After a dramatic weekend on which Arsenal threw open the title race by beating Manchester City and Manchester United produced the latest comeback in their Premier League history, we make six conclusions that might just prove a little too hasty with time. Or they might prove us to be reactive geniuses. See what you think.
It’s Arsenal vs Tottenham for the Title
We’ve established over the past few weeks that (a Rodri-and-Kevin-De-Bruyne-less) Manchester City are very much beatable. Arsenal and Tottenham, meanwhile, have both come through testing periods with flying colours, and now boast the Premier League’s only remaining unbeaten records. They make up the league’s top two on 20 points apiece.
Imagine if you’d been told a year ago that these two would be battling it out at the top of the table heading into the second international break in 2023-24. You would never have believed it and, well, you might still not be entirely sure whether your eyes are playing tricks on you when you look at the table now.
But here we are, slowly but surely starting to believe we could have a title race this season. City began the campaign as huge favourites according to the Opta supercomputer – the title was almost a foregone conclusion – and they are still given an 80.1% chance of winning the league, but that has plummeted from 90.2% before a ball was kicked. That means before the start of the season, one in 10 of our supercomputer’s simulations saw a team other than City win the title; now, that is up to one in five after Arsenal beat them 1-0 on Sunday.
So, we’re not quite looking at a title race in north London yet, but City have lost two league games in a row for the first time in almost five years and Erling Haaland has gone three full 90 minutes in all competitions without scoring a goal. They are still big favourites for the title, but if they slip up many more times, Arsenal and Spurs are looking well placed to take advantage.
Chelsea Have Finally Landed
It was only Burnley, but their 4-1 win at Turf Moor could yet prove the game where it all clicked for Chelsea under Mauricio Pochettino.
To say it’s been a mixed start at Stamford Bridge for the Argentine would be a gross understatement. His side have lost to West Ham, Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest, but they have also had to deal with extraordinary bad luck on the injury front, while their expected goals numbers suggested they were actually creating enough chances to win games they were losing. As we wrote recently, there were statistical reasons to believe Chelsea should have been fourth in the table.
Chelsea have now won three games in a row in all competitions, scoring seven goals and conceding just one. The nature of Saturday’s win at Burnley – a comeback victory in which Chelsea scored four goals in a Premier League match for the first time since April 2022 – will have done wonders for their players’ confidence.
Not least for Nicolas Jackson, who had been having a woeful time in front of goal since his summer move to London, but doubled his Premier League goal tally as he scored Chelsea’s fourth. That goal means he has now moved off the bottom of the league this season for underperformance compared to expected goals, now with ‘just’ 2.1 fewer goals scored than expected goals. Okay, so he might have only moved up to second from bottom, and he might have overtaken teammate Enzo Fernández (underperformance of 2.2), but it’s at least a step in a positive direction, right?
They’ve still got a long way to go but this was a result that their recent performances have deserved, and could be the start of a good run for Chelsea and Pochettino.
McTominay Has Saved Ten Hag
Erik ten Hag needed that result. With 92 minutes and 46 seconds on the clock and the score at 1-0 to Brentford, Manchester United’s manager was probably wondering whether he’d still have a job on Monday morning. Then, Scott McTominay popped up with two goals to secure the latest comeback win in United’s Premier League history, saving Ten Hag from the unwanted record of having overseen United’s worst start to a season after eight Premier League games. Instead, with 12 points on the board, they are (just about) in the top half of the table and – somewhat incredibly – only five points off the top four. With that view, things might just be looking up for them.
In truth, many of the same problems that we’d seen in the first seven games of the season were still on show. André Onana looks nothing like the goalkeeper that was so impressive in Inter Milan’s run to the Champions League final last season, Casemiro was again poor and again at fault in the lead-up to the Brentford goal, and United didn’t create enough in the way of clear-cut chances. Brentford had led the way in terms of expected goals up until the point of McTominay’s first goal.
But sometimes the result is the most important thing, and never has that been more true for Ten Hag’s United. McTominay has bought his manager a little more time.
Roy Hodgson is a Genius
The above statement might seem a little dramatic given his Crystal Palace side could only manage a goalless draw at home to Nottingham Forest at the weekend, but the way he has adapted to testing circumstances in his latest stint at Selhurst Park is just so impressive.
He used fantastic attacking players in Wilfried Zaha, Eberechi Eze and Michael Olise to devastating effect as he led Palace to safety at the end of last season, and in doing so, showed he wasn’t just going to keep this team tight at the back. A solid defence was the bedrock of the success he’d had at the club in his previous spell, but this time he was showing it was going to be different.
But Hodgson didn’t have the luxury of that brilliant trio for long. Zaha left in the summer, Olise hasn’t played a minute this season due to injury, and Eze is now out, too. A front three of Odsonne Édouard, Jean-Philippe Mateta and Jordan Ayew – who all started against Forest – has rather less creativity in it, and Hodgson has had to change his team’s approach as a result. Until Eze and Olise return, we might see the Palace of old a little more.
The ability to change is part of the reason Hodgson has managed for so long. On Saturday he reached 400 Premier League games as a manager – a remarkable landmark for someone who has spent so long managing abroad – and he showed an impressive level of adaptability at 76 years old by shutting Forest out. Palace are joint first for Premier League clean sheets this season (four, along with Arsenal), and have only conceded five goals in open play all season. While he has less to work with in attack, we might see a few more clean sheets and low-scoring games, and that should be something to be proud of.
Iraola Was a Disastrous Appointment
Bournemouth took a risk by appointing Andoni Iraola this summer. Gary O’Neil had done a decent job but the board thought someone else could take the club further. Iraola had had success in his previous jobs and you could at least see the logic in making a change. The wisdom of that appointment, however, is now very much in question.
After a draw and two defeats from his first three games, Iraola had the excuse that he’d faced West Ham, Liverpool and Tottenham. When they drew the next two games against Brentford and Chelsea, he could have argued things were improving. After a 3-1 defeat at Brighton and a 4-0 loss to Arsenal, he could again point to the quality of the opposition. But there isn’t much defending Saturday’s 3-0 loss at Everton.
Iraola has now become the 15th manager to fail to win any of his first eight Premier League games, and Bournemouth fans watching O’Neil’s Wolves beat Man City last week might well be starting to wonder if their club had made a huge mistake.
Patience could be what’s needed for Iraola to turn things around, but it also wouldn’t be at all surprising were the board to cut their losses on this summer’s appointment.
Kalvin Phillips Needs to Leave
City have an atrocious record when Rodri doesn’t play and they were completely out of sorts without him once again this weekend. They had lost five of 15 Premier League games that Rodri had missed since he joined before the trip to Arsenal, so it probably shouldn’t have come as a total shock that they made it six losses in 16 without him in Sunday’s 1-0 defeat to Arsenal.
But with City struggling so badly and Mateo Kovacic walking the thinnest of tightropes after receiving a yellow card that might well have been a red and somehow avoiding a second yellow card for another really poor challenge moments later, they clearly needed a change in central midfield. Good thing Pep Guardiola could call on more than £90m of talent in Matheus Nunes and Kalvin Phillips on the bench, then, eh?
Guardiola chose to leave things as they were, though. Forgetting the fact that one more foul would have seen Kovacic sent off, his City team were being dominated perhaps to a greater degree than we’d ever seen before. Arsenal were in full control of possession, and City struggled terribly to break into the final third. They could only muster four shots in total over the course of the game – their lowest ever tally in a league game under Guardiola.
The City manager only turned to his bench after 68 minutes and even then he chose Nunes and John Stones ahead of Phillips in midfield. It hasn’t ever looked much like things were going to work out for the England midfielder in Manchester, and Sunday’s game made it clearer than ever that it’s time for him to move on.