Previously on the Premier League...
Let's catch up on what was happening before the World Cup
Ok, we made it. The Premier League is back. Just one problem…
been a while, innit?
The last Premier League game was Manchester United against Fulham a full six weeks ago now. Can you remember the score? You’re forgiven if not. Since then, we’ve seen an awful lot of football. If you celebrate one of the religious festivals this December, you’ve had a lot of stuff on. So let’s remember what’s going on with all 20 Premier League teams, starting from the top of the table and working down.
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Arsenal are flying high at the top of the table. They’ve looked decent value for their lead, as well, with a better xG difference than everyone except City (per FBRef). It has been really enjoyable to watch a group of younger players suddenly mature and show everyone what they can do. There has been reason for concern since the season paused, with Gabriel Jesus picking up an injury that should rule him out until March. Jesus offering a real structure to the team from the front was a big part of what made Mikel Arteta’s side click this season, so it’s fair to say he’s got to figure out how the team works in the striker’s absence. Otherwise, they should be relatively fresh, with their outfield players featuring for fewer minutes at the World Cup than any other so-called top-six side.
Manchester City certainly don’t have a problem upfront. Erling Haaland spent the last month sitting at home and waiting for club football to return. His teammates can’t say the same, as City had more players at the World Cup than any other Premier League side (shocking, I know). This might lead to some key choices, with more of Haaland and Riyad Mahrez but less of Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva. If the season started afresh right now, I’d put them as strong favourites to retain the title, but they’re five points behind Arsenal. I expect City to pick up more points than Arsenal over the next 24 games, but they need five points more. I’d say they’ll probably do it, but I’m not certain.
Newcastle… wait, Newcastle? Yes, they’re still all the way up in third. Eddie Howe’s petrostate-powered Magpies have played some really good football and deserve to be this high on performances. They were also barely affected by the World Cup compared to other teams towards the top of the table, with only four outfielders going to Qatar and just two of those playing a reasonable number of minutes. Miguel Almirón’s hot (and unsustainable) finishing streak picked up a lot of headlines, but this is a really solid side. Can they play this well over a whole season? We’ll have to find out.
Tottenham seem to be in some weird between state under Antonio Conte. The league table position is absolutely fine, and no one could really complain too much if Spurs qualify for the Champions League a second year in a row. But the vibes are bad and I’m not really sure why. Spurs are, once again, reliant on Harry Kane, who has scored in eight of Tottenham’s last ten games (though two of those goals were penalties). So much, so Spurs? It seems fine to me. They’re doing about what everyone expected.
Manchester United are at the start of a process of figuring out where the club is going under Erik ten Hag, and there were the signs of a consistent first-choice side pretty quickly. The back four seems settled, Christian Eriksen in a deeper role can pull the strings next to Casemiro, Bruno Fernandes does Bruno things. The front three (ok, it’s technically a 4-2-3-1, but work with me here) are still a bit unclear. Marcus Rashford, Antony, Jadon Sancho, Anthony Elanga and even Anthony Martial have played minutes there without evidence of a clear first-choice attack really clicking. They need a genuine nine (not another winger or attacking midfielder who can play there a bit). But this team is… kind of ok? I think we’re all still waiting to see what Ten Hag’s Man Utd end up becoming.
Liverpool have looked all over the place and yet still aren’t the worst performing “top six” team. StatsBomb’s data illustrated the contrast nicely, as their xG model put Liverpool as the best attacking side in the league with a below-average defence.
Liverpool have tilted the scales further and further away from a balanced side and towards supercharging the attack. I personally think Darwin Núñez has been pretty good, but he’s not exactly refined. Right now, Liverpool are seven points off the top four, albeit with a game in hand. FiveThirtyEight have them at 54% to make up the gap and qualify for the Champions League. It’s touch and go.
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