Which early Premier League surprise has staying power?
The times they are a-changin' in the Premier League. The English top-flight's no longer the hunting ground for the cash-rich, traditional “top four” looking to intimidate their opponents with extravagant squads. Now, all 20 sides flaunt their financial muscle. Thanks to insane television revenues [almost] equally distributed among all, even the “smaller” teams can splash the cash.
For example, relegated West Bromwich Albion received almost £94 million from television revenue last season. The amount nearly equals Bundesliga Champions Bayern Munich's receipt from German broadcasters and is on a par with West Ham United's summer spending. The stunning inflow from TV rights is enough for the so-called minnows to sign premium talent and assail the [now] Big Six's hegemony.
While some clubs bank their windfall, other smaller clubs exploit their newfound wealth to lodge a serious challenge for a place in the table's top half. More than one low-key Premier League side surprised with a blistering start to the season. Here are three who might make good on their threat throughout the campaign.
New owners and coach Nuno Espirito Santo's fantastic work give the Midlands club new life.
Wolves don't play the most dazzling football but they've been effective, earning valuable points. Ask either Manchester club.
Santo’s ambitious nature shows in his preferred 3-4-3 formation, which allows the Wanderers to defend deep then launch numbers forward during counter-attacks. They also love to play a high-pressing game. Santo's squad didn't permit Pep Guardiola’s Premier League champions to push them around. Six goals from as many games disappoints. On the other hand, 30 shots on target suggest that number should improve as the season progresses.
Santo instilled a sense of fearlessness in the team. Promoted teams are seldom so brazen. Despite playing both United and City in the early doors, Wolves maintain a 48% possession rate. Ruben Neves pulls strings in midfield. Last season’s Wolves Player of the Season is taking the Premier League by storm. His creativity, hard work and energy inspire the club's positive approach.
Wolves' incredible record at the Molineux under Santo also fuels their push up the table. They’ve lost twice in their last 29 home games, winning 19. Molineux can be a difficult ground to visit for any side. Success at home alone should be enough to avoid relegation this season.
Despite their misfiring attack, Wolverhampton maintain a solid defensive record. They limited City to one goal, United as well. Rui Patricio, the latest addition to their Portuguese core, contributes amazing performances between the sticks. His stunning saves against West Ham kept the match scoreless until Adama Traore struck on 93 minutes. Jose Mourinho can tell you how invaluable a goalkeeper who can steal points is to a club.
Nuno Espirito Santo and Wolves can enjoy their start in the Premier League but Javi Gracia's Hornets are having an even better time. They won their first four games before losing to Manchester United and drawing with Fulham the past two Saturdays. Gracia revolutionised their style from last season. The Spaniard was under pressure going into the new season. His subpar performance upon taking over for Marco Silva barely pulled the London side over the line in 2017/18.
He made important changes to the team over the summer. Ben Foster took over for the misadventurous Heurelho Gomes. The Brazilian's carved a lengthy career but his gag reel's far more extensive than his highlight package. Foster's already improved Watford’s defensive record, earning clean sheets against Brighton in the Premier League and Reading in the EFL Cup while offering a calming presence in the box.
Gracia's given captain Troy Deeney the freedom of Vicarage Road. The bruising forward was already an absolute menace for defenders. Not knowing where he'll pop up next makes it worse. Deeney knows how to bully defenders, using his strength to his advantage. Gracia encourages him.
The captain's established a formidable partnership with Andre Gray. With Deeney providing the distraction, Gray's movement, not to mention a stunning eye for goal, transforms him into the scoring force Watford have long craved. Roberto Pereyra operates more freely, too. An inverted winger, he often drifts into the middle, allowing Jose Holebas to overlap on the left. Pereyra and Holebas’ chemistry works wonders for Watford. The former Juventus man influences matches with his movement and creativity.
Gracia’s impact is felt at Watford this season. The recent loss to Manchester United proved the need to fill some defensive holes but the Hornets play effective football. A healthy Gerard Deulofeu’s introduction should only add to their attacking prowess. After years of inconsistency, Watford boast a stable unit with the depth and energy to maintain their standards throughout the season.
Prospects haven't looked better at Dean Court. Eddie Howe reversed their awful start last season then kicked off this campaign with a blast. The same Cherries who lost four from their first five Premier League games last season managed to win three in five to establish a position among the top five. Bournemouth weathered the storm against some dangerous teams, earning full points against allegedly superior opponents Leicester City and West Ham.
Bournemouth don't dominate. They pick their moments on the counter-attack and take full advantage. Howe's squad scores more often by turning the tables. Pacy wingers and clinical strikers make them lethal. This week's reversal against a resurgent Burnley at Turf Moor aside, Joshua King, Ryan Fraser and Callum Wilson create and convert chances with aplomb.
King and Wilson dovetail as a front two. Fraser's having a breakthrough season. The trio claim seven of Bournemouth’s ten Premier League goals. Their movement confounds opponents. Wilson often drifts wide to the left, freeing space for Fraser to operate through the middle. King also plays a freer role this season.
New signing David Brooks is a solid catch. Jordan Ibe's a bystander thanks to his intimidating play on the wing.
Bournemouth must improve defensively to be consistent. Sean Dyche exposed that truth when his Clarets rang up four goals on the weekend. The bright start demonstrates Howe learned his lessons from last season's struggles. There's less pressure to perform. Bournemouth can enjoy their football. Not too much. If they can tighten up after the Burnley setback, 2018/19 can be a momentous season.