5 takes from the first month of the Premier League season
The Premier League is already short of surprises, while Leicester look set to overtake Manchester United, writes Adam Drury.
The most predictable league in the world
Thank goodness for Teemu Pukki, because without him you might hardly have known that the previous Premier League season had ended and the new one had begun.
Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling, Mohamed Salah, Jamie Vardy, Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang and Ashley Barnes are all among the division’s top 11 goalscorers so far, having made up six of the top nine between January and May 2019.
Pukki’s presence among them is one of few surprises so far this term.
Liverpool and Manchester City are already pulling clear at the top of the table while, of the seven teams to finish between 11th and 17th last season, six are already in the bottom half again. Norwich and Aston Villa are in there, too, meaning that only Crystal Palace and Sheffield United are flying higher than expected.
The Premier League may provide some exciting matches and tense finales, but it is increasingly defined by its predictability.
Pochettino to Man Utd is still on
Three wins from 14 matches was not what Ed Woodward had in mind when he offered Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the permanent Manchester United job in March.
The decision felt hurried at the time, an overreaction to an initial run of good results. There was no harm in waiting two more months to see how things played out.
And, after one win from the first four matches of this campaign, you wonder how much Woodward regrets not sticking to the initial plan: Solskjaer until the end of the season and Mauricio Pochettino in the summer.
But perhaps there is life in that story yet.
Pochettino seems impatient at Spurs, with speculation over wantaway players affecting their start to the season.
If, as was rumoured when betting was suspended on him becoming the next Premier League manager to leave last week, the Argentine does walk away in the coming months, then Woodward should admit his error and fulfil the plan that he mapped out nine months ago.
Leicester making it a Big Seven?
Leicester are one of several teams hoping that United (and Chelsea) sit tight and stagnate, because they are hurtling towards the top six like Jamie Vardy on to a ball over the top.
The Foxes are quickly becoming home bankers. Under Brendan Rodgers, they have won four of their five home matches against bottom-half sides, with Vardy scoring in all of them. Did anyone really doubt that they would see off Bournemouth on Saturday?
But then they’re really good away from home, too, with their only defeat in six away matches the 1-0 loss at Manchester City in May.
Rodgers couldn’t have chosen two Premier League players whose styles suit each other better than James Maddison and Vardy. And, if that is a triumph for recruitment, then the improvement of Caglar Soyuncu since Harry Maguire’s departure was perhaps the stroke of luck they needed.
The sense is that at least three or four of Leicester’s first XI would improve Manchester United. That theory can be put to the test when the two teams meet at Old Trafford in a fortnight for a game that could signal a reshuffle of the elite.
Chris Wilder is the best English manager
When Sheffield United equalised late at Bournemouth on the first weekend of the season, they were congratulated. When they beat Crystal Palace a week later, observers were suitably impressed.
But the 2-2 draw at Chelsea this weekend should mark the moment that people begin to take them seriously.
The result reflected everything good about the Blades. Not only the technical side of their game – with attacking centre-halves, wing-backs who can tuck inside and midfielders who link it all together – but also their mental fortitude. They have gone behind in three of their four games so far, but equalised in all of them.
For achieving all this with a group of players whose previous experience doesn’t add up to much, it is hard to ignore Wilder when discussing the best managers in the country, let alone the best of the English contingent.
In fact, although they are both in the relegation zone, Norwich and Aston Villa’s encouraging starts mean that no team has fared particularly badly this season.
Watford – what’s going wrong?
As a Watford fan myself, I’ve been asked that question several times during this rough start to the season.
The first answer is, maybe not much. Nothing is decided yet. West Ham lost their first four matches of last season and finished above the Hornets, who won all of theirs.
Truthfully, though, a run of 32 points from 32 games is relegation form. That includes six consecutive defeats before Saturday’s tame 1-1 draw at Newcastle.
The root of the problem is a defence that has failed to keep a clean sheet in their last 16 matches. After the opening weekend defeat to Brighton, the Hornets had conceded more big chances than any other team since the beginning of 2018/19.
While summer signing Craig Dawson is often left overexposed, he is no upgrade on Gracia’s other mediocre options.
The Spaniard remains popular in the stands and in the boardroom, where there is probably a realisation that they have underinvested at the back.
Equally, the hierarchy are right to expect more from a side that now counts as experienced at this level. They won’t remain patient for long.
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