Key Premier League questions: What's wrong with Manchester City?

playsarea examines the most important Premier League developments by answering the key questions from this weekend’s slate of action.

Should Abraham and Werner play together?

Another solid performance resulted in another Chelsea victory, as Frank Lampard’s team beat Newcastle United 2-0 on Saturday to extend its unbeaten run to nine matches in all competitions.

The Chelsea manager called on his squad to stay humble after the win – which temporarily moved them to the top of the Premier League – but the squad’s fluidity in attack at St James’ Park and the blossoming partnership between Tammy Abraham and Timo Werner had to excite Lampard.

Abraham appeared to be the perfect complement to Werner’s style. The young Blues product lined up at the head of Chelsea’s attack where his play with his back to goal was one of the biggest contributing factors to the club’s success against Newcastle. Abraham successfully drew defenders away from Werner to create acres of space for the German forward to venture into dangerous areas.

The overall performance, however, was far from perfect – Werner and Abraham spurned a series of scoring opportunities that could have made things a lot more comfortable. But Abraham managed to put the match to rest with a late goal, assisted by Werner, giving Lampard confidence he’s found a partnership that could evolve into one of the Premier League’s most potent.

The goal was the third in his last three appearances for the 23-year-old – Lampard’s preferred option over Olivier Giroud, who could potentially leave Stamford Bridge in January due to a lack of opportunities this season.

Who has been Tottenham’s best signing so far?

Gareth Bale may have been the biggest name to join Tottenham’s ranks this summer but the Welshman has been nowhere near their top recruit. That’s less of an indication of what little we’ve seen from Bale and more a vestige of how good Jose Mourinho’s additions have been.

Matt Doherty has been an upgrade on Serge Aurier – though the Ivorian was quite good in the Irishman’s stead on Saturday against Manchester City – thanks to a diligent brand of two-way play. In the other full-back role, Sergio Reguilon has picked up where he left off at Sevilla, pairing darting runs down the left flank with good positional play, and albeit from a smaller sample size, Carlos Vinicius appears a robust forward capable of enduring the physical pitfalls of English football while providing Harry Kane with a breather.

Pool / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Danish international Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg has been the cream of a stellar crop. A hallmark of all of Mourinho’s best sides, Hojbjerg is the no-nonsense defensive midfielder who acts as a perfect buttress for a backline, especially in a low block like the one employed against City; the 25-year-old filled the gaps City usually exploit with incisive passing.

There’s a tendency to glamorize high-profile signings while overlooking the inelegant additions. Hojbjerg’s £15-million move from Southampton qualifies as the latter and he’s proven to be exactly the player a Mourinho-led team needs. What a coup.

Where have Manchester City’s goals gone?

Through eight matches, Manchester City sit 13th in the table on 12 points. It’s Guardiola’s slowest start to a season in his managerial career, and one major reason has been a dearth of scoring. City have registered just 10 goals with just one in each of their last five outings – their longest run without recording two or more goals under the Spaniard.

The current average of 1.25 goals per match is a shocking anomaly for City compared to Guardiola’s previous four terms in charge, even when contrasted with the manager’s first campaign in 2016-17:

Season Goals Scored Goals/Match
2019-20 102 2.7
2018-19 95 2.5
2017-18 106 2.8
2016-17 80 2.1

So why has City’s once-potent attack dipped during the highest goals-per-game average of any Premier League season? There are several reasons: Kevin De Bruyne can’t do it all, David Silva’s sublime creativity has not been adequately replaced, Riyad Mahrez has gone missing, and Raheem Sterling has also struggled for form as his workload increases amid Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus’ injuries.

On the topic of Jesus, he was one of the league’s most efficient scorers last season. The Brazilian led England’s top flight in non-penalty goals per 90 (0.79), non-penalty expected goals (17.7), shots per 90 minutes (4.52), and shots on target per 90 minutes (1.91). Jesus isn’t in the top 10 of any of the aforementioned categories this campaign, and while the 23-year-old fights to regain fitness following an injury, neither he nor his attacking mates are creating enough legitimate goal-scoring opportunities.

City’s expected goals output is nearly half of what it was a season ago and they’re managing five fewer shots a game. Additionally, only 56% of their attempts this season have come from inside the box – the 15th best standard in the league – comparing to 69% of total efforts from last season.

Are Aston Villa regressing to the mean?

Aston Villa’s red-hot start to the campaign has included wins against Liverpool and Arsenal, a magnificent haul vaulting Dean Smith’s charges to the dizzying heights of first place in the Premier League.

But somehow the very same team has yet to win at home, a confounding trend which continued Saturday with a 2-1 defeat to Brighton & Hove Albion. Villa didn’t play badly but they did waste countless opportunities to score. Officials also denied the club what looked like a clear penalty – and a shot at a potential equalizer – in second-half stoppage time.

Neville Williams / Aston Villa FC / Getty

Villa now sit a respectable seventh in the table with 19 goals scored through nine matches, good for third among all teams, but if they’re not scoring they usually struggle to the finish line. The good thing is the squad creates enough chances to maintain a winning percentage and with playmaker Jack Grealish in the form of his life, Smith can expect more forward-thinking from his side.

So no, we shouldn’t write off Villa as an early-season wonder. There’s enough evidence to suggest the team can compete and perhaps even challenge for a place in Europe. With upcoming matches against Newcastle’s blunted attack and 19th-placed Burnley, their home record is bound to improve as well.

Is Moyes turning West Ham around?

David Moyes wasn’t exactly an inspiring hire the first time around. There couldn’t be less enthusiasm when he returned for a second spell as West Ham United’s manager in 2019. But the 57-year-old steadied the ship, providing stability to a team that lacked structure and style last season.

Now, he’s building on that foundation. The Hammers are up to eighth in the Premier League after a 1-0 win over struggling Sheffield United, and they’re functioning adequately in attack and defense. Moyes can seem like a boring manager – especially for a club with unwavering visions of grandeur – but after consecutive regelation battles, maybe a plain, steady presence is exactly what they need.

Subtle changes have made a difference. The switch to the three-man defense has made West Ham a tougher team to break down, and Angelo Ogbonna, Declan Rice, and Pablo Fornals have given Moyes’ side some spine.

Integrating his most expensive players is the manager’s next challenge. Sebastien Haller provided a rare glimpse of his talent with a spectacular winner against Sheffield United, slotting his shot into the top corner from outside of the area. Haller remains West Ham’s record signing at £45 million and looked like the latest bust in a series of costly mistakes. Moyes has also yet to give exciting winger Said Benrahma a consistent run in the team. But there’s still time.

Time for Arsenal to panic?

Nicolas Pepe was the main talking point after Sunday’s draw against Leeds United for obvious reasons, but Arsenal only have themselves to blame after another lethargic performance from Mikel Arteta’s men. They’ve now gone nearly eight hours without a goal from open play in the Premier League.

There was a sense of relief for Arsenal after coming away from Elland Road with a point and a clean sheet against Leeds. The Gunners survived almost 40 minutes with 10 men after Pepe was sent off for a daft headbutt, and they managed to thwart a Leeds attack that produced more shot attempts (25) than any Premier League team this season.

After the dust settles on an eventful day at the office, Arsenal will need to face reality and figure out a way to solve the glaring issue in attack. Leeds had the joint-worst defensive record in the league heading into the contest but were barely tested in the opening half when Arsenal failed to register a single shot on target.

MOLLY DARLINGTON / AFP / Getty

Although the Gunners pressed for a goal despite being down a man – with substitute Bukayo Saka making his mark with a late chance – an overall lack of creativity was a major factor in the London side extending its drought to 476 minutes without scoring from open play.

Creating chances is clearly at the heart of the team’s problems. Outcast Mesut Ozil, incredibly, still leads Arsenal in chances created per 90 minutes (2.4) since the start of last season after appearing in 18 league matches. The German midfielder – who has made a single appearance this season and is not eligible to play until January after being left out of Arsenal’s Premier League squad list – was one back of the overall leader, Pepe, heading into Sunday’s draw.

Questions over Arteta’s future will arise if Arsenal – currently 11th – slide down the table because their once potent attack has dried up.

Can anything stop Liverpool?

Despite a recent spate of injuries and COVID-19 infections hitting Liverpool’s squad in recent weeks, Jurgen Klopp and Co. still managed to dominate one of the league’s better sides, topping Leicester City 3-0 on Sunday. Even though Klopp was without several of his usual starters – including Mohamed Salah, Jordan Henderson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Thiago, Joe Gomez, and Virgil van Dijk – the Reds monopolized possession and created chance after chance.

Roberto Firmino, who endured an embarrassing drought earlier in the year, scored and hit the woodwork twice on an evening that should keep any criticism at bay. Curtis Jones, one of Liverpool’s up-and-coming players, looked comfortable and confident in midfield. Considering how well Jones moves up and down the pitch, it’s easy to forget he’s just 19 years old.

Further credit must go to Klopp, who’s proven time and again he’s more than just a supervisor of very good players. The German’s abilities as a tactician and man manager are unquestionable, and Sunday’s result can only embolden his charges ahead of equally testing matches against Atalanta, a sneaky-good Brighton & Hove Albion side, Ajax, and Wolverhampton Wanderers.