Evaluating the Performance of Premier League Teams So Far This Season
There’s something special about the time just before the Premier League table begins to settle. Clubs that will eventually end up in the Championship next season can be near the top of the table, and for an instant, just an instant, their supporters can look on and revel. I fondly recall seasons when Wolves sat in Champions League spots. It was fleeting, but those that are accustomed to cheering on their clubs as they struggle to stay afloat are allotted a time, however brief, of satisfaction as they gaze at their team’s position near the top, aren’t they?
This season’s table is far from settled, but — just for fun — let’s take a look at what’s transpired thus far and perhaps get a glimpse into the future.
First, let’s look at Arsenal. While the points are distributed evenly for second and third place, the Gunners sit uncontested at the pinnacle. Currently holding a five-match winning streak, the lamentations of supporters over a frugal summer transfer window are long in the past. Mesut Ozil, the main attraction of the summer, isn’t failing anyone’s expectations. There is a bit of a sense of smoke and mirrors, however. Injury has once again plagued the squad and they’re a couple of key players away from disaster. This club is thin, and while they also sit atop their Champions League group and have advanced to the fourth round of the Capital One Cup, it’s difficult to see them being able to balance every competition. Gunners fans will be praying Ozil stays fit.
Liverpool and Tottenham are two clubs looking to attain Champions League spots. While Liverpool haven’t been in the title race for a few seasons now, they seem to have figured something out this season. Daniel Sturridge has especially impressed and though he has many naysayers, this could be the time when the English striker steps up and makes a different for club and country. Luis Suarez’s suspension might have kept him out of the start of the season, but he wasn’t missed too much. Now that Suarez is back and the two strikers are working in tandem, we may be looking at one of the best duos in the Premier League. Liverpool may not challenge for the title, but they have a chance to shatter the mediocrity they’ve been toting for the past few seasons.
Tottenham also have the look of a club that has figured a few things out. The London side is benefiting well from the inclusion of Roberto Soldado, falling only to the league leaders Arsenal at an away derby. Spurs summer transfers were poignant and AVB has now had a year to acclimate to his club. Could this be the season they snag that illusive Champions League spot?
Everton are doing well amidst the absence of Marouane Fellaini. The Toffees are the only unbeaten club in the league, but it’s fair to say they’ve had an easier start. On-loan striker Romelu Lukaku does look to be on course for another impressive goal-scoring season. And he’s joined by Gareth Barry who was a dream pickup, but they will need to pass this week’s test at Manchester City before anyone gets too excited over them.
Chelsea have had a few hiccups, primarily between the end of August to mid-September. Across three different competitions the Blues recorded a streak of DLLL, not quite what fans expected from the second coming of Mourinho. Though some questions have been raised over Jose’s starting XI, namely the regular exclusion of Juan Mata, Chelsea do seem to be falling into a stride. They’re unbeaten in their last four matches, spanning the Premier League, Champions League, and Capital One Cup, outscoring opponents 9 to 1. Whether this streak holds and Chelsea’s messiah really has returned is yet to be seen, but Manchester City on the 27th and Arsenal on the 29th of this month will be a trial by fire the Portuguese manager won’t want to get wrong.
Southampton appearing at sixth, above both Manchester United and Manchester City, is one of the best indications of an unsettled table. That being said, the Saints are deserving of their current spot. Pochettino’s men have allowed the fewest shots on target of any club in the Premier League this season, and have conceded just three goals. It’s been a good start, but it’ll be interesting to see how long they can keep it up. It must be noted that Southampton are the club that gave Sunderland their only point so far.
Manchester City have begun better than their position would lead you to believe. They’ve been solid across all competitions and have already shipped in 14 Premier League goals. The Citizens have had two bad losses to Cardiff and Aston Villa (losing both 2-3) that have marred their start and put them near the middle of the pack. A new manager and signings that will be relied on heavily will do this to any club. Their biggest weakness is conceding goals, which they will have to reign in if they want the title. Gareth Barry’s loan to Everton seems like a bad bit of business and has put a lot of pressure on Yaya Toure. If the Ivory Coast midfielder is injured it will cost City both defensively and creatively going forward.
Hull, Aston Villa, and West Brom round out the final places in the top half and all three clubs are pushing their potential at the moment. Hull have nicked narrow victories against Newcastle, West Ham, and Norwich but failed the bigger tests of Chelsea and City. Those predicting the Tigers going down may want to reevaluate if results like this continue, but a finish near mid-table may be reaching a bit. Aston Villa have had an incredible start, taking down both Arsenal and Manchester City. The biggest worry of this club is star striker Christian Benteke who picked up a hip injury a couple of weeks ago. This surely spelled the end for Villa, but they pushed on and beat City 3-2 last weekend. There is life after Benteke, but how much is yet to be determined. Six weeks will feel like an eternity to their supporters. West Brom lost their star goal scorer in Lukaku, who led the team with more than double anyone else’s tally, when he returned to Chelsea and then to Everton. His absence has been felt dramatically this season. The Baggies have only won two matches thus far, an impressive win against United and another against the languishing Sunderland. These three clubs all have potential to finish around mid-table, but a lower half finish is more likely.
Cardiff City seem to be exactly where they belong in 11th place. The newly-promoted club have been kind of a mixed bag so far. They’ve lost to, and beaten teams, above and below them, which is the sign of a mid-table club. They’re balancing an impressive victory at City and a poor defeat at West Ham (who have beaten them twice this season now). The Bluebirds, or, um, the Dragons, may fall a couple more spots once heftier competition comes their way, but finishing mid-table is an achievable goal.
And then there’s Manchester United. People are quick to shout predictions of the apocalypse, but United have had easily the most difficult fixture schedule thus far. They’ve had losses to Liverpool, City, and West Brom, and their draw against Chelsea was disappointing for Moyes as it could have been a real statement match, but it’s difficult to see a club with this much talent not climbing back up the table. Moyes is no Sir Alex, but the club hasn’t changed much otherwise. We’ve been through this a million times with Arsenal. Things will change.
What can be said about Swansea and Norwich? These two clubs have been glued to one another since their promotion. In their two seasons in the Premier League they’ve finished with a combined difference of just two points, holding anywhere from 9th to 12th place in both seasons. Currently tied with 7 points apiece, and sitting in 13th and 14th, it’s easy to see a minimum amount of movement from either club. If history repeats itself they may each climb a couple spots, but their supporters will likely grow accustomed to seeing these numbers all season.
Stoke had a nice draw against City a few weeks ago, but the positives die out there. Their only Premier League wins this season have come from clubs below them and they have both been narrow. Lack of goals conceded is one thing going for them as they’ve held their opponents in losses to just one goal, aside from Arsenal who scored three. Per usual, Stoke have relied on their defense, and it looks like that won’t change this season. This club has the potential to nick some narrow results if their back line holds, but they could also be drawn into a relegation battle fairly easily if goals don’t start coming from somewhere.
Newcastle were ravaged by City in their opening match of the season and that goal difference led them to the bottom of five clubs sitting on 7 points. They’ve been fighting back ever since and have put away a decent amount of goals. The Magpies have scored twice in the past four matches across all competitions. If they keep the goals flowing they could comfortably avoid another relegation battle.
West Ham complete the list of clubs safe from relegation spots, but they’ve been fickle to say the least. Their record across all competitions this season is WDWLDLWL, scoring nine goals and conceding eight. Without a run of either wins or losses, it’s really difficult to ascertain where they stand. Their goals scored and conceded give them a high boom or bust potential. This club could end up just about anywhere in the mid to lower half of the table.
Fulham, Crystal Palace, and Sunderland sitting at the bottom won’t surprise many. Fulham had a nice win against a surging Everton, but have only managed to score a goal, at most, in all other Premier League matches. Maybe it was the removal of the Michael Jackson statue or maybe it was the loss of Clint Dempsey last season. Either way, Fulham are a sinking ship.
Crystal Palace on the other hand never had their ship afloat. Their only win has come against the one club below them on the table and they’ve failed to score in four of their other matches. There was a lot of doubt after narrowly beating Watford to gain promotion, and those doubts seem to be manifesting themselves. It will take something special for them to not go right back down.
And bringing up the rear is Sunderland. After just beating relegation last season, the Black Cats find themselves right where they left off. With just one point to show from six matches this has to be one of the worst starts from a club in league history. Sunderland have netted four goals and conceded fourteen with the most difficult meetings yet to come. They rightly fired manager Paolo Di Canio but will need the right fit at the helm if things are going to change. If you’re a Sunderland supporter, it’s okay to be in panic mode.
Of course it’s far too early to accurately predict how any of these clubs will finish. But that’s part of the fun, isn’t it? In two or three weeks, this table will probably look completely different and that’s what’s important. If soccer was predictable, no one would watch it. Now let’s see how these clubs choose to shake everything up.