With most sides having completed 10 rounds of fixtures there is the opportunity to review and to determine which teams are living up to expectations and which teams are not. Plenty of goals appear to have been scored in the early part of the season but it seems that things have settled down whereby there has been an average of 2.83 goals per game for the first 99 matches. The last 2 seasons have each returned an average of 2.81 goals per game. It appears, therefore, that this season is far from being atypical.
Early relegation favourites Southampton are living up to their billing largely due to their inability to prevent the opposition from scoring. If their goal scoring performance was to determine whether they escaped the drop or not, they would look a safe bet to stay up. The manner in which they have conceded some of the goals must be equally worrying. Reading are another side looking likely to ship plenty of goals but their situation isn’t as desperate as The Saints. They look as if they can match their relegation rivals for scoring goals and are on course to concede only two thirds of the goals that Southampton are likely to let in. Still, at a projected 70 goals against they need to move up a gear. Q.P.R. appear to have problems at both ends of the field. Their inability to keep clean sheets is going to prove costly. They appear to be particularly vulnerable at set pieces. There doesn’t seem to be a weekend that passes without Rangers coughing up a goal from a crossed ball. While they have only picked up one real hiding it is their consistent conceding of goals that is causing them problems. Particularly in view of the fact that the attack is scoring, on average, less than 1 goal a game.
There are four other teams in the division that have managed, on average, less than a goal per game. Paul Lambert’s present and most recent clubs face the same predicament. Aston Villa for the second season in a row are struggling to score. Darren Bent is available for selection but is currently out of favour and as a result the Villa attack is virtually non-productive. A major step forward was widely predicted for Villa but without the acquisition of any top class personnel it was always unlikely. Norwich haven’t found their scoring touch of last season and remain vulnerable at the back. To their credit they have held the opposition to a goal or less on 7 occasions this season but there have been 3 games in which they have collapsed. Goal difference could be crucial at either end of the table come the end of the season so it would be in their interest to exercise damage limitation when the need arises. Stoke and Sunderland have emerged as the division’s draw specialists. Both sides are struggling for goals but clearly are not willing to sacrifice defensive solidity in pursuit of rewards higher up the field. Sunderland have found themselves in the situation of playing ten men on no less than 3 occasions this term. They have singularly failed to take advantage of this situation and have been particularly shot-shy in the later stages of games.
Wigan seem to be doing just about enough to maintain a mid-table position. They are not renowned for scoring a large amount of goals but have picked up the habit of maximising the worth of their scores. Slightly worrying for them is that they have already conceded 2 goals or more on 6 occasions. It will be very hard to win games if you need to score three goals in order to collect all the points. Swansea haven’t folded up as expected following the departure to Liverpool of Brendan Rodgers. Goals at home don’t seem to be problem but teams have managed to work out how to shut out the Swans on 4 occasions already this term. While the defence isn’t lock-tight, it is performing well enough to secure a mid-table berth. Liverpool remain light in front of goal, with Suarez the sole credible goal threat. A projected total of 49 goals in the for column is not going to enable them to realise any short term ambitions. More concerning is that they are heading for a negative goal difference. A situation that would all but eliminate the possibility of a top 6 finish.
Newcastle remain efficient in terms of turning their goals into points. Demba Ba has again shown the form of the early part of last season and remains high on the wish-list of plenty of clubs. Even so, they are projected to be less productive than last term with a similar defensive performance, so on balance they are up against it in their bid for a top 6 finish. West Ham are clear in the race amongst the newly promoted teams and are performing up to spec at both ends of the field. With 4 clean sheets already on the board they are building a good platform to climb the table. In contrast, the attack has scored at least once in 7 games. West Brom have started the season at the Hawthorns in formidable fashion. Mid-table sides typically achieve around 9 clean sheets a season and West Brom have already collected 4. Their goal scoring performance has even more merit and has the profile of a team destined to remain in the top half of the table.
Everton and Fulham are the early overachievers in the division so far. Their 2-2 draw at Craven Cottage last Saturday was probably one of the least surprising results of the season so far. Both sides are on target to score enough goals to finish in the top 4 and are more likely to score 2 or more in game than less than 2. The net result is that both teams will be competitive in a great many games. Martin Jol has already expressed that he is finding it hard to determine which combination of Fulham forwards is the best that he has at his disposal. Everton have a very energetic left flank and Baines is providing many chances for the players in front of him. Fellaini is providing strength and skill in the forward line that is of Champion’s League potential. Defensively Everton give the impression of being more consistent but it is evident that both sides are paying a little for their attacking approach.
Arsenal have rediscovered some of the defensive frugality that they were once renowned for. The downside has been that there has been a deficit in the goal scoring department. Only on 3 occasions have they scored a brace or more and they face an uphill task in a league where it usually takes at least 2 goals to win a game. A major shift needs to occur if Arsenal are to be serious challengers for a top 4 position. A lack of clean sheets has curtailed Tottenham’s progress. Defensively they are not as secure as they were last season and there has not been an increase in goals output to offset this deficit. Sandro’s defensive performances have been an integral part of Tottenham’s better efforts. Defoe clearly has a licence to shoot on sight and has rewarded his manager’s faith in him.
Man City are not yet showing the form that enabled them to lift the title last May. Previously it appeared that they could score at will but an average scoring rate of less than 2 goals a game is going to see them fall off the pace sooner or later. The absence of their main playmaker, David Silva, has clearly affected their confidence. The lack of a top class holding midfielder is not helping the balance of the side and they can often be stretched on the counter attack. Chelsea have started the season brightly and their new signings have settled in well. Juan Mata is back to his excellent best and there are few reasons as to why they cannot continue to score, on average, more than 2 goals a game. Eighty plus goals will see them competitive at the business end of season. Defensively Chelsea have made a fair start and Terry’s more steady influence in place of Luiz’s more adventurous approach may yet yield greater dividends. If Man Utd could log the same level of performance in defence as they have done in attack, the league would be over by Christmas. The addition of Van Persie has given United an extra dimension up front and they look as if they could accumulate a hundred or more goals. Their numbers are yet to be skewed by any huge margin wins but are elevated due to a consistently high level of performance. Defensively their overall effort has not been much better than mid-table level and to resolve these issues may cost them something in attack.
As things stand, few sides are showing consistent form at both ends of the field and there remains the opportunity for a team to rapidly ascend the table. It is clear that the division will remain highly competitive at all levels.