After the Premier League’s glorious return this weekend, 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.
Aston Villa Will Qualify for the Champions League
Another week, another dominant win for Unai Emery’s Aston Villa. Having scored a whopping 23 goals in nine games, Villa might be in fifth place but are only two points off top spot, and they are very much in the race to qualify for the Champions League.
With players in the kind of goalscoring form that Ollie Watkins and *checks notes* defensive midfielder Douglas Luiz currently find themselves, opponent after opponent are finding Villa too hot to handle.
Luiz hit Villa’s first two goals and Watkins scored the third in Sunday’s resounding 4-1 win over West Ham, a result that maintained one of only three remaining home 100% records in the Premier League this season, along with Liverpool and Manchester City.
Those goals for Luiz and Watkins also meant that Villa are one of only two teams – along with an even more free-scoring Newcastle United (more on them to come) – with two different players to have already hit the five-goal mark. City are the only other team to have two players manage four or more goals.
Villa dominated West Ham for almost the entire game, and were very good value for their win. They controlled the ball (58% possession) and the game for long periods, and were utterly clinical when they did get chances. Luiz’s penalty aside, their non-penalty xG for the game (1.16) was only marginally higher than West Ham’s (1.15), but they finished their chances so much more convincingly, with West Ham needing a deflection for their only goal of the game.
That is consistent with Villa’s whole season – they have outscored their xG to a greater extent than anyone else in the Premier League, scoring 5.5 more goals (23) than their expected goals (17.5). One might call that an unsustainable hot streak in front of goal, but right now it feels like it points more to the confidence Emery has built among this group of players. Their good form extends back into last season, too, after all. Only City have won more points (74) and games (24) than Villa have (19 wins, 62 points) in 2023.
Emery has put together something special, and far stronger than just a purple patch of form.
Newcastle Will Break the Premier League Record for Goals in a Season
At Newcastle’s current rate of scoring, they will hit 101 goals. That’s extrapolating their 2.67 goals per game so far this season – over nine matches – for an entire 38-game campaign. That’s a lot of goals, but it wouldn’t actually break the record for the most scored by a team in a Premier League season.
Four teams have scored more than 101 goals in a single campaign, with Manchester City of 2017-18 holding the record (106). So, Newcastle, the league’s current top scorers on 24 goals, would actually need to improve on their rate of scoring to start the season if they were to break City’s record.
But before the season began, we analysed the difficulty of each team’s start to 2023-24, and found that Newcastle had the second-most difficult opening five matches, and the fourth-most difficult opening 10 games. They have already got a big chunk of their toughest matches out of the way.
And they are doing it in a way that suggests they could carry on what they’ve been doing for a fair while longer. They lead the Premier League for expected goals (19.9), shot conversion rate (18.9%), shots on target from inside the penalty area (46) and big chances scored (20). They also have a league-high 11 different goalscorers, showing how much they are sharing goals around; by way of comparison, Liverpool and City have seven each.
Newcastle’s attacking numbers will be skewed by the 8-0 win at Sheffield United, the 5-1 win over Aston Villa and Saturday’s 4-0 win over Crystal Palace, but this is just the point: they are very capable of blowing an opponent away like that, and that’s what you need to do to break the goals record.
Palace came into this weekend’s match having conceded just seven goals in eight Premier League games after three consecutive clean sheets, and Newcastle put four past them and might well have scored more. They are close to unstoppable going forward right now.
Just Hoof It!
Can we just shock you? We like it when goalkeeper’s smack it long, despite what we said earlier.
No prizes for guessing that we’re referencing Chelsea and Arsenal’s 2-2 draw here, after David Raya gave Arsenal fans heart palpitations with his antics on the ball at Stamford Bridge, notably when he passed straight to Cole Palmer before having to scramble to stop the former Manchester City man from scoring.
Robert Sánchez joined his opposite number in being chastised for his kicking when his wayward pass fell to Declan Rice, who sent the ball straight back past him and into the Chelsea net, starting Arsenal’s comeback from 2-0 down when the hosts had seemingly been in control.
It seems even the goalkeepers most dedicated to passing out from the back are adapting. Manchester United’s André Onana averaged 10.5 long passes per 90 minutes in his first four Premier League games this season, but that has increased to 13 long passes per 90 in his five outings since. That may have been because he was having to play 4.3 passes forward under pressure per 90 in those first four, which has decreased to just 2.8 per 90 in the next five.
It may not be the most subtle of tactics, but sometimes just wellying it can actually be the best approach (we can hear Sam Allardyce grinning from here).
Luton Are the Likeliest of the Three Promoted Clubs to Stay Up
Few will have anticipated Luton getting a point at Nottingham Forest on Saturday, especially when Steve Cooper’s men were 2-0 up with seven minutes remaining at the City Ground. A late fightback from the visitors secured a 2-2 draw, though, with the promoted side once again showing that while many may have written them off, they’re not going to be pushovers in the Premier League.
Luton may only have five points from nine games, but since their chastening opening two defeats against Brighton (4-1) and Chelsea (3-0), they have not been beaten by more than one goal in their subsequent seven outings. Chiedozie Ogbene and Elijah Adebayo cancelled out Chris Wood’s brace for Forest, while Burnley and Sheffield United once again fell to defeats against Brentford and Manchester United respectively.
As a collective, the three promoted clubs may want to get a move on. Their combined points total after nine games each is just 10. Extrapolated across the season, that means between them they are on course to amass just over 42 points, less than half the lowest amount ever combined from the three promoted clubs in Premier League history (not including 1995-96 when only two teams came up). That was in the 2007-08 season when Sunderland, Birmingham City and Derby County only totalled 85 points between them, though Derby’s record low of 11 was largely to blame for that.
Is It Time to Say Goodbye to Ashley Young and James Milner?
Yes, this one hurts us too. Both Ashley Young and Milner have been Premier League stalwarts for well over a decade now. Between them, they’ve amassed 1,056 Premier League appearances across nine different clubs while Milner needs just eight more games to moved ahead of Ryan Giggs into second place in the all-time Premier League appearances charts. They have been brilliant ambassadors of the game, and both had remarkable careers in their own right.
But should that number stay at 1,056?
The pair of them played at right-back on Saturday and, up against pacey and skilful wingers, both had very difficult days.
Young’s afternoon lasted just 37 minutes, as he was dismissed for two lunging challenges on Luis Díaz. His red card saw him become the third-oldest player to be sent off in a Premier League game (38y 104d), after Stuart Pearce in 2001 (38y 341d) and Phil Jagielka in 2021 (38y 198d).
Milner’s day lasted scarcely longer. He was replaced at half time after Jérémy Doku – perhaps the most feared dribbler in Europe at this moment in time – ran him ragged at the Etihad stadium on Saturday. The Belgian’s touch map from the game shows just how easily he was able to get in behind on Brighton’s right-flank, and he waltzed down there to set up City’s first goal after just seven minutes.
Doku attempted eight take-ons in Manchester City’s 2-1 win, completing five of them. Both figures are the second-most he’s had in a Premier League game since arriving. Doku also had the highest progressive ball carry distance (321 metres) of anyone playing over the weekend.
The maps that show where Liverpool and City directed their attacks tells its own story.
Is Young and Milner’s race run?