Five bold Premier League conclusions…and their caveats

Words By Seb Stafford-Bloor
August 24, 2017

One of the anomalies (aggravations) of the football calendar, is that no sooner has club football returned, it disappears again. At the end of this weekend, a semi-satiated football public will be plunged into an international week, meaning that – aside from grumbling – there’ll be plenty of time to reflect on what’s already happened and, of course, plenty of opportunity to extract bold conclusions from those first few games.

So, react with caution when people tell you that…


Manchester United are back.

Steady. Any conclusion reached after two games is premature, but this one is particularly so given the texture of the litmus paper.

United do look better, but that’s an impression created by their midfield. Nemanja Matic looks incredibly comfortable at its base, meaning that Paul Pogba et al are essentially free to roam forward. It may look convincing and, in time, it may proved to be a true indicator, but consider the respective strengths and weaknesses of West Ham and Swansea: both are perilously weak through the middle and, even on their best days, incapable of matching up with either Matic or Pogba.

Beyond the literal personnel comparison, both sides should be considered to be in relative states of flux. West Ham have a lot of new players and lack any sort of cohesion or chemistry and Paul Clement is still waiting to properly reinvest his Gylfi Sigurdsson money.

United may be great, they may very well be the next Premier League champions, but what will happen when they run into a side who – structurally at least – are equipped to cope with them? Not a team who are there player-by-player equal, but one with well-oiled mechanisms for negating and countering these new strengths.

They’ve given two very fine performances, but there’s a sense that we’ve only seen one side of their game. Looking potent on the front foot is important, particularly so given the nature of last season’s struggles, but will their vibrancy survive more complete examinations? Most importantly – and this is perhaps the most relevant remaining question – how will this new forcefulness affect the security of Jose Mourinho’s defence?


Huddersfield look the most secure of all the promoted sides.

Nice story and a great start.

The caveat with Huddersfield doesn’t concern the strength of their opposition, because they’ll be at a disadvantage most weeks, but instead what happens to them when they face defeat for the first time.

History suggests that they’ll be okay – after all, they emerged from barren form last season to secure promotion – but there’s nothing like a heavy defeat to press upon players the differences between the Championship and the Premier League.

At the moment, they’re flying: full of adrenaline and enthusiasm. Past precedents suggest that should be treated with caution though, because newly-promoted novelty has a half-life. Eventually, realism looms: opposing managers become better acquainted with their style, morale suffers under the weight of losing sequences, and the physical demands of the league start to bite.

For the sake of freshness, or just to further belief in cross-league mobility, Huddersfield’s survival would be most welcome. Tempting as it is to believe otherwise though, we’re no closer to knowing whether that’s realistic. They have the flamboyant, talented manager, they seem to have bought well in the market, and they’re obviously extremely well-coached, but that’s still little more than theory in this context.

Always remember: Ian Holloway’s Blackpool took seven points from the first twelve available to them in 2010/11. Huddersfield aren’t similar in any way, but August traditionally does false sense of securities particularly well.


Bournemouth have got problems.

Actually, this might be fair.

The atmosphere at Dean Court was slightly bizarre last weekend. For most teams, the first home game of the season is a free hit. Not a fixture without consequences, but a scenario in which imperfections are tolerated more than they usually would be.

That wasn’t the case – and understandably so. Bournemouth were bad against Watford. Marco Silva may have inherited (and added) plenty of talent, but his side remain a Premier League minnow who should not be winning away from Vicarage Road with such ease. Heurelho Gomes created some alarm with his haphazard kicking, but he wasn’t called on to make a meaningful save all game; Eddie Howe’s team didn’t create anything of note and didn’t build any sustained pressure.

Worse, they looked horribly vulnerable whenever they turned possession over, showing all the familiar symptoms of last season’s mid-winter fragility.

Something’s amiss – characterised by the supporter who tried to angrily confront Jordon Ibe after his substitution during Saturday’s second-half. Strange indeed for a first home game and not exactly indicative of native confidence.

Howe has spent heavily on his forward line, on a new centre-back, and on Asmir Begovic, but he has big problems in a betwixt-and-between midfield which needs to become definitively something before the close of the transfer-window.


Pep Guardiola intends to play Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero together this season.

It’s how Guardiola has started, but that combination doesn’t look long for the tactics board – primarily because it doesn’t seem to work that well.

Aguero is a wonderful asset to have, but it’s no secret that Jesus is seen as Manchester City’s future and, from that perspective, the current selection policy appears to be an attempt to sidestep an awkward situation. It’s one which also necessitates that one or more of Bernardo Silva, Leroy Sane or Raheem Sterling starts from the bench, and that doesn’t appear to be a particularly long-term situation either.

What’s the answer? Jesus is not a finished goalscorer yet, but seems to operate particularly well as a lone forward and appears to be at his best when surrounded by the kind of players who are currently being sacrificed to keep Aguero on the pitch. In a sense, it’s obviously a good problem to have – Aguero remains lethal in front of goal – but it’s still an issue which will require very careful management.


Frank de Boer is already in trouble

When Crystal Palace appointed de Boer, they signalled their intent to make their most dramatic stylistic conversion since returning to the Premier League. Out with the counter-punching style, in with something more controlled.

But it’s going to take time and, astute operator that he is, Steve Parish will know that. The opening day loss to Huddersfield was horrendous, truly a nightmare, and the defeat at Anfield was less than ideal. Defeat to Swansea on Saturday at Selhurst Park therefore, would leave de Boer winless in three games and facing a long, long international break.

But this will have been factored into the club’s thinking; rarely does this kind of transition take place without a short-term tax on form. Rather than acting as an indicator for the season ahead, this will come to be seen as a necessarily evil – an educational struggle which leads them to a tipping-point of tactical comprehension.

De Boer isn’t certain to be a success, but expect him to given the time and opportunity to be something. Palace see his approach as being key to their future sustainability, so expect them to commit to this direction.

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