Squawka Guest Blog: The Unsustainables? How Safe Is Betting On A Bright Start To A New Season?


Riyad Mahrez, Dimitri Payet, Odion Ighalo, Callum Wilson: names that will now always be noteworthy in the historical record of the Premier League.

Yet whether these individuals will ultimately be remembered on merit and appreciated as players of genuine class, or doomed to become obscure answers to the football pub quiz questions of the future is still to be decided. Nobody wants to be the new Amir Zaki.

For now though, these names have only proven themselves to be the league’s quickest starters -- the footballers who have enjoyed the biggest jolts of form (and fluke) off the line to overshadow some of their more established peers in the Premier League six games into a new season.

To propel themselves beyond the realms of mere trivia they need to find some consistency and a touch of fortune to turn these bright, if uncertain, beginnings into something more solid and substantial.

After barely escaping relegation last year, Leicester City are two points ahead of Arsenal in fourth, in large part due to the unexpected goalscoring feats and creativity of Mahrez from the wings. Though the Algerian may have signed for the Foxes all the way back in January 2014, so far this season he has notched up a superior tally in just five games to either of his previous two campaigns in England.

 The top 10 Premier League performers so far this season, ranked by their Squawka Performance Score.   

Payet on the other hand is a new arrival in the Premier League this season at West Ham, yet that hasn’t stopped him from continuing from where he left off at Marseille. The French playmaker was one of the most prolific chance creators across Europe’s top five leagues last season, finishing ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo for assists, and just behind the all-star trio of Lionel Messi, Cesc Fabregas and Kevin De Bruyne.

In terms of chances created in total, he was unmatched, and has already conjured up 19 opportunities for him new teammates in east London, although only two of those chances have been finished off so far.

 How Payet compared with the most productive assist-makers across Europe’s top five leagues last season.

Meanwhile, both Ighalo and Wilson have both rocketed up the top scorer charts, with four and five goals respectively, in six games -- two strikers who will be relied upon to shoot their relatively unfancied clubs, Watford and Bournemouth, to Premier League survival this season.

Wilson, alongside Mahrez, currently leads the way in the division, and while his success so far against top-flight defences may not be a complete surprise for those who watched in the Championship last season, his billing as joint top scorer was not expected.

The Premier League’s top scorers after six games. 

Neither was Ighalo tipped to be as effective so soon after making his move to the Hornets permanent from their sister club, Granada, though he has benefitted greatly from the selfless and so far under-rewarded hard work of his striker partner, Troy Deeney.

Back Callum Wilson or Odion Ighalo to score 16 or more goals in the Premier League this season at 17/25 or 17/10, respectively.

These early adrenaline levels will drop however, and as the element of surprise fades away, their opponents will soon grow wise to their strengths, tricks and flaws. It is then, as the extent of the marathon ahead draws into view, that their real quality is put to the test over the course of a gruelling full-length league campaign.

Class XI vs. Form XI: the Premier League underperformers with pedigree against players whose early form may prove to be temporary.

Having a strong past record to fall back on certainly helps to bolster confidence in a player whose reliability as a Premier League performer may still be in question. In his previous two seasons with Marseille, Payet scored 15 goals and created 23 assists in 72 Ligue 1 appearances, creating 199 chances in total. That’s not a bad bit of supportive evidence to back up the case that his early sharpness will not waiver in the months to come.

An illustrious CV hardly helped Angel Di Maria to maintain his level after an exciting start to life in England last year however, after becoming Manchester United’s record signing in the summer of 2014.

 

Di Maria’s decline in form as captured by his Squawka Performance Score graph. Early peaks soon petered out.

The Argentinian looked to be an immediate success, notching up six assists and three goals in his first 10 appearances, but injury and off-field problems soon led to the attacking midfielder losing his focus and his form frittered away.

Fans of the Hammers will be hoping the drop-off of Stewart Downing last season will not be instructive as to what may become of Payet, should he regress back to a less impressive mean level as time goes on. The former England international was the man who played the role of catalyst for the Irons in the hole during Sam Allardyce’s final campaign in charge.

By the start of January 2015, the winger-turned-playmaker had crafted six assists for his team-mates in 18 games -- not bad -- but only managed to add another two by the end of May, though the fall in effectiveness could easily be blamed on other factors, most notably a change in formation.

With mid-table stability assured, and the club coming to the decision that Big Sam’s contract would not be renewed around Christmas, West Ham eased off in the second-half of the season. With the popular and more attack-minded Slaven Bilic now in charge, a similar easing off post-December seems unlikely. All eyes are on Payet to continue to produce the goods.

Mahrez and Leicester will be keen to ensure their own early jump into the top four will not give way to a tumble back down into the relegation battle at the foot of the table. Yet the Algerian also has previous that his supporters and punters can look to arrest any fears of a fall back into a dangerous sense of disarray.

 

The most prolific dribblers per game in the Premier League so far.

It was the decision of former Foxes manager, Nigel Pearson, to make the winger the focal point of his team’s attack that partly helped to ignite their incredible run of seven wins from nine to climb out of the mire and into safety in early May.

Then, just as now, his main weakness lies in his selfishness on the ball. If only he showed a greater willingness to play others in, he might be able to offer more to his new manager, Claudio Raneri, should his regular solo efforts on goal lose their potency.

A look upon the quick starters of seasons gone by makes for some interesting, if inconclusive reading. Going back to 2012/13 and with six games played, Newcastle United’s Demba Ba lead the way in the scoring charts with six goals to his name. Michu -- Swansea City’s Spanish sensation who would go on to score 18 in his first Premier League season -- already had four and an assist under Michael Laudrup.

Sunderland’s new signing Steven Fletcher on the other hand had five in four; at Fulham, both Damien Duff and Mladen Petric were three goals and an assist to the good. By the end of the run-in, Fletcher’s goals per game ratio had dropped considerably, leaving him with 11 for the season while Petric was released having managed to score just two more league goals.

A year later, Daniel Sturridge was already hinting at what was to come for Liverpool in 2013/14, with five goals from six games, followed by Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey, whose four goals each had fired Arsenal into an early lead at the top of the table. The Gunners remained ahead at the very pinnacle all the way until mid-February, when they fell away to be replaced by Manchester City and Liverpool, the latter of whom famously slipped up against Chelsea to miss out on their first league title in 25 years.

In the opening six games of last season, a flood of summer signings across the division came flying out of the blocks. Graziano Pelle (four goals), Leonardo Ulloa (five), Diafra Sakho (three) and Diego Costa (eight) all wasted little time laying down a few markers for their new clubs, only some of which proved to be anywhere near representative of their true quality across a full season.

Midfielders were at it too with Cesc Fabregas (six assists), Gylfi Sigurdsson (4) and Dusan Tadic (three) showing off their powers of invention early on, alongside the aforementioned Di Maria (two) and Downing (three). While eventual title-winners Chelsea may have taken an early lead at the top of the table from the very first weekend -- a position they never once relinquished until the end of the season -- Southampton were their closest challengers in second place with 13 points from six games.

Back Payet and Ayew to finish the season with more Premier League combined assists than Fabregas and Ozil at 11/4.

As well as the aforementioned early risers of Mahrez and Leicester, a Payet-inspired West Ham and high-scorers such as Wilson and Ighalo, the Premier League has also borne witness to some exciting new faces and intriguing patches of form.

Initial signs have been good for Son Heung-Min, Dele Alli and Premier League Player of the Month for August Andre Ayew -- tipped by Unibet’s expert transfer window panel to prove himself to be the signing of the season for Swansea -- while Victor Moses, Jamie Vardy, Wes Hoolahan and Yohan Cabaye, all returning to Premier League action in some form or another, have all managed to contribute to the competition’s preliminary highlight reel.

Though Stoke City may find themselves in the wrong quartile of the table, their young goalkeeper Jack Butland has already been applauded for his displays between the sticks, even if the Potters’ glamourous summer signings have yet to make their mark.

In the race for the title, Manchester City have so far looked like convincing front-runners, though their 2-1 home defeat to West Ham was a reality check of sorts. New signings Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne look like well-suited and lively upgrades to their midfield options, but without David Silva, Manuel Pellegrini’s side look only half as dangerous.

However, with a lack of obvious candidates able to properly oppose their progress, that may not ultimately matter. The bigger story six games in has been the lack of form of their expected competitors, and the star names struggling to make an impact on the Premier League.

Chelsea are well off the pace, and even after a face-saving victory against Arsenal, the Blues find themselves in 15th with just seven points from six games. Eden Hazard, Nemanja Matic, John Terry, Fabregas and Costa have all struggled to raise themselves to the challenge of playing as defending champions while Jose Mourinho’s behaviour has shown clear signs of strain. Bet against them finishing in the top four at 7/2.

Which Premier League trio will score the most goals this season? Back Costa, Rooney and Kane at 18/25 or Mahrez, Wilson and Ighalo at Evens.

Harry Kane, England’s goalscoring sensation during the latter half of last season, is yet to open his account in the current campaign, running as dry in front of goal as his national team captain, Wayne Rooney, who is also without a strike to his name in the league.

For those who might take a less charitable view on the former’s situation, his hot run of scoring 19 in 23 Premier League appearances, which began in early December 2014 could still be dismissed as an anomalous purple patch. Those wanting to look on the brightside can back him at 5/4 to score 11 league goals or more by January 1 2016.

Pick whatever cliché suits best -- “it’s a marathon not a sprint” or “form is temporary, class is permanent” -- while Mahrez and Co. may have to wait to legitimise their promising starts to the season, Kane is still to prove that his previous goalscoring feats were truly authentic, let alone sustainable.

Manchester United fans are unlikely to worry too much about their club captain’s poor run in front of goal however, at least not if new signing Anthony Martial keeps up his own sparkling start to life in English football.

How Martial compares to four of the other current high-scorers in the Premier League for Squawka Performance Score, goals and successful take ons per 90 minutes.

The 19-year-old Frenchman is the top scorer in the Premier League for goals scored per game or per 90 minutes, but with only two games to his name, he still has a very long way to go in order to make a dent on his team’s competition winning pretensions

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Back Martial to score 20 goals or more in all competitions this season at 19/20 or finish as the Premier League’s top scorer at 14/1.

However, the signs so far, besides his uncanny ability to finish a chance, hint at a pedigree that already deserves respect. Never mind the comparisons with Thierry Henry. He has all the coolness, speed, agility and technique through tight spaces, and trickery on the ball to be able to follow-up on his explosive entrance to life at United.

The bigger question is whether his team and manager’s relatively laboured start to the new campaign represents a sluggishness that can be shaken off in the weeks ahead, or is more indicative of their true level, some way behind City and that of their bright light up front.

Manchester United are currently 13/2 to win the Premier League title.