This is Part 2 of my three-part series analyzing the different Premier League Squads before the January Transfer Window. You can read the first part here. In Part 1, I discussed how the top 8 teams (after Matchday 14 ) were placed in terms of squad depth before they enter the January Transfer Window. In this part, I will be discussing the next six teams in the table (after Matchday 14).
Dean Smith’s Aston Villa have already secured almost two-thirds of last season’s points tally. Villa have 22 points with 7 wins, including their thrashing of champions Liverpool, after 12 games – the Villans have played two games fewer than most teams as a result of their games against Newcastle United and Manchester City getting postponed. It has been quite the turnaround that not a lot of us expected from Smith and his team. A large part of this has to be attributed to their very smart business during the summer transfer window.
Aston Villa have used the fewest number of players this season in the top flight (19). Smith has repeatedly underlined the importance of trusting his players to do the job and it is fair to say that the players have repaid the faith held in them. Villa have six players who have played every minute of the season so far, including summer signing Ollie Watkins.
Smith had his troubles with the center forward position last season after a long-term injury to Wesley Moraes, who arrived in the summer of 2019 from Club Brugge, and another problem position for Villa last season was the goalkeeper position.
After using four different goalkeepers in the league last season, it is fair to say Villa have sorted that problem out with the signing of Emiliano Martínez from Arsenal. The Argentine has not only been an ever-present but also has 7 clean sheets to his name already.
Captain Jack Grealish who played more minutes than any other Aston Villa player last season looks set to achieve that feat once again this season. Tyrone Mings, John McGinn, Douglas Luiz are all part of Smith’s untouchables with the former two playing every minute of the season leading up to Matchday 14.
After an excellent start to life at Villa Park, summer signing Ross Barkley has suffered an injury that has allowed him to play only 42% of the minutes so far. In his place, another summer signing Bertrand Traoré has stepped up and is involved regularly from the start now after a slow start to life at his new club.
Verdict: Aston Villa look set for an exciting premier league season with Villa having the youngest squad in the league in terms of mean age. They have the much-needed squad depth, with the majority of their players between 23 and 25 years old, to challenge for European places this season and hence do not expect them to sign anybody in the January Transfer Window.
West Ham United
David Moyes’ West Ham United are in the top half of the table after 14 games into the season. It has to be said that is quite an achievement from the Hammers given how and where they finished last season. Going into the season, there was some widespread negativity around the club.
After a disappointing defeat at home on opening day to Newcastle United, the Hammers have secured three points against Wolves, Leicester City, Aston Villa, and Leeds United. They also secured a point against Tottenham and Manchester City. A large part of their success has to be attributed to Moyes, whose decision to quickly move to a three-at-the-back formation has reaped big benefits so far.
One player who has stood so far for the Hammers is Aaron Cresswell. The versatile Englishman is the only Hammers’ defender to have played every minute of the league season so far. Other players who have played 100% of the total minutes so far are midfielders Declan Rice and Tomáš Souček and goalkeeper Łukasz Fabiański, who has provided much-needed security between the sticks after being sidelined last season with various long-term injuries.
Center back Fabian Balbuena is already close to overtaking his minutes tally from last season with the Paraguayan international roughly playing 79% of the total minutes this season up until the completion of Matchday 14.
Angelo Ogbonna, who played the second-most minutes last season among the Hammers’ players, is once again on track to top the ladder with the central defender already playing roughly 98% of the overall minutes. Arthur Masuaku who was one of the players who benefitted from the change in formation was very close to overtaking last season’s minutes tally only to be sidelined because of an injury once again.
Striker Sébastien Haller looks set to spend most of his time on the bench this season with the forward starting only 7 games so far and being involved only in roughly 57% of the overall minutes. Another notable mention is club Captain Mark Noble who was in the top 5 for minutes played among West Ham players last season has only been involved in 15% of the minutes so far.
Verdict: David Moyes might have finally found his preferred starting eleven and style of play with this team. However, there is a lack of youth in this squad as you can see in the above plot that most of the Hammers’ players are above 30 years old. In terms of position, one could argue that the Hammers are short of depth in the defensive midfield area and that may need to be addressed sooner than later especially given the potential sale of Declan Rice next summer.
Nuno Espírito Santo’s Wolves are being tested to the maximum after long-term injuries to key players and the sales of Diogo Jota and Matt Doherty to Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, respectively. Wolves are not in Europe this time around and were eliminated in the EFL Cup in September following a late goal from Stoke City’s Jacob Brown.
Their league form is also quite start-and-stop with the team struggling to find some consistency so far. Club captain Conor Coady missed a league game for the first time since Wolves’ return to the top-flight, having been ruled out for a 1-1 draw against Southampton after coming in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. That means no outfield player has played every minute of the season for Wolves.
Following the sale of Jota and the long-term injury to Raul Jiménez, Pedro Neto and Daniel Podence needed to step up and they indeed have. Neto has already played more minutes than last season with the Portuguese attacker involved in roughly 87% of the overall minutes, and he is also the joint top scorer for Wolves. Podence, signed in January from Olympiakos, looks to be part of Nuno’s core group this season with the attacking forward already involved in roughly 78% of the overall minutes.
Adama Traoré, who was involved in all but one game last season, is struggling to replicate his form from last season with the Spanish player starting only 7 games – accounting for ~ 60% of the overall minutes – so far. Left wing-back Jonny has been a big miss this season for Wolves, but in his absence summer signing Fernando Marçal, Max Kilman and another summer signing Rayan Aït-Nouri have shared minutes between them with the Brazilian playing more minutes – roughly 39% of the overall minutes – among the three.
Another addition in the summer, 19-year-old Fábio Silva, has largely been restricted to substitute appearances so far but the absence of Jiménez could change that.
Verdict: The overall squad of Wolves looks youthful and impressive. The majority of their players are under-23 years old as you can see in the above plot. However, Wolves may be short of one or two options in the forward line to replicate their form from the last couple of seasons. But after spending quite smartly in the last window, I do not expect Wolves to invest in the January transfer window. Wolves are in a transition phase and it is only fair to judge after the next 6 months have passed.
Is it fair to say that Steve Bruce’s first season at Newcastle United was a success? I would say so. But in terms of real progression, how well have Newcastle United progressed since Bruce’s appointment in 2019 is up for debate. In terms of the overall squad, Bruce definitely has better individuals at his disposal this season. The signings of Callum Wilson, Jamal Lewis, Ryan Fraser addressed some key issues in the squad.
Injury to Martin Dúbravka allowed Karl Darlow to start games and he is the only Newcastle player to have been involved in every minute of the league season so far. The Magpies have had their issues with Covid-19 and injuries. Wilson, signed from AFC Bournemouth in the summer following the Cherries’ relegation, has played the most minutes for an outfield player.
Frequent injuries have let Allan Saint-Maximin to be involved in only roughly 50% of the overall minutes this season. Another summer signing from AFC Bournemouth, Fraser has really struggled for game-time so far with the attacker involved in only 23% of the overall league minutes. Miguel Almirón, who played the second-most minutes in the league last season for the Magpies, has been involved in only 58% of the overall minutes, appearing from the start in only 7 games.
Verdict: Steve Bruce has a variety of options at his disposal this season and after having addressed some key issues in the squad during the summer transfer window, do not expect Newcastle United to be active in the market once again.
Towards the end of last season, Crystal Palace were really struggling to win games. Injuries to key defenders did not help Roy Hodgson’s side. There were widespread calls to add squad depth and instill some youth into the squad. Rightly so, Crystal Palace went and signed a couple of young players – Nathan Ferguson and Eberechi Eze. They also added depth in the form of Nathaniel Clyne, Michy Batshuayi, and Jack Butland.
Center back has been a problem position in recent years with Hodgson having to use different combinations because of injuries to key players. That has been the case even this season. However, one player who has established himself at the heart of the defense is Cheikhou Kouyaté. The midfielder-turned-defender has played the most minutes for an outfield player – involved in roughly 98% of the minutes – among the Palace players.
Injury towards the end of last season to left-back Patrick Van Aanholt allowed 21-years old Tyrick Mitchell to start the first 6 games of the season. Van Aanholt’s return from injury means the Dutchman has been involved in 59% of the overall minutes.
31-year-old midfielder James McArthur, an ever-present in this Palace side, seems to be going strong and has been involved in 81% of the total minutes. After a slow start to life at Selhurst Park, Eze has made 13 appearances accounting for 65% of the overall minutes.
Verdict: In spite of adding some youth to the squad, Palace have the oldest squad in terms of the mean age in the league. This squad rebuild is far from completion. However, the Eagles have enough depth in their attacking front at least and should be looking to comfortably stay in the division. In terms of additions in January, given the current financial situation, do not expect them to make any additions.
In their first season back in the top-flight since 2003/04, Leeds United are 14th in the Premier League after Matchday 14. Marcelo Bielsa’s side have found it difficult to adjust to the demands of the league, with Bielsa’s tactics coming into question in recent weeks.
Stuart Dallas has pretty much played in every position in this Leeds side, with the 29-year old from Northern Ireland involved in more minutes than any other Leeds United outfield player. Another player in that backline, Luke Ayling has also been almost ever-present – involved in 98% of the overall minutes tally. Injury has forced midfielder Kalvin Philips to be involved in only 11 games so far.
Summer signing Rodrigo – signed from Valencia – has made only 6 starts in the league so far and has appeared six times from the bench, accounting for roughly 50% of the overall minutes. Patrick Bamford, the center forward, who many thought was not ready to make the step to the Premier League, is one of the five Leeds United players to have started every league game so far. A couple of midfielders who have been close to ever-present in this side are Jack Harrison and Mateusz Klich with the latter playing close to 95% of the overall minutes.
Verdict: Several injuries in the central defensive area have caused quite a few problems for manager Marcelo Bielsa with the manager still yet to find a regular combination at the heart of the backline. However, I do not expect Leeds to sign a defender but a progressive midfielder which is probably the need of the hour for Leeds.
Note: All of the data used above was obtained immediately after the completion of Matchday 14. All mean ages in the plot (mean squad age and mean league age ) are weighted mean values and were calculated based on years only and not months. So those may slightly vary from the original data source: fbref.com.
All visualizations used in this article were taken from the tool currently under development by @VenkyReddevil. A basic version of the tool can be viewed here. If you like my content, please give me a follow on Twitter. Thanks to @fbref and @Statsbomb for the data.
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Michael Steele – Getty Images / Justin Setterfield – Getty Images / Newcastle United