English Premier League: Biggest Surprises Going into Week 8
The English Premier League throws up surprises every season, but this term's competition is already generating attention-grabbing headlines after a mere seven games. This being professional football, some of those headlines are for the better and some for the worse—depending on which team you call your own.
With no single team a seemingly obvious choice to win the Premier League this season, the likelihood is that more surprises are sure to follow as each club's form goes through peaks and troughs.
Seeing as Week 8 kicks off Saturday, the following slides highlight the eight biggest surprises of the season.
Sneak preview: yes, of course, Southampton has made the list.
Lack of Goals
Famous around the world for providing an exciting, high-tempo blend of football, the 2013/14 Premier League has thus far been surprising bereft of goals.
Compared to Europe's next three biggest leagues—Spain's La Liga, Germany's Bundesliga and Italy's Series A—the English Premier League ranks lowest on total goals scored and highest on the number of 0-0 draws.
Going through the goals scored column on each the aforementioned leagues provides the following totals:
Total Goals Scored Thus Far In 2013/14 Season
Premier League: 162
Serie A: 208
La Liga: 225
Seeing as the Bundesliga features only 18 teams, resulting in one fewer fixture per week, it's the German league that is comfortably the highest scoring of Europe's elite divisions.
Also worth noting is that La Liga and the Bundesliga have played eight games each, while the Premier League and Serie A have completed only seven.
However, simple maths tells us that at the current scoring rate the Premier League is on course to score 185 goals after eight matches—significantly fewer than the rest of Europe, including the famously defensive Italians.
The numbers for 0-0 draws make for equally depressing reading.
Total number of 0-0 draws
Premier League: 7
Serie A: 6
La Liga: 4
It seems the best defensive could well end up being this season's most valuable commodity.
Speaking of the best defence...
The Saints Go Marching on
Southampton, currently sitting in fourth, find themselves occupying a UEFA Champions League spot. How many Saints fans would have thought that possible just three years ago when the club were languishing in the third tier of British football?
While good things were expected from Southampton before the start of the season, their early-season form has surprised everyone.
The key to Southampton's brilliant start has been their defensive solidarity, which ranks as the best in the Premier League with only two goals conceded over seven games.
To put that into perspective, Chelsea have the league's second-best defensive record with four goals conceded.
This Saturday Southampton travel to Old Trafford.
While Manchester United may not be in the best of form, a good result at the home of the current Premier League champions will raise eyebrows even further and have Saints fans dreaming about what the rest of this year's campaign holds.
The Form of Manchester United
While Southampton find themselves exceeding expectations, Manchester United are very much failing to hit par. With three defeats out of seven, much needs to change.
New manager David Moyes has, within reason, some breathing room to make mistakes in his inaugural year in charge at Old Trafford. After all, no one is deluded enough to think that taking over the mantel from one of world football's most successful ever figures is an easy task.
Presently, Moyes seems to be struggling to work out just what his best line-up is.
The constant shuffling of the starting 11 is having an adverse effect on the performance of a number of key players, not least last season's top scorer, Robin van Persie.
Of course, the good news is that Moyes has plenty of time to right the ship.
With 31 league games remaining and none of the top teams looking 100 percent convincing, there's every chance for Man Utd to rebound and get themselves back into a familiar position at the top of the table.
The Form of Mathieu Flamini
While Mesut Ozil has been stealing the hearts of Arsenal fans this season, it would be an injustice to forget the quiet impact of returning holding midfielder Mathieu Flamini.
Re-signing Flamini in August did nothing to calm the anger Arsenal fans were venting over the summer at a lack of money being spent on top-quality players—this, of course, was before Ozil joined the club.
However, Arsene Wenger's faith in the Frenchman seems to be paying off on the field.
While the rest of Arsenal's midfield is concerned with flying forward and creating the 14 league goals they've scored this season, Flamini acts as a stabilising safety net.
Flamini, who's ranked third in the league in pass-completion percentage, per WhoScored.com, is the unsung hero who allows everyone else the freedom to shine.
Having been set back significantly with injuries over the past four years while at AC Milan, the question that still hovers over Flamini is whether he's capable of surviving an entire season of domestic and continental competition intact.
With only six goals this term, only the league's bottom five teams have scored less than Tottenham Hotspur.
Their failure to score is even more surprising when you delve into the stats.
Spurs have recorded an average of 18.7 shots per game this season—more than any other Premier League team. Additionally, Andros Townsend has more shots per game (4.3) than any other player in the league but has yet to find the net (stats per WhoScored.com).
New striker Roberto Soldado has been disappointingly weak in the goals column.
Prior to arriving in London, the Spaniard averaged better than a goal every two games for Valencia over a three-year period. At Spurs he has just two in seven appearances, both of which have been scored via penalties.
Tottenham's excellent defensive record has meant that they find themselves just three points from the top of the table, though.
For Andre Villas-Boas' team to put together a title challenge, they must make better use of the chances they're creating.
Liverpool Joint-Top of the Table
Liverpool were expected to improve this term, but joint-top of the table after seven games was beyond most preseason expectations.
Defensive quality (only five conceded in seven games) and the early-season form of Daniel Sturridge has seen Brendan Rodgers' team being spoken about as title contenders.
The return of Luis Suarez and his seemingly natural relationship with Sturridge has only added further reason for Liverpool fans to be optimistic.
Rodgers has changed the team's formation to 3-5-2 in a bid to accommodate both Sturridge and Suarez in their natural positions. With three goals in his first two league games this season, Suarez seems to be enjoying the switch in tactics.
Suarez's record is one of the reasons he is one of this week's top five Premier League fantasy football prospects as Liverpool travel to Newcastle Saturday.
There seems to be little wrong with Liverpool's starting 11; however the depth of the squad is questionable. Keeping the players fit could well become the key to success at Anfield this season.
This is a far cry from the undefeated Arsenal "Invincibles" of the 2003/04 season or Jose Mourinho's Chelsea of 2004/05 that lost just one of their 38 games.
While no club is realistically expected to go an entire season without losing in the modern era, for all teams to have tasted the bitterness of defeat after less than one-fifth of the campaign comes as a surprise.
Unpredictability seems to be the name of the game this season.
Highly fancied Manchester City, for example, have seen defeats against Aston Villa and newly promoted Cardiff. On the flip side, they looked like world-beaters in a 4-1 home victory over rivals Manchester United.
The lesson, then, is that nothing can be taken for granted this season.
Poor, Poor Fulham
Fulham were not expected to challenge for the Champions League this season, but they weren't expected to be in the drop zone either.
After seven games, Fulham find themselves 18th in the Premier League with seven points out of a possible 21.
More worrying, though, are the negative trends that the club has set.
Both offensively and defensively, Martin Jol's club find themselves at the wrong of the shots-per-game statistic.
At present, Fulham are allowing teams 19.7 shots on their goal every game, the most in the Premier League. Additionally, Fulham's own 8.3 shots per game is the lowest in the league.
Having already lost four games this season and only having beaten struggling Sunderland and Stoke, a rethink at Fulham is badly needed.