We’re back again for another round of hastily made reactions from a small sample size after the latest round of Premier League fixtures.
This Isn’t Going to Work, Chelsea
Four games into the Mauricio Pochettino era at Chelsea and we have our first boos, as full-time at Stamford Bridge on Saturday was met with more than a smattering of disapproval. There was enough, in fact, for the Chelsea manager to be asked about the fans’ reaction following the 1-0 defeat to Nottingham Forest.
“You can understand the people that came from the past and want to see the team to win and play well,” he said. “We are not playing fantastic, but I think the performance is not bad. I understand we are in Chelsea, and you should win every single game.”
Winning is exactly what Chelsea fans want and arguably can reasonably expect, given how much money has been spent on a shiny new squad since Todd Boehly bought the club. Especially against – with all due respect – Nottingham Forest.
They did have enough chances to win the game, with 21 shots and 2.13 xG to Forest’s seven shots and 0.71 xG, but Chelsea only hit the target twice. Forest did so three times.
Chelsea clearly have enough talent to become a good team, but it isn’t really fair to expect all these youngsters to gel into a functional team so suddenly. They are learning on the job together against good opponents and will get punished for not being perfectly in tune with one another.
These players under this manager will eventually become a good team, but expecting them to be one straight away and compete for trophies – as Pochettino has said they should – just isn’t going to work. For once, Chelsea have to be patient.
Arsenal Are Hitting Their Stride
Thinking Arsenal were 2-1 down to Manchester United on Sunday late in the game, the feeling around their season so far wasn’t great. They had remained unbeaten in their first three games but were pretty unconvincing in each, with manager Mikel Arteta trying out some new things to help make his team a little more unpredictable going into another long season in which he hopes to mount a better title challenge while also competing in the Champions League. The reaction hadn’t been great, in all honesty, with many fans failing to comprehend why Arteta would change what was very nearly a perfect winning formula last season.
But by full-time on Sunday, United’s second goal had been ruled out for offside, and Arsenal had scored twice more to secure a morale-boosting three points. Suddenly, things were good again at the Emirates.
This was undoubtedly Arsenal’s best performance of the season so far, though, and they fully deserved the win. They dominated the ball (54.8% possession), territory (44 touches in the opposition box to United’s 19) and chances (2.27 xG to United’s 0.94), and looked far more fluid in possession than they had done in their first three games. The return of Oleksandr Zinchenko made a big difference, while match-winner Declan Rice is looking more and more at home in midfield. Arsenal are getting better with each game, and arguably the most exciting aspect of the season so far for Arteta’s side is that they haven’t yet been at their very best. This performance and result suggests they are starting to hit their stride.
Burnley Have to Be More Pragmatic
There was never any suggestion that Burnley would approach their return to the Premier League playing anything other than the attractive, possession-based brand of football with which they stormed the Championship last season. The prospect was actually quite an exciting one, to be fair. Maybe Turf Moor could be more than just a horrible place to go for opponents, and Burnley could be the north west’s answer to Swansalona. Burnlelona? Burncelona? Burnelona? Hmm, none of those sound quite right, do they? Turns out, they might not be ready to repeat Swansea’s trick.
It’s safe to say Turf Moor is no longer a fortress, after Burnley lost their first three games of the season – all played on home soil – by an aggregate score of 11-3 following Saturday’s 5-2 defeat to Tottenham. They are bottom of the table heading into the international break.
Vincent Kompany’s side look great with the ball, and they threatened Spurs time and again, registering 16 shots and 1.36 xG over the course of the game. The only problem was that basically every time they lost the ball, there were enormous gaps for Spurs to exploit. And like Manchester City and Aston Villa before them, Spurs exploited those gaps with too much ease.
Looking at our team style comparison chart shows exactly how Burnley are playing the game. Only Arsenal are closer in style to City than Burnley. But they might not have the players to play that way at this level.
Only City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Brighton are averaging longer sequences than Burnley (12.2 seconds), while Kompany’s men have launched fewer direct attacks towards the opposition’s goal (one) than every other side in the league. Forest and West Ham, both in the top half of the table, are at the opposite end of the scale.
It feels unlikely that Kompany will compromise much, but it also feels as though he might need to if his team is to have a chance of survival.
Núñez is Finally the Number Nine Liverpool Need
It was always going to be hard to properly replace Roberto Firmino and Jürgen Klopp might well never manage to while he is Liverpool manager. Darwin Núñez will never be Firmino, but he could just be the number nine Liverpool need for a title challenge.
With his two goals against Newcastle last week, it looked briefly as though Núñez had learned to finish like a world-class striker, but he was back to his all-too-wasteful ways against Aston Villa this weekend – not hitting the target with any of his five shots. The good news for him and his team, though, was that it didn’t matter – and he did so much other good work that he still played a big part in a comfortable 3-0 win against decent opposition.
Firmino was never primarily a goalscorer, so maybe Núñez doesn’t need to be that, either. He is a chaos creator; he runs tirelessly and creates space for others with his movement, while he also seems to be building up a decent partnership with Mohamed Salah. After Sunday’s assist, all four of Núñez’s Premier League assists for Liverpool have been for Salah goals, and on two occasions Núñez very nearly finished off chances created for him by the Egyptian. One of them did lead to a goal, as he hit the post before Matty Cash turned into his own net.
He gets into good positions regularly – his 1.36 non-penalty expected goals per 90 this season is the best of all players with 100+ minutes of action – and if he were to finish off chances more consistently, Núñez could be a genuine world-class forward. Maybe one day he will be. For now, though, he could be enough for Liverpool anyway.
Nottingham Forest Are Actually Good Now
Steve Cooper’s side very nearly came from 2-0 down to get a result at the Emirates on the opening day of the season, then threw away a two-goal lead of their own at Old Trafford when they had done more than enough to earn a point. On Saturday, they finished off a brutal start to the season in style, winning 1-0 at Stamford Bridge to leave them ninth in the table heading into the international break.
Such was the chaos of their transfer window following promotion to the top flight, it felt for the vast majority of last season like Forest could end up finishing bottom of the league. This season, there is more of an air of sustainability and solid foundations to be built on. The players know the game plan and it is working a treat.
Given the teams they have faced, it’s no surprise that Forest’s opponents have dominated possession in just about all areas of the pitch. That has barely mattered at all, though.
Only West Ham (2.3 metres per second) have attacked up the pitch at a quicker speed than Forest (2.2 m/s) this season, who have been ruthless when they have got into goalscoring positions. They have the fifth-lowest expected goals (4.5) so far this season, but only four teams have outperformed their xG more than them (six goals scored giving them an overperformance compared to their xG of 1.5). Cooper’s side are proving they are good enough to prolong their stay in the Premier League and, who knows, maybe they won’t even get sucked into a relegation battle this season.
Son Should Play Through the Middle
In Tottenham’s first three Premier League games of the Ange Postecoglou era, new captain Son Heung-min didn’t have the best time, but nobody took that much notice because centre-forward Richarlison was even worse and Spurs played well as a team. They beat Manchester United and Bournemouth while also drawing at Brentford without Son or Richarlison – two of their most dangerous attacking players – contributing much of note in front of goal.
Against Burnley on Saturday, however, Son was moved from the left – where he had played in those first three games – to play through the middle, with Richarlison dropping to the bench. Son scored a hat-trick to stake his claim for the centre-forward position.
It wasn’t even just that he was scoring goals. In the first three games of the season, Son had had five shots with a total xG of just 0.3. That meant each chance he was having was worth just 0.06 xG, showing just how poor the positions he was getting into were.
In 72 minutes on Saturday, meanwhile, the South Korean had five shots with a total xG of 1.1. That’s 0.22 xG per shot – meaning each chance he had was, on average, more than three-and-a-half times higher in quality than in the previous three games.
So, Son got into great positions more frequently, and also finished his chances far better than the average player would, too. It was quite the audition to be handed the role on a permanent basis. Given Richarlison has done very little to convince as Tottenham’s number nine so far, there is a good argument that Son should keep his spot.