One man’s misery is another man’s fortune, or so the expression goes. With Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur currently in meltdown, several sides will be licking their lips relishing the opportunity to fill the power vacuum left behind.
Leicester City have already made a pretty good fist of it, currently sitting six points ahead of Arsenal and above Chelsea on goal difference, but what of the other sides not usually partial to thinking of top-six finishes?
As it stands, there are a couple of sides just waiting to pounce on the misfortune of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Mauricio Pochettino, and the data is quite revealing as well.
If anyone is thinking that Manchester United and Tottenham don’t deserve to be as low as they are, then be warned, the xG (expected goals) figures suggest they are lucky to be as high as they are!
But who stands to benefit from their ineptitude? Three teams stand out from amongst the crowd and we look at the strengths and weakness of each.
Current position: 8th (15 points)
Average points per game: 1.36
The Seagulls are beginning to think Graham Potter may actually be related to a certain famous wizard of the same name, such is the magic he has created at the Amex this season.
Being in such a lofty position will seem alien to many of the older generation of Brighton fans but this is really happening. Potter has transformed the club in a fairly short space of time having taken over from Chris Hughton in the summer, and there are a number of revealing reasons why this success does not appear to be a fluke.
Seagulls soar going forward: Brighton’s 2019/20 strengths so far
The main strength of Brighton this term is mainly in the side’s ability to get forward. Simply put, the data shows they are currently underperforming their open play xG.
Having netted 12 times from open play this season, they should have netted at least two more. In fact, they are currently the side with the fifth-best open play xG in the Premier League so far, with Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea and West Ham the only clubs to best them in this metric. This is important because it suggests the Seagulls are creating good goalscoring opportunities.
Which leads nicely to the number of big chances they have actually fashioned; 19 is the answer, which again puts them right near the top of the table in this marker, with only Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea having created more.
They have also had the sixth-most touches in the opposition box (284), demonstrating the ease in which they get into advanced areas of the pitch. Having also taken 143 shots, it suggests they are relatively good at taking advantage of their forward play. This is backed up by the fact they have made the fourth-most forward passes in the Premier League this season, 39 more than Manchester City.
Indeed, 12 of their 14 goals this season have come from inside the opposition penalty area. Graham Potter has got his side performing well in all the right areas, but if they are to maintain their current position, or even improve, then they will have to address a couple of shortcomings.
Home sickness: Brighton’s 2019/20 weakness so far
Brighton may have taken 143 shots this season but only 41 of those have been on target – just 28.7 per cent. This does not make for good reading, and even though the xG is standing tall, it does suggest that things could be even better with a bit more care in the shooting department.
The South Coast outfit are also giving away too many silly foul (122 in total this season) which could be costly against sides that are dangerous from set-pieces. Potter will be all too aware that his side need to keep their discipline if they are to continue their excellent start to the campaign.
The other big conundrum for Potter is how to get his Brighton team to win on the road. They have managed it just once this season and will not take advantage of Man United’s or Tottenham’s woes unless they can improve here.
Current position: 6th (16 points)
Average points per game: 1.45
What a campaign it has been so far for the Blades. Back in the top-flight for the first time since 2007 and looking just as solid as they did last season in the Championship.
Chris Wilder is a manager who has improved and evolved with every position he has taken following success at both Oxford United and Northampton Town. Many will expect the club to fall away at some point but there are many reasons to be optimistic.
You shall not pass: Sheffield United’s 2019/20 strengths so far
Giving the ball away in dangerous areas can be a costly problem for sides coming up from the second tier, but Sheffield United hardly do that at all. In fact, the Blades have only been dispossessed 99 times in the Premier League this season, less than all but four teams in 2019/20.
The biggest strength, however, has to be their superb defensive record in the top-flight this season. They, along with Leicester, have conceded the least number of goals during the campaign so far with just eight efforts finding the back of the Blades net. This is truly remarkable for a side that have just been promoted.
Wilder has also been able to field a fairly consistent line up this season with a system that his players not only know well, but also flourish in. His team produce unique attacking displays with centre backs that overlap, and they can make sure they don’t lose even when not at their best – a very rare trait.
The final major plus point for Sheffield United is their strength in the air. No side in the Premier League has won more aerial duels (263) than the Blades this season making them truly formidable.
Just have a pop: Sheffield United’s 2019/20 weaknesses so far
For every strength, there is a weakness and Chris Wilder’s side are no exception to this rule. They have netted 12 times this season but have managed the second-least shots (109) of any club. It is a worry, as you’d expect, for a side currently 6th to have registered the joint-least (32) number of shots on target as well.
If you don’t shoot, you don’t score, but if you don’t get into advanced areas then there is no shooting opportunity in the first place; so the Blades will need to look at the fact they’ve had the fourth-least number of touches in the opposition box (214), while their xG (13.14) is also in the bottom half.
It seems harsh to look for weaknesses in a side that are doing so well following promotion, but these will be areas Wilder is already planning to address knowing his relentless character, which is arguably Sheffield United’s biggest strength.
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Current position: 7th (16 points)
Average points per game: 1.45
The Cherries have a fantastic squad, a manager who knows the club inside out, and someone who is also a living legend on the South Coast. He was able to keep hold of his top talent this summer and has built on several seasons of consistent top-flight improvement.
Bournemouth are a side that have become almost fairy tale in nature to clubs in the lower leagues, such was their meteoric rise from the fourth division to the Premier League in just five seasons. Eddie Howe was there at the beginning of that journey and, apart from a brief stint at Burnley, has taken them to where they are now – a nod to the blessings of continuity – but that is only part of the story of their success so far.
Give him a chance and he will take it: Bournemouth’s 2019/20 strengths so far
Seven points from five games on the road is no mean feat in the Premier League and actually sticks the Cherries in the top seven best teams away from home.
Their overall play is very strong which, with the likes of Callum Wilson, Ryan Fraser and Joshua King in the side, is hardly surprising. Wilson has already netted five times and the fact that Bournemouth kept hold of their talisman this summer is a testament to the club’s ambitions. He is a huge asset to the team and will be relishing in their ability to create chances.
The Cherries have made 18 big chances this season in the top-flight which is the six-most in the division and with sharp-shooters like Wilson just waiting to pounce, it is a definite strength that sides like Crystal Palace would love to possess.
Get it in the box: Bournemouth’s 2019/20 weaknesses so far
Bournemouth are an interesting side when looking at the data. They have been doing really well in the league for the reasons mentioned above, but have a few key areas where improvement is needed.
They have not spent a lot of time in the opposition penalty area, with just 200 touches in the opposition box, the third-lowest in the division. They have also not taken as many shots as you’d expect considering their style of play with only 124 so far – lower than both Southampton and Watford.
This brings us nicely to our final point; Bournemouth have only netted seven times from open play this season, only three sides have scored less. Again you’d expect better from a side replete with such a talented squad, but time will tell whether this will improve as the campaign progresses or end up costing them a place in Europe.
Crystal Palace fans will be shocked that they are not mentioned on this list especially considering they are one of the best sides in 2019 as a whole, but the data offers a picture which suggests they may not be able to sustain their current league position.
The Eagles have had the third-least shots in the top-flight (114), while only Newcastle (7.99) have a worse open play xG that Roy Hodgson’s side (9.38).
They have also scored just 10 goals this season and have created the least big chances per game (0.64) – all of which are problematic when thinking about them finishing in the top six. Football is played on grass and not on spreadsheets, so it will be interesting to see how the 2019/20 season pans out for Palace.