The Premier League is underway but for the time being its table does not exactly paint an accurate picture of the English footballing hierarchy… though if it does we are very much here for Bournemouth’s bid to be 2023 champions. So, while the top flight itself takes shape, here’s our assessment of the leading contenders to win the title, those clubs who’ll be battling against relegation and everyone in between.
The top tier
The teams that are in the race to win the Premier League this season.
1. Manchester City
Early doubts over Erling Haaland look like they are on course to be swiftly dispelled with the summer signing netting twice in the sort of clash against West Ham that might have been altogether more challenging without a magnetic presence up front. In so many ways he seems to offer something new to Pep Guardiola’s plans, most notably on Sunday, a direct thrust that makes for an intriguing counterbalance to the death by a thousand cuts of City’s passing interplay. It would appear that the champions have yet another way to beat the rest.
A point away to Fulham was all Jurgen Klopp felt like he deserved after a “performance [that] felt like a defeat,” certainly it was one where the positive that was an impressive cameo off the bench by Darwin Nunez was put into the shade by another injury in the midfield engine room. There is a long, long, long way to go before anyone at Anfield needs to feel panicked about Liverpool’s prospects of competing with City but somewhere in the region of a month without Thiago is cause for concern when injuries were already mounting in that position. When the standards are as high as those set by the Premier League’s top two, points lost in the early weeks of the season may yet loom large in the spring.
Champions League contenders
These are the clubs most likely to be vying for a top four finish.
It was only a Southampton side who look some way off par, but the way in which Spurs put them to the sword augurs very well indeed for their first full season under Antonio Conte. Most notable of all was the fact that Tottenham managed to run four goals past their opponent without Heung-Min Son or Harry Kane scoring. Both looked effective, and the former got an assist but it was Dejan Kulusevski who shone the brightest, most notably with his magnificent assist for Ryan Sessegnon. Since the Swede’s arrival in February only Harvey Barnes averages more assists per 90 minutes in the Premier League; Spurs might finally have turned their tandem up top into a big three.
It was, as Thomas Tuchel acknowledged, something of an archetypal Chelsea win, a clean sheet at one end and a Jorginho penalty at the other. Though they were a few hairy moments for the Blues at Goodison Park, they were good value for their victory, butif they are to cut open better teams than Everton they will need more from Kai Havertz and Mason Mount, the latter, for once, short of form at the start of a new season. Between them, those two combined for just 0.13 expected assists (xA) and a fairly underwhelming 0.37 expected goals (xG).
No Friday fright night for Arsenal this time out, and indeed there were plenty of encouraging signs in how they came through a tough examination by an impressive Crystal Palace side. If they can replicate their best moments from the first half hour across the course of 90 minutes they will be a match for any team in the league, but much the same thing was said last season. Equally, will the Gunners be able to respond to setbacks in games to come? With Emile Smith Rowe and Fabio Vieira injured their bench looked light on game changing options.
A Europa League spot might be the best these teams can hope for.
6. Newcastle United
The most comprehensive victory of the opening weekend went to Newcastle, the sort of dominant display that even against weaker opponents is the sign of a very good Premier League team. Their 23 shots on the Nottingham Forest goal were the most of week one. They also have comfortably the highest non-penalty expected goals. All that, and there is the prospect of their forward line being strengthened in the coming weeks.
7. Manchester United
It may seem premature to kick this fixture in the Premier League’s elite out of the top six due to one loss to Brighton. Erik ten Hag may inspire a quick turnaround. And yet, what was so notable at Old Trafford was that it didn’t particularly look like United were the better side on paper, let alone on the pitch. With Cristiano Ronaldo in exile their attack looks threadbare, their deep midfield options are ordinary in the extreme aside from Fred whilst there is quantity but not a great deal of quality in defense. The rebuild might be a tougher task than all but the most pessimistic had imagined.
8. Brighton and Hove Albion
Brighton were magnificent on Sunday, tactically imaginative in their deployment of a back three, strong in their challenges and clinical in front of goal. Throughout Graham Potter’s reign that last piece of the puzzle has seemed the most difficult to address and it is still fair to wonder if Danny Welbeck can be a top Premier League striker for 38 games of the season. He certainly looked like it last weekend though. The talent is there. If his fitness can hold then analytics darlings Brighton could start to see their underlying metrics translate into points.
9. West Ham
Perhaps more so than any other team, West Ham are entitled to a free pass for the first weekend. Perhaps all that can be taken from their 2-0 defeat to City is that a threadbare defense that was short three center backs did perform fairly reasonably against the onslaught of pressure that came from their ball dominant opponents. Indeed, there was even a spell early in the second half when it looked like David Moyes’ side might snatch something.
Middle of the pack
Relegation shouldn’t overly concern these teams but they are long shots for European qualification.
10. Crystal Palace
Another side who emerged with plenty of credit from defeat: debutant Cheick Doucoure made a bright start in midfield while Joachim Andersen’s passing range caught the eye once more. They are perhaps lacking a convincing focal point to their attack and it will take time to imbue Eberechi Eze (or anyone else) with the peculiarities that Conor Gallagher brought to last year’s XI, but Palace do not look a long way away from being a really effective top-half team.
11. Leicester City
Losing a two goal lead at home to Brentford was a frustrating false start for the Foxes, who must be eager to simply reach September 1 as vultures circle overhead, looking to snare Wesley Fofana, James Maddison and Youri Tielemans. There is little cause to worry that this season might bring anything particularly hairy for Leicester, but on paper it might just be shaping up to be more of a transitional year.
12. Aston Villa
Another team who ought to have no immediate concerns about relegation but who have hardly started the season in the best vein. Club legend Paul McGrath was extremely critical of Steven Gerrard’s decision to drop Tyrone Mings, formerly club captain, and it was hardly painted in the best light after a disappointing debut from Diego Carlos in defeat to Bournemouth. There is quality in Villa’s squad but it is not immediately apparent how it will all coalesce into a balanced starting XI.
These sides can take nothing for granted this season and may well find themselves in the relegation battle.
A feisty 2-1 win over Wolves was just the start to the new campaign that they needed, a victory in which new signings excelled but there were plenty of signs that the Leeds playbook had been effectively honed by Jesse Marsch. No team recovered possession in the attacking third more frequently than the Whites, led by the outstanding Jack Harrison, who may play his way into England contention if he continues as he began on Saturday. Seven chances created, an assist from his defensive work and four final third recoveries: it was the quintessential display by a Leeds attacker.
If you are looking to make the case that Brentford won’t get sucked into the relegation battle, you need look no further than their response to slipping two goals down to Leicester, a purposeful fightback capped with a brilliant, “emotional” equalizer for Josh Da Silva. “This group of players, they just have so much determination and their mentality is crazy in the way they worked their way back into the game,” said Thomas Frank after the match. It was all the more special for the Bees manager that Da Silva, sidelined for 18 months before returning in February, was the one to get the equalizer. Though they will struggle to replace Christian Eriksen the dynamism of Da Silva might soothe the pain of his absence.
Undoubtedly the outstanding performance of the opening weekend was Fulham’s high octane, fearless draw with Liverpool. Aleksandar Mitrovic won the headlines for his brace and Trent Alexander-Arnold may well soon discover he was merely the first of many full backs bullied at the back post by the giant Serbian. Perhaps even more impressive than the Cottagers’ scorer was the way in which the team as a whole rattled their opponent with a ferocious press. If they can do that to Liverpool they could well unsettle many more Premier League opponents.
For a side whose midfield has looked light on prime age talent for years now, the addition of Amadou Onana from Lille promises to be quite the coup for Frank Lampard. If Conor Coady and James Tarkowski can tighten up the defense — the former is an ideal anchor for a back three — then Everton can at least be expected to stay games but Saturday’s defeat to Chelsea was not needed to tell the club about the issues at the other end of the pitch. Even if Dominic Calvert-Lewin had not been ruled out for six weeks, it was clear that swift strengthening was needed in attack. If additions aren’t made, and quickly, the table could look worrying indeed after a tough run of games in September.
Their opening weekend defeat had a few of the hallmarks of how Wolves began last season before Bruno Lage transformed them into a turgid, vaguely effective point getting machine. The visitors had plenty of shots and possession at Elland Road but lacked the cutting edge to make more of their chances after Daniel Podence’s early goal. That is no great surprise when their options at center forward amount to Hwang Hee-Chan. The addition of Goncalo Guedes, fresh from a season of major xG overperformance, might not be enough for Wolves.
Scott Parker was the first to preach caution after his side’s win over Aston Villa, but one particularly intriguing takeaway from that game was the efficacy of Kieffer Moore as an aerial option. When Bournemouth’s long balls up to the big man worked they offered quite the headache for their visitors and, in surrounding their target man with runners such as Marcus Tavernier and Dominic Solanke, Brentford were able to put together a style of build up that is not quite as easy for Premier League center backs to answer as it once was.
With five players aged 23 or under featuring for Southampton on the opening day, perhaps it is to be expected that they looked a little too callow at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, too easily overawed when the hosts moved through the gears in response to James Ward-Prowse’s opening. But this does seem to be a team who lack some of the game smarts to dial back the pressing when it is clear their defense is being exposed, who struggle to seriously impact the tempo of a contest.
20. Nottingham Forest
In their dash across Europe to find half a fresh squad, Forest must have known it would take time for them to settle into their groove, for Steve Cooper to sift through his options old and new and forge them into a settled XI. But even with expectations tempered it must be somewhat concerning that the newly promoted side ended week one with the fewest shots and lowest xG to their name while allowing Newcastle the most of both. It may be a while yet before we see the best of this team.