With stars like Wayne Rooney, Diego Costa and Sergio Aguero spearheading some of the best sides in the Premier League, you’d hardly expect the likes of Riyad Mahrez and Callum Wilson to be the ones topping off the division’s goal-scoring charts. Yet, currently, that’s exactly the case.
After five matches, Leicester’s Mahrez, Bournemouth’s Wilson and Swansea’s Bafetimbi Gomis have outperformed all of England’s most renowned scorers, and are currently tied as the division’s most prolific forwards with four goals each.
Now, this situation is not only a matter of their merit: many of those “more-renowned” scorers of the league are still nowhere to be found.
The aforementioned Costa and Aguero, for example, have only scored one goal each, while Rooney has yet to make a mark on the scoreboard this season. The case is similar for Harry Kane and Alexis Sánchez, both of whom were among the league’s top-five scorers last season, but have yet to beat the net this time around.
In fact, the rest of the top-scorer table is a soccer hipster’s paradise. Tied in fourth place with three goals are Swansea’s Andre Ayew, Everton’s Steven Naismith, West Ham’s Dimitri Payet and Leicester’s James Vardy.
Yes, it’s early in the season for big conclusions, and positions in all charts are bound to change; however, there’s definitely something to be said about the current goal-scoring stats. The actual landscape might in part be a product of a small sample size of games – but at this point it has to be considered, at least partially, as a reflection of the evolving face of the Premier League.
One thing is definitely clear: the league’s smaller teams are not holding back when it comes to taking their chances and looking to get on the scoreboard.
Take the overachieving West Ham and Leicester, for instance. They have both astonished the bookies by making their way to fifth and second place, respectively, and that has been in no small part due to their offensive tenacity.
Both teams are currently tied for first place for most-goals scored with 11 each – an unusual feat for lower-budget teams in the Premier League. And unlike other smaller-reputation sides, they have refused to leave the scoring to set-pieces and counter-attacks. They have each beat the net seven times from open, positional play – more than any other team, with the exception of league-leaders Manchester City.
Leicester and West Ham seem to have put in practice a key common ideal: a focus on their individual skill. Both sides play long-ball, direct passing – instead of shorter associations – and look to channel their offensive efforts through the areas of influence of their strongest players. Most of Leicester’s attacks go through Mahrez’s right flank, while a majority of West Ham’s passes are through the middle, Payet’s zone.
And that has worked. Despite not having great possession numbers, both Leicester and West Ham are among the six sides with the highest average dribbles per game. The “Foxes”, who have the league’s most prolific dribbler in Mahrez, currently have the highest number of dribbles per match with a mean of 11 successful runs past an opponent.
Keeping those stats in mind, it’s also worth pointing out that, as increasing income from TV rights continues to fuel the EPL player-purchasing machine, these smaller teams’ primary means of reinforcing themselves comes in the way of foreign purchases. Mahrez, Payet, Gomis: all of them arrived for fees under €15 million – bargain prices under the current market. And as such signings allow these teams to become more competitive, TV rights keep becoming even more valuable in return.
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the stats tables, Chelsea have made their own headlines by giving up the most goals in the league after five matches. Despite having scored more times in total than Manchester United and Arsenal (third and fourth place, respectively), Jose Mourinho’s men have had their net breached 12 times, and as a result currently sit precariously in 16th place, right above the relegation zone.