Things can change quickly in football and already this season we’ve seen several Premier League pre-season perceptions proved very, very wrong.
Pre-season takes have a habit of making fans and pundits appear foolish and we’ve looked at five widely-held views that have been disproved over the campaign’s opening months.
Five pre-season perceptions that already look wrong:
Spurs would struggle without Harry Kane
Spurs laboured to an eighth-place finish in the Premier League last season, despite the brilliance of Harry Kane. The England captain scored an equal-career best 30 goals in the Premier League, so the overriding narrative when Kane upped sticks for Bayern Munich was doom and gloom.
Add in another chaotic search for a new head coach, as Spurs unsuccessfully looked to lure Luis Enrique, Arne Slot and Julian Nagelsmann before landing on the appointment of Ange Postecoglou, and expectations were minimal.
Could Spurs survive without Kane’s goals? Was Postecoglou – unproven at the top level – really the right man to lead the club forward?
Tottenham have come 𝐀 𝐋𝐎𝐍𝐆 way in a matter of months 📈@rioferdy5 joins up with Ange Postecoglou to take a deep dive into his managerial philosophy and the changes he’s implementing at @SpursOfficial 🔥
— Football on TNT Sports (@footballontnt) November 9, 2023
Both of those questions have been answered emphatically over the season’s opening weeks, with Spurs one of the most impressive teams in the division under the new manager. The north Londoners have won, and won in style, to sit two points off the leaders despite the recent wobble of back-to-back defeats amid injury issues.
Postecoglou’s front-footed football and the Australian’s authenticity have made him hugely popular, with the 58-year-old bold with his approach on the pitch and endearing with his one off it. He has been named as Premier League Manager of the Month in each month of the season so far, a feat no manager has ever achieved from the start of a campaign.
For the first time in some time there’s real optimism at Spurs. Who would have thought that when the club’s greatest goalscorer walked out the door last summer?
Brentford would struggle without Ivan Toney…
Like Spurs, Brentford also lost their talismanic goal threat last summer, though through no fault of their own. The best season of Ivan Toney’s career was followed with an eight-month ban for breaching the FA’s gambling rules, sidelining the striker until January.
Toney scored 20 league goals last season – only Erling Haaland and Kane managed more – to earn a first cap for England. The 27-year-old has scored 32 goals in 66 top-flight games for the Bees, and unlike Spurs, Brentford were forced facing to replace Toney’s goals without the exchange of a big-money fee.
— Brentford FC (@BrentfordFC) September 3, 2023
Kevin Schade had signed for Brentford in a club record deal after a loan spell last season, but the 21-year-old remains raw and has scored just once in 23 Premier League appearances. Instead, the duo of Bryan Mbeumo and Yoanne Wissa have stepped up for Thomas Frank’s side, scoring nine Premier League goals between them and showing real threat in combination in the final third.
Brentford’s ability to adapt and find alternative routes to goal has ensured the Bees remain clear of trouble, with the west Londoners comfortable in mid-table and as close to the Champions League places as the relegation zone.
Cole Palmer was overpriced
Cole Palmer’s desire for first-team football meant an exit from Manchester City was expected last summer, but it’s fair to say the forward’s £42.5m transfer to Chelsea caught many off guard.
Palmer had made just three Premier League starts for Manchester City, and while his potential was evident, the fee involved appeared steep even for Chelsea’s record-breaking spending. In just three months the 21-year-old’s move to west London has been vindicated, with Palmer having evolved from fringe option at the Etihad to a key figure at Chelsea.
Palmer has been exceptional for Mauricio Pochettino’s side, scoring four goals and providing two assists in six Premier League starts. Each of his goals have come from the penalty spot, but Palmer has shown a maturity and confidence to command responsibility in such situations.
“Hopefully I can just show what I can do.” 🙌
— England (@England) November 14, 2023
His last-gasp equaliser from the spot against Manchester City last weekend was the perfect example of how Palmer has thrived under the spotlight at Stamford Bridge, with his effortless adaptation having led to a first senior England call up this week.
Palmer had reached a stage where he was too good to sit on the bench, but he had failed to win the complete trust of Guardiola, who signed Jeremy Doku last summer to add a different profile to his attacking options. Chelsea took a chance and have reaped the rewards. Pochettino might just build his side around him
Andre Onana would transform Manchester United
When Manchester United decided against renewing David De Gea’s contract last summer, it seemed a natural transition given the changing role of a goalkeeper. The Spaniard had been a fine servant for the Red Devils, but his distribution was below the standard required in an era where teams are more reliant than ever on goalkeeper’s comfortable with the ball at their feet.
Erik ten Hag spent £47.2m to sign Andre Onana from Inter Milan as a replacement, having worked with the goalkeeper at Ajax. Onana’s schooling – progressing from the Barcelona academy before signing for Ajax and Inter – had made him appear an ideal candidate for the role, but the concept of the Cameroonian has been rather superior to the actuality so far.
United have endured a disastrous start to the campaign with nine defeats in 18 games across all competitions, conceding 30 goals in the process. Onana has looked short of confidence and error-prone, lacking the shot-stopping credentials shown during Inter’s run to the Champions League final last season and failing to show significant qualities in possession.
Onana ranks 19th of the 22 Premier League goalkeepers to have made an appearance this season for percentage of completed long-range passes (40+ yards), while just three goalkeepers have stopped a lower percentage of crosses into the penalty area (3.9%). His average distance from goal for defensive actions is second in the division, highlighting his higher starting point, but improvements are required across the board if Onana is to succeed at Old Trafford.
Virgil van Dijk was on the decline
The price that comes with being at the top is there is always a collective looking to bring you back down from that perch. Virgil van Dijk’s status as the Premier League’s best centre-back has been largely unchallenged since signing for Liverpool almost six years ago, but a disappointing season for both club and player saw suggestions of the Dutchman’s decline.
As Liverpool limped to a fifth-place finish to miss out on Champions League football, the defender’s detractors took glee from scrutinising each mistake or under-performance. Van Dijk was far from poor last season, but in comparison to the standards set in past campaigns it was a period of below-par displays.
The 32-year-old has issued an emphatic response to those suggesting his powers are on the wane however, starting the season in commanding form. Named as Liverpool captain last summer, the armband has helped bring back the best of Van Dijk.
Van Dijk is the only centre-back in the Premier League to have played more than 590 minutes (over 50% of the games played) and not been dribbled past, while he has the highest duel success (10+ contested) in the division and has made no errors leading to shots.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) November 14, 2023
A red card at Newcastle was a rare blemish on an otherwise outstanding record this season, with Van Dijk back to his colossal best in a red shirt. The standard for centre-backs, once again.