Fantastic Foxes, ailing Arsenal, terrific Tottenham? As the Premier League prepares to return, our football team assess the season so far.
With an international break after eight rounds of fixtures, there is a real 'half-term break' feel to the Premier League season.
The table has a distinctly different look to the norm with fourth-placed Southampton joined in the top eight by Aston Villa, Everton and Crystal Palace; Manchester City (10th), Arsenal (11th) and Manchester United (14th) are languishing in midtable.
So with practically a fifth of 2020/21 already ticked off, we asked our football writers for one good, one bad.
SOUTHAMPTON are a team who invariably start the season slowly, had lost Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg without recruiting a ready-made replacement and who defended terribly in the 5-2 defeat to Tottenham, suggesting Ralph Hasenhuttl’s pressing game was breaking down - as it infamously did last autumn.
The ingredients seemed there to spend another November in the relegation zone. Instead, they took 16 points from six games, a feat rendered all the greater as the last win came without Danny Ings. To go top of the league - albeit only for about 40 hours - marked a dramatic turnaround but, especially given the performances against Everton and Aston Villa, was deserved.
ARSENAL finished last season in such heady fashion, reeling off triumphs against the best, that it felt as though they could use a combination of managerial cleverness and attacking speed to unlock any defence.
Yet while Mikel Arteta executed a tactical triumph to win at Old Trafford and they remain defensively sound, despite the 3-0 defeat to Aston Villa, Arsenal are among the top-flight's lowest scorers. Perhaps more worryingly, they are not particularly profligate.
The problem is that only four teams average fewer shots. Arsenal were expected to fashion far more chances, but Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, in particular, has been starved of opportunities.
TOTTENHAM's opening day defeat by Everton did not suggest they would be only a point off top spot at this stage. It’s still early, but Spurs are winning when playing poorly and shaping up to be genuine title challengers.
Jose Mourinho has built his team around the Harry Kane-Son Heung-min axis, with the duo charting 15 goals and 10 assists between them already. Mourinho’s system is all about organisation at the back, providing a platform for his attackers to show their individual brilliance. So far it is working and Tottenham's current price of 10/1 to win a first Premier League title is tempting.
SHEFFIELD UNITED were not among many pre-season tips for the drop. Chris Wilder’s side were one of 2019/20's great success stories, finishing in the top half of the table. It has been a very different story so far this season, though.
The Blades are rock bottom with just one point from eight games. Many believed Wilder’s system and ideology would sustain his side and keep them well away from the relegation scrap, but expectations are now being recalibrated. Goals in particular have been hard to come by. Sheffield United need Rhian Brewster to help them out in that regard.
Odds correct at 08:50 16/11/20
TOTTENHAM demonstrating that they can win in different ways has left many believing they could be serious title challengers this season. Southampton, Leicester and Everton have had positive starts on the whole too, but for me Spurs stand out.
The Harry Kane/Son Heung-min partnership has been prolific and they could easily become the Premier League’s deadliest duo; Jose Mourinho building his side around the pair has contributed significantly to their current position.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Sergio Reguilon are already looking like good signings and that quality throughout this squad is what has helped to navigate them through a hectic schedule. It’s not been an ideal time for anyone, but Tottenham were playing every other day in September and yet have lost just two of their 15 competitive fixtures so far.
ARSENAL were expected to achieve so much under Mikel Arteta this season, but they’ve endured a mixed start. A side fancied to create and attack are struggling to do just that, and consistency has evaded them too. A 1-0 win over Manchester United was followed by a 3-0 defeat to Aston Villa; contrasting results has held them back so far.
There were hopes of a return to the top four but the Gunners have already lost to Liverpool, Manchester City and Leicester and find themselves four points off the pace already. Patience is key but that will be difficult for a side who have struggled to claw themselves back to the heights seen in the days of Arsene Wenger.
ASTON VILLA escaped relegation by the finest of margins last season and I anticipated another difficult campaign for them, not least because Dean Smith was prone to tactical naivety prior to their post-lockdown defensive system. But Villa signed astutely in the summer, and Smith has found a way to balance a sturdy defence with the creativity of Ross Barkley, Jack Grealish and John McGinn.
Defeats to Southampton and Leeds added evidence to the theory that there is an absence of detail to the tactical structure underpinning Villa’s favoured style of expansive possession football. But those games have been anomalies. Villa will keep beating the 'Big Six’ with smash-and-grab counters, and have enough strength in their first XI to beat most of the bottom half.
ARSENAL's FA Cup triumph in July looked to be Mikel Arteta’s project taking off, but all of a sudden his key strength – tactical control through a disciplined structure – looks like a weakness. His inability to get them creating chances from open play has been a huge shock, and so has Arteta’s insistence on sticking with an overly functional 3-4-3.
There is enough quality in the squad to play a more progressive and attacking style of football, and certainly that’s what I expected to see this campaign. Instead, Arteta is hesitating, relying on the likes of Alexandre Lacazette and Mohamed Elneny when more exciting players warm the bench.
LEICESTER's start to the season has been sensational in any circumstances, but given their implosion in the second half of last term it's been remarkable.
Back-to-back home defeats by West Ham and Aston Villa will have brought memories of that collapse flooding back, but the Foxes have sandwiched those losses with three successive wins to sit top of the table. Thrashings of Manchester City and Leeds, and victory at Arsenal came thanks to Brendan Rodgers' new-found pragmatism.
He had no plan B in 2019/20, and it cost Leicester a top-four finish. Now Rodgers has stolen Claudio Ranieri's plan A from 2015/16's against-all-odds title triumph and they look as threatening on the counter attack as any team in the top flight.
ARSENAL really have become an empty shell of a team these past few months. What initially looked to be Mike Arteta laying the defensive groundwork has never led to anything further being built - the opposite in fact, they've got worse.
How a squad with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, Nicolas Pepe, Mesut Ozil, Willian and a host of exciting young attacking players on their books can be the sixth-lowest scorers in the division is shocking. What is more, their nine goals scored in 10 matches is reflective of their xG (expected goals) number - they simply aren't creating anything.