While the international break may understandably draw the ire of Premier League fans around the world, it does give us a prime opportunity to reflect on the action that’s already taken place with eight matchdays now gone.
And whether a side find themselves at the very top or the bottom of the table, no Premier League team can claim to have enjoyed the perfect start to the season. Everybody’s dropped points somewhere, nobody has gone without defeat and goals have been in almost freakish supply.
There’s always room to progress, and thus GIVEMESPORT have detailed one thing every single Premier League club needs to improve on based on the first few months of 2020/21…
Sheffield United - Clean sheets
When comparing Sheffield United’s efforts this season to their returning Premier League campaign, one statistic really does stand out. The Blades were joint-third for clean sheets in the top-flight last season; this term, they’re the only side in the division who are yet to keep any. While goals inevitably win games, considering how important they were for Sheffield United last time out, Chris Wilder’s first port of call after the international break has to be getting a clean sheet on the board.
Burnley - Scoring goals
Whereas Burnley rank midtable for goals conceded this season, they’ve really struggled to hit the onion bag - scoring only three times and failing to find the net in five of seven games. Sean Dyche’s side have never been the most goal-friendly of teams, but with resident goalscorer Chris Wood out of form, the Clarets must find other sources of goals in the coming weeks or it will be an incredibly arduous campaign.
West Brom - Goals conceded
West Brom showed they have enough offensive quality in the side when they scored twice against Everton and drew 3-3 with Chelsea. The bigger issues are at the other end of the pitch, having conceded the joint-most goals of any Premier League side. Although they’re moving in the right direction after letting in 11 in their first three games, the rate of improvement really needs to go up a notch if Slaven Bilic is to turn things around.
Fulham - Making the most of it
After a pretty disastrous start to the campaign, Fulham have actually put in some impressive performances of late. They rank eighth in the Premier League for possession and ninth for shots, but they simply haven’t made the most of their opportunities - Scott Parker’s side have managed only seven goals while conceding 15, and the 1-0 loss to West Ham after a last-minute penalty miss provided the perfect case in point. Fulham need to find a way of converting decent displays into good results or they’ll plummet out of the Premier League.
Brighton - End product
It’s actually a little perplexing to see Brighton just three points above the relegation zone. They play an attractive brand of football and haven’t lost any of their games by more than two goals. But ultimately, Brighton just haven’t capitalised on goalscoring chances. They’ve hit the woodwork the second-most times of any Premier League side and also rank sixth for big chances missed. A bit more composure in the final third and their standing in the table could be very different right now.
Leeds - Far too open
Marcelo Bielsa’s philosophical stubbornness is notorious, so it’s unlikely he’ll take this suggestion on board. Nonetheless, it’s clear where the problems are for Leeds. While they’re more than capable of finding the net, having done so in all but one of their eight Premier League games this term, the open nature in which they play simply gifts too many opportunities to the opposition. They’ve conceded at least three goals four times already this term - including in back-to-back 4-1 defeats prior to this international break. If they want to stay up, a better balance must be struck.
Man United - Home form
For all the heat Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s taken this season, his Manchester United side have a perfect record on the road, winning all three of their away matches with at least three goals scored in each of them. Home form, on the other hand, has been a completely different matter and while that’s partly due to the quality of team they’ve hosted - particularly Arsenal and Tottenham - it simply isn’t good enough for Old Trafford, once the most feared fortress in English football.
Newcastle - Goal contributions from defenders
This may seem like a counter-intuitive criticism but Newcastle are the only Premier League side yet to have a defender score or assist this season. Steve Bruce has used a back three as often as he hasn’t and when Newcastle have three centre-halves on the pitch, that presence must be felt at set pieces either with flick-ons or outright goals. For a club like Newcastle who largely feed off scraps going forward, the defenders need to start contributing in those situations.
West Ham - Game-plan when dominating possession
For all of West Ham’s superb results against the Premier League’s top sides in recent weeks, David Moyes’ boys have been far less impressive in games where they enjoy the majority of possession and the onus is on them to take the game to the opposition. In fact, on the two occasions where that’s happened, they lost to Newcastle and narrowly beat Fulham 0-1 thanks to Ademola Lookman’s penalty shocker. Moyes needs to find a way of modifying a cautious, counter-attacking game-plan for when the Hammers face equal or lesser opposition.
Arsenal - Lack of creativity
When trying to understand why Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s been so short of goals lately, one statistic really comes to the fore - Arsenal have recorded just 53 key passes so far this season, the same number as rock-bottom Sheffield United. It’s a return that puts question marks over Mikel Arteta’s decision to omit Mesut Ozil from his Premier League squad but in the meantime, the Gunners gaffer must find other means of unlocking his side’s creativity.
Man City - Maintaining early intensity
Such has been the underwhelming nature of their season so far that it’s easy to overlook the fact Manchester City are actually starting games strongly - the problem is that their early intensity soon fades away, allowing their opponents to capitalise. Just three of City’s ten goals have come in the second half this term. To put that into perspective, Aston Villa, West Ham and Manchester United have scored as many goals in second-half stoppage time as City have in the last 45+ minutes.
Wolves - Lack of attacking verve
Nuno Espirito Santo has always erred against making his Wolves side too open but this season it feels like the balance has skewed too far in the wrong direction. The Molineux outfit have the joint-best record in the division for goals conceded yet have only outscored the Premier League’s bottom four. There’s an obvious solution to that problem - start Adama Traore. Despite registering 13 goal involvements last season and causing constant problems for defenders, the Spain international has been benched for most of the campaign.
Crystal Palace - Coming back after going behind
They say the first goal is the most important in football but Crystal Palace are taking that idea to the extreme. Despite a solid start to the season that has left them in upper-midtable, Roy Hodgson’s side are yet to claim a single point after going behind this term. While Chelsea, Wolves and Everton are tough sides to launch comebacks against, the fact Palace haven’t even scored a goal while chasing a lead speaks for itself.
Everton - Lack of depth
Four winless games have provided a reality check for Everton and also highlighted Carlo Ancelotti’s biggest problem. When his first XI are all fit and firing, the Toffees can take the game to anybody; but as soon as one or two key personnel like Seamus Coleman, Richarlison or James Rodriguez are missing, the team quickly loses the shape and dynamism that makes it so dangerous. Not an easy one to solve, this ultimately depends on who Everton can sign in January to bolster the squad.
Aston Villa - Consistency
Yet to draw a game this season, Aston Villa have become the Premier League’s Jekyll and Hyde team. A 7-2 win over Liverpool was followed by a 1-0 loss to Leicester, just as defeats to Leeds and Southampton preceded a 3-0 thumping of Arsenal. Villa’s football has been unplayable at times this season - Dean Smith just needs to work out why they’re occasionally going completely off the boil.
Chelsea - Individual errors
It’s perhaps the hardest thing to solve, but sloppy individual mistakes have cost Chelsea dearly this season. Not only have they committed the most unsuccessful touches of any Premier League side, but three of their players have committed errors directly leading to goals, while Kurt Zouma should probably be on that list as well. The Blues have found a higher gear in recent weeks but Frank Lampard needs to make sure all that good work isn’t undone by fallible moments.
Southampton - Too much emphasis on the left
It’s pretty difficult to pick holes in Southampton at the moment seeing as they’re fourth and have been utterly superb since being trounced 5-2 by Spurs. But looking at the statistics, one thing does stand out - they’ve got the Premier League’s second-highest bias for attacks down the left this season, and the joint-third worst for attacks down the right. At the moment that offensive weighting is clearly working for them, but eventually it will make them a little too predictable.
Liverpool - Conceding goals
Liverpool have conceded nearly half of the 33 goals they let in last season as they lifted the title, and they’re only eight games into the new campaign. Even when writing off the 7-2 drubbing by Aston Villa as an anomaly, they’ve kept just one clean sheet and conceded a mere goal less than 19th-placed Burnley. With Joe Gomez, Virgil van Dijk and Trent Alexander-Arnold all injured it won’t be easy, but Jurgen Klopp simply must tighten up his defence.
Tottenham - Dependence on Son and Kane
79% of Tottenham’s Premier League goals this season have been scored by Harry Kane or Heung-min Son. While Jose Mourinho will argue forwards scoring is the sign of a functioning team, in truth the rest of the squad needs to start contributing as well. Just two goals have been scored by non-attacking players this term - in that respect, only West Brom, Sheffield United and Newcastle have fared worse.
Leicester - Set Pieces
Leicester City may be topping the points chart right now but they’re rock bottom of another Premier League table. The Foxes are one of just three clubs who are yet to score from set pieces this season, while they’ve also conceded the joint-most set piece goals of any side in the division. There isn’t a great deal of height throughout the team but even the smallest improvement could become the marginal gain they need to seal a top four spot this season.
- The Premier League's 20 best signings of 2020/21
- What will be the Premier League's next great title rivalry?
- Pogba amongst the 16 players to have regressed the most this season