What’s eating Jose Mourinho? How have Leicester defied expectations? Why do Tottenham always wait until the 11th hour before attempting to act in the transfer market? Why do Sunderland invariably resemble a bad pub team in the early stages of a season? And why are so many teams struggling so badly in front of their own fans?
That last question is particularly intriguing, especially for those with a fondness for accumulators.
The opening 30 games have yielded just six successes for the home sides, with Crystal Palace the only hosts to prevail last weekend. And even they needed a late goal from Bakary Sako to snatch a 2-1 win over Aston Villa.
So is this trend an early-season quirk or a sign of the type of unpredictability that makes the Premier League special? The unpredictability argument is undermined by the fact that even this early in the season, you know who will occupy the top six, although predicting the order is significantly trickier. There may be surprises along the way but over a gruelling nine-month campaign the teams with the deepest pockets and biggest squads will begin to assert their authority and a home win rate that currently stands at just 20% will rise.
While accepting that three rounds of games is a small sample, the extent to which home teams are struggling is notable.
West Ham are perhaps the most extreme case. How can a team that looked so organised and slick in stunning Arsenal at the Emirates on the opening weekend look so shambolic in losing at home at Leicester and new-boys Bournemouth? Even those that have enjoyed their home comforts have done so unconvincingly. Think back to Manchester United’s 1-0 win over Tottenham in the season’s opening game or Liverpool’s unconvincing success over Bournemouth, a win made possible by two highly contentious refereeing decisions.
Perhaps fittingly, leaders Manchester City are one of the few to buck the trend, producing a stylish, energetic display to overwhelm champions Chelsea 3-0.
However, such displays have been in short supply. Why? Perhaps part of the explanation lies in the season starting a week earlier than normal. Many teams — Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham to name but a few — have looked undercooked and sluggish, although it’s hard to feel too much sympathy as many clubs followed the money by going on energy-sapping pre-season tours throughout the world.
Then there’s the striker issue, more specifically the striker shortage. Manchester United and Arsenal both look a prolific marksman short, Chelsea have gambled on Radamel Falcao as back-up for Diego Costa while Tottenham’s reliance on Harry Kane has contributed to their failure to win any of the opening three games. Identifying the problem is relatively straight-forward, finding a solution is far less so.
Arsenal’s misfiring start has been surprising given the optimism they brought into the campaign based on the momentum and consistency Arsene Wenger’s men showed in the second half of last season.
Two home games and five dropped points later and the Gunners are already playing catch up. Winning at Newcastle in today’s kick-off already seems essential.
“We’ve had not the ideal start, we are conscious of that,” Wenger conceded this week having offered an explanation for Arsenal’s start that was as unconvincing as his side’s slapdash defending against Liverpool in a game that somehow ended goalless on Monday night. “Teams come and defend very deep at home so as long as you don’t score the first goal, it’s maybe a little bit more difficult to open the defences,” Wenger said. “In the recent two games that’s maybe what happened to us.” The first half on Monday night would suggest Liverpool in no way parked the bus. Instead they were rampant, giving a makeshift Arsenal defence a torrid time. Were it not for Petr Cech’s brilliance, Arsenal would have lost their opening two home league games for the first time since 1949.
In Wenger’s defence the second half saw Arsenal improve and Liverpool were forced back although the hosts failed to capitalise on such territorial domination.
It may, perhaps, be easier at times to play away from home as, with the onus on the hosts to attack, visitors get more space in which to do damage.
Stats back this theory up. Away wins have accounted for more than 30% of total victories in three of the past four seasons, including the highest mark of 32.4% in the 2013/14 campaign.
Crystal Palace are the perfect example as, despite benefitting from boisterous support at Selhurst Park, they were more successful on the road than at home last season, winning 27 of their 48 points away from home.
That trend may well continue this season as they now have Yohan Cabaye, a player with the passing range and guile to find speedsters such as Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha.
Chelsea, who the Eagles face at Stamford Bridge today, can expect a stern test.