Unpredictability has long been a core part of the Premier League’s appeal. While other European leagues are in the grips of a duopoly or even monopoly (see the Bundesliga and Ligue 1), England’s top flight has produced four different champions in the last six years (Chelsea, Leicester City, Liverpool and Manchester City).
Even by this precedent, though, this season promises to be one for the ages with four different teams capable of winning the Premier League title. Indeed, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United all have their sights set on silverware with not much to separate them on the pitch and in the table.
City entered the season as defending champions with Pep Guardiola’s side among the most accomplished English football has ever seen. However, there are questions over how the Etihad Stadium outfit will compensate for their lack of a central striker after the failure to lure Harry Kane from Tottenham Hotspur in the summer transfer window.
Guardiola has used Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Raheem Sterling and Ferran Torres in the central attacking role with each player bringing something different to the position. No Premier League team averages a greater share of possession than City (63.8%) and the defending champions are doing a good job of translating this dominance with the ball into goal – City are the joint-third top scorers and are averaging more shots per game (18.1) than any other side besides Liverpool (21).
Where Manchester City are trailing some of their rivals is in the conversion of the chances they are creating. While Liverpool average 7.6 shots on target per game, and Manchester United 6.0, Guardiola’s side are averaging just 4.9 shots on target per Premier League outing. This points to their lack of a true penalty box poacher.
However, they say defences win titles and Manchester City measure up well in this regard too – no team concedes fewer shots per game than the champions (6.0). Chelsea also look to be well-equipped at the back having won last season’s Champions League title thanks to the sound defensive principles Thomas Tuchel instilled in his team.
On the flip side, this is where Manchester United might find their title chances compromised. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side have made good progress over the last two seasons, but the Norwegian has yet to prove he can organise a solid defence even after the signing of world class centre back Raphael Varane from Real Madrid this summer.
United are conceding 11.0 shots per game. While this is a higher number than most City and Liverpool are charting, it is lower than Chelsea’s average of 11.6 shots conceded per game, interestingly enough. The statistics illustrate how dependent both Solskjaer and Tuchel’s teams have been on their goalkeepers so far this season.
Edouard Mendy boasts the highest save percentage in the Premier League having stopped 95% of the shots he has faced this season. David de Gea’s save percentage stands at just 73.9%, but the Manchester United number one has still managed to rack up 18 saves in just seven league appearances.
Liverpool have been largely overlooked in the discussion around this season’s Premier League title race, but Jurgen Klopp’s team might just be the most complete outfit. Virgil van Dijk’s return from injury has restored the Reds’ defensive structure while Trent Alexander-Arnold is back to his best (only four Premier League players have made more crosses than the Liverpool right back this season).
If, however, Liverpool are to repeat their success of the 2019/20 season, it’ll likely be on the back of Mohamed Salah’s brilliance. The Egyptian is quite simply the most devastating attacking force in the Premier League right now, averaging 5.4 shot-creating actions per game. He also has six goals in seven games.
Premier League Title
At their best, Manchester United can match anyone for final third firepower. Their attack of Edinson Cavani, Mason Greenwood, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho supported by Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba has the potential to blow away the rest of the competition at the top of the Premier League.
Solskjaer has still to find a system that harnesses all of them, though. Even still, United could challenge through Ronaldo’s sheer will power. The Portugese forward has three goals from his first four Premier League appearances and he certainly figures in the Ballon d’Or conversation. Meanwhile, Pogba’s intervention might also be a deciding factor – the Frenchman is leading the division for goal-creating actions per 90 minutes (1.37).
The Premier League has yet to produce a four-way scrap for the title that goes to the wire, but that could change this season. There are good reasons to argue the case for each of Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United to finish top of the pile. The underlying data could point towards the champion in-waiting.