Assessing all 20 Premier League teams after eight games
With the season's second international break bringing the Premier League to a halt for two weeks, now is a perfect time to rate each team's stock. Eight games may seem too few to draw conclusions on the entire campaign, but it offers clues as to which direction it's headed.
For example, Liverpool and Manchester City appear set to battle for the title. Wolves have started brightly as many people predicted. At the other end, few would argue if you claimed Cardiff and Huddersfield are in for tough seasons.
Here's how the early doors have opened and closed for all 20 Premier League clubs.
Bottom of the table and winless, it's been a tough start to life in the Premier League for the returning Bluebirds. Six defeats in their first eight games sets up an extremely difficult campaign. Problems at both ends of the pitch make things even tougher.
Surprisingly for a Neil Warnock side, Cardiff struggles defensively. They're averaging more than two goals conceded per game. A dozen found their way past Neil Etheridge in matches against Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal. Only five, in the remaining five. Maybe we're rushing to judgment.
There's no denying Cardiff is poor in attack, though. Their four-goal tally is joint-lowest in the league. They must improve. Goals are needed to win games. Finding a way to put the ball in the net is necessary to avoid a direct return to the Championship.
Following another disappointing summer transfer window, many predicted Newcastle would struggle. Early returns have Nostradamus spinning in his grave. Six defeats and two draws in eight games find them sharing the cellar with Cardiff. A stronger goal difference only matters when you're 17th.
Like the Bluebirds, the Magpies' faced a top-heavy schedule out of the gate. Spurs, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United have all done their worst to Rafa Benitez's young side. On the bright side, the fixture list should be easier going forward, although goalless draws against their Welsh rivals and Crystal Palace must temper any optimism.
Greater success at St James Park is the key to a turnaround. Last season, Toon boasted the ninth-best home record in the league but are yet to pick up a point in their backyard this term.
Of the three teams in the drop zone, Huddersfield deserve to feel most aggrieved. As David Wagner recently put it, they've done everything but win a game.
In truth, the Terriers’ performances were worth more than the three points they own. Their problem is scoring. The Midlands club is the one standing at the head of the impotency line with Cardiff.
Huddersfield simply don't have a player who can score regularly. In fact, they don't have a player who can score on even a part-time basis. Their best hope is Aaron Mooy. The fact the Aussie hasn't contributed to their four goals thus far says it all.
Wagner must light a bonfire under his strikers, Steve Mounie in particular. If he can do that, they'll win a game or two.
Like Wagner, Slavisa Jokanovic must be a little irked his squad is anywhere near the relegation zone. They're another group whose performances deserve better. The Cottagers play exactly as expected, opting for a bold, attacking and very entertaining brand of football. Unlike Huddersfield and Cardiff, they're not struggling for goals.
Aleksandar Mitrovic remains afire. Andre Schurrle is lighting it up, too. Fulham's nine goals match Wolves but they're not keeping pace with their ex-Championship cohorts in the table.
The reason is their struggles to keep goals out. Defensively, Jokanovic's side is all over the place. Twenty-one-goals yielded makes them the Premier League's most generous team. The charity must stop. Jokanovic has said as much himself. Finding a way to grind out the occasional 1-0 win will go a long way to remaining in the top flight at season's end.
It’s hard to put a finger on what is happening with Southampton. The Saints are adrift under Mark Hughes. Are they paying for years of selling their best players?
So'ton eked out a win against Crystal Palace but were otherwise unimpressive. Not much is going the South Coast club's way. They've lost touch with the identity they had under Nigel Adkins, Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman.
Hughes is his moody self, blaming referees rather than looking at his squad. Danny Ings' renaissance is the lone bright spot. Other clubs would love to have a finisher. Sparky needs to get the engine running, find a way to inject some energy and excitement back into the team. They can't remain adrift. Premier League seas will eventually sink them.
The polite thing to say is West Ham's start was interesting. Four straight defeats had Manuel Pellegrini on the hot seat after just a month in charge. The Chilean is a Premier League title-winner, however. Victories over Everton and Manchester United and a draw against Chelsea improved the mood considerably. Seven points from eight games is not a great tally by any means but they're trending in the right direction, equidistant between the top ten and the drop.
Recent results suggest Pellegrini finally settled on a system that suits the players at his disposal. Consistency is the next step. If Pellegrini can keep his side settled and players such as Arnautovic and Felipe Anderson performing, the Hammers should keep shouldering their way towards the European places.
Given how badly Crystal Palace started last season, they should be fine with their position now.
That said, Roy Hodgson knows this isn't a time for complacency. Five defeats isn't ideal considering they've only faced one club in the traditional Big Six. Defeats to Watford, Southampton and Bournemouth are particularly worrisome.
The Eagles are among the clubs hunting goals. Wilfried Zaha's three can't feed the entire squad. Palace are heavily reliant on the Ivorian to win games and openly admit it. When he's absent, they go hungry. Christian Benteke, Andre Ayew and Andros Townsend must raise their games or relegation will enter the picture.
If the season were to end today, Brighton would be chuffed. Thirteenth represents both an improvement on last season and another year in the Premier League. Mid-table may not be exciting, but it puts food on the table.
Eight points from eight games is a solid start. Impressive performances, particularly the win over Manchester United, suggest there is more to come. Like Palace with Zaha, Brighton must ease Glenn Murray's burden. The 35-year-old accounts for five of the club's nine goals. If other players don't pitch in soon, the old man will burn out before Christmas. Is playing Alireza Jahanbakhsh more the answer?
After such an impressive season last year, regression to the norm was Sean Dyche's greatest fear. It's been realised. The early start to play Europa League qualifying rounds has negatively affected the squad. Less time on the training pitch and an unfamiliar schedule has knocked the squad out of synch.
Failure to qualify is proving a blessing in disguise. Back in their normal routine, the Clarets are picking up points and places in the table. Can Dyche bring them back to last season's level? His defence is the chief problem. He knows they can be a solid, airtight unit. There are a few holes at the moment.
Only two defeats? Sitting 11th in the table? Most clubs would be pleased as punch. Why are Marco Silva and Everton unhappy?
After receiving a far more comfortable start to this season than last, the Toffees are underachieving. They've dropped points that should have taken. Blame the change in style. Swapping Sam Allardyce for Marco Silva is like asking 249 lb Anthony Joshua to drop down the light-heavyweight division for his next fight.
Everton must score more often and defend better but progress is visible. Back-to-back wins suggest Silva's system is taking hold. It must become second-nature if the Goodison Park denizens are going to push for the top seven.
It’s difficult to pinpoint Leicester City's style. The Foxes are solid but bland. Their place squarely in the middle of the table seems apropos.
As at Southampton, many fans didn’t expect Claude Puel to remain as manager this summer. They're hoping a change will come by season's end. Leicester's play is that boring.
Supporters long for the exciting, counterattacking that stunned the world with a Premier League title but the Frenchman doesn't dare to dream. He prefers a more pragmatic approach. He's crafted a Jacques of all trades squad, adept in all areas, excelling at none.
Puel is the one manager in the Premier League whose job isn't threatened by poor results. He desperately needs to flash a bit of style.
The Hornets season began with a buzz but the sting was soon taken out. Four wins in their first four games was followed by an equally long winless streak. Three in that run were defeats. It's the perfect microcosm of Watford as a team. Brilliant one moment, dour the next. The 4-0 hammering from Bournemouth defined awful.
The other tendency is to play for one manager in this moment, another the next. Javi Gracia needs to even the keel. If he could take a ninth-placed finish now, I'm sure he would. Better away form would help. Nine from their 13 points came at Vicarage Road.
Everyone has an opinion about Manchester United, these days. To say they're in disarray is understatement.
Jose Mourinho is fighting wars on three fronts and I don't mean the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup. Rather, he's battling his players, his boss, Ed Woodward, and the media. Mourinho lurches from success to failure week by week. As a result, United find themselves seven points behind the title chase already.
Questions about the defence dominate his pressers. Even with David de Gea in goal and form, the Red Devils shipped 14 goals in eight matches, third worst in the division. Mourinho must settle on a regular backline to bring some consistency. The same policy might help the midfield and strike force, too. A consistent lineup and tactics, rather than the constant change he’s employed so far, might settle the squad.
Last season’s Championship winners were widely anticipated to take the Premier League by storm this season. It's happened. If you've watched Wolves and come away unimpressed, you can't be pleased. They play great football with an ambitious style that mocks the idea promoted teams should play it safe in their first season.
Despite that, scoring is a problem. The Wanderers alone among the top twelve sides haven't reached double figures. A solid defensive base has compensated, allowing Nuno Espirito Santo's side to pick up 15 points already.
With Ruben Neves, Joao Moutinho and Adama Traore in the squad, more goals should be coming.
Whisper it quietly. This season is shaping up as an extremely exciting one for Bournemouth. The Cherries could be this year’s Burnley. Two years of consolidation in the Premier League established a base to build on in their third season. They've begun in a manner that promises exactly that.
Eddie Howe wouldn't have dreamed his side would be averaging two points per game approaching the season's quarter mark. Even with Manchester United lurking behind, there's no reason to think their success isn't sustainable. Inconsistent results like the 4-0 reversal to Burnley must be excised, but Dean Court supporters have due cause to hope.
According to the media, it was all going wrong at Spurs. Not a single summer signing and their stadium opening delayed until November, Mauricio Pochettino's luck must have run out. Instead, it's been more of the same from the Argentine and his men. They’ve won six games and linger two points from first place. How does he keep doing it?
As usual, the one sticking point is the burden on Harry Kane. He remains their primary scorer but has little relief and less rest following the World Cup. The other forwards must pick up the pace. Lucas Moura has three goals but Son Heung-min, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen are dragging their heels.
After struggling to get the new era off the ground, Arsenal are flying under Unai Emery.
The Gunners won nine on the bounce to reach the international break. Up front, they're as dangerous as ever. Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are deadly duo.
As usual, though, problems remain at the other end. Ten goals conceded is worst among the top four. The signs argue against the new boss achieving greater success than Arsene Wenger in his final years.
The Reds are living up to their billing as title contenders. Six wins from eight and unbeaten, they've sustained the momentum that carried them to the Champions League final last term.
They've really picked it up defensively. Virgil Van Dijk's presence and Joe Gomez's emergence lighten new keeper Alisson Becker's workload. The Merseysiders are the league's joint-best defenders with just three goals yielded. That steel has observers believing they may finally finish at the top in the Premier League era.
Their vaunted attack isn't doing as well. Fifteen goals is a strong output but far from last season's pace. Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane continue to search for their top gear. Happily, Daniel Sturridge has been on hand to provide cover.
Chelsea were expected to improve under Maurizio Sarri, albeit not to this extent. The Blues are revitalised. The Italian's transformed them into a spectacularly entertaining side.
Eden Hazard exemplifies their improvement. The Belgian is in the groove. He's well on pace for his first 20-goal Premier League campaign. With Jorginho redefining N'Golo Kante's role, there are cracks in the defence.Leaving new keeper Kepa exposed against weaker clubs is one thing. Against the more dangerous sides, it could be fatal. Manchester United loom on the other side of the break.
Sitting atop the table is exactly where Manchester City are expected to be. They dominated the league last year and their grip hasn't loosened. They’re the league’s top goalscorers, have the joint best defence and play comfortably the best football.
Did I mention the Citizens survived without Kevin De Bruyne for two months? With all that in mind, finding fault is a tedious exercise. That's why Pep Guardiola is the manager. His attention to detail will identify minor inconsistencies to be eradicated. The rest of us see nothing wrong except empty seats.