Premier League Grades – 3 Months In
We’re three months into the 2018/19 Premier League season with some interesting patterns emerging at both ends of the table. Three clubs remain unbeaten at the top of the table with a genuine title race starting to emerge, while several others are already facing a long, hard winter ahead.
With a healthy sample of games to mull over, how is each Premier League side faring compared to pre-season expectations?
Part 2 of our three-month Premier League grades looks at Leicester to Wolves…
High point: Despite the sadness of the occasion, the gritty 1-0 win over Cardiff City in light of the tragic death of owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was a reminder of the fantastic cohesion and team spirit that led Foxes to their shock Premier League title win in 2016.
Low point: Football results seem immaterial given recent events at the King Power Stadium, but on the field, inconsistency remains the biggest issue for Claude Puel’s side, who remain a match for any team when fully firing but have a tendency to switch off in games. The 4-2 defeat at Bournemouth in September underlines that trend.
Verdict: The Foxes look locked in a battle with Everton and the Cherries to be the team finishing best of the rest this season. This team also look more than capable of going on a strong run in both domestic cups this season. Some extra silverware to go alongside their Premier League trophy would be a fitting tribute to their much-loved owner.
High point: The opening day 4-0 win over West Ham was Liverpool at their entertaining best – and an early warning sign to their nearest title rivals that, at the top of their game, this Reds side will take some stopping.
Low point: It’s hard to criticise an unbeaten start after 11 games, but draws with Chelsea, Man City and Arsenal suggest Klopp’s side are struggling to quite match the heights reached towards the end of last season when they looked capable of blowing any team away. That said, will the German’s gegenpressing tactics pay dividends when opposition legs start to tire towards the end of the season?
Verdict: You get the sense even without dropping too many points so far, Liverpool still aren’t quite firing on all cylinders – and that should frighten their closest contenders. However, with last year’s reigning champions Man City already hitting the ground running, they can’t afford any slip-ups.
High point: The Citizens have already notched up some big wins this season, but the recent 6-1 demolition of Southampton was one of their most classy performances, with the Saints unable to cope with City’s relentless attacking threat. It already looks unlikely any team will be able to outscore them.
Low point: Retaining a Premier League trophy is probably the hardest challenge in English football, and the 1-1 draw at newly-promoted Wolves was a useful reminder for City that teams will still make them work hard for back-to-back title glory
Verdict: It’s all coming together nicely for Pep Guardiola’s side after the first third of the season – and for all City’s attacking nous, he’ll be as pleased by his side’s defensive resilience with only four goals conceded so far this season. They remain the team to beat.
High point: For all their early season struggles, the 3-2 and 2-1 wins over Newcastle and Bournemouth show Man Utd still have the mental strength to eventually overpower opponents even if they have developed a bad habit of starting games slowly.
Low point: The 3-0 home defeat to Spurs in August was a sign of how Utd have lost their fear factor in recent seasons and can look like a team of individuals at times. They deserve credit for steadying the ship after what could have become a full-blown crisis at Old Trafford.
Verdict: It’s not always been pretty, but recent results suggest Jose Mourinho has weathered the early season storm at Utd, although they will face a battle royale to secure a place in next season’s Champions League if they continue to lose any more ground over the busy Christmas period.
High point: Finally getting off the mark with a battling 1-0 victory over an in-form Watford side, in a performance that illustrated Rafa Benitez’s best qualities as a manager. If the Magpies are going to survive this season, Rafa will need his side to show that discipline more often at St James’ Park.
Low point: The dire 1-0 loss at home to Brighton – a side without an away win in nearly 12 months. As with every team scrapping for survival, the Magpies can ill afford to drop home points against their relegation rivals.
Verdict: Performances have been better than results suggest, and recent wins could finally turbocharge Newcastle’s season following their stuttering start to the campaign. Rafa will remain the difference between Premier League safety or another sabbatical in the Championship.
High point: A 2-0 away win against Crystal Palace. With the Saints struggling at home, away form will be crucial to their survival hopes, and they seem to play better when the pressure is off away from an angst-filled St Mary’s.
Low point: Once again failing to register a win at home in a disappointing 0-0 draw against a then winless Newcastle side. Southampton desperately need to turn their home form around to avoid another draining relegation battle.
Verdict: Three months in, and it’s already looking like another difficult season on the South Coast. Saints look as if they have failed to heed the warnings from last season’s surprise relegation battle. Will Mark Hughes be given long as his predecessor Mauricio Pellegrino to turn things around?
High point: Beating Man Utd 3-0 at Old Trafford showed Spurs’ unity and cohesion on the field when things really click for them. Spurs dug their heels in to keep the scores level during a tricky first half, before putting on a show after half time to record one of their most memorable victories of recent seasons.
Low point: The 1-0 home defeat to Man City at Wembley. Another sign, if one was needed, that for all their progress in recent seasons, Spurs lack the depth and know-how to finally land a first Premier League title, even if they get a little closer to that objective every season.
Verdict: Fourth place might be a case of ‘as you were’ for Spurs but Mauricio Pochettino deserves credit for keeping his Spurs side in genuine title contention in light of World Cup 2018 fatigue, mounting injuries, and the confusion surrounding the move to their new stadium. Having spent nothing in the summer, another Top Four finish would represent yet another impressive feat for a manager surely ready to take that next step up to one of the European giants.
High point: The 2-1 victory over Spurs – a result that really started to give the Hornets belief they can comfortably rise above the relegation fray this season. With the Top Four far less generous than in previous seasons in dropping points against the rest, it remains one of the stand-out results of the current 2018/19 season.
Low point: A 4-0 home drubbing by Bournemouth which increasingly looks the exception rather than the rule for Javi Gracia’s impressive Hornets side this campaign. Their opponents that day are arguably the only side to have outperformed them so far this season.
Verdict: With the caveat that Watford are always the team most likely to collapse after Christmas, Gracia’s methods at Vicarage Road appear to finally be bearing fruit after a low-key start with the club in 2017/18. If anything, early season form will once again keep them comfortably away from the relegation reckoning in May.
High point: A confident display in a 3-1 victory over Man Utd that helped the Hammers continue their upward trajectory after a slow start to the season. A sign of the heights the Hammers can hit if they just put their minds to it.
Low point: A 1-0 loss to Brighton the following week that underlined how West Ham can be one of the most frustrating Jekyll & Hyde sides to watch in the Premier League. For all their dominance in that game, the Hammers switched off badly to allow the Seagulls the one chance they needed to take all three points.
Verdict: It’s all been a bit underwhelming so far for Manuel Pellegrini after an ambitious summer outlay. This team has looked more than capable at times of turning on the style and pushing for a Top 10 finish but need to find some rhythm from somewhere to avoid this season fizzling out into mediocrity.
High point: More than holding their own against a Man City side that hasn’t looked back since only picking up a point at Molineux. Wolves look like a side that believe they belong amongst the elite. As the 1-1 draw with Arsenal also shows, expect them to be a thorn in the side of more ‘Big Six’ clubs as the season goes on.
Low point: The 2-0 home defeat to Watford – a brutal reminder for Nuno’s side of how unforgiving the Premier League can be if you switch off for just five minutes. That result led to Wolves’ first sticky patch after their flying start to life in the top tier – but could it be a blessing in disguise with some of the media hype around the club now subsiding?
Verdict: Recent results have been mixed, but overall performance levels still look healthy for last season’s Championship title winners. If Wolves can find an out-and-out goalscorer in January, a Top 10 finish remains a realistic goal.