3 head-turning starts to the Premier League season

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We are eight glorious weeks into the Premier League season, and there is already so much to discuss. Is Brendan Rodgers the next Claudio Ranieri? Can Manchester United still be considered Premier League nobility? Where even is Watford?

Here is an update on three teams that have stood out (for differing reasons) thus far.

 

The fantastic Foxes are at it again

Most rational soccer fans will agree that Leicester’s magical 2015-16 season was a one-off. It was certainly not a fluke, as the Foxes deserved every bit of their only Premier League title in club history, but in all likelihood, Leicester won’t do it again, right?

Perhaps we haven’t learned our lesson yet.

After eight games, the Foxes sit at fourth place with 14 points. Their only two losses thus far, which came against Manchester United and Liverpool, have been close and on the road: 1-0 to the Red Devils at Old Trafford and 2-1 to the unstoppable, undefeated Reds at Anfield. On match week six, the Foxes beat Tottenham 2-1 at King Power Stadium behind James Maddison’s thunderbolt in the 85th-minute. And just like the other elite Premier League clubs, the Foxes is picking bottom-half teams apart: a 3-1 win against Bournemouth and a 5-0 walloping of Newcastle are evidence of Leicester’s recent dominance.

The men behind the magic deserve recognition. It’s only fair to start with manager Brendan Rodgers, the catalyst for Leicester’s success over the last few months. Since the former Liverpool manager took charge following the sacking of Claude Puel in February of this year, the Foxes have earned a staggering 31 Premier League points, the third-most among Premier League clubs in that time period.

Jamie Vardy looks like the prolific striker he was in 2015-16. Over the first eight games of this season, the England international has scored five goals, which means he is on track to score 23 goals in league play alone.

The season is still young, but if Vardy can keep finding the back of the net with the help of creative midfielder James Maddison, there is no reason to rule out the impossible from happening yet again.

 

Oh dear, Ole Gunnar 

At 10 years old, I knew exactly what “too big to fail” looked like.

Well, not in the usual sense of the phrase. In my soccer-centered world, it looked like Manchester United, the third-most valuable soccer club in the world, worth $3.81 billion, and winners of 20 top division titles and three Champions League trophies.

As it turns out, nothing is too big to fail, including the Red Devils.

I should note that failure is relative. Bournemouth fans should be overjoyed that the Cherries are sitting at 10th place with 11 points. Manchester United, sitting at 12th place with nine points, has no cause for celebration.

After dismantling Chelsea 4-0 to start the season, Man U has struggled to find the back of the net. Excluding that victory over the Blues, the Red Devils have averaged 0.71 goals per game. The most egregious losses so far came against West Ham, Crystal Palace and Newcastle. In match week six, the Hammers kept a clean sheet as Man U fell to West Ham 2-0. Patrick van Aanholt’s 93rd-minute strike inside David de Gea’s near post secured a 2-1 Crystal Palace victory at Old Trafford. This past Saturday, relegation candidates Newcastle beat Man U 1-0 at St. James’ Park. Yikes.

Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær, a former Manchester United player himself from 1996-2007, is suddenly feeling the heat. This is the first season in 30 years that the Red Devils have failed to reach at least 10 points after seven games. Considering that next week’s matchup is against the high-flying Reds, I only see Manchester United’s start to the season getting worse.

The trouble with winning all the time is that Man U has to win all the time. Even with a relatively new manager and young players such as Marcus Rashford and Daniel James, fans expect nothing less than a title run year after year. There are still 30 games left to play, but Solskjær could be flipping through job listings in the local newspaper soon enough if the Red Devils don’t perform like the elite club they are, and soon.

 

What’s wrong with Watford?

Eight games, five losses, three draws and a million reasons for Hornets fans to worry.

Watford sits dead last in the Premier League with just three points. This time last year, they had 13.

The Hornets lost their opening game 3-0 to Brighton and Hove Albion. At home. Perhaps equally horrifying (but slightly less surprising) to Watford fans was their 8-0 capitulation at the hands of Manchester City two weeks ago. City had nearly 70% of the possession and 100% of the pride.

Watford, spearheaded in the attacking third by captain and club veteran Troy Deeney, is averaging 0.5 goals per game. No one on the team, including the usually consistent goalscorer Deeney, has had more than one goal so far.

The club signed out-of-favor Arsenal striker Danny Welbeck over the summer to bolster Watford’s thin front line, but he has yet to score in league play. Welbeck has only started one game so far this season, so perhaps Watford fans should give him more time to find his stride. But Arsène Wenger and Unai Emery gave him five years at Arsenal, and we all know how that worked out.

Poor starts have been overcome before. If Watford can scratch together 25 points by Christmas, manager Quique Sánchez Flores can relax; that is if he’s still manager at Christmas.

Early on in the season, it’s hard to say who will end up where. Leicester could fold, Solskjær could become the next Alex Ferguson and Watford could technically still qualify for the Champions League. With so much uncertainty, the only thing that can be said with confidence is that we’re in for yet another beautifully unpredictable season of Premier League soccer.

William Cooke covers men’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected].