The international break allows us an opportunity to step back and take stock of what has happened in these initial first few weeks of the new Premier League season.
From a Chelsea perspective, the early signs are good. They’ve suffered defeat in just one of their opening seven league matches and they currently sit atop the Premier League table, one point above Liverpool and a further two above both Manchester clubs.
This early four-way battle for the top is one many pundits predicted at the beginning of the campaign, and Chelsea have notably benefitted from already having faced two of their title rivals within the opening weeks of the season.
They initially met Liverpool at the back end of August, coming away with an admiral point despite going down to ten men before half-time. They then went down to Man City last month at Stamford Bridge but importantly bounced back last week vs Southampton.
Their overall form in these opening weeks has all but legitimised their tag as one of the favourites to win the Premier League. Yet the start made by fellow contenders also indicates that it’ll be an intense battle to lift the trophy in May.
Yet, one side who look at risk of failing to keep pace with the leading pack in the coming weeks is Manchester United. Despite their position in the table, all’s not well at Old Trafford and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is under growing pressure from United fans.
In an eight-day period before the international break, United managed to win just one of three home matches against Aston Villa, Villarreal and Everton. And even their one victory came via a rather fortuitous last-minute winner against Unai Emery’s men in the Champions League.
Whilst the results alone were disappointing enough for Solskjaer’s side, it was the performances accompanying them that would have raised the most alarm, particularly from an attacking point of view.
And there’s growing evidence that they don’t look at a level equal to other league rivals, despite spending more than £120million in the summer
Although we’re still early into the campaign, Chelsea, City and Liverpool are already starting to lead the way in key attacking metrics. In terms of accumulated Expected Goals (xG), each ranks first, second and third, with Liverpool so far topping the Premier League with an accumulated figure of 17.9 – according to FBref.
United in comparison rank sixth, despite having arguably an easier run of fixtures on paper.
Liverpool also top the table in terms of having the highest xG per shot average (0.13), this being an average value for each shot generated by a team, with a higher value representing better all-round quality.
Chelsea and City are right behind them with a joint-average of 0.12, however United’s average is noticeably lower at just 0.09. Only Norwich City, Crystal Palace, Aston Villa, Brighton and Arsenal have a lower xG per shot average than United so far this season.
United have still been able to score goals fairly frequently thanks to the elite finishers they have in the squad, players like Mason Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes and Cristiano Ronaldo.
However, there’s currently a big dependency on these players’ individual brilliance to score goals, rather than good attacking play from the team as a unit.
There’s a distinct lack of combinations in the final third, with no clear attacking identity and not enough patterns in their play, certainly in comparison to Chelsea under Thomas Tuchel. This means off days for key players can lead directly to struggles for United in front of goal.
On the other side of this international break, Solskjaer’s men take on Leicester City, Liverpool, Tottenham before the Manchester derby at Old Trafford, with tricky European clashes against Atalanta in between.
Chelsea in comparison take on Brentford, Norwich City, Southampton and Newcastle United, with a double-header against Malmo in the middle.
That run of matches will more than likely prove to be a make or break period for United’s title hopes, and has the potential to see them begin to slip away from the leading pack, based on the above.
Whilst it’s too early to write any side off for sure, this is good news for Chelsea who look set to battle for the league title with two sides instead of three, and having already shown they can outperform both in these early weeks of the season, confidence should be high that they have what it takes to land the Premier League title once again.
Source by Football London