The Biggest Surprises from the Premier League So Far
The Premier League gets back underway this weekend after a short international break. So far, there have been four match days, but already there has been a huge amount of excitement and talking points. Here is a look at some of the biggest surprises from the first four games.
It was widely expected that Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka would settle quickly at Manchester United, but there was less confidence surrounding Daniel James. He is a young player who is in his debut season in the Premier League. As a result, it was expected that he would be gradually introduced. However, due to James’ form and the shortage of alternatives at Old Trafford, Solskjaer had no choice but to play him.
James started three out of four games and he has played in all four. In that time, he has become the team’s leading scorer with three goals. He has already matched Alexis Sanchez’s Premier League tally for the team and it seems a certainty that Solskjaer will start him when the team face Leicester City this weekend. It has been a hugely impressive start from the 21 year old, especially considering that he recently lost his father before starting to play in arguably the world’s most competitive league.
While Norwich City were certainly hoping that Teemu Pukki would settle quickly in the Premier League, it is unlikely that they expected him to produce five goals and an assist in his first four games. The Finnish newcomer to the Premier League has now played a direct role in all of the team’s goals this season.
Clearly there were some who expected it, as his former national team coach Mixu Paatelainen said, “Can he score in the Premier League? For me, yes. He is a quick player who likes to run in behind, so he is made for counter-attacking tactics.” It has been a blistering start from Pukki and it will be interesting to see if he can maintain it over the weeks and months to come.
Crystal Palace had a less than impressive start to the season. In their first game, they failed to overcome a 10-man Everton side while playing on home ground, and the next week they lost away to Sheffield United. In fact, they were so poor to watch it was easy to forget just how good they were against the top six sides last season. That is why they were almost entirely discounted before their match at Old Trafford. However, somehow, Roy Hodgson managed to turn things around and the team rose to the occasion to defeat Manchester United. This was followed by a win against Aston Villa at home. While that may have been expected, few would be expecting Palace to be fourth in the league after four games.
Watford’s Poor Form
Last season and in the build up to this, Watford manager Javi Gracia looked to be one of the safest in the Premier League. However, after a terrible start to the season, he was sacked last week and the only real surprise is that it took the team so long to do so.
Watford usually start the season well and the opening games looked like a good opportunity to secure some good results. Therefore, collecting just one point from home matches against Brighton and West Ham, as well as trips to Everton and Newcastle United, is probably about eight or nine points less than they would have been aiming for.
According to media reports, Watford fired Gracia as they were worried the team had “gone flat” under his direction. However, Gracia was given a four and a half year contract just last November when he was being linked with Chelsea, and he guided the team to the FA Cup final last season. While some drop in form is understandable, no one would have expected such a poor start that the team brought back ex-manager Quique Sanchez Flores.
When Harry Maguire left Leicester City, it was widely assumed that Lewis Dunk or James Tarkowski would arrive at the club to take his place. However, with Brighton and Burnley asking for at least half of the money Leicester made from selling Maguire, the team decided instead to keep the money and put their trust in one of their big signings from last season.
Caglar Soyuncu appeared in just four Premier League games during his first year in English football, a number he managed to match in the first month of this season. He has played every minute under Brendan Rodgers this season and he has been so impressive that he was named as Leicester City’s Player of the Month in August. If Soyuncu maintains his form then Leicester will certainly be vindicated in their decision not to buy anyone else.
Some players in the Chelsea squad are being given a chance this season as a direct result of the team’s transfer ban. However, that cannot be said about Mason Mount as manager Frank Lampard has plenty of options in midfield. Therefore, the way in which Lampard is using Mount in preference to some of his more senior teammates is a direct testament to the faith that Lampard has in the young player.
This is not too surprising as Lampard knows Mount better than all of the other Chelsea players. Mount played for Lampard at Derby last season, and when Lampard’s alternatives including Mateo Kovacic and Ross Barkely, it is understandable that he is sticking with what he knowns. At the same time, opting to play young players gives Lampard a layer of protection, something he might need given the team’s opening results. However, Mount has been one of the best performers in an otherwise disappointing time for the team.
Over the summer, Aston Villa signed three centre-backs and it was assumed that Engels would find himself on the outside after Dean Smith bought Ezri Konsa from his former club Brentford. However, Engels, who was the cheapest of the three players at £7 million, has definitely been the most impressive player in Smith’s defence. In fact, he was so impressive in his first four Premier League games that there were rumours that he may receive a call up for the Belgian national team. If he maintains his current form then it seems highly likely that he will soon be receiving that call.
Manchester United Positioning
Ever since he took over at Manchester United, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has made a point of using Marcus Rashford as a centre forward. During Jose Mourinho’s time in charge Rashford would normally be placed out wide, but this changed with Solskjaer’s arrival as he moved Romelu Lukaku out the way to give Rashford his chance.
With Lukaku now sold and no new striker to replace him, it was widely assumed that Rashford’s position was secure. However, during much of the first three games, Rashford was back out wide while Anthony Martial was placed at the head of United’s attack, a position that he claims should always be his. It was only when Martial had to miss the trip to Southampton due to injury that Rashford was started down the centre. Rashford is more willing to play off the left than Martial is, and it is now up to Martial to take this opportunity to claim the central striker position as his.
Last season there was a lot of talk about Liverpool’s impressive defence, but this season it took the team four games to keep their first clean sheet after conceding goals to Norwich, Southampton and Arsenal. While this hasn’t cost the team any point, Jurgen Klopp will certainly be concerned and also aware that five teams have allowed fewer shots per game this season, with Liverpool offering 10.5 attempts per match, the same as Sheffield United.
This season Klopp has put his back four up the pitch while making use of a higher defensive line. His four starting players definitely have the pace to recover the ground if opponents try to spring the offside trap. However, his backup players do not have the same speed as players such as Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez, Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold. While the club have won all four games so far, for a team that recently had the league’s best defence, it is a disappointing start.
Prior to the start of the season, many were dismissing Sheffield United. Some said that the team does not have a “glamorous” way of playing and that they are “a little direct”, while others called the side “basic”. However, they will now be eating their words after a highly impressive start for the newly promoted team. They held both Chelsea and Bournemouth to draws playing away and defeated Crystal Palace at home.