From Liverpool ensuring we have a title race to Everton being carried to safety by a centre-back, it’s our weekly dose of knee-jerk reactions to the weekend’s Premier League action.
Sheffield United Are the New Luton
Everyone – including us – has been talking about how clear it is that Luton are doomed this season. They might still be, but after the weekend’s results, things are looking a lot bleaker for Sheffield United than they are for Luton.
Paul Heckingbottom’s side suffered their biggest ever league defeat on Sunday in what was their 4,988th league game, as Newcastle ran out 8-0 winners with a record eight different players scoring a goal. The ease with which Newcastle sliced their opponents open should be a real concern for everyone at Sheffield United, and it is no surprise that there is talk of their manager becoming the first casualty of the season. Whether or not he loses his job, something needs to change at Bramall Lane if they are to bounce back from this loss.
They have only picked up one point from six games and after Luton earned a first Premier League point in their history with a draw against Wolves, Sheffield United are now bottom of the table and staring at an immediate return to the Championship. It’s not looking good at all.
We Have a Title Race On Our Hands
After reigning champions Manchester City made it six wins from six to start the 2023-24 season, many people will have concluded that the title race is already over. The 2-0 win over Nottingham Forest wasn’t the most comfortable we’ve seen at the Etihad in recent years, in part because Rodri was sent off early in the second half, but they rarely looked like throwing away the three points even with 10 men, and are top of the pile with 18 points so far.
It’s pretty likely that they’ll become the first team ever to win four English top-flight titles in a row. In 10,000 season simulations that the Opta supercomputer ran after the weekend’s fixtures, City won the league 88.8% of the time.
City’s is one of the best starts to a Premier League season we have ever seen but interestingly, the supercomputer actually thinks they have less chance of winning the title now than they did before the season began, when they were given a 90.2% likelihood before a ball was kicked. Now, six wins from six later, it’s dropped to 88.8%. Sounds completely, totally and utterly ridiculous, right?
Well, that drop is almost entirely a result of Liverpool’s positive start to the campaign and the rise in their chances of winning the league. Jürgen Klopp’s side have won five games in a row since their opening-day draw at Chelsea, and now sit second having seen off West Ham on Sunday.
In our supercomputer’s 10,000 simulations before the season began, Liverpool finished top just 4.1% of the time. Following their start to the campaign, and having scored 3+ goals in three consecutive Premier League games for the first time since December 2021, their chances are now up at 8.7%. It might not be much, but it’s something.
What’s more, the last time City won their first six games of a season in Pep Guardiola’s first season at the club, they came third. Things might be a little different now, but let’s at least pretend we have a title race, okay? The season would be so much better for it.
Pochettino Can’t Fix Chelsea Fast
Another week, another Chelsea defeat. It really is scarcely believable given how much money they spent over the summer and the top-class manager they brought in, but Chelsea have continued to put in the same level of underwhelming performances that they produced on a weekly basis last season.
They have now won just 25 points in 2023. No team has won fewer than them when you exclude promoted or relegated sides (they are level with Everton).
The job Mauricio Pochettino has on his hands is a big one. A very, very big one. One that might even be beyond him. It certainly is for the time being.
Chelsea have an enormous injury list and Nicolas Jackson’s suspension for picking up five yellow cards – all for dissent – in his first 511 minutes of Premier League action adds further to Pochettino’s problems.
The aim of Chelsea’s extravagant spending in the summer was to transform the team into one that could challenge for trophies while also building something for the future with so many young players brought in. But while this group might prove one day to be able to battle for the biggest trophies, they look way off it for the time being.
Pochettino will take heart from the chances his side have created – they have underperformed compared to their expected goals by a Premier League high of 6.6 and could have come away from Sunday’s defeat to Aston Villa with much more than they did. Moreover, our expected points model suggests Chelsea ‘should’ be fourth in the table based on the quality of chances every team has created and faced – so if every single player finished chances like a perfectly average Premier League player, Chelsea would be in the Champions League spots.
The problem is, Chelsea’s players aren’t finishing anything like an average footballer would. So, does Pochettino have what it takes to fix that without another splurge in the transfer market? It’s hard to say.
Spurs Are the Real Deal
A 2-2 draw in Sunday’s north London derby meant it was a very good weekend for Ange Postecoglou. He became only the fourth manager in Premier League history to see his team score at least two goals in each of his first six games in the competition, after Carlo Ancelotti (Chelsea), Guardiola (Manchester City) and Craig Shakespeare (Leicester City), and he took Tottenham’s unbeaten record under him to six games. He also ended a run of three straight defeats for Spurs at their local rivals.
But there was so much more for Spurs to take from this game than a point. Tottenham played their natural game, and dominated the ball against arguably the best pressing side in the league. There were a few hairy moments, like when James Maddison was robbed by Gabriel Jesus on the edge of his own box only for the Brazilian forward to blaze a chance worth 0.43 xG high over the bar, but Spurs still stuck to their guns. There was no panic on the touchline, and Postecoglou’s side continued to play out patiently from the back. That they did that, came from behind twice and avoided defeat will have given the players even more confidence in what their new manager is doing.
This was their first proper test under Postecoglou (the win over Manchester United was good but United were nowhere near as good as they can be) and Spurs came through it with flying colours. The Opta supercomputer now has Tottenham as the most likely team to finish in fourth position, doing so in 21.1% of the computer’s 10,000 season simulations on Monday morning. Champions League qualification would represent a huge success in Postecoglou’s first season, and the chances of them achieving it are only going to go up with performances like this one.
Tarkowski Can Keep Everton Up
Everton finally got their first win of the season this weekend, deservedly beating Brentford 3-1 following an impressive display in west London. In truth, though, Everton have got less than they deserved in other games so far this season, as manager Sean Dyche pointed out afterwards.
“I thought it was a similar performance to ones we didn’t win in that we created chances,” he said. This win at Brentford was the first game this season in which Everton have outperformed their expected goals numbers.
In fact, only Chelsea (6.6) have underperformed compared to their xG more in the Premier League this season than Everton, who have still, despite overperforming this week, scored 4.5 fewer goals than they should have done from the chances they have had.
It’s a problem that we have touched upon on these pages in previous weeks, but we suggested Everton needed a better striker. While the striker they did go out and sign, Beto, has done well enough since joining and caused problems here with his hold-up play and flick-ons, he is still waiting for his first Premier League goal. In this game, their main attacking threat came from centre-back James Tarkowski.
The former Burnley man scored his ninth Premier League goal to put Everton 2-1 up from a corner, meaning all nine of his goals have come from set-pieces while playing under Dyche. Having already set up Abdoulaye Doucouré’s opener, Tarkowski became the first centre-back to record a goal and an assist in a Premier League game since Willy Boly for Wolves against West Brom in January 2021, and only the second since August 2018.
He had two shots and created four chances, becoming the only defender this season to generate over 0.3 xG and 0.3 xA in a Premier League game (he got 0.31 xG and 0.34 xA), in what was essentially the complete centre-back’s performance. He’s going to be integral to Everton’s chances of survival with his contributions at both ends of the pitch.