Quick Thoughts on the Premier League’s Opening Weekend

Despite there being just one round of games played so far in the Premier League, there isn’t a shortage of talking points.

Arsenal look exciting, but still have problems to sort out

Despite an exciting opening game for neutrals and in the end a win for Arsenal there were still some issues present for the North London club.

The makeshift back three on paper looked as though it could be unstable, with two left-backs playing centre-back, and it proved to be exactly that. Now Arsenal do have four-centre-backs out – Gabriel and Per Mertersacker were both injured, Laurent Koscielny suspended and Shokdran Mustafi late back to training after the Confederations Cup – but Arsenal always seem to find themselves in this predicament.

Last year was the same when it was Calum Chambers and Rob Holding starting together on the opening day against Liverpool or when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had a run in midfield later in the season because of all the players out injured. It’s strange that despite having depth in these areas they still find themselves short at certain points each season.

It’s also interesting that Arsene Wenger would opt for two left-backs to play centre-back when Calum Chambers was available for selection and is coming off the back of a good year on loan.

If these defensive problems can be resolved when first choice centre-backs return then Arsenal do look stronger this season. In attack their build up play – though still not perfect – looked more dangerous with the movement of Alexandre Lacazette and Danny Welbeck complimenting Arsenal’s play in the final-third more than that of a target-man.

Quick one-two’s in and around the area caused Leicester trouble all evening while this off the ball movement helps brings the best out of players like Mesut Ozil and Granit Xhaka who’s passing can usually pick these players out.

The prospect of Alexis Sanchez, Ozil and Lacazette lining up as the front three is an exciting one, adding in Aaron Ramsey’s runs from deep means Arsenal have a lot of attacking threat this year, they just have to make sure the defensive side doesn’t mean it’s for nothing.

Last season Arsenal conceded 2 or more goals 12 times last season, just over once every three games. This needs to be brought right down should they want to challenge for the title.

Conceding 3 goals – all from shots inside the 6 yard box – at home is a huge concern. Arsenal fans just have to hope it’s due to it still being early season and players being out rather than something that will be a regular feature this season.

They still seem far away from a true title challenge but given Arsenal seem to be banking everything – regarding the contract situation of Ozil and Sanchez – on this season it’ll be interesting to see what happens.

Southampton look promising, but are still struggling in front of goal

New manager Saint’s manager Mauricio Pellegrino will have lots of positives to take from his first Premier League game in charge, but the big negative is that his side were unable to find the goals that their play deserved.

Southampton had the 4th worst xG Rating in the Premier League last season and that bad luck in front of goal has followed them into the new season.

Southampton controlled the game and limited their opponents to just 0.4 xG, while they managed 2.5 xG. Saints fans will be hoping it’s just a case of the team gelling to the new manager and getting their match sharpness back, but given it’s now 6 games at home without a goal it is a big worry.

Some of the South Coast’s clubs build-up play was great to watch though. Dusan Tadic roamed from side to side finding small pockets of space in between the lines a while Nathan Redmond was a constant threat throughout laying on 5 chances for his teammates.

If Manolo Gabbiadini and Charlie Austin can stay fit then you’d imagine the goals should come this season. Both had impressive p90 numbers last season but injuries meant their seasons were interrupted.

It’ll also be interesting to see where new signing Mario Lemina fits into this side. Central midfield is an area where Southampton are already pretty strong so it becomes a case of who’s going to lose their spot?

Lemina has impressive numbers though, particularly for xP Rating, successful take-ons p90 and possession adjusted interceptions and tackles per game. In fact the only players that have better values for these stats and xG + xA p90 last season (with over 450 mins) were Naby Keita, Thiago, Marco Verratti, Thomas Partey and Harry Winks, meaning he’s in good company.

Southampton are going to be an interesting team to follow this season and if they can turn their luck in front of goal around they could put some pressure on the top six.

Steve Mounie and Huddersfield are off to a flying start

Going into the season as huge underdogs Huddersfield managed to get a great opening day win over Crystal Palace. While it may have been a disastrous start for Frank de Boer’s Palace career the headlines were all about the newly promoted club – particularly leading man Steve Mounie.

Steve Mounie is probably my favourite Premier League signing of the summer and exactly the type of signing clubs outside the top six should be making.

The 22-year-old forward had the 4th highest xG p90 of all forwards 24 and younger last season, the only u24’s to have a higher xG p90 than him were Alvaro Morata, Mauro Icardi and Andrea Belotti.

What’s even more encouraging is Mounie only slightly outperformed his xG with a rating 0f 1.035, meaning he scored his goals because he was able to regularly get into good goal scoring positions than hitting an unrepeatable streak of form.

Huddersfield may not have the same huge resources or pockets as more established Premier League clubs but with signings like this they’re using their resources a lot better than other clubs are – £11.7m for Mounie is incredible value.

There’s still some things Huddersfield would like to work on – Palace had quite a few chances to get back into the game only for bad finishing let them down – but this will give Huddersfield a huge confidence boost, and given that they don’t play one of last years top six until the 30th of September they have a chance to put some more points on the board between now and then.

Tottenham are still threatening despite lack of investment

With Tottenham being the only team in the top six to not go out and strengthen there was a lot of talk about how they’d get on in the opening weeks of the season. They responded by getting an impressive win away at newly promoted Newcastle.

While this tweet from @caley_graphics shows how the red card effected the match the impressive part is Tottenham’s defence who didn’t allow Newcastle any chance of real quality.

 

 

What was impressive about Tottenham last season was they only conceded 2 or more goals 5 times in the whole of last season. Then to add to that they didn’t concede more than 2 goals in a match. When your defence doesn’t let in 2 or more goals per match and it only does that once every 7/8 games it makes it a lot easier to pick up points.

It means in ~87% of Spurs’ games last season they only needed 2 goals to take maximum points – something very achievable with an attack of Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Son Heung-Min.

If they can keep this defensive solidity this season – which may be harder given Kyle Walker’s departure and Danny Rose being rumoured to want out – then the lack of investment may not have much of a negative effect.

With that being said, it’d be nice to see them go out and strengthen to make the final push after they fell short of the title last season. Signing a new first-team right-back and possibly adding some more depth to cope with Europe would be incredibly useful.

However it’s also nice for them to show faith in younger players such as Ben Davies, Kyle Walker-Peters and Harry Winks.

If Tottenham want to have another promising season they have to keep their defensive solidity and make sure they’re able to replicate their home form from last year in their new Wembley surroundings.  Their first big test of the season comes next week against a Chelsea side looking to get some points on the board.

The Same Problems Haunt Liverpool but Salah’s addition is a welcome one

Last year two of the main criticism’s of Liverpool were their defence on set-pieces and their lack of depth. The bad news for Liverpool fans is that these same things were mentioned again in their season opener.

The game also further shows how Liverpool may not give up many chances to their opponents but the problem is that the chances they do give away are high quality ones. Watford only managed 9 shots, a number which isn’t concerning, but what is concerning is that 4 of these 9 were inside the 6 yard box.

Liverpool’s attack may be impressive but if you’re giving the opposition 4 shots inside the 6 yard box it doesn’t really matter. Expecting the attack to score 3 or 4 goals to secure a win isn’t a good long-term strategy. Given that this was apparent last season it’s strange to see no change has taken place over the summer.

The attack is the main positive Liverpool can take from this game. The new front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane looks incredibly dangerous with all three of them managing to get on the scoresheet.

Last season Liverpool didn’t look the same side without the pace and directness of Mane, but now they not only have cover should Mane pick up another injury but they have twice the pace and directness with Salah and Mane on either flank.

It means Coutinho can play a deeper role where he tends to thrive bringing the ball from deep, linking up on the edge of the area and playing devastating through-balls.

It also means should Coutinho leave for Barcelona his goals and assists will be replaced by Salah in the front three and their money should be turned towards finding a new creative central midfield player rather than Lorenzo Insigne who they’ve been linked with.

The problem going forward, however, is that Liverpool lacked creativity from deep. Their midfield three only created 3 chances against Watford. This is an area that shouldn’t be a problem once Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho are back fit but all it does it further emphasise the lack of depth of this Liverpool squad – which could be a big factor once the European games kick in.

Last season on the 1st of December Liverpool were 1 point behind Chelsea but once the games came heavy during the Christmas period and January having the League Cup semi-finals and an FA Cup replay they fell right off the pace. By the 1st of January they were 6 points off the eventual champions and 10 points by the 1st of February.

It’s not as though Liverpool were the only side to fall off Chelsea in this period but it does show how their small squad failed to cope with a busy schedule.

Given Liverpool will regularly be playing 2 games a week this season it’s strange to see them not sign a few more players.

Liverpool should look a lot different once Coutinho and Lallana return but it is frustrating for Liverpool fans that the same problems that plagued them last year don’t seem to have been addressed over the summer.

Manchester United seem to have found some balance

After a disappointing home record last season Man Utd fans will be delighted they managed to record a comfortable victory to kick-off the new season.

With the addition of Nemanja Matic, United finally have a holding midfielder who’ll  allow the likes of Paul Pogba to get further forward and more involved in the attacking play. This becomes even more important when playing at Old Trafford.

Last season United couldn’t break teams down when playing at home usually leading to the last ten minutes being launching the ball towards Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marouane Fellaini inside the penalty area in the hope of a late winner.

This didn’t happen against West Ham with Matic holding, Pogba given licence to get forward and Henrikh Mkhitaryan playing centrally United – and Mkhitaryan in particular – created many good chances leading to a comprehensive victory.

Meanwhile new-boy Romelu Lukaku has slotted straight in scoring on his competitive debut against Real Madrid and netting 2 on his Premier League debut.

Should United keep supplying the Belgian forward then you’d imagine he can get 20+ goals in the league this season – which a United player hasn’t done since Robin van Persie in 2012/13.

If United can balance their defensive solidity – like Spurs, United only conceded more than once five times last season – with giving enough freedom to let their attacking players play they should see an improvement on both their poor home record and disappointing 6th place finish.

It’s too early to make any kind of bold statement – that goes for all teams – but United do look stronger than last year and should be more threatening in the title race this time around.

Other quick thoughts

  • Everton look solid at the back but it still feels as though they could do with another player in attack, though I’m not sure if that player is Gylfi Sigurdsson
  • Tammy Abraham could have a big year – the young forward had 3 of Swansea’s 4 shots including one created by some great individual skill
  • Chelsea need some reinforcements – with lots of sales and European football Chelsea could do with some more depth this year, particularly at wing-back and centre-midfield
  • Manchester City look more well-rounded – City had the best xG difference last season and now with a bolstered defence, full season of Gabriel Jesus and signing of Bernardo Silva they seem a lot more threatening than last year

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