After the opening weekend, Matt Stead did our annual top ten kneejerk reactions. What looked stupid then and looks stupid now, and what has survived the tests of time…
10) Crystal Palace are down
What an awful, awful start. A naive idea that teams needed either goals or style to survive in the Premier League led Matt to this ridiculous notion.
As it turns out, scoring only 22 goals in 24 games (19th in the Premier League), mustering only 3.1 shots on target per game (20th) and enjoying less than 46% possession (16th) would be no barrier to a creditable mid-table season which leaves them seven points clear of relegation at the end of January.
9) Sheffield United are not
Boom. We predicted a ‘delicious slice of humble pie for Danny Mills’ and we are prepared to deliver that pie on a stainless steel platter. It took only one game for us to see that this Blades side is really rather excellent.
8) VAR will be unfairly blamed for all the world’s ills
And indeed it came to pass, though at that juncture we had no idea that we would end 2019 talking about armpits and their ability to score a goal. The anti-VAR camp has probably grown over the first few months of the season but a relaxation of the offside rules next summer should eventually end the boredom of these discussions.
7) Burnley will finish in the top half
‘Sean Dyche eats xG for breakfast with worms on the side’ wrote Stead, confident that the Clarets would thumb their noses at the analytics bods and thrive despite their statistics. Actually, Burnley could well finish in the top half – they are level on points with tenth-placed Arsenal as it stands – but they are pretty much bang on their expected points by most measures.
Which leads us to conclude that Steve Bruce’s Newcastle and clearly the new Burnley. Eye-bleedingly awful to watch, bottom of every table constructed by statisticians but somehow ensconced in mid-table.
Still, a cautious tick for Stead.
6) Manchester United will be the league’s top scorers
In his defence, he may have been slightly bullied into this one. We needed to have some kind of knee-jerk reaction to United’s 4-0 win over Chelsea and the obvious one was ‘goals, goals, goals’. He even used Jesse Lingard’s name in close proximity to the word ‘potent’; that’s all on him.
This is the low-light: ‘Contributions from Alexis Sanchez – yes, I know – Juan Mata and Harry Maguire should see United make fools of more defences than just Chelsea’s.’
As it stands, United have scored 36 goals (a mere 29 fewer goals than Manchester City) and their list of Premier League top scorers reads Rashford 14, Martial 8, Greenwood 4, McTominay 3, James 3, Pereira 1, Williams 1, Lindelof 1, Lingard 0, Mata 0, Sanchez 0, Maguire 0.
F***ing hell, Steady.
5) Harry Kane will score 30 goals (and win nothing)
Stead worried about the ‘usual September ankle knock’ but did not foresee the unusual January hamstring problem. Though even a fit Kane was only on course to limp past the 20-goal mark in this poor Tottenham side.
4) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will score 30 goals (and win something)
‘Aubameyang scores goals almost without anyone noticing’ and true enough, the Gabon striker notched 14 goals in his first 22 Premier League games before suspension struck. Though now we are wondering why Stead predicted all these 30-goal hauls when only four players hit that ridiculous mark in the whole of the past decade. Fool.
3) Frank Lampard won’t last the season
We’re not there yet, but it’s pretty hard to see a scenario where ‘he will be on the wrong end of an awkward Roman Abramovich phone call before May’. His team might be considerably worse than under Maurizio Sarri (‘Seven fewer points but a rise of one place in the table highlights how fortunate Frank Lampard has been that Man Utd, Arsenal and Spurs have been absolute dog muck’) but he retains the support of the fans and the club, even if there are question marks about his tactics and in-game management.
Is he ‘completely out of his depth’? Quite possibly, but he is probably doing just about enough to stay in post into a second season at least. Which will probably make him only the second Chelsea head coach to be granted a fallow year.
2) The chasing pack will finish further adrift
Wrong, wrong, wrong. No, no, no.
Stead told us that ‘the glass ceiling will be double-glazed and shatter-proof’ but Leicester have smashed through to sit comfortably in third, while Wolves and Sheffield United are on the same points as Manchester United and Tottenham, and Newcastle and Burnley are somehow on the same points as Arsenal. Because everybody has basically fallen apart bar Liverpool. In fairness, nobody predicted this.
‘Leicester have lost Harry Maguire and are dependent on Jamie Vardy,’ wrote Stead, who would then – in January – write that selling Maguire was one of the best decisions of the Premier League season. So fickle.
1) Manchester City will have at least a ten-point cushion by February
Oh for f***s sake.