Tuesday November 4th, 2014

Ten matches certainly does not make a season, but it's a large enough sample where we can start to draw some preliminary conclusions about what we're seeing in the Premier League -- especially in the underlying data that's fueling results.

Here's where things currently stand at the top and bottom of the table, as explained through an advanced stats lens:

1. Is the league title race over?

Chelsea certainly looks to be the best team, and I haven't wavered from them as my preseason pick to win the title (nor should you, at this point). Nothing's over this early in a 38-match season, though, and as we have seen with Diego Costa's injury making Chelsea took a touch more human, health can be the great (un)equalizer. If something were to happen long-term to Cesc Fabregas, bringing Chelsea's attack closer to its 2013-14 personnel construct, you could see the gap narrow to the point where City or a surprise candidate could mount a very legit challenge.

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Thus far, though, Chelsea has been very, very imposing as well as a touch lucky. The following chart, taken through Chelsea's first seven matches, shows that they were easily the best team in the league at that point, creating more goal expectation than anyone else, but also converting (and stopping) goals at an unsustainable rate.

11tegen11.net

Costa's absence has muted this a bit, but as the Blues already have played away to both Manchester sides, their schedule will become more favorable going forward, too. If Chelsea can beat (or even draw) at Liverpool this weekend, they'll have gotten through three of the five or six toughest away fixtures without a defeat.

You never say never this early, and Manchester City's potential elimination from multiple cups may help the club focus on the league and consistently grind out results while Chelsea's attention is more divided. Assuming decent health, though, it looks like Chelsea will be very hard to surpass for the championship. Six of its eight wins thus far have come by at least two goals. There's a lot of margin for error in what Jose Mourinho's side is doing, even if luck evens out a bit.

2. Is Southampton really for real?

Again, it's only 10 games and money usually talks, etc. But right now, yes, this looks very real and is happening in a way that appears to be relatively sustainable.

The Saints ultimately will concede more than 0.5 goals per game in the league, but the way they are operating on the offensive end hints of really good things. Per WhoScored.com, Southampton is taking 9.5 shots per game from inside the penalty area, including almost two per game from inside the six-yard box. Both of those rates are second in the league at the moment (and both are higher than Chelsea's totals, even as the Blues have scored a league-leading 26 goals).

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Prior to this past weekend's 1-0 win at Hull, Michael Caley (who does excellent work at SB Nation's Cartilage Free Captain) projected Southampton had a 45 percent chance to finish in the top four at season's end. The Saints were essentially a coin flip with Liverpool for the final UCL spot, and after this past weekend, Southampton is favored to claim a Champions League berth for 2015-16.

Realize also that the Saints have already played at Liverpool and at Spurs, they will get 15-goal scorer Jay Rodriguez back relatively soon, and they should have some money for reinforcements in January, as needed. The X-factor will be heavy spending by Liverpool (or, perhaps more likely, Manchester United) in January, but the legit run Southampton looked poised to make last year could come in this one. 

3.Why is no one talking about Arsenal?

Well, on a macro level, the perception is that the Gunners are not legit title contenders (probably true) and that they're extremely likely to finish in the top four, which is their birthright (also true). The real mystery for the jokesters is whether So'ton or someone else can finish third so Arsenal can rightfully claim its annual fourth-place trophy.

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That last part looks less likely, as Arsenal's underlying numbers continue to be very strong. It currently leads the Premier League in Total Shot Ratio (a team's percentage of the total number of shots attempted in their games between the teams) at an extremely strong 70.0 percent. Yes, Arsenal is attempting seven out of every 10 shots that happen in its games, which is well ahead of Chelsea (opportunistic predators that the Blues are) and everyone else in the league. Arsenal is also fourth in shots on target per match and leads the league by a huge margin in dribbles past opponents per game, according to WhoScored.com.

Five draws in the first 10 matches (including three at home) have led to some indifference, and Arsenal needs to tighten up the defense a bit (its save percentage is lower than the other UCL challengers at the moment), but this remains a very good side and one that is quite likely at this point to finish in the top three. As for the annual Champions League goal, this projection has the Gunners making it nearly four out of five times as things currently stand.

That's even though they (somehow) only stand three points ahead of Tottenham and Liverpool. The underlying stats suggest that margin will grow as the season moves forward.

4.Burnley's getting relegated; who else should concern you?

The Battling TurfMoorians have been game, but preseason expectations that this roster is simply overmatched at this level have been spot on. They only have five goals in 10 matches and are still without a victory. Even with 28 matches remaining, Burnley already has a relegation expectation of 75 percent, and that may be generous given the club's points expectation in that model is nearly 30. They don't have the money to splurge to try to save themselves in January, either.

So, there will be two other teams returning to the Championship, and generally the teams that do are the ones that were leakiest in defense, so let's look there.

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Queens Park Rangers' -11 goal differential is a touch misleading. Harry Redknapp's charges have lost twice by four goals, meaning they are just a -3 in their other eight matches. Given their, umm, propensity for throwing cash at problems, you have to believe they will make some additions/changes as needed in January to avoid a second relegation in three years. This is not a great team by any stretch, but they may not be in the most danger right now, as they also have the ability to score the odd goal or two.

A team that does not have that ability is Aston Villa, which couldn't hold a "Goal of the Month" contest for October ... because the club didn't score a goal in October. Since the ultra-fluky start, where Villa picked up 10 points from four matches despite mustering just six shots on goal, the club has six straight losses and had gone 549 minutes without scoring before Andy Wiemann's opener in an eventual 2-1 loss to Spurs this past weekend.

That's not the part that concerns me, though. Villa has already lost three matches by three-goal margins, and has conceded two or three goals in its last six matches. THAT is not sustainable if the club wants to be in the EPL next season. The offense will fix itself to a certain extent, but it's not good enough for the club to be shipping multiple goals a match. The Villans already have five multigoal losses this season, tied for most in the league with Burnley, per Statto.com:

Statto.com

The other team in a similar boat right now is Crystal Palace. This isn't the "Crystal Pulis" of last season, for sure. Palace has now allowed at least two goals in a whopping eight of its 10 matches this season. Right now, the club has 14 goals for (including four multigoal matches) that have helped offset things, but the overall trend is alarming.

Palace is effectively an opportunistic counterattacking side that is being outshot pretty significantly at the moment. I don't think the club has 50 goals in the hopper for the season, which means it needs to start stopping them at a rate much better than it has for the first 10 matches. Otherwise, it will be a long summer of wondering what might have been had the club not fallen out with Tony Pulis right on the eve of the season.

Leicester and Sunderland also have their issues, but these other two situations look the most uneasy at this stage.

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