This article is part of Football FanCast’s Opinion series, which provides analysis, insight and opinion on any issue within the beautiful game, from Paul Pogba’s haircuts to League Two relegation battles…
No season is predictable or straightforward, and thank goodness for that, but this term more than most appears to be hard to wrestle down and made sense of. Liverpool’s blistering start is hardly a surprise given they lost only once in 2018/19 yet surely even the most ardent Red couldn’t have expected Jurgen Klopp’s creation to be this consistently formidable.
On the flip side to that, few pundits backed Tottenham to make any significant inroads towards a title challenge after a summer of discontent and while nursing an appalling away record that stretches back to last January. But did anyone realistically anticipate that Mauricio Pochettino’s project would so spectacularly unravel to the point in which the Argentine would be sacked and replaced by Jose Mourinho in a desperate bid to salvage a stuttering season? No, us neither.
If these two examples are the headline-grabbers, elsewhere there is an abundance of other surprises that impel the collective scratching of heads. Wolves last year were superb; well-drilled and effervescent and rightfully they were perceived by many to be one of the outstanding success stories by the season’s end.
This time out however – possibly distracted by a Europa League campaign – they have been far less impactful, underwhelming by and large with a propensity to draw games they would have ran away with twelve months earlier. Yet despite sharing the spoils in 58% of their league games and generally flattering to deceive Wanderers are higher in the table than at this stage last year. Make of that what you will.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s men reside a point above Crystal Palace, a club who have experienced just as much false advertising only for them it’s made up of the entirely positive kind. If you believe the press the Eagles are flying high, with Roy Hodgson defying the critics and with a team enjoying a ‘fantastic start’. Yet closer inspection of Palace’s opening few months reveals their flag is only half mast.
From 1080 minutes of Premier League football the South London club have scored precisely four goals from open play. That’s right, four. Their overall goal difference meanwhile is twice as bad as Aston Villa’s despite the Villans hovering fourth from bottom.
So high are the rafters to which Palace have been praised it feels almost sacrilegious to suggest they are struggling but to do likewise with Everton would leave us on safe ground surely? After all, Marco Silva’s job is apparently on the line each and every week as the Toffees disappoint and under-perform.
How is it then that during November’s international break Everton are just three points off fifth?
West Ham’s sudden amnesia as to their potency is another peculiarity.
Blessed with such attacking brilliance and ingenuity deriving from Manuel Lanzini, Andriy Yarmolenko and Felipe Anderson, the Hammers were banging out hit after hit until late September.
Then a storming 2-0 win over Manchester United led to a free fall that simply cannot be accounted for. Now a side that was very easy on the eye and heading for a top six spot is utterly moribund having failed to pick up three points on seven occasions. Oh and they got hammered 4-0 by Oxford in the EFL Cup. It is strange times indeed at London Stadium.
Lastly, it is not only results and league placings that baffle. Unai Emery may be getting some stick right now for presiding over some mixed Arsenal performances but at least the Spaniard always encourages good open football right? Right? Yet even though the Gunners have enjoyed 54% of possession overall in their fixtures this term they are the ‘dirtiest’ team of them all, with 27 yellows and a dismissal.
Who would have thought it? Well, us actually because nothing about this plain odd season surprises us anymore.