Recapping the Premier League Season So Far

13 mins read

In a World Cup year, the usually never-ending summer break departs almost as quickly as it arrives. It is hard to believe that the World Cup final was played more than two months ago, and that the first six gameweeks of the 2018-2019 Premier League have already come and gone. With 20 clubs involved, each plays a total of 38 games in a season, facing each of their opponents twice: once at the opposing team’s ground and once at their own stadium. Six games in, the league table is beginning to take shape. How are the “Big Six” teams of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City, and Tottenham Hotspur performing so far?

Liverpool is the early pacesetter, and the only team that still has a perfect record. In their first six games, they have scored an impressive 14 goals. Their forward line of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mané, and Mohamed Salah is providing “width, pace, guile and goals” and is immediately firing on all cylinders, writes Phil McNulty, chief soccer writer at BBC Sport.

Liverpool’s glaring weakness last season was their defence. To solve the issue, Liverpool signed center back Virgil van Dijk from Southampton for £75 million and goalkeeper Alisson Becker from Roma for £67 million in the last two transfer windows. Both sums are world record fees for defenders and goalkeepers, respectively. But the new men are justifying their hefty price tags, as Liverpool have only conceded two goals this season.

They have also become just the fourth team in Premier League history to win their first six games — no mean feat, considering the league was established in 1992. However, there is still a long way to go if Liverpool want to set the record for the most games won to start a season. That achievement remains with Chelsea’s 2005-2006 team, who started that season by winning their first nine games. Unfortunately for Liverpool, in the next two gameweeks, they play Chelsea away and Manchester City at home. Both these teams are tied for second place on 16 points, only two points behind Liverpool, and will most likely be fighting with Liverpool for the title. This means there is almost no chance Liverpool will still have a 100 percent record in two weeks time. In fact, they will likely fall from the top of the table, too. Nevertheless, they have had a better start than anybody would have expected, considering they only finished in fourth place last season.

As mentioned earlier, Manchester City and Chelsea are snapping away at Liverpool’s heels. Like Liverpool, both teams have been free-scoring and solid at the back. Manchester City has the best goal difference of the three teams — their G.D. is 16, whereas Liverpool’s G.D. is 12 and Chelsea’s G.D. is 10. These are all very high, considering the season has just begun. In reality, these three teams are very closely matched, and it is still too early to predict with any confidence which of them is the championship favorite. The only certainty is that all three are genuine title contenders — but will the rest of the “Big Six” also factor in?

Tottenham Hotspur — also known as Spurs — are fifth, Arsenal are sixth, and Manchester United are seventh. Tottenham and Arsenal both have 12 points, while Manchester United only has 10. Spurs and Arsenal haven’t had terrible starts by any means: they are averaging two points per game. In most seasons, if you average more than two points per game, you have a decent chance of winning the league. A few more wins and these teams will find themselves in contention. This is especially true when you consider that Arsenal have played both Manchester City and Chelsea already, while Tottenham have faced Liverpool.

Manchester United, on the other hand, are struggling. Even though they are only two points behind Arsenal and Spurs, United have had easier fixtures, only playing one of the weaker teams in the “Big Six,” Spurs, at home. Besides that match, the Red Devils have played teams that usually finish in the bottom half of the table, so they are definitely falling below expectations thus far. Their big players aren’t performing consistently enough — Alexis Sánchez has been particularly wasteful in possession, and Romelu Lukaku, United’s big, powerful striker, has missed too many clear-cut goal scoring opportunities.

At times, it feels like the players have given up on their manager, José Mourinho. Paul Pogba is United’s best player, but Mourinho’s relationship with him has become increasingly fractured. On Tuesday, Mourinho told Pogba he is no longer United’s “second captain,” reportedly because of concerns about his attitude. When quizzed further on why, Mourinho simply stated: “I am the manager. I can make these decisions.”

Mourinho has a history of falling out with the clubs he has managed, whether it be the owners and the board, or the players. That is why he has never spent more than three seasons at a club. Take Mourinho’s second stint at Chelsea — from 2013 to 2015 — as a prime example. Chelsea won the Premier League title in 2014-2015, but only four months into the 2015-2016 season, Mourinho was sacked, with the team all the way down in 16th place.

Former England player turned pundit, Alan Shearer, said at the time: “I’ve never known players to perform like they did last season and then be so bad now. It’s unprecedented. I’ve never known a capitulation like it from a football club.” Another ex-player believed that “the players were not giving everything. There is no trust there, [the] respect is gone. Ultimately it is easier to change a manager than 22 players.”

In Mourinho’s first stint at Chelsea and in his time at Real Madrid, he also fell out of favor in his third year, but in those cases the broken relationships were with the owners and board. In light of his history, is it a coincidence that things seem to be falling apart in his third season at Manchester United?

More positively, United’s next two games are eminently winnable — they will play West Ham and Newcastle, teams that are battling to avoid relegation most years. If they win both, they will reach 16 points after eight games, which is a respectable tally. Arguably, they have to win because the games that follow could be the toughest of their entire season. After West Ham and Newcastle, Man United will play against Chelsea and Man City, both away from home. Winning either of those two games will be difficult, so it is crucial that United get more points on the board beforehand. Otherwise, they risk falling too far behind the leaders to mount a credible title challenge — after all, they are already eight points behind Liverpool.

At this point, it looks like they will be fighting to finish in the top four places this season. A top four finish is paramount for a huge club like Man United because it grants qualification into next year’s Champions League, the most prestigious continental club competition in Europe. Already, it looks like it will be a long season for them.

Two of the early season surprise packages are Watford and Bournemouth, who are in fourth (13 points) and eighth (10 points), respectively. Watford actually won their first four games, before losing 2-1 to Manchester United at home. Their standout performers have been José Holebas, the marauding left back, Roberto Pereyra, the clinical attacking midfielder, and Andre Gray, the pacey and skillful striker. Pereyra and Gray both have three goals, while Holebas has racked up four assists, the most in the league. Watford have finished in the middle of the table for the last few seasons, so their fans must be in dreamland at the moment. However, their next three opponents are tough — first Arsenal away, then Bournemouth at home, and finally Wolves away. They are unlikely to do better than draw against Arsenal, and the games against Bournemouth and Wolves — the latter sitting in a respectable 10th place — will be very closely fought. Expect them to drop out of the top five places in the next three weeks.

Bournemouth, also known as the Cherries, have also been exceeding expectations while playing genuinely attractive soccer. Without question, their best player so far has been their left winger, Ryan Fraser. Only a handful of players in the league have been involved in more goals than Fraser — he has three goals and two assists. The question is whether he and the team can keep performing well. Shockingly, Bournemouth were routed by four goals to nil away to Burnley this past weekend. Considering Burnley have been absolutely abysmal this season, languishing all the way down in 16th place, perhaps the Bournemouth players approached the game with a bit of complacency. They will have to cut that out if they want to return to winning ways.

Fortunately for them, their upcoming games are easier than Watford’s: they will face Crystal Palace at home, followed by Watford away, and finally Southampton at home. The first and third games are definitely winnable, not that they will be easy — I would expect Bournemouth to come away with a draw and a win from those two matches. The game against Watford is a mouth-watering tie, and one that could go either way. If somebody had told me before the season started that this would be a big match, I would probably have laughed. In reality, these two teams have been great to watch, and hopefully the match will follow in the same vein.

Overall, it has been a very compelling start to the season, and just six weeks in, there have already been plenty of shocking and surprising results. But then again, when has the Premier League ever been predictable? It is the most watched domestic soccer league in the world for good reason.

Ankur Malik

Ankur is a “third culture kid” - his parents are Punjabi, he was born in London, and he grew up in Singapore and Hong Kong. On campus, he's involved in Club Soccer and VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Associates), and is on the Varsity Golf team. His favorite sport to watch is soccer (fútbol) - He follows the Premier League and Champions League and supports Manchester United.

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