Has Kane changed? Is Salah below his best? More things we’ve learned from Premier League so far

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On Thursday we highlighted how David de Gea’s performances have dipped, how Maurizio Sarri is transforming Chelsea and how one of the teams tipped for relegation can already consider themselves safe.

But what else have we learned from the opening weeks of the Premier League campaign?

While it is still early days, there are signs that Harry Kane’s game is evolving, Mohamed Salah is still searching for his scintillating 2017-18 form and the promoted sides are living up to pre-season expectations.

Kane’s game is changing

Kane has two goals and an assist so far in 2018-19 after an unusually productive August but, like Liverpool’s Salah, he is not quite the player we saw for most of last season.

A Kane performance used to mean a hatful of shots. Left foot, right foot, inside the box, long range, everything.

In 2017-18 the Tottenham man hit 184 of them; Salah was the only other player to reach three figures. But Kane still seems affected by the knocks he took earlier in the year (both the ankle injury in March and the variety pack of scrapes at the World Cup).

He has gone from averaging 2.2 shots on target per game in the Premier League last season to 0.94 in Russia, to 0.75 in the opening four matchdays.

Whether by design or damage, Kane is approaching games differently and yet he’s level on goals with the same point a year ago, so would no doubt argue that he knows exactly what he is doing.

Salah is not at the same level as last season – yet

The Premier League Golden Boot winner in 2017-18 and the first player to score 32 times in a 38-game season, Salah has a steep task trying to match his achievements last season.

At first glance, the Egyptian is doing fine, with two goals and an assist for a team who are top of the table – that is the same number of goals as in his first four matches last season.

Seasoned Salah watchers, though, will have noticed that he is just a fraction off his best, and the numbers bear that out.

The Liverpool player has had five clear-cut chances this season and has scored only one of them, compared to a roughly-one-in-two rate of 20 goals from 43 of them last season.

Salah is not alone in this early season rustiness, with the likes of Kane (no goals from four big chances), Christian Benteke (with the same figures as Kane), Gabriel Jesus (no goals from five) and Callum Wilson (no goals from six) all squandering multiple golden opportunities in the opening weeks.

Compare that to the most clinical clear-cut chance takers so far (Aleksandar Mitrovic scoring four from five and Glenn Murray scoring all three of his) and you can see how positively hitting the ground running (and, in Murray’s case, having a proper summer holiday) can shape a player’s seasonal narrative.

Promoted sides are living up to pre-season billing

We were told that this year’s new intake in the Premier League were going to be different. This happy bunch, Wolves and Fulham anyway, were not going to try to grind their way to survival. These teams had verve, these teams had vim.

Well, do they?

WOLVES: W1 D2 L1. Pass completion 80.3% (9th highest in PL), shots per game 12.0 (12th), possession 49% (10th)

Verdict: Only one win so far but Wolves became just the third Premier League team in 2018 to muster 10+ shots in a game against Manchester City and have impressed with their positive approach. Ruben Neves scored from long range on the opening weekend and now only needs five more to match his total from last season.

FULHAM: W1 D1 L2. Pass completion 85.3% (4th), shots per game 15.0 (6th), possession 56.9% (5th)

Verdict: Fulham have been a qualified delight so far, hitting as many shots per game as Tottenham (and more than Arsenal), and out-passing all but the big three of Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool. Clearly they need to convert this into a points per game rate of more than one (four points from four matches) but the signs are good.

CARDIFF: W0 D2 L2. Pass completion 64.6% (20th), shots per game 12.5 (9th), possession 38.5% (18th)

Verdict: Not in the bottom three yet, and that’s a win (for a team which has yet to actually win). Cardiff have been more attacking than many thought they would be and are in the top half for shots per game. It’s their defence that might just keep them up, though, and goalkeeper Neil Etheridge has saved five of the seven clear-cut chances he’s faced this season, including two penalties.

Red cards are back in fashion

Remember the 2018 World Cup? Remember how there were only four dismissals in the entire tournament?

A new era of considered justice was said to have descended on the game, and yet a few weeks into the new Premier League campaign red cards are red hot again.

Nine have been brandished already (with Everton leading the way on two), meaning that 2018-19 is currently running at 0.23 red cards per game. No previous Premier League season has gone above 0.19.

Curiously, last season saw one of the lowest red card rates (0.103). Could the Premier League officials have seen how VAR altered refereeing requirements during the World Cup, and, relishing perhaps one final domestic league season without it, have engaged in a frenzy of dismissals? Or is it just an early-season spike that will even out over the coming months?

History offers hope for West Ham after pointless start

Four defeats from four leaves West Ham bottom of the Premier League, yet they have history on their side when it comes to surviving.

Twelve months ago both Bournemouth and Crystal Palace lost their first four games, yet finished in 12th and 11th respectively.

Six years ago Southampton did the same, and since football resumed after the Second World War, only seven of 23 teams to start an English top-flight season with four straight defeats have gone down.

Now each team’s season is obviously a unique beast but there’s a bone of hope for Hammers fans to chew on as the Premier League returns after the international break.

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