Premier League: Checking on the Promoted Clubs
After the second international break of the season, all three of the most recently promoted sides in the English Premier League -- Burnley, Hull City, and Middlesbrough -- find themselves out of the bottom three and with legitimate chances at staying up this season.
They have also played decently solid football, and pretty much all three have tried to replicate the trend of the past few years of promoted sides -- playing much more aggressive football -- which has been a joy to watch.
Although it is still in the early oughts, every single game for the relegation-threatened clubs is of the upmost importance. Getting points early is just as important as getting points late in the season, but we'll see if any of the three can keep their promising start, especially if underachievers West Ham United and Stoke City return to the form we saw last season.
Match Form: LWLDW
Key Player(s): Michael Keane, Steven Defour
Interestingly enough, Burnley have fashioned 46 chances, more than Boro and Hull City, but have scored the fewest goals amongst the three (5). Sam Vokes and Andre Gray have not started the season up to par, and they are currently finding finishing in the Premier League a difficult challenge. Of the three clubs, Burnley have been most promising. Like during their previous rise to the top flight in the 2014-15 season, manager Sean Dyche has them playing attractive football, but it just hasn't clicked.
On the other end of the pitch, Burnley's defense has been the best of the promoted sides, and they are the only team in the bottom half of the table who have conceded fewer than 10 goals. Considering that the Clarets have already played Leicester, Liverpool, Arsenal, and Chelsea, that is a magnificent feat.
Of those matches, the 2-0 win over Liverpool was immensely impressive, and it seems like Dyche's team may be longer-winded this season. A rock-solid defense is crucial to that, and Burnley's starts with Michael Keane.
Keane, as well as midfielder Steven Defour, has been exceptional. Highly rated since his days at Manchester United, Keane has lived up to billing. He's won 56 percent of his duels, according to Squawka.com, and is providing even more, completing 81 percent of his passes from the back and already adding a goal.
Meanwhile, Defour has been the Claret engine, creating nine total chances and notching three assists. In all, Burnley look stable and consistent, but it will be crucial for Vokes and Gray to start banging in goals to keep the pace.
Match Form: DLLLD
Key Player(s): Stewart Downing
After a promising five points from their first three matches, Boro proceeded to lose the next three, although that stretch included Everton and Tottenham. Boro have a few more problems across the board. While they've added significant talent and experience in goalkeeper Victor Valdes and striker Alvaro Negredo, they look far less equipped to get results game-to-game. This is especially true in defense, with Boro notching a single clean sheet in a 0-0 draw with West Bromwich Albion.
The aforementioned Valdes has conceded eight of those goals, and the defense hasn't done too much better as a whole. Daniel Ayala and Ben Gibson have been solid, but the leakiness of Boro's defense is evidence of their lack of experience in the top flight. Boro have a squad with talent and experience, but the current situation under Aitor Karanka has been unstable. If they can cool down, the talent is there to provide.
Speaking of experience, midfielder Stewart Downing has been a stalwart and rock of the Boro squad. The former Liverpool man has sprayed passes around the field, completing 239 of them in the process of creating 12 chances and 2 assists. Spending a season in the Championship last season with the nucleus of the squad has paid off, and the 32-year-old looks comfortable directing the pace of play at his latest club.
Match Form: LLLDL
Key Player(s): Curtis Davies, Robert Snodgrass
Hull's stellar start to the season was incredible and unexpected, especially the shocking opening day win over Leicester seen below. The club that was at a complete standstill in the final moments coming up to the season started perfectly, but frankly, reality has settled in, and the Tigers have one point from their last five.
However, those early victories show that caretaker manager Mike Phelan can at least create a functioning squad. The squad has a strong nucleus of players such as Tom Huddlestone, Harry Maguire, and Adama Diomande, and last-second additions may be enough to keep Hull afloat.
Hull's major step going forward will have to be in defense. After allowing 3 goals in their first four, they've allowed 11 in the past three. Although Phelan hasn't played hermit-like defense, he might need to going forward to try and cut down on the goals coming in.
Curtis Davies has been exceptional in defense, but without the injured Michael Dawson, Hull haven't kept stability at the back. Hull's lack of depth at the back is a major concern, and there is no doubt that they will likely purchase backup.
The shining beacon for Hull other than Davies has been Robert Snodgrass. His three goals lead the team, and he's really been the driving force for the Tigers. It's a bittersweet stat because Snodgrass definitely shouldn't be the top scorer, but it's the situation Hull find themselves in. His continuing to direct and create from midfield will be crucial, especially if recently added Dieumerci Mbokani and fellow forward Abel Hernandez can step up themselves.