One thing we hate as data-lovers is a small sample size. That means rash conclusions after one round of fixtures at the start of a new season really aren’t our bag.

Sometimes, though, you have to do things you don’t like. It’s just a fact of life. That’s why, having watched each team play one game, we’ve made seven knee-jerk reactions to the Premier League 2023-24 campaign.

In truth, this was just a chance for us to show off some of the best stats from Matchday 1, because there were some great numbers behind the results. So, read on for our not-entirely-serious takeaways from the first round of fixtures.

Isak Can Push Haaland for the Golden Boot

Realistically, it’s going to take Erling Haaland missing a chunk of the season through injury for anyone to make the Golden Boot race interesting, but after the first round of fixtures, there is still somebody keeping pace with him.

Alexander Isak was sensational once again as Newcastle beat Aston Villa 5-1 at the weekend, scoring two goals from just three shots, 0.77 expected goals and 68 minutes of action. He is a master of forging a chance from nowhere, as he showed with his opportunistic second goal on Saturday, and after missing so much of last season with a thigh injury – he played just 1,527 of a possible 3,420 minutes (44.6%) – Eddie Howe will hope Isak can stay fit and score the goals to fire Newcastle’s tilt for another season of qualifying for Champions League football.

Pushing Haaland might be getting a bit ahead of ourselves, but with Harry Kane having left the Premier League and many of the other big-six sides lacking an obvious individual to score 30 goals in a season, Isak could at least be an also-ran in the Golden Boot race.

Palace Are Too Reliant on Eze

There was a time not too long ago when Crystal Palace were far too reliant on Wilfried Zaha. He essentially carried the team, at times doing so seemingly all on his own.

But towards the end of last season, with Michael Olise and Eberechi Eze having settled, the creative load in attack was being shared out much more fairly. Following Roy Hodgson’s return in March, Palace were the sixth highest-scoring team in the Premier League (1.8 goals per game) and had the seventh-best overall record in the league.

Eberechi Eze shots and chances created against Sheff Utd

Now, though, with Zaha gone and Olise both injured and being linked with some of the biggest clubs in the country, there is a lot of pressure on Eze to carry the team’s attacking threat. He responded brilliantly against Sheffield United at the weekend, attempting more shots (eight) and creating more chances (seven) than anyone else managed in the opening round of Premier League fixtures. Unfortunately, he missed the target with every one of his shots, and his seven chances created amounted to just 0.41 expected assists and zero actual assists.

Luckily, Odsonne Édouard popped up with a goal, Palace’s defence stood firm and they won three points anyway. But if opponents start marking Eze out of the game, Palace may end up struggling.

We’re Going to See More Suspensions Than Ever

As we saw in this fantastic piece on site last week, referees have been asked to be tougher on dissent this season. This weekend, any indiscipline, backchat, raise of the hand – anything – was swiftly punished with a yellow from the referee.

In total, there were 10 yellow cards for dissent over the course of the opening weekend of the season – an average of one per game. Compare this to the admittedly much bigger sample size of 2022-23 and the difference is stark, with 87 over the entire season – an average of just 0.23 per game. The referees were being incredibly harsh – Aston Villa’s Douglas Luiz was booked for dissent just six minutes into their defeat at Newcastle – and although things might not continue at this rate for the whole season, given it is a specific directive for the referees to follow, it could carry on for a while yet.

Cards per game fact, Premier League

What’s more, the decision to extend matches with excessive amounts of injury-time to try and curb time-wasting has produced another (possibly unintended) result. Referees, knowing that the fourth official will be stricter with any time-wasting, are taking a harsher approach when it comes to punishing players on the field.

There were six yellow cards given for time-wasting, including Trent Alexander-Arnold being booked for time-wasting at Stamford Bride on 68 minutes with the game level at 1-1, Wolves’ Rayan Aït-Nouri given a yellow on 35 minutes at Old Trafford with the game still 0-0, and Sheffield United forward William Osula carded exceptionally harshly for apparently kicking the ball away to waste time… with only 16 minutes gone and the game still goalless.

Meanwhile, Newcastle’s Sandro Tonali was carded for time-wasting by walking off the pitch too slowly in second-half injury-time of Newcastle’s win over Aston Villa, with his team four goals to the good and a full-time only a few minutes away.

Overall, there were 42 yellow cards in the games on Matchday 1 of 2023-24 (not including those given to managers and coaches), at an average of 4.2 per game – the highest in any Premier League season, ahead of the 3.7 per game seen back in 1998-99. It’s very, very early days, but if things continue this way, we could see players picking up suspensions all too readily.

United’s Midfield Needs Work

Despite many pre-season predictions that Wolves would sink without trace following their summer of upheaval and a managerial change just days before the start of the season, they were the better team against Manchester United on Monday night. They cut through the United midfield ruthlessly, registering the second-highest shot tally for a visiting team in a Premier League game at Old Trafford on record (since 2004-05).

Wolves shots vs Manchester United

The expensive rebuild of United’s midfield continued this summer with the recruitment of Mason Mount from Chelsea, and many people would have said the trio of Mount, Bruno Fernandes and Casemiro was up there with the league’s best midfields. It looked a long way off that on Monday, though.

Mount just didn’t provide anything like enough defensive cover, failing to make a single tackle and making just one interception, while Casemiro looked like he was running through treacle for much of the night. United’s ball-winner looked like he could run a midfield all on his own last season but needed more than one helping hand against Wolves. Mount and Fernandes will need to do a better job of sharing the load in the upcoming campaign, while Sofyan Amrabat’s pending arrival will help to shore things up.

Maddison is the Signing of the Season

Tottenham began life under Ange Postecoglou with a 2-2 draw at Brentford – an exact repeat of the scoreline in this match last season. However, Spurs looked far better in possession than they did almost at any point in 2022-23, looking to be proactive and break their opponents down by moving the ball around at speed. They had more touches of the ball (907) and passed the ball into the final third more times (81) than they did in any Premier League game in the whole of last season.

The change in style was remarkable, and James Maddison was at the heart of everything.

Everything Tottenham did in the attacking third went through Maddison, who created six chances for teammates – a tally matched by a Spurs player only once in the whole of last season, when Son Heung-min created six chances against Bournemouth (though four of Son’s came at set-pieces, compared to just one for Maddison).

James Maddison touches vs Brentford

Maddison set up both of Tottenham’s goals, and in doing so became the only player in the three top European leagues that began at the weekend (the Premier League, La Liga and Ligue 1) to register two assists. He already looks integral to Spurs’ attacking play, and like he would be sorely missed if he is ever absent. If this game is anything to go by, he could be the Premier League’s signing of the season.

Everton Need a Striker

Maybe the least knee-jerk of our knee-jerk reactions is the conclusion that Everton need more firepower up front. Given they scored only 34 goals last season, the suggestion that they need a new striker is hardly ground-breaking, but their performance in defeat to Fulham on Saturday suggested it is very much still a problem that needs addressing.

Everton had chances worth 2.73 non-penalty xG but failed to score once. Their xG was the third-most in the Premier League behind Newcastle (3.41), who won 5-1, and Brighton (3.22), who won 4-1. Creativity isn’t the issue for Everton.

Everton 0-1 Fulham stats

Midfielders Alex Iwobi, Abdoulaye Doucouré and Amadou Onana each created three chances, and centre-forward Neal Maupay had four shots and failed to find the net. His chances were worth 1.35 xG, which was more than eight teams managed over MD 1.

Maupay has a history of profligacy in front of goal, having underperformed his xG in each of his four full Premier League seasons; in total he has just 22 non-penalty goals from a whopping 35.5 non-penalty xG.

Okay, this isn’t very knee-jerk at all, is it? Everton definitely need a new striker.

Villa Are in Trouble

Aston Villa went to Newcastle hoping to continue the impressive run of form from the end of last season that saw them march up the table and secure European football for 2023-24. Coming into the weekend, only Manchester City had won more points or matches in the Premier League in 2023 than Villa.

But they fell apart at Newcastle, conceding more xG (3.41) and actual goals (five) than they had done in any previous Premier League game under Unai Emery. In fact, in that single match, they conceded 16.1% of the goals they have let in across 26 games under Emery.

The loss of Tyrone Mings to an(other) serious knee injury has made things a lot worse, with the pressure suddenly on new signing Pau Torres to adapt more quickly than the 3-0 scoreline in the time he was on the pitch at St James’ Park suggests he might.

Of course, Newcastle are a very good team and there isn’t really any reason to believe this result is anything other than a blip for Villa, who should be back to something like the team they were last season soon enough. Everton, their next opponents, may have to beware of a backlash.

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