The latest round of Premier League fixtures takes the 2021/22 season past its quarter way point and with each side reaching double figures in games played we are no longer scrabbling about for clues or misled by a good performance or two. Situations may change of course, as is inevitable when clubs are in constant flux, but as a rule and in the main some hard evidence has been sourced by now, as winter approaches and August’s inaugural weekend begins to feel like a distant memory.
We know with nigh-on certainty that Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool are, by some distance, the most complete sides in the top-flight, with a ferocious, three-way title battle developing and becoming more engrossing with every passing week. It can also be reasonably determined that Manchester United and Tottenham have significant issues, which makes their meeting in North London on Saturday all the more intriguing. At the wrong end of the table meanwhile, three teams – Burnley, Newcastle and Norwich – have yet to win, nine games into their respective campaigns.
This Saturday, the Clarets take on Brentford at Turf Moor. Having drawn three of their last four, another stalemate at 23/10 represents decent value.
Matt Lowton believes one result can turn things around for Burnley https://t.co/dItbGhkFzR
— Indy Football (@IndyFootball) October 29, 2021
This has never happened before, or at least not in the Premier League era. In 2017/18 Cardiff, Huddersfield and, again Newcastle, had all yet to gain maximum points eight matches into the season. But then the Bluebirds beat Fulham 4-2 in late October to end the worst start for a trio in the modern age to that juncture. It took both the Terriers and the Magpies another fortnight to follow suit with the latter mounting a staggering recovery under Rafa Benitez that ultimately saw them safe.
In 2007/08, Derby County endured a horrendous season that earned them infamy in accruing the least number of points of any Premier League side since it came into being in 1992. Just 11 points were merited across the eight months, while the final table in May highlighted a goal difference of a staggering -69. Yet even the woeful Rams had won by this stage, a tense 1-0 victory over – and here they appear again – Newcastle.
Therefore, whatever metric is deployed, the only conceivable conclusion reached is that Burnley, Newcastle and Norwich are not only scrapping for their top-flight lives right now but they’re running the risk of becoming detached from their peers and breaking all manner of unwanted records in the process. And the likeliest to suffer this fate individually is unquestionably Norwich.
Why the Canaries? Perhaps the more pertinent question should be, where do we start?
Norwich City scored more goals in their EFL Cup match against Bournemouth in August than they have in their last 24 Premier League games.
— Daniel Storey (@danielstorey85) October 23, 2021
Since coming up as champions of the Championship, the East Anglian outfit have absolutely lived up to type in being traditionally considered too good for the second tier but out of their depth at the highest level. On three previous occasions, Norwich have been relegated just twelve months after spraying champagne around Carrow Road but this time the disparity between themselves and the English elite feels more spacious than ever before with stats already accumulated that genuinely startle.
In nine fixtures, Daniel Farke’s men have scored just once from open play and are conceding at a rate of 2.5 goals per game. They’ve had the fewest number of shots on target this term, a full 35% less than Burnley, a side hardly known for its attacking intent and who reside with them in the bottom three. Against any teams of substance, they increasingly fit the analogy of lambs to the slaughter.
James Cossey, a lifelong, match-going Norwich supporter fears the worst but remains loyal to the man at the very centre of the disaster in the making.
“Blind loyalty, living on past glory, optimistic desperation, or pure naivety – why I don’t want Daniel Farke to leave Norwich City could be any and all of the above but when he’s given us the best football we’ve potentially ever seen at Carrow Road under a strict, low budget even for a Championship outfit, I hope and believe he deserves time to turn around what has been an awful start to a stereotypical Norwich City Premier League season.
It’s worrying as it’s nearly November and the system we all loved under Farke is a distant memory. We’re still searching for our first win while fans on social media are completely turning on each other. Personally, after being the most excited I’ve ever been for the signings and the biggest investment in our squad ever, it’s not looking promising.
Unfortunately, so early into another campaign, we’re praying and hoping for success rather than expecting it and another loss on Sunday could be the end of the Farke era as I’m not sure he can recover from another gutless defeat and performance.”
This weekend, the Canaries host fellow strugglers Leeds. The latter can be backed at a generous 11/10 to compound the home side’s plight.
If Norwich’s struggles have been witnessed many times before, in their own guise or via countless others who have begun disjointed and been punished for it until defeats become the norm, in comparison, Newcastle’s circumstances are unique.
Following their sensational takeover the Magpies are now the wealthiest football club on the planet, with every single resource available to them other than Premier League points as cold, harsh reality clashes surreally with the enormous potential at their fingertips. But the latter serves no purpose at present and indeed can be viewed as a distraction as the North-East giants-to-be toil to little effect on the pitch.
Newcastle need points, of course, but Jones has spoken well since his appointment as interim head coach, hasn’t he? He’s been calm and measured in what he’s said, but also managed to capture the tone. #NUFC
— George Caulkin (@GeorgeCaulkin) October 29, 2021
Newcastle fan Tom Howarth however, insists even the grim prospect of a relegation fight is a small price to pay given their recent lottery win.
“If you’d offered most, if not all Newcastle fans the option of new ownership and the start we’ve had, they’d have taken it. We’re not in a false position; we are where our performances have deserved, and on paper, we’ve already played a lot of the lower end teams.
There’ll be money to be spent in January, but it’s about spending it wisely. I believe we will stay up, but it’s not going to be easy, and we need to start winning games very soon.”
Starting with the onerous task of bettering Chelsea on Saturday. With the prolific Blues having fired home 16 in their last five games, back over 2.5 goals and for both teams to score at 13/10.
Burnley are the third side still to taste victory in 2021/22 but at least the Clarets arguably stand the best chance of pulling away from danger, a view based on a long-held, hard-earned reputation for being difficult to break down even in times of trouble. On only three occasions this season have Sean Dyche’s side have been bested by more than a single goal margin with all three occurring away from home, twice on Merseyside and then at the Etihad. In Dyche meanwhile, they possess a manager well-suited to a drawn-out dogfight.
Yet, countering these equivocal pluses, Burnley last won at home way back in January while just a single clean sheet kept this term is hardly an encouraging return for a side that prides itself on being well-organised to compensate for any shortfall on quality.
Clarets fan George Ramsden is pragmatic about his team’s hopes of still being a troublesome force in the Premier League next year.
“The key issue is scoring and we are not creative enough but Maxwell Cornet could be the spark to change that. The other worry is our lack of ability to hold on to a lead. We used to be good at it, not so this season. We’ll struggle to stay up this season and I’d be extremely happy with finishing fourth from bottom.”
The Clarets are currently a very reasonable 1/1 to avoid relegation next May.
Looking at the big picture, it is not only at the foot of the table where records have been broken this season. At the other end, Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool have scored 28% of the league’s total goal-haul so far and that is unprecedented too. Combined, these extremes hint strongly that the gap between the Premier League’s everyday clubs and its super-clubs is ever-widening and though this is a concern – and though this slightly excuses Burnley, Newcastle and Norwich to a degree – this trio of strugglers cannot even contemplate such weighty matters at present.
For them, survival is everything, trumping all other considerations except maybe the avoidance of notoriety.
Norwich City are a genuinely uncompetitive club, it’s like putting a high school football team in the NFL. Unserious teams get relegated, get promoted, buy a bunch of players who just got relegated and change nothing about the things that got you relegated in the first place.
— Zach Lowy (@ZachLowy) October 23, 2021