We’re back with our latest round of (arguably ill-judged) snap judgements from the Premier League’s action. One match is enough to make sweeping conclusions, right?
Wilder Can Inspire the Greatest Ever Great Escape
Sheffield United had five points from 14 games when Chris Wilder replaced Paul Heckingbottom last week. They had five points from 15 games after the new manager lost his opening match – a 2-0 defeat to Liverpool – but they did at least make a game of it against the new Premier League leaders.
Then, on Saturday, something special happened. Sheffield United won a game.
Their 1-0 win over Brentford took them up to a colossal eight points and *only* five points from safety. Okay, there’s a long way to go, but they have – just about – given themselves an outside chance of survival. According to the Opta supercomputer, they now have an 8.2% chance of staying up; that’s up from 4.9% before the weekend.
It’s still only a slim chance, but it’s a chance nonetheless. If they do it, it would be the most incredible great escape the Premier League has ever seen.
No team has ever stayed up after collecting as few as five points from their opening 15 matches of a Premier League season. Sunderland’s 2014-15 escape act remains the best from that stage of the season, having had eight points after 15 games. Funnily enough, looking back beyond the start of the Premier League era, the last team to survive after picking up so few points from their first 15 games of a top-flight season was Sheffield United themselves, when they had four points from 15 matches in 1990-91 and ended up finishing 13th. So, they do at least have history on their side.
For this great escape to happen, Sheffield United need a lot to happen. As well as actually winning matches themselves, they need Crystal Palace and/or Nottingham Forest to keep dropping points. It’s unlikely, but Wilder might be about to inspire something magical.
Pochettino Has to Go
After spending more than £400 million on new signings in the summer, Mauricio Pochettino has overseen a very, very disappointing start to life at Chelsea. Five wins from 16 games – after Saturday’s defeat at Everton made it three losses in their last four – is a woeful record, and the manager doesn’t appear to have many ideas about how to solve his side’s problems.
They have consistently been underachieving compared to their underlying numbers, and it was the fact that they were creating chances but not finishing them off that Pochettino used to prove that his team were actually playing better than the Premier League table suggested. But the problem with comparing results to underlying numbers is that if the numbers hint that an improvement should be just around the corner, then you need to back that up with an actual, real-life upturn in results eventually.
Chelsea have hinted at improvements, not least in the 4-4 draw with Manchester City and their response to going a goal down at Tottenham, but they have been thoroughly outplayed and beaten on a fair few occasions recently, and the loss at Everton was no different. If it wasn’t for their 10-point deduction, Everton – who earlier in the season were supposed to be in a relegation battle – would be four points ahead of Chelsea.
There is a glimmer of hope in that according to our recent analysis of the fixture list, Chelsea have a favourable run of games coming up. But at the same time, doubts might be creeping in about their manager, who has picked up just 44 points from his last 40 Premier League matches – in charge of two big teams in Tottenham and Chelsea. That points tally is the same as Roy Keane managed in his last 40 games as Sunderland boss, and less than the likes of Claude Puel (45), Tony Pulis (45) and Tim Sherwood (49). If their poor form continues, Pochettino could be in real trouble.
Fulham Should be Feared
Fulham will have been called many things over their years as a Premier League club, but nobody will have ever described them as ‘scary’. Nor will anybody have ever called Craven Cottage a particularly difficult place to go. It hasn’t got and never has had the kind of hostile environment that we normally associate with the hardest grounds to get a result at.
But, after a second successive 5-0 home win, they are the Premier League’s most dangerous attacking outfit. Those victories follow a 3-2 win over Wolves and a 4-3 defeat at Liverpool, meaning they have scored 16 goals in four games – or 61.5% of their total for the season in 25% of their matches.
In their first 12 games of the campaign, they scored nine goals from 133 shots, totalling 12.5 xG. In their last four games, their 16 goals have come from just 49 shots and a total of 9.0 xG.
Is this just a purple patch where everything they touch turns to gold plus the kind of luck that sees your opponents struck down by a bug in the lead-up to your game, as West Ham were before Sunday’s mauling at Craven Cottage? Or is this run of form a sign of things to come for Fulham?
It is too early to say for sure, and we might find a little more out about them when they travel to Newcastle next weekend and then in-form Bournemouth on Boxing Day before a home game against Arsenal on New Year’s Eve. But for now, Fulham can enjoy a goalscoring run that will, finally, strike fear into their opponents.
Solanke is Ready to Step (Back) Up
Simply because Dominic Solanke has been leading the line for a team that spent two of his five years there in the Championship, it’s easy to think of him as a mid-rate striker. It’s very easy to forget he is a product of the Chelsea academy, and Jürgen Klopp deemed him good enough to sign him when he was still only 19. He made 21 Premier League appearances in his first season at Liverpool, and also played three times in the Champions League, too.
Having dropped down to the second tier and then spent last season battling relegation, Solanke is finally proving himself as the quality Premier League centre-forward Klopp knew he could become. With eight goals for a Bournemouth side flying up the table under Andoni Iraola, he is the joint-fifth highest scorer in the Premier League in 2023-24, level with Ollie Watkins and ahead of the likes of Callum Wilson (seven) and Alexander Isak (seven).
A neat finish at Old Trafford set Bournemouth on their way to Saturday’s remarkable 3-0 win over Manchester United, and he was a constant menace throughout the game. He does a tremendous amount of work leading the Bournemouth press, with only Son Heung-min (66) having made more pressures in the final third leading to a turnover in the Premier League this season than Solanke (54), and only five players having directly won the ball in the final third more times than him (15).
Part of that will be down to his fitness; he runs himself into the ground and is barely ever substituted. He has missed only 12 of the 1,440 minutes Bournemouth have played this season, which really is remarkable for a centre-forward. Only nine outfielders have played more minutes than him this season, and only one of them isn’t a defender: Man Utd midfielder Bruno Fernandes (1,440).
Solanke has a past at two big clubs, and on his current trajectory, he could be ready to step back up to the elite before long.
Sean Dyche is a Genius
Sean Dyche is a master of the relegation battle. Add in the biggest points deduction in Premier League history, and avoiding the drop is still seemingly no problem for him.
After four wins from five and three in a row following Sunday’s 2-0 victory over Chelsea, Dyche’s side are four points clear of the drop zone. They would be in the top half of the table if they still had the 10 points that they had taken off them a few weeks ago.
They started the season in worrying fashion, unable to score a goal in their first three games and looking concerningly like they would struggle to stay up. But having beaten West Ham, Newcastle, and Chelsea among others in more recent times, scoring freely and having tightened up at the back, they look like a team that should be in the top half.
They are a win over Fulham and a favourable draw in the next round away from the EFL Cup final, and recent results should have given them confidence that they can keep their rise up the table going. Dyche has done a sensational job and deserves every bit of praise he gets for his role in turning this season into one that could be a genuine success for Everton.