Premier League winners and losers: Spurs, Villa and Nketiah thrive; Ten Hag, Chelsea don’t

Will Ford
Ten Hag Calvert-Lewin Nketiah
Eddie Nketiah and Dominic Calvert-Lewin are winners. Erik ten Hag is not.

Erik ten Hag is doing a very difficult job poorly at Manchester United and Chelsea can’t rely on a mythical striker to score *all* of their goals. Eddie Nketiah and Dominic Calvert-Lewin shone, and we make no attempt to contain the Tottenham title talk.

 

Winners

Tottenham
Operation Jinx Spurs.

Tottenham’s brief five-point lead was their biggest over a second-placed team in the top flight since the final day of the 1960-61 season, when they last won the title.

They are the 13th side in Premier League history to take 26 points or more from the first 10 games; of the previous 12, half of them won the title. The more pragmatic Spurs fans – the Spursy Spurs fans, if you will – may focus on the half that didn’t. But all of those (with the exception of Newcastle in 1994-95 – in a 42-game season) finished in the top three.

They probably haven’t got the squad depth to go all the way; an injury to Son Heung-min, James Maddison, or one of the centre-backs would likely be more damaging than equivalent absences for their rivals. But there’s no European football and luck has been on their side so far.

“Let them dream. That’s what being a football supporter is all about.” Big Ange has spoken.

 

Eddie Nketiah
It’s only Sheffield United, and the defending was pretty abject, but it’s a Premier League hat-trick all the same. A lovely first touch made the first and a rasping shot left Wes Foderingham with no chance for the third.

Nketiah’s a good Premier League striker. Not a great one as things stand; probably not good enough to lead the line for title winners. And this game doesn’t change our view that Mikel Arteta needs another striker in January – or another versatile forward at the very least – to give them a chance of winning the Premier League this season.

But the character showed by Nketiah in this game – giving the penalty to Fabio Vieira, dedicating his goals to his late Auntie – suggest he’s a guy that has his feet on the ground who won’t be cowed by further competition arriving at the club.

 

Liverpool
“After more than 1,000 games you would think you have experienced everything, but no,” Klopp said after the win over Nottingham Forest, in an emotional tribute to the absent Luis Diaz, whose father is still missing. “The only thing we could do today was fight for their brother – and that’s what they did.”

Frankly, fair f**ks to them. Those really are extraordinarily challenging circumstances to play a football game in, and from Diogo Jota holding up a ‘Diaz 7’ shirt when he scored to the fans chanting the winger’s name, there were touching nods from everyone involved with Liverpool to their “brother” throughout.

For the players to keep him in their thoughts while breezing through a Premier League game is no mean feat, and while of course the primary concern is for Diaz and his family, trauma like that can bring what is already looking to be a very close-knit squad even closer together.

 

Aston Villa
You won’t hear talk of a title challenge despite Unai Emery’s side being just four points off top spot – and we’re not about to start – but a Champions League place is starting to look like a real possibility, particularly given the likelihood of fifth spot in the Premier League being enough this season.

They’re obviously extremely well coached, but they’ve also, quite simply, got really good players. Ollie Watkins has been on fire under Emery, who has also got the very best out of John McGinn and Douglas Luiz, who have been among the best central midfielders in the league this season. Ezri Konsa can feel unfortunate not to have earned an England call-up. Moussa Diaby wouldn’t look out of place in any top team in Europe.

And it’s not just the team that’s strong. A bench featuring Youri Tielemans, Clement Lenglet, Diego Carlos, Leander Dendoncker and Leon Bailey suggests a squad ready to battle on multiple fronts, and that’s exactly what they’re doing.

If it’s a fight between Newcastle and Villa for fifth, the latter is arguably better equipped.

 

Hwang Hee-chan
No Premier League player has more than Hwang’s five home goals this season; the fifth really was lovely.

Toti showed great strength after a neat drop of the shoulder initially before finding Hwang, who entirely diddled Dan Burn with a brilliant chop with the outside of his left foot, before reversing his shot – Kylian Mbappe-like – inside the near post.

The South Korean may feel as though he owed it to his teammates having conceded a penalty, though as Gary O’Neil said after the game, it was a “scandalous decision” to award it.

 

Jack Grealish
Looked somewhere near the best that we saw so regularly in the Treble-winning season on his first Premier League start since August. Most of City’s joy came down his side, with Bernardo Silva providing ample and brilliant support for Grealish.

He won all of his five ground duels, which doesn’t sound like the most significant stat for a creative player, but is exactly the kind of thing that will still see him play ahead of Jeremy Doku in the biggest games.

 

Dominic Calvert-Lewin
It’s taken Calvert-Lewin well over two years to go from 40 Premier League goals to 50, and people watching him in that time could be forgiven for thinking he had lost his mojo. He’s featured for 3,234 minutes in that period – even with injuries considered, his hit-rate has been terrible.

Whether he’s actually been properly fit is another matter, and what we’ve seen more recently suggests he wasn’t. He appears now to have got his pace and strength back, and is providing a genuine physical and mental challenge for opposition defenders once again.

The cunning shift of the ball into space before his goal against West Ham was brilliant, and keeping a striker of his quality fit and firing could well prove to be a cheat code for Everton this season.

 

Andoni Iraola
He won a game, and was probably as surprised as anyone that he was given the opportunity to do so having lost the Gary O’Neil derby last weekend.

They don’t come much easier than a home fixture against Burnley to record that first Premier League win and all eyes will now turn to Sheffield United at the end of November, because there is probably little point focusing on Liverpool, Manchester City and Newcastle in the meantime.

 

Losers

Erik ten Hag
Ten Hag explained why he went for the controversial back four of Diogo Dalot, Harry Maguire, Jonny Evans and Victor Lindelof. It was to avoid his side kicking long with Raphael Varane on the right and Maguire on the left, and “to make angles and step in” with Lindelof at left-back.

It makes sense, but it’s not a great look for the manager to then suggest his plan worked and that his defenders “played a really good game” in a 3-0 home defeat, even if it was to Manchester City. Really good defenders wouldn’t ordinarily leave the deadliest striker in world football unmarked in the box on a consistent basis, for example.

Ten Hag also presumably wouldn’t choose the derby as one of the better days to assess his signings at Manchester United. He took his £64m striker off with 20 minutes to go in search of a goal. His £50m midfielder – for whom there is no role in his side – did nothing of note having come on for another midfield addition who looked at least a level below the opposition. His £90m winger came on for the last four minutes, touched the ball once and got booked.

Ten Hag may have had a specific tactical plan for this game (which didn’t work) but as the weeks go on it’s getting more and more difficult to see what his overriding philosophy is. Pressing? Sure, but everyone does that. What’s the plan to score goals? They can’t keep relying on moments of individual brilliance and unlikely heroes. When was the last time United scored with a free-flowing move, with multiple players involved?

It’s a club rotten from the top down, we’re told, but Ten Hag won’t outlast those at the helm with United playing as they are. He’s got a very difficult job, but he’s doing it poorly.

READ MORE: Man Utd 0-3 Man City: 16 Conclusions on Ten Hag, Silva, Haaland, Hojlund

 

Chelsea
A question for those who believe a striker will cure all goalscoring ills at Chelsea: will said striker improve the finishing of the rest of the team?

If Chelsea can ensure that all chances fall to this mythical goalscorer, then we would be more willing to get on board with the idea that they can be the final piece of Mauricio Pochettino’s puzzle. Yet it wasn’t Nicolas Jackson who missed the chances against Brentford, but Cole Palmer, Raheem Sterling, Marc Cucurella and others.

Goalscoring is a squad problem, and while Poch has pointed that out on occasion, he’s also highlighted the absence of Christopher Nkunku as a key reason for their profligacy.

The pressure on Nkunku, or another big-name striker should they go for one in January, will be so high by the time they step on the pitch, with years of poor Chelsea finishing tipped to end on their arrival, they’ll be reduced to nervous wrecks.

They should make a difference – it could hardly be worse – but we doubt the impact will be as gratifying and absolute as most seem to be expecting.

Chelsea midfielder Connor Gallagher
Connor Gallagher looks dejected after a Premier League loss.

 

Brighton
They’ve not won any of their last five domestic games, which will be a concern for Roberto De Zerbi, who has consistently warned anyone that will listen of the added stress of European football on the minds and bodies of his players.

They have, though, played Manchester City, Liverpool and Aston Villa in that run, and remain seventh after their fast start. Everton, Sheffield United and Nottingham Forest as their next three should set the blood pumping again.

 

Vincent Kompany
Has there been a more miserable Premier League manager? He’s got a permanent grimace on, and bees in his bonnet about refereeing decisions, the lack of fight from his players; life in general, it seems. You’re probably not going to be in the Premier League for much longer, mate. Try to enjoy it.

 

Goalkeepers
The playing out from the back certainly isn’t helping them, but the decision-making this weekend was also dreadful, along with the general quality in things goalkeepers were always expected to do, like claiming crosses and stopping shots.

It’s probably not a good idea for a Championship-standard football team in Sheffield United to enlist a League One-standard goalkeeper in Wes Foderingham, who was terrible in the 5-0 defeat to Arsenal.

Jose Sa fumbled a cross for Newcastle to score, then Nick Pope got caught in no-man’s land for the equaliser, before a hilarious air-kick soon after. Robert Sanchez chased Neal Maupay in vain from an attacking corner as Brentford wrapped up victory at Stamford Bridge.

Matt Turner needlessly ran miles out of his net to gift Mohamed Salah a goal. James Trafford got his whole hand to Philip Billing’s lob, and palmed it into his own net.

It was a goalkeeping shit-show, and it feels like the standard is as bad as it’s been for a while.