It’s too early in the season to completely write anyone off, but at the first international break of 2023-24, things are looking rather bleak for the Premier League’s bottom five.

The three promoted sides, Burnley, Sheffield United and Luton Town, have just one point between them (although Burnley and Luton have a game in hand which is against one another), while Everton and Bournemouth are on one and two points, respectively. There’s an awfully long way to go, but right now nobody would be particularly surprised if the three relegated sides ended up coming from that group of five.

With that in mind, we’ve come up with one reason for optimism and one reason to fear the worst for the five teams at the bottom of the Premier League.
Reason to Be Cheerful

Beyond the fact that Andoni Iraola’s side have at least twice as many points as any other team in this list with a relatively monstrous two points from four games, the main reason for cheer at the Vitality Stadium is that Bournemouth have got four tricky games out of the way already.


Before the season, we ranked the difficulty of each team’s opening five games to the season using our Power Rankings. It turned out that Bournemouth had the second-most difficult start to the campaign after Newcastle. The first five games for relegation rivals Burnley, Sheffield United and Everton, meanwhile, were all towards the easier end of the spectrum.

Premier League fixture difficulty - first five matches

So now, four-fifths of the way through a tough opening five matches with two points to show for it new manager Iraola, who is still in the process of getting his ideas across to the players, will hope that things will now get a bit easier for his team.

Reason to Be Fearful

Bournemouth have had no trouble scoring goals, with the four they have managed in their four games a decent return. The problem has been what has happened after they score.


Iraola’s team have gone ahead twice already this season but failed to win both of those games. After opening the scoring in the third minute at Anfield, they lost 3-1 to Liverpool, who were reduced to 10 men for more than a third of the game, and then Bournemouth threw away a 2-1 lead they had taken in the 77th minute at Brentford last weekend, meaning they have already dropped five points from winning positions this season. They also very nearly drew after losing a lead in the EFL Cup against Swansea, but were spared by an injury-time winner after the Championship side had clawed their way back into the game at 2-2.


Is this a sign of a concerning softness, a propensity to crumble under pressure? It might be too early to say, but it is a problem that will need addressing.


Sheffield United

Reason to Be Cheerful

Two of the biggest positives from Sheffield United’s season so far have been individuals signed in the summer: Gus Hamer and Cameron Archer. Both impressed in the Championship last season for teams that narrowly missed out on promotion and proved themselves as ready to make the step up to the Premier League. Their displays in the red and white stripes of Sheffield United so far give real cause for optimism.

Cameron Archer touches vs Everton

Hamer scored a superb curling effort at Nottingham Forest a few weeks ago and has become a key cog in Paul Heckingbottom’s midfield, creating more chances from open play than any other teammate (three) despite not having joined the club in time to play in their first game of the season. Archer, meanwhile, was brilliant on his debut against Everton this weekend, almost scoring his side’s second (his shot cannoned off the post and into the net off Jordan Pickford) having actually scored their first. He was a constant threat, particularly on the break, and the understanding he showed with strike partner Oli McBurnie was a real positive from the game.

Hamer and Archer should only get better as they settle at their new club and that can only be a good thing for the team.


Reason to Be Fearful

Does long-ball football still work in the Premier League? It looks like we might be about to find out.


Sheffield United have made their intentions clear already, playing more long balls than any other team in the top flight so far this season (243). Only Nottingham Forest (44.0%) have played a higher proportion of their passes forward than Heckingbottom’s team (42.1%), but Sheffield United have successfully completed the lowest proportion of their forward passes, with a success rate of just 49.4%. It isn’t pretty, and so far, it hasn’t been very effective, either.

Sheffield United long passes

Sheffield United have scored four goals in four games but they have only created chances worth 2.87 xG – their rate of 0.72 xG per game is the worst in the whole Premier League. They have some decent players in their squad but we have yet to really see that they have an alternative game plan to getting it forward quickly, and that could be a problem.

Reason to Be Cheerful

This one is pretty simple: Everton proved last weekend that they can actually score some goals.


Prior to the draw at Sheffield United, Everton had lost three from three without finding the net. They had created enough chances to get a result in their two home games against Fulham and Wolves, both of which they lost 1-0. After three games of the season, Everton had the worst record in the Premier League in front of goal, underperforming their expected goals by 4.69. They had created enough chances to score almost five goals, but had a big fat zero in the goals scored column.

Sheffield United 2-2 Everton stats

Neal Maupay, one of the worst players in our entire database for expected goals in the Premier League for underperformance with their finishing, then left the club and a few days later Everton scored their first goals of the season. There may or may not be a link between those two events.

Sean Dyche’s side still underperformed relative to their expected goals, scoring twice from chances worth 2.58 xG, but the fact they did actually score is all that matters. Dyche will be hoping the floodgates have opened and that new signing Beto, who had a good debut at Bramall Lane, can inspire a few more goals.

Reason to Be Fearful

A Sean Dyche team not scoring many goals wouldn’t normally be much of a concern. Goals were never the main reason for any success he had at Burnley, after all.

But when a Sean Dyche team is also conceding too many goals, that’s when you know things are bad.

Everton have shipped eight goals (including one own goal) from 6.8 xG in four games, and allowed Sheffield United a rather worrying eight shots on target at the weekend. By way of comparison, Crystal Palace have only conceded nine shots on target all season.

Everton xg against

They had Jordan Pickford to thank for the point they earned on Saturday, but they can’t rely on the kind of superhuman double save he made at the end of the game on a weekly basis. Put simply, they need to find the right balance between scoring goals and not letting their opponents have too many chances of their own.

Luton Town

Reason to Be Cheerful

History is weirdly on Luton’s side – in one sense at least. They have started life in the Premier League with three losses from three games, but before this season, 34 teams had started a season with three defeats from three, and only 12 of them ended up being relegated in that campaign (35%).

There were lots of lessons to be learned from Luton’s three games so far, and they have time on their side if they are to learn from those defeats and turn their season around – as it appears most teams who lose their first three games do.

One slight concern is that of the eight newly promoted teams who lost their first three games in the Premier League, seven ended up relegated. This season’s three promoted sides have already made that 11 teams to lose their first three games of the season, so will it be interesting to see if any of them can avoid the drop this season. Hmm… this was meant to be the ‘reason to be cheerful’ section, wasn’t it? It’s pretty easy to fear for Luton.

Reason to Be Fearful

There are good reasons to worry that Luton just don’t have the quality in their squad to compete at this level. They didn’t (couldn’t?) spend much in the summer, and the early indications from their first three games suggest they don’t have the personnel to mount a serious survival challenge.

Their direct style of play is based around transitions rather than possession (they have constructed fewer open-play sequences of at least 10 passes than any other team in the top flight this season, with nine), but they also haven’t threatened much on the break. They have managed only two shots from counter-attacks in three games, and their total of 1.7 xG from open play is lower than every other team in the division, though they have played one game fewer than every team except Burnley.

Luton town open play xG

There have been periods in each of their games when they have grown in confidence and looked ever so slightly more at home in the Premier League, but they have failed to take advantage on each occasion. There is a lot of room for improvement when it comes to Luton making the most of the rare occasions when they do have the ball.


Reason to Be Cheerful

Things can only get better for Burnley. Three games, three defeats, 11 goals conceded and bottom of the table, the only way is up. They have at least got games against Manchester City, Aston Villa and Tottenham out of the way and things should get a little easier next time out when they face Nottingham Forest.

Lyle Foster xG map

The fact they scored three goals in the games against Villa and Spurs should give them confidence that playing the way they do will bring chances and goals, and two-goal Lyle Foster looks to have taken to life in the Premier League well.

It’s at the other end of the pitch where the real worry is…

Reason to Be Fearful

Vincent Kompany is sticking to the style of football he used to get Burnley promoted last season, but it remains to be seen if they have the quality in their squad to play that way in the top flight.

Premier League team styles comparison matchday 4

According to our team style comparison graphic, only Manchester City are more extreme in their slow and intricate style of play than Burnley, who simply don’t have the budget to bring in any players who would get near the City first team.

Their players have already committed four errors leading to an opposition shot – the joint most in the league in 2023-24 – and while their current rate of 3.7 goals conceded per game will reduce over a bigger sample size than three games against high-quality opposition, it is concerning quite how open they are and how many goals they are letting in. Over the course of a season, the worst rate at which any team has shipped goals in the Premier League era was Swindon’s 2.4 per game in 1993-94. It might be that Kompany needs to compromise his principles ever so slightly to tighten up at the back.

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