How does each Premier League team look heading into the second international break of the season? We take a look:
City to get stronger with the return of de Bruyne
City haven’t looked their fluent best over the last few weeks and still sit atop the standings on goal difference. This tells you everything you need to know about their status as league favourites. Frighteningly enough, they haven’t really hit top gear yet and have still outscored everyone in the division as well as having the joint best defensive record. Kevin de Bruyne’s imminent return from injury could very well take them to another level entirely.
Star so far: Sergio Agüero
Despite many thinking that the Argentinian hasn’t quite lived up to expectations this season, consider the fact that he’s banged in five goals and claimed two assists. ‘Nuff said.
Chelsea firing under Sarri
Chelsea will be quietly confident heading into the festive period. Mauricio Sarri is under no real pressure to play his strongest XI in the Europa League which has allowed him to focus solely on the league. Jorginho has been a revelation since arriving from Napoli in the summer and sits comfortably at the top the completed passes standings on 853. Aymeric Laporte is second on 742.
The little Belgian is easily the best player in the league at the moment and is courting very serious attention from struggling Real Madrid as a result. He’s been directly involved in 10 goals this season, scoring seven and assisting three.
Liverpool’s front three a cause for concern
Liverpool appear to have done a full 180 after last season. Their front three – Sadio Mane, Firmino and Mo Salah – have struggled to find the back of the net with any sort of consistency in the new campaign. Meanwhile, their defence has only conceded three goals in eight league outings – the joint best record in the league. That said, Jurgen Klopp’s men have just come out of a hellish run of fixtures which saw them face Chelsea twice, PSG, Napoli and Manchester City.
Star so far: Virgil van Dijk
Plenty of pundits and fans scoffed at the Dutch centre-half’s massive price tag, but he has repaid the faith shown in him by Klopp ten-fold. Still disagree? Consider the fact that Alisson hasn’t been really been tested at all this season.
Arsenal fancy top four chances
The Gunners have been brilliant of late on the surface. Their front two appear to be scoring freely while the comically bad defending that was a hallmark of the side under Arsene Wenger’s later years appears to be a thing of the past. Still, you can’t help but think that some matches they’ve recently won against fodder like Cardiff, Newcastle and Everton could easily have ended in draws… or worse. There’s definitely still something of a soft underbelly to this side, but they’re certainly stronger under Unai Emery than they were under his French predecessor.
Star so far: Alexandre Lacazette
It seems obscene that Arsenal were seemingly willing to cut their losses on the French star last season. He’s really come to life in this campaign under Emery, finding the back of the net four times and assisting twice. Who can forget the absolute peach of a goal he scored against Everton a few weeks ago – more of that please!
The real test is yet to come for Spurs
Mauricio Pochettino can consider himself lucky that Tottenham’s mini injury crisis came at a time when they had to deal with fixtures against Brighton, Huddersfield and Cardiff City. They still had to win those games, however, and did so albeit in unconvincing fashion. Doing so, they’ve kept themselves in the title mix, although a real title push will more than likely prove a bridge too far. The international break will be definitely be welcomed in North London.
Star so far: Mauricio Pochettino
Yes, his penchant for leaving substitutions too late when his side are in a losing position is a problem, but he really has been fantastic this season. Don’t believe for a minute that he was happy with the board’s decision not to seriously peruse any of his transfer targets, along with the stress that came with the balls up that is the New White Hart Lane. Poch has taken all on the chin, made minimal fuss in front the press and has got on with the job at hand. Jose Mourinho should take notes.
Eddie Howe: miracle worker Another man Mourinho can take notes from is Eddie Howe. The young Englishman has guided Bournemouth to sixth on the standings after eight games and can hold his head up high. His bright young squad have bought into his philosophy and play an attractive brand of football. This is all good and well when they smash teams like Watford 4-0 away from home, but can also prove to be a problem when goal-shy Burnley put four unanswered goals past them. Star so far: Callum Wilson The pacey Englishman has been a delight to watch this season and can consider himself extremely unlucky to be left out of Gareth Southgate’s England squad. How Danny Welbeck – who features sporadically at best for Arsenal – gets picked ahead of Bournemouth’s three-goal and four-assist talisman is beyond me. Wolves putting the Midlands back on the football map With traditional Midlands giants Aston Villa, West Brom and Birmingham City all plying their trade in the Championship, Nuno Espirito Santo’s Wolves – with the help of a couple of Portuguese internationals – have been tearing up the Premier League. They’ve blown smaller teams out of the water and managed to take points off the likes of Manchester City and Manchester United. Let’s hope they carry on where they left off after the international break. Star so far: Raul Jimenez The Mexican swapped Benfica for Wolves at the start of the season in a loan move and hasn’t looked back. He’s Wolves’ top assist-maker (3) and top scorer (2) so far this season and looks to be the complete package up front. Watford crash back down to earth The Hornets made a blistering start to their 2018/19 campaign with whispers of a potential Leicester City-esque feat on the cards. Those whispers have been hushed altogether after recent league defeats against Manchester United, Arsenal and Bournemouth. The international break came at the perfect time for Javi Garcia’s men who will use the time to regroup before going again in two weeks. Star so far: Jose Holebas This was probably one of the more difficult ones to call, but Holebas just shades it. The Greek international has been brilliant this season, claiming four assists and a goal from – all the more impressive when you consider he plays as a fullback. Something has to give at Old Trafford To say that Manchester United are in crisis is an understatement. Yes, they managed to claw their way back from 2-0 down to beat Newcastle 3-2 at Old Trafford last week. But a team brimming with this much talent should never have been in that position in the first place, especially against the worst Newcastle team we’ve seen in years. Dropped points against Brighton, West Ham, Tottenham and Wolves see the fallen giants of English football languishing in eighth place. Oh, and only the bottom three have poorer defensive records this season. Let’s not even get started on the dog show that is Mourinho vs the players/press/board/fans. Having seemingly been frozen out by Mourinho on several occasions, the rotund left-back has been a picture of consistency this season. The former Southampton man has exuded professionalism where others in the club have made veiled attacks on management/players in the press. Leicester ambling toward mid-table mediocracy That title-winning campaign of 2016/17 seems a distant memory now for the Foxes. They’re certainly safe from relegation but don’t really seem to be good enough to compete for the European places. As much is evidenced in their position on the log. Three of their four wins have come against teams in the bottom quarter of the table. Interesting times ahead. Star so far: James Maddison Maddison has made the step up from the Championship with ease and has earned himself an England call-up for his efforts. He’s notched two goals and three assists so far this season and looks well on his way to stardom. Stagnant Toffees searching for rhythm Everton fans have been left frustrated with yet another disappointing league start. Their position on the table (11th) looks far worse when you consider that they’ve only played one team in the top six so far. This is simply not good enough for a squad that has been invested in so heavily over the past two seasons. Star so far: Gylfi Sigurdsson This award would have gone to Richarlison but for his stupid red card against Bournemouth. The Icelandic international has been in sublime form this season bagging four goals and an assist. His delightful Cruyff Turn and subsequent piledriver against Leicester is definitely an early contender for goal of the season. Burnley finding their feet Burnley dealt with a terrible start to the season as Sean Dyche’s men struggled to balance Europa League commitments with their domestic efforts. Fortunately, elimination from Europe in the qualifying stages has seen the side experience an upturn in fortunes. They’ve picked up seven points from their last three games and appear to be on the mend. Star so far: Johann Berg Gudmundsson The Icelandic midfielder has enjoyed a fine start to the campaign and is clearly relishing pulling the strings in the midfield. He’s bagged four assists this season and found the net on one occasion. Plenty to smile about for Brighton fans Yes they’re 13th on the standings, but they’ve already dealt with Manchester City, Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester United. So eight points in eight games is hardly the worst record in the world. They will, however, be required to start picking up points now going forward they face off against the division’s smaller teams. Star so far: Glenn Murray Glenn Murray has been sensational this season, scoring five goals in the first eight matches of the season. He’s shone brighter than some of his more technically gifted teammates – we’re looking at you Anthony Knockaert and Pascal Groß. He’s certainly one who’ll be on Gareth Southgate’s radar for the next few months- especially if there are injuries to some of the younger forwards. Eagles yet to get off the ground Crystal Palace fans ought to be pretty worried about their survival chances off the back of early-season results. They’ve not really had to deal with any of the top sides with the exception of Liverpool. Furthermore, they’ve only managed five goals in eight matches and have a very tough run of league fixtures after the international break which reads: Everton, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United. Star so far: Wilfried Zaha It comes as no surprise that Zaha has been Palace’s best performer. The winger recently signed a new deal at the club but will almost certainly leave for a bigger side at the end of the season. He’s been involved in four of Palace’s five league goals this season, scoring three and assisting one. West Ham have put slow start behind them There were massive question marks surrounding Manuel Pellegrini after the Hammers lost their first four games of the season. Since their 1-0 defeat against Wolves in mid-September, they’ve managed wins against Everton, Manchester United as well as a draw against Chelsea. This run was soured somewhat by a 1-0 away defeat against Brighton, but things certainly are looking up. Star so far: Marko Arnautovic The Austrian is one of two or three truly world class players on the books at West Ham. The big centre-forward has outshone them all, though scoring four goals and bagging an assist. His goals could well see the Hammers pushing of a Europa League spot come the end of the season. Saints sleep-walking toward relegation Southampton have not been good this season and might just survive relegation because Huddersfield, Newcastle and Cardiff are so much worse off. Mark Hughes has battled to get the best out of a squad that has consistently had its best players sold over the last few seasons – a boardroom tactic that appears to have badly affected the results on the pitch. The one bright light in an otherwise poor squad has been Danny Ings. The centre-forward, who is on loan from Liverpool, has been relishing the playing time that he simply wasn’t afforded on Merseyside. He’s banged in three goals this season and is well on his way to resurrecting a career that appeared to be stagnating. Fulham struggling despite encouraging summer The Cottagers spent just under 100 million pounds in the summer bringing in the likes of Jean Michael Seri, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Alfie Mawson as well as securing to players like Andre Schurrle on loan. So far it just hasn’t clicked with the side leaking goals at an alarming rate. They were hammered 5-1 at home by Arsenal just before the international break. Something has to change. Star so far: Aleksandar Mitrovic The big Serbian looks a new player since leaving Newcastle in the summer. He appears to have reined in his temper to some extent and has bagged five goals. A proper old-school number 9, he’ll bully plenty of centre-halves this season and should get upward of 15 goals if he can stay injury-free. It was always going to be difficult to repeat the heroics of last season, but David Wagner won’t want his Terriers to go back down into the Championship with little more than a whimper. They continue to drop points against teams like Cardiff and Crystal Palace while getting rolled over by the Manchester Cities of the league. Relegation looks almost certain. Star so far: Philip Billing The young Danish midfielder has been Terrier-like (haha) in his performances this season doing his best to shield a back four who look all at sea at the minute. He’s completed more tackles per game than any of his teammates and sits third in terms of interceptions which highlights to excellent work he’s doing. Oh, he’s also scored one of their four goals. Newcastle staring down the barrel It’s pretty sad to see the state that Newcastle United finds itself in, although it’s hardly surprising when you consider the lack of investment from Mike Ashley. They’ve got world class supporters, world class facilities and a manager who has done it all, but they simply can’t compete with such a bang average squad. Star so far: Jonjo Shelvey The former Liverpool midfielder – alongside Jamaal Lascelles – is probably the only player who looks completely at home in this division. On average, he’s completed 52.6 passes per game (20 more than the next best Newcastle player. He’s also averaged 2.6 key passes per game. His creativity and tenacity will be needed if Newcastle are to avoid the drop to the Championship. No surprises at the bottom of the pile The most memorable thing to come out of Cardiff City’s season so far were Neil Warnock’s comments about Sol Bamba being a better player than Virgil van Dijk. Warnock’s charges have only managed to find the back of the net four times in eight games and have conceded 17 times. They’re currently 2/9 favourites to be relegated which should tell you everything you need to know.
The big Ivorian has probably been the pick of Cardiff’s players so far. He’s no van Dijk but he has provided a calming influence at times. There also isn’t really anyone else who has stood out at all to be honest.
Written by Jason Dewey