Premier League: After Four Matches

Following the September international break, the Premier League returns this weekend for Week 5 of the 2019/20 season.

Liverpool remains the only undefeated team as reigning champions Manchester City were held to a draw in Week 2 by Tottenham. At the bottom end, Javi Gracia’s Watford is the surprising foot of the table.

Other surprises include Leicester City and Crystal Palace’s inclusión in the top four as Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United settle for the middle of the herd.

It’s not the easiest to predict how the table will look at league’s end – but here’s a shot in the dark after the first four fixtures:

Liverpool (12)

The Reds from Merseyside could not have asked for a better start to the season: four wins out of four, Manchester City dropped points and the squad has looked as in form as they finished in May. The two-horse race for the title with City looks sure to continue into 2020 so expect Liverpool as top contenders to lift the trophy.

Manchester City (10)

Having to settle for second since Week 2, the reigning champions took a blow August 17 when Tottenham edged out a 2-2 draw at the Etihad. That result and Liverpool’s consistent start come as a warning to manager Pep Guardiola who’s squad start the year trailing the Merseysiders on the table for the second season running.

Aside from the Spurs slip up, City look as good as ever. A great start in midfield from Kevin De Bruyne, who they missed for a large part of last year, coupled with Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero’s production up top shows City will finish no less than second place.

Leicester City (8)

Give manager Brendan Rodgers a full preseason with the Leicester City squad and what do you get? A vintage Jaime Vardy. The English striker has found the net three times this season while his runs in behind defenses have helped turn Rodgers’ side back into the high-flying Foxes that on the Premier League in 2016.

A Youri TielemansAyoze PerezJames Maddison attacking trident right behind Vardy has been excellent while Hamza Choudhury and Wilfried Ndidi have shared minutes in anchoring the midfield in front a defensive backline that’s allowed just three goals. If consistency is in Leicester’s plans, expect them to battle for European positions.

Crystal Palace (7)

The Eagles are this international break’s surprise side. Sitting nicely in fourth ahead of Arsenal, Spurs and Manchester United, Palace benefitted nicely in the first four matches when beating United 2-1 August 24 on the road at Old Trafford.

In Week 2, though, Hodgson’s side was defeated 1-0 by newly-promoted Sheffield United which leaves us to suggest that the Eagles may be the outlier at the top of the table. Expect Palace to fall back down to Earth come May and battle for spots in danger of the relegation zone.

Arsenal (7)

After facing Tottenham, Liverpool and a tough defensive side in Burnley during its first four matches, it’d be harsh to give Arsenal a bad critique since they sit at fifth with seven points. The squad had moments of brilliance against the league leaders and their draw against Spurs showed resilience after going by two goals.

With Europa League Thursday games set to begin next week, it’ll be interesting to see how the Gunners deal with a Thursday-Sunday game schedule through December. Regardless of its tournament situation, Arsenal should be vying for a Champions League position at season’s end.

Everton (7)

The blue side of Liverpool sees the Toffees off to an inconsistent start with second-year manager Marcos Silva left with lots to go over and fix during the international break. Impressive wins at Watford and against Wolves at Goodison Park were good signs but Everton’s meltdown against Aston Villa and its inability to take all three points from Crystal Palace in the opening fixture mean the Toffees are in danger of dropping out of the top ten if things don’t improve.

A push for the top ten seems likely for the Toffees with Leicester, West Ham and Wolves and the rest of the top six all looking a bit sharper during the first month.

West Ham (7)

A Week 1 5-0 drubbing at the hands of Manchester City was a skeptical start to the season but West Ham United has remained unbeaten in three games.

New striker Sebastian Haller has quickly settled into the league, midfielder Andriy Yarmolenko is back in the squad after a long injury spell and scoring goals and the release of a lot of dead weight in the squad sees the Hammers fortune traject in the right direction.

Having won the title as City boss in 2014, Manuel Pellegrini knows how to win in this league and paired with the club’s ambition for European football I can see the Hammers hovering inside the top eight. Expect an eighth-place finish.

Manchester United (5)

Like Crystal Palace, Manchester United fall under the inconsistent spectrum. The Red Devils began the season flying August 11 when forward Marcus Rashford put two past Chelsea’s Azabailaga in a 4-0 win. Since then, the performances have been more and more worrying for head coach Ole Gunner Skoljkaer.

A loss against Crystal Palace was sandwiched between draws at Wolves and Southampton – three games that United are expected to win no matter the circumstances. My expectations for the club aren’t so low despite the rough start. Lots of talent runs through this squad and, with Ole or without, United should be top seven come seasons end.

Tottenham (5)

With Champions League football firing back up this coming week, it’s going to get even tougher for a Tottenham side that’s been hampered by off-field issues. Mostly weighing down on midfielder Christian Eriksen who many believed was on his way out this summer only to see the transfer window shut with the Dane still in Spurs white.

It’ll be seen as a massive boost to have Eriksen for at least another six months as a healthy Hueng-min Son and Erik Lamela look to join the Dane in helping Spurs win a trophy this season. With lots of doubts cast over the strength and depth of the squad though, I think Tottenham will be battling for Champions League contention with Arsenal, United, and Chelsea.

Sheffield (5)

The newly-promoted club have enjoyed a bright start to life in the Premier League. The club’s loss to Leicester in the third game of the season shouldn’t be too much to cry about as Chris Wilder’s men have earned road draws against Bournemouth and Chelsea while defeating Crystal Palace in their Week 2 home opener.

We’d expect Sheffield to come down to Earth and drop points throughout the year, but with the likes of Oliver McBurnie and Callum Robinson up top, I’d like to think the Blades may avoid the drop this season and end one place outside of the relegation zone.

Chelsea (5)

It was a tough start to the Premier League for first-time PL manager and club legend Frank Lampard. A 4-0 loss to United was followed by a narrow win over Norwich which was sandwiched between draws with Leicester and Sheffield.

It’s the youngest squad in Chelsea history so Lampard’s boys will have to learn how to win in this league quickly if they are to reach a spot in European football for next season. I think a spot in the Europa League at fifth or sixth will be fine for the Blues in London.

Burnley (4)

With three tough fixtures in its first four matches, Burnley sits nicely in mid-table despite facing Liverpool and Arsenal Week’s 2 and 4, respectively. Each of those ended in losses but in its season opener, striker Ashley Barnes put the team on his back against Southampton and scored twice in a 3-0 demolition of the Saints.

In Week 3, Wolves hosted the Clarets in a game that ended 1-1 – leaving Burnley with a point to take home. Burley’s season will depend on how often they can beat the lesser teams to stay ahead as the squad’s firepower just isn’t enough to beat the power clubs. I think the Clarets can be in a relegation fight but will make it out in 16th place.

Southampton (4)

Ralph Hasehuttl joined the club late last season and within a few matches had the Southampton squad playing much better. This season started off worrisome with back-to-back losses at the hands of Burnley and Liverpool. The Saints managed to wipe themselves off and fire twice past Brighton in a 2-0 win before coming back to draw Manchester United despite being one man down for the last 20 minutes.

Southampton looks like a team that’s ready to sprout under the German manager so I expect the southern club to head towards the high end of the mid-table at the end of the season.

Newcastle (4)

Newcastle United had a worrying offseason when they decided to can Rafa Benitez in June. In came Steve Bruce and with that a more direct style of play. It would take the squad a couple of games to reach its potential as losses to Arsenal and Norwich were followed up with a win at Tottenham and a draw against Watford.

With many journeyman names on the squad though, it’s going to be rough for Newcastle throughout the season. I expect them to battle to stay in the top flight this season.

Bournemouth (4)

Since joining the top flight in 2015, Bournemouth continues its stoic style of play despite its low-wage squad set up. It worked against Aston Villa in Week 2 but in the opening game, the inability to close up shop at the back left Sheffield with a share of the points. 

Losses to Manchester City and Leicester followed and now the Cherries and manager Eddie Howe will once again have to ask themselves if playing a passing-pressing style is best for its chance to continue its top-flight status. Expect Bournemouth to fight to stay.

Brighton (4)

New manager Graham Potter had a statement victory in Week 1 as Watford were left scoreless in a 3-0 Brighton win on the road. A week later, a draw to West Ham United at the AMEX Stadium cooled things down before reality would strike against Southampton and Manchester City in back-to-back shutout losses.

It’s going to be difficult for Potter to keep the Seagulls up, but, ultimately, I see Brighton dropping to the Championship at season’s end.

Wolverhampton (3)

It’s a strange place for Wolverhampton after four games. Just one place separates Wolves from the relegation zone but with 34 games left to make up for dropped points, expect Nuno Espiritu Santos’ men to fire at all cylinders eventually. 

The hamper of Thursday Europa League football may slip them back a little but I think Wolves have enough to battle inside the top ten of the table. I think an eighth-place finish is possible.

Aston Villa (3)

After a three year absence, Aston Villa are finally back in the Premier League. It hasn’t been all sunny skies for the Villans though as losses to Tottenham, Bournemouth, and Crystal Palace have left them with just three points since defeating Everton.

It’s tough to see Villa finishing higher than 15 as its squad depth and talent isn’t to par with the rest of the league. A relegation scrap with eventual bad news for Villa seems likely.

Norwich City (3)

A prime necessity for newly promoted sides vying to stay up top? A goal-scorer. Lucky for Norwich, the team has just that in Finland striker Teemu Pukki. His five goals so far are bettered by no one but Sergio Aguero and with help from the likes of midfield provider Marco Steipermann, the Canneries may just sneak back into top-flight next year. 

Watford (1)

It’s worrying days for Watford. Following a successive season with mid-table finishes, the club is in a bit of trouble as its form has begun to take a dip going back to last season. Javi Gracia was fired over the International break and back came Quique Sanches Flores who managed the side just two seasons ago.

With the talent in this squad, it’d be crazy to say Watford will still be in this situation come May. I’d expect the Hornets to find their form and end near 13th place.

 

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Author: Ignacio Cervantes

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