10) Flat-track bullies Bournemouth
The three teams Bournemouth have beaten in the Premier League this season are currently 15th, 17th and 18th. The three teams who have beaten them are 2nd, 3rd and 4th. With draws against the sides in 8th and 13th, there could be no more suitable a position for them than 10th.
For a team that have flitted between 9th and 16th – sorry, we appear to be entrenched in a game of Numberwang! – in their Premier League lifetime, that would perhaps be enough. Stability and security is not to be sniffed at in these tumultuous times, and Bournemouth seem to have fallen upon a happy median where they are as far from returning to the Championship as they are from touring Europe. But a sense of missed opportunities lingers.
Arsenal were there for the taking on Sunday, but were allowed to stumble to a 1-0 victory by virtue of their visitors failing to turn up in the first half and struggling to maintain pressure in the second. Jack Stacey’s cross and Callum Wilson’s tame effort from outside the area was all they could offer in 95 meek minutes. Having a shot on target, never mind scoring, in comfortable defeat to Manchester City represented an improvement on March’s record-breaking bluntness, while Leicester carved through them at the King Power Stadium.
In this, the season when the Premier League’s cabal was supposed to be broken up by a mid-table uprising, Bournemouth seem to have missed their cue. Their only other league wins since January were against a Tottenham side in suspended crisis, Chris Hughton’s Brighton and relegated Huddersfield.
Only Watford (25) and Brighton (20) have picked up fewer points than their 30 in a Premier League table of ever-present sides in 2019. Only Watford (51) have conceded more than their 46. It was supposed to be different. It all feels a little underwhelming.
9) Aston Villa’s resolve
Timing is everything, so this obviously comes after Aston Villa turned a one-goal lead into a five-goal lead at Norwich before Josip Drmic’s incredibly ambitious attempts to retrieve the ball and restart the game quickly. But Dean Smith’s side do have something of a problem: they have dropped as many points from winning positions as they have won overall (8).
They were in front for 64 minutes against Tottenham before contriving to lose, and led for an hour at Arsenal only to return from north London empty-handed for the second time in two months. The draw against Burnley, having twice held an advantage, was equally regrettable.
Villa have, at times, been excellent. John McGinn has acclimatised brilliantly, Wesley has confounded the critics, Nakamba has been Marvelous and only five clubs have scored more goals. They are one win away from matching their entire total of wins in their last Premier League season, and almost halfway to equalling the points haul. But some better game management, solidity and fortune could have seen them edging into a vulnerable top half rather than sitting just above the relegation zone.
8) Unai Emery
From the outside looking in, all is well. Arsenal are third, have lost once in all competitions – to a side eight points clear atop the Premier League table – have already played Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester United, and have a raft of crucial players returning from injury. There will be a natural improvement when Kieran Tierney establishes himself, Hector Bellerin regains his place at right-back and Alexandre Lacazette can share the goal burden once more.
But Arsenal fans have seen this before. They are wary of being told nothing is wrong, that it could be much, much worse. They flagged problems with the structure and style last season, were ignored because of a 22-match unbeaten run they said was unsustainable, then watched as their campaign gradually disintegrated and both possible routes to the Champions League were blocked off.
History might repeat itself, or the fallibility of their direct rivals could spare them. But Unai Emery looks no closer to implementing a particular system than he did 12 months ago. Arsenal are conceding more shots than all but two sides, having fewer than Watford and almost as many as Southampton and Aston Villa. This is a team relying not on their manager to produce results, but a combination of an elite goalscorer given no service, a young midfielder with almost no experience, poor opposition and sheer luck.
If and when results start to turn, as they did when they lost four and drew one of their final seven games last season to miss out on finishing fourth by a single point, do not be surprised.
There is more than a modicum of sympathy for the fluid striker asked to play as a dedicated wall for Newcastle to throw sh*t at until some finally sticks. Joelinton could drift in and out of position at Hoffenheim and receive the support of at least one or two players around him. At St James’ Park, he is fortunate to have Miguel Almiron busting a gut to get within 40 yards of a knockdown.
Steve Bruce’s decision to revert to Rafael Benitez’s tactics paid dividends against Manchester United, yet it could ostracise their £40m striker; there is a reason the Spaniard apparently vetoed his signing.
One-third of his 27 touches on Sunday were headers. His last two appearances have produced no shots. And scoring the winning goal against Tottenham is no longer the achievement it once seemed. The 23-year-old could only watch from the bench as Andy Carroll gamely threw himself around for half an hour or so at St James’ Park on Sunday, perfectly suited to the climate and the demands. Joelinton might become more accustomed to that vantage point before long.
6) Che Adams
Your first official interview as an expensive signing at a new club is not particularly difficult, provided the usual script is followed: tell everyone you’re proud to be here and can’t wait to play at this famous stadium; explain that the manager has told you his objectives, his system and where you fit in, and that you will do everything to make the move a success; perhaps even mention that you have had a soft spot for this club ever since you were young. Finish with a kiss of the badge, a ‘come on you [insert club nickname here]’ and enough goodwill is generated to power a small island.
Over to you, Che Adams.
“It’s a huge club, like I said.”
“We want to win the league.”
“Obviously it’s a lot to ask for but you have to set new targets for yourself to hit.”
Che, that’s not what we agreed on.
“With the squad here that I’ve seen from last season, there’s no reason why we can’t.”
It would be all well and good had his wait for a league goal not stretched from six games at the end of a wonderful Championship season to seven at the start of this forgettable Premier League campaign. Thirteen shots, 459 minutes and six chances created doth not a £15m striker with title-winning aspirations make.
5) Pablo Fornals
“I know about the loyal fans and the stadium, which is a beautiful stadium. The fans fill the stadium every weekend and that is something admirable, especially with the passion with which football is lived there. I think it is important to play with the support of your fans at home.
“Of course, Manuel was a big influence because in the end he is one of the best coaches in the world and who doesn’t want to work with people like that?”
Watch and bloody well learn, Che. Although it must be said that buttering up the fanbase has done bugger all for Pablo Fornals’ prospects thus far. One goal – against Newport County in the League Cup – is not exactly what West Ham bargained for.
It was assumed that the Hammers had stolen a march on their rivals when he joined on June 14, two days before Spain’s U21 European Championship tournament commenced. There, Fornals stunned with two goals and one assist en route to the trophy. Their only defeat came in the first of two games he didn’t start, the second of which he came on from the bench to score the winner in.
The 23-year-old felt like a perfect match for Manuel Pellegrini’s side, a player that would have suited his delightful Malaga side wonderfully. And while Issa Diop is the only other Hammer to feature in each of their ten league and cup games so far, Fornals has actually played less football than Mark Noble and an out-of-form Manuel Lanzini. Improvement will surely come in time, but this has been a mightily slow start instead of the expected sprint.
4) Manchester City’s defence
“I’d prefer to have John Stones and Laporte back,” said Pep Guardiola, who also pointed out that grass is green and School of Rock is the greatest film of all time. “Against Everton we were lucky – Ederson saved us in two or three clear chances. But it is what it is. I said when it happened that we couldn’t be crying or complaining and that we were going with the two guys that we had, and the two young players had an opportunity.
“Right now we don’t concede but tomorrow we could concede five, so the important thing is to concede few chances.”
Manchester City conceded two, of course, but considerably more chances as well. If he thought they “were lucky” at Everton, chickens came home to roost against Wolves.
Any club would struggle without their two best central defenders. But Liverpool would not look nearly as vulnerable with Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren partnered together, nor would Arsenal with a combination of Shkodran Mustafi, Calum Chambers and Rob Holding. Manchester United would even manage with Phil Jones and Axel Tuanzebe. And each of those clubs have either taken recent opportunities to improve their defensive options or simply did not need to.
City did not miss the boat; they let it sail away, and with it possibly their title hopes. The effect of Vincent Kompany’s departure and the refusal to replace him has been exaggerated but, combined with a rather predictable spate of setbacks, it has led to a club of unlimited resources playing a defensive midfielder and a Nicolas Otamendi at centre-half. It took them midway through their 18th game to concede nine goals last season; that wait this campaign lasted just eight matches.
The signs were there. Tottenham ended last season winning six of their last 18 games – and two of their final nine – as Mauricio Pochettino’s side reached the Champions League final on fumes. Their forgettable performance in Madrid against Liverpool was anticlimactic but hardly out of character.
They capitalised on their position with the club-record signing of Tanguy Ndombele, but Jack Clarke was loaned straight back out, Ryan Sessegnon is yet to feature and Giovani Lo Celso was struck down by injury. He will return to a side marred by apparent infighting as this family’s bitter and public break-up continues.
Even with their myriad issues, this has been a regrettable start. But as poor and inconsistent as the results are, performances have hardly been much better; the 4-0 win over Crystal Palace was their only genuinely cohesive team display in the last six months.
2) Marcus Rashford
The honeymoon could only last for so long. The purple patch was bound to turn into a bruising period. The rich vein of form could not be mined forever. That Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United side would level out and eventually fall off the crest of the wave they were riding was inevitable. But the one guarantee from his permanent appointment was that Marcus Rashford would be the main beneficiary.
Six goals and two assists in the first eight Premier League games of his interim reign was as misleading as the two he scored in the opening-day dismantling of Chelsea. One goal in his final 11 league games of last season was as stark a contrast as one goal in his last nine matches in all competitions this campaign.
In Solskjaer, Rashford had the ideal mentor. The Norwegian’s ability to coach a defence, implement a clear tactical plan and organise a team at set-pieces would always face intense scrutiny, but teaching a young, impressionable and talented striker how to finish and move was the most natural process imaginable.
Yet the 21-year-old has stagnated once more. Solskjaer has trusted him, promoting him as his first-choice striker, offloading Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez and playing him in all but three of his 40 games – at least three more than any other teammate – but that faith has not been repaid, and Rashford’s debt is piling up.
Three Premier League clubs have spent more than £200m since the summer of 2018. Manchester United (£212.5m) top the list with a fairly comfortable cushion to Arsenal (£207.7m) in second. That Everton (£200.6m) only barely cross the threshold does nothing to distract from just how much they’ve spent and just how little progress has been subsequently delivered.
They never suffered four consecutive Premier League defeats under Sam Allardyce, nor even in their darkest days under Ronald Koeman. It was on New Year’s Day 2015 with Roberto Martinez at the helm that they last suffered such ignominy. Marco Silva would presumably take the 11th-place finish that was eventually delivered at the end of that season were it offered to him now.
Their end to last campaign provided a hope that was supplemented by a summer of loud statements but followed by mere whispers. Everton won six and drew three of their last 11 league games in 2018/19, beating Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United and holding Liverpool. These were foundations upon which Silva placed Alex Iwobi, Moise Kean, Jean-Philippe Gbamin and Fabian Delph alongside the permanent arrival of Andre Gomes, only for everything to come crumbling down.
This was supposed to be their moment, when they finally aligned a forward-thinking, progressive manager with lavish financial backing and, in Marcel Brands, one of Europe’s best directors of football. “We are starting 2019 from a position of real strength,” said chief executive Denise Barrett-Baxendale in January, promising Champions League trips and Premier League titles. They are ending it from a position of stark weakness.