Before a ball was even kicked, many fans and pundits believed they could predict the Premier League table in May 2018. Both Manchester clubs would do fairly well with Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool and Arsenal somewhere in the mix. As for the bottom, three clubs were prominently featured in the “certain to go down” list and unsurprisingly, all three had just been promoted.
When you take a look at Huddersfield and Brighton and Hove Albion, there was an air of mystery surrounding the two clubs. This is the first time they have ever entered the Premier League in their respective histories, and now they were amongst the country’s most elite clubs. Would they do well? How would they fare with increased competition?
Many believed this would be an open and shut case of a season where both would ultimately struggle to compete and be defeated in the battle to survive relegation. Newcastle United, while boasting a tremendous history, were too perceived as a team who would be facing the drop. Having played so poorly just two seasons ago, would they now be a different team capable of winning games in one of the world’s most competitive leagues?
The unpredictability of the Premier League
Nine games in and that’s all been blown out of the water. The teams which looked weak and incapable of putting up a fight are performing out of their skin and it’s completely changed the outlook of the Premier League season. So which clubs are actually going to struggle this season? And will Huddersfield, Brighton and Newcastle beat the drop?
There have been some big results in these nine games which has really shocked pundits and fans alike. Nobody expected an opening day defeat for the reigning Champions Chelsea, as they lost 3-2 at home to Burnley. Nobody saw the resilience of Huddersfield as they were victorious over Manchester United and put in a brave display. Certainly, no one could have predicted the terrible start Ronald Koeman had with Everton that would lead to his sacking so early in the season. All of these outcomes tell us one thing: football is unpredictable and this season is more erratic than ever. The bottom three of the Premier League as of today are completely different to what anyone would have projected from day one.
Who will be in the relegation battle now?
Well, we’ve seen some very interesting results over the course of the season so far which has led to some shock defeats and three clubs we would not have expected to be at the bottom. Currently, Crystal Palace, Bournemouth and Everton occupy the relegation spots but will we be seeing a change over the next few games? It is likely. While Palace enjoyed a memorable 2-1 victory over Chelsea to earn their first goals and points of the season, they still have to produce performances like that for the rest of the season and I think their confidence is too low to continue that. You’d think a victory over Chelsea would spur them on but they followed that up with a poor 1-0 defeat to Newcastle United. If they continue to derail, it could be too much of a step to avoid the drop.
The big issue facing Roy Hodgson is they are too open at the back and are regularly failing to construct moves which can open up defences. Although arguably they are playing better than they did under Frank de Boer, the current system isn’t that easy on the eye either but they are capable of match-winning performances. It will depend a lot on the motivation the players have rather than the tactics because the talent is there.
As for Bournemouth, after the signing of journeyman Jermain Defoe, many expected Eddie Howe’s team to push on from last season’s 9th-place finish but it has been a poor start, with only two wins from nine games and six defeats. With that form, Bournemouth will be doing what everyone expected them to do last season – be in a relegation fight.
Last season, a lot of fans were impressed by the style of play Howe had adopted, which involved high amounts of possession and good attacking link-up play. They had a lot of success and enjoyed big wins over Liverpool, Everton and even took a point off Tottenham and Arsenal. However, their defence was always an issue and this year it’s no different. The big difference is the fact that they scored plenty of goals too, whereas this season they’ve been lethargic in front of goal. Howe will have to find a solution and fast because his side just haven’t looked up to scratch.
Poor Everton fans have been through it all in the last couple of months. After what we all considered to be a hugely successful transfer window, where the sale of Romelu Lukaku prompted big-money buys of Wayne Rooney, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Michael Keane. However, all three have been dire in comparison to Lukaku’s influence at the club and really underperformed in the nine games so far. It was all epitomised in the 5-2 defeat to Arsenal which was the last game under Koeman’s tenure. Will a change in manager now spark a revival? I certainly think so as Everton are far too good a side to be languishing so low down the table and it wouldn’t be a miracle to see them out of the relegation zone before Christmas.
It does depend on who comes in however as the Merseyside club seems to have lost their motivation to succeed and the players really didn’t look as if they were enjoying themselves. A new manager will be a breath of fresh air but he will have a job on his hands to turn around this poor season and cause an upturn in form. Maybe then Everton will be where they were predicted to be, fighting for the top four.
What about the clubs that were tipped to go down?
For fans of Huddersfield, Newcastle and Brighton, this has been a terrific season for them. Not only have they stayed away from the bottom three, they’ve actually hit form sending them to the top-half of the Premier League. This is what makes football special, seeing clubs beat the odds and it’s their no-fear attitude which is really helping the trio perform outstandingly so far.
For Huddersfield, life couldn’t get any better than at the final whistle of the last game, where it was confirmed they had beaten Manchester United 2-1 at John Smith’s Stadium. It was a performance to really treasure, fine finishes up front and a rock-solid display at the back. Not only did they take a 2-0 lead, they also held off the likes of Lukaku, Martial and Mata who all struggled to make an impact in the game. This was a win that pushed Huddersfield up to 11th, only three points behind 4th and 5th placed, Chelsea and Arsenal. Now that is staggering. Nobody had given them hope to achieve anything this season, especially as they had been promoted through the playoffs but they have pulled off some fantastic performances under David Wagner.
Brighton shared the same elation in their last game as they resoundingly beat West Ham 3-1, heaping a lot of pressure on Slaven Bilic’s side but equally showing just how much they deserve to be taken seriously at this level. Main man Anthony Knockaert, who was a standout player in the Championship during 2016/17, is showing the same capabilities this season too, with hints of an international call-up not too outrageous. Under Chris Hughton, he and his teammates have shone and are sitting comfortably in 11th. This is a team who are more than capable of achieving a mid-table finish, a conclusion which would be amazing considering it is their debut season in the Premier League.
Whereas Brighton and Huddersfield enjoy their new horizon, Newcastle United are the club which have been there and done it all, and are currently undergoing a resurgence if anything. Rafael Benitez knows exactly how to bring success, having done so with Liverpool, but there were doubts with his management at St James’ Park with many unsure if he could compete without money at his disposal. Amidst all the tension between the fans and the owner, Newcastle are enjoying a fruitful season so far. Without making too much noise, the Magpies actually find themselves in 7th, just six points behind second-placed Manchester United.
This is the type of form the old Newcastle United side would show and they are starting to look very good this season. With more performances like this, they could be in with a shout of making Europe, which would be fantastic considering the position they were in two seasons ago. Benitez has done a wonderful job and I think he’ll continue to impress throughout the season.
With the table looking very different to what many expected, I believe there will be many more twists and turns throughout. Considering the form of the three newly-promoted clubs, I think they will all avoid the drop, meaning three major clubs will be heading down. Just who they are remains to be seen but we can all safely say, nobody knows for certain what will happen because that’s the beauty of football.