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The Premier League at the International Break Part 2: The Top-half

In my previous piece, I examined the favorites and current top three of the Premier League: Manchester City, Liverpool, and Arsenal. Now, we turn our attention to the rest of the pack, starting with the clubs that make up the upper echelon of the rest of the table: Tottenham Hotspur, Aston Villa, Manchester United, Newcastle United, Brighton and Hove Albion, West Ham, and Chelsea.

Tottenham came out of the traps flying to start their season, going without a defeat through October (eight wins, two draws), although two consecutive losses slightly dimmed the shine from their early results. The squad scored the fewest goals, 24, and has the lowest expected goals differential among the top five in the table, +0.6. The real story of their season thus far has been the tactics of new manager Ange Postecoglou. The Australian coach brought a fearless, high-pressing style to the London side not seen since Maurizio Pochettino left the club in 2019.

Gone are the days of the defense-focused, risk-averse game catenaccio model instilled by Italian manager Antonio Conte. Spurs will get in your face and press until their legs give out. Spurs are also unafraid to build out from the back using goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario. When asked why he decided to keep his high defensive line against Chelsea on November 6, even after being reduced to only nine players, the manager, affectionately known as Big Ange, answered plainly, “It's who we are, mate.”

Rounding out the European positions, Aston Villa sit fifth in the table with eight wins, one draw, and three losses. This season was the first to feature an entire offseason and summer transfer window for manager Unai Emery, who came in for Steven Gerrard after his firing last October. The Villans have a perfect 6-0-0 home record at Villa Park, a record only matched by Liverpool at Anfield. Their 23 goals scored in front of the home supporters is the most in the league, while their 29 goals from 23.5 xG in the Premier League is second only to Manchester City.

Villa has one of the most prolific attacks in the Premier League. Opponents have held them under three goals just four times this season. They netted six against Brighton, four against Everton and West Ham, and three against Burnley, Crystal Palace, Luton Town, and Fulham. English forward Ollie Watkins scored or assisted on eleven of them. Exciting times are unfolding in the West Midlands.

If Aston Villa is surprising for all the right reasons, then Manchester United is for all the wrong reasons. A lot of ink has been spilled discussing United’s struggles this season, but no matter how you look at it, this has to be the most uncomfortable sixth-place team in the world (seven wins, five losses).

According to estimations by Spotrac, United spends the most of any club on player salaries in the English top flight. Yet, they've got the same goal differential as Everton, scored fewer goals than Nottingham Forest, won fewer games than Villa, generated lower xG than West Ham, and barely as many points per game as Brighton, all clubs that they outspend by hundreds of millions of British pounds.

Breathing down Manchester United’s neck is Newcastle United. The Magpies have six wins, two draws, and four losses. Howe’s Tyneside revolution was one of the headline stories of the Premier League last season, and they don’t appear to have lost a step despite having to fit European football into their schedule for the first time since the early 2000s.

Unfortunately, Italian midfield maestro Sandro Tonali, their marquee signing of the transfer window, won’t see any more playing time this campaign due to his gambling ban. Still, the Magpies’ 27 goals, led by striker Callum Wilson (7 goals) and Alexander Isak (6 goals), are the fourth-most in the top flight this season, as is their +14 GD.

Alongside Newcastle on the outside looking in is Brighton and Hove Albion on five wins, four draws, and three losses. Roberto De Zerbi’s Seagulls made headlines with their possession play last season and have continued to impress on the ball in 2023. They’re second in the league with 61.4% possession, and only Man City sees more of the ball. Yet they’ve been unable to transfer that time on the ball into goals, scoring just 23, only two more than West Ham.

Standout Irish international striker Evan Ferguson leads the side with five goals, while Japan international Kaoru Mitoma’s 26 successful take-ons are the sixth-most in the Premiership. Although some may claim that opponents have figured out de Zerbi’s tactics, they’re more likely experiencing some growing pains as they go through the club’s first-ever European campaign.

West Ham sit ninth on five wins, two draws, and five losses as they look to finish in the top half of the table for the first time since 2021-22. They lead the English top flight in goals created from set pieces with five, four of which were created by newcomer James Ward-Prowse.

However, the Hammers have allowed 22 goals, making them the leakiest defense outside the relegation zone. On the brighter side, Jerod Bowen has eight league goals, a figure only Mohammed Salah and Son bested. And they did knock Arsenal out of the EFL Cup and defeated Chelsea in league play 3-1.

Chelsea rounds out the top ten with four wins, four draws, and four losses. The Blues have the second-youngest squad in the Premier League after a firesale in the transfer window that saw the departure of 25 players, including veterans N'Golo Kante, Kalidou Koulibaly, and Mateo Kovacic, which enabled the club to sign several younger players, Like Christopher Nkuku and Nicolas Jackson.

However, the most notable new arrival at Stamford Bridge is former Man City academy product Cole Palmer. He has four goals and two assists in nine starts and scored against his former club in the 4-4 shootout before the international break. As a squad, however, Chelsea is underperforming their xG by the widest margin in the league, -5.2. But I fully expect them to turn their performances around before too long.

That rounds out the top ten spots in the table. While it seems unlikely any of these teams will knock City, Liverpool, or Arsenal off the podium, there are still two European spots up for grabs worth fighting for. The odds-makers favor Tottenham (+3300), Newcastle (+10000), and Aston Villa (+15000), but don't be surprised if Chelsea (+25000) regains their footing sooner rather than later and make a push for the top five.

(Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)


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