The Premier: Re-ranking the EPL clubs, three weeks in
The first in-season rankings? A global pop star vomiting? Two pop-gun offenses sputtering? It’s all here in the international break edition of The Premier!
THE PREMIER LEDE
The first international break of the new season combined with the transfer window deadline provides a good point at which to reset the league’s apparent pecking order. While this isn’t an actual formulaic approach to power rankings, it’s going to adapt a Bayesian approach, which means preseason pecking order isn’t ignored even with the presence of actual results.
For example, I had Manchester City has my preseason champion pick, so even though the Citizens have looked very pedestrian the last two weeks, at this point, they’re not going to drop below Liverpool, a team I had sixth in the preseason which now owns three 1-0 wins. So, the current ranking is a combination of what I thought of each club originally, who it played, and how it looked in the process.
We’ll do this periodically as the schedule allows. Here’s the first take heading into Week 4:
2-0-1, 7 points, +3 GD. Beat Hull City, beat Aston Villa, drew at Manchester United
The results are fine. The quality of play? Ehh. Hull got overwhelmed early, but played a more competitive second half. The Blues easily could have lost at Villa had a couple refereeing decisions gone the other way. The draw at United was a good result masking a very tepid, defensive performance. Jose Mourinho’s striker preferences underscore that may be the direction he wants to move at times with what could/should be an expansive side.
2. Manchester City
2-1-0, 6 points, +5 GD. Beat Newcastle, lost at Cardiff City, beat Hull City
There’s no need to overreact after three matches, but the rout of Newcastle in the opener looks a lot more due to how poor the Magpies are instead of any grand statement of intent from City. They have not played well in the last two matches, getting punished by one promoted side and slogging past another with a flattering two-goal win. There’s too much talent here for this malaise to persist too much longer, although now UCL play will test their ability to deliver consistently.
2-1-0, 6 points, +1 GD. Lost to Aston Villa, won at Fulham, beat Tottenham
With two wins on the trot and Champions League group play confirmed, the Gunners nabbed Mesut Ozil at the transfer deadline, further enhancing a slick-passing midfield. They didn’t really answer the issues they could have in defensive midfield against more physical teams, though, (Mathieu Flamini?) and if Olivier Giroud gets injured, there’s a question at striker. Current depth will be challenged again by six matches between this Saturday and Oct. 1: three league tilts, two Champions League group matches and a Capital One Cup tie.
3-0-0, 9 points, +3 GD. Beat Stoke City, won at Aston Villa, beat Manchester United
The rise of Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool was detailed in last week’s column, and they now have just three more matches until they get Luis Suarez back. Reintegrating one of the league’s best players will be an interesting experiment with how well Daniel Sturridge is playing and how the overall team chemistry looks. They may -- emphasis *may* -- still be a year away from truly challenging for big things, but things are looking very promising on the red side of the city.
5. Manchester United
1-1-1, 4 points. Won at Swansea, drew with Chelsea, lost at Liverpool
Yes, United’s not really accustomed to having just four points from three matches, but the schedule has been very staunch and they haven’t played poorly. The 4-1 win at Swansea will look really good when we see how other teams fare there. Chelsea more or less tried for 0-0 and got it. It happens. United were on top after halftime at Anfield but couldn’t find a goal. Bringing in Marouane Fellaini at the death on deadline day was a massive boost in a huge area of need.
2-1-0, 6 points, +1 GD. Won at Crystal Palace, beat Swansea, lost at Arsenal
With the roster overhaul this summer, AVB’s side remains a work in progress. They haven’t yet scored from the run of play, but the potential is here to be a very, very good team. Once Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen get worked into the mix and Spurs figures out its best front six, they should gel and pose significant problems for any team in the league. Long-term buy.
7. Aston Villa
1-2-0, 3 points, 0 GD. Won at Arsenal, lost at Chelsea, lost to Liverpool
The Villans were handed the wrong end of the schedule stick, compounded by the Chelsea match being moved to midweek in the opening week of the season because of the UEFA Super Cup. Villa deserves more than the three points it has, with the Chelsea match being particularly harsh on them, and the youth plan forged during last season’s difficult campaign is paying early dividends. They look more settled in the back and still carry offensive threat.
0-0-3, 3 points, 0 GD. Drew at Norwich City, drew with West Brom, drew at Cardiff City
The Toffees are still finding themselves as they transition to Roberto Martinez’s ways, and now they need to reboot again after selling off Marouane Fellaini and bringing in James McCarthy, among others. They’ve been more wasteful than poor, but the schedule hasn’t exactly been brutal yet, either. The pressure is on to start scoring and getting better results against teams they should handle, or a battle for seventh may not even be the best-case scenario.
1-2-0, 3 points, -2 GD. Lost to Manchester United, lost at Tottenham, won at West Brom
A schedule adjustment is needed as they have hosted United and played two away matches, including one at another title contender. The way they were beaten by United appears to be a one-off. Even with West Brom struggling, The Hawthorns isn’t an easy place to win, so that’s a nice jump off. The schedule remains tough, though, with Liverpool at home next and then Arsenal two weeks after, also at home. Good manager, solid side. Should be fine.
10. West Ham
1-1-1, 4 points, +1 GD. Beat Cardiff, drew at Newcastle, lost to Stoke City
Handling Cardiff in the opener looks a little better now, but drawing at Newcastle and then losing at home to Stoke probably will look less OK as time moves forward. The midfield is decent, but the strikers look pretty meh -- and that's before news that Andy Carroll may have suffered a long-term injury Monday. Signing Mladen Petric on a free isn't going to do it. If aging Jussi Jaaskelainen breaks down in goal, the cover there looks a bit dicey, too. There are points available in the next three matches for the Hammers
11. Norwich City
1-1-1, 4 points, 0 GD. Drew with Everton, lost at Hull, beat Southampton
I’m not sure what to make of the Canaries yet as they continue to integrate a number of new pieces. They have some promising attacking potential that hasn’t been unlocked yet. They play Spurs next and also get Arsenal and Chelsea within the next month, so a better sound check is coming. I’m still bullish on them as a potential top-10 finisher.
1-1-1, 4 points, 0 GD. Won at West Brom, drew with Sunderland, lost at Norwich
Like Norwich City, another team that should improve as it continues to gel. The import of Daniel Osvaldo to go with Rickie Lambert gives them better striker options than most clubs of their pedigree. The first three weeks have been mostly scuffling, though. In another month, we’ll have a better sense of their upside, but it still looks pretty positive.
13. Stoke City
2-1-0, 6 points, +1 GD. Lost at Liverpool, beat Crystal Palace, won at West Ham
A popular relegation choice (including by me) before the season, the Potters have nabbed two straight wins, scrapping back past Crystal Palace and then using a late free kick to grab a deserved win at Upton Park. I still think they’re going to struggle on the offensive end, but if they keep Asmir Begovic, they’ll be in enough games where an odd goal will mean a point or three. I’m not sold yet, but they’ve been a bit better than I expected.
14. Cardiff City
1-1-1, 4 points, -1 GD. Lost at West Ham, beat Manchester City, drew with Everton
As expected, last season’s Championship winners look the most solid of the three promoted sides, with the atmosphere at Cardiff City Stadium already making it a very difficult place for even top-tier established clubs. They were solid value for a draw against City and took advantage of corner kicks to pinch the win, and ground out a 0-0 result against Everton. You wonder about the depth and quality of attack over 38 matches, but so far, so pretty good.
15. West Brom
0-2-1, 1 point, -3 GD. Lost to Southampton, drew at Everton, lost to Swansea
Hmmm. What I had billed as a likely mid-table club with relatively little upside or downside has so far looked like a team that’s really going to struggle to score. They netted 53 goals last campaign, but losing loanee Romelu Lukaku and then not finding a way to pip Everton for his services again this season may loom very large. WBA’s strikeforce is really old, limited or both. This bears watching now that the window is closed. The match at Fulham on Saturday is interesting for both sides.
1-2-0, 3 points, -2 GD. Won at Sunderland, lost to Arsenal, lost at Newcastle
The Cottagers have been impotent in both away matches, even though they were quite close to nabbing four points from the pair. In the lone home match, they attempted to be more ambitious and were torn open by Arsenal on the counter. Things haven’t clicked yet between injury absences and some interesting lineup decisions. The schedule is about to get much friendlier in terms of travel, so maybe that will help the group settle in post-transfer deadline. One of two things will happen: They’ll start playing better, or Martin Jol’s job will be in danger.
17. Newcastle United
1-1-1, 4 points, -3 GD. Lost at Manchester City, drew with West Ham, beat Fulham
The four points are quite flattering for a side that still looks like a chemistry mess. They were mauled at City, and then finally broke a massive scoreless run with a late goal to edge Fulham. The final 25 minutes or so vs. the Cottagers were the best Newcastle have offered this season, but the standard still is pretty sloppy. The schedule also stiffens now. In the next eight matches, only Hull at home looks like a good shot at three points. This could worsen before it improves.
18. Crystal Palace
1-2-0, 3 points, 0 GD. Lost to Tottenham, lost at Stoke City, beat Sunderland
Well, you knew Ian Holloway would be entertaining. He’s already earned himself a two-match touchline ban. His team? Not bad at all so far. They made Spurs labor on the opening day, let a lead slip away at Stoke, and then handled Sunderland at home with some opportunistic finishing. Picking up Marouane Chamakh gives them a bit more pedigree up top. Their strikers could help pinch an odd point here and there, which is how relegation candidates survive.
19. Hull City
1-2-0, 3 points, -3 GD. Lost at Chelsea, beat Norwich, lost at Manchester City
Aside from the first 30 minutes at Chelsea, Hull have looked fine enough. The schedule obviously hasn’t been favorable, but had they walked away from the Etihad with a point, few people would have complained about injustice. Tom Huddlestone has helped give the Tigers a pretty competent midfield, but their strikers are awful. The only goal so far has come from the penalty spot and they squandered many promising buildups against City because of a lack of final touch.
0-2-1, 1 point, -3 GD. Lost to Fulham, drew at Southampton, lost at Crystal Palace
So far, the massive influx of new talent hasn’t come together at all, and the Black Cats have been one of the more disappointing sides so far. They controlled the Fulham match in terms of possession, but didn’t create much. They scored early at So’ton and then tried to bunker for 88 minutes. Then they were exposed opportunistically by a promoted side. The schedule isn’t favorable at all, either. Expect them to be very near or in the bottom three at the holidays, but there’s enough talent to potentially turn it around after that.
• There was a tribute match on Sunday in honor of former Premier League player Stiliyan Petrov, whose leukemia is currently in remission but needs more treatment. The exhibition had a less charitable moment, though, when Aston Villa’s Gabriel Agbonlahor stuck in a challenge on One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson, knocking the boy band heartthrob from the match and, apparently, causing him to throw up as he left the pitch.
Here’s the ‘bone-clattering’ tackle on No. 1D -- no, not 10, 1D -- for the Celtic XI:
No word on whether Agbonlahor was attacked by a horde of pre-teen girls directly after the match, or whether said pre-teens rushed the field to try to collect some of Tomlinson’s spew. There were death and mutilation threats made on Twitter, though. I’m not sure that’s What Makes You Beautiful, but you have to Live While We’re Young, right?
(h/t Yahoo’s Dirty Tackle)
• Saturday’s match between West Brom and Fulham will feature two of the early season’s most inept offenses. The Baggies have yet to score while Fulham has nicked two goals -- one totally against the run of play on a corner at Sunderland and one when down 3-0 to Arsenal. Part of both teams’ problems is the lack of creation of dangerous opportunities.
Currently, both sides are in the bottom five in the league in terms of shots taken from a central position (inside the 18-yard line, from between the edges of the six-yard box). The other three punchless wonders? The promoted sides. The graphic at the bottom of this post from statsbomb.com has all the gory details.