gunners are to have any chance at a European place.  Options include increased usage of Dani Ceballos and Nicolas Pepe and moving Aubameyang more centrally where he has experienced greater success in the past.

West Ham – West Ham responded well in bouncing back from two opening season losses, losing only one of their next six games.  Manager David Moyes has the team well organized. Rumored Chelsea transfer target Declan Rice is a cornerstone in the midfield. Midfielder Tomas Soucek has been a dynamic presence, leading the team in tackles while also having taken the joint highest amount of shots. They will need Striker Michail Antonio back from injury and potentially transferee Said Benrahma can provide some additional creativity on offense.  

Newcastle – Newcastle fans were admittedly surprised when Owner Mike Ashley loosened the purse strings just a bit this offseason. Callum Wilson, formerly of Bournemouth, has justified every penny of his transfer cost, leading the Magpie attack with six goals so far. Wilson’s contributions have enabled Newcastle to score double the amount of goals they had scored through eight matches during the 2019/20 season.  Still, the Magpies’ have been inconsistent. Their last performance in losing at Southampton was particularly flat. 

Manchester United – The team with the highest player payroll in the league currently sits in fourteenth place with three wins, three losses and one draw.  Midfielder Bruno Fernandes has excelled with five goals and three assists. It is difficult to identify many other bright spots. Paul Pogba is currently reduced to a late game substitute role.  Young striker Mason Greenwood has generated more controversies than goals.  Still the club can generate the odd, good performance while also delivering disasters such as the 6-1 shellacking by Jose Mourinho’s Spurs.  Winless at home, the Red Devils are unbeaten in away games.

Bottom of the Table

Leeds – After some exciting early matches against opponents such as Liverpool and Manchester City, the Whites have been conceding goals at an alarming rate.  With eight goals conceded over the past two games, questions are being asked as to whether Marco Bielsa’s frenetic system can work over the course of a season in England’s topflight.  Striker Patrick Bamford has done his part for Leeds with seven goals.

Brighton & Hove Albion – Questions are also starting to be asked of Brighton Manager Graham Potter.  While pleasing to the eye, the Seagulls possession-based game generates little production.  Internal strife surfaced with the recent suspension of the team’s only multiple goal scorer, Neal Maupay.  Danny Welbeck has been signed to try to inject additional life into the attack.  The energy of right wingback Tariq Lamptey has also helped to brighten things a bit.

Fulham – Fulham seems to have stabilized a defense which allowed ten goals in the first three games of the season.  The Cottagers have allowed opponents more than a goal just once in the last five matches.  Attack remains a work in progress.  There is hope with forward Amendola Lookman playing better (when not taking Panenka-style penalties) and hopefully more contribution going forward from Chelsea loanee Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Lookman’s failed penalty against West Ham may have cost the Cottagers not just a point but much needed confidence.

West Bromwich Albion – West Brom’s season is perhaps notable for one good half of football played against Chelsea, a 3-0 halftime advantage which became a 3-3 final, and a whole lot of bad football which has delivered the league’s worst goal differential.  The leaky Baggie defense has allowed the joint most goals in the league.

Burnley – Burnley has failed to score a goal in its last four games. While the defense has recovered after early season injury concerns, its difficult to envision the Claret attack generating the firepower necessary for Premier League survival. The financially strapped club faces an end to its five-year Premier League run amid rumors of a takeover by new ownership.

Sheffield United – Buoyed by a successful first year in the Premier League, the Blades did little to upgrade and are carrying the league’s lowest payroll. Currently mired in the league basement after eight matches, they have earned just one point while scoring but four goals.  The acquisition of striker Rhian Brewster was a worthwhile throw of the dice, but he would seem far too young and inexperienced to have much impact on the current season. 

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