1. A big name will go down
By big name, I certainly don’t mean Chelsea, but there are a number of Premier League mainstays who could see their status threatened.
The biggest of these is Southampton, who have had a tepid start to the season at best. They were dumped unceremoniously out of the Europa League, and have garnered an unwanted reputation as a stepping stone club, due to the turnover of high-profile players.
It can’t be understated how much damage has been done to this squad, and how much can still be done. The table below details their key outgoings and replacements over the last two seasons.
Last season’s replacements performed admirably, but replacing Clyne, Schneiderlin and Alderweireld is much more difficult. While Soares and Clasie looks like capable players, Steven Caulker has spent the last two seasons being relegated, which is never a good thing. Defending will be a massive problem for them, particularly when you consider the team’s lack of pace.
Notably, they struggle to retain players who are theirs to sign. A deal for Toby Alderweireld should have been discussed as early as the January window; instead, his loan finished and Tottenham flexed their financial muscles to bring him to White Hart Lane. As much as they want to complain, it’s their own fault.
And with Victor Wanyama and Sadio Mane linked with moves to Spurs and Manchester United respectively, the transfer window couldn’t close soon enough.
Aston Villa can consider themselves lucky to still be one of seven clubs to have played in every Premier League season since its inception. Since the departure of Martin O’Neill, the club has endured season upon season of abject mediocrity that has seen them progressively slide closer to the relegation zone over time.
How Paul Lambert survived in the job as long as he did is a mystery. Over three seasons, I can only remember one time where they played well – the 3-1 win over Arsenal on the first day of the 2013-14 season.
Tim Sherwood has come in and at least turned them into a side that poses a goal threat, but they still lack creativity in general.
The likes of West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle will also be nervously peering over their shoulders.
2. A home away from home
We’re only into the fourth week of the season, and already this has happened.
Perhaps a little under the radar, football is undergoing a paradigm shift psychologically. Only 33% of all wins this season have been at home, and only undefeated Manchester City can boast a 100% record on their turf. Meanwhile, the Sky Blues, Crystal Palace, Arsenal and West Ham all have 100% away records. Of those, West Ham are yet to score a point at home, and Arsenal have recorded a draw and a loss.
Even though the season is still in its infancy, your team is statistically more likely to win at someone else’s ground. Even looking down to the Championship, the data from this season compared to last suggests a decline in home wins by around 10%.
This is down to a few things. Firstly, football fans have become increasingly fickle and vocal, demanding managers be sacked and players be dropped after a couple of bad results. In other words, patience is dead, and home fans are poisonous to players.
Secondly, the influx of attacking talent from abroad has led to more teams going for the win away from home, as opposed to grinding out a result. For example, Crystal Palace’s 2-1 victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge (Mourinho’s second loss in 100 Chelsea home games) came courtesy of fast, powerful attacking play.
Finally, the quality of defending has declined. Most teams seem to be short of one or two quality defenders. Chelsea lack pace. Liverpool and Sunderland lack composure. Arsenal lack physicality. Manchester City seem to be the only resolute team out there, and after last season that is some achievement for them.
We live in an age where West Ham can concede four goals against newly-promoted Bournemouth at Upton Park, and score three and keep a clean sheet at Anfield against a side with a front three of Roberto Firmino, Phillipe Coutinho and Christian Benteke. Strange as this is, it’ll be the norm for this season.
3. A dramatic January transfer window
Clubs haven’t been afraid to open their TV money vaults this summer. And if things aren’t working out, you can bet that they’ll do it again.
I’m probably alone when I say this, but I think the January transfer window needs to be completely overhauled. All it does is allow clubs to steal players who are performing well for other clubs, which isn’t right. If a club needs to sort out a position, it should be done in the summer, and if it isn’t done, the club should suffer the consequences. Maximally, a limited transfers window, swap window or loan window would be necessary. I also believe that the summer window should start on the 1st of June and finish at the end of July. Clubs sign players before the start of the current window anyway. On top of that, we wouldn’t be having these issues surrounding England’s best young players like John Stones and Saido Berahino, where they are expected to play well while surrounded by intense media speculation.
That said, the current situation is that there is a winter window. We’ve seen some big movers in the past; Juan Mata and Fernando Torres being the most memorable and controversial. This season, we may not see more in the way of big money moves, but plenty of mid-range, £10m-£20m deals.
4. Falling giants
Crystal Palace claiming the scalp of Chelsea will set in motion a number of surprise results to come.
Chelsea has been a magnet for negative attention due to their appalling start to the season. Jose Mourinho’s management of the team has been really poor; he’s too focused on starting fights with everyone around him, rather than kicking Branislav Ivanovic into gear, or onto the bench.
Tottenham must be thanking them, because they’ve been even worse and no one seems to be picking up on it. Their key issue is a lack of leadership. Their player and manager never look comfortable when in a winning position, so naturally they throw results away. Ledley King, despite his cartilage-free knees, had qualities Spurs are yet to replace.
Similarly, Arsenal have toiled their way to a miraculous seven points, Liverpool look completely toothless and Manchester United, despite all the money they’ve spent on players, still play a laboured, pedestrian style, which is fine if you want a catalog of boring, uninspiring 1-0 and 0-0 games.
Only Manchester City look like a title-winning team so far. The rest look just as beatable as any other team.
It’s not outside the realms of possibility for a team like Swansea to assume a top five position, or even push for the Champions League places.
And it’s just as easy to see Tottenham record their first bottom half finish since 2008. Again, unlikely, but not impossible.
5. Poor refereeing will put in motion revolutionary changes
Already this weekend, we’ve seen five red cards. Of those red cards, none of them were cut and dry.
Mitrovic’s 16th minute red card could have been a yellow with a different official. The two red cards in the Liverpool vs West Ham game were farcical, while Stoke can consider themselves hacked off for the inconsistency shown by the referee who sent Afellay off for a slap, when Robert Huth saw a yellow for punching a guy in the face. Charlie Adam’s stamp is the most red of the red cards, but that’s still more of a deep orange.
How long can football go on like this? Games are being ruined by these decisions. West Brom should still be in search of a first win. Those three points could keep them up.
With decisions like this set to continue (and probably get worse), there will either be riots or a major rule change. Could it be video review technology? Could it be a challenge system, as seen in tennis? Could it be extra officials? A second referee? No referee? Or just free-for-all carnage?
Surely anything is better than this.