The international break allows us an opportunity to step back and take stock of what has happened in these initial first few weeks of the new Premier League season.
From a Liverpool perspective, the early signs are good. Jurgen Klopp’s men are so far undefeated and sit just one point behind Chelsea in second place in the league table, sandwiched in between Thomas Tuchel’s men and Manchester City in third.
They’ve already been presented the opportunity to see both of these two rivals up close, battling each in two intriguing encounters at Anfield.
The Reds faced Chelsea at the back end of August and were held to a 1-1 draw, despite the visitors going down to ten men just before half-time. Though Klopp’s side lay siege on the Chelsea goal for pretty much the entirety of the second half, the way in which Tuchel’s men were able to escape with a draw did go some way to legitimising their tag as title contenders.
Under different circumstances, Man City’s Anfield performance last weekend also largely cemented their role as one of the division’s biggest obstacles to overcome this season.
They dominated play across the opening 45 minutes, and then managed to bounce back on two separate occasions to draw 2-2 after going behind to a resurgent Liverpool side who put in a much more imposing second-half display.
Ahead of the new season, the other side tipped to compete with the above supreme trio for the Premier League crown was Manchester United. They currently sit in fourth place and a point behind Liverpool, although they’ve yet to meet either Chelsea, Man City or Liverpool across their opening seven matches.
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Additionally, despite their position in the table, alls not well at Old Trafford and there are already serious doubts as to whether they have what it takes to keep pace with the early league leaders this season.
Last week, United managed to win just one of three home matches against Aston Villa, Villarreal and Everton. And even their one victory came via a rather fortuitous last-minute winner against Unai Emery’s men in the Champions League.
Whilst the results alone were disappointing enough for Ole Gunna Solskjaer’s side, it was the performances accompanying them that would have raised the most alarm, particularly from an attacking point of view.
And there’s growing evidence that they don’t look at a level equal to other league rivals, despite spending over £120million in the summer
Although we’re still early into the campaign, City, Chelsea and Liverpool are already starting to lead the way in key attacking metrics. In terms of accumulated Expected Goals (xG), each ranks first, second and third, with Liverpool so far topping the Premier League with an accumulated figure of 17.9 – according to FBref.
United in comparison rank sixth, despite having arguably an easier run of fixtures on paper.
Liverpool also top the table in terms of having the highest xG per shot average (0.13), this being an average value for each shot generated by a team, with a higher value representing better all-round quality.
Both Chelsea and City are close behind with joint-average of 0.12, however United’s average is noticeably lower at just 0.09. Only Norwich City, Crystal Palace, Aston Villa, Brighton and Arsenal have a lower xG per shot average than United so far this season.
United have still been able to score goals fairly frequently so far thanks to the elite finishers they have in the squad, players like Mason Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes and Cristiano Ronaldo.
However, there’s currently a big dependency on these players’ individual brilliance to score goals, rather than good attacking play from the team as a unit.
There’s a distinct lack of combinations in the final third, with no clear attacking identity and not enough patterns in their play, certainly in comparison to the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea and City. This means off days for key players can lead directly to struggles for United in front of goal.
On the other side of this international break, Solskjaer’s men take on Leicester City, Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester City, with tricky European clashes against Atalanta in between.
That run of matches will more than likely prove to be a make or break period for their title hopes, although the early signs indicate that such aspirations look set to be beyond them in any event.
Whilst it’s too early to write any side off for sure, this is good news for Liverpool who look set to battle for the league title with two sides instead of three, and having already shown they’re a match for both, confidence should be high that they have what it takes to go all the way this season.
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