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The international break provides the perfect opportunity to take stock of the key developments thus far in an intriguing 2018/19 Premier League season. We have already been treated to all manner of upsets, controversies and wondergoals, and it is still only September. It promises to be another exhilarating campaign, and here are the five key things we have learned so far:
This league is no one-horsed race
Man City romped to the title in record-breaking fashion last term and many pundits tipped the new season to turn into another procession for Pep Guardiola’s men. But Liverpool embarked on 100% starts to the campaign, while the Citizens dropped points at newly promoted Wolves. If you check out the spreads at https://www.sportingindex.com/ you will see that Man City are still leading the betting, but the odds on Liverpool and Chelsea have dropped significantly.
The Blues typically thrive after changing managers, and they have developed a habit of winning the title every other year, so – after finishing fifth in 2017/18 – this could be their season once again, particularly if Eden Hazard maintains his magnificent form. Liverpool spent well in the summer and plugged some obvious gaps in their starting 11, and they look a lot more resilient for it. They look the most likely challengers to Man City’s throne, and it will be fascinating to see if they can maintain their current intensity over the course of the season.
Pellegrini is on thin ice
West Ham’s owners sought to appease mutinous fans by bankrolling a fabulous splurge in the summer transfer window. They spent big on the likes of Felipe Anderson, Issa Diop and Andiy Yarmolenko, and met Jack Wilshere’s significant wage demands, and optimism abounded after they secured the services of Manuel Pellegrini.
The Chilean won the Premier League at Man City, and attracting a coach of his calibre represented a significant statement of intent. But four games later, that optimism has fizzled out amid some characteristically inept defending and a total lack of backbone.
Four defeats out of four have left the Hammers rock bottom of the table, below such limited and parsimonious sides as Cardiff and Huddersfield. The board has already given Pellegrini the dreaded vote of confidence, and he could be axed if West Ham do not turn things around sharpish.
Hornets have a sting in their tail
Watford have enjoyed a barnstorming start to the season, winning all four games to leave them looking down on the likes of Man City, Tottenham and Man Utd. The 2-0 victory over Brighton on the opening day was routine and efficient, and they did really well to earn a 3-1 win away at Turf Moor. They eked out a 2-1 victory against a Wilfried Zaha-inspired Crystal Palace, but everyone expected the winning run to come to an end when they hosted Tottenham on Sunday. Spurs took a 1-0 lead through an Abdoulaye Doucore own-goal and a sense of grim inevitability took hold, as Mauricio Pochettino’s men are really strong at the back. But the Hornets refused to yield and they roared back into the game when captain Troy Deeney equalised. Craig Cathcart put them 2-1 up with 14 minutes remaining, and they defended bravely to see out the win.
Suddenly Watford have shot up to top of the betting in the “without the big six” market, ahead of Everton, Leicester and Wolves, and they may start fancying their chances of earning a European place. They could have done without the international break, as it may derail their impressive momentum, but if they return to the form they have already displayed it will be hard to stop them from seizing seventh place.
Burnley need to rediscover last season’s form
Sean Dyche was vying with Guardiola for the Manager of the Year award last season after guiding an unheralded Burnley side to seventh in the table. It was always going to be hard to replicate that success when you consider the limited resources the club possesses, and Burnley have struggled thus far. They embarked on a gruelling and ultimately fruitless campaign to qualify for the Europa League group stage, eventually losing 4-2 on aggregate to Olympiakos in their playoff tie, and all that travelling appears to have left the Terriers fatigued.
They have taken just one point from their opening four league games, and they are third favourites for relegation after Cardiff and Huddersfield. There is still plenty of quality in this squad, but Dyche needs to foster the togetherness, diligence and discipline that defined their 2017/18 campaign if they are to climb the table.
Gunners are chaotic
If you are a neutral fan looking for entertainment but unsure who to watch, opt for Unai Emery’s madcap Arsenal side. Both full-backs play like old-school wingers, high up the pitch, leaving two hapless centre-backs to be ripped apart at will on the break.
Shkodran Mustafi looks like an accident waiting to happen, new boy Sokratis is not much better and Emery’s insistence on Petr Cech playing out from the back is downright lunacy. The former Chelsea keeper is a great shot stopper, but he is no Ederson, and he will continue to give the ball away in alarming situations.
Emery has not yet gone close to fixing the defensive failings that defined late Wengerdom, and Arsenal always look liable to concede. Yet they can be positively bewitching at times going forward. Expensively assembled attacking duo Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can destroy any centre-back pairing, while the effete Mesut Ozil might start creating again soon, so they always look good for a few goals. It is unlikely to get them back in the top four, and it will turn their fans into nervous wrecks, but it is certainly enjoyable for the neutral.