Five things we learned from Premier League GW20
Photo: Getty Images - Clive Brunskill/Fantasista

Five things we learned from Premier League GW20

There were changes down at the bottom and big results at the top end this week.

grantmcquillan
Grant McQuillan

We are 20 games in to the 2018/19 Premier League season, and gameweek 20 has brought the curtain down in typical, Premier League fashion for 2018. In other words, there were a lot of surprises yet again.

There was a lot of movement down at the bottom of the table. Fulham, Burnley and Cardiff City all claimed three points, whilst Huddersfield Town, Southampton and Crystal Palace all lost, with Newcastle United adding the solitary point to their poor Premier League season, giving them slight breathing space.

At the top of the table, Liverpool continued to wow us all, as they hammered Arsenal 5-1 at Anfield, whilst Tottenham Hotspur are now nine points adrift from the Reds, after a shocking 3-1 loss at home to Wolves, just as Mauricio Pochettino's men looked like challenging for the title.

Champions Manchester City resumed their normal service with a 3-1 victory over Southampton, although doing in not so entirely convincing fashion, whilst Chelsea also got back to winning ways with a 0-1 victory over Palace at Selhurst Park.

Also in this week's action, Brighton & Hove Albion continue to impress, West Ham United and Everton prove why they remain a mid-table side and Bournemouth continue to gradually slip back down to the dark end of the table.

Huge week in the relegation scrap

This week was arguably the biggest thus far for the bottom end. There was a bottom of the table clash, as Fulham claimed three points over Huddersfield, sticking the Terriers to the bottom, five points from safety.

Burnley claimed just their second home victory of the season, as they turned back the clock to last year by impressively brushing aside West Ham United 2-0 at Turf Moor.

Southampton's slight resurgence under Ralph Hasenhüttl was hampered in a defeat to champions Man City, despite giving it a real go, and at one stage even drawing level at 1-1.

Cardiff perhaps got the result of the weekend when they beat Leicester City at the King Power Stadium, thanks to a stunning injury-time winner from Victor Camarasa.

Also at the bottom half of the table, Newcastle picked up a vital point away to Watford, putting them three points clear of safety, whilst Crystal Palace's victory at the Etihad two weeks ago is proving to be as important as it was stunning, as they lost for the second week running, this time at home to Chelsea.

However, after these results, Huddersfield have come out the worst, and seem more doomed than ever. They are five points from safety and offering no real threat to those around them. Simply put, right now, Huddersfield are not good enough. It's seven losses on the bounce since their fantastic 0-2 victory at Molineux, and in total scored just 12 goals in 20 games thus far.

Fulham's late victory over Huddersfield may prove vital for Claudio Ranieri come May, but, for now, despite how important the three points were, the Cottagers still look a favourite to go down with David Wagner's men, as they are three points from safety.

The real winners from this week were Cardiff, however. Their victory and Southampton's loss has put them three clear of the drop, and, in turn, pulling Newcastle right back into it. Neil Warnock and Rafa Benitez's sides are now level on points with 18.

Huddersfield are unquestionably the favourites for the drop, but, three weeks ago, so were Cardiff. It's proving an impossible race to call, and right now there is an argument for anyone as high as Crystal Palace in 14th to be sent packing.

FACT: Cardiff picked up maximum points away from home in the Premier League for the first time since the 12th April 2014, where they beat Southampton at St Mary's 0-1.

It's about time we praised Chris Hughton and Brighton

Speaking of relegation, usually, we include Chris Hughton and Brighton & Hove Albion in that bunch, but that is far from the case this campaign.

Hughton accumulated extremely impressive numbers in the Championship winning it in record-breaking fashion with Newcastle in 09/10 and finishing runner-up with Brighton in 16/17, thus achieving Premier League status for a second time, and the reason behind why Brighton remain here today.

Life in the top flight for the ex-Republic of Ireland man has been different, however. Sacked by Newcastle in 2010 due to a poor start, and sacked by Norwich four years later when they were just one place above relegation in April of that season.

But, now, in 2018, Hughton has well established himself as a strong and dependable Premier League manager on the south coast, and his days as a worrisome relegation-fighter seem to be behind him for now.

The ex-Tottenham man has unquestionably been essential to Brighton's stay in the Premier League. He has turned the Amex into a daunting place for visitors, losing just four games there in Brighton's first Premier League season last year, and that home form has continued way into this season, also, losing there just twice so far.

Brighton and Hughton are fitting like a glove at the moment, and although they fought relegation all season long last campaign, they comfortably remained in the top flight with seven points breathing space come May, and this campaign, they are even more homely, sitting ten points clear of the drop already. 

There have been many teams that have failed to make life in the top flight a long one. QPR, Reading, Fulham, Norwich and Birmingham are just a few teams that have struggled to remain, and many envisioned Brighton would do the same, which, was a very fair statement. 

But with an impressive home record which includes consecutive victories over Manchester United and a solitary win over Arsenal and most recently Everton, Brighton and Hughton are looking like top-flight regulars.

FACT: Brighton have only lost two of their last 13 Premier League matches on home soil (W6 D5), scoring at least once in each fixture.

One hand on the trophy already for Liverpool?

It was mentioned in last weeks 'five things', where we talked about why Liverpool could be champions. Jurgen Klopp's winning mentality, their impressive and in-depth squad and their elite players were the reasons. 

But, what was not mentioned was the lack of fight from Spurs and City. Back-to-back losses from Pep Guardiola's men before their victory against Southampton this week, and now a shock home loss for Spurs against Wolves has quite comfortably put Liverpool as favourites for the title.

Their obliteration of Arsenal keep them unbeaten and only three other teams have been unbeaten at this stage of a Premier League campaign (Man United 2010/11, Chelsea 2004/05, Man City 2017/18). All three previously won the league title, which says it all, really.

Liverpool are not just beating teams now, they're beginning to embarrass them. Winning 5-1 against one of the best teams in the league is one thing, but when the best striker in the league at the moment in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang completes just ten passes in the 71 minutes he was on the pitch, six of them coming from kick-off, you start to make teams look silly.

They're still unbeaten, have only conceded eight goals, scored 40 in 20 games, and teams around them are slipping up. In truth, if they didn't win it from this point, it would be an almighty upset.

With City's 100-point haul and record-breaking season last campaign, you simply cannot rule them out just by being seven points behind. But, the question is not if City can keep up, it's who is going to stop Liverpool, allowing City to catch them.

If you think about it, Liverpool may not just win the league, they may potentially go unbeaten, because nobody looks like stopping them. If the 18-time First Division winners continue their current form, they may go down as one of, if not, the best ever Premier League team. Period. Because right now, the statistics prove that.

FACT: Only Chelsea (55 in 2005-06) and Manchester City (58 in 2017-18) have ever had more points at this stage in Premier League history. Both seasons by Chelsea and City were record breaking at their time by most goals, most wins and most points.

Unai Emery has done nothing Arsene Wenger couldn't  have done so far

Arsenal fans were in pieces when they lost their opening two games of the season to City and Chelsea. It looked like Wenger hadn't even left, but Unai Emery went on a 22-game unbeaten streak after that in all competitions. Very impressive. Or is it?

This is because their record this season as a whole breaks down to four losses, five draws and 11 wins, whilst conceding 25 and scoring 40. This has also only put Arsenal in fifth, five points off fourth, and with a revitalised Man United in sixth catching up on the Gunners week by week, 22-games unbeaten only really sounds good, rather than actually having any impact.

The majority of Arsenal fans are happy with the appointment of Emery, however. But, to put his first five months in charge into perspective, after 20 games in Arsene Wenger's last season, Arsenal had only three points less with 35 points, but Wenger conceded five goals fewer, although Emery's side have bagged three more.

So, yes, in theory, Emery has improved Arsenal when compared to Wenger's final campaign last year, but it is only by three points more, forcing the question: 'What has Emery done that Wenger couldn't have done?'

One area where the Spaniard has to be praised is the transfer market. Bringing in young talents in Lucas Torreira and Mattéo Guendouzi have proved to be two of the signings of the summer, whilst Bernd Leno and Sokratis Papastathopoulos have not lived up to expectations as of yet, but the potential is there.

Emery is unquestionably getting the best out of Aubameyang, though. But, considering the ex-Sevilla boss is just three points better off than Wenger was last year, maybe he isn't all that he lived up to.

The Spaniard has been welcomed with open arms, and adored thus far from the Emirates faithful, but, in truth, there is no evidence whatsoever to prove his worth right now.

FACT: Arsenal have conceded 30 goals in the first 20 games so far. This is their worst ever defensive record in Premier League history at the 20-game point.

Mourinho really was the problem

When Ole Gunnar Solskjaer beat Cardiff 1-5 in South Wales, most of us thought it was just a stunning performance that meant little. Then, Manchester United go on and dispatch Huddersfield in similar fashion winning 3-1 at Old Trafford, and now, they have just beaten Bournemouth 4-1 in frighteningly good style.

It all seems a little too odd to be true, doesn't it? Was 'the special one' truly that bad? The fact that Man United have scored 12 goals in three games under Solskjaer, after netting just 20 in 17 under Jose Mourinho says that yes, somehow, one of the greatest managers of all time truly was having a nightmare of a time at the helm.

Goals under the Norwegian add up to an almighty 27.5% of United's Premier League goals in total, and he has only been there for just three games.

One of the best ways to show how poor of a job Mourinho did is the astonishing form of Paul Pogba, the man who constantly stole the headlines for his poor performances under MourinhoThe Frenchman has four goals and three assists in Solskjaer's three games, which is putting him in great stead for the Player of the Month award for December.

Mourinho played Pogba completely out of position, which quite easily sums up how wrong Mourinho got things. Solskjaer comes in, Pogba returns to the top, Rashford also, whilst the entire team looks like a team Sir Alex Ferguson would be proud of. It's all a bit too coincidental.

The real test for Solskjaer will come within the next two months. Let's get real, Bournemouth are in dreadful form, conceding 12 goals in their last five before their Old Trafford visit, whilst Cardiff and Huddersfield are relegation-fighters. So, even without a manager at all, they'd be expected to win.

Games are coming thick and fast now, with the FA Cup next weekend, trips to St. James Park and Wembley in the Premier League afterwards, and then the visit of Paris Saint Germain in the UEFA Champions League, after games against Burnley, Brighton and Fulham in domestic action.

Yes, Solskjaer's had an easy start, but he has got United playing arguably the best football post-Ferguson, and unquestionably playing better than any other Mourinho Manchester United side. So, yes, it really must of been a Jose problem.

FACT: Pobga was the first player to score multiple goals in consecutive games since Wayne Rooney in December 2012. The first time this has happen since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.

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