Friday, October 8, 2021

Five Findings After Seven Matches

As the Premier League match schedule pauses during international break, it provides opportunity to reflect on what we have witnessed so far as we look at the Premier League table with seven matches in the books. 

The Top Four Is Who We Thought

The composition of a tightly packed Top Four is no surprise. Chelsea leads Liverpool by a point while the two Manchester sides round out the Champions League places. Liverpool, perhaps the largest preseason question mark in the group, has come roaring back from a difficult 2020/21 season as their high-powered attack, led by star Mohamed Salah, leads all clubs in goals scored. Chelsea and Manchester City, meanwhile, continue to be the league’s finest in defense, both conceding but three goals to this point in the competition. Manchester United has received a big boost from Cristiano Ronaldo’s three goals but fellow transfer Jadon Sancho has so far been a disappointment. A major factor going forward in the title race could be the performance of Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku. Lukaku looked like the answer to Chelsea’s lack of a cutting edge in attack when the Belgian striker opened the season with four goals in his first four appearances across all competitions but has been held scoreless in his last five matches. Meanwhile Manchester City has been successfully answering the question of whether it can succeed without the true number nine they sought in their failed Harry Kane pursuit. 

Everton and Brighton Replace Leicester and West Ham in The Top Six  

Surprisingly level on points with the two Manchester clubs and below the Top Four on goal differential alone are Everton and Brighton. The Toffees have validated the selection of veteran manager Rafa Benitez who has overcome the doubts of supporters and masterfully orchestrated his squad even in the injury absences of key players. Bargain acquisitions Andros Townsend and Demarai Gray have flourished under Benitez who has raised hopes and morale after a disappointing end to the brief Carlo Ancelotti era. Brighton, in a third year under English manager Graham Potter, has made a large jump from the club’s usual mid to lower table position as Neal Maupay has powered the Seagull attack, scoring half of Brighton’s eight goals. Should the volatile striker lose form or become injured, however, the club could be vulnerable to past failures in the final third. Leicester supporters are beginning to ask questions of manager Brendan Rogers whose Foxes are 13th in the table, winning but once, after Top Six finishes the past two years. While defensive injuries have impacted results, Premier League fans still recall Rogers’ crash and burn scenario after experiencing early success at Liverpool. West Ham is three points off the pace of Everton and Brighton but could be struggling under the unaccustomed weight of added Europa League fixtures to the Hammers schedule. 

Brentford Is A Pleasant Surprise

The most inspiring story of the young season is the performance of newly promoted Brentford which has found success in the topflight after a 74-year absence. The small London club opened with a stunning defeat of Arsenal in front of a raucous Brentford Community Stadium crowd. The Bees have continued to exceed expectations in achieving their current seventh place position in the table. In the past two weeks, the club has drawn in a scintillating back and forth match with mighty Liverpool and then defeated larger London rival West Ham. Remarkably, Brentford has posted better results in its last ten matches in all competitions than either Manchester City or Manchester United. The Bees play a balanced brand of football, swarming in attack and yet conceding fewer goals than all but three Premier League clubs. Only two players on the roster have prior Premier League experience and neither of those spent more than 10 minutes in the league before this season. Expressive Manager Thomas Frank has been crafting a remarkable story and adds yet another colorful figure to the league’s managerial ranks.

Crystal Palace Is Not A Disaster 

Pundits feared for the fate of Crystal Palace which began this season by overhauling its roster and changing its style of play under a new manager with a questionable managerial resume. Many expected disaster and likely relegation as the club fell from the safe  hands of former manager Roy Hodson who headed a group of seasoned, if not inspiring, veteran players. The Eagles, currently 14th in the table on seven points, are yet to soar under Manager Patrick Vieira but disaster seems to have been averted and confidence is growing for the young Eagles with each passing week. The club is much easier on the eye and fresh young players such as Conor Gallagher, Odsonne Edouard, Michael Olise, and Marc Guehi are exciting an already rabid fan base. Vieira has not looked overwhelmed and has been adroit in his substitution moves. As the club’s new roster becomes further acclimatized, the future should be even brighter. With young star Eberechi Eze also reportedly recovering well from his devastating Achilles injury, the Eagles (for now) have reason to be “glad all over.” 

Norwich Is Hopeless

There was a preseason expectation that Norwich would be enjoying a short stay in the Premier League. It is thus all the sadder then that the club has exceeded (or fallen short of?) extremely low expectations. The Canaries picked up right where they left off the last time we saw them, extending their winless streak in the Premier League to 16 matches before last week’s dreary 0-0 draw with struggling Burnley. Norwich has scored but twice, three goals less than any other club, while conceding a joint league worst 16 goals in only seven matches. Manager Daniel Farke seems to have made no tactical adjustments off his painful Premier League learnings of two years ago. American forward Josh Sargent, meanwhile, is making no impact for his goal starved club. 

Newcastle Bought

The acquisition of Newcastle by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund was announced by the Premier League on Thursday. The deal had been previously blocked by the league, purportedly due to broadcasting piracy issues surrounding current Premier League coverage in the Kingdom, now seemingly resolved. Newcastle supporters are ecstatic at the prospect of increased player investment following the parsimonious ownership of Mike Ashley. Geordies will also likely see the back of unpopular Newcastle manager Steve Bruce. There could be added drama this season as the table will determine whether the Saudis will own a Premier League club or one that is relegated to the Championship division.

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