The pre-season optimism at Newcastle United and Brighton and Hove Albion might be starting to wane away as Huddersfield Town show them how it's done in the Premier League
After two games of the Premier League season, Newcastle United and Brighton and Hove Albion - the two best teams in the Championship last year, by some distance - are both goalless and pointless. Huddersfield Town, who looked comparatively blunt in a grueling promotion race, have six points, they have scored four times, are yet to concede and beat Newcastle at home on Sunday.
It is easy to make excuses for Newcastle's failings in that defeat. Rafa Benitez was missing his two best players - Florian Lejeune and Jonjo Shelvey - as well as his preferred full-backs - DeAndre Yedlin and Paul Dummett - while Dwight Gayle, his star striker, has not broken into a sprint since January without nervously reaching for a hamstring. Huddersfield's Aaron Mooy, the obvious star of a scrappy game, won the points with one moment of real quality. Off the field, meanwhile, there are continued stand-offs between Benitez and the club and now, reportedly, the players and the club.
But focusing on these issues would ignore the basic failings in Newcastle's performances so far this season. Benitez's men do not look strong enough or quick enough and there appears to be no plan B. An opening weekend reverse at home to Tottenham Hotspur, with 10 men, might have been expected, but the Magpies lacked creativity against Huddersfield in a fixture they won brilliantly lastterm. They could not bully or outrun their hosts either.
If you sign up at bet365 today for the very first time, you get up to £200 in welcome bonuses. SIGN UP
Participate also in our ASN COMPETITION and win additional £100 in FREE BETS
Mikel Merino was asked to take Shelvey's role and spray passes right and left, but the players in front of him offered little help. Ayoze Perez was again anonymous, Matt Ritchie gives everything to the cause but perhaps lacks the required athleticism and Christian Atsu is inconsistent at best. Yedlin and Dummett, usually able to assist, are badly missed. Add a misfiring Gayle to the mix and there can be little surprise that Newcastle look aimless.
Newcastle had similarly disappointing afternoons in the Championship, but in a league with less games and tougher opponents, where every point is crucial, Benitez's side cannot afford to write off any game in which they are below par. The goals and points must keep flowing, just as they do for other top flight teams - notably, set-piece specialists West Bromwich Albion.
Last season, Newcastle scored 24 times from set-pieces - 28 per cent of a league-high goal haul - but, despite one key Perez miss from a corner at Huddersfield, that threat has dissipated somewhat. By contrast, West Brom, like Huddersfield, boast a perfect record so far this term and have scraped through their two wins.
Brighton have had similar problems to the Magpies. In 180 minutes, they have not looked like scoring a goal. Their efforts have certainly not been helped by the caution of manager Chris Hughton - long predicted by scarred Norwich City fans - in refusing to pick Anthony Knockaert, the club's best and most creative player, from the start.
At home to Manchester City and away to Leicester City, Albion knew they were up against it. Few teams stay up solely by beating those around them, though, and Brighton fans would at least like to think they could give the top sides a scare. The arrival of fleet-footed winger Jose Izquierdo suggests Hughton is working on a fix, but we do not yet know if Brighton boast the firepower to put away the chances when they finally do start to fall.
And Brighton's defence has also provided a slight cause for concern. Two sloppy goals were their undoing at Leicester. The second arrived from - of course - a corner. "We can't be the type of team that lose goals from set plays," said Hughton.
The common stereotype associated with the Championship is that it is a bruising division, where digging in and battling for points is necessary to achieve success. That is true, to a point, but it also applies to the Premier League. Stoke City, West Brom and Burnley have become established top flight sides through a reliance on tough defending and well-drilled set-pieces.
That is not to say that Newcastle and Brighton must play ugly football to cope with more esteemed opponents. Swansea City and Bournemouth have both shown that survival and an attractive style are not mutually exclusive. However, both clubs, at their best, have had a clear system. Newcastle and Brighton seem to lack that right now. If the players do know their roles, they do not appear to be carrying them out particularly effectively.
These early struggles could be cast off as typical of newly promoted sides, but Huddersfield are currently showing their rivals up. David Wagner got his transfer business done early, signing a good goalkeeper, speedy wingers and big forwards - again, the basics. Mooy adds the stardust. There will be times, as against Newcastle, when Huddersfield have to rely on the Australia international's genius, but eight days earlier - in a 3-0 demolition of Crystal Palace - their inexperienced side posted a performance primed for a Premier League away day.
Their three goals arrived from a corner, a bullet Steve Mounie header and a fine finish from the same man on the counter as Palace looked to hit back. They benefited from luck, of course, but it was a display that incorporated a number of aspects that are missing at both Newcastle and Brighton right now.
It is not the defeats that should worry Benitez and Hughton, but the toothless nature of their early showings. Although mere survival might be the aim, that could quickly become tricky if neither manager can identify an effective style of play in these new surroundings.
The jitters will really kick in if they head into the international break still without a point or a goal on the board...