We’re four games into the season now and things are starting to take shape. Some of those things have taken us by surprise, be that players scoring goals, players preventing goals, or GOAT contenders just casually returning to one of their former clubs. Here are 10 such eyebrow-raisers…
10) Odsonne Edouard
Scored more goals against Tottenham in 11 minutes than Manchester City, Wolves, Watford and his new Palace team-mates had managed in the previous 354 minutes. Probably won’t maintain a minutes-per-goal ratio in single figures but still. It’s quite a start, and far better than that absolute fraud who also rocked up on deadline day to far greater fanfare and is currently scoring goals at a miserable rate of just one every 45 minutes.
9) Demarai Gray
There’s clearly always been a player in Gray, it’s just never come out with any regularity. A loan move to Bayer Leverkusen last season didn’t coax him out, but a move to Everton appears to have done the trick. Having never scored more than four goals in a top-flight season, he’s scored three in his first four games at his new club. It’s been three years since he was called up by England but he will not wait that long again.
8) Michail Antonio
He’s a very good and worthy footballer who has made a fine fist of adapting to a central striking role having played, well, pretty much everywhere else along the way to finding his true calling. But this season has already been a remarkable one. All the evidence suggests West Ham aren’t going to fall away markedly from last season’s highs – itself a key surprise of the early season – and August’s player of the month Antonio is a key part of that. After just four games he’s already halfway to matching his best ever Premier League season for assists and 40% of the way to matching his best top-flight goals return. He’s already matched his highest red card count for the season, which is admittedly less good. But still surprising, I guess, so it only adds to the overall effect. A player of the month curse to go with the still clearly thriving manager of the month curse is a fun addition to spice up the season.
7) How much we’d missed fans
Tricky one to place, this. On the one hand, we obviously knew we’d missed the presence of fans. We knew games felt weird, but by the end of last season we’d also sort of convinced ourselves that it wasn’t that weird. And yet this season has shown that to be utter b*llocks on our part. Pure nonsense. The atmosphere in the grounds this year has felt remarkable, even though it’s only a return to what was normal for a hundred years before a year where it wasn’t. There has been an energy and vibrancy to everything this season that just wasn’t there last year. The joy, despair, rage and humour that fans have brought back to the game has been huge. In a way this could be top because it has been the defining aspect of the season, but the surprise is the extent of that feeling rather than its existence. So by a deeply scientific process the details of which we’ll not bore you with, it goes at seven. Yay, fans!
6) Arsenal being quite this bad
We honestly thought they would be fine. We were fools to be sucked in by that late run last season once the pressure was off. We should have seen this coming. The 1-0 win over a Norwich side that had shipped 10 goals in its three previous defeats was necessary but hardly suggested a thorough righting of the ship. Burnley and Brighton away either side of a NLD ahead of the next international break will give us far more to go on.
5) Leeds’ second-season syndrome
It’s early days and the fixture list wasn’t kind, but this has not been a good start for the team that dazzled us all last season. The thrilling insistence on going toe to toe with everyone is noble. Noble, but stupid. They’ve been spangled by both Manchester United and Liverpool – who could have easily doubled their three-goal tally on Sunday – and drawn their other games. The defending has been…not good. They have conceded 11 goals, kept no clean sheets and faced the most shots on target. Even with United and Liverpool among the opposition, it is wildly sub-optimal. The attacking verve will, across the season and against a wider range of opponents, make up for the defensive fragility and naivety but right now it all looks a little bit dodge.
4) The Great Big Four
We fully expected and expect a four-way title race. We entirely expected the big four to be the top four at the end of the season. But we also thought someone else might make it a bit more interesting for a bit longer than this. Not even Leicester are pretending to be good enough this year. You can literally get 80/1 on Tottenham to win the title and they’re fifth-favourites.
3) But Brighton striving to make it a Big Five
Fair f*cks to Brighton, though. Underlying Numbers FC always had vast scope for improvement if Actual Numbers could be improved and plenty of us thought that might well be the case. The extent of the improvement and eye-catching quality of the football is even more than we dared to hope for, though. Graham Potter is a wizard and Tottenham definitely missed a trick on their wild goose chase of a manager hunt.
2) Dier and Sanchez
Tottenham’s flawless start to the season before the international break wasn’t a fluke, but it always felt a bit shaky. Most would have expected the edifice to survive a trip to Selhurst Park, which it in the end very dramatically didn’t. Yet the ultimately messy 3-0 defeat only served to highlight just how remarkably well Eric Dier and Davinson Sanchez have played this season. Few Spurs fans would have been happy to see either of them in the first-choice XI at the start of the season, never mind both. Yet Spurs are still to concede a Premier League goal this season with either of them on the pitch, never mind both, and they’ve now conceded three in no time at all without them.
1) Ronaldo’s return
Even the day before it happened it was still unlikely. It still seems mad. Even the fact he scored twice against Newcastle – something that once the return was confirmed was an event of something approaching inevitability – still seems weird. Ronaldo scoring goals for Manchester United was a normal thing once and will be a normal thing again. But the sheer number of goals he’s scored over such a long period of time in between makes it seem incongruous. And the fact it shouldn’t be makes it even more so, somehow. I’m not explaining this well – or even at all – but watching Ronaldo’s goals properly fried my brain.