Premier League Review | Feb 2020
Sporting Index's Premier League February Review
The Premier League served up its usual blend of thrilling games, controversial moments and surprise results in February. The battle for a Champions League place is heating up and the race to avoid being relegated is also becoming increasingly tight. It was a great month for Wolves, Man Utd and Burnley, but Aston Villa, Newcastle and Brighton will be keen to put it behind them. It is time for us to reflect on the drama that unfolded and examine how it has affected the markets.
Premier League February Recap
Liverpool’s long unbeaten run finally came to an end when they suffered a shock 3-0 defeat at Vicarage Road on 29 February. The runaway league leaders had picked up 26 wins and a draw in their opening 27 games. However, they were ultimately no match for the pace, energy and desire displayed by Watford winger Ismaila Sarr. The speedy Senegalese star banged in a brace and then teed up Troy Deeney to complete the rout.
It sparked an outpouring of jubilation among Arsenal fans. The Gunners circa 2003/04 now remain the only team to ever go unbeaten for an entire Premier League. Arsenal fans will take whatever crumbs of comfort they can find right now, following their team’s dismal Europa League exit, but Liverpool supporters should not be unduly bothered. The Reds beat Southampton, Norwich and West Ham in February, and they retain a colossal 22-point lead over Man City at the top of the table.
Pep Guardiola’s men could cut the gap to 19 points if they win their game in hand, but it still looks pretty insurmountable. Man City would need to win all of their 10 remaining games, while hoping that Liverpool take just one point per game. The Reds have picked up 2.82 points per game thus far, so it would be a meltdown of unprecedented proportions. Yet all Man City can do is keep winning and try to finish the season in as strong a fashion as possible.
Defiant Guardiola Adopts Siege Mentality
February proved to be a nightmare month for Man City. It began with a 2-0 defeat at Spurs. That was their sixth defeat of the campaign, which equalled the amount of losses they suffered in the previous two seasons combined. They had 67% of the possession and 19 shots on goal, but Oleksandr Zinchenko was sent off in the 60th minute and then Spurs scored twice. The hosts had just three shots on goal in the entire game, and two of them went in.
That was a bitter pill for City fans to swallow, but much worse was still to come. On 14 February, the club was handed a two-year ban from all European competition as punishment for committing “serious breaches” of UEFA’s club licensing and financial fair play regulations. The Premier League champions were also fined £25 million. A wave of negative publicity followed. Various commentators said that their previous triumphs were now tainted, while others speculated that key players would abandon ship rather than spend two years without Champions League football.
Man City pledged to appeal the decision, and then simply redoubled their efforts to deliver a strong finish to the season following Pep Guardiola's rallying cry. They beat West Ham 2-0 and then went to Leicester and left with all three points courtesy of a late strike from Gabriel Jesus. That result left them seven points clear of the Foxes. Guardiola’s side then beat Real Madrid 2-1 at the Bernebeu in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 clash, before beating Aston Villa 2-1 at Wembley to secure a third consecutive EFL Cup triumph.
Top Five Battle Begins
If Man City’s ban is upheld, a top five finish could be enough to secure Champions League football next season. After the weekend’s action, Leicester sit third, with 50 points. However, the Foxes are winless in four matches after suffering a dismal February, and they might soon start looking nervously over their shoulder. They drew with Chelsea and Wolves in February, but then lost to City and slumped to a surprise 1-0 defeat to bottom club Norwich last time out. They need to get back to winning ways quickly.
Chelsea remain fourth in the table. They are on 45 points, but they too have displayed poor form of late. They followed up their 2-2 draw with Leicester by losing 2-0 at home to Man Utd. They beat an injury ravaged Spurs side 2-1 at Stamford Bridge, but then drew 2-2 away at Bournemouth. That left the Blues with just one win in their last five games, and their position is also looking a little precarious. Below them, Man Utd and Wolves are both in excellent form.
New signing Bruno Fernandes has transformed the Red Devil’s fortunes since joining the club from Sporting Lisbon. The Portuguese midfielder has fired in three goals in five games, while generally impressing with his drive, positivity and creativity. It is the role Paul Pogba was brought in to perform, and Fernandes has handled it with aplomb. Man Utd held Wolves to a 0-0 draw at the start of February – and that is no mean feat nowadays – before easing to a 2-0 victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Fernandes then led the charge in a 3-0 win against Watford, and he was then on target in a 1-1 draw with Everton at Goodison Park on Sunday.
Man Utd are now fifth in the table, while Wolves are sixth. Both teams have 42 points and an identical goal difference, showing just how tight the battle is right now. Nuno Espirito Santo’s men did not concede a single goal during February: they drew 0-0 with Man Utd, then held Leicester to a stalemate and beat Norwich 3-0. Wolves battled to a thrilling 3-2 victory over Spurs on March 1, and that result should embolden them as they fight for a Champions League place.
Son Injury Hits Spurs
Spurs slipped down to seventh in the standings after enduring a difficult February. It began brilliantly for the north London outfit, as they beat Man City 2-0. They then edged past Southampton in the FA Cup, and clinched a big 3-2 victory against Aston Villa thanks to a 95th minute winner from Son Heung-Min. However, it came at a cost, as the South Korean forward broke his arm during the game. Spurs are already without Harry Kane, and they now look a little toothless in attack. Their form has since nosedived: they lost 1-0 to RB Leipzig, 2-1 to Chelsea and 3-2 to Wolves. However, they are just five points behind Chelsea, so they are very much in the race for a Champions League place.
Arsenal are now the only unbeaten Premier League team in 2020. They began February with a dull 0-0 draw against Burnley – their fourth draw in a row – but then returned to winning ways by thrashing Newcastle 4-0. A brace from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang handed them a 3-2 victory over Everton in their next game, galvanising the supporters and giving the Gunners a glimmer of hope in their battle for a European place.
Burnley had a sensational month, building on back-to-back wins against Leicester and Man Utd at the end of January. They began February with a 0-0 draw against Arsenal, then beat Southampton and Burnley, and wrapped up the month with a draw at St James’s Park. They are now ninth in the table, just two points behind Sheff Utd, who continued to impress by beating Bournemouth and Crystal Palace. If the Blades win their game in hand, they will overtake both Man Utd and Wolves and climb back up to fifth in the table, which would be an astonishing achievement for a newly promoted side with a paltry transfer budget.
Newcastle endured a winless February, but they still have a comfortable cushion ahead of the relegation zone. They are languishing in mid-table, along with Southampton, Crystal Palace, Everton and Arsenal. Palace ended the month with back-to-back wins over Newcastle and Brighton, and that should see them clear of any relegation worries. The Saints also look safe after picking up a crucial victory over Aston Villa in an otherwise underwhelming month.
Relegation Battle Heats Up
The relegation battle looks set to go right down to the wire. Norwich remain bottom of the table, but their stunning 1-0 win against high-flying Leicester has given them hope of a great escape. They are now just four points adrift of 19th placed Aston Villa, who lost all three games in February. They conceded eight goals in the process and their misery was compounded by an EFL Cup final defeat to Man City on Sunday.
Bournemouth, Watford and West Ham are all on 27 points, which leaves them two clear of Aston Villa. Brighton are on 28. The Seagulls remain winless in 2020, and February was another frustrating month for their fans. It began with a 3-3 draw at West Ham, with veteran striker Glenn Murray turning in a late equaliser. They then drew with Watford and Sheff Utd before that painful M23 derby defeat to Crystal Palace. They now have a difficult run of games coming up, and they will be nervously looking over their shoulders, as the teams below them continue to pick up points.
Watford endured a miserable February, taking just one point from three games and shipping seven goals. The new manager bounce they enjoyed under Nigel Pearson appeared to have worn off, but then they pulled off the biggest shock of the season on Sunday. Liverpool rolled into town brimming with confidence, and left with their tails between their legs. The Hornets have now given themselves a real chance of survival.
West Ham were also in poor form before beating Southampton 3-1 at the weekend, while Bournemouth should be galvanised by that 2-2 draw with Chelsea. It is shaping up to be an exhilarating relegation battle, and we can look forward to plenty more twists and turns in March.
February’s Winners & Losers in the Premier League
Top Five Winners:
Diogo Jota: The Portuguese forward announced himself as one of the most exciting young talents in Europe during February. He put Espanyol to the sword with a hat-trick in the Europa League and then scored twice in a 3-0 win against Norwich, before making it six in three games by scoring in the 3-2 victory over Spurs.
Bruno Fernandes: He has revolutionised Man Utd’s midfield by delivering a string of superb performances since joining the club in a £62 million deal. His decision to move to Old Trafford looks entirely justified, and Man Utd should now have no qualms about offloading Pogba in the summer.
Sean Dyche: The Burnley manager guided his team to an unbeaten February. They have quickly gone from relegation candidates to contenders for a place in the top six, and their Dyche could end up as a Manager of the Year candidate at this rate.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang: The Arsenal captain enjoyed another remarkably productive month. He was on target in the 4-0 win against Newcastle and scored twice against Everton, meaning he is now the joint top scorer in the division. Another Golden Boot could be heading his way, but that could embolden him to push for a move away from the underperforming club in the summer.
Marcos Alonso: Chelsea’s marauding left-back marked his return from injury by going goal crazy. He slammed in a fine long-range effort to hand his team a 2-1 victory against Spurs, and then he was on target twice in a 2-2 draw with Bournemouth.
Top Five Losers:
Jose Mourinho: The former Chelsea and Man Utd boss has endured a difficult start to life at Tottenham. First Harry Kane went down with a long-term injury and then Son Heung-Min was crocked, leaving Spurs toothless in attack. Results have gone south and it is fair to say that circumstances have conspired against the Portuguese manager.
Pepe Reina: Former Liverpool goalkeeper Reina was an emergency signing for Aston Villa in the January transfer window after Tom Heaton was injured. He was thrown straight in at the deep end, and he had to pick the ball out of the net seven times during three consecutive defeats in February.
Graham Potter: The Brighton manager cannot buy a win right now. He was brought in to transform the club’s fortunes after a period of stagnation under Chris Hughton, and they now play more attractive football, but that has not been translated into wins recently.
Joelinton: The Newcastle striker extended his goal drought to 22 games during February. The Magpies have the lowest goals tally in the division, and that is largely down to the wastefulness of their £40 million summer signing.
David Coote: The video assistant referee should have shown himself a red card after failing to send off Giovani lo Celso for a dangerous tackle on Chelsea’s Cesar Azpilicueta. Referees boss Chris Foy said he made an error, but it threatens to further undermine confidence in the much-maligned VAR system. “He will learn from that, he will certainly reflect on it,” said Foy.
February’s Premier League Unfortunates
It is remarkable to note that Man City hold a comfortable lead at the top of the Expected Points (xPTS) table. Guardiola’s men are currently on 57 points, but they have an xPTS stat of 62.75. Title rivals Liverpool are way out in front on 79 points, but their xPTS is just 57.88. Everything has fallen into place for the Reds this season: they have scored 4.94 more goals than expected, and conceded 7.37 fewer. Chelsea and Man Utd are third and fourth respectively in the xPTS table, as they are both significantly in the red for both expected goals (xG) and expected goals against (xGA). Leicester’s actual goals tally is a massive 9.42 above their xG, and they have also conceded 8.06 fewer goals than expected.
At the other end of the table, Norwich can count themselves unfortunate to be bottom of the pile. They should have accrued more points than Newcastle, Aston Villa and West Ham, according to the xPTS stats. Newcastle have the lowest xPTS in the league, at just 19.15, but they have managed to accrue 32 points thanks to dogged defending and players taking their chances – apart from Joelinton, of course. Brighton have an xPTS tally of 38.17, which is 10.17 higher than their actual total of 28 points, so the Seagulls can count themselves very unfortunate not to be sitting in mid-table right now.
Premier League in February – The Numbers
44 – Liverpool’s 44-game unbeaten streak came to an end at Vicarage Road, leaving them five short of equalling Arsenal’s Premier League record.
81 – Burnley defender James Tarkowski now leads the league with 81 headed clearances after performing with rock solid consistency during February.
0 – Jamie Vardy failed to find the back of the net in February, taking his goal drought to seven Premier League matches. Aubameyang and Sergio Aguero have now drawn level with him in the Golden Boot race.
6 – Watford conceded their sixth own goal in the past two seasons during February, which is more than any other top-flight club.
100 – Roy Hodgson managed his 100th Premier League game for Crystal Palace during January, and it turned out to be a 1-0 victory over Brighton.
82 – Jamal Lewis scored his first league goal for Norwich after making his 82nd appearance in their 1-0 victory over Leicester. It ended a nine-game run in which Norwich failed to score from open play.
14 – Liverpool scored their 14th headed goal of the season during February, which is more than any other club.
15 – David Moyes extended his winless streak at Anfield to 15 games when his West Ham side lost 3-2 to Liverpool. The former Everton boss has never won there.
How Have the Premier League Betting Markets Moved?
Liverpool are now expected to rack up 99-100.5 points this season, according to our Premier League Points Index. The Reds were pitched at just 85.5-87 at the start of the season, while champions Man City were expected to win the league with 90.5-92 points. Now the Premier League spread betting has Man City at just 82-83.5 points, which would leave them second by a huge margin. Liverpool’s tally has decreased slightly from the 102-103.5 they were assigned at the start of February, but they could still break City’s Premier League record of 100 points.
Our traders still expect Leicester to finish third with 66-67.5 points, but that is a significant decrease from their Premier League Points Index of 70.5-72 a month ago. Chelsea would finish third, with Man Utd and Wolves rounding off the top five, according to our points index. Spurs are next, pitched at 55.56.5 points, while Arsenal and Sheff Utd have an identical predicted points tally. Norwich, Aston Villa and Bournemouth fans will find little comfort in our Premier League Points Index, as all three teams are expected to go down. West Ham are predicted to finish 17th, with 37.5-29 points, Brighton have a spread of 38-39.5 and Watford are now on 38.5-40.
In the Premier League odds, Chelsea have gone out to 4/5 to secure a top four finish. Man Utd are now priced at 5/2, while Wolves are 7/2. Spurs are 7/1, Sheff Utd are 14/1 and Arsenal are 18/1 in this market.
Norwich remain the 1/10 favourites to go down, despite that 1-0 win against Leicester. Aston Villa are 4/7 and Bournemouth are 8/11, with West Ham now priced at 7/4 to be relegated. You can find 5/2 on Watford and Brighton.
Vardy has drifted out to 4/1 to win the Golden Boot following his barren spell in front of goal. Aubameyang and Aguero are now the 5/2 joint favourites.