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As we’re in the throes of an international break, it is a good time to step back and review what has happened so far this Premier League season. I don’t think that three games in is enough data to make sweeping predictions from but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some takeaways to be had. We’ve already had a few surprise performances both good and bad as Tottenham is leading the league and Wolves and Arsenal are both in the relegation zone. Two teams have yet to score a goal while only one team hasn’t allowed a goal yet.
Coaches are beginning to put their stamps on things but there are kinks to be worked out. One of the most important aspects is that fans being back is making a difference so far. 30 home matches have been played so far with the home team picking up at least a point 77 percent of the time. There have also been 32 goals allowed in those matches for an average of 1.07 goals allowed per game. Flipping to away, a whopping 53 goals have been allowed for an average of 1.77 goals allowed per game. We’re already seeing that you should sit defenders playing away and captain players who are at home which leads to our question of the week submitted by Brandon Marcus.
This is quite the elephant in the room with Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku tempting managers to blow up their FPL sides. Using my team as an example, I’m weighing the pros and cons of adding Cristiano Ronaldo and Demarai Gray for Bruno Fernandes and Emmanuel Dennis.
This wouldn’t end up shuffling my premiums much and I would still have Trent Alexander-Arnold, Jadon Sancho, and Mohamed Salah. With the starting 4.0m defenders, there is a way to fit five premiums in Heung-Min Son, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Salah, Ronaldo, and Alexander-Arnold into the same side but it ruins your ability to rotate covering fixtures. Because of this, I’d always lean to a balanced side but if you’re not wildcarding yet, then there is room for a five premium load up that you can get out of after gameweek seven or so. It is important to remember that with Danny Ings, Raúl Jiménez, Calvert-Lewin, and Antonio there is excellent coverage among 8.2m and under forwards which is why it’s hard to recommend a Ronaldo and Lukaku/Kane double up.
We’re going to take a look at each team in order of the table for a bit of a what do we know now three games into the season.
Tottenham: The final perfect team on the season Spurs have three goals scored, three clean sheets, and three victories through three games of the season. While they’ve looked less than convincing at times averaging 17 shots allowed per game, that doesn’t matter when they’re low percentage chances for the most part. Via expected goals allowed, Spurs should have allowed 3.9 goals per FBref. Looking at an expected goals per shot ratio, this is sustainable especially considering how well-drilled Nuno Espirito Santo’s team’s defenses are. There is a concern about the attack but with Emerson Royal joining, there is hope that the team will break their one goal per game ceiling.
West Ham United: The biggest surprise so far this season has been the ease that West Ham has dispatched opponents with. While they did suffer a slip-up versus Crystal Palace before the international break, the addition of Kurt Zouma will improve both the defense and their set-piece taking. Michail Antonio is a man on fire and the performances of Pablo Fornals have gone under the radar even though he has two goals and an assist through three games. There is the concern that performances will begin to slip with Europa League play beginning on September 16th but with a few easier matchups, it is possible that the Hammers won’t need to play their first team in Europe for the first few match days.
Manchester United: The more things change, the more they stay the same as United’s attack has been non-existent since their 5-1 romp over Leeds United. They struggled to break down Southampton and let Wolves run riot before David De Gea was able to pull off magic to keep them off the score sheet. New signing Raphael Varane had the awareness to find Mason Greenwood for the winner but Manchester United’s lack of a defensive midfielder is apparent without Scott McTominay being available. The addition of Cristiano Ronaldo may make their top-level attacks better but it doesn’t stop them from being overrun in midfield especially when he won’t be dropping back much to defend. Early returns from Jadon Sancho also haven’t been great and with United expected to compete for the title, dropping more points early could come back to bite them if things don’t look better in the next few games.
Chelsea: All things considered, there isn’t much more that Chelsea could’ve done so far to open the season. They saw off Palace and Arsenal without issue. While the Liverpool match was marred by Reece James’ red card, Chelsea was able to hold firm to at least muster a point in the match. Romelu Lukaku is already looking like quite an addition as every run that he makes has the potential to end in a goal and the defense is right where they left off last season. FPL wise, their attacking options are shallow with only Mason Mount and Lukaku standing out but this may be a blessing in disguise considering that we’re already spoiled for choice selection-wise.
Liverpool: This is a team that is so close to being back with the second-highest expected goals tally of 7.6 to begin the season but versus Chelsea Liverpool suffered a blow. Roberto Firmino went off injured with a hamstring issue and it is unknown how long he will be out for right now. Diogo Jota is a more than fine stand-in but he has had his own injury issues and it hurts the depth in the front three as a whole. Liverpool has depth at almost every other position but their attacking backups of Takumi Minamino, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Divock Origi leave much to be desired. Seeing how upcoming Champions League fixtures will be balanced with games every three days through September will be an important test to see where Liverpool’s ceiling is.
Everton: Rafa Benitez has elevated Dominic Calvert-Lewin to a new level as he has been behind only Antiono when it comes to performances for pure nines to open the season. Adding that with the business that added Andros Townsend and Gray for only 2.2 million dollars combined has gone a long way to making everyone forget about James Rodriguez in purgatory and the suspended Gylfi Sigurdsson. We already knew that Benitez would steady the defense immediately upon joining but the attack being so effective is unexpected.
Manchester City: It may be a blessing in disguise that City didn’t sign a nine before the season. Jack Grealish has been able to provide the necessary creative spark in the absence of Phil Foden and Kevin De Bruyne while the Ferran Torres x Gabriel Jesus link-up has been a revelation to begin the season. Torres showed that he can be an effective false nine last season but it’s time to remove the “false” part of that considering that Torres is shooting more and passing less this season. A large part of this is Gabriel Jesus sliding out to becoming a regular winger that delivers killer balls into the box. The defense is just as good as last year and we’ve yet to see the best of what City has to offer which is truly a scary thought.
Brighton and Hove Albion: Brighton missed out on recruiting Odsonne Edouard and they may regret it as the team has looked slow to begin the season. The defense has been as good as expected and Neal Maupay is on one of his trademark early season runs with two goals in three matches, but Leandro Trossard has been a ghost so far. There isn’t much coming from the wings which will hopefully improve with the return of Joel Veltman but the bar is high for Brighton after every underlying statistic favored them last season. Only time will tell if their start this season is regression to the mean or an aberration.
Leicester City: Brenden Rodgers is the biggest plague to Leicester taking a step forward. While injuries to Jonny Evans, Wesley Fofana, and Ryan Bertrand have caused quite the strain on the team, Leicester’s best defense is attacking. What more can Kelechi Iheanacho do for a look-in after 12 goals and two assists over 25 appearances last season. All of Leicester’s best performances came with two strikers on the field and Iheanacho was able to develop a partnership with Jamie Vardy. Leicester recognized their weakness in the attack by bringing in Ademola Lookman but that doesn’t feel like a move for moving things to a front two. The midfield is strong enough to play a 4-4-2 but Rodgers is stuck to a 4-2-3-1. James Maddison and Harvey Barnes will also need to improve their performances moving forward but it’s on the coach to put them into the best positions to succeed.
Brentford: By the numbers, Brentford has been the second-best defense in the Premier League. Could this possibly be another Sheffield United situation? With the performances of David Raya and Ethan Pinnock, the core is there to do it and the attack will get better as Ivan Toney has performed well but things aren’t showing on the scoresheet yet.
Aston Villa: So much change for Villa so it’s not surprising that they’ve had a shaky start to the season. Leon Bailey has yet to be integrated, Bertrand Traoré, and Ollie Watkins are both missing with injuries. Add in the international situations of Emi Martínez and Emi Buendía and we really get into a tough spot for Dean Smith. The defense has also suffered which is why outside of Danny Ings, I’d be looking to shed Villa players left and right until around game week eight.
Watford: Watford has shown a stoutness in defense as their fixtures are beginning to pick up facing Wolves, Norwich, Newcastle, and Leeds in their next four fixtures. The attack leaves much to be desired but the good side of things is that you know that their attacks will come through Ismaila Sarr. This makes getting coverage easy as you can add Sarr and your favorite defender and get solid coverage.
Southampton: With the addition of Adam Armstrong, transitioning from Danny Ings doesn’t seem to be as much of an issue as it was expected. Che Adams and Armstrong have already come to a good understanding in attack and the defense is beginning to find its footing with young Tino Livramento forcing the issue to get involved. The most shocking inclusion has been Mohamed Elyounoussi returning from purgatory at Celtic while Stuart Armstrong is mysteriously missing after being linked to a move away during the summer. The team is going through growing pains while integrating so many new players and this will continue facing West Ham, Manchester City, and Chelsea in their next few games but there is a lot to like and watch moving forward.
Crystal Palace: The Patrick Vieira effect is real so far this season as Palace is more exciting than they have been in a while. Bringing down the average age in the squad while putting in good shifts has led to the Eagles already collecting two points on the season while Eberechi Eze and Michael Olise are sidelined due to injury. Steve has more on how good Odsonne Edouard’s addition is to this side but even with the defense still being as good as last year, things are beginning to look up in London.
Leeds United: Leeds is another team struggling to integrate new signings as Covid sidelined Júnior Firpo and Mateusz Klich. Firpo especially is an important signing as Stuart Dallas is wasted at left back for the team. He brings so much to the midfield that he needs to be there for every fixture that he is available for. It remains to be seen how Daniel James will integrate but the unfortunate signs are beginning to show that Leeds United could be hitting a sophomore slump. Most of their improvement last season can be pinned on a stouter defense but they’ve already allowed eight goals in their first three games.
Burnley: Burnley is lacking an identity. The addition of Maxwel Cornet leans into their attempts to attack more this season but the results aren’t there yet with only two goals scored. Getting forward more has left their defense out to dry but considering that the team shouldn’t be bad enough to get relegated, now is the time to work out these kinks in what they’d like to do. Sean Dyche would’ve likely wanted a midfield addition but as long as everyone stays healthy, Cornet should be able to cover the biggest weakness.
Newcastle United: Newcastle is fun because Allan Saint-Maximin may be the most watchable player in the Premier League. Callum Wilson is another guy who is realistically too good for that side. The defense is putrid and outside of their top guys, there isn’t much to like in attack. Joe Willock was the only major addition to the side but no one can expect him to continue his goal-scoring form from last season. This brings us back to where we usually are, Newcastle can’t put a foot wrong or they will be relegated this season. There’s no coverage for when ASM and Wilson inevitably miss games and two of the three teams below them got better on deadline day.
Wolverhampton Wanderers: New systems are tough but there can’t be an unluckier team in the league to begin the season than Wolves. There’s a force field over the net as they’re one of two teams not to score a goal this season. Some of this is down to heroics from the opposition while others are due to the general lack of quality that Adama Traoré has in front of the net. With Daniel Podence returning to health, Bruno Lage will have good problems on how he wants to orient his attack but once Wolves score their first league goal, it will be followed by quite a few more. The defense has been mostly fine allowing one goal per game and most importantly Raúl Jiménez is beginning to look like himself again.
Norwich City: Don’t hold your breath but Norwich may be building a Premier League defense. City and Liverpool did what you’d expect putting eight goals past the Canaries but the addition of Brandon Williams and Ozan Kabak shows that Norwich is at least willing to attempt investment in defense this time around in the Premier League. Kabak gets a bad rap for his performances with Liverpool last season but when you consider the pressure on him and the amount of rotation among the backline while he was there he gets a bit of a pass for me. Kabak is a talented defender who should improve Norwich’s backline. It won’t make them a good defense but any improvement from the worst defense in the league can be enough to put pressure on Newcastle and Burnley.
Arsenal: It can be said that Arsenal has had a rough start to the season so some of their struggles are to be expected. It can also be said that this long into Mikel Arteta’s tenure, Arsenal going into matches without a discernible game plan is concerning. This team won’t be relegated this season but the defense was supposed to be their calling card and they’re opening lanes that you can drive a truck through. I’m not sure what the aim is for Arsenal this season but if it’s a European spot, Arteta won’t last much longer in charge of the side.