Premier League Winners, Losers and Where the Jury is Still Out
By Leonard Solms
The 2020-21 Premier League season has been as chaotic and unpredictable as any before it. In between the madness, some clubs appear to have developed clear methods for success. Everton, in particular, seems to have finally made the signings they needed to become genuine top four contenders at the very least.
While there is only so much one can tell after four gameweeks, there are teams who appear to be in serious trouble. The likes of Manchester United, Burnley and Fulham look short of answers.
Some teams who have not had the starts they wanted need not worry quite as much. For example, Chelsea’s plan to reach the top is long-term and a lack of short-term returns is not a huge concern.
Here, we analyse the Premier League season’s big winners and losers so far. Also, what the trends from the opening fixtures could mean going forward.
Premier League Winners
The Toffees have made several big name signings in recent seasons — ranging from Royston Drenthe to Romelu Lukaku to Moise Kean. As it turns out, Carlo Ancelotti appears to be the one who has tipped the balance.
Everton’s recruitment since has turned them into a force to be reckoned with. James Rodríguez has chipped in with three goals and three assists in five fixtures in the Premier League and League Cup combined. Allan has also got off to a flying start doing the dirty work in the middle of the park, as has Abdoulaye Doucouré.
On paper, Everton’s bright start is not particularly surprising. With a world class manager and world-renowned players, they should be challenging for a top four spot.
The question was whether or not they were going to underachieve, as they have repeatedly since the departure of David Moyes in 2013. Their long-suffering fans will be cautious, but it appears that barring a catastrophic collapse, we can finally answer that question in the negative.
Villa got off to a flying start with wins over Sheffield United and Fulham before thrashing Liverpool 7-2. Having underachieved last season, this is a sign that the Villans have found their feet in the Premier League.
It is unlikely that they will compete for a UEFA Champions League spot, but a European place is not off limits and they will almost certainly avoid another relegation battle.
Jack Grealish was quality for Villa last season, but at times could have been more clinical. He has already picked up three goals and three assists in three Premier League games in 2020-21.
Ross Barkley was a shrewd loan signing and brings plenty of experience. Although he blows hot and cold at times, he is likely to add goals. Also, Ollie Watkins scored 25 for Brentford in the Championship last season and his hat-trick against Liverpool suggests he has no intention of slowing down in the top flight.
Marcelo Bielsa’s men show no signs of being a team that has not appeared in the Premier League since 2004. Already, they have picked up wins over Fulham and Sheffield United. Their only dropped points coming in a 4-3 defeat to Liverpool and 1-1 draw to Manchester City.
Leeds have stood their ground even against the two best teams in the Premier League. Pep Guardiola’s cautious approach during the last few minutes of City’s clash with the Yorkshire side showed his respect for them and Bielsa who inspired him before he became the world-beating tactician he is.
Having had little time to prepare for the Premier League, it is remarkable to see Leeds performing so well. Certainly, they are not in the Premier League simply to make up the numbers. If the opening weeks are anything to go by, they are here to stay.
Even if Newcastle United’s future remains anything but certain, their manager deserves praise for managing a seemingly impossible situation with aplomb.
The Magpies were plunged into chaos when a takeover attempt headed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund fell through. The controversial Mike Ashley remains in charge of the club and investment in the first team has been limited.
Nevertheless, Bruce has handled the pressure. Also, Callum Wilson has proved an astute signing with four goals and an assist in four matches.
Although there has been criticism of the Magpies’ style, they sit ninth on the table. This after wins over West Ham and Burnley, a draw with Tottenham, and defeat to Brighton.
Despite impending doom being forecasted when Bruce took over from Rafa Benítez and despite persistent criticism of the former’s approach, he remains on course to steer them to safety for a second successive season.
Son Heung-Min & Harry Kane
Harry Kane has shaken off his “slow starter” tag. Son Heung-min’s start to the season suggests he is becoming a genuine global superstar. The pair are certainly helping José Mourinho alter perceptions of his style of football.
Son has picked up six goals and an assist in four matches, Kane has bagged three goals and six assists.
What makes Son’s statistics even more remarkable is that he went off injured against Newcastle, having hit the woodwork twice. Nevertheless, the South Korea international returned for the 6-1 drubbing of Manchester United, bagging a brace.
Premier League Losers
Former United left-back Patrice Evra was at a loss for words on Sky Sports after their 6-1 humbling by Tottenham Hotspur. The less said about United’s start to the season, the better. However, the truth is that this has been coming and is not likely to end here.
The signing of Donny van de Beek and Alex Telles aside, United have not plugged the gaps in their squad. While Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea have strengthened, they have remained stagnant. In the Premier League, you cannot afford to do so. So it is no suprise United’s inadequacies on and off the pitch are being exposed.
Perhaps Manchester City’s predicament is not quite a disaster, but they certainly find themselves in a tight spot early on in the season. City were far from impressive even in a 3-1 win over Wolves. The subsequent 5-2 defeat to Leicester City and 1-1 draw with Leeds United also did not inspire confidence.
The signings of Nathan Aké and Rúben Dias may take some time to pay off. The latter impressed on debut against Leeds, but he and his colleagues have plenty of work to do. City’s defence has left plenty to be desired.
It has been some time since they improved their attack too. Before the season started, I predicted City would finish third behind Liverpool and Chelsea in the title race. This would be an unsuccessful campaign for them. And there is no reason to believe at this point that they are heading anywhere but there.
Leeds and have adapted remarkably well to the Premier League despite the short turnaround time after promotion. The Cottagers have not done the same.
Scott Parker did a superb job leading Fulham to promotion last season. But the task of maintaining Premier League status has not been made any easier by a frustrating transfer window. Although they did have some success on deadline day.
The West Londoners have been a yo-yo club in recent years and their start to the season suggests that won’t change.
Sean Dyche has been open about his frustration regarding Burnley’s lack of improvement in the transfer market. The ramifications of this are clear as they linger in the drop zone after three defeats in as many matches.
The Clarets are short in depth and have become stagnant in similar fashion to Manchester United. Their horror start to the season suggests that survival is as good as they can reasonably hope for at present.
One or two eyebrows were raised when Frank Lampard started Kepa Arrizabalaga against Brighton & Hove Albion and Liverpool. Understandably, the Chelsea manager wanted to give one last chance to the Spaniard to justify his €80 million price tag. However, the results were catastrophic.
Arrizabalaga was unconvincing against Brighton and his calamitous error against Liverpool put paid to his chances of redemption. Edouard Mendy looks a far more comfortable fit in goal. It is unlikely that Kepa will be handed many more chances in between the Chelsea sticks.
Jury still out
The Blues have not gotten off to the ideal start this season, but they have cause for optimism going forward.
After a 3-1 win over Brighton in which they never quite looked convincing, Chelsea lost 2-0 to Liverpool. A defensive disaster in the meant they needed to come back from 3-0 down to draw 3-3 with West Brom. Finally, they returned to winning ways with a 4-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace.
This could be seen as a shaky start, but the new signings are steadily improving the team. Edouard Mendy kept a clean sheet on debut, while Thiago Silva and Ben Chilwell produced solid performances in defence. The Blues looked significantly more solid than they were a month ago, although there is still room for improvement.
Moving forward, Kai Havertz has been influential in Chelsea’s last two Premier League games. He teed up Callum Hudson-Odoi for a goal against West Brom and won a penalty for Jorginho against Palace. His recent League Cup hat-trick against Barnsley was another positive sign.
Timo Werner was on target against Tottenham in the League Cup but has blown hot and cold. However, Lampard may soon move him off the wing to lead the line for the Blues.
The head coach hinted in his pre-Crystal Palace press conference that he has not been playing him in his preferred position. With Christian Pulisic close to full fitness and Hakim Ziyech yet to play, Werner’s time to show his quality might be around the corner.
Liverpool were less than vintage in their 4-3 win over Leeds, they edged tricky opponents Chelsea 2-0. They were excellent in their 3-1 triumph over Arsenal. It appeared the Reds were on course for another near-perfect campaign before a 7-2 defeat to Aston Villa raised doubts.
This could be seen as a minor blip, but their defence has malfunctioned far more frequently this year than last. Even stretching back to the 2019-20 season. Liverpool fell just short of 100 points in the last two seasons, to reach anything close to that, they must improve.
Nevertheless, with Thiago Alcantara and Diogo Jota having strengthened an already formidable outfit, I have not changed my mind about them being champions again.
After starting with a whimper in a 1-0 defeat to Everton, Spurs have slowly but steadily improved. They beat Southampton 5-2, were unlucky to draw 1-1 with Newcastle, knocked Chelsea out of the League Cup, and thrashed Manchester United 6-1. All the while, they have balanced domestic commitments with Europa League qualifying.
That said, Spurs do appear vulnerable at the back and have not kept a clean sheet all season.
The signs of last season’s inconsistency are never too far away, which is why it is too early to be either here or there with Spurs.
Crystal Palace are a curious case. Easily mistaken for a side that plays poor football, the well-drilled counter-attacking unit can be near impossible to break down at their best.
The Eagles beat Southampton 1-0 and then found themselves on the back foot for much of the game against Manchester United, but their game plan worked against the Red Devils and they won 3-1.
Defeats against Everton (2-1) and Chelsea (4-0) followed so it is difficult to tell whether Roy Hodgson’s men have turned the corner or are doomed to lower-mid table mediocrity.