Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Premier League Bold Predictions: Cristiano Ronaldo to score on his return, Manchester City to beat Leicester

The Premier League returns from the international break with a series of fascinating matches from the return of Cristiano Ronaldo to a bottom of the table clash between Arsenal and Norwich City. Here’s a look at some of the key talking points:

Manchester United vs. Newcastle United: Ronaldo returns in style

Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Premier League action will throw the focus to his on field performance after a fortnight where it was anywhere but. The lack of actual matches has meant that Ronaldo’s off field persona has taken center stage. This has both given space for serious and needed discussion of the rape allegations against him, as well as more tedious discussions like the demands that the entire fabric of British sports broadcasting be ripped up so that local fans can watch a 3pm kickoff on television. For better or worse, the international break left Ronaldo’s return feeling more like a great affair of state than the second debut of an ageing, increasingly one dimensional striker.

Still Ronaldo does remain a top tier striker. And as he starts on his return, it matters how he, and Manchester United will fair. He does not create chances for himself like he did in his first spell at Old Trafford but if you create them for him he will put them away. With a supply line of Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba it is fair to assume that chances will come his way. That’s especially true against Newcastle, who have put together rather woeful rearguards against inferior opposition. Goodness knows how they will cope against the sheer weight of quality that will be lined up against them in red.

Whilst three Premier League matches firmly falls into the reach of small sample size it is nevertheless remarkable that in such a short space of time Newcastle could allow opponents shots worth a combined 8.97 expected goals (xG, a metric that assesses the likelihood of any shot resulting in a goal). That is by far the worst record in the Premier League so far this season. Yes, even Arsenal have defended better than the Magpies. Southampton had created 0.78 and 0.73 xG in their first two games of the campaign. At St James’ Park they registered 4.08 xG.

West Ham were similarly dominant in front of goal as were Aston Villa. It is tempting to remove from the equation the three penalties the Magpies have handed opponents in as many games but if any team can bait opponents into conceding a spot kick it is the Red Devils. And it is hardly as if the open play goals that Newcastle have conceded augur well for their trip to Old Trafford.

Steve Bruce’s side consistently get the numbers needed back into the box but are undone by late runs into the box, simple flick-ons or attackers gambling where defenders aren’t. In the first of these images below Tomas Soucek does not even have to break into a sprint as he rolls past three Newcastle defenders while the ball is worked from right to left, allowing the midfielder a regulation tap in at the near post.


Soucek’s simple run takes him into a goalscoring position in West Ham’s win over Newcastle Wyscout/Sky Sports

In the draw with Southampton, Newcastle have eight defenders around the box. Perhaps four of them could have made the run to the danger zone around penalty spot. The only player that does is Mohamed Elyounoussi.


Elyounoussi finds space in the box to score for Southampton Wyscout/Sport 6

This sort of defending is a recipe for disaster against one of the best there is in the penalty box. If Ronaldo plays against Newcastle expect his opponents to give him the chances to return in style.

Leicester City vs. Manchester City: Defensive issues hurt Foxes

Though these remain firmly the early days of the season, it would be fair to say that Leicester have not exactly burst out of the blocks even if six points feels like a solid return from three games. In each of those matches they have been outperformed on xG, edging past Wolverhampton Wanderers and Norwich City thanks to the finishing of Jamie Vardy rather than their chance creation.

More concerning, perhaps, is a rickety start at the other end of the pitch where Kasper Schmeichel conceded four against West Ham and a further goal to Teemu Pukki in that win over Norwich City. It might have been worse because whilst Leicester’s first three opponents have got into good scoring positions they have not shot the ball that well. According to Opta’s shooting goals added metric (which compares the likelihood of a goal being scored after a shot has been taken with the quality of the effort beforehand) the Foxes’ opposition are subtracting 0.64xG by their actual shooting.

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So far there are few indications that that is due to Leicester’s defensive excellence. Indeed, they have looked more vulnerable early this season than they have in some time under Brendan Rodgers. That is perfectly understandable when their injury list contains Jannik Vestergaard, Jonny Evans, Wesley Fofana, Ricardo Pereira and James Justin. That is an entire top tier defense ripped apart.

Unfortunately for them they could scarcely be facing a worse opponent. Ferran Torres has made the perfect start to life as a center forward this season, scoring the sort of close range efforts that his teammates will create for him in abundance. Raheem Sterling has the highest non penalty xG per 90 minutes of any player with more than 90 Premier League minutes to their name so far this season. Riyad Mahrez is third on that list, Torres sixth. There are a lot of ways for Manchester City to punish any defense right now and it just so happens to be a particularly vulnerable moment for Leicester.

Watford vs. Wolves: Lage gets what he deserves

Discussing luck, misfortune and what a team deserves should always be done with trepidation in the Premier League. If your team keeps getting undone by long range golazos it might just be a series of unfortunate events but maybe your goalkeeper is not good enough. Dominating possession and not scoring might be the vagaries of a few games or it could be that your side lacks creativity and cutting edge.

Having said all that, Wolverhampton Wanderers really are entitled to look at their first three games of the season and ask “how on earth do we not even have a point?” Bruno Lage’s side have been one of the stand out teams of the last days of summer despite playing against three of last season’s top seven (Leicester, Tottenham and Manchester United). They are getting the fourth best non penalty xG in the Premier League from their attack and their defense has allowed the second fewest non penalty xG at the other end. Only Liverpool have created more chances than Wolves. Ynly two teams complete their take-ons at a higher rate and no one has attempted as many as they have.

That final statistic is perhaps unsurprising when Adama Traore has attempted 34 of them this season, completing 28 of them. There are 10 Premier League teams who have not matched that tally. That might, just maybe, be an unsustainable hot streak but it is not hard to imagine that a 25 year old who has long ranked among the best dribblers in the game might continue to top the charts.

Where Adama ranks against select Premier League teams



Manchester City




West Ham


Adama Traore


Leeds United


Manchester United








Of course dribbles don’t win games, goals do and it is clear that Wolves’ issue is putting the ball in the net. They have not scored yet. But it is not like they are not making shooting opportunities for themselves with an xG of 5.54. It perhaps does not help that the three players who make up the most of that are Adama, Trincao and Romain Saiss rather than Raul Jimenez. The Mexican striker, who missed so much of last season with a sickening head injury suffered against Arsenal, has taken as many shots as any other player in gold and black but his touch looks understandably heavy. He also seems to be rushing to take the opportunities that come his way, eager as he undoubtedly is to get back among the goals.

After such a brutal injury it would be unwise to assume anything about Jimenez’s recovery. If he does not get back to the player he was beforehand then it is also fair to assume that a Wolves squad light on proven alternatives — Hwang Hee-chan joined from RB Leipzig on loan and joins teenager Fabio Silva among Lage’s striking options — will struggle to make the most of the chances they create. But if they can do what they did against three top tier Premier League opponents surely they will get on the board against newly promoted Watford.

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