Monday, November 15, 2021

Ten Surprises So Far As the Clubs Take A Break


As the Premier League takes an international break, we take the opportunity to consider some of the season’s surprises to date; pleasant, unpleasant, and those that really shouldn’t be a surprise at all.

Arsenal (Pleasant Surprise)

Left for dead after failing to score a goal in three season opening losses, Arsenal has not lost since and is now knocking on the door of the Top Four. Bright young players like Emile Smith-Rowe and Bukayo Saka are providing the spark while goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale has been outstanding with both his play and leadership. Manager Mikel Arteta deserves credit for pulling this club back from the brink, burnishing his own managerial star in the process. 

West Ham (Pleasant Surprise)

West Ham shocked the league by crashing the European party with a fifth place finish last season. The expectation was that they would pay a toll in the league this season because of the demands of their Europa league schedule. Surprisingly, that has not been the case as the Hammers moved into third position in the table after a resounding defeat of Liverpool and remain unbeaten in their Europa League contests. David Moyes has his team well drilled, capitalizing on set pieces and counter attacks to exploit their opponents. 

Crystal Palace (Pleasant Surprise) 

Pundits feared too much change portended early season disaster for Crystal Palace which started the season with a new manager, a revamped roster, and a new style of play. Instead, the Eagles have begun to soar with back-to-back victories over defending champion Manchester City and an in-form Wolves team. As rewarding as the two recent victories have been, the hard work has been put in all season as Crystal Palace has lost but two matches under  Manager Patrick Vieira. 

Manchester United (Unpleasant Surprise)

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is under the microscope as Manchester United struggles despite its sparkling array of talent. The club seems disorganized with an unclear style of play as Solskjaer struggles with putting the pieces together. The club was second last year and added transfers Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho, and Raphael Varane. And yet surprisingly the club has taken a step back. 

Harry Kane (Unpleasant Surprise) 

The league’s reigning top scorer and Captain of England has but a single goal to his credit this season. The striker’s lack of production follows tedious offseason demands for a transfer. Kane has done his own reputation harm and contributed mightily to getting a manager (Nuno Espirito Santo) fired with poor on-field performance following the off-field drama. The success of new Spurs manager Antonio Conte could hinge on getting Kane back on track. 

Leicester (Unpleasant Surprise)

After scratching at a Champions League berth the last two season, a lackluster Leicester team is sagging in twelfth position in the table. The Foxes had injury issues in their back line form the season’s onset but poor play from defenders such as Caglar Soyuncu has been the more surprising source of their frailty. Only four clubs have conceded more goals than the Foxes. Even with their defensive issues, more should be expected from this quality roster. The biggest surprise might be that Manager Brendan Rogers continues to be rumored for the bigger Manchester United job. 

Aston Villa (Unpleasant Surprise) 

The thinking was that Aston Villa had reinvested its Jack Grealish proceeds wisely and would continue its positive trajectory in the league. Such has not been the case. Striker Danny Ings has again demonstrated his career long propensity for injury. New singing Emi Buendia has been invisible. Leon Bailley has shown but flashes. Holdover stars like Tyrone Mings and Ollie Watkins have inexplicably taken a step back. It has all come crashing down and resulted in the sacking of Manager Dean Smith.

Brentford (Shouldn’t Be A Surprise)

After starting strongly out of the gate, Brentford has lost four consecutive matches. Many were surprised at how brightly the season began. Others have been shocked at how quickly things have now started to spiral. An adrenaline-fueled Premier League debut under a charismatic manager is as understandable as the newly promoted club now starting to find its level. There will be more good moments for the Bees but survival and not top of the table is the mission. 

Mohamed Salah (Shouldn’t Be A Surprise)

With a league leading 10 goals in 11 matches, Mohamed Salah is solidifying his reputation as one of the world’s top players. Integral to Liverpool’s rise under Klopp, Salah now vies with a select few such as Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski to be considered the world’s best as the sun begins to set on Messi and Ronaldo. 

Managerial Changes (Shouldn’t Be A Surprise)

Five managerial changes to date are more than the league experienced all last season. The lack of patience should not be surprising given the financial stakes of surviving and thriving in the world’s richest league. Tottenham Hotspur needs to leverage its stadium investment with success on the field. Aston Villa’s ambitious management reacted swiftly as relegation beckons just two points away. Newcastle’s new management rightly wanted their own man to rescue the club from what would be a disastrous relegation in their first year of ownership. The only question regarding Norwich’s change should be why it did not happen sooner. Watford is Watford and they may yet make another change this season.

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