OH MY GOD! THE STARS ALIGNED! THIS WEEK WAS THE CRAZIEST OF THEM ALL! No but seriously, what a week. Not only were all four of my picks correct (leading to a parlay win of $1,330 on a bet of $100, if you were dumb enough to take my advice), and not only did Leicester pummel Southampton in a match filled with enough stats to fill this entire column—no, those weren’t enough for what was one of the most exciting weeks ever for this series. Topping it all off was la pièce de résistance, a game in which Christian Pulisic not only scored his first Premier League goal, not only scored three of them, but also notched just the second perfect hat-trick in the past four years (Sergio Aguero in 2018), and the 33rd ever in the Premier League’s history, joining a star-studded list including the aforementioned Aguero, Drogba, Crouch, Agbonlahor, Heskey, Solskjaer, Ekoku, Henry, and others able to score with their right foot, left foot and head all in 90 minutes.
Twitter exploded with hyperbole: Chelsea have found their next Hazard!, Captain America comes to life!, the United States men’s national team have found a savior (not likely—you’d need three Pulisic’s just to keep them level with Canada on a good day), and other such nonsense, all despite the fact that Pulisic isn’t even the best winger at Chelsea, and may not even be the second best winger. Let’s dive in to a thrilling week’s worth of stats, before examining next week’s picks, and dig deeper into just how good Chelsea (and Pulisic) can be, and whether or not there’s going to be a shake-up in the top four this season.
9: of course we must start here, as the week kicked off here. Leicester’s 0-9 gruesome, TV-MA-rated slaughter of Southampton was the largest victory by an away team ever in the top flight of English football, and the nine-goal spread tied the record for the largest margin of victory in the Premier League, set by Manchester United at Old Trafford on March 4, 1995 against Ipswich Town (stat within a stat: Ipswich Town set the record for the worst goal differential in a Premier League season, with -57 in that campaign). Fun fact: the San Francisco 49ers, an NFL team, beat the Washington Redskins a week ago, 9-0 as well. When English football scores look like American football scores, you know the world is getting crazy…
2: the number of hat-tricks scored by Leicester City (Vardy and Perez). Leicester are only the second side in Premier League history to have two players score a hat-trick in the same match. The last team to do so: Arsenal, also against Southampton.
3: the number of penalty kick saves already recorded by Norwich City this season. The record in a single season is five. Tim Krul’s heroics helped keep Norwich to a two-goal margin of defeat against a Manchester United side that should have put six in the net.
3: Christian Pulisic’s hat-trick marked the first time an American recorded a hat-trick in the Premier League since Clint Dempsey in 2012, and Pulisic became the youngest player ever for Chelsea to score a hat-trick in the Premier League.
1: Pascal Gross scored Brighton’s first-ever direct free kick in the Premier League in their win against Everton. Congratulations!
0: the number of goals a hapless Deulofeu has notched, despite 24 shots (ten on target) this season. That is the worst scoring drought in the Premier League this season.
3: Sheffield United have earned a draw in all three away fixtures this season in which they have conceded first. The recently-promoted Blades have shown courage and a never-say-die attitude against some of the best competition in the league.
4: Chelsea’s win against Burnley marked their fourth consecutive Premier League away victory. They have scored at least three goals in all of these matches for the first time in their history.
48/39: Crystal Palace have both won (48) and scored (39) more penalties than any other side since returning to the Premier League in 2013.
8: Manchester United knocked off Norwich at Carrow Road, marking their first away victory since February (one which I predicted!), ending a run of eight winless away league matches.
Week 11 Pick ‘Em
My picks last week proved to be shockingly accurate, even down to the matches I didn’t pick. Crystal Palace ended up drawing with Arsenal, City barely beat their spread, Brighton vs. Everton was a toss-up, and West Ham, Sheffield United, Newcastle, and Wolverhampton all drew with their respective opponents. With that in mind, definitely do not rely on my picks for this week as the law of averages suggests that I’ll be completely wrong! (It actually doesn’t; that’s a fallacy that rookie gamblers use to justify the fact that they’re still gambling after losing 15 times in a row – anyway…)
Key: lines in bold are my actual bets – I re-read my picks in the article last week and noticed that the way I described bets might make it slightly unclear which bets are worth taking.
Bournemouth has shown a propensity to earn draws this season, as has Manchester United, with both earning four a piece and both scoring 13 goals. United at -.5 is risky, but Bournemouth at +.5 is equally risky.
Arsenal (-.5) also loves a good draw, but more importantly Wolverhampton, whom I affectionately refer to as the giant-killers, love to draw top-six sides. I love Wolves at +.5 (+120) this week.
Brighton vs. Norwich, Sheffield vs. Burnley, West Ham vs. Newcastle, Everton vs. Tottenham, yes, Tottenham, are all toss-ups this week. Ordinarily I’d like Tottenham at Everton (0.0), but Tottenham’s spread is set at -125, making the risk not worth the reward for me.
Chelsea are -1.5 against Crystal Palace, and after conceding two to Burnley, I can’t honestly justify taking this bet.
Aston Villa looked terrible this week, so with Liverpool at -1.5 (EVEN), I’m comfortable taking this bet.
Finally, Manchester City are slated at -2.5 (-145) against Southampton. While expensive, this bet is probably the safest bet you can make this week. Depending on how City fare against Southampton today in the Carabao Cup, this bet should be a given. EDIT: after winning today 3:1 with several reserve players on the pitch, I’m still in favor of this bet.
Without getting too high on a single breathtaking performance by the man from Hershey, Pennsylvania, Pulisic opened eyes in a very flashy way over the weekend, becoming the first person ever to open their goal-scoring account in the Premier League with a hat-trick, and the youngest Chelsea man ever to do so. Just days after wowing as a super sub in a match against Ajax (assisting the game-winning goal) which earned him this start, Chelsea faithful are drawing comparisons between Pulisic and Hazard, specifically in the way he darts at defenders before pulling one, two or three players across the pitch to follow his trail. While Hazard never received much stick from the fans about retaining the ball too much, the fact is sometimes he did. Pulisic showed less skill on the ball and has demonstrably less body strength, but is very nearly Hazard’s equal on the ball in terms of pace. He is also a stronger aerial threat. What Hazard truly excelled at, however, was providing scoring opportunities even more quickly than scoring goals for Chelsea. With young, strong forwards like Abraham and Batshuayi (and to a lesser extent Giroud), wing players such as Pulisic, Hudson-Odoi, Willian, and Pedro (if he ever gets a look in) now have true number 9’s to work with. Combine this with the fact that Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Andreas Christensen and N’golo Kante are still out, and Chelsea will have a squad they can ride to a Premier League title within the next two years, provided Manchester City and Liverpool inevitably lose some of their talent as top players leave in search of larger paychecks—and all without spending a dime in the transfer market this season. What’s left now is for Lampard to manage a young, hungry group of players while keeping the older, more experienced players happy—and, even more importantly, Lampard must figure out how to plug the sieve that is his defense: the only teams to concede more goals than Chelsea so far this campaign are currently seated in 18th, 19th, and 20th place.
There is an 800lb (I don’t know how to use kilos because I’m American, feel free to slate me) gorilla seated at the top of the table, and it’s wearing a Vardy jersey. Leicester City have looked remarkable at times this season, none more so than Jamie Vardy, who is currently the league’s leading goal-scorer, ahead of Sergio Aguero, Tammy Abraham, and Raheem Sterling. Which begs that question once more (I know, here I go again): should the league’s top scorer, who happens to be English, who is probably playing better than ever, not be reconsidered by Southgate? Other than Kane, do England have anyone as clinical at the moment at the national level? Whether Vardy would be open to it, of course, is another question, but if Southgate feels as though Abraham isn’t ready to receive significant playing time, as evidenced over the last two matches, perhaps he should consider retaining the services of a proven, veteran goalscorer like Vardy.
Leicester are also tied for the fewest goals conceded, and have the second best goal differential in the league behind Manchester City. This week’s match will tell us a lot (away against an up-and-coming Crystal Palace), but Leicester are currently threatening the status quo of the Premier League, leaving Tottenham and Manchester United on the outside looking in. If Leicester are able to keep this up, we might be using the phrase “Big 7”, as opposed to the current “Big 6”, in the years to come.