After a busy weekend of Premier League action, we draw five conclusions that might just prove a little too hasty with time. Or they might come true and make us look very clever. Time will tell.
Tottenham Are Running Out of Steam
Tottenham remain top of the Premier League after extending their remarkable start under Ange Postecoglou with a 2-1 win at Crystal Palace, but the Spurs we saw on Friday night was not the Spurs we have come to know under the Australian.
They came up against a stubborn and pretty unambitious Palace, who had Michael Olise and Eberechi Eze out injured, and looked way off their best. Spurs had their highest possession share in a Premier League game under Postecoglou (75.7%) but most of that was in unthreatening areas in front of their opponents. Centre-back Cristian Romero completed more passes (141) than any other Spurs player has in a Premier League match on record (since 2003-04), but a huge number of those were just sideways passes that broke no lines and which Palace were more than happy to allow to happen.
141 – Cristian Romero completed 141 passes against Crystal Palace tonight – the most by a Spurs player on record in a single Premier League game (since 2003-04). Initiative. pic.twitter.com/zwBegMQQjF— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 27, 2023
Tottenham struggled to make it through their opponents for much of the game, and despite their possession, registered their lowest tally of shots (10), shots on target (1) and expected goals (1.12) in any league game this season. Part of that will be because they were content to sit on their lead after going two goals up, but there is no doubting they were below par in this game. Postecoglou lamented the second half of his side’s previous game – the 2-0 win over Fulham – as the “worst 45 minutes we’ve had” and he can’t have been too pleased with the performance that followed it up.
Spurs now face a tricky run of games – they face Chelsea, Wolves and Aston Villa before travelling to Manchester City – and they’ll need to be far better than they were this weekend if they are to remain at the top of the league much longer.
Nketiah Can Deputise in Jesus’ Absence… Again
Eddie Nketiah did a very good job of leading the line for Arsenal last season when Gabriel Jesus was out injured, but he did so without scoring many goals. His hat-trick in Saturday’s resounding 5-0 win over Sheffield United this weekend, though, gave his manager and the fans a nice, timely reminder that with Jesus out again, they have a capable deputy in their ranks – and one who might now have found his shooting boots.
Nketiah may have been facing the Premier League’s bottom side, and the worse defence in the division – they have now conceded 29 goals in 10 games – but it was a clinical performance that gave his team exactly what they needed and plenty of confidence about the fact that Jesus will be missing for a few weeks.
Eddie Nketiah has his first Premier League hat-trick.— Opta Analyst (@OptaAnalyst) October 28, 2023
Nketiah had only 38 touches of the ball – averaging a goal fewer than every 13 touches on the day – and scored his three goals from his first three shots (four in total), and from just three shots on target and 0.99 xG. It’s fair to say that ruthless finishing isn’t exactly what Nketiah is best known for, having scored only four goals from 8.25 xG over the whole of last season, but this was perfectly clinical and put his side in total control of the game. Pressing ability is the main thing Nketiah brings to a team, but now with more goals this season (five) than he managed last (four) and the prospect of a run in the side in the next few weeks, he has the chance to show everyone – once again – he can stand in for Jesus. And maybe this season he’ll add goals to his performances, too.
Chelsea’s Last Few Results Were a False Dawn
After seeing off Brighton in the League Cup, Chelsea beat Fulham and Burnley, before outplaying Arsenal last week in a performance that, given it followed three successive wins, convinced many onlookers that Mauricio Pochettino’s Chelsea had finally found their groove, even if they did throw away a two-goal lead to draw. All those expensive signings could actually play football together, it seemed.
It was a reasonable conclusion – it was one we made in these very pages only a few weeks ago – because Chelsea have an excellent manager and vast amounts of quality in their squad. It made sense that they would eventually come good. But this weekend, as they lost 2-0 at home to Brentford, it seemed like they were right back at square one.
It felt all too familiar. Defensive frailties were ruthlessly exposed and they struggled to finish off chances as Brentford extended their remarkable 100% record in the Premier League at Stamford Bridge. At their west-London rivals, they have now played three, won three, with an aggregate score of 8-1.
Despite dominating the ball (68.8% possession) and the fact that a whopping 44.2% of the game was played in the Brentford third, Chelsea couldn’t break their opponents down. Cole Palmer was brilliant, constantly demanding the ball and dictating the game with 102 touches – many of them in the final third – and creating four chances, but nobody could convert them. It was the same story for Pochettino’s Chelsea as it had been earlier in the campaign: a lot of huffing and puffing but absolutely nothing in the way of end product.
Brentford were good value for the win, but they didn’t even have to be at their best to earn it, a fact that paints a bad picture of where Chelsea are right now. Injuries have been a real problem but, twice as close in points terms to the relegation zone (seven points) as they are to the league leaders (14 points), how long until we start to ask genuine questions about whether this formula is going to work?
Wolves Will Finish in the Top Half
Okay, so they aren’t in the top half right now, and they haven’t been in the top half all season, but after yet another positive result against yet another team in the fight for Champions League qualification, these are encouraging times for Wolves.
Gary O’Neil has built a really good side that has now taken points off Manchester City, Aston Villa and Newcastle in the last few weeks. Against Newcastle on Saturday, they were dangerous going forwards and O’Neil could point to the fact that Callum Wilson’s two goals came from a goalkeeping error from José Sá and a very debatable penalty. They never really looked like they would fold despite the pressure their opponents were putting them under with the scores level at 2-2, too.
The injury that forced Pedro Neto off could derail Wolves’ climb up the table, though. He is the Premier League’s leading assist-maker, now on seven after setting up Mario Lemina’s goal at the weekend, and Wolves provided little attacking threat after his 77th-minute departure.
They are far more than a one-man team, though. They face Tottenham and Arsenal in their next four games and could – with or without Neto – continue to have a say on the battle at the top of the table. On current form, Wolves are showing they can beat anyone, and they will soon, surely, be in the top half of the table, maybe even with an eye on the European spots themselves.
Everton Should Be Aiming for Far More Than Survival
With Dominic Calvert-Lewin back and firing, Everton are the team they were suggesting they could be earlier in the season when they were creating lots of chances but couldn’t score a goal. They have been spoken about as relegation candidates all season but after an impressive 1-0 win at West Ham on Sunday – their third win in five games – sent them five points clear of the relegation zone, there is reason for Sean Dyche to start looking up the table. Suddenly, Everton are closer to the top half of the table than they are the relegation zone.
They restricted a very good West Ham side, who have made a strong start to the season, to just two shots on target and 0.59 xG despite them seeing 64% of the ball and were clinical when they got up the pitch. A slick turn and finish from the edge of the box from Calvert-Lewin proved the only goal of the game to earn Everton a confidence-building and hugely important three points.
The goal was his 50th in the Premier League for the club, meaning he is the fourth player to reach the landmark, after Romelu Lukaku (68), Duncan Ferguson (60) and Tim Cahill (56). Calvert-Lewin has been at Goodison Park long enough to have far more goals than he does in Everton blue, but injuries have blighted his career. If Dyche can manage his game time and keep his number nine fit, there’s no reason Everton shouldn’t be looking up the table rather than down.
Of course, a potential points deduction for the Merseyside club could make the task a lot harder, but with Everton’s recent form, coupled with the three newly promoted clubs’ inability to sustain any kind of form, their fans have reasons for positivity on the pitch.