With the first International Break upon us, it looks like a fine time to do some early season grades. So, let’s go! These are obviously my opinions only.
AFC Bournemouth: C-
Truthfully, this team looks like one that will go down by the end of the season. If not for a surprise win against Villa, they would be just above the relegation zone now. Firing your manager in the first month also isn’t a good sign. I don’t think anyone would be shocked by them going away at the end of the season and a second manager gets the axe. But being in 12th right now is a bit of a shock because the on field product doesn’t match that.
It would have been nice to see a little more fight against Man United. Also, the lack of depth at midfield looks like a problem and something that should have been addressed in the window. The backline has looked suspect for spells in almost every some matches so far and brilliant in others. I think the Gunners look like a top 4 squad with Jesus, Zinchenko, and Saliba in the squad but there a lot of questions. The stretch from 10/1 through 11/5 will answer all those questions.
Aston Villa: D+
If not for the draw with Man City and narrow win over Southampton, this would have been an F. This team has looked awful and Gerrard is probably feeling a little heat. If things don’t change by the World Cup break, he might be gone. Coutinho and Buendia have looked awful in the midfield when I’ve seen them play, something no one expected. There is no reason this team should be this low in the table.
One of the plucky teams that people like to root for. But after they trounced United, they lost to Fulham. They seem to be a London version of Brighton, with a little more offensive punch and sketchier defense. Franck appears to be a solid coach, but mid-table is about the furthest up this team can go.
The team that no one roots against unless they play your squad. They play pretty football and have some solid results so far. But they lost a lot of talent and now Potter is gone. This was about where they were last year and then they fell off considerably in the middle of the season. It will be interesting to see if they can keep up the solid start with a new manager and less overall talent this year.
A squad that spent $250M in the transfer window, with a proven coach should not be this wildly inconsistent. It has been a struggle and that is why Tuchel was dispatched. If they win against Tottenham, is he still in charge? Bringing in Potter looks like a predetermined move, but I have a feeling the manager wasn’t the only issue at this club. Expect a nice bump after the break. The question will be how this team does after the World Cup.
Crystal Palace: D+
There were a lot of people expecting big things for the Eagles with Viera in charge. Looks like a lot of the same with a little more offense from people other than Zaha. They play hard and should not be overlooked by anyone, but still sitting just two points above relegation isn’t where they should be. Same old Crystal Palace.
Lampard has them playing hard, but they have little attack without DLC in the lineup and Richarlison gone. We are seeing why this squad was fighting against relegation last year. Their depth is awful and the talent they have starting is lacking in many spots. But they play really hard and they beat West Ham. Lampard needs to get some scoring. A win took a lot of the heat off the coach. Don’t forget, they play hard.
The Cottagers are performing much better than I expected after their last go around. The difference is that Mitrovic is scoring this time. They brought in a few other players that are contributing. But the big guy in the middle is the key. At this point, I wouldn’t be shocked if they stay up because there are more bad teams in the league than people want to admit. But a Europa League spot is not their future.
I don’t know how high Jesse Marsch can take this club. But they have instituted a nice style of play that doesn’t expose them at the back as much as Bielsa-ball did. Losing talents like Raphina and Philips will be tough to overcome. They need to be more consistent. They remind me of Southampton, but with some actual energy. Perfect mid-table club, 11th place with a record of 2-2-2 and 0 GD at the moment.
Not sure how Rodgers is still in charge, but this team looks awful. The squad only has a few players that should be PL starters in the first team, primarily in the midfield. The GK is letting in too many goals, the backline led by an old Evans isn’t doing anything, and relying on an over the hill Vardy is getting them nowhere. Only team without a win and they look like relegation fodder.
Excluding the Bournemouth match, this club looks very average at best. It’s probably a combination of players getting older with a lot of mileage, not having Mane to ignite the press, Salah in an awful slump, and fatigue. The telltale sign was the loss in the Champions League where they looked spent against Napoli. Unless things change quickly, this might be the first sign that Liverpool needs to overhaul the squad starting in January.
Man City: A
Even though they aren’t at the top of the table, it’s only a matter of time. A careless draw against Villa aside, they look really good and have a central focus in Haaland that can score at will it appears. There will be quite a fight for the top 4, but City should have the title wrapped up fairly early. They are that much better than the rest. Can they finally win Europe if they don’t have to focus on winning the league in April and May?
Man Untied: B
It took a couple matches for Ten Hag to exert his influence, but they look like they have some positive things happening at Old Trafford. Once he benched Ronaldo, things seem to have picked up. Casemiro and Antony will only make them better from the signs of their first matches. They will be fighting for a top 4 spot and a Europa title possibly. The death of the evil empire was declared prematurely.
Everytime I see Guimares playing I think that Arsenal should have pursued him instead of Vlahovic. Anyway, this team was the one I was most curious about coming into the season. Until they brought in Isak, you could call their window underwhelming. Their results have been the same. Now that people are expecting them to be good, it will be interesting if they can compete for a European slot by the end of the season. Thus far, it has been mediocre with several draws. But with Isak now in the squad, maybe they can spark something.
There was a lot of talk about the 20+ players they brought in. But the problem is very few of them are good enough to impact a match in the PL. Their strategic advantage they played up in the Championship is finding no joy in the PL. I don’t think their manager needs to fear for their job, but if they get relegated watch out. This team isn’t even mediocre. But at least they aren’t Leicester.
Mediocre to Average across the board. Unless JWP gets a few free kicks, they will be exactly where they are now at the end of the year. Gone are the years of great talent to feed the bigger clubs. Now, they do just enough to stay out of the relegation fight every year. Leeds without the energy. They are consistently boring and blasé.
They had a good window getting some squad depth and getting a few players for Conte’s style. This would have been an A, but there have been a couple of matches they were not good (first half against West Ham and Wolves, and the Chelsea match). They have gotten a little lucky at times, but good squads do that somehow. As much as I hate to admit it, they might be the only team that can compete with Man City over the long haul, along with perhaps Arsenal.
West Ham: F
The only positive thing that I can say is they got Paqueta to end the transfer window. I’m interested to see how he fits into their system once he gets bedded into the squad. Other than that, it has been much the same from Moyes, without the opportunistic scoring from an aging Antonio. Bowen has taken a dive in his production this year and Declan Rice looks pedestrian at times. They need a spark or Moyes will be out soon.
They might have the stingiest defense in the league, but when you play 6 or 7 at the back, you kind of expect that. I predicted early on they wouldn’t score more than one goal from open play in a match this year. I’m feeling pretty good about that still. I know one thing Bruno doesn’t want to talk about: the heat under his seat. He won’t be around much longer unless they find a way to score. But they are above the relegation zone, for now.
Overall, I think the race for the top 4 will be the highlight of this season. 6 or 7 squads will be fighting for the spots behind Man City. Man City will probably win with a healthy gap to second. There are also many more bad teams in the league than anyone wants to talk about. I expect a pretty large number of teams to fight for survival over the last two months. I still stand by my prediction of six managers getting sacked and Wolves not scoring more than 2 goals from open play in a match. The one squad I really think could upset some things for European positions is Newcastle if they can get consistent scoring from Isak and get on a spin.